The alien craft slowly rises into the sky, gleaming like a dagger. I can’t take my eyes off it. All my years at the Academy and I never imagined a moment like this: flying over home soil, preparing to engage an enemy we know next to nothing about. How much more superior are their weapons and technology? Are they even going to notice if we unload our arsenal on them? They must know we’re coming. Is their ship lifting off to flee our attack, or to engage?
My stomach lurches as the F-35’s engine roars. This must be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t help thinking of the movie Independence Day, and how badly it went for humanity’s first strike back at the alien invaders. This is suicide. They’re going to kill us all.
Keep it together, Alexis. I’ve trained for this, I’m one of the best pilots in the country. Whoever these aliens are, they’re going to be sorry they came here.
“We’re in range,” I say, my voice steady.
“Copy that, Rockstar,” replies Command. “Fire at will.”
My squadron releases a salvo of missiles.
“They’ve launched fighters,” notes Command.
Ice churns inside me as I check the radar. Five new contacts; a threat, though we significantly outnumber them.
“They’re tiny,” says Talon, my squad mate. “Are they drones?”
I watch the streaks of exhaust grow as the missiles close in, my anticipation rising, waiting for explosions to bloom across the ship’s bow. My heart pounds, time slowing—but nothing happens. A fraction of a second from impact, the rockets propelling the missiles cut out in unison; the missiles fall from the sky like flies swatted out of midair.
“What happened?” I shout.
“It didn’t work!” says Talon. “Should we break off?”
That’s a good question. “Hold position,” I say. “Maintain formation. Command, what’s going on?”
“There was a problem with the onboard flight systems,” Command replies. “It disengaged the thrusters.”
On all of the missiles at the same time? That’s impossible. They were sabotaged.
“Negative,” I say, gritting my teeth. “Switch to cannons. Target the fighters before they get us.” Bullets don’t have flight systems.
My squadron follows my lead, opening up with their guns, spraying hot hell at the small crafts. We unload until we get too close and have to break off. Our shots are on the money, but they don’t have any effect. On impact, the bullets flare brightly, as if they’ve been burned up.
“Report,” says Command.
“No damage to the enemy fighters. They’re impervious,” I say, swinging around to line up another attack run.
“Rockstar, the big one’s on your tail!” shouts Talon.
I juke to starboard, my ears burning. Glancing back, I see the largest of the drones is gaining on me rapidly.
“Shit, those things are fast!”
I drop into a dive, but the drone stays with me. Executing evasive maneuvers on instinct, I am vaguely aware of my squad mates launching missiles at the drone, peppering it with cannon fire and trying to get him off my tail, but nothing works.
“I can’t shake him,” I say. A sensation of calm comes over me—the certainty of death. I don’t even know how I’m still alive. Why hasn’t the alien fired? I’m in his sights. Is he just playing with me?
“I’ve got you, Alexis,” says Talon, bringing his jet around to intercept.
“What are you doing?” I scream, fear pumping fresh through my veins. “You’re too close, you’re going to hit him!”
“You’d do the same for me,” he says.
“No, John, don’t!” I scream. My mouth hangs open in horror, feeling a profound, inescapable powerlessness.
Then the alien craft dives, missing Talon and finally breaking his pursuit.
“Woooooohooooo!” he shouts. “Looks like our alien’s a chicken!”
If we survive this, I’m going to kill him.
Captain Miller, prepare to eject.
The voice comes through my radio, but I’ve never heard it before.
“Who said that?” I say, and then the windshield blows off my fighter, exposing me to the wind. My seat thrusters fire, launching me out of my jet. My mind races, trying to process what just happened. The parachute opens, and in every direction I see my squad mates have ejected as well.
Just like that, the battle is over. The aliens won, and they didn’t have to fire a single shot. If this is how every battle against the aliens will go, we’re doomed. I’ve failed my country. I’ve failed the whole world. I almost wish they’d just shot me down, because I’m never going to outlive such an embarrassment.
