Bonus Short Story: Never the Same Again

The world shuddered in fear when it appeared. It was a ghostly apparition sent from the heavens that no one refused to accept. It was like the shadow that flits at the edge of the eye, but when one turns to look with a start, they find nothing. Except it has never left. It didn’t then, most certainly. Now, I’, not sure we could imagine our lives without it– for good or ill.

I was working a main-line water-repair when it appeared. A few hours before the main had burst in front of a local middle school. We were lucky the summer-time was on us and school was out. If it hadn’t been, people would’ve hated us all the more for blocking the main thorough-fare between ends of the city.

I’d been cracking asphalt with a jackhammer when I looked up. I was wiping sweat from my forehead. For a moment, I thought my eyes were playing tricks. Even in the dead of night, the heat was ungodly. If it had been day my boots would’ve melted to the asphalt. I guess there’s some silver lining there, however minute.

There it was though. Hanging overhead twice the size of the largest the moon could become, and clearly man-made– or rather, made by something other than nature. It had settled into an orbit that allowed it to be viewed world-wide at appropriate times of day.

Humanity breathed together. We were like one organism, together in terror. I remember dropping the jackhammer and almost causing an accident when someone was about to trip over it. He and the other guy carrying equipment between them stopped. They caught my gaze. Five hundred pounds of concrete and other gear toppled sideways like over-stacked books. The ruckus made the job site stop and gaze over at us. They all saw us frozen, staring skyward, then stared themselves.

From what I’ve heard, that was how it went all over. One man or woman was wiping away sweat, or daydreaming with eyes on the sky, or blowing smoke from pursed lips, and caught sight of the massive object. From there everyone followed to look in similar fashion. I can’t imagine how many car accidents, or accidental deaths there were from that event. It was like the world came to an utter and complete stop. From 60-0, and there was no time nor braking. It stopped, and that was that.

People panicked. World-wide, global panic. The stock markets nose-dived. The stores were emptied by doomsday preppers. Martial law was declared in many places. Others were almost completely abandoned by law-enforcement and military, giving rise to local militias of crazy assholes with more guns then brains. At least the more intelligent folks among them prevailed. Some sort of order was necessary, of course, but it was a long time before anything resembling it reappeared.

I remember that first night. It was like we were on the cusp of a precipice. Behind us was this sort of imperfect peace. Ahead, lay a chasm of total anarchy and violence. The job was called off pending this appearance– and more “officially” the loss and damage of the dropped materials. That last part was the excuse, but I doubt anyone would’ve argued about it. I’m not even sure that information was ever received.

We were sent home around midnight. My wife was awake. She’d received a call from a friend working the late shift somewhere. I don’t know where. We never got along, and I didn’t ask questions about her. Point is, my wife was awake, and our little girl was still sound asleep in her bed. What I wouldn’t have given to see her dreams go on forever, so that she might never wake up into the nightmare that was sure to come.

We sat at the kitchen table, across from one another. We’d been friends our whole lives. We’d dated in junior-high, explored each other, broke up, explored others, then started over again Senior year of High-School. Somehow we came out of it with a beautiful daughter, a nice house, toys and luxuries, and an otherwise wonderful life. I wasn’t greedy. Never have been. She’s like me in that way. I guess we jut got lucky, rewarded for our general, positive way of living.

But that night…

It was like we were kids again. We trembled and held each other like inexperienced children. We cried in anger and sorrow like petulant children. Hell, we even laughed and joked the same as we once had, long, long ago. It was all a response to fear. We knew it then, as surely as I know it now.

It’s not something one experiences everyday. This was a complete and total shift of everything we thought we knew. Us as a people I mean, Humanity. Everything from social issues to physics was now challenged. So far as I know, scores of people vastly more intelligent than myself rose to it, and all of them came away stumped. Even that great physicist and sometimes philosopher Hawking only knew what he could deduce from observations, measurements, and readings taken with every known instrument.

