It was just supposed to be one of those terrible sci-fi movies from back when our parents were young. Marco and I had a lot of fun laughing our way through Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, and Women of the Prehistoric Planet.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers sounded just like those other kinds of movies and I figured that even if the name reminded me uncomfortably of our current crisis that the overall ridiculousness of the movie would chase that resemblance away.
And I was sort of right in that the film was far different than our reality but it still left me feeling vaguely unsettled in a way that I probably wouldn't have been before all this started.
"I hate how old movies always tack on happy endings," Marco complained. "It's so unrealistic."
"Well I like happy endings," I told him. "In fact, if a movie doesn't have a happy ending then I automatically like it less."
"There's nothing wrong with happy endings, Jake," he replied. "But for a lot of these movies it's pretty clear that they wanted it to not have a happy ending but they were forced to."
"How can they be forced to make it a happy ending?" I wondered. "The test audiences like happy endings as much as I do?"
Marco rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Jake, don't you know anything about the history of cinema?"
I thought about it. "Not really. Do you?"
"Of course I do!" Marco exclaimed. "Movies, TV shows, and video games are a few of the things that I find important enough to read up on."
"I'm sure your teachers will be thrilled that you're finally applying yourself," I said dryly.
"If they wanted me to apply myself to school then they really should have been more specific," Marco said seriously.
"Maybe they figured that you'd know what they meant," I said.
"I also didn't apply myself to figuring out what my teachers aren't telling me," Marco announced.
I laughed. "So go on. Tell me why they were forced to make it a happy ending."
"Hollywood had a lot of censorship back in the fifties. And they thought everyone were communists, too. It's hard to believe that they got any movies made," he informed me.
"And part of that censorship was that every film had to end happily?" I asked.
Marco nodded. "Oh, yeah. Remember when we watched Frankenstein?"
I crossed my arms, knowing where he was going with this. "I didn't find that happy ending even slightly unbelievable."
"Jake, you know how the book ends," Marco said pointedly.
"So what if in the book Frankenstein played more of a part in his own destruction and the monster chased him to the arctic and killed him before committing suicide?" I asked rhetorically. "That doesn't mean that the film ended unrealistically."
"Jake, in the film Frankenstein was bleeding heavily and looked dead even before he was thrown around by the monster again and dropped from the top of a windmill hitting every…" Marco trailed off, biting his lip. "What do you call them, the parts that go round on the way down. And then he's just fine at the end?"
"The human body is very resilient," I said sagely.
Another eye roll. "This is the film where the creatures lightly tossing that kid into the water drowned her."
"She probably couldn't swim," I replied.
"It was like three feet of water!" Marco exclaimed.
"Maybe she hit her head," I offered.
"And how her father deduced that she'd been murdered is beyond me. And let's not forget the creature 'attacking' the girlfriend while leaving her completely unharmed," he continued.
"I can't really imagine them murdering the love interest in the thirties," I told him. "And on her wedding day!"
"That is exactly what I'm talking about with tacked-on happy endings," Marco said, nodding. "So it ends with everyone just sort of forgetting everything and Henry Frankenstein happily being nursed by his girlfriend."
"That's what didn't make sense to me," I admitted. "Why Henry Frankenstein? It's supposed to be Victor Frankenstein. And they invented his friend Victor."
"I think it was to create some sort of a love triangle since Victor and Henry were both in love with the girl," Marco said. "Maybe we'd think that Henry would die or at least be rejected but Victor would get to marry her."
I grinned. "They didn't count on us realizing that thirties movies don't work that way."
Marco shot me a look. "What's this 'us' business?"
I ignored him. "And what's up with his side-kick anyway? He wasn't in the book but when I think of Frankenstein I think of his sidekick Igor. The sidekick was probably created here but his name was…Franz or Fritz or something. Definitely not Igor."
