By Swylmar dos Santos Ferreira
Translated from Portuguese by Toshiya Kamei
Once a megalopolis with over ten million inhabitants, the city is now deserted. Its empty streets and avenues give the destruction an air of melancholy and sadness. The silence is so great that I imagine I would be able to hear a rat scurrying down what once was a sidewalk if there were any. Bluish gray mist envelopes the landscape as far as the eye can see. I walk down a flight of stairs that in a not too distant past led to a subway station, but now there’s only death and destruction. Old corpses…I glance at the human skeletons, most of them in pieces but some virtually intact. However, there are also recent corpses. I spot a piece of bio-armor and step closer. It belonged to one of my men. I recognize the numbers on the right shoulder. His frightened face and desolate black eyes flash in my mind. He’s split in two, poor guy.
I walk up to the train. Only one car remains intact, the others destroyed, twisted chunks of metal scorched by the fire caused by the alien mothership. The passengers in the cars, scrambling to hide, flee and save their lives were disintegrated. I can imagine the heat, screams, horror and despair. I still get emotional. I try to take a deep breath, but my helmet’s filters are contaminated and no longer work properly. I go back to the dead soldier and take his ammunition and a couple of filters. I must live.
The light shimmering from a crater in the asphalt blown open by a plasma gun illuminates nearly the entire station. I climb the stairs and look up at the sky. It looks greenish. Maybe it’s my visor but it doesn’t matter, not anymore. I’m a decoy, a rat in the trap to entice cats. That’s how we have been fighting for the past five years. We had already seen them coming. Luck was on our side and one of the astronomical observatories in the Atacama Desert detected spaceships heading toward Earth after regrouping near Jupiter. Even then, time was short. The first attack was devastating, leaving more than a billion dead.
My motion sensor detects something. Peering around the corner, I spot an upturned car whose front end is still half-buried in the wall. I walk toward it. Right away I feel excited, a certain joy. I’m on the hunt again. I gauge the purified air in the helmet for breathing and wait.
It’s a Voker. We affectionately call them war dogs. They always roam in pairs and crawl on all fours. Cruel monsters, they’re one of the three species that attacked us, and all of them are intelligent native species from the same planet. At the beginning of the attacks, hundreds were brought in. They landed in our cities and killed many of our kind but that has changed. Many of our scientists moved into underground labs that functioned as giant bunkers in various parts of the globe, and our fiber optic cable communication system works however precariously.
I remain still and lean against the bodywork, waiting. They crawl through the middle of the debris-strewn streets. I draw my sword and drop into a defensive position. They’re only the footmen who do the dirty work. No airship will come to rescue them. I stand still. I hope they leave so that I don’t have to use special ammo on them. The Voker’s armor is excellent; it covers the entire upper part of their body and repels bullets from our rifles but it doesn’t protect his mouth. Unfortunately, the one behind me catches a glimpse of me and begins the usual sideways movements to attack. I must live.
The first one leaps toward me with the intention of biting me. The metal teeth are a formidable weapon. However, the little shields on my arms are made of a sturdy metal alloy. I take a step back and hit him with the tip of the blade, which catches him right on the point of his jaw. The sword injects through a needle a ball of compressed gas that grows instantly.
I walk away as fast as I can. The Voker stops dead and his head blows up.
The entire action lasts no more than ten seconds. A quick demise.
I make a quick turn, face the other one a little more than a meter away and strike his head with the blade. I go through the same procedure.
I walk toward my first hideout as quickly as my bio-armor allows. I enter the abandoned building and go down the stairs to the third level. Nothing. I go through what was once part of the city’s sewage network and leave it four blocks from there.
I remember the day of the second air raid. My wife, my daughter and I had fled the city and ended up in the woods with hundreds of other civilians. At that time there were still many soldiers and they had stayed to fight in the city while others accompanied us for protection. Two attack ships ambushed us. Only a few escaped and hid in a cave. I wasn’t one of them. I suffered burns on my legs during the attack and told my wife to take our daughter to the cave for safety.
My family along with a few hundred people reached the cave before the arrival of the Dogs. They seemed lucky at the time. However, in the end it didn’t matter. One of the ships fired its plasma cannon and killed everyone in the cave. Burned, incinerated… I never entered the cave. No one got out of there alive. There was nothing left to identify. Thousands of ships seemed to attack at once. It was like that in every corner of the planet.