I guess they tried communicating with it for a while. All the while the anarchy and chaos were worsening. The faithful said it was the apocalypse. The scientists said it was a baffling mystery. Law men and politicians flocked to one side or the other, adding whether they thought violence was the answer. Personally, I just said “holy shit.”

That was all that would come out. Every time I looked up, I thought about the millions of years of evolution that our species had gone through. I thought about the last few hundred years of technological development, the last few millennia of civilization. All of that had to pale in comparison to whoever– or whatever– had brought this thing here. I still can’t imagine what they’re like, or were.

Billions of years have passed since the Big Bang. The Universe is still expanding. It will, for the foreseeable Eons forward. Even our tiny knowledge base had deciphered that much. We had speculated countless ways of alternate evolution, from the most learned astrobiologists to the most overconfident sci-fi writers, but we’d never had any proof, any indication of where to look.

We suddenly had it then, and we still didn’t know what to do with it. When communication attempts failed, and our instruments had found all they could, an expedition was outfitted. A team of astronauts with a mathematician, linguist, psychologist, and school-teacher in tow, launched for the ISS. They made their rendezvous to procure supplies sent up before them on an automated rocket, then made for the moon-like vehicle orbiting nearby.

We still haven’t heard back much, but we know its empty. There’s a lot to be deciphered and scoured, but there is supposedly a distinct lack of any life aboard. I hope that proves true. I hope those crazy conspiracy theorists are wrong, that there isn’t a cover-up about aliens aboard. I hope, but I’m not holding my breath. There’s something about disappearances these days. They’re too numerous, too obvious. I can’t imagine what the point would be.

We live in fear now. It’s kept us in check thus far, but the way things have turned, it isn’t a stretch to believe it could all fall to chaos again. The governments don’t have control anymore. The militias are more armed and populated than ever, and the water main is still unfixed. I don’t know if things will ever be the same again, but I’m not certain if that’s good or bad. All I know is that my wife and I, and our daughter, won’t be taken without a fight, no matter who comes knocking.

Bonus Short Story: You’re On!

You’re On

“I don’t give a good god-damn who you are, get out of my house!”

Arvin was pissed. Clearly. The fact that he shouted this particular phrase down the barrel of long-nose .44 didn’t hurt in conveying his otherwise less-than-mellow state. The problem was, at least from his wife’s perspective, there wasn’t quite anyone there for him to be shouting at.

For the last twenty years, Arvin and Marjorie Dunn had been blissfully married. They’d survived a long-distance college relationship, ten years of growing older and bitter, tying the knot and two kids that were now grown and out of the house. In all that time, Marjorie hadn’t seen Arvin raise his voice nor hand in anger. He’d never needed to. He was a frightfully stern-looking man, with eyebrows made for the colossal grump he appeared to be. But really, he was a teddy-bear– all soft and cuddly, and stuffed with more plumped up fibrous tissue than a life-size version of the aforementioned.

In the moment, it didn’t seem to matter. Any of it, in fact. He cocked back the hammer of his home-defense .44, ready to rain swift hell-fire on the air. Marjorie was still frozen in horror behind him, not sure whether to run or cry, but all the same unwilling to anger the beast with the large revolver. She wasn’t sure what to do, nor of how things had progressed quite to this point.

She’d already traced it’s origins; this had all started when the Matthews’ moved out. They’d been the Dunn’s neighbors for nigh-on fifteen years, had been there twice as long as anyone else in the suburb– one of the first families to settle the subdivision when it was first built. Granted Warner Matthews was always a couple decades older than Arvin, they grew together as friends.

And for fifteen years, the two men grew older, fatter, balder while they counted the time in barbecues and beers, football games and nachos, and fourth of Julys and hot dogs. They were the best of friends, helped to keep each other grounded. That’s not to say that Darlene Matthews wasn’t the same for Marjorie. They too were the best of friends, but in the way of women whom largely preferred to sit at home with books or cross-stitching were. They just weren’t quite the level of close the other two were.

