“It’s all bally awkward, really,” Jones explained. “But with that off the old diaphragm I feel a new man. I’ll give you the straight goods, never you worry, but you have the long and the short of it already, chappies. Kill, kill, kill. Now is better than a week Sunday.”
Neville leaned forward in his chair. Slightly. “You want us to kill you. I got that much. Reggie, did you take that as his meaning?”
“Yep,” the werewolf said. He started across the room with big strides, one hand up in a fist.
“A moment, please,” Neville said.
“Are you sure, boss?” Reggie asked.
“We don’t know why, yet. Why he wants to die.”
“I’m thinking if we don’t have to listen to him talk anymore—”
Neville clucked his tongue. Which was tricky, seeing as it had dried out forty centuries earlier. Perhaps ‘clicked’ is the better term. Either way he bade Reggie to hold off on murder for the nonce. “Mr. Jones,” he said, “I’m afraid we need a reason to do this thing. I think, for a start, we need to see you in the flesh. Not this…” he waved a hand, “vehicle you’re riding around in.”
Qornok Jones looked from one of them to the other. He clearly didn’t relish the prospect. “It’s a bit rum,” he warned, but he did as they asked. First he lifted his hat away from the mannequin’s head. Then he leaned forward so they could see what he truly looked like. It was about what you might imagine by now. A lot of green tentacles, some of which ended in blue eyes. In the middle of the writhing mass sat a tiny mouth that was turned down at the corners in a frown.
“It’s like this,” Jone said, and for the first time they watched his mouth move while he spoke. “I’m the sort of blighter that takes up residence in the old bean. That is, somebody else’s old bean. The broader the forehead the better. It’s a bit of a wheeze, a real soft snap, but—”
No, on second thought, we shan’t go through with this. Originally this document was intended to contain a careful and exact recounting of what was said that morning between nine and noon (and yes, it took a full three hours for Qornok Jones to get his story out). For the historical record of our planet, if no other reason. It simply won’t do, however. Should anyone actually read a transcription of the whole thing, they would be left so mentally incapacitated they would probably be reduced to a gibbering wreck. As there’s some thick going yet to come (as we shall see when we return to Babs), it’s really for the best that we just speak plainly now.
Here was the crux of it: Qornok Jones was an alien brain parasite.
He had been born on some distant planet, where creatures like himself had already taken over every brain there was to be had, and still they wanted more. The people of that planet—slaves to the green tentacles growing in their heads—constructed two rocketships, and into each of them they had placed one of their overlords, sealing them up in a sort of suspended animation. Then they had launched those rocketships toward the next habitable planet over, which, spot of bad luck there, happened to be the Earth.
Qornok—he adopted the Jones later—was one of those starfarers. He’d come down in the reed-infested wetlands of New Jersey a few months earlier. At the time he was much smaller, just a spore of green that could float on the wind. He’d ended up in New York City. Midtown, to be precise, on the street outside Macy’s department store.
His first mission was to find a body to inhabit, so that he could pass unnoticed through human society. He’d been told to look for a military leader or a celebrity, someone with power. Unfortunately he didn’t know anything about human languages or culture. What he saw was a glass window, with dozens of people gathered around it, peering in with great interest. He assumed this was some manner of religious ritual. So he made his way inside the window and attached himself to the head of the eminence in question.
“Window-shoppers,” Reggie said, getting it. “They were window-shoppers taking a peek at the new winter fashions. And this religious whosit you attacked, that was just a dummy dressed up in a brand new suit.”
“I was a bit rum getting in, the bean of this old body was thicker than—”
No. No. No need for verbatim transcription. Let us go on.
Qornok grew by leaps and bounds once he was inside the mannequin. He was able to send tendrils of his being down into its hands, its fingers, its toes. He learned to make it walk and gesture and how to use it to feed himself. He even managed to get a job, selling encyclopedias door-to-door. He’d been worried that not knowing any earthly language would be an impediment to employment, but it seemed the sales company would take just anybody who walked in the door.
