LIP STORY COPY
You sit up and for the first time notice your surroundings. You're in some sort of underground place. The air is stale, and filled with the smells of rot and decay, burning insulation, the dark odor of crumbling mortar. Overhead, you can make out a vaulted ceiling. It's all cracked and broken, and dark water is seeping through the cracks. You're lying on a concrete slab just a few feet above the ground. There's dark water lapping around the slab. The whole thing is illuminated by some sort of red light that comes from fixtures set into the walls. You're wearing camoflauge clothing. It's soiled and it stinks.
You think, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. But you can't come up with it. How did you get here? What's going on? You sense that the answers are all there in your mind somewhere. But your mind doesn't seem to be working too well just now. You're just aware of what's going on right now--the eerie lurid red of the vault, the slow seep of dirty water everywhere, the sounds--it sounds to you like the whole place is settling, maybe breaking up. You just know you have to get out of here.
But where are you, and where are you supposed to go? You sit up, and you feel something under you. It's an assault rifle. Your mind automatically supplies the nomenclature: it's a Simms-Debarr multi-mode assault rifle and grenade launcher. It has a number of switches and dials on it. You know perfectly well what these are for. Maybe you can't remember where you are or how you got here, maybe you're a little unclear even on your own name, but you know what to do with this rifle.
Automatically you check the load. The power-pak registers 3/4s full, and there are two more paks behind the butt plate. You check these. Yep, they're full. But what's your name? Who are you? What are you doing here? And how do you get out?
You sense movement, turn, rifle at the ready. There are other people in this underground vault with you. Through the smoky haze you make out figures in camoflauge uniforms just like yours. They're stirring, moving around, and by the look on their faces you can tell they know no more than you do. You call out, "Hey, you guys. Everybody all right?" They stir, checking themselves over. Then one of them, a woman, but a soldier, too, says, "I guess we're OK, Lieutenant. What do you want us to do now?" Lieutenant. That means you. You seem to be in charge around here. That's a laugh, because you can't remember who you are or what has happened or what you're supposed to do next.
You say, "Anybody got a clue what's going on?" The faces around you are all blank. Finally one of the grunts says, "There was some sort of trouble. But I can't remember what."
Trouble! It didn't take a mastermind to figure that one out. These people know no more than you do. But they're all looking at you. It looks like you're supposed to be the leader.
"OK, people," you say. "Listen up now. The first thing we got to do is get out of here. Back to the surface. Anybody got any ideas?"
No, they don't have any ideas. They're waiting for you to tell them what to do. And you wish you knew.
You get up off the concrete slab. You walk around the vaulted room, your boots making squishing sounds in the ankle-deep water. They're all watching you. You wish you knew what you were looking for. You hope you'll recognize it when you see it.
You see there's machinery lying around everywhere, most of it smashed. There's an odor of smoke in the air, and it's getting worse. You unclip a flashlight from your web belt. By its light you continue your inspection.
It doesn't take long. There's just one way out of here--a narrow, slanting tunnel that leads upwards. "OK," you say, with a confidence you wish you felt, "this is the way up and out. I'll lead, you'll all follow. Got that?"
They gather around, look at the hole. It's narrow, constricting. They don't like it. One of them says, "Hey, Lieutenant, you sure of this?" You say, "We gotta get out of here and this is the only way. The Republic expects every one of you to do his duty. We've got a war on our hands. Let's go."
You fit yourself into the hole, and all the time you're thinking, The Republic, that must be us. You can feel memory returning to you, coming back slowly, still just beyond the edge of recognition. More of it will come, you're pretty sure of that. But will it come in time? Will it be there when you need it?
You continue up through the shaft, your assault rifle proving an awkward object to get around the bends and turns. The yellow light of your flashlight probes ahead. You squirm around the bends of the pipe or whatever you're in, negotiate a tight hairpin turn, hang on so as not to slip back as the hole angles up toward the perpendicular. You're choking, the smoke is getting thicker, you're trying not to cough so as to not shake yourself loose and fall into the men behind you.
