The things that were still beautiful couldn’t be seen as beautiful; everything had a new – sometimes puzzling – meaning; because of this Earth was no longer familiar; everything on it had changed. Children from infancy to seventeen had been taken during the invasion. No one knew what had become of them and could only speculate with most speculations ending with adamancy that Earth’s children were still alive.
Six years later and domination had only worsened. The planet, for the most part, had become a wasteland. Survivors were now classified into one of three categories: browners, campers and boxers. Boxers were those captured and forced to live eternity as slaves, as each was given a six-by-three foot box made of tosi. The boxes were what they slept in, housed all of their possessions in, and what they were buried inside of, along with their possessions, before being transported in light speed to Kilauea Volcano and dropped in. Browners were survivors evading capture and known for their looks and smells: poor clothing, dirty skin, brown teeth; like animals they lived by day in one of many holes that now covered Earth’s crusts to avoid detection by the warships’ pictox; most of them hunted at night. Campers were also survivors evading capture, but lived in larger groups, a commune, usually, housed in ruined structures, and had a chosen leader that made up all of the rules.
The major difference between browners and campers was campers possessed two things that were now considered both a luxury and as precious commodities: a water supply and plenty of toiletries. Between campers, toothpaste, soap and toilet paper were often used as currency, and were equivalent to a hundred, fifty and twenty dollar bill. Despite many efforts, life expectancy continued to decline. Lost hope became the reason outdated medicine exchanged hands as easily as spare change.
Ericka Martin, also known as Princess Hamutita Margas amongst aliens of all kinds, thought about America’s former beauty as she stared at billows of clouds hanging thick and stagnant, their bottoms dark, their tops as white as milk, and the brilliant gold hued light of burning fires; a telltale sign a warship was lowering its position. Never had any come this close to the surface unless they were crashing. But these ships weren’t crashing, and from what she could see happening with the clouds, quite a few were en route to a location that was bringing the ships closer to where she and two men hid.
Since the invasion anything seen as ‘new’ tended to leave casualties behind. This perception stayed its course when the advancing warships suddenly came out of camouflage. Ericka didn’t bother counting how many there was. Her eyes fastened instead on the warship known as the Number One, because she believed it was this ship where the alien king, Sammo, now resided with his family.
Babisian activity had increased over the years, but never had the Number One lowered less than thirty miles from the Earth’s crust. Huge, black and sleek, despite how much it lowered its height still climbed the sky.
Alfred must have noticed this, too, because he crouched lower beside her, gripped her jacket and gave firm yanks. Ignoring his apprehension because she had plenty of her own, she continued to watch the Number One through binoculars, hoping to learn more about this ship. Only then could her army devise a plan to destroy it – something that would be hard to do, because the Number One wasn’t just a ship. It was a prison vessel, holding within it aliens captured from other planets.
A horn blared, its sound traveling far and splintering wind atoms into shreds. Loud static followed, the ship tuning the world into its broadcast. Out of the static, alien gurgles and rolling pops erupted, the sounds so strange it caused her heart to race.
As if Heaven opened and brought with it something other than angels, the sky came alive, and what it came alive with looked more like Hell.
Violent electrical storms. Static electricity snaked out of linchinx, connecting the ships closest to the Number One through Babisian electricity, which was different than the electricity man had created on Earth. Diamonds of white light appeared on the warships’ undersides. Smoke crawled out of them like dolphins, jumping high and diving low. Pooling together, artificial clouds began to form, their color a dazzling prism that glowed through her binocular lenses as if made of alien radiation.
Hiding beside Ericka and Alfred, Szwedko lowered his binoculars and studied Ericka’s face, because he sensed she had seen in a vision what the three of them were witnessing. The talents she possessed had proved many over the years. Although her physical capabilities were beyond normal human capacity, her gift of clairvoyance proved stronger and had kept them alive these past years.
