The highway stretched out in front of him in a long asphalt strip, forever vanishing into the night as his headlights faded. He leaned back in his seat, listening to the radio of all things. His dead media assistant had quit an hour ago when the battery finally failed and now he was listening to free radio. The music selection wasn't bad, but he missed being in control of his music.
But what else could one do at two in the morning when he had somewhere to be at nine and still five hours of driving to do. He wanted to save a little time for an emergency nap, but who could tell. Something could happen. Cars broke every so often. It was a lot less than the ones his grandfather had driven had, but he still wanted to be prepared.
He sighed, leaning back. June. June of 2084. How had that happened so fast? It seemed like only yesterday it had been 2080 and he was graduating from finishing school, and now he was done with university and onto the next thing. It was like blinking an eye. Time was strange like that.
He noticed a flicker in the starry sky above and looked up, wondering what it was. Every second or two he checked his place on the road, but wondered what that was. Lightning? He rolled down his window and poked his head into the rushing air. There weren't many clouds up there, so a thunderstorm was perhaps out of the question. Then he saw it again, a streak of bluish-white cutting across a large section of the sky. That wasn't a shooting star.
His tire hit the shoulder and he swore, swerving back onto the road. A wreck right now was the last thing he wanted, even if there were strange lights in the sky. Maybe it was aliens. The news was saying the radio telescopes were getting some weird noises, ones that might have been an actual message of some kind. It was hard to tell. After all, no one knew if the aliens could speak what humans could even hear.
He heard a low boom rumble through the area.
"Okay, maybe it is thunder," he theorized.
And then at that moment, the radio stopped playing music. He heard the angry buzz of an emergency signal, his blood going completely cold. It ran its strange audible course before a message began.
"This is an emergency broadcast message by the United States government. Attention. Attention. We are under attack. Extraterrestrial forces have destroyed Los Angeles."
He slammed his brakes on, screeching to a stop on the empty highway. In the distance, he could see a blue glow dogging the horizon.
"Military radar has spotted several landing vehicles moving toward the ground. We advise all civilian personnel seek shelter in your basements. Do not attempt to reach loved ones. Do not go outside. If you have fire arms, load them and prepare to repel intruders. All military personnel, report to your staging areas immediately. I repeat, we are under attack by extraterrestrial forces. Take shelter immediately. All military personnel, report to your staging areas."
His destination was gone. He looked at the narrow median between the two highway directions before slamming his foot on the accelerator, peeling rubber and changing directions with a few good bumps before he began to tear ass back the other direction. "Christ…"
He made it two minutes in the other direction before a glowing something came out of the sky and took out a road sign, landing ahead of him. He screeched and swerved until his car stopped again, looking at the strange thing that now hovered above the ground. It looked sort of like a tank, only without treads and the turret was this small thing sticking out of the sloped forward surface.
And it was flying. Definitely not from around here. He saw two big things get out of the back and put his car into reverse, screeching again as he tried to evade them. Reversing was hellishly hard to control and he found himself digging into the median again.
"Fine. I'll just turn around." He shifted back into drive and threw rocks and dirt as he tore back down the road in the wrong direction, checking the glowing tank thing in his rearview.
At precisely the moment he glanced, a bright red sparkle flashed from the tank, and he felt intense heat before his life ended.
They gathered in the basement, whimpering children held under her arms. Tears were flowing freely down her face as she cowered, looking around in the dark. The lights had just died moments ago as something had killed the power. She heard the occasional rumble of an explosion somewhere, and now and then the scream of fighters flying overhead. The propane lantern hissed on the moldy picnic cooler, giving a warm glow to the space but casting thick, frightening shadows.
She heard a loud wooden creak overhead and looked up. What was that? The creak came again, then several loud thumps. The creak grew even more guttural, striking panic into her gut as it sounded like the ceiling was about to come down.
And with a sharp crack, it did. Right near the washer and dryer, the ceiling caved in with a horrible crash and splinter and her daughter screamed, both boys soon sobbing loudly. Something shook the concrete. She stared at the cloud of blinding dust, seeing something moving within.
"Oh god. God help us. Please! Save my babies!"