"Well I know they use Igor in Young Frankenstein," Marco said slowly. "But since that was a parody of the film they probably wouldn't have invented the name and that came out in the seventies anyway."
"We could look it up," I suggested.
"Do you really are all that much?" Marco retorted.
"Well…no," I conceded. "But you were complaining about happy endings?" How could anyone complain about happy endings? It was ridiculous. But one thing I know about my best friend is that he is capable of complaining about anything and everything. And that's not even just me being mean because he prides himself on it. Quite literally.
Marco blinked before remembering what he had been saying. "Just the clearly ill-fitting ones like this."
"What doesn't make sense about this?" I asked. "He escapes because he gets to the highway which was the plan all along. They don't follow him because there are too many witnesses and that might attract suspicion. He tries to get someone to stop but he's talking crazy and in the middle of a highway and looking sort of like a crazy person so he gets locked up. No one believes his story until they get some proof. Seems pretty realistic to me."
"Except for the part about the pod people," Marco couldn't resist saying.
I shrugged. "I've heard of crazier things."
We all had. Though perhaps not things with such lousy special effects. That was one of the benefits of existing in real life and not a 50s movie. Although at least 50s movies, as Marco said, were usually guaranteed a happy ending. I heard that the remakes of this movie didn't fare so well for our heroes and even this one had the girlfriend bite it.
Marco nodded, acknowledging that. "The unbelievable part is that the truck just happens to crash and so the doctors find out about the pods and they believe Miles after all and call the FBI and everyone is saved."
"Well what would you expect the result of those doctors who just heard that story finding those pods to be?" I challenged.
Marco threw me a disgusted look. "The problem is the contrived crash that just happens to land the doctor in that hospital. Did they send someone who couldn't drive and just hit the first wall out of town?"
"It could happen," I said stubbornly.
Marco shrugged. "Sure. But it's improbable as hell which was my point. If they're so unemotional and rational they'd probably send out a better driver."
"So how would you have it end?" I asked him. "With Miles not getting away?"
Marco shook his head. "Oh, no. His escape was fine. I just would have wanted him to be locked up and watching helplessly as the same thing happens there and sooner or later he has to fall asleep. Or you know what? I heard that the original ending, before they were forced to make it a happy ending, was for it to be over when he's trying to get a car to slow down. Nice and ambiguous. Do they stop, do they not? If someone finally does will they believe him? They might have to take out that bit at the start with the mental institution but you don't really need that. Or even just ending it with the cars implies what happens is someone does finally stop and get him arrested."
"Well…"I said slowly. "It was only the one truck and at least four were leaving. I think that this was probably the first day they sent the pods out but the likelihood of catching those trucks that already left and stopping the spread isn't the best. So even if they close all the roads down they still have those other three trucks to worry about. And since the pod was nowhere near the girlfriend when she fell asleep for two seconds no one even has to know that the truck drivers are there for them to be infecting people."
"That's true," Marco said, predictably brightening right up. "Although I think that the girlfriend thing was just the typical 50s disregard for continuity in favor of being dramatic. Or maybe there were pods in the tunnels. The pod people seemed to know them well. Although there's still the problem of her only being asleep for a little while when earlier in the movie she was asleep with a pod that looked like her and Miles still had time to save her."
I thought about that for a moment. It probably was just them not caring but sometimes it was still fun to come up with your own explanation. "Maybe it was because she had already partially transferred the first time. I don't think her pod was destroyed but even if it was that might make her more susceptible to the transformation."
Marco snapped his fingers. "See! You do come up with good ideas sometimes!"
"There's really no need to sound so surprised," I said, glowering. "And I wasn't doubting that."
"Neither was I," Marco said unconvincingly.
"What do you think happens to the real bodies?" I wondered.
"Um…I think in another version I heard that they melted," Marco told me. "In this version it could be the same. I was thinking that maybe the pod people manually dispose of them but then Miles didn't see what's-her-name's body in the cave."
"I feel like we should know her name," I remarked.
