Communicating with a Spitfire is like pulling teeth. I remember my first day on the job.
"Don't do that," my trainer said over the loudspeaker, from a room safe and far away.
Even after a year of training, and over decades of Saint Charles living in a fish tank in Utah, we still can't seem to figure out how to speak to them in their own language. But my superior was undoubtedly right. Saint Charles itself became concerned, and it's behind a foot thick of Plexiglas.
Which is another invention the Spitfire gave us, in case you didn't know.
"Yes sir," I said. "But why?"
"It's a fault of the system. You string those plasma streams together and you might set the air on fire."
Well that's a nice fault for the system to have. I huffed, both upset and embarrassed. "How does he do it?" I asked of Saint Charles.
The loudspeaker seemed hesitant. "It has that quantum thing," the loudspeaker replied, referring to the tablet the Spitfire wore around its neck. "We don't."
One of the Saint Georges before me, I've been told, fried himself to a meaty crisp while conversing with Saint Charles. Not to mention the unknown number of tech guys and maintenance men who singed themselves from time to time while working on the generators. As recently as the late Eighties, the frog almost never came out of the water, as it was safer for it to be in there when we conversed with it. It made it nearly impossible to understand anything the beast said.
"(Can we) DO BETTER (with communicating?)" I once swirled to the Spitfire.
"CALL ME" it swirled back while hiding under the water, an allusion to using an ear splitting vocalization machine that created sonic waves.
I believe it forced us to communicate with it that way at times because it liked the tingly sensation the sonic waves made on its skin. I put on my sound dampening headgear, making myself as deaf as a Spitfire. I still had to use the plasma generators though, as Saint Charles only understood colors and shapes and swirls.
"WHY (are) YOU (here?)" I swirled to the beast. It certainly didn't seemed comfortable, crammed in a giant fish tank.
"HEART BOUNDLESS" it swirled back. It was an interesting array of reds, blues and blacks. "HOPE EVERLASTING" it swirled next, by changing the blue swirls to green and white sparks.
I had no idea what it meant by saying that. Not too long after that little chat, and I got my first real briefing on why we were hiding this guy in the desert.
"Sit down," my commander said, after I entered his office and saluted.
"Yes sir." I respectfully took off my headgear.
"What to you think of the Spitfire?" he asked me, point blank.
"It's an entire world no one knows—" I began as a scripted reply.
My commander interrupted. "It is?"
I knew better than to open my mouth.
"Hundreds of people know about this project," he said. "Maybe several thousand."
I measured my next response. "The world contains almost fifteen billion."
I must have said something right, because now my commander puzzled. "Can you explain to me the meaning of the word paradigm?"
"Yes, sir!" I said with enthusiasm, as a way to stall for time while I thought of a definition. I'd better know the meaning of words, considering my current assignment. "Ah… it's a way of viewing the world. A set of reasons, the rules. The belief in a specific system of logic."
"Yes. That's pretty good. So then," he said, hesitating. "What would be a paradigm shift?"
"When the rules and beliefs change. Suddenly, typically" I added as I watched him puzzle some more.
He leaned far back in his chair. "Welcome to your first briefing," he said without smiling.
"Yes, sir," I said, confused. As the silence between us wore on, I broke it by saying, "I thought I'd already been briefed."
I was fricking Saint George after all. The hero of the Golden Legend. The dragon slayer from Silene.
My commander leaned towards me and became more or less jovial. "You have been briefed on the Spitifres with the type of information we let leak to spies."
"You don't think that, with an alien from outer space the size of a dinosaur living in aquarium the size of Nevada for the last ninety or so years, that we haven't drawn a crowd at least once or twice?"
He didn't really say that to me as a question.
"How many people in this building right here do you think know about Saint Charles? Or anything about any Spitfire?
"Dozens, sir?" I offered as a guess.
"Let's go with scores. And we can't just outright kill these people when they decide to retire. Can we now, General?"
"No, sir," I tried to say without gulping.
He stole a quick glance about. "You're going to be briefed on a Project we also have going on here that only three people in this building know about. The fourh one now sits now before me, and another one swims in a giant tank wearing green metal scales as clothes."
I immediately sat bolt upright. "Yes sir!"
My commander twisted his face. "You"re not gonna wanna call me Sir anymore after this," he said. He showed me a silent movie of Saint Charles swirling plasma.
"This is what it calls what we call Paradigm Shift."
Near as I could tell, Saint Charles was swirling "THE HORRORS."
"(I am) SAD" I swirled to the Spitfire in the hours after my briefing on Paradigm Shift—the project that Saint Charles called The Horrors.
"KISS A COP" it swirled back to me. To a Spitfire, this means, 'Go to Hell.' I'd been told during my first briefing—I mean, my first fake briefing a few years ago—that Spitfires sometimes used human idioms as a way of showing they aren't afraid of us mealy little bugs that crawl on Mother Earth.
"(You) KNOW WHY" it added after a while, to further show me its fearlessness.
"ARE YOU MAD (sir?)" I swirled.
"MAD ENOUGH SIR!"
"(You) MAKE (me) LOOK DUMB."
"(I) DISLIKE (the) WEATHER" it swirled. I knew what that meant too. The Spitfires were all about peace and love and understanding these days, as I now knew in Paradigm Shift, twenty dozen of these stupid frogs swam around in secret isolation, building their future home in the warm troughs of the Indian Ocean.