The thing came out of the dust, emerging into the lantern glow. It was mostly made of metal and had to slouch to keep its narrow, lizardlike head from striking the ceiling. She stared into its dark eyes, looking at the long snout and rows of glinting teeth. She was too scared to even think of crying, looking at the alien soldier standing in her basement.
It seemed to smile, and then pointed its gun at her. She closed her eyes, hearing a click, and then her world was consumed in fire. She heard the awful roar and felt the hellish torture of her skin burning away, hearing only the scream of her children as her form withered under the torch's glare.
With the stick gripped in a white-knuckled fist, he banked hard to the right, looking out his canopy as another wing of those weird red fighters strafed across Sydney. He gritted his teeth under his mask, trying to get one of the nimble buggers in his gunsights, but it was practically no good. They were far more maneuverable than even a Mirage II could handle. He banked back the other way, trying his best not to think of his family a few kilometers away. Hopefully, they were safe somewhere.
"Radar is junk! We got no bearing, something about the hull just won't echo."
"Take 'em down with your guns. It's the only way!"
He tried again to line the slippery bastard up in his sights, but no matter what he did, the fighter slid out of his aim before he could get more than a few bullets to land on him. He banked hard, feeling his senses reel as the g-forces bit at him. Whoever was flying this thing was much better suited to it than him.
As he came out of the turn on the bogey's rear, he had to take a second or two to let his vision clear before reengaging. He swore quietly, shifting his grip on the stick.
At that moment, he saw the shape of one of them cutting down across his nose. Both he and the alien turned sharply to evade each other, but by the luck of odds, turned the same way.
The last thing he saw was the rusty-looking red belly of the fighter before he plowed right into it, thinking, God, I hope this gets him.
The air raid sirens were still sounding. He checked his watch, which he'd triggered on a stop watch the moment he had heard news of the attack. Fifty minutes. It had taken them fifty minutes to smash centuries of blood, sweat, and tears.
He beckoned a new batch of refugees toward the concrete shelter. "Come on! Come on!"
"Warren!" someone yelled.
He turned around, seeing one of the police cadets running his way.
"Come quick, they're showing what they look like. Some of the marines killed one!"
Prickling with excitement and hope at last, he ran for the adjoining police station, bursting into the break room. The television was on, powered by the station's generator. According to the number, the television was tuned to the air, listening for emergency broadcasts. One of the local anchors, looking like he had stumbled out of bed and in front of a camera, was reading from a piece of paper. Beside him was an image. The lizard was a purple-blooded mess, torn out of the huge armor suit they were tromping around in.
"-hit with a TOW missile by the hundred-and-first U.S. Airborne. I repeat, the aliens can be killed. They are a large lizard roughly two meters tall and soldiers from the hundred-and-first airborne killed one in Boulder with an anti-tank missile. The armor suit is resistant to standard rifles but a captain mentioned the infantry are slow enough for the military to hit them with portable anti-tank weapons, so long as they don't hold still long enough for one of them to aim with a laser blaster."
People cheered, clapping and high-fiving each other. He sighed. Good news, at last. But, maybe too late. He started to turn around, to head back outside and shepherd more of the others.
"Just in, there seems to be a large amount of energy discharge in the upper atmosphere. Sensor technicians are not yet sure whether this is from maneuvering, but their guess at this time is some sort of weapons fire." A hand passed him a new sheet. He read it briefly and then an overjoyed smile appeared. "Oh my god… oh my god, telescopes in Mexico have spotted another ship fighting with the big one in orbit right now. It is a completely different color and shape, presumed to be from another race. My god, help is here!"
If he had thought the police here were happy before, he almost had to cover his ears for this round as people began to scream and jump around. On screen, a girl in black, probably a technician of some kind, embraced the anchor right there. He could see the man crying. He himself felt numb, awed.
Help? Someone was really watching out for all of humanity?
"Fuck, get the popcorn!"
He settled in his chair, looking at the monitor. The telescope stared at a Star Trek special-effects wet dream, the big spiky red ship jockeying with a pair of smooth black ones. Bright blue lines struck out from one ship as the other pounded at the other with a shower of yellow sparks. Several of the other operators were dancing on the other levels, and behind him he could hear a woman sobbing. As he watched, a huge piece broke off of the ship and started to tumble to the surface.
