Copyright (c)(copr) 1995, 1996, T.J. Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. If this is a work of fiction, any similarities to any persons real, imaginary, living or dead, are coincidental. If this is not a work of fiction, either sue me or consider these your marching orders.

by T.J. Hardman, Jr.

He'd never thought it could happen. And certainly it could never happen to him. He didn't really believe the whispered tales told him by that boy, the strange one, the one who always told the other kids how to do bad things. That one had been the kid who showed them how to feed ex-lax to cats, to cherry-bomb school commodes, and so he, being one of the kids who was trying to be a good kid, ignored the brat.

The stories were stupid anyways. He remembered:

"Ever notice how grown-ups got funny heads?"

"Sure. All of 'em do."

"Ever wonder how they get that way?"

"I guess it's what happens to you when you get older, hormones or something." He remembered his older brother and sister grousing about each other being a hormone victim. He wasn't entirely sure he understood, but he knew it had something to do with the changes one went through when one grew up.

"Ha," said the Brat, "Shows what you know. Nothin'. I know why they got funny shaped heads."

"Okay, you're so smart, you tell me."

"Okay," said the Brat, "Wires."

"You're nuts," he told the Brat.

"Course. You're gonna be nuts too if I tell you."

"This is stupid. What about wires?"

"Look at 'em, stupid. They got wires holding their heads together."

"Uh, huh, sure," he said. Had it not been the Brat, he'd probably have pushed him over, and got up and left. But you couldn't push the Brat over. The Brat knew a lot about fighting, and that's one of the reasons he hung out with the Brat.

"Well, look at 'em," said the Brat, madly, reasonably.

"Okay, so I look at 'em. What do I see? Just grown-ups with funny heads."

"That's cause you're looking and you're not seeing. You got to know what to look for, or you'll never see it, cause you been looking at it all of your life."

"You're definitely wacko," he told the Brat.

"No, for real. Look at their eyebrows."

"Okay, I see eyebrows."

"No, look at the corners of the eyebrows. If you look close, you can see where the wires go in. They're attached at the corners of the eyebrows. They go back across the top of the head, and they hook up at the back of the head."

"You've lost it. You've seen too much MTV or something." It was all he could think of to say, it was what his parents said all of the time.

"Nope. And if you look at some people, you can see they wrap wires all around their heads. That's where forehead wrinkles come from." The Brat spoke with an earnest dead-calm, like he was trying to tell him why the sky was blue or where babies came from.

"This is too weird."

"For real. Look, watch. The Brat wrinkled his forehead. It slid smoothly up his skull, and what wrinkles there were were small, not deep, and disappeared completely when he unwrinkled his forehead. "See? They go away. Look at a grownup, and you can sort of see the wires under the skin."

"Yah, right, uh huh. So tell me, mister knows it all, where do they get the wires?"

"I dunno." He'd never before seen the Brat at a loss for words.

"Whaddaya mean, you dunno?"

"Really, I don't know. I have no idea. I think they get it when they get their wisdom teeth pulled."

"What, the dentists put 'em in? What for?"

"I dunno. Maybe they get 'em when they go off to college."

"Still, what for?"

The Brat thought for a minute. As he thought, he pulled out a magnifying glass and cooked an ant, and then he finished, and said, "I think... you ever notice how grownups are sort of... dumb?"

"I dunno, most of them know a lot more than we do, I mean, they've gone to so much school and college and who knows what."

"Yeah, I know," said the Brat, "But just 'cause they remember everything they were taught, it don't mean nothin'. It's like, don't you see that they really don't seem to think much? Like, you ask them a tricky question, and they think for a second and then roll their eyes and then they give up. It's like it's too hard or something."

"Um, yeah, as if I I had not noticed. But still, it's not like they're stupid, they seem to do everything they have to do."

"Sure they do. But do you ever see them doing anything new, or thinking about something they didn't get off of TV or something?"

"Um, do we?"

"We're doing it now."

"Um, you might be right."

The Brat said, as he got up to look for something more fun to do, "Well, just remember, don't say anything to anyone, ya know, but look. Look for the wires."

And within an hour or two, he'd forgotten all about it.

His wisdom teeth never did come in. Strangely enough, his dentist did ask him, when he was told that his wisdom teeth would never come in, since there were no buds lying beneath the gums, "So, you picked a college yet?" Something clicked, almost, in his memory, but he didn't think about it.

