If Aliens were able to travel lightyears through space to reach us, what makes us think we’d have even the remotest chance to resist them? If they were so advanced as a society, we would be like spear wielding cavemen in their eyes, would we not? More to the point, what makes us think they’d be any less vicious than we are? This story is my take on Independence Day. Enjoy!
The place stank of blood and metal. Moans and wails and shouts funnelled up to Vesko from the yard, screams of pain from the hang room and of terror from the kill room. Machinery grinding away day and night, a heavy deep sound that you felt in your bones, just a hint of the incomprehensible power it represented.
Vesko cooked his dinner under the sky vent. Tonight’s meal was a new delicacy: thigh tenderloins skewered with a piece of charred wood. He wished he had some spices to add, or better yet, some vegetables. An all meat diet was taking its toll on him: scurvy had already taken three of his teeth and his skin was turning a pale yellow and breaking out in small, suppurating sores. Still, no matter what hell you were in, you just did what you could. You made the best of it.
The first ship. So big it blocked out the sun no matter where you were, fast enough to cross half the world before it landed somewhere in the Indian, not far from Australia’s west coast. Vast. Everyone so excited, scientists and army flocking to it to welcome our Alien guests, if they were alive. Headlines like: Alien life confirmed – friend or foe? And – Experts say ship alone advanced enough to revolutionise modern technology.
Then the Giants emerged.
Deep in thought, Vesko sat cross legged as close to the flames as he could without being burned – the giants didn’t like the heat. They had a thin down of hair all over their bodies and it glistened with sweat permanently, making them reek like sewage, the only smell that could penetrate that of raw meat in this hell. He turned the skewer over, watching the tenderloins he’d cut turn brown around the outside, the red meat turning pale. Occasionally a drop of blood hissed on the flames.
Angie blinked into existence across from him, looking perfect, not the plump empty shell she’d been at the end. This had been happening a lot lately, and though he was aware she was a hallucination, Vesko prayed every time that she wouldn’t leave him again. ‘Hey, baby,’ he said, grinning.
‘Hey.’ She wrinkled her face at the cooking meat. ‘You’re not really going to eat that, are you? That could be me, for all you know.’
He shrugged. ‘If that’s true, you’re delicious.’ He laughed until he choked on his own saliva, unaware of the tears trickling down his cheeks. They came every time he spoke to his wife. She smiled sadly at him and leaned across the fire to wipe one of them away. Her strawberry blond hair hung into the fire but didn’t singe.
‘We need to have a talk.’
‘About what you’re going to do now.’
He nodded. ‘I’m sorry I left you, you know. I wanted to stay with you all right to the end. I wanted to get back into that vat with you but there was no way.’
But her face hardened. ‘Don’t you dare talk like that, Vesko. Tell me what good that would have done. Just tell me.’
‘I could have been with you.’
‘You are with me,’ she said, softening a little. ‘But you staying with us when you could get away? That’s not the Vesko I married. That’s not him at all.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You remember the one that hung us up? You were watching, weren’t you?’
He cringed at the memory, gritting his teeth against the wave of horror that came over him. It passed quickly and he took a gasp of smoky air.
The sheer size of them wouldn’t have been enough by itself. A grown man was perhaps the size of a chicken in comparison to one of them, but mankind had developed formidable weapons to bridge that gap. No, the terrifying thing was their efficiency. No one stood a chance at all against that ruthless single mindedness. They had the population of earth beaten in intelligence, technology, numbers and size, but their greatest advantage was that relentlessness, utter devotion to their own kind. Each and every one of them ready to die for their cause. And what was their cause? Consumption. Expansion. Growth.
One of them picked their car up while it was driving. He remembered that moment of madness, the road just falling away beneath him, everyone screaming, the engine making a crazy high pitched sound as the wheels spun in the air. The giant held the car perfectly level in the air, moving at incredible speed over farmland to one of those enormous dump trucks they had, things the size of golf courses with a flat pan on the back, the barriers high and smooth. They were packed with other human beings, and the giant tipped the car slowly over the middle and shook it until they all fell out and hit the hot metal a couple of meters below.
