Saturday, March 24, 2012
At the turning of the page
Most people have forgotten about the lives they lead the day before the human species learned it was not alone in the universe. It’s understandable really; the world back then was defined along some very narrow parameters making it very hard for anyone to step too far out of bounds. The subject of aliens, when it was even mentioned, was something for science fiction movies or egghead scientists wanting to waste taxpayer money scanning the sky with expensive toys. It was a sensible ignorance based on history and common sense; humans had been to the moon and sent probes to all the other planets in the solar system. Aside from speculation and a few tantalizing hints of microbial life on Mars the universe looked cold and empty. If the cliché about ignorance being bliss was true, the world was living in a golden age about to come crashing to an end.
For those who resided in what was then called the developed world the concern of the overwhelming majority revolved around keeping their comfortable lifestyle and being entertained. It seems insane now but the system was built around people becoming permanently indebted to huge companies just to obtain new products also bought on credit that were purposely designed to be obsolete and be replaced repeating the cycle. The supposedly educated masses of the developed world willingly accepted this dictatorship of distraction.
Those living in the non-developed world largely suffered from the traditional human afflictions of poverty, famine, disease, and old style tyranny. In these old nations a ruling elite protected their positions by promising special privileges to one small group as long as it brutally oppressed others. It was dictatorship by old-fashioned brutal oppression summed up by a few doing unto others before everyone else ganged up and did something bad to them.
The one commonality between the two ruling elites was how they reacted to those that attempted to threaten the status quo. At the very least those that challenged the dominate mindset would find themselves ostracized by the ruling class, the media, and fellow citizens who liked how things ran. At worst, those that confronted the accepted way of thinking became enemies of the state, imprisoned, tortured, and eventually killed.
For many like me, raised up in the old United States our lives seemed predestined to be one of special considerations and near endless possibilities. My dad’s career as a high-speed attorney and my mom’s as a pediatric surgeon meant I saw nothing even approaching hardship as a child. To the best of their ability, they tried to impart a realization on me that other Americans were not so lucky but I was young and despite my parent’s best efforts more a product of an affluent culture than anything else.
In other words, the day before the world changed forever I did not think or care very much of anyone beyond myself. The struggle for survival after first contact radically changed my perceptions, as did it for the human race in general with genocide and extinction staring them in the face.
The day before first contact, I was a sophomore at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina with lazy study habits and an even worse attitude. It was the middle of March and the warm weather of early springtime was making me care even less about the few courses my parents had forced me to take. After finally dragging myself out of bed on a whim I showed up outside one of my girlfriend’s classes with what I thought was a great idea.
Sheri Hamilton strolled out of the Sanford Building oblivious to the fact that I was sitting in the iron bench beside the walkway. She was wearing the loose purple sundress that to my eyes had a habit of seductively clinging to her beautiful athletic body. Throw in how the late morning sun was reflecting off her blond hair and my over active hormones were screaming at me to pull her off into some quite and secluded corner of the campus. Instead, I limited myself just to sneaking up behind her and grabbing her butt to cop a quick feel.
Sheri and I had been dating for a month or two at that time and she was fully aware of my juvenile ways so her quick reflexes allowed her to easily pull away and slap my face in the span of a few seconds. “Jason Stevens,” she indignantly yelled back at me, “what have I said about you treating me this way in public.”
Being so full of myself at the time while I did care for Sheri, I had had no illusions about being in love with the girl. She was an incredibly attractive woman who I knew was crazy about me; I was just using her feelings to get what I wanted. “Sorry babe,” I said while giving her my most charming smile, “hey I was thinking, maybe we should star spring break early and head up to Virginia Beach right now and hang out at my folk’s condo? Tomorrow you and I can be making love on the beach as new day begins.”
“Jason,” she said with a sigh, “you know I have a philosophy class tomorrow. Can’t this trip wait until the weekend?”
Sheri was a charming and intelligent woman but I knew her schedule and could read her like the proverbial book. “Babe, I know old Professor Carter has a crush on you lets you skip his lectures when you want, as for the rest of your classes the semester is winding down and I know you are very comfortingly passing everything.”
