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LIP STORY COPY

    by Robert Sheckley
You don't remember what your dream was. Only that you  woke up screaming, your eyes bulging out of your head. You  sat upright, your hands still shaking with the memory of  whatever it was that was coming at you.   You're glad you're awake now. It's better awake, you  think. But looking around, you're not so sure. Can this be  reality? Or have you woken up into another dream?   Surreptitiously you pinch your arm. It hurts. Right  now, pain is good. It means you're really awake, not caught  up in the coils of some nameless nightmare to horrible to  face.  

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?"  

"Come look." 

"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.   

END  

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.



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