It was always known between Arvin and Warner that one day the latter’s pension would come due. He and Darlene would pack up their most precious belongings, sell the rest, then run off to Florida to live out their days. Promises to visit on both sides might eventually be upheld, but unfortunately, it just hadn’t been long enough yet to tell if there was any truthfulness to that.

Indeed, the day they did finally finished selling off the less-desirable elements of their home and history, they packed up Warner’s old pick-up (Darlene’s car atop a long-bed trailer towed behind it) and drove off into the sunset. Arvin was happy for them then, as any man or woman might be watching another achieve their dream. He was even happier the next week when they received a post-card of the new condo on the beach in an envelope with a picture of the boat the couple had bought from selling their vehicles.

But that too, was the day when all of this started. It seemed innocuous enough when Marjorie returned home with groceries, and Arvin saying something about new neighbors. Being laden with armfuls of groceries, she didn’t quite hear him, and his mind was too easily swept up in aiding her in the task otherwise. The conversation didn’t re-emerge until the next day, when once again Marjorie came in from the car, keys jangling as she set them in the bowl just inside the door.

Arvin said something about new neighbors again, this time mentioning that he’d only seen the one car. Evidently the new couple– a husband and wife in their thirties– preferred to share a car rather than have two payments. Marjorie’s suggestion to run across the lawn and introduce themselves was met with the curious recollection that he’d seen them both leave just before she’d arrived home.

“Well then,” Marjorie replied. “You’ll just have to make sure you tell me when they’re back so we can introduce ourselves. Otherwise we’re gonna’ be livin’ next to strangers ’til we’re dust.”

He’d chuckled with a casual compliance, but the thought had left his mind somewhere between there and dinner, and by the time that was over, he wasn’t sure he had the energy to get off the couch. The cycle of one thing or another keeping them from meeting their neighbors continued for almost a full week.

That’s when Marjorie noticed the first of a series of insidious changes in Arvin. Where he’d always been one to rise with the sun, have himself a wholesome breakfast before work, then putter off to wile away the day at the salt mines, he was suddenly late for work. For anyone else, it might’ve slipped by unnoticed, but Arvin was a punctual man. Provided you caught him on a normal day, you’d be able to set your watch by him– so long as you knew what time he did what each day.

For Marjorie, this lapse raised her guard. Ever the housewife, she watched three days pass like this, her time wasted in worry rather than up-keeping the house and flower-beds. The front petunias withered, only saved by a short rainstorm that managed to perk them back up. Even so, Marjorie’s routine was as shaken up as Arvin’s.

On the fourth day, she paced about the house, so tense at Arvin’s shift she wasn’t sure what to do. Over the previous days and nights, Arvin had spoken more of the young couple next door. He’d managed to run into one of them at the gas-station and introduce himself. Unfortunately, due to their schedules, the two were almost never home, both instead absorbed by positions at a mutual job concerning computer-something or other– Arvin couldn’t recall, he was too old for computers to make sense to him.

On that fourth day, Marjorie devised a plan. By four AM of the fifth day after Arvin’s failure to rise began, she was up. She lurked in the shadows of the window that faced the Matthews’ old house. She refused to leave, almost refused to blink, even when Arvin rose, once more late for work. He left as the sun settled into its passage through-out the sky, and by the time Marjorie recognized high-noon coming, she’d devised another plan.

She didn’t wait to execute it. Instead, she sneaked over to the Matthews’ old house, through the back, wooden gate, and across the paver-block patio that Arvin and Warner had built one summer a decade ago. She rifled through the mulched flower-bed beside the back door, fished out an old, fake rock that contained a key to the door. Evidently, the new neighbors hadn’t moved it yet, or even replaced the locks: the key slid in just as it should, turned without issue.

She slipped into the house only to be chased out moments later by a bilious feeling that sent shivers through her spine: the house was empty, just as she, Arvin, and the Matthews’ had left it after they’d filled Warner’s pick-up and Darlene’s car.