Then, in the background, something flickered and warped right out of the stars, turning white and expanding into a tremendous smooth shape before the effect faded and left only the titan. It was bigger than the telescope's frame, leaving him unable to see more of it than just the middle. As he watched, however, several more of the spearlike ships raced in, tearing off new pieces of the spiky bastard that had rained hell on earth's fragile surface.
"Pieces coming down! We've got a confirmed impact in Nebraska."
And right in front of his hopeful eyes, the red bastard suddenly exploded in a white flash, and the telescope never saw again.
Outside, it was as bright as day for a few seconds. They squinted, trying to look away from the explosion before they finally looked up. The fading explosion spread across the night sky light fireworks. A few of the soldiers on the truck started to cheer and clap.
"Show 'em, baby!"
He smirked and got to his feet, looking over the transport's cab. There, ahead of them, was the shard of the landed ship. It had somehow survived falling through the atmosphere. What kind of metal was strong enough to do that? But now stuck point first in the middle of Joe Smith's cornfield, it loomed fiery and ominous.
"Lock and load, boys. Let's take…"
A strange banshee scream cut him short. He looked up, seeing several shapes soar overhead. Grabbing his radio, he squeezed the transmit switch.
"Did you send air support to the Nebraska landing?"
"Negative, four-one. Air is still tied up in the north."
"We've got air presence here. Looks…" He squinted
As he watched, several nice explosions sparkled from the side of the shard, knocking almost the entire side off.
"Looks like allied firepower, HQ. They are attacking the fragment. Repeat, allied air support is attacking the fragment."
The truck turned off the road, joining several more and a small battalion of tanks. He held to the cab until they had stopped before turning around. "Go, go, go! Take position and prepare to fire."
They rushed out, finding good cover on the hillside. He clutched his rifle close, stalking toward the tanks and keeping a wary eye on the shard.
A loud warble turned his head the other way. Lights flickered on as a sculpted landing barge of some kind came to the road behind all the trucks.
Everyone turned their aim. He held up his fist.
"Hold your fire!" The barge didn't look like one of the lizards.
Out of a few ducts in the side tumbled several smaller shapes. Definitely not the lizards.
"Hold your fire. Someone get me a light!"
Someone turned one of the truck's searchlights on them. He counted eight, small and black with blue patches. One of them had gold. He felt a strong chill run through him.
"Keep me covered," he yelled and started to approach.
As he did, the seven blue soldiers pointed their surprisingly normal-looking rifles at him. The gold one continued to walk. He started to think as he looked at the soldier that she looked both human and female.
"What the hell…"
They stopped in front of each other. She had a mask over her face, but there were two bumps for breasts and no apparently genitals between her thighs. After a moment, she reached up and undid a few straps before pulling her headgear off.
She was human. He heard a few of his marines gasp at the sight of her. Her face was tanned and covered in camouflage makeup, and her ears were pointed and moved freely. There were a few good piercings in them, and her nose as well.
He held up his hand. "Sergeant Colin Maslow, U.S. Marines."
She tipped her head, then held up her own hand. Four fingers, one thumb. She said something, though it was a little hard to tell exactly what it was. He assumed it was her name, though it sounded something like, "Shalin Sera Cautan, Kianrei soldat."
"Sera? Your name is Sera?"
She nodded and pointed to herself. After that, she pointed to the sky as a few more fighters rushed overhead. She said a few things, gestured to her blue soldiers, and then his soldiers, then pointed at the fragment of the alien ship.
"You want us to attack the ship?"
Of course, she didn't understand English. Colin turned and pointed his gun at the ship, firing a single shot. He then turned back. She smiled brightly and nodded.
"After you," he smiled, gesturing for her to pass him.
She slid her headgear back on. He smirked and turned.
"Men, we've got some fire support. On my mark, we charge the piece."
He heard guns click and shift, men checking actions and safeties. As he approached the line, she stayed at his side. He glanced down at her blocky rifle, which looked startlingly like his. With a strong yank, she cycled her first round, then looked at him through her two mirrored goggle lenses. He nodded, and together, they charged over the hill.