“What’s happening?” He whispered. An injury he suffered by the hands of King Sammo left his vocal cords permanently damaged, his voice now, at best, barely a raspy gravel.
“King Sammo is opening the doors of the prison,” she said.
Vapors poured out of the Number One like oil escaping a tanker, large volumes that decreased the clouds visibility.
“The gas comes from the verrix,” she said. “It paralyzes the prisoners. I think the other warships are releasing gas that brings the prisoners out of paralysis before they hit the ground.”
Szwedko no longer wanted to look through the binoculars. A few years ago Ericka had spoken of this moment after she’d seen it in a vision. And in that vision the day the Number One lowered its first prisoners would be the start of Armageddon. With more than half of the population wiped out, he wondered how many more people would lose their lives. Before the invasion his family consisted of a brother and a dog. Unsure if either was still alive, he thought about the woman he had come to know and the child they had together. His son, Benjamin, had only days ago turned three years old.
Alfred didn’t know anything about Ericka’s prediction of Armageddon. What he said next stemmed solely from his fears. “Shouldn’t we start getting going?”
When Ericka didn’t answer, Szwedko’s heart thumped faster.
“Ericka?” He questioned, because he knew she did nothing without a reason. Danger was advancing, and instead of running she seemed to be waiting for it. If he didn’t know what he knew about her, he would have ran and left them behind if they refused to go with him. The reason he didn’t is because men had behaved this way in the past and died before they could escape. Anyone who stayed close to Ericka and listened to what she said survived with the least number of injuries.
“We need to know what we’re up against,” Ericka finally said. “And what we will be running from.”
“You don’t know already?” Szwedko pressured.
Ericka lowered her binoculars, held his gaze, and lowered her voice. “I saw this moment. The voices inside me told me new alien species will be released on Earth the day I saw this happening. But I don’t know what kind of species they are, or what will happen to us if we stay where we are. In my vision we ran…”
“And then what?” Alfred asked, overhearing after he had leaned closer.
“You were eaten,” Ericka answered casually like she always did even when she spoke of death, and as if an alien eating a human was trivial at best. Alfred had only to look into her eyes and believe her. For five years they had been on the run, and during those years when Ericka spoke in the tone she used now, like a programmed computer without life, everything she said came true.
Lowering more behind the boulder, his chest rose and fell in a swift rhythm. “I think I’m going to shit myself.”
Szwedko stared at Alfred in a way to suggest he could see Alfred’s body being bitten into pieces and consumed.
“Please, don’t look at me like that,” Alfred pleaded and closed his eyes. Ericka saw him getting eaten. It didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen if she changed the future by staying where they were, but staying meant if it did happen it would happen later and not now. When faced with death, five more minutes of living was more valuable than anything else.
The Babisianx hadn’t come to Earth to eat humans or steal Earth’s natural resources. They came to make Earth an intergalactic prison. Since their arrival Earth had been terraformed. Babisian trees had been planted into asphalt, and inside abandoned homes, and on mountains, and even on the surface of the ocean.
For two years warships showered Earth with electrical rain, speeding up the process of the growth. Forests still rapidly growing now sat in the center of ruined cities. Houses in whole and in part sat high from the ground supported by trees and alien ivy that grew in twisted, writhing tangles. Snake trees were what the trees were called. Getting too close to the tree’s ivies was taking a risk, because the ivies were an aggressive species. Like snakes they could smell the scent of water inside of anything, especially humans, because humans were made largely of water.
All Babisianx needed large volumes of water to survive, and apparently so did the vegetation they had brought with them.
Each time a human got close to the ivies a cluster of ivies snaked out and wrapped around the person before drawing them closer. The captured humans didn’t die. Something in the ivies’ weeping sap kept them alive. Once captured the humans became a part of the tree’s twisted forms. A change in their DNA allowed the ivy to attach to their skin, and the plant and human to become one.
It no longer rained on Earth like it used to. The climate had taken a drastic change, and so had the seasons. Less than twenty-four hours could pass before survivors saw new sunrises appear. Still, Sammo’s New Terra as Earth was now called flourished.
