Fucking bastards. There wasn’t a chance in hell they’d take me or my sisters alive. For ten years, I’d avoided their capture, their prying eyes, and protected my own, built a home for my family and provided a life on this godforsaken planet and now the Vakarrans were treading awfully close to my territory. I didn’t like that one bit. I had to stop them from finding us.
Chewing on a piece of dried meat, I looked around the fire as it crackled peacefully between us. My sisters sat closest to me, their younger eyes looking up at me with curiosity and concern. I wasn’t usually this quiet, but I had to think, figure out what my next move would be. I had to save them all from the horrors of our alien conquerors. To imagine my sisters being taken, used, and bred by Vakarran scum chilled me to the bone.
“Alaina, Kaela, Danika, don’t stare at me,” I said, giving them the side eye. I was the eldest, having just celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday. Since our parents were killed during the Great War, my sisters all looked to me for guidance. I missed my mother and father, but I couldn’t focus on that right now, especially since my little hidden band of human survivors was in danger of being discovered by the enemy.
Alaina elbowed me, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“What’s going on? I haven’t seen you look this worried since Nadia was captured and taken from us,” she pressed, her voice low enough so that our younger sisters couldn’t hear. I sighed, remembering Nadia, an older girl from my community who had run off on her own. Last I heard, she’d been captured and sold as a slave to the Vakarrans. She was probably pregnant with their spawn by now, the poor thing. She shouldn’t have run off. I wish I could have stopped her, but there’s no use in wallowing in the past. I had to focus on the future for the remaining humans in my community now.
Alaina cleared her throat, breaking me out of my brooding train of thought. She was the second eldest. She took after me in a lot of ways and I was grooming her as my second in command. She was intelligent, resourceful, and incredibly efficient at whatever task I gave her. My other sisters, Kaela and Danika, were both still young, untested, but good at helping me lead when I needed it. They weren’t even teenagers when the Vakarrans had taken Earth, some ten years ago. Even now, my thoughts were haunted with memories from the day the aliens had first arrived to take us all.
She looked away from me then, her eyes assessing the heavily forested land, searching for the rest of the people living in our community. My eyes followed hers, seeing our makeshift shelters, built with branches and leaves so that they camouflaged with the surrounding environment. Built to be hidden, you couldn’t see them unless you knew what you were looking for. That was critical for our survival. Hiding in plain sight. We couldn’t be the beginning of the resistance if we got caught. The Vakarrans called factions of humans like us rebels. They’d label us traitors and kill us.
I remember what the world used to be like. Overpopulated. Congested. Thirty billion people, perhaps it had been much higher than that, but the census had stopped keeping track last I heard, especially since so many rich citizens had moved off planet to the luxurious colonies on Mars, Pluto, and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Too many people, lack of funding, nowhere to keep all the genetic data; the private companies running it had made all sorts of excuses, but really, they’d just lost their biggest donors. By then, it was difficult to know what data source to trust, since the government censored so much of it. Dark cyber wasn’t even safe.
We used to be a free race. We could wander where we pleased, do what we wished, and live where we wanted, if we had the money of course. Earth’s military was well-respected, our technology growing more advanced by the day. Other colonies hadn’t developed their own armies yet, instead still working on expanding and building their own infrastructure. Even considering Earth’s advances, however, we hadn’t known what was out there beyond our own solar system.
Then when I was fifteen, my entire world went to shit. I’d heard the name Vakarrans before during our mandatory educational data delivery sessions, but never paid it any mind. I should have.
We’d been so stupid, ignoring the existence of intelligent life apart from our own species. The actuality of alien life in the galaxy was quietly accepted, but completely overlooked. Humans had been so self-confident and self-absorbed for so long, caught up in our own problems of money, greed, and corruption, that we’d missed the real dangers. We should have built better defenses. We should have traveled further. We should have reached out to other species in the galaxy around us. We hadn’t stood a chance. Hadn’t known what was coming for us from the great beyond of space.
The first thing they did was cut off our communications. Data delivery centers, dead. Next, the worldwide cyberspace satellites. Virtual reality communication became nonexistent. No access to research, data, or our friends around the world. It all happened so fast. We faltered as a species, with no way to virtually interact with each other. All the ancient systems depending on radio signals, telephone lines, and cell phone towers had been demolished long ago. We had nothing. Everything dead. It was a terrible blow that the human race never recovered from. If that wasn’t bad enough, then the bombs came. Destruction like never before. Entire cities wiped from the face of earth. Political leaders murdered. Our armies unraveled, public mass panic ensued, and then the rumors began, passed door to door just like the times of old.