Many of the lizards had survived and were pouring out of the ship. He watched the alien gunships cut across the cornfield, dropping rockets down on their heads. The gouged earth passed under his boots. The alien allies were faster than him, by quite a bit, and they took positions by a fallen silo before his men reached it.
The gold-trimmed commander held up two fingers and he held his fist up.
Another warble announced another landing barge. He watched it come out of the smoky sky and open its belly. Out of the glowing blue depths fell two massive machines, slamming to the surface with such force that he had to grasp her shoulder to stay on his feet. To her credit, she held his weight and didn't punch him in the nose for touching her.
The two beasts unfolded, standing on two iron feet and unfolding cannons an M1 would have been jealous of. They marched around the silo with shuddering steps, heading toward the shard.
The commander nodded to him and he yelled to his men, breaking cover and heading once more for the smoldering shard.
The walkers rained hell on the lizards with their huge gattling guns and cannon clusters. He saw other barges drop more of them in the area. His marines began to fire at the lizards cowering in the shredded field, and he was satisfied to see purple blood splash out of their heads. The helmet-less bastards deserved it.
He heard one of his yell, "For New York City!" as he rushed into the fray.
Streaks of laser fire cut back at them. One of his took a hit to the shoulder and tumbled, his arm separating from his body. Ahead of him, the gold commander put her rifle to her shoulder and fired six loud, clinking, snapping shots. No shells tumbled from her gun. It had to be magnetic. In the dark, the alien gunfire was almost like the lasers, sharp streaks of gold that stretched from their muzzles to a lizard head.
He passed some flaming bits of metal, feeling the heat on his face as he passed. He was still chasing her fine alien ass, catching up to her whenever she stopped to fire. As they neared the base of the shard, a torrent of laser fire forced them both to cower behind an overturned pickup truck. He watched her cycle out clips and decided it was worth doing the same.
"We make a pretty good team," he chuckled.
She said something in her language.
"Covering fire!" he yelled.
Nine of his popped up and waylaid the aliens. He and the commander's bunch jumped to and ran for the line. He fired haphazardly ahead of him, hoping to get them to duck down.
As they charged, he watched a big metal fiend come out of their midst and backhand one of hers, ending his life with that ugly clang. She dove out of the way, shoving him into an irrigation ditch.
"He's a big motherfucker," he gasped, peering at him from over a cornstalk.
She answered that with something, sliding coolly over his back. After a second, she looked at him again, and said something he did understand. "Immortal."
"Hmm? Like, life unending?"
They watched the metal goon use his cannon arm and he winced as one of his boys took the laser blast. Several of his smaller cronies flowed around him.
He heard a distant cannon crack, and in the next moment, the Immortal disappeared in a bang and a shower of sparks. He couldn't help but laugh.
"Not so immortal after all."
Hope renewed, they mounted the battlefield again. A few good rifle shots and one missile from his squad finished those gathered here. She, however, was moving with a purpose, and he had to sprint to keep up with her.
There, in the wreckage, was the Immortal. It was sparking and hurt, but still moving. She stared down at it for a moment before taking something from her side. He heard a loud whirr and soon sparks were flying as she started to cut into the chest of the damaged robot.
They all gathered around, his marines taking defensive positions. Another of the aliens began to saw away the robot's chestplate, and soon they heaved the dented and blackened armor aside.
Underneath was a rat's nest of stuff. She dug around quickly for a moment before she tugged something out. He looked down.
Inside a transparent globe was what was unmistakably a brain. An alien brain, but a brain nonetheless. He frowned, and then watched her point her blue spotter dot at the laser and fire once. The globe shattered and the brain instantly turned into mush from the impact of her bullet.
He looked at her again, understanding. It wasn't a robot. It was some hopped up soldier who'd had his brain sawed out and stuck in a robot body. Or, maybe, some dead soldier who'd had his brain sawed out and stuck in a robot body. Immortal. Poetically speaking.
She said something. He looked up, seeing her holding up her left hand, clenched in a fist, the back facing out. He somewhat recognized the gesture and with a small smile, released his rifle and pounded the back of his left fist into hers. She pushed back playfully and then let go, turning around.