Snake trees weren’t the only deadly flora the Babisianx planted. Puka bushes were deadlier. Silvery-green in color, its many thin leaves were as sharp as razors. The red berries that grew on its branches were what humans had to be careful of. Puka bushes also sought water, and when found in living species they shot the berries at their targets, then used their limber brown sticky trunks to scamper like animals to their paralyzed victims. After draining their victims they left them behind, then sat in damp, dark areas to hydrant their limbs, branches and leaves. Once when Ericka had come face to face with a puka, she could have sworn a pair of silver eyes stared back at her.
Averting her binoculars to an area of vapors, funnels formed then stretched to reach the ground. Closing her eyes, she relied on her extrasensory perception to tell her what the binoculars didn’t. Before the invasion she had treated her visions as personal dreams she had no intentions of sharing unless it became necessary. Now with all of their lives on the line, for the past year she practiced reciting what she saw when she saw it so the listener could carry the information to someone else.
“I’ll be face to face with a large alien soon. It’s huge, much larger than the Babisianx… We need to be careful of… the smaller creatures that will soon be released.” She pulled her eyes from the binoculars and stared at Albert. “They’re toxic. Stay away from them. Don’t let your curiosity get the better of you.” Pressing the binoculars to her eyes again, she spoke this time to Szwedko. “One of the species has weapons. I saw what the weapons look like. It’s why we’re waiting. I think we’ll be able to use them. I can’t make out the rest of what I’m sensing. We can all sense danger getting closer, but my gut’s telling me to wait and see what the danger is.”
Alfred saw the danger as soon as Ericka stopped speaking. The Number One stopped its descent less than three miles from the ground. The first alien prisoner was already being released, and it was coming out feet first, and each foot looked as wide as a house. The rest of the body soon slipped out at an angle. The funnels gassed the creature before it hit the ground just like Ericka said.
Behind this creature two more species emerged.
“Some of them look human,” Alfred whispered. Although they were some distance away, having seen an alien the size of a skyscraper drop made him understand how he could become a desired diet on this new creature’s choice of food.
“And not human,” Szwedko clarified.
The species had two feet, two legs, two arms and a head. What it didn’t have were eyes. Two bright lights took up most of their faces. Once the species became airborne, their heads, legs and arms separated from their body and ran in separate directions when they hit the ground.
“What the…” Szwedko began.
The body parts collected under a tree, then reattached to recreate its human-looking form.
“I think they can swap body parts,” Alfred whispered. “I’m certain the same heads, legs and arms didn’t attach to the same bodies.”
The last of the species were round and made entirely of rib-like teeth. They flew through the air like spores searching for a host. Alfred saw them and knew it was this species that could have an appetite for humans.
“Which are toxic?” Szwedko asked.
“The teeth creatures,” Ericka advised, her eyes on three more of the larger of the species that were being released.
The first of the larger species started pulling himself up from the ground. His head was all of six feet tall. Nodules protruded out of its face like nails hammered through wood. Patches of skin rested where eyes should have been. The many membranes that created its nostrils flared and trembled as it drew its first breath of air. The creature had to have been standing thirty feet tall.
Szwedko counted eight fingers on each hand. “What’s wrong with its neck?”
“I think that is its neck,” Ericka answered.
More nodules protruded out of the alien’s neck. Its head rotated in a three-hundred-and-sixty degree angle, then stopped and faced the direction they hid in.
“You think it can see us?” Alfred whispered.
“I think it’s looking toward the city,” Szwedko answered, almost certain this was the case.
Behind the boulder lay the muddy river of the Rio Grande. It was skirted by lush covered landscape and led to what used to be the city of Albuquerque.
