Torrent – A Flash Fiction Story
Ben marched through the bunker, trying to ignore the gasps and stares as much as he was ignoring his own grief. With his flamethrower cradled in one arm, and the specimen jar in the other, he walked into Dr. Daniels’ lab.
It was once a storage room, but space was an increasingly valuable commodity. This was proven by Daniels’ meager bunk, stuffed in the corner of the lab.
Dr. Daniels, busy studying a textbook, jumped when Ben slammed the specimen jar down in front of him. The doctor stared at it, getting closer and closer until his nose was touching the jar.
“Do you know what part it is?”
Ben shrugged. “It all looks the same. Hand? Tentacle? Tip of its—”
Dr. Daniels let out a squeal of joy and jumped out of his chair. He grabbed the jar and brought it to another table like a child with a new toy.
“Ben?” a woman’s voice called. Victoria walked into the lab and faced him.
Ben gave his best salute, but he could barely lift his arm.
She slapped his hand away from his head. “At ease. You can barely stand.”
Victoria took him by the shoulders, guided him over to the doctor’s bunk, and forced him to sit. Ben gave little resistance. He didn’t have much to give.
She locked eyes with him. “What happened out there, Lieutenant?”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ben put one foot into the swamp and waited. He wasn’t expecting to be attacked, but it was a possibility. None of them would see anything coming.
He pushed the fear away and moved forward. Seconds later, he heard the rest of his unit making their own entrance into the water, with grunts and sighs of trepidation.
“This is so wrong,” Jordan said.
He was right, but the swamp was long and winding with impassable foliage on its banks. There was no choice but to travel in the water, despite the extra danger.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” Peter said. He spat into the swamp, keeping his eyes trained on the surface of the water ahead.
Rose turned her ballcap backwards and swatted at a fly. “We should just bomb the damn place.”
Only they weren’t on a simple search and destroy mission. They were attempting to capture—something that had never been done before. Ben’s squad was always tapped when the powers wanted something that had never been tried before. They were the first squad to make a kill, the first one to try an offensive attack, and now the first one to attempt data collection.
“I was thinking,” Jordan said. “We can’t just keep calling these things ‘the enemy’ or ‘them,’ can we?”
“You have any suggestions?” Rose asked.
Ben felt the ground dip, and the water rose to his armpits. “Flamers up!” His squad complied, holding their weapons above their heads.
“How about H2 oh no!” Jordan said.
Rose splashed water at him.
“No? How about . . . Hydrogen Die Oxide? But you have to spell it D-I-E.”
“How the hell are people going to know you’re saying it that way? Are you going to spell it out every time you say it? You need something short and easy, like ‘water men.’”
“‘Water men?’ That’s what a five-year-old would name them.”
A splash fight erupted.
“Hey!” Ben called. “Focus. You’re going to put your flamers out.”
Rose and Jordan were both good soldiers, but they forgot themselves sometimes. Youth and confidence. They trudged on in silence for a while. The ground came back up, and they were waist-deep in the water again.
“Torrent,” Peter said.
“Torrent?” Jordan asked.
Rose nodded and Jordan shrugged.
“Game faces, people,” Ben said. “Coming up on target zone.”
All jokes disappeared, and Ben moved forward with three of the best soldiers he had ever met.
They were still a hundred yards from the target, reporting by satellite intel, when Jordan was thrown into the air. He bounced off a tree on the swamp bank and landed back in the water. He was up instantly, and his face sank as he watched the enemy form between him and the rest of the squad.
It was like the water grew a bulbous tumour. That tumour started to take on the shape of something bipedal with appendages that were ever-changing, fluid, and translucent. Sometimes they looked like arms, sometimes tentacles, and sometimes they disappeared completely.
They could see Jordan through the monster, like seeing someone from the other side of a fish tank. The enemy forming in front of them kept growing past the normal size. He hoped there was only one, as they had never faced one this big—let alone two or three. Could they have stumbled upon a queen?
Jordan pulled the trigger of his flamer. It clicked. Instead of a flame at the tip, his flamer dripped water. It had gone under the water when he did.
“No, no, no,” he repeated quietly as he fumbled a Zippo, sealed in a plastic bag, out of his pocket.