When they reached the slaughterhouse, the dump truck opened up and the flat pan tipped to make a smooth slide, emptying them into a feeding pen. Vesko had still been hopeful he could get them out of this place. They were so much smaller than the giants – there had to be some crack to squeeze through, some weakness in the holding.
There wasn’t. Every day, a giant dropped enormous loaves of bread into the pens, delicious, moist bread that tasted like olives. Some refused to eat, but not for long. Soon after his arrival Vesko saw one of the giants reach in and pluck a man from the group. Judging by his holocaust survivor build, he hadn’t eaten in a while. The giant held him twenty feet or so off the ground, its long fingers pinched under his arms, and then it raised a tool of some kind, a pair of shears that they used to cut their body hair in an effort to cool down. It cut that man into pieces from the toes up, pieces of him falling down in a red shower, his screams going on far longer than should have been possible, only stopping when the shears reached a place just below his chest and his stomach acids came pouring down along with the blood. Most of him was gone the next day, eaten by the other hunger strikers.
Vesko was hugging his family when they were emptied, along with hundreds of others, into an enormous metal vat, but he lost hold of them during the short fall and hit the edge of the container they were all landing in. He didn’t remember much, only the sharp pain of hitting metal bars on the way down and a lurching in his stomach. When he woke, he was lying somewhere beneath the slaughterhouse, his hair caked in blood, the only light filtering through a crack in the floor above him.
The loins were pretty much cooked now, and he brought the skewer to his mouth and bit one off, chewing it slowly, his grumbling stomach welcoming the meal. He liked to imagine it was pork, and usually he succeeded. It was harder when he was eating fingers or pieces of a face, anything recognizable as human.
‘That’s the one you’ve got to kill, baby,’ she said.
He nodded. He had the thing’s face fixed in his memory. The giants weren’t like animals, they all had distinctive features, though as far as appearance went they looked more like enormous apes than humans. They had the disproportionately long arms, even the sideways loping gait when they were running fast. Some had different coloured body hair, blonde or red or brown, some had big, low hanging chins and an under bite, others had arms that bulged with muscle or bellies that sagged from too much meat. The one that had hung his family, gleaming steel hooks through their backs and out their chests, had big eyes the colour of ash.
‘But you’ve got to have a plan. You have to stay alive after, so you can kill more.’
‘Yeah, I know. I got a plan. I’ve been sharpening my sword, every day.’ He chewed at another loin and looked over at his sword. It was a piece of scrap metal shaving he’d found on the floor of the kill room, twice as long as his forearm, hard but surprisingly light. There was another smaller piece beside it, which he’d been using to sharpen the edges of the sword every day. It was almost sharp enough, but the handle was thin and he sometimes worried it would snap. Nothing he could do about that, though.
‘Live for me, honey? Okay?’
‘I will. I will.’ But she was gone, and he didn’t think she’d be back again, at least not until it was over and he was either dead or somewhere safe.
After the meal he curled up a little way from the fire where the metal was warm but not scalding, and tried to sleep holding his sword like a pillow. He would do it the next day. He’d have to get around to the place the hooks came out of the wall by a conveyor belt on the ceiling, hitch a ride to the hang room. He’d only get one chance at the giant, and that only if he was lucky. If he missed… The mincer.
The mincer was the source of most of the mechanical noise in the place. It was the kind of sound that made your skull vibrate no matter where you were in the building, and it kept going from sunrise to midnight, when the slaughterhouse closed and the giants descended below ground to sleep. On his second day here, Vesko had climbed up into the beams in the mincing room and checked it out. The hooks stopped at a point just before the mincer and a giant stood beside it, sorting the dying people. The children and the old or diseased, he lifted from the hooks and dropped straight into the wide circular hole in the ground, a constantly churning mess of blended bodies, a mash of black, red and yellow. Whatever blades worked just beneath the surface worked fast, because if so much as a toe disappeared beneath the surface, you were gone.
