Subversions of the alien invasion trope where roles are reversed are not a new idea – but this story by @eph_bee puts a spin on the idea that I’ve not encountered before. Perspective was a major factor in the prompt, and I really like the way it’s been handled:
STORY NUMBER: 33
PROMPT PROVIDER: anonymous
Her job was simple enough: they called her PREP and she took it as what it was – admiration, more or less. Some colleagues liked a lot of specificity in what they did; she was willing to take a blanket like PREP and make it work for her.
She liaised with pretty much anyone she could pin down. A few, she knew, thought she meddled, but they were a minority. The rest recognised her – facilitator, organiser, accumulator – and took the time to share with her what they knew. When the probes were launched, she was the one who had crossed the Ts and dotted the Is; her work eliminated the unexpected. That was, after all, what PREP was all about.
They had spent a fair amount of time fretting about new scans of the Red Planet, trying to divine rock density and splinter percentages. There was a fear, mostly unfounded, that a probe would land and the gear would split the ground and some debris would ricochet at just the right – wrong – angle and take out some vital device. Or not even vital, some part previously considered expendable that suddenly bulged in importance, in keeping with its sudden, irreversible damage.
But PREP did as she ought, and she was fairly sure, to the tune of 99.9999%, more or less, that the landing site would not feature shattering mission-death rock. See also: hail, or any other celestial sleet or landfall; artificial intelligence of any sort, intent on protecting Martian sovereignty for long-since-departed overlords; tectonic deviation, the ground swallowing up their decade’s work and two-year-wait as space trickled by for the trio of probes assembled and loaded and prepped and dispatched.
No such bad luck. Twenty-four months of anticipation, of PREP essentially useless in her office, looking at the first drafts of projected future plans, filing things into a desk organiser to kill time. It felt like the days had slowed to an incredible degree and she was drawing herself through slime, the air each day thicker and harder to process.
The light on her phone lit up and she knew, after all this, to head to mission control and watch the monitors report on the probes’ arrival. Mars. After so long. After so much work.
She took up her place at the back, well clear of the banks of screens, the soft stink of the flight controllers from their nests and empty coffee cups. The digital display on the far wall had ticked down days, hours, minutes, seconds – a satisfying array of early 00s and rapidly diminishing final digits. And down, down, and nearly out – until the cheer from the desks, the delight that the probes, all three, were making proper, sound arrivals. Interval for transmission to wend its way back to mission control; another cheer. ALL SAFE.
Then ALL HELL, unexpected, unrequested. ‘You fucked up,’ he was yelling, and she was turning to identify who was screaming, and if indeed it was directed at her. ‘You were meant to cover every fucking eventuality.’
There was a substance – that’s what a scanner was reporting – on the second probe. It had attached itself to the landing strut that had first touched the planet’s surface, and the scanner pinged in alarm. DECOMPOSITION was the report. She thought it improper to ask why they had added scanners that reported decomposition – but it didn’t seem the time.
‘You were meant,’ he was saying, ‘to prepare for this sort of thing.’
‘And what sort of thing is this?’ she asked. ‘What sort of fucking thing?’
‘You should have been prepared.’ He was sneering now. He really shouldn’t have made the effort to sneer, but he was. She noted it. He was one of the ones who scorned her work. This was just the sort of thing he wanted to happen, despite the mission, despite the wait.
Someone was crying out what do we know? and there were requests for mould-residue predictions for the planet’s surface. Toxicity levels! someone else was shouting. Look at those levels! Who measured fucking toxicity?? and PREP was caught then, in a bind, wondering if really that did fall under her remit, if this was the horror situation she should have considered, after all.
Something on Mars, someone was saying, does not want us to be there.
Some thing, she thought. Some slime. Some mould. Some waste.
We watch the sky and the sky is blank but for pinpricks of life-giving light. We are safe. Sun sustains us. We remain. We breed. We ooze.
Comet bright approach. Shimmer in the slime. Message. They come. Their speed is affront. They strike for us. They will tread us beneath ape-heel. They will blot out light.
What they send, we will corrode.
PROMPT: Sentient Martian slime molds live 300x slower than us, see our probes as a sudden invasion