"It'll come to me," he said dismissively.
"Or maybe the bodies merge," I suggested.
Marco looked skeptical. "The bodies are usually several floors apart."
"And yet that doesn't stop the mind meld," I replied.
"You have your ridiculous theory and I'll have my perfectly sound one," Marco said magnanimously.
I rolled my eyes. "You're too kind."
"Elizabeth!" Marco cried out suddenly. "It was Elizabeth!"
It took me a second to catch on. "The girlfriend?"
Marco nodded. "Yeah, it…No, wait, sorry, it was Becky. She just looks a lot like Elizabeth Taylor. And don't tell me 'she's not.' Everyone always does that whenever I say someone looks like someone even though, obviously, if I thought it was them I would have said that."
"I wasn't going to say that," I promised him.
Marco looked unconvinced. "Sure you weren't."
"I wasn't!" I insisted. "Mostly because I don't know who Elizabeth Taylor is."
Marco's jaw dropped. "You don't know who…How can you not know who Elizabeth Taylor is?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I just haven't heard of her. I'm assuming she's a movie star, possibly from that same time period."
"You assume correctly," Marco confirmed. "Look her up."
I snorted. "Yeah, I probably won't."
Marco shook his head pityingly. "Sometimes I'm ashamed to be seen in public with you, Jake."
"Like anyone could tell that I don't know who she is just by looking at me," I said, rolling my eyes.
"You didn't," I pointed out.
"Fair enough," he conceded.
"And anyway, we're not even in public," I said, gesturing around. "We're in your room and your dad and Nora aren't here."
"The dog from hell is, however," Marco said, shuddering.
"I really don't see what your problem with Euclid is," I admitted. "It's a perfectly nice dog."
"You say that now," Marco said darkly. "Try living with it."
I laughed. "Yeah, no. I much prefer a real dog like Homer to a poodle. I might have to turn in my man card for that."
"Hey, it's not my dog!" Marco said defensively.
"Yet you are scared of it which is almost worse," I noted.
Marco bit his lip. " 'Scared' is a strong word."
"Oh, I agree," I said, amused. "But hey, I just thought of another thing that might cheer you up about the happy ending. Not that it even makes sense for someone to need to be cheered up about a happy ending."
Marco looked pleased. "I like the sound of that."
"Those two guards that were holding him back? They didn't say anything and their faces were carefully blank and unemotional the entire time they were onscreen. Which, granted, was only two minutes but still," I told him.
His eyes lit up. "Maybe they're one of them!"
I frowned. "You do realize that you're actively rooting for an invading mind-controlling alien species to conquer Earth, right?"
"I'm not rooting for them, I just…" Marco automatically started to protest and then trailed off. He made a face. "Okay, you're right, that is kind of messed up."
"Tell me I'm not the only one who was far more disturbed by that movie than your average person watching it would be," I requested.
"You mean because of the…?" Marco questioned. "I do have to admit that while part of me was watching it like any other 50s sci-fi movie, this was more disturbing than any of the other ones I'd seen."
"It's just…it's not the same of course. If it were exactly the same it would be ridiculous. But the similarities…" I shook my head.
"We never can decide if we should go public," Marco said thoughtfully. "We've tried a few times and it hasn't worked but, as Ax often points out, we can go public whenever we want to. We can morph and if we don't want to reveal our own identities then there's always Ax."
"Going public doesn't just mean we can fight back, though," I pointed out. "It also means that the Yeerks have no reason to hide. And given that it's just the six of us who really know what's going on and have experience here, this secret war that forces the Yeerks to move slower really works for us."
To my surprise, Marco made a fist and gently started bashing his forehead. "Stupid, stupid, stupid…"
I blinked. "I know that I say a lot of stupid things sometimes, Marco, but I didn't think that was bad enough to drive you to violence."
