Meanwhile, on Earth...
Park Eun-Hee opened her eyes. Her first thought was, “Why am I still alive?”
Just from looking straight up at the ceiling she could tell this was her classroom, the alien had brought her back here. She could also tell that it was no longer night time. Without moving much she wiggled her toes and fingers. Everything seemed to be in order.
Finally she turned her head and found the alien sitting nearby on the floor but his back was towards her, engaged in some other activity. For a brief moment the image of her little brother flashed through her head. The splotchy discoloration on its back was similar in shape to the burn scars on Park Soo-Han's back, the boy had pulled a tea kettle off the stove somehow when he was almost three.
It was only a brief moment. This thing was almost the size of a well grown and muscular man, it was no child. Even if this alien had fled from the battlefield, even if he (or she, hard to tell) was a pacifist it was likely still dangerous. Maybe he was their Gandhi, but she couldn't depend on that.
Eun-Hee wanted to get her cell phone from her backpack. If she could call her father he would get help from the authorities. If he ran here on his own though, that would be bad. If her father attacked or provoked this alien, it would hurt or kill her father. She figured it was already scared.
Whatever it was doing it was intent on it, head scrunched down in concentration. She heard faint scratching noises coming from its direction. She moved just enough to see that the alien was sitting cross-legged with a drawing pad in its lap and a charcoal art pencil in its clawed hand. Eun-Hee moved a little more to see what it was doing.
Her jaw dropped. The alien was drawing. That's when it stopped and turned to look at her.
“They're closing in on the bait.” The Pilot was told by his scouts. The swarm of robots was getting close. These things were relentless. They had tore a swath through Columbus, Ohio more than a quarter of a mile wide, chewing through the Magic Mountain Fun Center and then most of the Polaris Fashion Place. They had moved roughly south through the center of Columbus, leaving an apocalyptic scene of devastation in its wake.
The C-130 circled over the target area. The housing subdivisions had all been evacuated and a weapon had been dropped in their path. They monitored the approach the of the swarm, the disappearance of homes and vehicles and infrastructure wherever it went was unnerving.
“The first elements of the swarm are getting close to the target.” the report came.
“Set it off before they eat it.” their commanding officer responded.
The President had said to try anything short of nukes. Some of the burrowed ships had been taken out with bunker busters but the swarms were proving tougher. They were bombed with everything that could be found, but still enough robots survived to absorb the blow and continue to grow.
The explosion down below was smaller in appearance and it was set off atop an 8'foot U-Haul box trailer for elevation. It was a rather low-yield EMP bomb. The electromagnetic pulse went out in all directions and they could see the front third of the swarm stop moving.
Someone back in the control room at Wright-Patterson had yelled “Yes!” in a premature celebration because the other robots absorbed the dead ones and would use the resources to create more. The test was, in fact, a success. We now knew that EMP weapons could be effective, and the US had been testing such things since the early 2000's. The first successful demonstration of the Counter-electronics High-power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP.
Now two drones carrying EMP lasers were being deployed from a military research center out in Utah, there were plenty of targets for them to choose from. The top officer at Wright-Patterson picked up the secure phone and put a call through to Air Force One to report the results. Air Force had now been in the air for more than fifty hours straight.
Marshall and his sister Samantha had been on the move for days. They had been hiking when the trouble started and their vehicle hadn't started. When they saw the military activity and got a look at dead aliens and a burnt out landing ship, they knew they had to get home.
Every house they had found in the rural foothills had been abandoned, so far. They were out of supplies now and were a bit hungry. They had talked about breaking into a house just to get some food and water, they would leave a note and contact information. People would understand. Probably.
They walked around the cabin-like house before knocking. There was no response. Then they backed up and Marshall ran at the door and kicked it as hard as he could. The old wooden door splintered and buckled and a growling dog took its place. It wasn't a breed, it was a mutt.
“Whoa, good boy.” Marshall said, “Did your master leave you here?”
Samantha made sure to stay behind her brother as they backed up toward the dirt road.
“Good boy, we're not going to hurt you.” He said as soothingly as he could. Instead of growling again the dog whimpered and laid down. His tongue hanging low out of his mouth.
“He's probably really hungry.” His sister said, still behind him.
They went in a semi-circle back to the house and went in. The dog had apparently been chewing the couches, the curtains, a rug and anything else it could get a hold of. It had also been there long enough to make some piles of excrement on the floor. It was a small place so the kitchen was easily noticeable from the front room. Samantha opened a cabinet, “A bag of dog food.”
Marshall poured a big pile of the food into a dog bowl he found inside the hole in the couch, and then sat the bag on the floor next to it. His sister looked through some more and only found a mostly full jar of instant coffee, a five-pack of dried ramen noodles, the square kind and a can of peaches in syrup. Marshal knew they'd be wrestling for that one.
They also found a small battery-powered radio, their own had drained its batteries. They turned through the FM and AM dials. They found nothing but static, which was a bit odd. They went through them slowly again, looking for all of the bigger and more powerful stations. Nothing but static except for a weak signal at 820 AM.
“National evacuation orders to leave the cities threatened by the swarms...” static broke in. The siblings looked at each other. They hadn't heard anything about swarms. “The number of burrowed alien vessels manufacturing the robots has dropped again to only (static). Not so good news, relatively good, for countries without bunker buster bombs or proven EMP weapons... (static) This newscast will repeat every ten minutes with a new update at the top of each hour...”