The young and healthy were left on the hooks, which took them to the next room. Vesko had spied there also, and seen another giant divide the bodies into the best cuts with expert precision, reducing still living human beings into ten separate blocks of meat in the space of seconds. Occasionally he judged a body unfit for consumption and threw it into another pile on the far wall. It was from this pile that Vesko had obtained all of his meals since.
He planned and mentally rehearsed what he would do until he could see every moment of the following day in clear detail, accounted for every possibility he could conceive of, and at last he closed his eyes and stole a few hours of sleep.
He awoke to the sound of the mincer starting up, and in a few moments he was on his feet, sick to his stomach with fear. He pissed in the smouldering fire and reached for his sword. Instead of leaving straight away, he sat down and sharpened it for another hour or so, not so much because it needed it but because he was hoping Angie would come back to him one last time.
She didn’t, but when he finally started on his way down the vents, her voice came to him on a blast of hot air from behind. ‘See you soon,’ she said. The words chilled him, but he told himself she meant them as a comfort, that whether he lived or died he would see her again.
It took a while to find the right place, and he had to squeeze through a narrow groove slick with black grease and barely large enough to fit him let alone his sword. When he finally got out and crouched on a shelf near the factory’s ceiling, he saw he was in the perfect position: the hooks were emerging directly beneath him: in fact he could have followed along the top of the conveyor belt directly above them. That wouldn’t be quick enough, though: he was going to have to drop down and stand in one of the hooks, be ready to jump at the perfect opportunity.
Vesko stayed where he was, watching the heads of some of the other giant workers pass below him, going about their gruesome work. They spoke to each other over the sound of machinery in a series of low howls and high yelps, like baying farm dogs on a hunt. He was terrified of them, but he was also angry, and for an hour or more he sat above the conveyor belt and allowed the hatred to overtake him.
He thought of the grey eyed bastard, working day in and out, grabbing wriggling bodies from the enormous vat and impaling them like worms on fishing hooks, unthinking or uncaring of the pain he caused. Vesko would make him think. Vesko would make him care.
He dropped down onto one of the hooks, both his feet wedged in the U bend while his free hand gripped the chain from which it hung. He held the sword backhanded: knowing that slashing would give nothing but scratches; he would have to thrust, and he would only have one or two blows to get it right.
The hook neared the hole in the far wall, and Vesko squinted ahead and saw two grey haired arms lay a screaming child onto a hook, the tip thankfully piercing her heart and cutting her suffering short. The hooks moved relentlessly on and the arms pulled back, then returned with a heavyset man who wasn’t so lucky: the hook wound up too low, piercing his stomach and bursting through with a light spray of stomach acid. The man turned and saw Vesko on the next hook, but whether he saw him and understood what was happening or was too lost in his pain was impossible to tell.
Vesko was coming through the gap now, and his mind had shrunk down to the tunnel vision that always accompanied extreme fear. He was not aware of the ear piercing screams, nor the thrumming machinery, nor the stench of blood and gore. He was aware only of the way the hook was swaying slightly under his weight, and of the sword in his hand, and of his own quick breaths.
Everything happened in a matter of seconds when he emerged into the hang room. The giant was pulling a plump, struggling woman from the vat, bent over the side of it with both arms inside, his back to the room. Vesko had a couple of seconds before it turned and saw him, but he didn’t wait: he pushed off the hook as hard as he could, kicking it hard against the conveyor belt, and grabbed his sword with both hands above his head as he flew through the air.
The giant heard him, the enormous head swivelling while the woman squirmed in his hands, and Vesko collided with his shoulder, sinking the point of the sword into the base of his neck.
