We landed at Dulles, took the president to an armoured limousine as his wife fed him pills and lifted a bottle of water to his lips, telling him it would be okay.
The alien invasion had ended. We had received communication of a desire to open negotiations with the entity.
We had lost against something we knew so little about.
It had utilised a series of drones, intelligent enough to reproduce and evolve, and the ones we took apart showed the elegant malice of its designs. The carbon rods propelled by chemical charges launched from shuddering soft jellyfish floating above the atmosphere and destroying entire cities. Lupine creatures with armoured skin, dropped into the countryside and attacking everything they fell upon. Things which soared through our skies, emitting bursts of electromagnetic energy which blacked out entire countries. A cosmic zoo of grotesque proportions and exquisite capabilities and lost. The scale and speed of the assault made anything else a suicide note from our species.
My boss told me I was going along. I nodded, a little too quick from the caffeine I had been mainlining since we came out of the bunker in Colorado, desperate not to miss a moment of living now it was possible again.
The President was sending the vice president.
Their craft had landed in Nevada. Our analysis had been a race of reptilian beings, anatomy and intercepted communications representing a base ten mathematics. We never encountered the corpses of anything biological. If a race had reached technological singularity, the possibility of its machines becoming aggressive had factored into my calculations, but I believed we were dealing with a biological entity, its given name revealed in the final communication.
I’VE FIGURED OUT HOW IT WORKS
Sixteen major cities in smoking ruins beneath a rain of gelatinous napalm spat from the plastic wombs of writhing white machines which appeared and struck in perfect synchronisation without warning. It was the biblical made literal and what scared me about the technology and the tactics was the possibility of dealing with an invader who was whimsical.
The craft was covered in a reflective material which seethed with lines of sparking energy, twisting and turning in spirals and waves as a small aperture opened in the side. A ramp extended, rippling like a cat’s tongue at a saucer of milk and solidified into a single column.
Cassie Reynolds. The girl who bullied me through grade school until MIT admitted me onto it’s accelerated programme, and I left her smug ten-year-old face behind. I was looking into it now, twenty years later. She updated her social media with how happy she was, and I would unblock her to feed the irrational irritation she stoked in me after all that time. Yet I was looking at a ten-year-old Cassie Reynolds. I shuddered but the look on her face was something unusual. Dismay.
‘No, listen I know you’re seeing something awful but I can explain.’
The vice president wept and shook his head, praying as he put his hands up to hide his face and the secret service surrounded him, guns raised as Cassie skipped down the ramp.
‘There’s something in your brain which makes me look like the person you hate the most. Have you heard of apophenia?’
‘It’s where we prescribe meaning to patterns. It relates to schizophrenia. Why?’
‘Well, I have this implant which generates apophonic responses and triggers disgust responses. It’s what kept me alive when I took this mission. I’ve been working from the inside, across the planes, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it sooner, ma’am.Persuading the Council of Ricks was more difficult than I expected but I found my way into the central core.’
My stomach crawled with a desperate loathing as I planted my feet on the ground and clenched my hands into fists. I wanted to run over and claw at her pouting doll face, how she’d grin as she pulled my hair and slapped me, the ripples of mocking laughter whenever I spoke aloud. Smart children represent the purest expression of the uncanny valley effect, and it revolted girls like Cassie, much as she revolted me now.
Not Cassie’s eyes filled with tears as she came and stood in front of me.
She held a small gel capsule in her palm.
‘This will help. I can explain it better if you’re not fighting the urge to murder me.’
‘Wasn’t the invasion of earth enough of a reason?’
She shook her head.
‘I didn’t cause this. I’ve stopped it. Just like you’ll ask me to.’
I took the capsule and swallowed it. A tight band of pain settled into my temples for a second before she wavered and I looked at a tired, scarred young woman, only twenty five.
‘I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m a federal consultant. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything.’
Her eyes were red as she scratched the back of her neck. She told me what we had fought against.
They came from the future, working backwards like locusts.
For each civilisation they devoured, they became more degraded, outsourcing the majority of their activity to machines, making them more sophisticated to take on more responsibility for the invasion. By the time they had found us, it was the machines acting on their programming, as the last of the species died out.
Alien machine ghosts.
Not-Cassie told me this as I fought the urge to run screaming.
The worst part was her discovery about the aliens.
They weren’t alien at all. What we became in a million years. Humanity.
‘What year is this?’
I told her then talked about the invasion and she swallowed, turning pale with horror as she backed away.
‘Oh shit. Look, I can fix this. One more leap and I can stop them before they find the station.’
Cassie had given me Swirlies, Chinese burns of livid skin on my forearms. If we’d gone to high school together, she would have graduated to cigarette burns and streaming my live humiliation on her phone.
She ran back to the ship and took off. Someone fired a shot, but it pinged past her and she looked over her shoulder, grimacing.
‘I know, okay?’
The ramp retracted and the aperture closed behind her before the ship took off into the air like a leaf on the wind before it sucked away into space.
I looked at the vice president, on his knees and weeping with disgust.
We returned and I had the dubious pleasure of flying back with the vice president and trying to explain what had happened. I met someone who told me I had ordered her to stop this invasion and she did, but too late for the amount of devastation. The vice president had asked me what occurred during our conversation, which was when I found out we had been speaking in pig Latin. It was horrible to listen to.
The skies were clear, but the plane shook with a sudden squall of turbulence and I closed my eyes. Life had become not a blessed gift, but a forced appearance in an awful, cosmic vaudeville.
I closed my eyes and waited for more of the worst. The capsule, I guessed, comprised of more than a change of perceptions amongst its effects. Perhaps it was a fear of the future but I sat back against the seat and prayed I found the courage to look forwards past today.
Making this public was out of the question. We had been grateful for the scraps of infrastructure left to us, and the ambiguous horror of it would devastate our faltering efforts.
It needed a hero, and so I told myself a story. One large enough to build a wall between the truth and I. It wasn’t enough to mute the disgust for Not-Cassie, but I imagined the woman underneath and wished her well.
The plane stabilised and I watched the vice president lower his head in prayer. I joined him, without asking.
I prayed for her.
I prayed for my soul not being too stained with weakness before I met her again.
For the first time.