“Rockstar, are you there? Alexis, can you hear me?” asks John. “Aliens ships are closing on our position! They’re coming to take us!”
Good. Let them. I’m never going to stop fighting. They’re going to wish they shot me down when they had the chance.
Six years later
The armored limousine crawls down 8th Avenue, taking advantage of our police escort. Throngs of protesters line both sides of the street. Looking out a passenger side window, I see signs held aloft that read Go back to Mars! and Go get them, Alexis! and Rockstar = Hero, the kind that make me smile no matter how many times I see them. People are packed more densely on the other side, to my annoyance. Their signs read Dominars saved us! and Earth is for everyone! and Alien & human stand united!
I grab my phone and start taking pictures of the good signs, uploading my favorites to my social media outlets.
We’re out in strength tonight! I write. It’s going to be a great show!
Within seconds the likes and comments start to flow; my people are ready for this. I’ve been trending for hours, and we haven’t even gotten to the studio yet.
Two knocks against the window startle me. A pair of egg yolks slide down the glass, and a cheer goes up through the crowd.
Nice. Real mature, guys. And they say they’re the smart ones.
I lower the privacy partition and ask the driver, “We’re close, right?”
“Yes, miss. Nearly there.”
I always thought that when this day came, I’d get to ride a Dominar shuttle to the Beacon or the Spire, the aliens’ massive L.A. and New York headquarters. Instead, the show will be broadcast from the St. James Theater in Manhattan, just a couple of blocks from Times Square. Though the Dominars have made it plenty clear that they don’t fear humanity in the slightest, I suppose it makes sense for them not to let me into Avyria’s real studio. They don’t need the chief spokeswoman for the Anti-Alien League snooping around their towering citadels.
Motion from up front catches my attention; the driver’s got his eyes on me, but he turns back to the road when our glances meet.
“So, which side are you on?” I ask him, my tone flirtatious. Is this man a Dominar in disguise? I have no way of knowing. Either way, why not have a little fun?
“Tonight I’m on the side of driving you to the theater, miss,” he says.
“Come on, you can tell me. Are you human, or one of them?”
The driver chuckles. “What if I was one of them, Ms. Miller? Would you get out and walk?”
I grin. “No, I’m not stupid. It’s just ironic that the Dominars would work so hard to protect me, considering.”
“It would be bad optics if something happened to you,” he replies.
He didn’t say we or they in his response. Was that intentional?
“That’s true. My followers would fight harder than ever to rid us of these invaders. There are too many of us to be ignored.”
He nods, not rising to the challenge.
“Can I ask you something?” he says.
“If you won and the Dominars left, what would you do? You’d be out of a job.”
I laugh. I’ve been likened to a dog chasing its tail before. “I’ll worry about that when it happens.”
We arrive at a roadblock where 44th Street has been cordoned off. Now the guards standing out front are clearly Dominars: tall, handsome, and built like bulldozers, they do not look the type to be messed with. My driver slows to a stop and rolls down our windows.
“Good evening,” one of the aliens says, a male with deep purple skin. He points a scanner at me and searches me for who knows what—guns, bombs, pathogens, and probably much more.
“Tell me, what’s it like to fly billions of lightyears just to pull guard work?” I joke.
The alien says, “I do my duty. How about you, Ms. Miller?”
“Every day,” I snap.
He lets us through, and then the world becomes a blur. From the limo, through the lobby, back to the changing area. Security watches every inch of the place. Assistants and publicists bombard me with questions as I go through makeup. My nerves come knocking the way they always do before a big event. I swallow down a surge of stomach acid.
How does this scare me more than flying into combat against the aliens all those years ago? I trained for this even more than I trained to fly.
It’s because they’re watching: Dad and Mom, and also Dani, my best friend and roommate. When the aliens first invaded, our attack mission was top secret. Tonight, millions—if not billions—will be listening one way or another.
“Can someone get me an antacid?” I call out. A young woman with a clipboard nods and goes to fetch one.
