Title: And There Was Light
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Not mine. Seriously; I don't even want it.
Summary: Welcome to the newest tombstone in the extinction record. Isn't that how apocalyptic alien-invasion fiction usually goes? 1900 words, post-movie.
Spoilers: Skyline (2010)
Notes: My first reaction to the end of this movie was horrified laughter; followed by an impulse write world-buildy fic mildly influenced by World War Z.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
Mankind has speculated about the existence of extraterrestrial life for as long as we've been looking up at the stars. And for as long as we had wondered about the possibility of the other, we'd split into two camps about what might be out there: those who watched for intruders with wary eyes, and those who stretched their hands out for guests in hopeful expectation.
Two major themes turned up in our science fiction during those years: stories we told ourselves about our dreams and fears. First, that any species advanced enough to travel between stars would be merchants and altruists, a boon and a bounty for the peoples they encountered. And second, that such advanced beings would only make the effort for their own gain: ever hungry to harvest power from anyone who could not stop them.
Our own history textbooks are full of examples of both behaviors. And perhaps those are both characteristic of all sentient species; perhaps one day we'll find They have a benevolent face as well as the nightmare that descended upon us. It's impossible to say either way with any certainty, given the likely distances between our host suns. What we can say is that on the day They first made their appearance, Earth's governments had no way of knowing where on the range of predictions They would fall.
The dark-colored ships were difficult to analyze with Earth's limited outward-facing surveillance even after they had been spotted. Long before the incoming fleet split into clouds of smaller vehicles to hover over every major city on the planet, our leaders began to hastily adopt the old maxim: hope for the best and plan for the worst. Chosen handfuls of "powerful" individuals and their families were hurried to basements and bunkers worldwide. Contingency plans were dusted off. And the decision was made, at the highest and most classified of levels, that the public would be better off uninformed.
What would they tell them? Where would they send them? No certain plans could be made. No government wanted to spark a deadly panic, should the optimists' rosiest projections win out- and there was nothing that could be done about it, they reasoned, if they didn't.
We know now that something could have been done- that even a partial evacuation may have bought time and saved millions of lives. But while They hovered out in the distance beyond earth's orbit, there was no way to know that the ships would soon burst into light, dropping down block after block into the center of every urban zone to draw in every soul that saw them. So our governments prepped fighter jets, called soldiers back to their bases- and leaned on the news networks to present the image of business as usual.
After such a beginning, when the survivors of the initial onslaught turned on their televisions, logged into news media, and called up our families we found only an echoing absence of information. Most of those who would have told us the truth had been taken in that first wave; and those who should have broadcast the facts were busy scrambling military forces and ensuring our rulers' survival. The data remained locked up in secured networks at NASA, the Pentagon, and equivalent organizations worldwide: they planned to disseminate the information later, should anyone survive.
And then the militaries struck- and discovered, to their horror, that the invading ships and all Their multi-tentacled, glowing, murderous offspring could heal from any wound inflicted.
Three days after the invasion, the world's population had shrunk by roughly fifty percent- more in developed countries, less in areas still lagging behind the industrialization curve. The ships had concentrated first over cities, leaving the small towns and rural areas with less dense prey for later acquisition, and at that time an estimated 47% of the world's population lived in areas designated "urban".
Cut off with only fragments of news filtering over the internet, those not yet taken huddled in their homes, fully expecting the end of the world. Human weapons couldn't stop Them, and They didn't stop themselves, not so long as any hint of sentient presence was evident. As soon as the feasting ships determined they had cleaned their current plates of any possible lingering morsel, we rightfully feared they would surely disperse to pick up the stragglers- after which there would have been too few of us left to hold on to any meaningful civilization or governing structure.
Welcome to the newest tombstone in the extinction record. Isn't that how apocalyptic alien-invasion fiction usually goes?
But H.G. Wells- one of our earliest writers in that genre- had been more prophetic than we knew, not only in anticipating the invasion story genre but also in promising that something unexpected- and biologically inevitable- would take Them down. The optimists hadn't been entirely wrong, ater all. For the human habit of resilience proved adaptable even to the most horrifying of scenarios: wholesale alien theft of concentrated neural tissue- of our brains- to drive repairs to their attack vehicles and bipedal avatars.
After three long days of repeated exposure to the infectious data virus embedded in the aliens' malevolently beautiful blue glow, some survivors' minds somehow began to develop the equivalent of antibodies... and found a way to fight back. To infect back, after their skulls were cracked open and the seats of their minds and souls integrated with the alien machines. It shouldn't have been possible; and it caught both sides by surprise. Not many survived the process- it appears to take a particular combination of genetics, intelligence, and belligerent will to unconsciously isolate and "rewrite" the controlling code- but even one was enough: and somewhere out on the American West Coast, ships began falling with the turning of the tide.