"Um, yeah, State U," he said. His dentist smiled.

He was wandering around at the Mall one day. Someone sat down beside him, and he glanced at him, and then went back to eating his french fries. When he looked up again, the person was still there, and grinning at him. Things fell into place, and it was the Brat. It came to him that he didn't know the Brat's name, and wasn't at all sure he'd ever known it. The Brat was staring at him, staring at his forehead.

"They haven't got you yet," said the Brat.

"Huh? Uh, hi, long time no see, dude."

"Oh yeah, uh, how's it going." They shook hands. "How ya been?"

"Uh pretty good, just graduated, college starts in a month, going to State. You?"

"Um, pretty good."

"Where ya been? Haven't seen you in, oh about, what, six years?"

"Yup. 'Bout that."

"You never did say goodbye. What happened?"

"Got caught."


The Brat, or the teen he'd grown into, squirmed. "I was a wild child," he said.

"I don't get it."

"I was a wild child. I was a runaway, sort of... No family, no real home, just two dead parents who left me a lot of money. The insurance paid for the house, and the folks had a lot of stuff lying around, and a safe, and I knew the combination. So I just kept going to school, and forging notes home to the folks, and shopped for myself. One day, some social worker found out about it, and bang, next thing I know I was a ward of the court, and I got set up with a foster home, and these guys were real dicks, so I ran away, and got caught and sent to juvenile hall, and so on. Kept running away, finally got the hang of it. Eventually, well - I just turned eighteen, so I inherited for real. I'm back."

"Wow, I dunno what to say."

"Hey, I got a million stories to tell."

"You always were good at that."

"Still am."


And just like that, their friendship picked up, right about where they'd left it off.

They were drinking some cold ones, and talking about all kinds of stuff, when John snapped back to the first thing the Brat (Todd, really) had said to him.

"Uh, hey, when you first sat down, you said something about, they hadn't got me yet. And you were looking at me funny."

"Ummm. Sorry."

Memory clicked. John chuckled: "Still believe that grownups have wires in their heads?"

Todd gave him the weirdest look. "Um, I dunno." He picked up the remote, and flicked it. The TV came to life. He flipped to C-SPAN, where a replay of yesterday's congressional session was on. He got up and walked over to the set, and waited for a minute, staring at the screen, and then he pointed to one older man's head, put his finger on the screen, and traced a line. He turned back to John, and said, "What do you think?"

"I think we need another beer."

It got very drunk out, and later still, he staggered home. In the morning, he recalled the ghosts of strange nightmares. When he reached for the paper, eating cold cereal in the silence of the gone-to-work house, he turned the page to the political section, and there was the man he'd seen speaking on C-SPAN, in a nicely focussed greyscale shot. his wires were clearly visible. He turned the page.

Everywhere he looked, for all of the people over about twenty years old or so, he saw what appeared to be traces of sub-surface wiring.

After that, he became obsessed with the idea. Everywhere he went, he found himself staring at people's foreheads, and as he stared, looking for wires (he saw them everywhere), he began to notice that some people's wires appeared to be too tight, as if perhaps their skulls had grown after the wires were installed, and on some people, the wires seemed to have been, perhaps deliberately, over tightened.

A street beggar had accosted him, begging for change, and he gave the man a dollar, while the man harangued him disjointedly. This man had grossly overtightened wires. His head was misshapen, and you could see that the deformity was due to the wires. Was his evident madness? The man must have just gotten out of the lunatic asylum or perhaps jail; he had a very short crew- cut. John's eyes traced the wires from just over his eyebrows, running back towards his ears, and from there, it seemed as if another wire ran to the crown of his brow, and when the man thanked him in mid- harangue and turned to leave, he could see what appeared to be another wire, leading from ear to ear directly across the back of his head. He was watching the man walk away, shaking his head, when he saw something that almost made him stop and shout. Instead, he turned away, and resumed his pace towards the library with some trepidation, nearly shaking.

A teen, perhaps maybe fourteen or fifteen, had run up behind the man, at a speed that John could scarcely believe. He'd been walking past, and then had suddenly darted out of his path, to turn and lay some small tool (it was very hard to see; it seemed to be made of some optically-correct clear plastic) against the back of the man's head with both hands, and seemed to work some mechanism. The beggar stiffened, and then staggered as if struck a blow. By then John had seen enough, and was walking shakily away, and then he felt a small pain at the back of his own head, and turned to see the teen glaring at him venomously. He rubbed that back of his head, and waited to see what effects he'd experience. Other than a small numbness, he felt nothing, and the teen's glare became more vicious, and he mouthed, silently, but John understood every word.