The wind was knocked out of him but he held on, and when the Giant turned violently to swipe at him he was pulled along with the protruding sword handle, almost flying into the vat and then back the other way again, where he might have landed on a hook had he let go. The Giant was not bellowing but choking and gurgling, and when he went down on his knees with a deafening crash Vesko saw blood pouring down his furry front. All the motion had torn the airways and veins in his neck. Even now the sword was sliding out with Vesko’s weight on the end, and the giant’s hands fell on air as they reached for him. The blade came out with a wet sucking and Vesko landed hard on the metal floor.
The giant knelt there, swaying and confused, wide hands grasping his throat, grey eyes staring around him until they settled on Vesko. He was on his feet now, sword up and ready to fight. The giant was triple his height even though he was on his knees, but Vesko was mad. ‘You die, you murdering fuck. You die slow.’ His voice didn’t sound like his own. It sounded sick and harsh, like that of a bitter old man.
It died slow, making a weak grab for him as it came toppling to the bloody ground, but he hopped out of the way in time and then crouched right in front of its face, letting hot blood pool around his feet until his shoes were soaked. It watched him, just a hint of wonderment in its eyes, that such a harmless little thing could have killed him, and Vesko smirked. Working slowly, his hate burning like fire inside him, he pried out the giant’s eyes one after the other and listening to wasted screams hissing from its broken wind pipe.
There were no other giants in this area, but that wouldn’t last long: the giant in the next room would be seeing the first empty hooks about now and getting curious. Vesko had not expected to be alive now, but he had prepared for it all the same, and as he started for half open doorway into the next room he heard Angie urging him on: ‘Go, Vesko, kill them all for me.’
He entered the mincing room at a full sprint, and in a state of mind closer to madness than he’d ever been, but further from fear. He’d taken revenge, what else was there to live for? Everything else he killed was a bonus, a joy, a pleasure. With his mind full of the roaring mincer and his eyes and mouth open in a wild scream, he went for the next giant.
This one was standing hunched over and staring with a look of consternation at the fresh empty hooks emerging from the hole near the ceiling of the slaughterhouse. They were smart beasts, their minds working with the same mechanical efficiency with which they had conducted their enslavement of the human race.
But for all their intelligence, the giants were limited in that their eyesight was their primary sense to the exclusion of most others, and since this one, a slack jawed, big chested beast, was concentrating on the hooks, it did not see Vesko run in through the doorway nor hear his screams over the sound of the mincer.
He hamstrung it.
The giants were alien, but their anatomy was not so different from that of an ape or a human, and just by watching them move Vesko had seen the way their bodies were held together, the places their tendons showed through their pale skin. He dragged the sharp sword with all of his adrenaline fuelled strength beneath the knee joint of the beast and heard the snap as he broke through ligament. In almost the same motion he followed through with a hack, planting the blade in the place a human’s Achilles would have been and pulling it across the bone.
The giant let out a howl of pain and surprise as he went down hard on his right knee, and Vesko, still screaming his fury, launched himself at his back, colliding with a buttock the size of a bed and pressing the point of his sword into the soft flesh as hard as he could.
That was all it took. The giant let out another yell and jumped forward onto all fours. Only there was nowhere for its hands to land besides the mincer. Vesko didn’t see but felt its thick arms connect with the unseen blades, the giant’s whole body vibrating with the force of them. He let go of the sword and flung himself backward before he could be taken with it, and after that he could only sit and watch as the giant was pulled into the churning pit before him, the engines whining and struggling to chop the thick bones.
The pool of gore rose up fast as his midsection and then hips disappeared beneath the surface and suddenly the pit was overflowing, red waves with yellow froth washing over the stained metal floor towards Vesko. Watching them come, he only knew that if he stayed where he was and let that bloody tide reach him he would lose whatever remained of his sanity. At the last moment, he jumped to his feet and ran, not caring where he was going, only looking for a way out of this hellish place, never thinking about anything except getting away from that endless rushing wave of death.
