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….