"We're gonna get you," the teen had said, before running away like the wind, to vanish in the crowd.

When he went home that night, he examined the area with the aid of a small handmirror, and saw nothing unusual, other than a small red mark where the teen had applied his strange tool to him. He took some sinus medicine to help his incipient congestion headache, and went to bed.

That night he had a very strange dream, or perhaps a nightmare.

In this dream, his mother and father and his two older siblings crowded around his bed, with looks of utter stupefaction on their faces. He tried to call to them in his dream, but they simply sat there, ignoring him like strangers' dogs.

He tried to move, but he appeared to be tied to something. He tested the restraints quietly, and became aware of voices from beyond the foot of the bed. He couldn't quite hear them, or perhaps he couldn't understand them. Whatever they were saying didn't seem to make much sense, and there was some sort of growling hissing noise in the background. He was barely able to move his eyes to the sides, and could not turn his head. He was aware of a pinching feeling as if something was clamped to his head, preventing all motion. He rolled his eyes to the side, and he appeared to be in his own room, but there was something he could barely see to his left on a bedside table that hadn't been there when he went to sleep. His parents and siblings stared at him, looking vaguely pleased.

For some unknown reason, he was not afraid, not at all, and this bothered him greatly, or it would have bothered him had he been capable of being bothered.

He thought he heard the voices more clearly now, and he though he recognized them as belonging to his strange neighbors, the ones to whom few would speak; and a strange voice.

"It's too bad it's come to this; he was pretty promising. Who knows, maybe he'd have come up with something new and interesting, but my boy saw him see. We can't let him go unbound."

"Your boy saw him see, and then went after him. Your boy's stupid. Or maybe he'd not, maybe he just wanted to press the issue."

"No matter, he saw. You know the rules."

The bubbling hissing sound started again, and the voices fell silent. "Yes," they said then, "Yes. Yes. No. We understand."

He heard a new sound, and his ears seemed to place it as coming from the same place as did the hissing and burbling. The new sound was coming towards him. It bumped, as if something ponderous was feeling around on the floor for a place that could support its weight, and then his neighbors came into the room, with a strange person. The boy's father?

"He's conscious," said the stranger.

"He won't remember when he wakes up, they never do. The electroconvulsive aftereffects will take care of that." The neighbor moved towards him. He tried to struggle, but whatever held his head immobile was firmly mounted. He flexed his hands, trying to free himself from the restraints, but he felt very weak, almost numb. The neighbor came to bedside, and looked down at him with an almost compassionate, yet somehow dispassionate gaze. He recognized that gaze. It was the look that one gives to a beloved pet that needs to be housebroken... or perhaps spayed, "for its own good".

"What are you doing to me?" he tried to ask, but could only move his lips a little. The neighbor reached above his head, out of his field of vision, and a taste came into his mouth and filled his head and the world went away.

He dreamed a little more, of duty, and orders, and commands, and oddly, of love, love for the shambling horror that at first terrified him when his eyes fluttered open after the orders stopped. He could only see its face, a moist smooth mollusc-face with four eyes on tendrils set wide apart outside the ring of prehensile tentacles that ringed the obscene whirling rasping thing that must be its mouth. He tried to open his mouth to scream, but the smell filling his head wouldn't let anything through. It was a green smell, like lime kool- aid, artificial, chemical. It was a relaxing smell. He certainly relaxed whenever he smelled it... it made his head, and the world itself whirl away - but the voice remained, the mechanical sound of some computer translation of words his ears could not directly hear.

Unable to scream, or even fully open his eyes, nor close them, he gazed fixedly at the abomination as it reached out of sight, below his field of view, reached for something, almost fumbling - and then it returned into view, with a needle attached to something shiny, something silvery. Wire.

It poked him a few times in the face. He felt the pressure, but no pain at all. It was like the prodding a dentist would give to see if anesthetic is working. He tried to scream again, and his throat didn't even work. The thing did something out of his sight again, and the smell changed, and the creature became surrounded by a halo of colors, and waves of pleasure seemed to wash through his mind, though somehow he could not feel any of it. The creature's tentacle dipped into his eyebrow. Tentacles emerged from its face, extruded like pseudopods, and these manipulated something slung about its fat twisted neck as other pseudopods extended towards his own face.