Was that… had she just given him the pound? What kind of alien pounded her buddies?
He glanced around. Perhaps, just maybe, the fight was over.
She tapped his shoulder, and then beckoned for him to follow.
"Corporal, take charge."
He followed her toward a nearby barge, inhaling the smoke as he walked past fires. The barge's engines caused a whirl of wind around it as it hovered near the ground. He looked up at one of the troop ducts, frowning, then looked back at her. She pointed at it.
"I don't know. I should probably check with headquarter's before-"
She shook her head and pointed, very insistently.
"Okay, okay. Listen to the alien chick with the gun." He walked underneath the duct.
His stomach reeled and suddenly he was aware of being pulled upward. He gave a yelp as he was sucked into the duct and then spat out into a blue-lit room with several other alien soldiers. She followed him in the adjacent duct. In the center of the room, the soldiers were racking their guns, and many of them were taking off their headgear. There was a mix of male and female, which was obvious by their body shape and the cut of their hair, which followed human standards surprisingly well. He put his own gun down on the bench and took off his helmet.
The command girl smiled, touching her ears. He touched his own and offered her a smile.
"Yeah, we humans don't have pointed ones like yours."
She said something in her language and laughed. A few of the others did too. He blushed a little, feeling awkward being human. They all took hold of a net above their heads, and he did too. Moments later, the barge shifted gently and he figured they were headed for orbit. Shutters closed over the landing ducts, sealing him inside.
He swallowed. He was going to their ship, for sure. She must have invited him along because she liked how he fought, or something.
The aliens talked to themselves in their language. He stood out for a bit, watching the commander talk to a few of hers and, in particular, one male with red markings. He seemed very serious about the whole thing, and answered her questions with a fair amount of gesturing and some short phrases. She seemed satisfied with what he said and moved on.
After many minutes, he noticed that his weight felt different. He scuffed his feet on the floor, noticing that he was still heavy enough to stay on the floor, but something was different. After a second, he decided to follow that corridor forward.
It ramped upward and brought him to a cockpit of some kind. Here, a girl in a blue-marked suit was controlling the barge with a set of weird controls, looking at the world through hexagonal ports. He couldn't tell if they were monitors or windows, but he suspected the former.
He realized instantly upon arriving that there was a reason his weight was different. Below them was the curve of the earth. He swallowed, feeling the floor shift slightly. Looking to his right, he saw Sera join him.
"Space," he pointed. "I'm no astronaut, but… damn…"
She laughed, her ears ducking flat against her skull. She then said something that sounded strangely like, "Welcome to the galaxy" except with a strange accent.
Ahead of them was the biggest starship he'd ever seen. Not that he had ever seen a real starship before. His mind thought to Star Wars, to that huge black star destroyer that Darth Vader was chasing around the galaxy in, and thought maybe this beast was in its weight class. She leaned against the wall coolly, looking at it.
"Leviathan," she said.
"I'll say. It's huge."
She cleared her throat, and then spoke again. "Tarsa Misae capital ship."
He wasn't wholly sure what she meant by that, but it was definitely the capital of something.
They found a duct in the side of the Leviathan and followed several other landers in. He watched as they emerged in a huge docking matrix, a hive of ships moving back and forth. Several of the manta-like fighters were floating in the blue haven of the alien hangar, heading to where they needed to be. The lander picked one of the berths and turned about, backing into the slot. It settled in place with several loud thumps and a good lurch, and then Sera beckoned.
He followed her aft, following the rest of her squad out a hatch that had appeared. He breathed deeply, realizing suddenly that the atmosphere was stable for humans. Sure to not take that for granted, he walked with her through the wide corridors of the cavernous ship, seeing that it was less a contained ship and more a small city made of silver and blue metal. She knew where she was going in this confusing place, though sometimes she stopped to look around. As they moved away from the landing bays, he found his first of another alien species, a tall fellow with no hair and a head shaped like a sperm, gray skinned with huge skinny arms and big hands. She gestured to him, leaning in to speak toward his ear.
She thought for a moment, then nodded. She gestured to herself. "Kianrei."
"That's what you are?"
She nodded, and then touched his shoulder. "Solarian."
"We call ourselves human. That's your name for us?"