You come up through the final bend in the pipe, and now things are changing. You're in a narrow place made of wood, wood that's covered with some sort of white satin material. The tunnel comes to an end here. You're feeling stifled, a latent claustrophobia is kicking in, and you push hard against what's over your head, feel it lift, slide off, and then you've got your head out of there.
You're sitting inside a coffin. That's what the boxlike thing was. You climb out of the coffin and find yourself in a mortuary. Powerful overhead lights throw a merciless white light over everything. It's a big room with a lot of tables in it. There are bodies lying on some of those tables, hacked bodies, sometimes only a livid trunk, or a severed head, or a torso with purple entrails spilling out. There's a stink of death everywhere.
The members of your platoon slowly come out of the hole and spread out around the room. They move cautiously, their fingers on the triggers of their weapons. There's a big window, still miraculously unshattered. You go to it, look out. What you see is an urban landscape. But it's a landscape that's been through hell.
You move out onto the street, you and your men. The streets are deserted. Where have all the people gone? You don't even want to speculate. What city is this? It could be any place. From the shattered palm trees here and there, you decide this must be Los Angeles.
Someone's coming. You tighten your grips on your weapons. But it's only a crazy, a harmless ragged guy who's walking along mumbling to himself. The guy doesn't seem dangerous. Just another loony, roaming the streets. You're going to change your mind about harmless before this adventure is over.
It's something else when you run across the first bag lady. She's crazy, too. But she's not harmless. She comes down the street pushing her supermarket cart loaded with old clothes, cans of food she's picked up God knows where, and riding on top of the load is her dog, some sort of a brown and white terrier. The terrier looks as crazy as the old lady.
You ask her, "What's going on around here, ma'am?" She looks you up and down scornfully. "Watch your ass, sonny. That's all I can tell you."
She can't get her cart over a high curb. One of your men, Dolan, you remember his name now, tries to help her. "Get your hands off my stuff!" she screams, and cuts him from across the stomach with a butcher knife she's had concealed in her sleeve.
Dolan looks surprised as he spills out his guts on the dirty pavement and falls down dead.
Then she's dropped the knife and pulls a tommy gun out from under her week-old packages of hamburger. No time to reason with her. You cut her down with a burst from your assault rifle.
But bag ladies are not your biggest problem. You soon see what is when the first of the Lips comes floating into your field of vision.
At first you're spellbound by the sight. You blink, but there it is--a huge pair of lips floating about ten feet above the ground. They're bright red, those lips, and they are wearing what you'd have to describe as a cruel smile. And then it starts coming back to you. The Exploding Lips! The invasion from another dimension! The Earth caught unawares, the wholesale destruction as the nations, unprepared for this eerie and deadly invasion, try to fight back against a menace they can hardly understand. The big red Lips float quietly in the air. You and your team scramble to get your weapons ready. You tell your men, "Don't start firing yet. Let's see what it does."
You wait. The Lips drift around slowly, about twenty feet from you. Can Lips see? Presumably. But this one doesn't seem to have noticed you. Maybe its mind is on something else. You wait. It drifts off, then suddenly speeds up, darting out of your sight.
You continue through the deserted streets of the city, and it's all coming back to you now. You alert your men to the present danger. "Those things, those huge lips--they're deadly. Apt to spit grenades at you. You gotta get them before they get you."
You continue through the city streets. There are houses and building burning here and there. No sign of fire engines. No sign of people, either. You've got lookouts watching the sky for Lips. Now one of them gives an early warning.
"Here comes two of them!" Did that first one go away to bring back a friend? It looks pretty serious now. They're coming in fast, in a darting, batlike flight. "Shoot!" you scream.
You plug one yourself with a lucky shot. You can see the tracers going into it. It jerks around for a moment, screaming, then the sound is cut off as it disappears.