His parents and siblings, so far as he could see them from the periphery of his immobilized vision, began to smile vacuous and contented smiles appropriate to the mindlessly retarded or the profoundly insane.

Through that long long night, he felt the pressure sliding through his scalp like the stitching of a doctor upon a numbed and tattered wound. Pressure, pinching, and the whir of some small motor, and he heard and felt simultaneously and great pressure upon parts of his skull, and the smell of scorched bone came through even the smells in his head. Something clamped on his head at one point, and he heard the cracking of bone, and then he felt, as if through a great distance, wires being drawn tight, felt the edges of carefully created fractures floating each across another edge, felt his thinking go even more muzzy as his very brain (or parts of it at least), were crushed, to conform to the shape of the mold which held his head within the fracturing vise, heard a whining, almost sizzling sound. He felt something chip on the top of his head, and knew that holes were being drilled. His mind tried to close down then, but it didn't happen. The smell that had put the halo of colors around the thing intensified and held him still and made logical thought impossible, a good thing since it probably saved his mind, or what was left of it. His ears picked up a sound a man is not meant to hear, and live: they tracked something moving between them.

Finally, the pressures and sounds stopped, and the thing backed away somewhat. It reached down and did something to a device that was barely visible at the corner of perception, and he loved it... he loved the thing. It was divine. He loved it intensely. It was his GOD. He was in awe, and he loved it, and he wanted it, to kiss it, to touch it, and he knew that if it ever went away, the heartbreak would be enormous. And the smells in his head intensified, and redoubled, and again came the orders, the commands, the instructions, and he writhed in pleasure like a dog that has shit in the bathtub when the owner comes home, in an agony of anticipation for the inevitable punishment, but so happy to see his master again.

Finally, the smells abated somewhat, and and he could almost think, and he saw the slimy back of his new god, his Master moving away, and as the neighbor moved in, he mouthed don't go, don't go master, please at least let me remember you, and the neighbor almost winced at him, and gave him that studying look again, the look one reserves for one's dog, or more properly for the neighbor's dog that one is training for the incompetent neighbor, and then the other, the stranger, the one whose boy had brought this all upon him, that one smiled the smile one reserves for dinner and touched something, and the world went away in a blast of a new smell, and through the drifting howling fog and abyss came a light, a light from nowhere, blue and gold and expanding as it sucked him into a place where there was not memory, nor thought, and it seemed to him as he faded away that somewhere very far away, his body was flexed as tight as a spring, shaking.

In the morning, he woke with a terrible headache. he tried to remember what he'd been doing the night before, and could not. He guessed that maybe he had started drinking too much, and had finally had his first blackout.

He took a couple of aspirin and headed to the Mall to pick up a milkshake, and he was sitting there sipping it, when he looked up and noticed Todd standing there, staring at him.

"Hey, John. How ya doing?" Todd seemed rather reserved this morning. That was okay; John couldn't have handled his ordinarily effusive manner right now. Even the sound of his voice was making his head pound.

"Maaaan... I have got the worst headache you could imagine."

"I'll bet." Todd was giving him an odd eye. "What was it like?"

"What was what like? Oh. Last night. I dunno, I can't remember a thing. You don't happen to know where I was, do you? Or what I did? I must have been trashed."

"Yeah," said Todd. "I guess you were. Trashed. Shitcanned. I wasn't there."

"So, what ya wanna do? I gotta shake off this headache."

"C'mon," said Todd. "Let's wander."

They wandered. John occasionally thought that Todd might be giving him odd looks, as if estimating him, but he decided it was part of his hangover, and indeed, as the day wore on he saw it less and less. His headache almost went away.

We watched them as it happened to them, and whatever it was that happened behind secret and well-closed doors, whatever it was that took them and changed them, we never saw it. We only saw what had become of them.

When did it start? Sometime before I was born, but it never really got bad until the middle of the nineteen-nineties. By then it was obvious, open warfare by one side, and the other side refusing to believe it could happen. This was the mindset in America, at any rate. I cannot say what happened elsewhere, though from the actions of foreigners much might be inferred.

We're pretty sure that it started somewhere else, maybe in Mexico, certainly in remote parts of Asia, and we know that it happened somewhere in the lost fastnesses of the Rockies. We can't go there anymore but so many of them came from there, we felt it inarguable that this was a major origin of that which came to so change our fellows.