To be standing between the kitchen and front room now, watching her husband curse and swear with a gun in his hand made her feel all the more guilty. When he’d returned from work, she’d confronted him. With little more than a short argument, and a promise to bring one of them over, he’d left the house. What Marjorie didn’t realize was that he’d retrieved the .44 from the bedroom after he’d stormed off. Why was anyone’s guess, but all the same here they were.

“I said get out of my house god damn it!”

“Arvin there’s no-one there!” Marjorie wailed.

“The hell there isn’t!” He said.

He fired two rounds through the air into the man he saw before him. A moment later, the man was on the ground before Arvin, blood pooling on the cream, shag-carpet. Suddenly Marjorie saw him too, but it wasn’t a man. Instead, the long, distended features of caricatured humanoid creature lay before them. Arvin dropped the gun, back-stepped in horror. He’d grown too frustrated, angry at the world and the break in his routine. Marjorie hadn’t seen him snap at his co-workers, or flip off other drivers, or feel the rise in his pulse and blood-pressure during the argument.

It all seemed to make sense to Arvin, but to Marjorie, nothing made sense.

“My god, what is that?” Arvin said, finally seeing the creature’s true form.

A woman appeared in the doorway, fell to the ground wailing, “No, no!”

The woman suddenly lit with a bright, glowing light. A similar figure to the creature became apparent through it. Marjorie fainted.

When she awoke, Arvin and the two creatures were grouped around her, but they once more resembled their human selves.

“Honey, I think we need to listen to these people,” Arvin said, still sickly pale.

The woman spoke, the man still clutching his side, though no longer bleeding. “We’re terribly sorry for all of this. We knew we could not keep the masquerade up forever.”

“I… I shot him,” Arvin said breathlessly.

The wounded man gave a grunt, “We heal… quickly.”

“You’re… not human, are you?” Marjorie asked.

The woman shook her head. The man attempted a joke, “For once that’s… a good thing.”

“I-I didn’t know… I swear. After what Marjorie said… I-I-I thought you weren’t real.”

The man gave a shrug. The woman grimaced, “This wouldn’t have happened if we were honest with you to begin with.”

“Honest?” Marjorie asked. “About what?”

The two creatures exchanged a look, then, the man gave a pained nod to his partner. She frowned, “The Matthews, the ones you believed lived beside you? We’re them.” A mutual “Huh?” escaped the Dunns. The creature claiming to be Mrs. Matthews explained, “We’ve lived her for a long time. A lot longer than the short life-span humans carry.”

“Problem is…” the man said. “Every few decades we have to change our appearance or else we draw suspicion. I mean, we can fool you with gradual aging, but eventually humans have to die.”

“We don’t die so easily,” the woman added.

“So clearly,” Marjorie said, overwhelmed.

Arvin shook off his guilt long enough to speak, “So… you’re telling me, you two are… what Aliens? And every sixty or seventy years you change your appearance to keep blending?”

The man’s features flickered from the handsome thirty-something to the wrinkled, white-haired countenance of Warner Matthews. “That’s the long and short of it, pal,” he said with Warner’s tell-tale buddyism.

“Warner?” Arvin said. “It really is you!”

The man morphed back into the thirty-something, gave a nod, “Yeah-huh.”

The woman explained to Marjorie directly, “We didn’t want to move away from our home, our friends. So we just pretended to. We’re still waiting on having the new furniture delivered– that’s why the house is empty.”

“But what about not seeing you?” Marjorie asked.

The man replied, “Just bad luck. We had the day off today. When you came in to examine the house we hid ourselves– the same way we trick you into seeing these forms instead of our true ones.”

“The trickery requires focus, concentration, that’s why you saw him when he was shot,” the would-be Darlene said.

“My god,” Arvin said. “You really are our neighbors then.”

The young man chuckled, already almost fully head, “Yep, that’s us.”

“Can you ever forgive me for shooting you?”