A rumble of thunder emitted when the taller species began communicating as soon as the others also pulled themselves up from the ground. Each step they took vibrated the ground all the way to the boulder. The human-looking species didn’t run for cover as they had when they left the ship. Walking with confidence, they met the taller species, then climbed up the giants’ large forms, creating body armor that covered the tall species from every side. Only after this process was completed, both species stared at the sky, watching the teeth creatures again take flight.
“This doesn’t look good,” Szwedko said.
The teeth creatures flew erratically, darting high and low before circling and joining together like piranhas. Spotting the aliens that had once been prisoners with them, they sped through the air gathering speed in what looked like an attack.
“An alien prison fight,” Ericka surmised when one of the teeth creatures split in half and bit off one of the human-looking species’ head. Other human forms lost their grip, broke apart, then ran for cover as the giant it clung to made fists the size of cars and battered the flying creatures as they neared. Despite their different shapes and sizes, the battle appeared equal. The human forms that had fallen lured the teeth. The teeth creatures ripped apart alien flesh. The giants punched, stomped and grabbed the teeth creatures, throwing them into buildings and burned out vehicles. Just as the battle became heated, a blare erupted across the sky.
“Um, I think we better run,” Ericka said.
“Why?” Alfred asked, lowering his binoculars.
“Because I just saw in a vision what is coming out of the Number One next, and there’s going to be thousands of them.”
“Shit!” Alfred roared. Had any of the species been close enough their location would have been blown. Neither Szwedko nor Ericka berated him for his outburst, because before they knew it they screamed the same word.
More gas spilled out of the warships as the species Ericka mentioned was flushed out like bowels. Spreading far and wide, just like she said there were thousands of them, and some had different forms. One of the species walked upright and had massive hands with stubby fingers. Ice crystals grew out of its thighs and shoulders and crowned its head. Its face was an oblong computer screen with coded data moving across it like wiggly red worms. Soldiers from the looks of them, and this seemed to be true when they pulled long rods out of their shoulders and opened fire.
One of the taller species had taken most of the blasts and started falling, its head sure to land where Ericka and the others was hiding. As it fell, the second species, which looked part lizard and part hyena, started their charge. Mottled gray in color, their hands and feet had claws sharper than kitchen knives. Ice crystals clung to their bodies and tails as they ran in a cheetah sprint to finish off the creature that their upright species had knocked off its feet.
Hundreds raced closer to the boulder. Ericka, Szwedko and Alfred had no choice but stay where they were. Pulling themselves into each other, they hunched underneath the small cleft cut into the bottom of the boulder. The ground revolted as the taller creature made contact with the ground.
Eight stubby branches lowered to the entrance of the cleft, drawing closer to them. The closer the branches got the scent of bruised berries mingled with dirt filled Ericka’s nostrils. She saw that the branches had skin and hair. Szwedko pulled tighter against her as the boulder shifted, causing them to sink into the ground where the boulder had been positioned for many, many years.
The more the boulder shifted, Ericka, Alfred and Szwedko became covered in dirt and insects. What stopped them from making any noise were the sounds coming from outside the boulder. Growls similar to a witch’s laughter. Roaring thunder caused hair to rise on the nape of their necks. The more the fingers gripped the cleft the more they turned to stone until ice crystals finally formed.
The boulder shifted again, but this time away from them, opening its cleft larger than it originally was. Teeth aliens covered with ice crashed like meteors. Ericka closed her eyes and lowered her head when one of the upright ice creatures stood over a teeth creature to make certain it was dead. Foolishly she believed keeping still with her eyes closed would prevent the creature from seeing where she was hiding. She knew her efforts were futile when Alfred’s fingers bit into her arm as he tried to merge his body with hers.
Ericka opened her eyes.
None of them knew if the weapon they had (an alien stun gun) would have an effect on the creatures they saw. Firing the weapon would draw more creatures to them from the distinct sound it made when fired.
A red laser pulled down the alien’s face, causing the computer screen to disappear. A mask, that’s what the computers were. The face that peered at them was as jagged as basalt rocks, its color cold-white, and its eyes a living color of green. Its mouth was a collection of more rock that pulled outward from the face.