"Hu… human," she stumbled with it for a moment, squinting. After a second, she nodded to the side and they started to walk again. "Tarsu Colin Maslow, human Sergeant, U.S. Marines."
"You learn quick."
Out of a corridor came what he swore to be a living teddy bear in a nice robe. Perhaps his face was too flat to be a bear, but he was about the right size for a large novelty teddy bear with huge brown eyes. He ambled his way on bare paws and didn't notice them. She nodded to him.
He recognized the word. "They run the ship."
They turned a corner and passed deeper into the ship, approaching a wall with two armed Kianreyan soldiers standing guard. She paused at the wall, smiling, and then nodded toward it. He frowned, watching as she walked right through the silver wall as if it wasn't there. He took a deep breath, shrugging.
"Here goes nothing."
He walked forward and the wall came at him. Instinctively, he flinched, expecting to bounce off it. Instead, he felt a warm prickle and passed through with the slightest of hesitations. He opened his eyes, seeing above him the solar system. All around him were control consoles and creatures darting about. As he stood where he was, three ewoks walked the other way, going through the silver wall jabbering to each other. Or, maybe more like koala bears on two feet. They looked strangely like the teddy bear fellows.
"Chi'ibari," she told him, taking his gloved hand and pulling him deeper into the control room. "Mechanics."
"Oh." Awed, he looked at the diagram floating above him. Pretty good, for a hologram.
At the center of the room on its own separate dais were several of the teddy bears. What had she called them? M something. She announced them and bowed dramatically, and feeling compelled, he did the same, holding the few hand grenades on his webbing to keep them from wobbling around.
Three of the little guys excused themselves from the group and came over, looking at him. One of them said something to the commander, and for a moment, she looked sour and crossed her formidable arms. Then, the one in the prettiest robe came to him.
"I apologize," he said in what he thought was a faintly Indian accent. "We are planning a summit to meet the rest of your kind. Usually, we do not bring aboard those who are not properly briefed."
Colin cleared his throat. "I'm a marine. I'm used to being in weird places. Sergeant Colin Maslow, of the United States." He held out his hand.
The girl made a sound and then gestured discretely for him to stop. He retracted his hand, noticing the Misae look at it weirdly. After that, the little guy looked back up at him. "I am the Grand Master Olven. Since you are already here, I shall welcome you to the Leviathan Slaverra. And you are very graciously welcome for our assistance."
Colin smirked, feeling compelled to kneel so he wasn't talking down to the little guy. "I can't even start to thank you, but I'm sure our presidents and prime ministers will. Who were those guys? And better yet, how 'come you can speak English?"
The little guy did not display any hint of amusement or any real emotion, for that matter. "The Collective has kept an eye on Solar and your species for many centuries. You are actually cousins of the good Commandant Sera Cautan and her kin."
"Your chromosome count is identical, but already I say too much." He crossed his hands behind his back. "You are not properly briefed, Sergeant Maslow. I'm afraid I'm not allowed to tell you much more than this."
"What about who attacked us? And why? I fought them." He smirked. "Please, I get kept in the dark enough by my folks."
The Misae did not shrug or smile or anything. "If you are so curious, I will tell you that they are the Tideri and they are fiends. We did our best to keep them from coming to this region, sniffing for conquest, but they managed to get past our blockade and we were forced to intervene. It is earlier than we hoped, but we now have no choice. Your species has seen everything that occurred here, and now the truth is out." After a moment, he turned to Sera. "Commandant."
She pricked her pierced ears. He told her some things in her language before turning back to him. "You are her guest. You return to her vessel and I wish you remain there until further notice. We will make landfall and meet your leaders in a controlled setting and conclude how we best proceed."
"Thank you, Grand Master."
The Misae gave him the pleasure of a very faint smile. "Welcome to the Galaxy, Sergeant. I hope it is everything your kind dreamed."
With his gesture, Sera came to him and he began to follow her out of the control room, smiling a bit.
"Man, it's like a dream come true."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Misae have grammatical imperfections in their interpretation of English, particularly in the past tense and command form. These are not typos.
sorry, no proofing today. Posting at 04:40 AM, too tired to read, but too excited not to post or sleep.