He ran to the adjoining door but did not slide beneath it. Instead, he stopped beside it with his back against the wall and waited. Sure enough, a moment later the giant from the chopping room burst through and immediately headed for the control panel on the opposite wall which controlled the mincer. Vesko slid around the door.
There was nowhere to go from there. On one side of the room, the pile of discarded bodies. Vesko taken his food from that pile by lowering a noose made from his pants, shirt and shoelaces, and snaring a corpse around the neck so he could haul it up into the vent, so there was no way to get up there from the floor. There was no sanctuary there: Vesko had been here long enough to know what happened to those bodies: they were dropped into the mincer at the very end of the day and fed as gruel to the people in the holding pens.
His only hope was the pile of ready chopped body parts in the corner to his left. He ran for it, knowing he could be seen at any moment now, cursing himself for not being man enough to make a stand with his sword at least and take as many of the bastards with him. He dove into the pile and dug himself in as quickly as he could until he was settled in, near the bottom. The blood was still dripping form some of the cuts, and he was covered in the lukewarm mess. He could smell the sweat on a hundred bodies, the dirt in the flesh. He felt they were still alive and pressing on him from all sides.
There was much activity in the slaughterhouse after that, but Vesko didn’t take note. He curled into the foetal position, weighed down by heads, torsos, arms and legs. The best cuts.
The initial wars were furious, intense, and utterly hopeless. Vesko knew this from the very first news reports, and it was for this reason he packed his bags and drove as far out into the Australian country as he could with his family: to hide.
He was right. By the end of one year, the earth was littered with the titanic ships and little of human civilisation remained. At least, nothing that the giants couldn’t use. By two years, when Vesko was beginning to grow accustomed to an isolated life, a place so barren surely no giant would ever want to go, they had demolished every form of organised human resistance that existed: every army, every government, every city. Their ships came and went with steadily increasing frequency, taking away resources in mind boggling quantities and depositing machines larger than cities themselves, their purposes only to mine Earth’s bounty ever more thoroughly.
The giants were more than omnivores: they consumed anything and everything to feed themselves, and besides that there seemed not a single material they had no use for. When they mined a city, the material from the buildings was salvaged along with the asphalt from the roads, the cars, every life form, and then the dirt underneath for thousands of meters below the surface. The oceans themselves were being steadily drained by ships so large they rivalled the size of a small country.
And Vesko lived in the desert, seeing these things in the distance, hearing the far away sounds of machines and the thudding of giant’s feet and refusing to believe they would ever come for him. What could there be for them, in the desert?
But after five years the giants had erected their own monstrous factories, established their own systems, and there were few places of Earth that had not been thoroughly depleted. They came.
He didn’t know why he was trying so badly to stay alive anymore, but asking why had never been his prerogative anyway. It just was, that was all. His family was dead and he was lying here with someone’s intestines sliding lazily over his face and a factory full of giants nearby. That was just life. What could you do but make the best of it?
A head dropped down through the pile and landed on his left arm so that it was looking right at him. As his eyes grew used to the semi darkness, Vesko thought he could make out the contours of the face. A woman, not unlike Angie. The longer he looked, and let the shadows swirl in and around the features, the more like her it was, until she blinked open her bright blue eyes and smiled at him.
‘Sorry I had to leave you, baby,’ he whispered. His lips were cold with drying blood.
‘You did what you had to do.’
A few minutes later he reached out into the mass of chilled flesh and found a soft breast and a torso just like Angie’s. He dragged it into a hug, and soon after, groping around, he found her arms and legs and arranged them into position. She wrapped her arms around him and gave him that beautiful smile that had haunted his dreams since the day he’d met her.
‘You want to thank me Vesko baby? Keep living and keep killing. Alright?’
‘Yeah.’ He smiled back, unable to resist. ‘For you, Ange.’
She kissed him then, and her lips were warm on his and she didn’t taste like blood or death and there was still hope in the world.
You had to make the best of it, after all.