I go into a fire-ravaged building, but the stairs only allow me to reach the third floor. It’s my second camp. I take out my binoculars and look southeast. I see another soldier trying to camouflage himself some three kilometers away. I turn northwest and spot a group of five Ogres. We call them that because of their grotesque, horrendous and powerful bio-armor. Much better than what the Vokers use. Ours is similar. You know, anything goes in a fight for survival, tech theft, reverse engineering….after we reversed engineered theirs, we created our own bio-armor.
I pick up the electric trigger and charge it with our special ammo for Ogres, delivered directly from a bunker in Central America. If I manage to strike one or two, they will call for reinforcements. Then usually the winged ones come with their plasma guns.
Things have changed a bit in the past year. Our weapons have improved a lot, too bad for the aliens. I remove a heavy concrete slab to make it easier to escape from the staircase but doing so can jeopardize my safety. I go to the edge of the building, lie on the floor, and set up the trigger. It’s a heavy weapon. I needed the help of three soldiers to get it up to the right place.
The Ogres are marching toward me, two ahead and three behind. I look at the last one, still far away but I shoot anyway. There’s no sound. Success, luck, screwed, I don’t know. The bullet is about six centimeters long, and when it hits the Ogre’s armor, it opens up and injects another smaller bullet that penetrates the bio armor. He falls.
The others don’t seem to notice it and keep walking two, three, four steps, enough time for me to reload, aim and fire again. Now I’m screwed. I hit the place that could be the head. This time they realize, but I’m already reloading as they turn on their technology to find out where I am. I drop to my knees, fire a third shot, manipulate the equipment and make my third kill. I’ve never managed this before.
An Ogre leaves the street and enters the building. The other one runs, turns a corner and disappears from my sight. I assume he’s coming to try to encircle me. I plug the monitor into my helmet, drag myself backward a couple of meters and crawl up the stairs. I grab my backpack, climb down as fast as I can and hide. I know they will attack me, because the noise on my monitor indicates that the Ogre has asked for backup and soon the winged ones will be here.
I’m going to my hideout number four. I have five of them. It’s almost dark. This one is an old underground water tank where I broke part of the side wall. I lie down and examine my bio-armor. I scan my helmet for cyber viruses. Nothing.
Six weeks ago the colonel who leads the resistance in the city called my platoon and gave us this mission. It’s a suicide mission, I said at the time. But that is your mission Captain, he answered. Yours and your men’s.
Out of twenty-six men, the first one to die was my lieutenant and the last one the soldier I saw at the subway station this afternoon. I think nine of them can still engage in combat. Three wounded men who were able to leave were discharged and returned to the base outside the city. Maybe only they have survived.
I open a compartment in my belt, take out the joystick and start setting the trap for flyers. I also take out two photos. The first one has the image of my wife nursing my daughter. She smiles and even after so long I miss them. The second one shows my mother and my older brother. He couldn’t walk because of a degenerative disease. Ten years older than me, he was my best friend. Mother took care of him, but they couldn’t get out of this city in time. I was too late to save them. It’s the story of my life. I put the photos up on the wall and look at them.
It’s a clear night tonight. It’s the night we expected. I see lights from the invaders’ energy shots. Strangely enough, they don’t like to fight at night. They’re looking for something. I believe it’s me. They want revenge. They must have discovered the position of one of my men, who probably has caused damage to the alien forces or is still causing. Some winged ones and a group of Ogres come toward me. I prepare a little surprise. Two airships circle above me and leave.
I’m leaning against the wall of what once was an elevator. I look at the partially crumbled wall in front of me and recognize the place. I came here once with my wife. It was our first wedding anniversary and she was charmed by the painting on the hallway wall and made me promise to buy a copy to put up in our house. Her smile still lingers in my mind so do her black hair, her light brown eyes and her young delicious body.
I have to stop. I’m going crazy. Maybe it’s loneliness. Maybe it’s hatred for the enemy. No, I’ve got no hatred for enemies. I just feel numb. I just want to get out of here, out of town, and eat decent food. I just want my wife and daughter back. I want my mother and brother. I want my job. I just want my old life back.
I remember a famous scientist once saying he considered it irresponsible to send our planet’s position to deep space using radio signals and other means of communication. We paid for it. These aliens took many of us. I don’t know what for. Maybe for food, slaves, studies… I don’t know.