All that we can assume is that aliens landed. This is purely assumption; evidence is conspicuously absent, as if the immediate targets of a tactical and strategic operation were acquisition and compromise of our various planetary intelligence, reporting, communications command and control resources.

The change was far afoot by the time that even the most paranoid of us within the general population noticed it. (We presently assume that all professionals were, through interpentration of their control systems, almost immediately turned, compromised and eliminated, or simply terminated with ultimate prejudice.) It was simply unbelievable. People came to work one day, and they were Changed, or returned from vacations Changed, or after long absences, family members would return. Changed. Capital-C Changed. And when one noticed that one usually noticed also that these changes had been there for some time... the shock of realizing that one has been viewing an anomaly for a long time without noticing. Something pervasive... something that was everywhere.. and rapidly expanding.

It hasn't gone as far as one might think. The Changed ones were perhaps one tenth of the population in most areas, and as far as we could tell, others weren't being changed in those areas. Most of the people seen newly-changed in most places were those recently returned from the Enclaves.

The Enclaves were, simply stated, those places from which persons did not return unChanged. If someone went there, they came back, different somehow, with about the memories you'd expect when someone had gone on vacation. Unfortunately, when we had first become suspicious and had organized, we had sent several people in for reconnaisance, and they returned with about the memories you'd expect from someone just returned from vacation - even after we had photosurveillance tapes of their captures.

Then the foreigners, all desperate, all travelling light, all with the shell-shocked look of the refugee passed rapidly through all of our cities, pausing to look around them, shuddering and moving on, and after them came more of the Changed.

Then people started coming back from college Changed. From certain colleges (the world's largest university, the University of Maryland, was particularly conspicuous) they came back Changed. From hospitals (especially those staffed by graduates of the University of Maryland, and looking back, even more particularly hospitals staffed by those who had graduated from Georgetown University in the late Sixties [which put a time frame on the initial incursions])- they came back Changed. They came out of jail Changed. They came out of the Army Changed, and all of our hopes for successful resistance disappeared as soon as the military was universally Changed.

We were suddenly homeless in our own land, those of use who escaped, and many, perhaps most of us, very nearly died. In becoming invisible animals in urban wildernesses, we all fell behind the occupation lines as they expanded.

We knew we were in the secured zones because while the Changed still came, those who changed them came after them... and we fled, our organization broken and scattered, each fearing capture, fearing that we might be under scrutiny and unable to seek others out. Some of us did make it to the limits of the true occupation and beyond, into the merely infiltrated zones. Some of us went further, into the rapidly vanishing uninvolved zones. They are now lost to us as those borders have been secured beyond penetration. We have no idea what happens in those last zones. Indeed, so small were those last zones of ultimate refuge that we can only presume that they were destroyed mercilessly as the foci of resistance.

What did come behind those who had been changed? Those who changed them. And what were they? Certainly nothing of this earth. Yet our radars and our telescopes saw nothing ( or what they saw was, as a result of the initial compromise of the C3I structures, suppressed) , and so we can only assume that they travelled to this earth from another star, though had they this power, they should have been able to force a capitulation, and occupy us directly. Perhaps they came from another universe, a parallel place. There is some apocryphal support for this idea, as the mountains near Denver had long been rumored to have gateways to other realms, rumors also redounding to many other mountain fastnesses, romors common to many cultures. Certainly, the region's native-americans had tales which as much as said that there were places not in this world which could be reached through places not only in this world, but nearby.

They, Them, the overlords, the invaders, They shambled slowly behind those who They had Changed. Their property revered them as gods, this much was evident. They oozed down streets like the snails which must have been their ancestors in their own world. They had some sort of metallic artificial endoskeleton to support their viscid flesh, but they flowed upon a single mollusc belly-foot, or rested sessile upon air-cushion-vehicle platforms. Their eyestalks flinched and twined, and their handling tentacles which ringed their faces constantly manipulated devices which we assumed to be communications-and-control consoles. Their world must have been much like our own, for they ate earthly food. In fact, they ate earthers. One which I saw manipulated the console it had hung about its... neck - (on a Man, whose shape was so grossly mocked by the shape of the endoskeleton upon which the Master's slimy flesh was loosely hung, this would have been seen as the bloated and twisted neck of an obvious Ogre), - and the closest person, a young man, quietly walked over and lay down in the street before The Being, and it oozed over him, and enveloped him in its mottled flesh, and when it moved on, there was only a half-digested soupy mess puddled around the fuming remnants of polyester and cotton clothing. The people who were gathered around worshipping their new deity did not change expressions at all, in fact, most seemed so rapt in adoration that perhaps they had never noticed... except for one.

