“They may have fired first, but our guns are bigger,” said Grandpa Jack. The old man could still remember the twin bombs Little Boy and Fat Man being dropped on Japanese villagers. I believed he really thought our American muscle would get us through this. The slight tremor in his voice was the only indication that he wasn’t completely confident in our victory or our survival.
An old war veteran of 100 plus years and me, a 25 year old college dropout, sitting together watching what could be the end of the world on our 15 inch TV screen. We had just seen a demonstration of the alien technology. We watched now as our brave soldiers attacked the ship from the ground below. I couldn’t help but fear for them, and for us, some 400 miles away.
“You watch, boy, we’ll whip ‘em good,” said Grandpa Jack, unable to take his eyes off of the screen. After that strange swarm dismantled the helicopter earlier, it hadn’t taken long for the ground troops stationed at the safe zone to move in and open fire. The city became a war zone, a chaotic port town defending its fleeing citizens from some unknown menace.
The floating ship continued sending out tiny clouds of what looked like insects swarming in a burst of hazy air. Every mortar, rifle or rocket they came into contact with instantly fell to pieces. Ambitious soldiers took the time to reconstruct their weapons only to have a second shot pull them apart again. Tanks fell to pieces around their stunned drivers, the welds and tread locks dismantling on impact.
The ground under the alien behemoth became littered with unspent missile fragments and small arms ammunition. It was hard to tell from the TV footage but it didn’t look like anything we fired had made a scratch in the hovering menace. The ground troops quickly ran out of options and functional weaponry. Not a moment too soon three fighter jets screamed onto the scene, rocking the nearby news helicopters hovering to record the chaos.
“The cavalry’s arrived!” yelled Grandpa Jack. The old man actually stood up for a moment and hollered in excitement before crashing back down into his easy chair. I couldn’t tell if he was enjoying the fight, thinking it was an afternoon movie, or if he was really as terrified on the inside as I was. A part of me prayed that Grandpa Jack was right, that our technology would prove superior and this would be our turning point.
The jets rocketed into and out of the frame, all the while circling the giant airship like sharks around a whale. Tracer fire lit up the sky, cutting bright trails blazing toward the alien craft. The skin of the ship shimmered and rippled, shrugging off the machine gun fire. Hot lead rained down onto the ground in torrents. Not one bullet managed to snipe its way through the alien armor.
News copters pulled back from the area and captured the scope of the skirmish with their cameras. As the pilots realized their bullets were having no effect, one of them loosed a rocket into the belly of the ship. In a blink, the missile made contact, appeared to be swallowed by a bulge in the ship’s side and fell to the ground in pieces, harmless and undetonated.
Before another rocket could be fired, a burst formed from the ship and detached, chasing the jet through the sky. For a moment I thought the pilot might be able to evade it. But it appeared the strange swarm was simply toying with its target.
“Bastards,” grumbled Grandpa Jack. We stared in disbelief as the jet fell apart, its velocity pitching the pilot forward and gravity pulling him down to the ground, surrounded by his piecemeal plane. Luckily his chute opened to slow his fall, though he still slammed into the ground hard, then lay motionless. That was all the invitation the other pilots needed to open fire.
Missiles, flares and tracer fire assailed the alien ship without success. They struck the armored sides whole and functional, became swallowed up by the strange swarms and then fell in impotent pieces to the ground below. The second jet met a similar fate to its predecessor when it collided with a swarm burst and fell scattered to the Earth.
The final pilot was out of weapons and out of his league, but not out of options. As the frantic news reporter announced the pilot’s final act of desperation, the jet rocketed towards the ship with no intention of stopping. Rather than become a swallowing, swarming mass, the alien armor seemed to harden. The jet exploded on impact in a massive fireball.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” said Grandpa Jack. Tears streamed down his face as he remembered in that instant all of the soldiers and friends he’d lost throughout his long life. I held his hand as the air raid sirens sounded through the TV speakers. It sounded like a banshee wail signaling the end of the City that Never Sleeps.
A few brave journalists remained at Ground Zero even as the final evacuation order went out. A full two-thirds of
Grandpa and I watched in reverent silence, along with the rest of the world, as three missiles slammed into the ship. The behemoth rocked to one side from the impact. A full bloom of its armor shifted to meet the missiles at the point of contact. The silver skin flowed outward and down, forming an umbrella-shaped shield that reflected the nuclear explosion away from the ship. The last image we saw before the cameras and their operators were vaporized was a column of bright light mushrooming out from beneath the ship, scorching the Earth, sea and sky.
Reports drifted in over the next few hours. A massive section of the city had been leveled and millions were dead or dying. When the dust cleared, the alien menace remained, quite unharmed. The panic didn’t set in until the ship began to move. It traveled slowly at first, attracting an entourage of ground and air-based escorts, all attacking the ship seemingly without organization, direction or success. Soldiers vented their frustrations on the hovering leviathan, attempting to slow its progress or somehow destroy it completely. Over slow miles, their ambitious attack never wavered, but neither did the behemoth’s ever westward movement.
It wasn’t until the next day that we realized the ship was heading for us.