Before you can cheer, the other one is coming at you. It powers in at tremendous speed. The lips are curled into a grin. You're pretty sure the thing is enjoying this. You and the others are all firing now, but the thing dips and darts, boring in, spitting grenades out of its red mouth, and then soaring up like a berserk bat.
One of its grenades gets one of your men. He doesn't even have time to scream. It blows him apart, and the Lip is turning, coming in for another run. You've switched to your grenade launcher, but you can feel that you won't be in time. It's coming in fast now--And then, one of your guys blows it up with a well-placed grenade.
Al; clear. You move on.
It becomes clear that the deeper we move into the city core, the more Lips we encounter. And we don't come across any people, unless you consider crazies and bag ladies as people. Reluctantly, we conclude that we're more likely to find help in the hinterland, where the survivors have gone. If there are any survivors.
We turn around and march back toward the countryside, and we come under intermittent attack. But you notice one heartening sign: the lips don't seem well coordinated, don't seem to be using intelligence work. Otherwise, enough of them have spotted you and your group by this time to have called in massive reinforcements. Either they're not talking to each other, or they have other things more important to do, or they just don't care. You don't care which of these options is true. You're just glad it's like this, because at least it gives you a chance.
The attacks on you and your men are constant, intermittent, and deadly. Sometimes the Lips come at you singly, sometimes they're in threes and fours, rarely more than five at a time. It's a little better when you get out of the suburbs, into forested land. The branches of the surrounding trees prevent them from making high speed dives. But the way they flutter through the trees makes them difficult targets. You lose men to them: men you can't afford to lose.
But you also pick up men. Men and women are scattered here and there, hiding out, survivors of earlier attacks, stunned but angry, waitng for a chance to do something. Some of them join up with you. Only a few of them are armed; but you've instructed your men to bring along all the weapons of their fallen comrades. Your forces are not impressive, but at least you have some people to fight with.
It occurs to you, as you make your way past the last suburbs, into the forest, that this scene might be playing itself out a thousand or a million times over, with different groups of men in different conditions. There are probably guys still fighting in the city cores, and from ships, and from vehicles of various sorts. There are probably men in jungles and on deserts, you're sure of it, and they're all having their individual adventures. But all you cna do at present is take care of this one.
You try to keep to forest cover, but it soon runs out. You're in a swampy area of thin trees, boggy soil. There are ponds and lakes you have to skirt, and some of the Lips have taken to flying at you directly out of the sun, the glare providing them with a few precious seconds in which to attack before you can strike back.
It's getting toward sunset now. You figure, if you can hold out, the darkness ought to give you some respite. But it looks like you're not going to get it. The swamp you're wading through now seems to breed these Lips like mosquitoes. The attacks, made by two or three of them at a time, are coming without respite. You're getting low on ammo, and you don't know where you're going to get any more. The situation is looking pretty sticky, but then this guy shows up from out of nowhere. He's a tall, skinny dude, and he's carrying a shotgun, though he doesn't seem to have any shells for it.
"Hey you guys!" he calls out. "Over this way! I know a way to firmer ground, shelter!"
There's no time to talk about it, you and your platoon follow him. Sure enough, he's bringing you back into a wooded area, and there's a hill ahead, and you can see a dark cave at the base of it.
"The cave!" he shouts. "They won't follow us in there!" Now you're all sprinting for the cave, the new guy in the lead. You reach it...
And a line of Lips like giant red bats come darting out. They're quick, they're nimble, and they're raining grenades on you and your men. You all hunker down, firing wildly, taking what cover you can find.
And the stranger? He's running toward the cave, toward the Lips patrolling above it. They don't do anything to him! They're letting him through!
At the entrance to the cave he stops, turns, and shouts, "Throw down your arms! Maybe the Lips'll let you join them!"
You cut him down with a single sustained burst of submachine gun fire. Now you know the guy was a turncoat. working against his own kind. Well, he won't be doing that any more.
It's a tough situation. Lucky for you the Lips are clumsy. Their fluttering attack is difficult to track, but once they're positioned for the kill, they hesitate, maybe gloatng over how they they're going to take you down. That gives you a chance to cut them down or blow them apart. You're going to get through this. This attack, anyhow. Afterwards, who knows?
