I remember the day it finally happened—the day an alien race made contact with humanity.
The latest presidential campaign was already in full swing. Endless rivers of money flowed to advertisers and political slogans clogged the airwaves.
As far as I can recall, no astronomer spotted the alien starship cruising through the solar system, passing Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and then parking in orbit around Earth. One minute there was nothing. The next, CNN, Fox News, every TV station on the planet, blurted out the amazing story of a real live UFO visitor.
The vessel was mind-bogglingly big: one commentator said as huge as Rhode Island. It was as if someone had hollowed out one of the bigger asteroids and stuck engines in it. But this thing wasn’t an asteroid. It was metal, a construct: black, oval and with giant fins sticking out of it like an old ’57 Chevy.
The political ads stopped airing as the TV stations played the alien starship twenty-four seven.
I was stationed in Antarctica. My name was Creed, by the way, just Creed. I didn’t like my first name and had never used it. We sat glued before the TV, forgetting about the science experiments. According to what we watched, people by the thousands, millions maybe, aimed their backyard telescopes or binoculars at the vessel, and of course the military used radar.
For thirty-seven hours the starship waited up there, as silent as the Sphinx, making the world increasingly nervous. Finally, the U.S. couldn’t resist doing something to prod the aliens into talking. They pulled out a mothballed shuttle and launched it into orbit. Who should pilot it but Mad Jack Creed, my father? My mom had divorced him years ago, but we’d kept in touch. He was one of the few people to visit me during my stint in prison.
Mad Jack spoke into the shuttle camera, giving the world a running commentary as his craft approached the alien ship. It was amazing.
I watched. The world watched. Maybe it would have been better if it had been a grainy image instead of pure HD. Mad Jack grinned out of the TV. He’d torn off the goofy astronaut’s headgear and put on his old Air Force cap with its chipped silver rocket pin on the bill, and he sported four days’ growth of beard.
He’d flown F-18s in his day, a fighter jock with three confirmed kills. It was obvious he was enjoying the heck out of getting up in the air again. He shoved his face in the camera and told us the alien hovered 260 miles over Spain.
The dimensions of the starship awed me as my dad approached it: like a flea nearing an elephant.
My chest ached with pride for my old man. He had guts and he played this cool and collected. I know they must have asked for volunteers and he would have been the first in line.
As Mad Jack talked, cameras showed the shuttle’s bay doors opening and a space arm unfolding, lifting a giant communications device. Computers began aiming the dish at the starship.
The aliens had been quiet, continuing their Sphinx-like routine of inscrutability. Finally, however, they began to react.
“Look,” my dad’s copilot said. “Something’s happening.”
“Focus camera five,” Mad Jack said.
I couldn’t sit still as the others watched. At first, I’d crouched in front of the TV, with my fists clenched. Now I strode back and forth behind the other sitting watchers, needing to move. None of my coworkers told me to sit down. They knew better.
“What is that?” my dad’s copilot asked.
That registered with me. I stared at the screen. I imagine everyone in the world stared into their TV or smart phone feed. They all saw a slot open on the starship.
“It appears Mad Jack is making them react,” the TV commentator said.
Without warning, a beam fired out of the starship, a ray of incandescent light, looking more like a sci-fi movie than reality.
My dad had time to shout a single, angry profanity. Our TV picture froze for a moment and showed him hunched over his panel, staring out of the shuttle window. He looked as if he wanted to launch missiles in retaliation. I saw him. I saw the fighter glaring out of his eyes.
Then there was nothing but old-fashioned blizzard-like static on the tube.
The TV technicians worked fast. They switched to an open-mouthed commentator outside the Pentagon. The woman blinked several times in confusion until someone told her she was live.
“The aliens dusted the shuttle,” I said.
The others in our Antarctica shelter turned toward me.
A cold hard knot of fury erupted in my chest. The aliens had killed my dad. A fierce sense of loss exploded in my stomach. I swayed, staggered back and sat hard on the floor. I stared slack-jawed, seeing nothing in particular.
“Look,” Rollo said. “What are those?”