I remember the terrified whispers of my neighbors during that harrowing time. The Vakarrans are coming. Did you hear what they’ve done to the outlying planets? We all wanted to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Even if we could have afforded the trip to Mars, the other colonies, or some of the outlying space stations in our solar system, it wouldn’t have saved us. One colony after another, the Vakarrans came and conquered. They saved Earth for last. By then, it was too late for us. They took what they wanted, when they wanted and didn’t care if some, or a lot of us, died in the process.
“Kira, Jesus. Break out of it,” Alaina whispered, her eyes narrowing. “You’re beginning to scare the others.”
I shook my head, trying to rid myself rancid memories of the past. Blinking, I stared into the fire and chewed my lip, deciding exactly what I wanted to tell my sister.
“You know how I set up the sensor cameras around the perimeter?”
“Yeah, what about them?”
“Something has been triggering them and when the cameras pop on, sometimes the picture goes out or gets scrambled somehow, but I’ve been able to analyze the footage with some software I have.” I paused. “I’ve seen them. Their terrible, ugly purple faces hunting around nearby,” I explained quietly enough so that only she could hear. It wouldn’t do to have anyone else in the camp hear what I was saying; we couldn’t scare them when I wasn’t completely sure what my next move would be. Mass panic could ruin everything.
“Can it be that they know our location? Should we go on the move again?” she answered, her pretty blonde hair rustling in the cool night breeze. Green eyes, sparkling with hints of gray and blue stared back at me with rising concern.
“I’m not sure. They could just be blindly searching. We’ve been so careful, only traveling in the dark, sticking to the wilds where no one ventures, and moving at any hint of potential discovery. The footage is inconclusive, I just know they’re close,” I replied, my eyes searching the surrounding area, watching as men and women smiled at each other, laughing and joking and enjoying each other’s company. We only had a few men in our group, maybe ten percent at most. The rest of us were female, forever trying to escape the fate that awaited us if we were caught.
I’d worked so hard to build this group of us, to keep us safe so that we could live our lives in peace, and not as slaves to an alien race.
“We should probably start preparations to move then. I can hold a group meeting, tell everyone that we need to move deeper into the jungle. When I was out hunting the other day, I found this cave system that was hidden deep in the brush and from my own explorations, goes on for miles. We could take everyone there and hide out for a while,” she said, and I pressed my palms together, thumbs rubbing my skin nervously.
“I think that may be wise. We should begin at first light. I can set some traps in the meantime and lure them off in the wrong direction,” I mused out loud, and Alaina nodded reluctantly.
“You know I hate when you venture off alone, right? You should take someone with you,” she chided softly.
“I can take care of myself,” I replied confidently with a grin and rose to my feet. “Call the meeting as soon as possible. I’m going to inspect the trails for tracks and set up some more traps now. The sunrise is only a few hours away. Don’t waste time. We have to get out of here. The Vakarrans move quickly and we don’t want to get caught.”
“I agree. Stay safe, Kira,” Alaina said, her eyes hardening. God, I loved that girl. So strong and smart, and not afraid of a little danger. If I could keep us all alive, she was going to become a force to be reckoned with in the not so distant future.
No one stopped me as I walked away from the fire. My sister sprang into action behind me and I heard her start quietly telling everyone to meet in the small clearing deeper in the woods. She’d probably send small groups, one by one until our entire faction was gathered there. There was a lot to accomplish tonight, besides getting everyone moved, including erasing our footprint on the land and making sure we all disappeared like ghosts in the night.
My boots crunched quietly into the dirt as silence enveloped me. It was really dark once I skirted into the tree line, so I pulled a thin pair of night vision goggles out of one of the pockets of my black cargo pants. Pulling them over my head, I scanned my surroundings, sensing and seeing nothing. I sighed with relief.
My first mission was to visit the location of the triggered camera and search for clues. I would recognize the footprints of our alien conquerors, even though they wore boots over their big feet. The design of their feet was slightly differently shaped than a hominid, their shoes allowing for their webbed toes to spread comfortably. They’d also be much bigger than our own smaller, human ones.
The Vakarrans were incredibly strong and massive aliens, compared to humans anyway. From my understanding, their species was exclusively male, and they couldn’t give rise to female offspring, which explained why they’d been conquering planets across the galaxy instead of minding their own business and leaving everyone alone.
They needed women like me and my sisters, to enslave, breed, and force to raise their offspring.