Warner smiled, “You’re my friend, Arv and I couldn’t trick your wife and you together yet. It was as much my doing as yours. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you everything, and I’d’ve had to after we saw Marjorie break in earlier.”

“So… it’s really my fault, isn’t it?” Marjorie asked.

“Let’s just say,” Darlene began. “Everyone made mistakes.”

The human couple swallowed hard and exchanged a look. Arvin glanced up at his extra-earthly neighbor, “Lemme’ at least make it up to you. I got some steaks and some beer, we’ll have a cook-out– just like old times.”

Darlene and Warner exchanged a laugh, the latter nodded, “You’re on pal.”

Short Story: The Great Sphere

The construction of the Great Sphere began with little ceremony. The few that had heard of the project felt it would never be completed, let alone serve its rather grand function. Admittedly, I too was on the fence, though I proposed the project to Congress, then later, the United Nations, European Union, and finally NATO. The last of these organizations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed by several, powerful governments in the Northern Hemisphere, and with an army all its own, gave a home to my designs.

Granted, those original blue-prints were less than stellar, if you pardon the pun, I was certain they were our best hope. Given the news that daily bled from NASA’s public comm-channels, it was also our only hope. I remember watching the first ship that launched from Canaveral. Just after dawn the air is quiet, pristine. That day there was a nip to the air, it forced to huddle myself into my jacket, warm my hands with steaming breath. Even then I knew the fire in my heart would blaze when the launch counter reached zero.

When zero arrived, the sight struck me first. An emblazoned dart propelled itself spaceward with a fearsome, immolated tail. As I gathered my wits to draw my next breath, the sound enveloped me. It was something like the fireworks I saw as a boy but longer, louder, of more girth. Though they’ve long since been banned at the fears of resistance groups, there was something spectacular about them. The cry of a rocket is a long, dulcet growl that softens and broadens the further you get from it. Even so, those that watched were lump-throated together.

That rocket, Lazarus I, both reignited our space-fairing ventures, and sealed our fates in stone. The first of the Lazarus payloads contained the gravity generators and miniature, atmospheric barriers required to begin welding the initial frame together. Initially, this was accomplished by robotic drones remotely controlled from Canaveral’s command center. They were primitive now, as we look back, no different than our last few unmanned excursions to Mars, only differing in their instruments and intended application. I was on-hand for the first welds that took place from those robotic arms. Blue sparks of light that glowed against the blackness of space just outside the thin, opaque membrane of the atmospheric bubbles.

While it worked away at the corner weld of two, massive steal beams. All the while in the control room, the technicians hammered at their keys, scratched equations on notebooks, crumpled failed thoughts, and smoothed out the last, few kinks the system had presented once deployed. We all suspected things would need to be ironed out once activated, but even at that we’d so well exceeded our expectations.

To those great men and women there, the offer of my eternal gratitude could never be understated. Though it was NATO that initially approved and funded the project, it was those gentle, highly-intelligent souls that made the Sphere possible. Were it not for their sacrifices, largely personal of course, I believe human history may have never continued– or at least would have done so in a vein that would have casually seen its end.

Instead, the first welds went in to place, then the seconds. More still came with the launches of Lazarus II &III, and by the time Lazarus IV was launched, the Sphere had begun to take shape. It sat between us and the sun, situated just so as to orbit it and us in an ellipse. Though it was difficult to see at night, in day, the incomplete husk of the Sphere loomed near enough to cast shadows on certain structures. When later it was completed, it became as a nearby star might.

It is the most magnificent feeling to see one’s vision complete, but no more humbling than when its purpose is finally revealed to the world, and its inspirational symphony plays out across the emptiness of space– both for all to hear, and none.

Though public perception was against The Sphere at first, when next they heard the leaks of NASA’s comms, it shifted. Collectively, the public learned that NASA’s deep-space monitors had been tracking a possible threat. Imagine if, in a moment’s breath, a pandemonium erupted all over the globe, spurned by the ultimate terror a human can experience. Only if this image is then multiplied ten-fold on itself could one’s mind even begin to approach the chaos that ensued.