I could see the wheels turning in her very pretty head. “What about your classes?” she asked.
My response was an incredulous, “Are you kidding me!”
Sheri turned away from me unexpectedly and began walking in the direction I knew to be her dorm. For a couple of seconds I was actually at a loss as to what her sudden departure meant. “Well,” she said still walking away from me, “are you coming? You can’t expect me to go around naked anyplace but the bedroom and some private spot on the beach now do you?”
Unfortunately, for Sheri, it was the worst decision she ever made.
We left the campus a couple of hours later in the Camaro my parents bought me listening to some radio show talk about the scores of strange objects that had been spotted in the skies all over the world. I remember looking over at Sheri and joking about how aliens always pick inbreed rednecks to have close encounters with, she laughed while looking at me adoringly and I felt like the king of the world.
We were on the road until our respective desires got the best of us early that evening. A convenient Radisson motel in Norfolk,Virginia gave us the to chance eat and rest. That night in our motel room, our young and demanding bodies clung to each other many times until we were both spent. We unknowingly awoke to a new world just now taking shape outside.
The Radisson we stayed at was just off the I-264 highway very close to the Norfolk Naval Shipyards. The night before the restaurant was filled with a bunch of navy personnel. Sheri, wanting to play some mind games on me flirted with a couple of officers last night as we ate our dinner. We learned they were in town for a training conference and took Sheri’s flirtations far too seriously, so much she and I decided to head back to our room after dinner instead of hanging out at the bar.
I never thought much about military types and when I did, it was not good. My assumption was that they were less intelligent than I was and far more prone to senseless violence. My parent’s moderate social and environmental activism had inadvertently bred in me the idea I was above war-like behavior despite the fact that my father had served in the army himself before going to college.
The morning Sheri and I left the motel room we were surprised to see many of those same navy officers standing out in the parking lot looking up and pointing at something taking place in the sky. The expression of utter shock on their faces was enough to penetrate my neatly self-absorbed world. Wanting to know what was going on we quickly joined them in the parking lot.
Up in the sky were what looked to be scores of jet fighters twisting and turning in the air trying to out maneuver some strangely shaped object. I honestly did not believe my eyes the couple of times it came close enough for me to catch sight of it. Whatever it was it was fast and could turn at right angles while the pilots in the interceptors pulled high-g turns just to keep pace. Desperate to understand I tried asking the navy officer nearest to Sheri and I what was going on.
He was talking on his cell phone and did not hear me but did state to the others officers near him, “Got Roger on the line and he says it got too close to Langley Air Force Base, a camouflaged air defense platform was able to launch several missiles with a few making direct hits. That seemed to damage the thing and allow fighters to be scrambled.”
Minutes passed with more fighters arriving on the scene. All of us on the ground watched missiles and cannons flash with the unknown craft taking more and more hits. A line was apparently crossed when it began firing back in some way, huge explosions followed with American fighters falling from the sky in flaming pieces. Just when the unknown craft looked like it might shoot down all the jets a huge roar began that caused everyone to finally take some sort of cover.
I pulled Sheri to the hopefully secure spot of a brick utility building whose door one of the naval officers had kicked open. I turned around just in time to see what appeared to be a large missile impacted on the ship. After the explosion, it tried to fly away but this time there was visible damage and smoke coming from it. A primal scream of victory came from everyone until we noticed the damaged craft was drifting our way. The surviving fighters continued to pound until the craft crash-landed into a collection of businesses about a hundred yards away.
The navy officers immediately ran towards downed vehicle and feeling I should be a part of what was going on, I joined them while leaving Sheri behind. I glanced back once to see her scared and standing next an old couple who had come outside after the craft had came down, it was the last time I saw her alive.
The craft had skidded to a halt next a gas station, part of me inwardly smiled at the thought of aliens jumping out and complaining they just wanted to fill up and buy a soda before going on to Mars or Jupiter. The naval officers I was in the middle of had looks of pure concentration and crept towards the craft as if it might attack them, a disturbingly possible thought since humans had done their best to bring it down. Righteous indignation flooded my mind, what I had just witness was the arrival of advanced sentient beings from another star system and the first thing we humans do was try to kill them. It was one last bit of old-fashioned innocence that along with many other things were about end.
