Mike Scantlebury - Science Fiction
 
   

Those Red Things

S Y N O P S I S

Charlie Duffy is an ordinary sort of person, a salesman in the motor trade, but his ambition and the long hours he has to work destroys his marriage. All at once, his life is in tatters and, in desperation, he takes his sister's advice to 'get away from it all' at an Anglican Abbey on the north coast of Devon, where she thinks he will have time for quiet reflection and a chance to come to terms with his problems.

The setting is as tranquil as promised, but the peace of the first evening's service in the chapel is rudely shattered by an attack of the 'red things', strange formless blobs of matter that drop on the unsuspecting congregation, and appear to eat them away from the inside!

Charlie finds himself abruptly involved, and reacts magnificently, making himself invaluable; but all too soon the old depression returns, and he is excluded once again. The next day, though now cheerful, he is astonished to find that there is no mention of the things on the radio or in the papers. Still, there is no chance for sitting back and taking it easy, as the people at the Abbey soon witness more of the 'blobs', this time coming out of the sea. The fugitives have to spend the rest of the day preparing themselves for an attack.

That night is full of horror, as hundreds of the things swirl all around the encampment. Many die, including several religious people that Charlie has developed a great respect for. The next day, he feels drained and agrees with the others that the best thing is to go. They load their cars and head a cross country, fleeing the things and encountering survivors and the remnants of the ‘monsters' spreading destructiveness.

Charlie is accompanied by a girl he has met and whom he feels he almost loves. She takes him to a quiet village, miles away in the hills, where she has relatives. They too have gone, but the pair decide to spend the night in their cottage, first preparing for the worst. It happens: the things appear, there is a considerable battle but at last they get in, and the girl is killed.

Staggering around the following morning, alone and confused, Charlie meets the local vicar, and they share a bizarre breakfast in the ruins of the village. The man tells Charlie that he has been in touch with the Army, who are co-coordinating resistance, and they advise everybody to move eastwards, away from the front line of the 'invasion'. Charlie still has his car, and decides to give the other man a lift. They set off.

They travel all day, seeing death and destruction everywhere, and arriving near dusk at Loxton Down. Charlie knows it, for this is where his estranged wife is working, at the government research Station. He determines to find her, but first they meet the 'village idiot', who tells them stories of 'apemen' on the hill. They drive up, seeing nothing, but the man at the lodge-gate of the Station advises them to drive in and not stop for anything.

They hear strange animal-like sounds from the woods, and something like screams: the vicar insists they stop and help, but, stumbling through the undergrowth, they become separated, and Charlie has to make his own way up to the main buildings. When he reports what has happened, he is laughed at and told to see Dr Duffy, ie his wife!

He finds her in her quarters, but not alone. He is humiliated, again, for it was her erring ways that finally drove them apart. Later, she meets him in the canteen, but refuses to leave the Station: it hasn't been attacked yet, and nobody there appreciates the danger. The vicar is found, meanwhile, and helps organise defences. He tells of seeing 'monkeys' in the woods, and a scientist explains that it is the result of a biological engineering experiment, to make humans more adaptable to a cold climate, by introducing silicates into the blood and extending sub cutaneous fat layers, etc . They can happily live outside in all weathers. Charlie is the first to realise that this makes them immune to the ‘blobs' for the monsters only attack INSIDE buildings.

That night the things arrive, and it is as awful as before, with many casualties, including the vicar. The staff therefore decide to up and move to another centre further east that is being used as a co-ordination point. The 'apes' will follow on foot.

The convoy sets out, through mounting chaos and lines of refugees on the roads, with hastily improvised weapons, such as flame-throwers, which are found to be of limited effectiveness, for the 'things' attack their operators, seeming to sense the danger. Once there, a conference is called of all the scientists and Army top brass present. Charlie hears more about the things, how they emerged from the sea, and how they seemed at first to be some sort of developed jellyfish. One expert seems to think they are a mutation, a forward step, and that they are intelligent! He wants to communicate with them. But his views are ignored by the military, and all plans centre on means of fighting them, with chemicals, with flames, with gas etc.

They prepare for another battle, and it is worse than ever, for the things seem to be learning: they do not just drop on victims and drift with the winds, but seem to have mastered the art of following air currents, so can more or less fly! Besides this, they co-operate, and will combine to overwhelm a soldier with gas gun or flame thrower. Also, they seem to sense important targets, and make huge efforts to infiltrate the communications centre.

Still, during daylight they are inactive, and more plans are made the next day. The Army intends to draw a line across the country and attempt to hold them there, but they need more equipment. Charlie is exhausted, but, continuing to be taunted by his ex-wife about her string of lovers, volunteers to go on a drive to fetch more weapons from an Army arsenal.

Before he leaves he meets again with the top scientist who thinks the things are intelligent and not merely 'monsters': he is more convinced than ever, and even theorises that they might be superior to Man! Thus, there is a moral dilemma: if the things are the next stage of evolution, shouldn't humans stand aside and LET THEM take over the world? The Army dismiss such ideas, and determine to use his communication equipment, if he can finish it, to trap and ultimately destroy all the 'red things'. Charlie realises that the 'apes' will still have a good chance of survival, whatever happens to most humans.

They take a convoy to the Arsenal, and are dismayed to find the things waiting! They are getting stronger. For the first time, they attack in the daytime. Mankind's chances seem to be slipping away.

The tattered forces arrive back, but Charlie is waylaid by an 'ape': they are in the woods and his wife is with them. Approaching, Charlie sees her and is horrified to think that she may even be sleeping with one of them. An argument develops, he goes mad with rage and shoots the 'ape;, but manages to escape. He confesses to the Army commander back at the Station, but the man sweeps it aside, recognising Charlie's contribution to the fight, and says he may stand trial only 'after'.

A further conference is called, and the scientist admits he has found the answer: they communicate like bats, in the higher reaches of the audio spectrum. The Army immediately realise this can be used against them: detectors can be built and linked to weapons, and though the 'things' may be able to detect emotion, especially hostility, which is how they know which target to concentrate on, they won't be able to detect the machines and will be vulnerable to them. The scientist, appalled, sees his invention taken over and used. Can a prototype be made in time?

That night the attack begins again, and engineers work through, desperately trying to perfect a machine. Though several die, a working model is wheeled out in the dawn and switched on. Sure enough, it homes in on the things and blasts them out of the sky. They cannot detect it, and fly straight into its path. They are vulnerable to it. The scientist says that he thought the things were superior to Man since they didn't need homes or shelter, or machines, or agriculture, or any of the technology that makes human life possible, but it seems strange that it is still our technology, in the form of this weapon, that will defeat them.

Strange too, that some men had developed into the 'apemen', and would have been able to live in harmony with the 'blobs'. That is now not possible: the things will all be destroyed. The Army has decided.

Charlie is confronted in a corridor by the 'apemen', who demand justice, and threaten all sorts of punishment for killing one of their brothers. Charlie finds in himself a new dignity: he won’t apologise, says it was self-defence, and refuses to plead for his life. The 'apes', strangely, seem satisfied, pleased at his honesty, and allow him to go.

The campaign has to be planned, and once more he is useful, sin e his years as a commercial traveller mean that he knows much of the country well, and he can help in selecting sites for depots and defences.

His wife, meanwhile, impressed both with his new confidence and position in the community, vows to put an end to her wantonness, and they are reconciled.


 

 
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