The first days were the worst, I believe. It was as if the world stopped all at once. All those whom we relied upon to clean our trash, service our engines, and infinitely more than I can think to name, relinquished their posts. They fled, en-masse, home to their loved ones to comfort and cower with them. Some shook with terror or grief beneath any thing that hid them from view of the sky. Others still became consumed with the nihilism that one so bitter-sweetly experiences when faced with their own, imminent demise. I do not blame them. Were I not so consumed with my own work and vision, I’d have just as soon joined them.

But the Great Sphere is curious in its affect on man, woman, and child. When first its distant lights were lit to test its power, all those hidden away or absorbed by their fears, looked upward. A billion, distant service-lights blurred into one. The Great Sphere pulsed nearer Earth than not in its orbit.

With a cool, blue glow, the hearts of adult and child alike were soothed. But a most wonderful thing happened in those hearts too, as if a switch had been thrown on all human kind at once: fear no longer existed. Not truly. Minor fears were still present of course, but fear is interesting in its effects as well. It would seem as predictably chaotic as fear can make the mind, so too when it is overcome does a certain peace of mind descend. That peace engulfed the people, formed of the confidence they once more had in their place in the universe.

Curious though it was, the light of The Sphere led to the mass enlistment of men and women that wished to take residence there. Mechanics, technicians, security and others lined the halls of recruitment centers, each of them certain their future lay in the embrace of The Sphere. Because of it, construction was completed far ahead of schedule, and when our adversary came from the furthest stars, we were well-prepared.

Broadcasts of intention were received and decoded with bated breath. Until then we could not have known if they were friend or foe, but the latter was most plausible given their bearing. They had launched from distant reaches of space’s horizon with a seeming armada whose swiftness could not be matched. Until then, we had never seen true space-ships. Our rockets were primitive in comparison, ancient Greece’s javelins to our modern day cruise-missiles. While our engineers have since made that point moot, it was clear on their arrival that our visitors were no friends to us. Our own intent to stand our ground was made as transparent as the most pure crystal when those first responses were encoded back to them.

For a brief moment, salvos of lightning and insta-freezed vapor glowed in the sky with the silent gatling of lasers. Collectively, the world watched as those brave men and women aboard the Great Sphere readied to fight or die. But as I had hoped, planned, envisioned, the fusion-charged, opaque shields activated and disintegrated any attempts on the Sphere.

As if they sensed they had bitten off more than their inhuman mouths could chew, the would-be invaders turned their sights toward Earth. Fighters launched by the hundreds for the surface while the vain bombardment continued on the Sphere’s shields. The scream of foreign engines swept the top-most reaches of our atmosphere, some silenced from poor entry-calculations alone. We’ve begun to believe these failures suggest where-ever these attackers’ knew nothing of the detriments of the angles to our atmosphere.

Even more fighters were lost to our guided-missiles. We tracked their approach via satellite imagery and digital spotting. When finally in range, SAM sites all over the world launched fearsome rockets by the thousands. Our atmosphere thickened in their wake, fogged by the impetus of a war meant to be decisively won. All across the globe, the missile’s detonations split the air with gusto. Those ships never stood a chance. All that remained after the attack was what refused to be consumed by the fires of victory.

Explosions blanketed the skies of Earth and the foreground of space beyond it, the latter silent as the Sphere whose weapons had yet to finish their first, true charge-cycle. They deployed, invisible to any whom knew not where to look or were too distant to see them. I imagine those cruiser-class and Colony vessels would never have made such a lengthy trek had they known what was in store for them.

The first weapons to come online were the rail-guns. Their targeting parameters were set for the Colony ships– the least armed of the rival fleet. Over twenty-thousand rounds of shrapnel per minute were expended from each of four guns in over a thousand batteries around the Sphere’s exterior. Each with its own, three-hundred and sixty-degree view of its surroundings, the rail-guns were no match for even the most experienced of their pilots. Even then, the Sphere was so adequately armed, that their placement through-out the entirety of the structure made easy prey of those few ships. I believe, in all, five Colony ships were cut down in the first moments of our counter-attack.