I remember focusing, turning to stare at the TV again. Openings appeared in the vast starship. Was the network using a satellite to image this? Big ugly…missiles, they must have been missiles, darted out of the ship. They moved like hungry sharks, showing long exhaust tails. The missiles dived into the Earth’s atmosphere and headed in different directions— for different cities, it turned out.
The next few minutes of TV showed a medley of shouting, panicked confusion. I witnessed Patriot missiles lofting, trying to shoot down what we found out later were thermonuclear annihilators screaming toward U.S. targets. Another brief report told us that the Chinese had a laser defense system that no one had known about. None of it mattered. Earth tech wilted against the alien battleware.
Beijing vanished in the biggest mushroom cloud the world had ever seen. Los Angeles disappeared. So did New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Cairo, London, Berlin, Moscow, Bombay and Ho Minh Chin City. As if that wasn’t enough, the aliens dusted the planet with a bio-terminator. It was the last thing I witnessed on the TV, a big drone spraying black spores into the air. That proved the aliens must have known about humanity ahead of time in order to create a biological weapon to kill the survivors. Either that, or that’s what they’d been perfecting for the last thirty-seven hours.
In the blink of an eye, Judgment Day came to us. It started with Mad Jack Creed and ended with over ninety-nine percent of humanity dead and gone. The nuclear holocaust killed hundreds of millions. The bio-terminator proved worse. Billions choked on black gunk bubbling in their throats, most drowned to death in their own fluids. The few the nukes and mutated spores missed succumbed to radiation poisoning or the horrifyingly new weather patterns.
The aliens proved to be more like Darth Vader than ET. And that might have been the end of humanity.
What chance did the final one percent have—actually, less than one percent? The survivors remained in places like Antarctica, where we were.
I took my rifle out of my locker that day, and never put it back. I yearned to kill aliens. Survivors were left on oil platforms in the Arctic Ocean, in submarines, on deep-sea transports and in Siberia and other remote places. Out of billions, a few million shocked and scattered individuals waited for extinction. A high proportion of them were military or in high-risk occupations. That meant far more men than women survived.
In the aftermath—although no one knew it yet—women became the most precious commodity left. If Homo sapiens were to escape the Dodo bird’s fate, the last females were going to have to bear plenty of healthy children. Otherwise, in one generation there would be no human race.
I’d like to say we rose up—the last humans—pitched in together and overcame every obstacle with our native pride, stubbornness and cunning. No, it wasn’t anything like that. It was grimmer, darker and included low-down killing, the kind where we wrestled in the slime, gasping for breath, enduring agony and deep cuts. Our prize was the opportunity to stick a knife in our enemy’s guts.
Maybe that’s too metaphorical. I don’t know. The thing is the aliens in their monstrous starship made a mistake. They should have finished their filthy deed, exterminating the last of us as if we were cockroaches. Instead…yeah, maybe it’s time to tell this in a direct, linear fashion.
Before I start, I should add that the last humans were the rough kind: the risk-takers, the lucky, the mean and the tough bastards who worked hard for a living. I was one of them, and I wasn’t a wall-flower nice guy. Not that I was bad—misunderstood most of my life, yeah, but not evil.
The best place to start would be that fateful day in Antarctica when I met the aliens face to face. I remember it all right. It happened like this…
Another purple-colored snowstorm howled outside our Antarctica shelter. Every once in a while a high-pitched shriek added to the symphony of noise.
The snow itself wasn’t purple, but the clouds racing across the sky were: purple, bloody-red and a stark orange I’d never seen before.
We were in Victoria Land near the Ross Ice Shelf. The McMurdo military base—a U.S. installation—had already gone under. Rollo took out the tractor yesterday to see why communications had stopped with them. We’d felt the shockwave, the earthquake two days ago, or what we figured was a mother of a tremor. Rollo reported back that the shelf-ice near McMurdo was gone. Some kind of tsunami must have cracked the surface and swallowed everything. That wave had probably slapped the land hard enough so we’d felt it here.
The shock of losing McMurdo—the people and resources—further damaged what remained of our shattered morale. My comrades hunched around the radio. They were subdued, pale and had wide, staring eyes. Communications Tech Rice slowly twisted her dial, listening to static and waiting for some lone voice to talk to us. It was pathetic and at the same time all too human, with the digital numbers climbing higher and higher.