An explosion brings me back to reality. As I walk to the edge of the first floor, the Ogres are just a few meters away from one of the surprises I prepared. Then, two flyers are above my head. I think they scanned me. I trigger the surprise. It’s a two-stage mine. The first one jumps into the air and upon blasting, sends out hundreds of poisonous needles over three hundred and sixty degrees. Their bio-armor becomes saturated with toxic matter, and their defense system makes their respirators open. The second stage is triggered automatically after five seconds and spreads venomous sodium chloride gas and some other element scientists in a bunker in Europe found to be lethal to the invaders. Gas is released in all directions. In a little over a minute all the Ogres, about thirty, are dead. I did some damage.
The airships are made of biological materials such as armor but they’re more sophisticated, more intelligent and more dangerous when they’re piloted by the third alien race, for they form a kind of symbiosis. I once heard a story told by a French pilot who had seen them while he was a prisoner. They were similar to us – large, white hair and thick gray skin, hairless.
They’re already firing toward me. I go to the windows and pick up the joystick. I activate my favorite “toy,” a quadcopter. Made of polymer, a square with one and a half meters on each side, it has four propellers that enable it to fly and two dart triggers with injectable gas. The shots of energy guns are getting closer. I fly my toy up close to the first airship and fire a syringe against it. Then a blast causes the wall to collapse on me.
I survive. My armor is efficient. My heart beats fast. It’s fear.
The other airship has just launched a corrosive gas weapon against my position. Some kind of acid. If I hadn’t changed the filters earlier today, I’d be dead, but I still feel the gas dissolving the metal-polymerized alloy of my armor.
There’s no way out. A concrete beam falls on my leg. I have no choice. I grab the joystick and lead the quadcopter toward the second airship that continues firing into the building.
I’m going to die, I think. I come close enough for a shot, the last one. My toy has fallen apart. I wait for death for a few seconds but it doesn’t come.
A second explosion brightens the predawn sky. I haven’t seen where it came from. I believe other soldiers of my platoon are in action. The airships try to gain height, rising a few tens of meters. Then one of them tilts and falls abruptly on the ground. The other one continues to rise until it crashes into a building and explodes. Work done.
I hear someone calling me. It’s my wife. She tells me to get the hell out of there. I wake up but my leg is still stuck. I reach for a piece of iron and use it as a lever. I lift only a few centimeters and get myself free. Dozens of airships are moving away from the city and Ogres and Dogs race for their transports. I’ve seen this before. It means that one of the Whales – motherships – is descending and will attack with its plasma cannons, destroyers of cities, annihilators of civilizations. My unit, or what was left of it, caught their attention. I sit down and lean against the wall. Tired, very tired.
I remember the commander calling the operation “fish bait.” My men and I are the bait for the Whale.
A Dantesque scene develops before my eyes. The mothership descends, increasing in size… gigantic, more than a mile in diameter for sure and more than a hundred meters high, irregular, fantastic, firing small shots. At that moment three carts are entering the city, carrying a new weapon. This weapon needs a lot of energy, so a small hydroelectric plant was built on the outskirts of the city and a substation transformer would feed the gun.
The Whale is already over the city, hovering hundreds of meters above. The last time we were there, we tried everything to bring it down but it destroyed us. It has an energy shield. Now the trucks are positioned, but they must wait until the last moment to fire. The Whale begins to energize its main weapon and then lowers its shields. The trucks shoot first, at the same point, and an explosion on the side of the ship makes it tilt.
It’s amazing to see the fireballs blowing up, once, twice, three times. The ship begins to move away right away, but it’s hit right in the middle by a second shot coming from outside the city. Internal explosions shake it from inside. The Whale tilts and finally crashes to the ground, outside the city. I see flashes illuminate the dark predawn sky and hear the thunder of death.
The camp is located in a more wooded area. At last I have a decent meal, not that crappy pasta or jujube. I sleep in a real bed and even take a shower. I wait in the tent with eight of my men, without the bio-armor. That’s what’s left of my platoon. The commander comes in and congratulates us. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile. Behind the wall is a map. He gestures for us to sit down and then other men come in and join us. He glares at us and barks, “Stop slacking off! I’ve got another assignment for you, Captain…”
Biography: Swylmar dos Santos Ferreira is a passionate reader of fantastic literature, especially fiction, and an apprentice in the art of writing. Writers he admires include Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. He blogs at Fantasticontos, escritos e literários. His short stories have appeared in Aphelion and Unfading Daydream.