Just as the last of the Colony ships went down, the rail-guns re-fixed their aim on the cruisers. Their salvos and lasers were answered with the silent call of our own Plasma cannons. As with the rail-guns, their numbers were more than sufficient to do the job. Countless balls of red-violet streaked effortlessly through the vacuum of space, cut through cruisers and stray fighters alike. The rail-guns hammered along to bludgeon their message home, add a final insult to the armada’s fatal injury.

In what was mere moments, the battle commenced and finished, the threat eliminated. We had waited life-times to know for certain that life existed elsewhere. Then, we waited years to meet it face-to-face. When the time came and our hearts sank at the forthcoming battle, it passed nearly instantaneously with us as the victors. When NASA’s comm chatters first leaked, we bit our nails in agitation. When we learned of their violent intent on-arrival, our guns were readied and our hearts were heavy. Once the smoke cleared however, we learned we were a force– a species– not to be taken lightly, no matter how we appeared. More importantly, we learned that the Great Sphere would be our protector no matter the battles to come.

I, as its creator was awarded the highest of honors. But now we all stand, ever vigilant, with our eyes on the space’s horizons. There with fire in our hearts, we thank the Great Sphere’s guardianship as if it is a deity. In a way it is; one that has allowed us to begin a new chapter in human history, rather than pen its epilogue with our blood.

Short Story: I Remember…

I remember the ships that hovered over our world in conquest. I remember it as if it had only just happened. Though it was decades ago now, nothing is so vivid in my mind. They came from the sky on glowing trails, like someone had hurled fire-bombs at us. An apt comparison given what came later. The only difference? They never hit the ground. They never had to. They came to a rest, searing heat and all, just above the tops of the tallest buildings.

I remember sitting on the couch, then later, standing in the streets, seeing the giant television in then times-square that revealed we’d been beaten, or rather surrendered– the beatings came later. I can’t remember those. I don’t want to. What I do remember was wandering, guided by my mother’s hand, through New York’s chaotic streets. I’d never known the scent of fear– real, pure, human terror– until then. It was palpable on the tongue, stank like the homeless did, like we all do now.

My mother… she had a gentleness that died with her, as if the world took such a soft creature to protect her from the wrath her child’s generation would bear. Even now, I remain glad that the madness of those first days claimed her. Though I was terrified and alone for a long while, I knew even then it was safer to be dead than subject to the horrors to come.

The first mistake we made as a civilization was existing. That was all it had taken to bring them from the skies over Alpha Centauri, have their forces launched across the openness of space to our backyard. Before the tele-streams and internet died for good, someone had calculated that they’d left their home system for Earth sometime around the broadcasts of Kennedy’s election, hadn’t arrived until the late 2010’s. It led to our second mistake.

I remembered being eight years old…. Christ, it feels like a life-time ago now. Maybe it was. Eight years old, with a gun shoved into my hands. It was a nine millimeter, fifteen round magazine with a thumb safety, and heavy. I remember that much. With that tool came the first beatings from my own kind, to instill in me how to hold it, aim it, kill with it. All because some armchair-genius had calculated the invaders expected our technology to be stuck in the sixties. What a fool.

It was only later that we learned, collectively, that our technological prowess would have never matched theirs. Not in a million years. They didn’t have to speak, or scream, or fire weapons. They simply arrived and the planet was already conquered. When we took up arms in resistance against our governments’ fealty, we spent immeasurable amounts of ammunition trying to kill them. They took full magazines from whole battalions of armed militias, their bodies riddled with holes, but bled not a single drop of fluid from their leathery hides. They were modern-day Khans, each of them, but even his conquest paled in comparison to theirs.