“Light it up!” Ben called.
The rest of the squad shot columns of flame into the thing’s back. And though it didn’t turn around, it obviously shifted its focus from Jordan to them.
It shot its own column, made of its own body, which hit Rose in the chest and held her down under the water.
“Stay on the body!” Ben called to Peter, and focused his flame on the column holding Rose. He walked forward as he fired, feeling under the water with his free hand. Something hit his arm and he grabbed hold of it. It was Rose’s arm.
Ben poured on the heat and pulled on Rose’s arm. It was like pulling someone out Jell-O, but her face slowly appeared at the surface and she gasped.
From the other side, Jordan had his flamer lit again and was back on the attack. It focused on Jordan again, bringing down what looked like a cylindrical arm directly down on Jordan. He was engulfed by it. The others watched him try to pound with his fists, but they just passed through the creature. He tried to run, but the creature moved with him.
Rose still wasn’t lit back up, but Ben and Peter ran over, blasting at the appendage that encased Jordan. Ben got there first and reached in, but he pulled his hand back immediately. It was like putting his hand in boiling water.
The thing retracted into itself and sunk under the surface, blending perfectly into the water.
Jordan fell into Ben’s arms, dead. His skin was red and blistered.
“My God,” Peter whispered. “We boiled him alive!”
“Dammit,” Rose said. She was crying and trying to get lighter to spark. “Come on!”
“Take mine,” Ben said, tossing his lighter to Rose.
As she caught the lighter, an enemy—a much smaller one—formed behind her.
Ben’s arm came up, but Rose was already pointing back at him. They both called out, “Behind you!”
His mouth was still open when Ben was forced under the water. He struggled against a force that felt solid on his back, but when he reached back he felt nothing but water. He pushed hard with both legs and both arms, straining his neck in an attempt to get some air.
Ben got his knees underneath him and pushed harder. The pressure on him didn’t let up, but he’d be able to resist for a moment.
Nearby, Peter was locked in a similar battle, barely keeping his face above water.
“Flash it!” Peter gurgled through mouthfuls of water.
He was right. Rose was floating face down.
“Get your face out of the water,” Ben said through gritted teeth.
Peter nodded and pushed hard, managing to clear a few inches between his face and the water.
“Freeze, you bastards!”
Ben hit the button on his nitrogen grenade and tossed it between himself and Peter. There was a loud pop and ice bloomed from the grenade, reaching in all directions.
The pressure on Ben increased, and his face slowly lowered toward the water. Ben gave a guttural cry and pushed back, but it was a losing battle. He felt the water touch his cheek. It was cold. Really cold. It was ice!
Ben still couldn’t move, but he no longer had to fight the pressure. He sat there panting, convincing his muscles to stop fighting.
“You good, Peter?”
It was difficult to move in his ice prison. He craned his neck until he could see Peter, and wished he hadn’t.
When the enemy put extra pressure on Ben, they had done the same on Peter, whose head was completely under water when it froze. The only thing above the surface was an arm, which was flailing and pounding at the ice with a fist. Ben sobbed and forced himself to watch until the arm went still. Then Ben wailed.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“I chipped away at the ice for hours before I got free. Broke off a sample and got back here.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this right now, Ben, but because of their sacrifice, and yours, the human race is going to survive.”
“No, it won’t.”
Ben and Victoria both looked over at Dr. Daniels, who was standing in the middle of his lab, staring at the specimen jar. His face was white, and there was an unusual slouch in his stance. He dropped to the floor, landing on his behind, still staring.
Ben rushed over, grabbed him by the shoulders, and gave him a shake. “What is it, Daniels?”
“You didn’t bring back a piece of a creature. You brought back millions and millions of microscopic beings. Maybe they’re working together with some kind of telekinesis, but I’d surmise that it’s closer to a hive. They work together because there’s only one mind, and they all share it.
“We vainly thought they just showed up when we took notice, but we don’t know. They could have been here longer. Much longer. Maybe longer than the human race. Maybe longer than any living thing, ever.”
A large drop of sweat rolled off of Daniels’ nose and landed on Ben’s arm. He wouldn’t have paid it any mind if he hadn’t felt it move.