Aliens with red eyes suddenly began appearing, as damaged units took the latest and freshest acquisitions and transplanted their neural systems wholesale to speed along the repair process. Perhaps They'd never run into integration problems before; or perhaps They simply didn't care to take the time to analyze compatibility in conflict situations; or perhaps they simply trusted the strength of their managing software. But as programmers on Earth have said from the very beginning of the profession: no matter how thoroughly you error-proof your code, some user out there somewhere is always going to come up with a new, creative and inevitably critical error.
First the human-sized avatars run by single brains, then the larger combat units and systems began to turn on their fellows, defending the still-living cargo not yet consumed or moved into stasis. The conquering fleet quickly fell into chaos. We'll probably never know whether the entire process was automated, or if the inhabitants of some hidden command ship simply had no frame of reference for dealing with resistance; but rather than concentrate their forces to stomp out the still-tiny percentage of anomalies, They panicked, and the future of the human race was rewritten yet again.
The stories of that third day are still fragmented, even months later. The few who survived from the emptied bellies of fleeing ships woke atop vast heaps of their less fortunate comrades, with no memory of anything that had happened since they were first taken. Those outside the cities had only scattered reports gleaned from still-active sites on the Internet for any clue to what had gone on. And those who had caused the rout directly were, unfortunately, mostly slain by the still-human survivors around them during their first, chaotic hours of reawakening. Perhaps we can be excused as a race for developing a raging case of xenophobia over these events, especially in the immediate rawness of the aftermath; but understanding it does nothing to disguise the ugly deaths of our brave, horrifying saviors.
But even in this, our species has proven adaptable: where human beings rehoused in menacing bodies did manage to make themselves understood by fellow captives, they accomplished extraordinary things. The first such story we have corroborating data from comes out of L.A.: a pregnant woman named Elaine and the harvesting avatar inhabited by the mind of her boyfriend- with his own, corrupted version of the controlling software- took down an entire harvesting ship almost single-handedly. Hundreds of people awoke on the morning of the fourth day to see a red-glowing ship hovering above them, and a fierce, tearful girl guiding its actions with the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand.
Nothing beside remained. The first ship could have been a fluke- but Jarrod's adaptation proved merely rare, not unique. After the next few avatars turned, a wave of chaos swept through the alien fleet. There was no apparent attempt to check, no impulse to triage; a race born of cannibalistic predators- for how else would they have evolved their repugnant healing technology- had suddenly met up with a race capable of challenging it for top spot on the food chain. Our best guess is that the number imbalance wasn't allowed to matter- because instinct did.
They dumped their cargo wherever they hovered: over cleared earth or water, atop buildings, in streets, low or high, with no consideration given to its preservation. And then They fled, leaving every twentieth ship or so shining redly behind them. Few of the hastily discarded kidnappees survived, as previously mentioned... but "few" on a scale of billions is many. The militaries had exhausted themselves early in the conflict, and most of the higher governmental structure was either destroyed or in hiding, but the rural townships were still largely intact and cobbled together swift recovery efforts as soon as the last invading ship vanished off their scopes.
Of course, the shock of our resistance won't paralyze Them forever- and given the practiced efficiency of Their methods, it seems equally likely that other aliens are out there as well. One of these days, we'll have to prove our strength again; we need to be ready when that happens.
It is for that reason that I've compiled all the first-person accounts I could find. Perhaps these are your stories, and you'll read them again in remembrance; perhaps they'll serve as information source for the shaping of our future. But whatever reason you have for picking up this book, consider this:
On the fourth day after the invasion, our world woke to a universe much wider and stranger than it had been before. Only seven days passed from first detection to total global renovation: the same length of time as the Biblical account of Genesis.
Humanity- we- have survived. Have triumphed. Have bootstrapped. Not only do we now possess a small concentration of human minds miraculously serving as controlling- and stable- wetware in alien "suits", we also possess thousands of not-yet-harvested multiple infectees able to interface with the abandoned technology, inhabited and uninhabited alike.
Are such still, technically, homo sapiens sapiens? The argument has been made that they're not: that they should be quarantined and all other trace of the invaders discarded. But they're still people, just like all the rest of us. And more: whether 'human' or not, these men and women have the ability to master and interact with technology far in advance of anything else humanity has. We'll need that, should that invasion fleet ever return.
So please, let this be our re-beginning, not an excuse to reshape and perpetuate the hatreds of the past.
March 09, 2011