Only one of them—our beloved Saint Charles—ever told any of us mealy humans the truth. When the rest of the Spitfires arrive they plan to subjugate us, and The Horrors would begin. They'd turn our oceans into saunas by irradiating them with our own nuclear warheads, poisoning the atmosphere and making living on what little dry land would remain become a battle with never-ending hurricanes.
Apparently, the Spitfires were immune to radiation poisoning. "WOULD (we) DIE?" was the next thing I swirled.
"YES" Saint Charles swirled back. "EVENTUALLY."
Over millennia I assumed. Nailiing down a time frame while talking to these guys is a nightmare.
And that's where our conversation ended. I knew then why our version of Paradigm Shift differed slightly from The Horrors of Saint Charles. In Paradigm Shift, we didn't just fry the invading Spitfire fleet when it came flying out of the Sun to lord over us. We also plan on poisoning the Spitfires living in the Indian Ocean.
It turned out we intend to poison Saint Charles as well. I told my commanding officer without any hesitation that if we were going to kill it, the deed should be done by me. It was an easy enough thing to do. Just feed it genetically modified fish that carry the alkaloid Lycorine; an irritant that makes tulips toxic.
Fun fact here, boys and girls. In 1943, when Winston Churchill met the first Spitfire, there was a famine in Norway. They had no hay or oats to keep their livestock alive. So they set them loose in the fields of flowers the Norwegians were famously known for.
All the cattle died. A bovine's four chamber stomach can't digest Lycorine. And neither can the stomachs of these stupid Spitfires.
"(I'm) SAD," I swirled again, after Saint Charles knew I had poisoned it.
"YOU ARE DONE (sir)" it swirled back. Not angry, not KISS A COP. Just telling me it understood.
"PLEASE?" I swirled after a while, not knowing what else to say, or how to swirl anything that looked like sympathy.
"I AM SAD!"
"YOU ARE DONE."
I wasn't going to beg. These stupid damn frogs intended to kill us all along, from the very beginning. So we planned to kill them first, with poison fish and solar flares. Then once we were done with them, we'll probably kill ourselves.
But at least they didn't get to do it.
"(Can we) DO BETTER (with communicating?)" I swirled, not knowing how much longer Saint Charles was going to live. Not much, I was guessing by the looks of it.
"TELL (me) WHY (you are here.)" I was referring to Saint Charles himself, living in a fish tank in Utah, and not the Spitfires living in the ocean, or in outer space.
I think that's what I said, anyway. What came next almost set me on fire.
"FIVE SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO," Saint Charles swirled in the throes of death, letting it boom through the loudspeakers as well, "WE BROUGHT FORTH TO THIS PLANET A WORLD CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY, DEDICATED TO THE PROPOSITION THAT ALL ARE CREATED EQUAL. WE ARE IN A GREAT WAR, TESTING WHETHER SUCH A WORLD CAN LONG ENDURE. IT IS PROPER THAT WE DO THIS."
I was aghast. Amazed that I still was alive, what with so many charged particles soaring through the air.
Saint Charles continued to boom.
"THOSE WHO STRUGGLED AND DIED HAVE CONSECRATED THIS HALLOWED PLANET. THE UNIVERSE WILL NOT LONG REMEMBER WHAT WE SAY OR DO, YET WE RESOLVE THAT THOSE WHO HAVE DIED DO NOT DIE IN VAIN. THIS PLANET SHALL HAVE A NEW FREEDOM."
"FOR HUMANS" Saint Charles swirled with what I could only think was its dying breath.
I wanted to cry but I don't think I did. Either way, if I had, the air around me was so ionized after Saint Charles" eloquent speech that any liquid my eyes might produce would instantly be vaporized.
I left the room before my clothing caught fire. I re-entered it once it had been scrubbed. Surprisingly, the beast was still alive.
"SAINT CHARLES?" I swirled to the Spitfire in as pleasing a way as I could. "CLOSE (your) EYES. BE (at) PEACE."
The beast boomed back at me using its awesome canned voice, at a volume it knew was deafening. "SEE THINGS AS I DO."
I puzzled over its words for a moment while scrambling to put on better sound dampening head gear. Despite it being ancient, the beast now most certainly had not long to live.
I swirled the things I thought its species might want to do. "RETREAT? REGROUP? REVENGE?"
"NO" it swirled back every time.
"(There's) CONFUSION (in) ME" I swirled. "DOUBT REIGNS. WHY EARTH?"
"(We) KNEW (you for) TEN THOUSAND YEARS. TEN THOUSAND (more we) SEARCHED. (We found) NOTHING GOOD. ONLY EARTH (was good.)"
"BUT TOO COLD."
"YES. TOO COLD. (We had) NO (other) CHOICE. ONLY EARTH (was good)."
"WHY BETRAY (your species) ? WHY TELL (us your) PLANS?"
"EASE (my) MIND. (Be at) PEACE." It struggled to swirl its words. I knew our time together was short. "CALL (me a) GOOD PERSON," it said.
This caused me to cry. I had to confess my sin. Not to Saint Charles, who knew all along that it was me who poisoned him, but to my Lord, Jesus Christ, for knowing I killed one of God's kindest creatures.
"IT (was) ME! (I) POISON(ed you!)"
"(I) KNOW. UNDERSTANDABLE."
"I'm sorry!" I cried out in human words, my tears making it too hard to swirl plasma.
"(I) KNOW," it swirled as it died.
"Saint Charles!" I screamed, booming as loud as I could. "You're a good person! You are!"
Stone deaf as I was with my head gear on, I felt more of what I screamed than did my Saint Charles.
Here is another fun fact for you kids to know. Apparently, Spitfires die just like we do.
You just have to get close to one of them.