Ericka held the creature’s gaze, and the creature also held hers, because he saw Ericka in her spiritual and physical forms. Raising the mask over his face again, he beamed a scanner on the strange-looking species that appeared to be hiding. Images on his retinal screen depicted a species his deicom knew nothing about other than the species had soft organs that thrived with blood. The species with the longest hair and a flat sex organ had thousands of species attached to her soul like stars. These species his computer did pick up on. Eiglexx! Eiglexx! Eiglexx! Destroy, destroy, destroy!
He started to get closer when a voice filled the sky.
“Prisoners, welcome to Sammo’s New Terra…”
Szwedko held Ericka back when she attempted to crawl from under the boulder.
Ericka knew the voice that had spoken. She would recognize it anywhere.
The voice belonged to one of the most powerful Babisianx of them all.
The voice belonged to Hamut, the father of her three sons.
With his hands hanging away from his body, the ice creature lifted his chin and stared up at the sky, his chest rising and falling like someone winded after a vigorous workout. While still gazing up, one of the teeth creatures thawed and sprang in a surprise attack. Separating its body into halves gave it the appearance of a Venus flytrap, except the inside of its mouth was the color of pitch.
The ice creature continued to breathe heavily as he continued to stare up. Reaching for the rod sticking out of his shoulder, he aimed it over his head at the gideon sneaking up behind him on his retinal screen. Changing the setting on the rod to destroy, he fired, then stuffed the rod back into his body.
Ericka stared at the creature known as gideons, watching as its circular shape lay like a pile of oozing rib-curved teeth. Out of the center a red slug crawled out. The ice creature took a step back and touched the slug with his foot, turning the slug into ice, and then he stepped forward again.
It was then his eyes fell onto Ericka.
“He’s looking at you,” Alfred whispered in alarm.
With bounding steps, and massive ice horns sticking out of its feet, it leapt to the boulder and cowered in front of the cleft. Cold air blasted them from the creature’s closeness. Ericka pressed her mouth into Szwedko’s chest as the boulder fell more on top of them, attempting to bury them alive. Each of them kept still as tremors vibrated the dirt.
A giant was near, at least this was what all three of them assumed the ice creature was hiding from now that he was alone. Thunder erupted, and then everything went silent. The creature sat a few minutes more before finally rising and walking out of their range of vision.
“The battle sounds like it’s over,” Szwedko whispered. “Let’s get back to the others.”
Alfred crawled out of their dungeon first, then lowered and gestured it was safe for them to also crawl out. Ericka army-crawled through the small space, forcing her body between rock and cold dirt, then stood to her feet feeling bruised on all sides. Looking up at the sky like the ice creature had, flurries of ice could be seen everywhere, the wind blowing it all directions. A winter wonderland is what the ice creatures had turned the entire area into. The boulder no longer sat high enough for a person of any height to hide behind. On the other side of it teeth creatures, human forms and a giant lay dead, all of them turned into hard, cold, blue ice.
Ericka didn’t look over her shoulder. Instead she tried to see the ice creature from the corner of her eye, but couldn’t. Still she knew he was there, perhaps hiding behind one of the many trees and bushes that created the part of the forest that hadn’t yet grown wild.
Saying nothing because she didn’t want the ice creature to know she knew it was there, she stepped in behind Alfred while Szwedko brought up their rear. It took close to forty minutes to reach their compound, and during that time Ericka had stared at Szwedko often. Szwedko, knowing what Ericka was silently trying to communicate, looked over his shoulder each time it had been safe enough, but saw nothing.
Alfred stood in front of the gaping hole that was left of the Lovell Respiratory Research Laboratory. Szwedko usually waited for Ericka to enter the building before him, but she urged him ahead, and once he couldn’t be seen she turned and studied the area, looking for the ice creature when suddenly he stepped from the tree he had hidden behind and acknowledged her search.