Full darkness and no moon brings an end to the attack. Later, you'll discover that the Lips are fully capable of fighting at night. But different groups have different habits. You're getting off lucky this time. But you're about out of ammo, and you wonder what the dawn will bring. As a matter of fact, it brings The Mad Professor.
That's what you call him, anyhow, when he comes strolling into your improvised camp, a tall, gaunt white-haired old man wearing glasses and still clad in Ivy League gray flannels and a navy blue blazer. He comes strolling in as cool as cool can be. He says, "You fellows are having a rough time of it, I take it?"
"Yeah, and we don't need any more turncoats," one of your guys says, and cocks his M-60.
The Prof is very cool. "I know it's difficult to tell a turncoat from a fellow refugee, but apply your reasoning powers, won't you? If you try to kill everyone who's not one of your immediate group, you're not going to last long." Well, there was truth in that. You say to him, "Is there any way you can prove you're on our side?"
"Oh, I think so," he says. "By the way, I'm Gerald Dawkins. Fifteen years a full professor at Cal Tech. More recently, employed by the Jet Propulsion Lab to do something about all this. We had warnings. Not in time, unfortunately."
"How are we supposed to know if that's the truth or not?" you ask.
"I don't suppose you'll ever know for sure," Dawkins says. "But I do have something for you. Something you can use. It might put me in your good graces."
"What is it?"
"You follow Dawkins and your men follow you. You've got a bead on him. He's right, you can't just kill everybody. But if anything weird comes up, Dawkins gets it first. He goes to the base of a big tree, looks around, evidently orienting himself.
He says, "OK, this is the one and this is the spot. Dig here."
"What're we going to find?" you ask. "A tunnel to somewhere else?"
"Not exactly," he says, and that's the last word you can get out of him.
You and the guys dig. What we're looking for is only about three feet down. A bunch of large wooden boxes. Breaking one open, we find ammo, grenades, extra weapons. Dawkins is looking pretty good to us right now. We fire a few test rounds anyway, just to make sure they're not duds. Yep, the stuff works. We invite Dawkins to share our rations.
"No need," he says. "I've put aside some food of my own. Let me invite all of you to dinner."
Dawkins is pretty amazing. He's got a cache of canned food another hundred yards away. Tomato soup, biscuits, Dinty Moore beef stew. We're starving, it all goes down real good.
"We put this stuff aside in the early days of the attack," Dawkins tell us. "When we saw we were going to be overwhelmed. I tried to get the others to join me in some counter-measures I devised. They had their own ideas. At JPL, they called me The Mad Professor. I don't suppose it built a lot of confidence in my ideas."
"Why did they call you that?" I asked.
"Well, some of my theories concerning all this are a little far out, not in keeping with orthodox thinking. And my cosmological theory that accounts for all this is, to their way of thinking, just plain daft. Maybe you people, not being men of science, will be able to keep a more open mind."
"Don't count on it," I tell him, but I like the guy, he's pretty cool, and my buddies like him, too. He's given us weapons and food. We're prepared to give him some leeway. That night, camped out in deep forest, and for the moment not under attack, I ask Dawkins to tell me about his theories.
"First tell me what kind of a professor you were," I ask him.
"I taught several disciplines," he tells me. "My most recent title was Professor of Lost Cosmologies. That's the one that got me the title of The Mad Professor and got me fired from Cal."
"But they were wrong,right?" I say.
"You wax facetious, young man," Dawkins said. "But I am the only man to have a cohesive theory as to the reason behind all these events."
"I'm a little behind on my world news," I tell him.
"Just what has been going on?"
"There's been an invasion by what we refer to as Giant Lips. The variety attacking us are all red. A rather lurid red, I think you'll agree."
"As opposed to what?" you ask.
"The other Lips," he says. "The Blue Lips."
"I haven't seen any," you tell him.