"Oh, it's not that," he explained. "I just realized that that was the perfect answer to give Visser One all those weeks ago when she commented on the fact that we never kill humans. I just kind of froze up but if I had just said that we didn't want to risk human authorities noticing all the missing or mutilated people for fear that they would discover the invasion then she totally would have bought it. And as Andalites who don't trust anybody else to do anything it would have made even more sense why we didn't want people to know than it already does."
There was a potential landmine. I never knew how to talk about Visser One with Marco. Cassie thinks she does and normally she would but she always forgets that dealing with Marco is like the opposite of dealing with a normal person.
I sort of side-stepped it because we were having such a nice time that I didn't really want to let the subject of his enslaved or dead mother that he could have saved but hadn't at her strange and selfless request ruin things. He wouldn't thank me if I did.
"Visser Three never actually bothers worrying about that," I noted. "I wonder how they explain the strange number of Sharing Members who just disappear or show up missing an arm or something."
"You wouldn't think that would be good for recruiting," Marco agreed. "Even if we never touch them, it's still probably a statistical anomaly or something. But I suppose they just infest anyone who notices."
"Just like in the movie," I said, thinking back to that.
"I don't recall them infesting anyone in the movie," Marco said innocently.
"No but they might as well have," I replied. "Everyone who suspected anything was taken. Every time someone realized that someone wasn't their uncle or their mother and started talking, they were taken. Yes everyone was dismissing them as crazy but it was still better to have them 'recant' than to risk having someone take these allegations seriously or for them all to organize."
"They took everyone, though, in the end," Marco reminded me. "Everyone but Miles and his group was the only one who had actually found out anything."
"Yes but Miles and them only started investigating towards the end," I argued. "The whole invasion of the town took about a month maybe and I'd say it was all done in half a week or so after Miles got back. Because the first night he got back he took Becky out and that same night he rescued her and maybe another day or passed or it could have been the very next day that he sent the other couple out for help and a day after that he and Becky left town."
"So if they took everyone pretty quickly then can you really say that they took people because they knew?" Marco challenged. "Becky and at least the male of that other couple were already targets when they discovered the truth and from there the wife would have been next and Miles not long after."
"Yes but I still think that played a role in speeding up the process even if it was just a few days or even a few hours," I claimed. "Think about it. The kid's mother finds out that he suspects the truth and the next day's he's gone. And Becky's cousin or whatever had the sense to keep her suspicions from her 'family' but right after Miles told the therapist she was gone, too. And all the cases of people calling in for Miles were probably referred to him, too. I think he was taken early, for the same sort of reason Chapman was. He was just a very useful person to have on their side given the confusion that the normal suspicious humans would be having and how they seemed to everybody else."
"Not to mention the threat that he posed had he not been taken," Marco added, warming up to the topic. "He might have pulled a Miles and worked it out, too. I mean, 'mass neurosis'? Sure but what's the cause of the same exact neurosis?"
"Do you think that the nurse was taken early?" I asked. "I mean, getting the therapist was a great way to detect the suspicious but if they're really paranoid maybe they wouldn't go to him. Miles had to make the appointment for Becky's cousin."
"That's a good idea," Marco said slowly. "But I don't think so. After all, why would all those people have been gathered at her house that night if not to transform her?"
I shrugged. "Since it was the 50s, how about dramatic effect?"
"True," he granted me. "But then there was that baby they were transforming as well and why would they have waited on that?" He paused. "And why would she just randomly have a baby? Did she have a husband? Was she a widow? What was her kid doing all day while she was a nurse?"
"50s," I repeated.
He sighed. "I see your point."
"It's just so depressing, the thought that if people notice all that will happen is that they'll get taken," I said, sighing.
"Jake, I hate to break this to you, but that is exactly what does happen when people notice or ask too many questions or just try to limit Sharing time too much," Marco said, rolling his eyes. "That's why we had to be so careful after meeting Elfangor, remember? And the Yeerks obviously thought that we hadn't seen enough to realize that they could look human when they expected us to jump at the chance to tell any random Controller who asked all about it."