The craft was roughly spherical with six similar shaped but smaller pods attached on the sides. Two of the six pods were destroyed with another heavily damaged. Somehow, I found myself surprised that the skin of the craft was not smooth and featureless but was made up of hundreds of detailed indentations and protrusions of various shapes. Someone muttered “possible sensor points” as if anyone of us had a real clue about the craft but it was the best explanation for that moment.
Sirens sounded off in the distance drawing ever closer and the small group I was with grew larger as basic human curiosity began to overwhelm the primitive desire to run and hide. A bizarre sense of expectation hung in the air with everyone knowing the hammer had not yet completely fallen on what had begun here.
Minutes passed with police and heavily armed SWAT teams arriving and taking up positions all around the alien ship. Realistically we should have backed away sense no one had any idea if there was a radiation danger but we were all dumbfounded at the impossible sight in front of us. With so many people now surrounding the ship a collective sense of security developed, so much some now spoke openly about the ship being an unmanned probe or the crew being dead.
When the hatch of the craft suddenly opened, we all instinctively jumped back, when the first rounds were fired from the inside many paid with their lives for not leaving when they had the chance. Several of the nearby cars and people dissolved in balls of flames and flying metal. I was able to take cover behind a neighboring building along with several others but still wanted to see what was going on so I crept close to see around the wall.
Two beings had emerged from the downed ship, they looked to be a little taller than the average person but had three legs and arms. The legs were attached to the torso like a tripod while two of the arms on the aliens were attached at the shoulders like humans, while the third spouted from the center of the creatures chests. The heads were triangle shaped and connected to the body with a segmented neck. The faces of the aliens were what chilled me to the bone; three large black eyes stared out at our world while where the mouth should have been was a collection of squid-like tentacles hanging down about six inches.
The aliens seemed unsure as to what to do next until the SWAT and police began to open fire on them. Each alien carried what looked to be a cannon connected by some sort of cables to a large backpack they carried. Human small arms bullets ricocheted off grey body armor they were wearing. A high-pitched whine began to be heard emanating from the cannons and when the sound peaked, the two began blazing away literally blowing everything they hit into tiny pieces. They even swept the building my little group was hiding behind and within seconds, it was reduced to rumble. Only a five-foot length of the back wall remained for us to hide behind.
It was clear even to a civilian like me we were all in deep trouble, SWAT team survivors desperately crawled to new positions and returned fire but the aliens began to move away from their ship and eliminate them when their location became known. They moved on their three legs with a curiously smooth motion making it clear that like humans they were apex predators of the highest order. My first thoughts about dying began to appear in my head figuring the aliens would eventually concentrate their fire on what small amount of weak protection we had left.
After what seemed like an eternity, the cavalry came in the form of six Apache helicopter gunships. The aliens actually seemed puzzled by their appearance and stopped firing long enough to look them over; it was a fatal mistake. After acquiring the targets, two of the attack helicopters opened fire with their 25-millimeter chain guns. The rounds landed center of mass on the aliens turning them into a fine paste. Whatever their armor was made from it was no match for what the Apaches fired.
With the aliens dead the first thought that came to my mind was Sheri, I went running back to the motel only find most of it destroyed. Sheri would later be found in the rumble; her body crushed when one of the explosive rounds the aliens fired detonated inside and caused it to collapse. Troops arrived as I was trying to dig her out and everyone in the area was quickly carted off, whether they wanted to or not, to some undisclosed location along with what pieces of the aliens they could find and their ship.
The United States government could not hide the incident even if they wanted to, as a stunned world watch amateur video of the battle and news reports leaked out of similar events in Russia and China. Some on the media did complain that humans had brought the destruction on themselves but deep down everyone knew the aliens never had any intention of coming in peace, something that was proven a little over a year later when their mother ship entered Earth orbit. Humanity’s age of ignorant bliss about the universe had ended in the space of a single day and another had begun where our future and the fate of the Earth itself was very much in doubt.