This one was following the being, at the edge of the crowd, and as the people at the edge of the crowd jostled to get closer to the blissful center, he was knocked into the edge of a speed-limit sign which was poorly mounted on a pole festooned with route signs. He took quite a hit, but at first seemed to not notice the blood flowing from a deep scalp cut. But as I watched, he seemed to be waking, waking as if from a dream, tentatively touching the wound, and exploring the edges of the laceration, and he seemed to find something within the wound, and he pulled. Suddenly, a shocked expression passed across his face, and he pulled again. As I drew closer, I saw him seem to wrap something around his finger, like a piece of wire, perhaps, and then he yanked hard, and fell over, stone dead. The stragglers, arriving late to worship, passed him by without remark, and I was able to approach him. I unwrapped the wire - (actually, it seemed to be a bundle of something like optical fiber, some fine steely wire, and little lumps of some solid substance, like pieces of insulation or perhaps microcircuitry) - from his finger, and I shuddered as I wiped and coiled it and stuck it in the coin pocket of my jeans.

The Changed paid me no attention whatsoever as I followed them on their way. Whither they led, quiet but jubilant, each pressing to get closer to the focus of their worship, I followed. When I saw that they were approaching the hospital, I began to hang back towards the edge of the crowd, for I saw that while the crowd of the jubilant were pressed in adoration against the fence which restrained them from joining the smaller, more active crowd which bustled in the parking lot on the east side, the crowd in the higher razorwired enclosure universally drew away from the creatures which directed their ex- fellows to sieze them.

A prison bus entered the parking lot, and shackled men were led forth into the hospital. I watched for hours as they emerged, one at a time, with faces suffused with rapture, from another door, to join the crowd. Occasionally, a group of happy slaves would drag someone from the holding pen and escort them, screaming and struggling, into the hospital. Later, they would emerge, their heads shaved in strips and swaths, wearing a smile of beatific bliss... which quickly changed to a more normal expression which better characterized the deepest of levels of inhumanly motivated determination.

I had seen enough. I went back into town, and took a shaver and cut my hair oddly, plastered a smile over my expression of creeping horror, and stole a car, and drove it east. Nobody tried to stop me. I guess that I might have looked satisfactorily-enough possessed - but the demons which drove me were demons, or perhaps angels, of this earth. The stores were abandoned, and I shopped frantically. As I passed the hospital, they were starting to take down the fence. The crowd was gone, and one of the aliens was supervising the loading of a combination trailer. I paused and took some photos with a camera I had picked up, a nice 35mm with a telephoto lens, and then I drove east out of Colorado, driving at a nice safe seventy miles per hour, and then began to take back roads down to Texas.

When outside of the direct influence of the aliens, which is presumed to have been largely through direct electrical stimulation of the brain, administered through some sort of radio-controlled electrode-harness, Those Changed seemed to be normal people, to all intents and purposes, other than having artificial memories, all of which were exactly the same, if somewhat hazily-generic memories. The memories were of nice stays in a few nice hotels along Colfax Avenue in Aurora, Colorado (actually a generic ex-suburban Hell-on-Earth), accompanied with generic memories related to interesting conversations with attractive strangers in small downtown Denver bars. If you've ever actually been to Denver, you'll immediately recognize this as madness). This memory was universal. We believe that however this false memory is produced (someone has suggested memory-RNA infusions), it carries also instructions. People seem to suffer small but significant changes, mostly in attitude. Things that previously angered them were now tolerated, and other often trivial things would cause them to go into incredible expressions of rage or adoration, desire or abhorrence. They were odd about it though. They did not seem to have any specific plan, but when confronted with some trigger stimulus, they would experience a reaction as to conditioning, and this reaction would guide subsequent activities. Someone might see a toaster in a bank window, and then walk in, and open an account, even if they had to close their other accounts to get that toaster. My company (I am an advertising copywriter) had tried at one time to use subliminal motivation on television ads, and this was the response we had desired, but we simply never hit on the proper technique to achieve such motivational depth, and in fact didn't much believe that such success was possible in human beings, let alone such success within the television media. Human beings have this odd little piece of tissue within their heads. It's called a human brain. Usually it has something called Will, on top of all of those other nifty little deterministic mechanisms such as neurochemistry and force of habit and environmental stimuli, and most human beings have it in abundance. Also, most people are contrary. That was the biggest difference between us and The Changed. If they had any will of their own, an ability to rise above conditioning, happenstance, and especially the immediate sensory environment, we've never found it... unless you try to keep them from actualizing their urges. They can get ugly. Everyone who has in the literature ever predicted the ultimate consumer, this is it. But who was supplying the motivations? This became much more important as time went by, as the motivations of the changed became ever more strange and obscure.

