Earth, during the Suhlik Invasion
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Correction, the times sucked. It was hard for Penny to imagine anything worse, what with the real-life alien invasion and all.
The Suhlik came and life just stopped. Not literally. Well, literally for the unlucky. Or maybe they were the lucky ones, not scrambling every day to find food, water and shelter. The point was Penny found it impossible to think beyond the now, beyond her body’s immediate need for food, water and shelter. The future? Didn’t matter if she froze to death over the winter, and freezing was a very real possibility.
Penny shifted into position on her belly, using an old pair of binoculars she’d bought for the opera—a lifetime ago—to scout out the river. The university campus lay on the other side of the river, along with the community shelters and medical supplies, food, heat and every creature comfort she lacked on her side of the river. Except the opera. The university students probably were not performing Madame Butterfly between bombings. The Mikado, sure; college kids were wacky like that…
She could have been warm and snuggly right now if she lived on campus, but her aunt lived on the north side of town—on the wrong side of the river—and steadfastly refused any attempt Penny made at paying rent. Had refused. Penny hadn’t seen her aunt since the invasion started. Her aunt had gone to work that day in the city and just hadn’t come home.
She could be alive, Penny told herself. The day the bombs started, people were told to shelter in place. Her aunt might still be at the office, worrying about Penny.
Each day played out the same: find food, find clean water, and hide. She had shelter all sorted out. Her aunt’s house had taken an indirect hit. The roof caved in and the good chunk of the back of the house was just gone, but the floor was sound and there was nothing wrong with the basement. It stayed dry and warm enough, considering. The bombed out appearance kept away looters and other undesirables, like those lizard-looking alien assholes.
Penny raised the binoculars and made herself focus on the bridge. There was only one across the river and the aliens kept it heavily patrolled. Currently a big red alien marched down the length, like he was looking for something. Someone.
A curious shiver went down her spine. Just the wind. She pulled the hood over her head.
Penny could go around, but with farmland to the west and to east it would be a long, hard walk in the cold to get to the next nearest bridge in the town twelve miles over. If it still stood. The interstate had once crossed the river, but that was long gone. If she could find a boat, she could cross in the night, but the folks who lived on the north side of town weren’t the kind to keep boats. She could always swim. The Kaw’s flow wasn’t as high as during the summer but she could cross at a narrow point. If she moved fast, hypothermia might not kill her. Or she could just wait for the river to ice over and then walk. No good options, basically. The smart thing to do was hunker down and wait.
Her gaze drifted down to the hydroelectric dam. A relic from the last century, the small structure under the Sixth Street bridge was the only thing generating power. The city grid hadn’t been operational in a while, but Penny could sneak into the powerhouse at the foot of the bridge and recharge the portable power packs she scavenged.
It sounded far riskier than it was. The Suhlik had their own power source. Penny had no idea what—malevolence, probably—but they didn’t seem to know about or be too concerned with the little hydro dam, which meant an opportunity for her to recharge power packs, and a few more days of running her space heater and hot plate.
The sky hung heavy: leaden and promising snow. It was cold enough for snow, too, which was better than ice, in her opinion. Of course, with snow, she’d have to worry about leaving tracks, but with ice she could fall and seriously hurt herself. With the only medical care on the other side of the river, Penny couldn’t afford to twist, sprain or break anything. Hell, she couldn’t even afford the sniffles. She had a stockpile of aspirins, antibiotics, bandages and such she’d pilfered from a local pharmacy. She might be able to treat a fever or an infection, but the reports on the radio spoke about “spore viruses” and gas attacks. If she ever encountered anything like that, she was toast.
Mmm, toast. Her stomach rumbled with a craving for warm buttery toast and strawberry jam. Her scavenging took her into grocery stores and any place that might have canned goods. The invasion had happened so fast, there wasn’t time for regular folk to panic and clean out the shops, which proved helpful for her. Some items spoiled immediately when the power went out, like all the frozen stuff and meat. Produce lasted a while. Potatoes, onions and apples were still good if they were in a cool, dark place. She hadn’t seen non-moldy or mouse-chewed bread in weeks.
Penny shook herself out of her funk. Now wasn’t the time to get all teary-eyed about bread. There would be bread again. Wheat would always grow, alien invasion or not, and people would make bread.
She checked the sky again. No sun, just ominous clouds. It was going to snow, a lot, and soon. She’d rather do this in bright daylight. For all their weapon superiority, the Suhlik didn’t see well in bright sunlight, Penny noticed, and they didn’t see into shadows too well. They had these weird lizard eyes with two lids. The inner lid was lowered on bright days, giving their eyes a flat, empty stare—not that their fully unveiled black eyes were comforting or anything, just less flat and empty.
Her attention drifted back to the bridge. The muscle-bound red alien still prowled the bridge. He wasn’t a Suhlik, Penny knew that much. He was the other kind—the kind the reports on the radio claimed were Earth’s allies and would fight the Suhlik.
For a price.
The reports on the exact details of the Earth-Mad Fell treaty were sketchy, which told Penny it had to be bad. If it was like trade—chocolate and coffee for weapons—that’d be front page news. You know, if there were newspapers. The fact that it was secret meant it was bad. In the movies, aliens always wanted Earth’s “resources”, like Earth had anything that couldn’t be mined on an empty asteroid, far away from bothersome humans.
No, anything an alien wanted from Earth they could get easier in space. The only unique thing that Earth had was people. Lots of people. If someone told her the Suhlik ate babies and skinned humans to make fancy shoes and matching handbags, she’d believe it. Those lizards were sinister. But if someone said they were gathering up humans to make slaves, she’d call shenanigans. The Suhlik killed indiscriminately. If they were farming humans to sell off as slaves, they wouldn’t kill half their product. No, they just liked terror and the mayhem of random destruction. They killed for the fucking joy of it.
And the new ones? The so called “good guys”? She wasn’t about to trust them because they hadn’t immediately torn out the president’s heart on national television. Not murdering a world leader did not make you a good guy.
The radio programs couldn’t get enough of the Mad Fell aliens. Mad Fell. What kind of name was that? The solar-powered radio filled the silence and listening to the emergency broadcasts was, hands down, better than listening to the wind and the rain. She missed the music programs and the light-hearted chit chat, but she’d keep listening to the emergency program because any human voice was better than nothing.
She refocused the binoculars, studying the red alien.
Did they all look like the one on the bridge? The mottled grey armor did not act as camouflage at all. Nothing like him could ever blend in on Earth. He was a big SOB, that was for sure, and built like a linebacker. Probably had more muscle than sense. And his skin…
Her mother always preached about judging someone on the basis of their character and actions, not the color of their skin, but he was red. Red.
The alien turned and movement at his knees caught her eyes. The binoculars shifted down, focusing on a slender red tail with a spiky barb at the end. A freaking tail. All he needed was a pair of horns and he’d be a classic demon.
Yeah, she wasn’t going to trust a demon, no matter what the radio said.
The cold seeped through her jeans and tights. Her nose was numb and her fingers were losing sensation. It was time to move, red alien on the bridge or no red alien. The radio said a blizzard was coming. She needed to get the portable power pack charged or she’d be snowed in with no heat for days. Not an option.
“Now or never, Novak,” she whispered to herself, failing to inspire.