“It's worse than we thought, Sam.” Marshall said.
Samantha put down the two cups of instant coffee. “We were only out of the loop for a day or so and this happens, Mars. I will remind you forever that going hiking had been your idea.”
He laughed. “Yes, because I am an evil genius. Nothing was left to chance.”
Samantha looked at the dog, still eating the dry food. “You heard that? He did this, it's all his fault. A witness!”
She was making them a pack of noodles each. “Do you think everybody is okay? They said the cities were evacuated. That swarms and robots had invaded. I'm worried about mom and dad.”
He shared her concerns, but he wanted to sound like he was confident. “We'll make it. Just remember not to ever give up.”
“I am using the first shower.” She said then looked down at the bored dog lying on the floor. “The dog will keep you company. I'll try to make it quick.”
She went into the other room and he soon heard the water running. Marshall looked down at the dog and the dog didn't move but glanced back.
“Maybe can play fetch? Go fetch a steak! A beer! A...” he said, laughing at the non-reaction of the dog on the floor. He stopped because he heard a grinding noise. He told himself it might be the old pipes but got up to look out the door, just in case. In front of him was a seething chrome-colored ground, the porch was half gone already and it was moving fast.
He slammed the door and ran toward the back room. “Sam, get out. Now! We gotta go!”
The front wall of the house being ground down furiously by the metallic horde, the dog was barking but keeping his distance. Marshall banged on the bathroom door, “Put your clothes on, we have to run now, Right now!”
Half the front room was gone, the little robots were relentless. Then past them he saw some larger ones with what looked like some sort of heavy weapons. What was she doing, she couldn't fail to hear that noise! He kicked the bathroom door, “This is life and death, hurry up!”
The front of the bedroom was covered by them when the bathroom door finally opened. She looked and screamed. He pulled her out. Her hair was wet and falling over her face, but she had shorts and a tee shirt on, it'd have to do. Marshall pulled open a window as most of the bedroom was already infested and climbed through.
They ran away from the house but the little robots were still pretty fast. The whole house was quickly gone and the dog was nowhere to be seen.
“My feet!” she said, her bare-feet must be hitting all the sharp branches and stones.
“We can't slow down!” He yelled.
Park Eun-Hee held her breath. The alien's bat-like face was so close to hers. It didn't seem angry or anything though. He was still holding the art pencil and the drawing pad. After a moment it turned back to what it was doing. After a few minutes he turned to her again and showed her what he had drawn.
It was Earth. A lifeless Earth stripped of any useful resources, and in the distance was Nemesis. The alien planet was obviously moving away, back toward interstellar space. They did not come here to take over Earth, they evidently had come here to strip mine it. Park Eun-Hee looked at the alien and then the picture and back. Then nodded.
The alien put the drawing pad and pencil down and moved away to the far wall.
Eun-Hee's mind raced. Why had it shown her that? What was she supposed to do with this? Could the alien be lying? She wondered if the alien even had a concept of what a child was and that adults might not take her seriously.
Her phone! She moved to the desk where her backpack sat in the seat and slowly unzipped the compartment where she had put the phone. She slid the thin device from the pocket of the backpack and touched the top button. The screen lit up, there were 14 missed calls and 16 texts. Her parents must have gone insane looking for her and worrying.
Park Eun-Hee took the cellphone and moved back to the drawing pad. Then she positioned the phone for a selfie that would show her, the drawing as well as the alien against the back wall. It occurred to her that this might be the dumbest thing she could do, but the message needed proof. When everything on the screen looked pretty good, she tapped the right spot and the camera flashed.
She had forgotten to turn off the flash. The alien was in shadow and might not like sudden blinding lights. Eun-Hee held her breath and froze. The alien stood up and then broke through the wall and into another room of the school. Eun-Hee quickly sent the picture to as many friends and family as she could, telling them to get the image to the authorities.
She breathed again. Park Eun-Hee still needed to figure out a way out of the school and back to her home. She had been missing all night and now her parents would receive the image too, they would be even more shocked!
A military drone flew 10,000 meters over the silvery swarm near Ogden, Utah. It was heading towards one of the large camps that people had fled to from the cities. The drone carried the newest prototype EMP laser weapon that was undergoing testing.
The target was acquired. The invisible and soundless laser began firing. It would take several lingering blasts to make much of a dent in the swarm but after circling for half an hour, no more targets were detected. Ten minutes of searching later, the drone was ordered toward another site to target another swarm.
Finally one of the swarms had been defeated, during the third day.
Marshall and Samantha reached a ravine and there was fast moving water rushing from up hill to downhill. “We can't get across this!” Marshall said.
“I need to rest.” Samantha said, “How far away do you think it is?”
As in answer to her question the tree line became silvery as the swarm came ever closer. There was no where else to go.
“Hang on to me, Sam!” He told his sister and then pulled her and jumped off the ground and down into the ravine. He was hoping that the fast moving water would sweep them far away from this alien robotic warm.
Marshal kicked and tried to keep their heads above the raging waters, but he also had to keep a tight hold on his sister. The water was definitely moving fast, but now he had to start thinking about getting them out of this ravine. Soon!
Samantha arms around him were starting to loosen up. He tried to yell that needed to hang on but water filled up his mouth. “Sam!” he choked out.
----- Chapter Seven
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