I shivered at the thought. Just imagining being bred by them was enough to give me nightmares. Even worse, if it happened to my sisters, I couldn’t live with myself. I crossed my arms over my chest and rubbed my hands over my chilled skin. I could feel goosebumps rising over my flesh.
That would never happen, couldn’t happen. Never. Not if I could help it.
Those fuckers were as good as dead. I’d kill them all.
The woods were quiet, the only movement being from some nocturnal animals coming to life all around me. To my right, I saw a raccoon watching me with yellow eyes from its perch on a great oak tree. He’d be safe temporarily. I didn’t need to hunt, at least not now. He wasn’t my prey tonight; the aliens were.
I trod carefully, aware of the overwhelming silence that surrounded me and more so of the fact that the Vakarrans’ perceptive hearing could pick up on my movements at any time. I avoided little branches and dry leaves on the ground, carefully stepping and heading in the general direction of the cameras I had identified.
This was how I lived. Hiding, scheming, and devising ways to get back at our alien conquerors, but most important, to keep the rest of my family and the humans under my protection safe and free to live out their lives, as much as we could anyway.
The walk was long, leaving me with only my mind to entertain me.
Meandering through the woods, my thoughts wandered back to the first few days after the Vakarrans began their invasion of Earth. My parents had been strangely quiet the whole time, leaving my sisters and I to worry on our own. It had taken me a long while to understand why, but they had been scared too. A few days after the initial communication cutoff, they’d been more silent than ever. Hardly even a word to any of us.
That final day, they’d sent my sisters and me off to play in the woods and never called us back for supper, which I had thought was strange at the time. We resided just outside the protected nature sanctuaries, vast areas of uninhabited lands, so even though it was normal for us to play there, the timing had made me feel wary. Despite my misgivings, I had taken my sisters with me into the forest. When I had peeked back over my shoulder at my parents, I’d seen my mother crying. I’d wanted to run, but my sister’s terrified faces spurred me forward. I’d been too afraid to turn back. I never saw my mother or my father again after that.
When we heard the first explosions, loud and terrifying, we cowered in a cave that we had always played in growing up. We stayed there for days until the world became strangely quiet.
The Vakarrans had attacked that day at dinnertime, bombing the major cities and political centers of the world all at the same time. Every single world leader slaughtered as a message to the rest of us, to make sure we never forgot that no one could hope to stand up against them.
After the horrors of that day, the conquest was easy for them. Since communication had been cut off, none of us could organize any sort of significant resistance. Earth had fallen to the invaders in less than a week, the bombing being the final blow. The defeat had been laughably easy. Billions of humans slaughtered. Any form of resistance was met with punishment and death.
Men and women were separated and kept in camps far apart from each other. The men were kept as slaves to work the land and to serve the Vakarrans and the women were taken with a much more sinister purpose, as breeders. We would have their babies.
Our small city turned into a ghost town after that, as humans were taken from Earth and shipped off to wherever the Vakarrans wanted them. Over the ensuing years, my sisters and I learned to live off the land together and came across other small groups of refugees in our travels. Many joined with us, others kept to themselves, but our goals were all the same.
They all warned us of the life of shame and pain that awaited us if we ever got caught. Warned us to stay out of the Vakarrans’ grasp at all costs.
There had been several close calls in that time, including two brief periods where two Vakarran men had held me captive and reported my existence to their superiors, but they’d been stupid and had underestimated me. I’d killed them. Their black blood had been revolting when I’d slit their throats and left them to rot deep in the woods. Idiots.
The sound of a stray footstep stilled me then, the crack of a dry twig under a clueless boot and I scooted to the side, hiding in a bush. For a long time, all was quiet, but I didn’t dare move. Fuck, I hadn’t even had time to arm my traps yet.
After what felt like an hour, but was probably only ten minutes, I ventured out of my hiding place and skirted close to the edges of the trail. I kept vigilant, my eyes scanning my surroundings for any forms of unnatural life. I saw nothing, but still didn’t allow myself to be distracted by wayward thoughts.
I had more important things to accomplish tonight than to reminisce about the past. Always alert. Always watching for threats.
Finally, I made it to the first of the camera locations and inspected the forest floor all around it. The trigger was on the ground, covered by moss and leaves, but the dirt surrounding it was disturbed and footprints were visible along the muddy path. After studying them, I confirmed that they were definitely Vakarran, mainly by the size and the wider than usual toe area.
A large oak rose beside me and I climbed as high as I could, about fifteen to twenty feet off the ground. I swung my leg over one of the sturdier branches and scooted forward, laying my body down against the firm wood.