Why had he followed them? Why hadn’t he shot his weapon? Did he follow so he could warn the others where humans were hiding and devise an attack?
She turned from him and crawled through the hole that led to the place she now called home.
Szwedko had waited for her at the stairwell that led to the basement. Above the basement, five floors of what had been office space and lab rooms were now a complicated jumble hard to navigate without injuries.
“Did you see it?” The look on his face showed anger. “I saw the way he looked at you underneath the boulder.”
“He knew I was looking for him and came out from the tree he had hidden behind. We need to wake Tella and my sons, then go back out and find him before he can reach the others.”
The door that had once blocked entrance to the stairwell had been blown away during the invasion and now rested on the floor. Hurrying down the staircase behind him, Szwedko reached the tarp first and pulled it aside for her. Seconds after she entered, Gaines and Pilcher pushed a heavy piece of metal in front of the opening as soon as Szwedko cleared it, the metal being the only thing they had to stop anything from getting inside.
Farzad saw the two of them and hurried closer. Callum stopped listening to Alfred and also hurried to Ericka and Szwedko.
“Callum, go and wake Tella and the children,” Szwedko said
Callum’s brows became high arches. “We need the boys?”
“One of the creatures followed us and is outside,” Szwedko began.
Callum heard this and, grabbing neitx from a nearby table, ran to the floor below where the lab’s generators were located. It was there where Tella and her sons spent most of their days in a sleep induced state.
“Waking all four can give away our location,” Farzad reminded.
“I heard Hamut,” Ericka said.
Szwedko stepped closer so he alone faced her. “That was not Hamut. Why do you think it was?”
“That could have been any Babisian voice,” Alfred agreed.
“I know my husband’s voice,” was Ericka’s reply, and then she held Farzad’s and Szwedko’s gazes collectively. “It was Hamut. He welcomed the prisoners to Earth. If he’s come back after all of these years it means he and his father have settled their differences.”
Farzad rested on a rolling stool and folded his fingers together. “The only way Hamut and King Sammo are on the same side is if Hamut has turned against you and the children.”
“If that was his voice then it was a trap,” Szwedko said. “Maybe it wasn’t Hamut’s voice. Maybe King Sammo knows where we are and have known for some time. Maybe he’s trying to draw Ericka and the children out of hiding.”
“He knows I’m not that stupid,” Ericka said. “For five years we have been able to avoid detection. I don’t think he knows where we are. Whether you or Albert heard it or not, I heard Hamut’s voice. I think it was a warning…”
“Of what?” Farzad asked.
“War.” Ericka spoke firmly, her eyes and facial expression a mask of fortitude. “You didn’t see these other creatures. It’s creatures like these he’s been running from for five years. Maybe he’s tired of running. One thing’s for sure. If he’s come back he’s fighting for his father and not us. This is it. The moment we have all been waiting for. The battle between man and the Babisianx will soon begin. Whether we want to or not we need to get to San Antonio as soon as we can…”
“How?” Farzad leapt off of the stool as if it had suddenly become hot. “Babisian soldiers are blocking the way! We’ve tried, Ericka. This is as far as we go. Even you said that. We can’t even send a Dendroid or a Humanlike to San Antonio to let them know how close we’ve come.”
“We find a way!” Shouting was something Ericka rarely did. Others stopped listening to Alfred and began paying attention to what was happening across the room.
Drawing in a calming breath, she held Farzad’s gaze. “There are only twenty-two of us. We have one gun, but don’t know what effect it will have on the new creatures we saw. We have Tella, my sons, Meak and the Humanlikes. That brings the total up to thirty-eight. We’ve been hiding long enough.” She lifted her voice so it carried far into the room. “We can no longer look at this place as survival. Yes, outside there will only be darkness once the warships lift higher in the sky. Things will be hard, but things are hard now.”
She stopped speaking when she heard small footsteps running up the staircase.
Seconds later Callum, her sons, Tella, and Meak and his family joined them.
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