He needed the job, because it would give him a cover story while he undertook his next mission: to find his fellow parasite, the second of the two who had been launched at Earth.
The female of the species.
“I’m afraid she’s not here at the Hall, if that’s why you’ve come to us,” Neville said. “I think I might have noticed if a female encyclopedia salesman had come to stay.”
“Girls aren’t gentlemen,” Qornok tried. Which is something Wodehouse had taught him to say. What he meant by it was that the female parasite was unlikely to have hit upon the same tactic he had for getting around. He explained that she would be considerably larger than he was, and that most likely she would have found an actual human body to infest, rather than a mannequin.
It was while he was going door-to-door, looking for her, that he’d heard of Grimbly Hall and its open-door policy when it came to monsters. And so he had made his way to Neville’s door.
“Rightly so,” the mummy said. “Yet I’m afraid there are parts of this story I don’t yet understand. You needed to find this female, because—”
“There’s all that silly nonsense about the business of making children,” Qornok said.
“Yes, I hear it’s the latest thing,” Neville said. He shook himself. He was falling into the habit of talking like a character in a comic novel. It wouldn’t do. “You need the female, of course, to breed. That much makes sense.”
It was, in fact, the whole point of the mission. And why both a male and a female parasite were sent to Earth. Taking over a planet was supposed to be very difficult, and required considerable manpower. Qornok and his intended would mate and produce millions of eggs. These bouncing baby parasites would then go about enslaving the human race, one brain at a time.
There was only one problem.
Qornok didn’t want to do it.
Perhaps during his long travels through space, perhaps only after seeing a bit of Earth, he had come to a certain resolution that whatever he planned for his life, it didn’t include the thing he’d been sent to do.
“That’s kind of you,” Reggie said. “Not wanting to slaughter us and eat our brains. I know I appreciate it.”
“Yes, I do as well,” Neville assured his guest. “It’s a real stroke of luck.”
“Oh, it’s not the conquest and the bloodshed and the what-ho and that rot that I mind ever so much,” Qornok admitted. “I’m all for a bit of sport in the sun.”
Neville leaned forward a little more. “So it’s not out of the good of your heart that you decided to spare us.”
“No, not in the slightest, old top. It’s the… well… I must warn you, you’ll find this next bit might floor you altogether. It might leave you reeling.”
“Yes?” Neville asked. Reggie stared.
“It’s… it’s all a bit shocking.” It being the reason he had no desire to find the female parasite.
It took quite a lot of telling.
When it was done, Neville sat back in his chair.
“Oh, is that all?” he asked.
“You’re a homosexual,” Reggie said, summing it all up.
“You’re not put off?” Qornok said. “I thought it might startle you something considerable.”
Neville waved a hand in dismissal. “This is the 1920s, not the Victorian Era. Haven’t you heard? These days anything goes.”
Reggie just shrugged. He’d been in the Army.
“So there’s the top and the bottom of it,” Qornok said. “I imagine you see now why it’s the absolute must. You should kill me right now.”
Because of course if they didn’t—well. The other parasite, the lady parasite, was sure to track him down no matter where he hid.
“But it’s not like you’d have to… you know,” Reggie said. Which of course Qornok did not know, so there was a great deal more talk, which will most certainly not be repeated here, where anyone might read it. The upshot was that alien brain parasites, surprisingly, mated in a way quite different from humans. The distaff parasite didn’t need Qornok’s permission, or even his willing participation. Once she found him all she had to do was eat him. That was why the female was larger than the male, and also faster afoot. The males kept trying to get away.
She would find him, devour him, and thereby fertilize her eggs. After that, Earth’s days were numbered.
Hence Qornok’s belief that the best course of action was his own immediate murder.
“Right. Better get it over with,” Reggie said, and he grabbed a stone paperweight in the shape of a Hindu idol. He’d gotten as far as brandishing it over his head before Neville told him, once more, to stop.
“Perhaps there’s a way to handle this without resorting to violence,” he said. “Though it is a trifle risky.”