And when they come back from vacation changed, they come back and change things. They change their banks and they change their shopping habits, buying and selling in incomprehensible patterns and they move. They all move back to the place where they had such nice vacations. And then, some long time later, they come back... changed again.

When they returned from their first changing, the vacation where they were captured, they mostly wanted just to sell everything valuable, buy fairly costly appliances such as computers, and move to Denver. When they returned from their stay in the Rockies, they would buy another house, get a mundane job, avoid anyone they had known before, and mutate.

Most of Those Changed weren't really so much different as they were... plastic. They generally grew, though not much. But their heads changed. It was not so much as a loss of hair, for often where they had been balding before there was a new profusion of hair. But they always displayed new growth of the frontal bone, and other changes in the face, hands and feet. These were symptoms of a growth-hormone disorder... but after we sent a few fellows west on reconnaisance missions, and filmed their captures and watched them come home with stories of nice vacations, so nice that they were selling everything to live there as if they were on a one-way trip to meet God, we started filming them a lot.

After detaining the first two sent who so returned, we decided to let the third, not a local, return into the community for intense observation. Mostly he was who he had been, and he was very confused by the rejection by a few close friends. More like him returned to their own communities, and people watched them there. And as we learned more, more of us got involved. It was hard to not get involved in one way or another. Unfortunately, most of the people who got involved wound up with implanted memories of a wonderful vacation in Aurora, Colorado.

So, having noticed that friends, family, and co-workers were Changed, we watched them like hawks and we saw that they were still changing. They were being rebuilt, the same way one is rebuilt as a teenager. And they were plastic. And that's why we noticed the wires.

Why would a growing bone not under much load deform so intensely? And if you simply looked, you could see them, the wires which ran like an orthodontist's headgear from the front of the face to the back of the head, from the corners of the brows to cross over the top of the skull, hooking over the styloid process. As we watched in elapsed-time horror, some of us watched friend's bones grow over the wires, watched their head assume shapes not before seen on this earth. They weren't really horrible when they were done, they were just, well, we found it hard to think of them as human beings anymore. Some of us lost the ability to see them as human. This was easy to do, for as the frontal bone grew, these people also generally put on a lot of mass, and the frontal-bone growth left them with the heads of gorillas, huge forehead with a low brow, sloping up to a point on the top of the head. Those of us who had watched a lot of National Geographic Specials noticed that, to a great degree, they began to act rather like gorillas as well as looking like them.

For all that they remembered all of the same things as did the kids you grew up with, there was nothing much in common with them. They might be nice people, but you had no idea what their goals were... except for one thing.

They really really wanted you to go on vacation. They had the address of the place and everything, and would rhapsodize on the subject of their dream vacation. By now we had figured out that the people behind all of this (little then did we know) had some sort of memory-RNA treatment or something similar that induced false memories and also seemed to pass on conditioning. They were trying to recruit.

Some folks did go on those dream vacations, or at least they tried. By mid-1997, one crossed into Kansas on I-70, and one was captured. All of the states with borders contiguous to Colorado were considered occupied, though there might well have been holdout communities hiding in the woods, or entire towns not under their direct control. The state governments, and certainly the police forces, medical and communications facilities (not to mention food water and fuel supplies) were under the control of the Changed. Coming from California, you might make it as far as Las Vegas, and to go farther north than San Francisco was to take major risks. For some reason, whatever the beings were which our compatriots had become, they seemed little interested in the hotter, drier parts of the country. They liked snowbound elevations, rainy forested climates, and Denver and Seattle seemed to suit them just fine. They simply, as near as we could tell, hated the Sun. Eventually, they stopped expanding much beyond their Rocky Mountain Empire, and merely Changed anyone who passed through their domain. Those so Changed did their usual thing of moving back to Denver, and then returning, and for the most part, acting normal.


Take a look at the Fiction Page for other stories.
Go back to Earth Operations Central.