I quickly examined the little camera embedded in the tree bark and found it to be in perfect working order. So, the footage of the enemy was definitely real then. Hmmmmm.
I was ready though. I’d planned for something like this some time ago and had already taken steps to set up traps meant to maim and kill intruders in our territory.
With a small grin, I climbed down from the tree and moved off into an area that appeared to be protected by an impenetrable wall of brush. I wove through the dense shrubbery into a small cave that I had set up as a command station a long time ago. I had places like this set up all over the woods, all with the goal to keep a close eye on the forest around us.
I hardly ever visited this location, but that didn’t stop me from planning for the worst. Since the takeover ten years ago, the Vakarrans had restored electricity in some areas so that the human male slaves could work to the best of their ability. I’d tapped into the local powerlines and used residual power surges to charge a few high-capacity batteries. The electrical pull was so low that it would be impossible for anyone to notice, but it was enough to keep them consistently fully charged for my purposes.
Powering on the smallest one, I turned on a few of my computers. I had only been able to find some old-school systems in the back of our old library, but with some data wiping and finagling, I made them work for me.
I had designed several traps over the years that were set to the off position because we hadn’t needed them. We’d been safe in our various forest hideouts and hadn’t had many intruders. I turned on the security system, so I could see the rest of the woods around me. Everything seemed to be still and quiet, for the time being at least.
Chewing my lip, I studied the screens, seeing nothing. The only movement I noted was with the camera I had set up to view the gathering area where Alaina was meeting with the rest of our group of human refugees. Everyone had bags on their shoulders and was preparing to move out, deeper into the jungle and into the caves.
With a few keystrokes, I turned on some of my outlying traps and sat back to wait and watch. With my people safely out of the way, I could focus on the Vakarrans encroaching onto our land, wherever they may be.
I spent the next few hours staring at the computers until I felt like my eyes were glazing over, but shortly before sunrise, I spotted some movement close to the area that I had examined earlier for footprints. Three tall, massive forms moved into the camera’s focus and I narrowed my eyes. Instantly, I knew they weren’t human.
They approached seven feet tall. Curling horns grew out of either side of their heads, shaped just like a ram’s, or in my mind, like a demon’s. They wore battle armor, sleek black outfits that hugged their lean, muscled bodies, and they carried various weapons around their waists. Each of them had short dark hair and a pair of protective goggles that covered their copper-colored, black-rimmed eyes. I’d seen Vakarran eyes once and didn’t want to see them again.
The Vakarran crest, a purple circle emblazoned with a four-pointed star and surrounded by rings like those that circled Saturn, was woven onto their backs. Long fingers with sharp nails pointed to the ground, probably looking at a stray footprint I left behind.
With a few clicks, I activated the trap closest to them and then waited. This one was my particular favorite and my lips curved up in a sort of sadistic smile. These Vakarrans didn’t know what they had coming for them now that they’d come into my territory.
The aliens moved off the path, probably to search for me because of the footprint they’d found, but when they did, they triggered the first snare. A loud boom sounded, and a series of hydraulics triggered, activating the trap. Two huge frames shot forward, perpendicular to each other, crisscrossed with taut barbed wire that was filed to be as sharp as a knife.
The aliens didn’t stand a chance.
The wires tore through their bodies, slicing them into neat little squares of flesh that began to bleed after a fraction of a second. The look on their faces was sheer, unadulterated shock, punctuated by a short little scream. It was a long moment before their bodies slid apart into little pieces and collapsed to the ground. I flinched a little at the gruesomeness, but I quickly shook it off. The only good Vakarran was a dead one. That much was clear.
The forest around me was silent, the only noise the gentle quiet whirr of my electronic equipment. I rose and dug into a trunk beside my desk, pulling out an old-school military meal that was ready to eat, an MRE it had once been called. I opened the package and squealed with delight at finding a honey barbeque chicken sandwich, complete with an additional packet of cornbread. I feasted in celebration, even if the MRE was a few years past its ‘best by’ date. I didn’t care. It was the best food I’d had in a long time.
After all, one could only have so much raccoon, squirrel, and venison and actually enjoy it.
Eating only a little of the sandwich and a quarter of the cornbread, I settled in for the rest of the day, setting a quiet but shrill alarm that would alert me upon any movement sensed on camera.
Sitting back, I opened a paperback book I had sitting on the desk. I’d found it within a display at an old abandoned museum, in an exhibit featuring ancient relics. It was probably one of the few remaining physical books left in the world. It felt strange reading it sometimes, turning the pages instead of scrolling through data in cyber. I’d read it a million times, but it didn’t matter. It was all I had.