"You will. The Red Lips were thrown out of our Dimension by Blue Lips--their antagonists--that's the reason behind all this. The Blues are the policemen, the Reds the criminals. The Reds totally revere the big lips. They followed them into this dimension. The Reds seek lebensraum, you see. The Blues want them dead. They're prepared to destroy this entire dimension unless the big lips are destroyed within a certain time. We--I refer to the people of Earth--have to kill them all."
"What is this about other dimensions?" you ask.
"Creatures like that had to come from somewhere. They don't obey the laws for creatures in our dimension. They come from their own weird universe. There are a lot of dimensions. Based on what I've seen, I have a theory on that."
"Let's hear it," you say.
"It seems to me that the universe, instead of procceding justonce from The Big Bang to now, has instead had multiple births and deaths, many Big Bangs. In some of these births, the universe was a vastly more compicated place than it is today. In one of these other lines of development, the Lips were not only possible but reasonable, indeed, inevitable in a scheme based on how a different universe was set up and ordered."
Dawkins cleared his throat and looked pleased with himself. "It would also account for their appearance in our world as big, intelligent, malevolent lips."
"How do you figure?"
"It seems obvious to me that in the dimension they come from, dispersed organs are the rule, not the exception. It is apparent that the Red Lips have a dispersed social organization. That they are still fairly rudimentary creatures is shown by the fact that they haven't passed beyond grenades yet. They can be killed, as you have seen. The trouble is, there seems to be an inexhaustible number of them."
"That is a problem," you say.
"They breed, you see, in vast fortresses which they have constructed on the Earth, and from which they launch their attacks."
"Now that you're talking, I'm remembering things," you tell him. "We humans were doing pretty well before these Lips came along, weren't we? Even had a seat on the Council of Planets."
"That's so," Dawkins said. "And they knocked us out of it with their own political organization. They call it The Imperium."
"Sounds pretty hopeless. I don't see what we can do...unless we can take over one of their fortresses." "That was exactly my thought, Lieutenant," Dawkins says. "It's good to see the military and the scientific mind working on the same track. If we can capture a fortress, it'll do wonders for our own morale. It'll give us a base from which to fight, to gather other humans. But there's something more important than that."
"And that is?"
"I have reason to believe that the Fortresses are the doorways back into their own dimension. And into the dimension of the Blue Lips."
"More Lips is just what we don't need."
"On the contrary, it's what we do need. The Blue Lips, you see, are the hereditary enemies of the Red Lips. They hate them so much that they're prepared to anihilate the entire dimension where the Red Lips have gone. It's a big threat, but they've got the technology to carry it out with.
They'll do it, too, unless we can show them results pretty damned fast."
"So we have to go into the Fortress?
"Yes. And to get there we have to go through the Labyrinth. That's a protective zone they've put up around their Fortresses. Filled with particularly nasty tricks. I know only a few. I'm afraid we'll have to learn more. If you agree that this is the thing to do."
I agreed. What else was I to do? And Gerald Dawkins, the Mad Professor led us into the Labyrinth.
Well, we had some adventures there, I can tell you. But they were nothing compared to the trouble we had getting into the Fortress. I still dream of that place sometimes...its huge spooky rooms, its dark corridors, its trick doors, its traps. The death and destruction that came to us unexpectedly.
And after that, we contacted the Blue Lips, and we learned some surprising things about them, and about us, too--the Mad Professor had a theory that humans, too, had dispersed organs, though we weren't aware of it. That fact, once we learned what to do with it, proved of great importance in our ongoing struggle. And even won us some respect from the Blues, who didn't like us worth a damn. But they say the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and so it turned out with the Blue Lips. We were to gain some even more surprising allies before this was all finished. But all that is still to come. Right now, we're following Dawkins, and he's leading us to a place stranger than any man has seen--the place he calls the Labyrinth.
Bob Sheckley continues work on the finishing touches of the Exploding Lips® storyline for the game, feature film, and TV pilot. We'll keep you posted on developments.