"Yeah but I don't know, it felt different," I insisted.
"Probably because the nurse made it sound like there were a lot of them who noticed and so noticing was a pretty common theme," Marco decided.
"I was thinking because if real life was anything like that movie-" I started to say.
Marco cut me off with a laugh. "Jake, if real life was anything like that movie then we'd be living in Pleasantville."
"They probably see each other in color," I told him.
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Marco replied. "I wish we could have found a colorized version."
"That Blockbuster guy seemed pretty…opinionated about colorizations," I said delicately.
"Yeah, what was up with that?" he asked. "Because, seriously, it's just adding color to a movie. It's not kicking a baby or even ruining the movie. In fact, I think it makes the movie better because color movies are just automatically more interesting than black and white ones even when they're the exact same movie but one is in color and the other version is not."
I shrugged. "I don't get it either but apparently it 'ruins the purity' or whatever."
"Screw the purity," Marco said decisively.
"That would get rid of it," I said, nodding.
Marco looked taken aback and then laughed as he realized the double entendre of what he'd said.
"But anyway, if the movie were anything like real life then telling the world would just lead to them all getting infested anyway," I said, getting back to what I had been going to say.
Marco considered that. "If we just told them in small groups and they were unable to hide that they knew – which I wouldn't blame them for even if we totally managed it at thirteen – then maybe but not if we just told everybody. They couldn't round up the whole world."
"They could round up the whole of Santa Barbara," I said glumly.
"They haven't so far," Marco countered. "Seriously, it took the pod people a month or so to conquer that town? It's been at least four years and maybe more and we still have yet to finish one city. Granted it's bigger than that dinky little town but come on."
"Maybe we shouldn't be criticizing the Yeerk's work ethic," I said pointedly.
"And why not? They're not going to hear me and suddenly be inspired to really try," Marco countered.
"Yes but you know our policy on tempting fate," I said. "Which, incidentally, is really mostly your policy that we've adopted over the years."
Marco smirked. "What's the w-"
"Don't even finish that sentence!" I cried out.
"I know what this is really about," Marco said abruptly.
"…Do tell," I invited after a moment, not sure what he was talking about.
"Somehow, even though the pod people look exactly the same, have all the exact same memories, and act exactly like they should, their friends and families just know," Marco elaborated. "Even though they don't understand and can't explain it, they realize that it's not the person that they love. Someone they love has been replaced and they damn well notice."
It occurred to me belatedly that that might also have been something that bothered me.
"No…" I lied.
Marco looked unimpressed. "Really."
"I mean, don't get me wrong, it would be really nice if that happened," I said quickly. "They couldn't take us quietly and, who knows, maybe they wouldn't have even gotten very far at all. The first two people or so that were taken would quickly have been detected – if not understood – and the Yeerks would have left. But I wouldn't say that it bothered me."
Although I couldn't help remembering what that Yeerk had said long ago about how the worst part was that nobody even noticed that you were trapped in your own head, made a slave in the most complete way possible. And I remembered thinking that you couldn't even want anybody to notice or else they'd join you in that hell.
"You're not a bad person because you didn't notice," Marco informed me firmly. "And you did realize that something was off."
Only because the Yeerk didn't put much effort into hiding the fact that it no longer wanted much to do with me or its apathy about basketball.
"I suppose they can't all be like Melissa Chapman's parents," I said instead.
Marco frowned. "Yeah, what is up with that anyway? I mean, just because you have a deal in place with your host to not take their daughter is no reason to be all suspicious. In fact, since she's not to be taken it makes even less sense to behave in a way that might convince her that something was up. Do they just want her to realize something so that they'd have an excuse to infest her without violating the deal?"
That was a good question. But I was, as ever, at a loss to explain the behavior of Yeerks.
I shrugged. "50s?"