Their tactic was simple. To remember it now almost makes me laugh, but I can’t. I haven’t known joy or laughter, or anything more than fear for decades. I doubt there’s a human that has. As it was explained by a former-scientist just before his untimely execution, these humanoid creatures have some type of reinforced cartilage across their bodies– like the stuff our noses and joints are made of, but so strong it can withstand the force of bullets. They were walking kevlar, and because of their gel-like skeletons and regenerative abilities, nothing short of a nuclear weapon could stop them. Believe me, we tried them all; grenades, bombs, TNT, nothing worked. We learned that the hard way. Every one of them is like a walking terminator. Every. Single. One. Like those terrifying machines, they have only a goal to achieve– whatever it is– and they eliminate anything in the way of it.

Evidently, Humanity’s a part of that goal, because I remember the day their darkest weapon was revealed. As if compelled to by my own muscles, my body, fraught with the peril a rat faces in a sewer– and stinking like one at that– I encountered one of these invaders.

I was in an alley, running for my life after my militia detachment suddenly fell to the ground, began to seize, writhe, foam at the mouths. A few others and I managed to escape, but were split up. I had learned long ago not to scream nor draw attention. Even so, one of them must have sensed me, pursued me. It cornered me in an alley.

They don’t so much walk as float. Though they have two legs, it seems they’re useless. Their arms work though. I’ve seen it, felt it. They drift, lame, wherever they go. Queer-looking face tentacles take the place of mouths above three-fingered, malformed-hands with claws attached to arms longer than their legs. They make a god-awful sound– like someone’s ground metal against a cheese grater in your ear. It’s paralyzing. Both from fear and an auditory pain that seizes your muscles. It’s not even their greatest weapon– the one they conquered us with, or that I saw that night with my own eyes.

I remember sometimes doing things, even at a young age, and not remembering why I’d begun to do them or how. It was as if I simply materialized into the middle of an action, forgot everything about it. They have this way of doing that to you; making you freeze, drop your weapon, lie. For years, we thought we were gaining ground on them, and had received numerous reports about their deaths. We’d heard the war-stories of units that felled them in battle, and even I suspected the scientist’s words had been erroneous, that they could be killed.

How wrong I was. How wrong we all were.

They were lies; every story, every battle scar, ever supposed death of an invader. They’d fabricated the memories in the militia’s minds, used them as walking surveillance drones. They kept mental links through some kind of ESP, allowed them to spread their stories through the militias. Those stories flared into hope for victory, spread like wild-fires around the world. My best friend, the only person I trusted, was one of their plants. What she and I shared… it was the closest thing to joy left in the world. Even still, we could never smile. All of it was lies.

It’s been decades since they first came, and now all hope is lost. We know now what happened, even though we can’t remember how, or why we missed it. I remember hearing from a medic after a patrol that a person will sometimes forget the moments before and after a traumatic experience, sometimes including the trauma itself. It just sort of gets buried in your mind, so impossible to cope with you literally can’t. You fabricate things to put in its place, or else lose time altogether. It has something to do with an electrical overload in the brain that doesn’t allow memories to consciously form.

All I know is what happened after the raids. As if in a flash, we went from believing we might one day win, to knowing there was never been a fight to begin with. They simply appeared– walked in the front door as it were, and we were disarmed. Not a single one of us took up our weapons to fight. We couldn’t. We’d been brain-hacked, mind-controlled not to.

Now, I stand jam-packed with three-hundred other humans in a cage no bigger than a dozen feet squared, like cattle on a killing-floor. I don’t know where we are, or where we’re going, but I remember how we got here. I remember smiling and joy and happiness that once made days of sadness and sorrow worthwhile. But now all I know is despair and the sickly putrescence of two-hundred-odd other bodies smothering me. I forget my name, my friends’ names, even my home. But somehow, I remember my mother’s gentleness. I miss her. I miss the warmth of summer sun, and of childhood– what little of it I had– and the taste of fresh-water. I remember all of the good that came before the bad, something I cannot forget despite the doom we all face.

Maybe one day there will be hope again. Maybe not. All I know is that I remember it….