They didn’t come to us from the stars with city-destroying lasers or waves of mechanised infantry and walking tanks, or even false promises of peace hiding villainous agendas. They didn’t need to. When the first of their vast machines descended on the Earth there was nothing we could do to stop it.
When the machine was first spotted, scientists thought it was some kind of rogue comet with the ability to wipe out all life as we knew it. Terror changed to wonder and cautious optimism when the object was found to be artificial and slowing down to meet us rather than coming in at terminal velocity. The machine dropped through the atmosphere and descended into the Indian Ocean almost gently, so there was minimal damage to the surrounding coastal areas. With that came another surge of hope.
Attempts to communicate, of course, went unanswered. Only sonar could track the enormous machine as it unfolded itself on the seabed and then rose steadily to the surface. The tremendous alien device was literally city-sized, the final result would have almost covered the island of Manhattan. Without delay or explanation, it started its work. The flotilla of ships and submarines surrounding the spot where the machine had risen could only get out of its way. The bulk of the machine stayed under the water, like an iceberg. It was long and oval in shape, with huge engines and filtration systems beneath the surface and above the water two giant, smoke stack-like outputs that began belching greyish clouds.
The second machine came in harder, into the North Atlantic Ocean. The rough landing seemed to be the result of some kind of miscalculation rather than malice. The third and fourth machines came in just as softly and with as little relative disturbance as the first. But tsunamis caused by the second machine still devastated America’s East Coast. Water poured miles inland, causing thousands of deaths even in areas that had been preemptively evacuated, and billions of dollars of damage. But the second machine was as indifferent as the first, and the third and fourth. It unfolded and rose to the surface, going about its business as the others would also do.
The machines poisoned the water and the air. They were terraforming devices, at least according to the prevailing theories. Transforming the Earth and the atmosphere to something more conductive for some form of life much different from the kind already found on the planet. It’s impossible to say whether the fact the result was not conductive to the life already there was deliberate or merely a side effect. Sealife was eradicated as the planet’s oceans changed their composition. People along the coasts started to get sick first, and then die. Then, as refugees poured inland and away from the toxic coasts, monstrous storms, supercells like the Earth had never seen, began to tear the world apart. The storms would suffocate those in their paths, replacing our air with an unbreathable alien mix.
When every attempt at communication, hail and warning shot had failed, the governments of the world had no choice but to fight back. Unfortunately, bullets and missiles had no more impact on the massive machines than words. The armies and ruling bodies of the world had held back out of fear direct confrontation could trigger something worse from the machines. They never did anything defend themselves, however, or to fight back against a suddenly hostile humanity. Again, they didn’t need to. Whatever alien material the machines were made of, humankind’s weapons couldn’t stop them or even slow them down. Even when nuclear weapons were used the machines emerged from the conflagrations without a single scratch. Attempts were made again and again. We only stopped when the fallout was clearly killing people faster than the machines without any effect on their terrible purpose whatsoever.
Eventually, the machines grew wheels and made landfall. They crushed anything standing in their way, even the earth itself. Cities that had already been devastated by storms were erased, and the machines continued to poison the soil and the skies. People fled but there was nowhere to go except to flee out of their paths, to live a little bit longer. Their march was inexorable and unchanging.
Some people fought bravely, without wavering, until their last bullets, and they died choking.
Some people studied and theorised, and developed brilliant schemes, and they died choking.
Some people tried to communicate and negotiate until their last breaths, and they died choking.
Some people sent poetry and examples of every work of art, every beautiful and special thing created by the human hand or mind, to the machines and to the stars, and they died choking.
Some people prayed to their gods, and they died choking.
Some people prostrated and flagellated themselves, pleading to more alien gods to be spared, and they died choking.
Some people fled, and died choking.
Some people did all they could to help others, and died choking.
Some people gave up and accepted the inevitable, and died choking.
Air filtration units in the bunker are still holding together. There’s still enough people left alive to track the movements of the machines, and communicate them to others. One of them is headed my way and even though the bunker is well-made it’s not buried deep enough to avoid being crushed by the treads of its gigantic wheels. The machine is two days away and experience says it won’t change its path or stop. My wife gave up already. She ended it with the sleeping pills along with my son, rather than face being crushed. It’s not as if there is anywhere to go beyond the bunker. It was the last of the pills so I guess I’ll have to wait and see. The air filtration units and supplies were never going to last forever anyhow.
I’m sure there are others, in better bunkers, with many more supplies, who are out of the paths of the great machines. Maybe they will last long enough to see the machines’ masters set foot on whatever planet remains that we once called Earth, once their task is complete. But even if the closest machine misses my humble abode, I know that won’t be me. Of course, if you’re human, you already know all the things I’m telling you, this message isn’t for you. I’m broadcasting to whoever comes after us, from the stars. On behalf of all of humanity, I say sincerely, fuck you. You have taken everything from us, our lives, our planet and for too many of us, our souls. So fuck you and if there’s a hell where all beings are considered equal, I’ll see you there.
Sean E. Britten – 2018