Earth’s Invasion

At first, they’d thought it had only been a power cut. But then a neighbour had come round with a radio playing the emergency broadcast. Her house mate had been standing on a chair rummaging for candles in the cupboard, and had almost fell off when he heard it.

Sofia passed a matchbox and he lit the candles. He blew out the match and sat in the middle of the living room’s circle of candles, hunched with head in hands. The neighbour let himself out, the radio playing some of the impossible words back again – billions dead of unknown causes linked to power from Arc reactors. The government has shut down the grid in Arc-supplied regions for your protection and requests all citizens remain indoors. The aliens are – until the front door closed behind him.

After the click of the latch, the room was silent. Both of them tried to process the nightmare that was happening. Sofia sat on the sofa, watching flickering orange candle light play across her hands, telling herself it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. The visitors had sent a mothership over every capital city, speaking messages of peace and co-operation in the local languages, and freely offered technology like the Arc reactors; replacing most of the planet’s power stations with clean energy. Relations had been warm.

She went upstairs to fill the bath and sink like the broadcast had said to, ignoring the sound of her house mate hyperventilating. Without electricity, it was only a matter of time before the water stopped. Sofia sat on the edge of the tub, phoning home with a shaking thumb. After three tries she realised their landline obviously wouldn’t work, slapped her thigh, tried her parent’s and sister’s mobiles. No signal. Of course not. She bit her lip, turning off the taps. Downstairs, her house mate hadn’t moved.

‘I’m going,’ she said, slipping shoes on.

‘What?’ He looked up.

‘My family-’ She croaked, took a breath, steeled herself.

‘We’re meant to stay in.’

‘I can’t just sit here with you,’ she said, then paused. ‘Sorry, I mean, I’ve only been here two weeks…’

‘I know. We don’t really know each other. But we’re supposed to stay.’

‘It was a request, not an order. Sorry,’ she said, fumbling to get her arms through her coat sleeves as she stepped out into the night. He followed, put his hands up as she drove away, looked up into the sky for a moment then darted indoors.

There were no street lights on, no light seeping through cracks in curtains, no traffic lights. For that matter, no traffic. Most people were following the request to stay home. Or – the part of her mind she wished could stop said – or they were dead. She tried the car radio. For a while the emergency broadcast played on a loop, but then, she guessed, the radio towers’ backup generators ran out. She drove on in silence, occasionally seeing bodies slumped by street lights appear in the light of her headlamps, trying not to imagine how the attack might have worked. She sped up, fixing her gaze on the road.

Her sister hadn’t slept for two days after first contact: watching rolling news, standing in the garden staring up at the mothership, poring through files the aliens had released online. Their parents had allowed it. It was history, after all. We weren’t alone.

Ha.

The city loomed ahead, dark save for the glowing craft above. Military vehicles sped past, honking horns as they overtook but not trying to stop her. Sofia told herself that Freya and their parents had been out of the city, avoiding the capital’s light pollution while she used her telescope, just thinking there’d been a power cut. That they wouldn’t be among the bodies in the streets and homes. That she’d check the house first and not find them there, then go to the top of that hill and Freya would be there. Looking at the stars, still seeing friendly faces out there waiting to be met.

There was a jolt of light from the ship. The ground quaked. Sofia gasped, brakes squealing as she stopped in the middle of the motorway. She brushed a hot tear from her cheek and pummelled the dashboard, then gritted her teeth until her jaw hurt, accelerating towards the city. The occasional fellow ignorer of the government’s request was parked by the roadside, along with the military trucks, all staring towards the craft.

As she entered the city she found roads packed with cars, all the drivers dead. Sofia abandoned driving and ran through dark streets lit only by the soft blue glow from above. She took a dead woman’s bike and carried on, hoarse and panting. When she saw a group of people walking down the middle of a street, she stopped to ask about survivors.

It was only as she got close that she realised the people had no tails. She froze. One of the aliens stopped right in front of her. He had soft smooth skin, hair on top of his head, and his eyes had a round iris. Her scales itched, her barbed tail and fangs reflexively dripping. She wanted to sting or run, but, as in a bad dream, she felt stuck in place.

He spoke in halting Valiri. ‘Stay out of our way.’ Her tail swung over her shoulder, the barb darting for where his heart would be. It stopped on thin air. He hadn’t flinched. ‘Stay out of our way, cold blood. This is Earth’s planet now.’

They ambled down the road. Sofia watched, feeling like the last insect in a failing hive, a magnifying glass looming overhead. A second jolt of light shook tiles from roofs. Her family was from the suburbs, she told herself. Not directly under the ship. There was a chance.

She cycled the rest of the way with cramping legs and left the key in the door as she finally stepped inside. She called out and nobody answered. Her parent’s bodies lay in the dark living room, but no time to take that in, where was Freya? She checked every room, and finally saw her sister at the far end of the garden. Freya was watching through her eighth birthday’s telescope as a cloud of shuttles swarmed from the mothership.

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