The fact that there are Dominars everywhere doesn’t help. They’re not foolish enough to make me a martyr for the cause, but they must be waiting for an excuse to ship me off to a prison planet like Cetaski. I won’t let that happen.
Chewing up a Tums, I whip out my phone again and make one last post.
This is it, I say. After today, nothing will ever be the same!
“You know our first guest from her media appearances, Internet platform, and books. She’s a former Air Force fighter pilot and is now the spokeswoman for the Anti-Alien League. Alexis Miller, welcome to the show.”
Avyria, the alien host of Our Earth, smiles as a soft spotlight illuminates me. I’ve hate-watched her show ever since it started. She’s interviewed ex-presidents, famous artists, and more aliens than I can count. She’s adored among Earth’s alien lovers. Seeing her in person, I understand why. With immaculate, regal facial features coupled with pink skin, blazing red hair, and violet eyes, she boasts a truly alien appearance, but her easy friendliness and professionalism puts humans at ease. She is the embodiment of everything the Dominars claim to be: beautiful and compassionate, but also tough and brutally honest. She asks her own colleagues truly incisive questions on live feeds—I respect that. Of course, now that I’m the one in her crosshairs, I might not like it so much.
The audience offers subdued, polite applause as I nod to Avyria. I didn’t expect a warm reception. That’s okay. I’ve spoken before pro-alien crowds hundreds of times. I’ll have them cheering by the end—if not here, then in homes around the world.
“Thank you, it’s good to be here,” I say, sitting up straight on the guests’ couch. I want to project a sense of purpose—I’m not here to make small talk.
“Our next guest is a returning commentator and an expert on human–Dominar relations,” says Avyria, turning back to the cameras. “Please welcome Sabine Marchessault.”
The lights come on over a woman only a few years older than me, and just as famous. This time the crowd applauds boisterously, standing and cheering. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but it feels intentionally excessive—a pretty passive-aggressive way to scold me.
“It’s good to be back,” says Sabine. “Thanks for having me.”
She sits down next to me and maintains her smile, but she doesn’t make eye contact.
“It’s no secret the two of you aren’t close friends,” starts Avyria. “Your goals for the future of Earth couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. Alexis, what goals of the Anti-Alien League do you think you can realistically achieve?”
I smile, feeling the adrenaline surge. Avyria doesn’t waste time with softballs, but I’m ready for whatever she’s going to throw.
“Human independence, of course.”
The audience groans, as expected.
“I know everyone thinks it’s a fantasy for people like me,” I explain, “but I don’t believe that for a second. We may never defeat the Dominars militarily, but the human spirit cannot be stopped. We will stand up for our freedom.”
A few cheers call out through the auditorium, but I hear more laughter than anything else.
“I know much of the planet has accepted the situation, but history tells us that oppression leads to rebellion, and no superior force remains superior forever. Humanity needs its freedom. The longer this occupation continues, the more people will see it.”
Avyria nods, her expression curious but guarded. She could loathe me with every fiber of her being but there’s no way to tell.
“Sabine,” she says, “how do you feel AAL rhetoric affects humanity’s ongoing development on Earth? Do you think it has changed the tone of human–Dominar relations?”
She shakes her head. “Not really, no. Polling suggests that acceptance of the Dominars has plateaued. Now that some time has passed since the invasion, most people have made up their minds. There doesn’t seem to be much movement now one way or another. What the AAL does a good job of is getting humans mad at one another.”
Avyria turns to me. “Do you think that’s fair, Alexis?”
“It is,” I reply. “I’m aware that our goal is divisive, but we’re confident that in time opinions will change. I understand that it could take generations, but I hope not. We have humans all around the world who feel their future was taken from them, who want to build something on their own, without lords from space dictating how we live our lives.”
“How can you say that?” asks Sabine. “There are millions of people living in nations that used to be fraught with conflict. They’re free to live without the threat of war forcing them from their homes.”
“And that’s great,” I reply. “But don’t you think it goes too far in the other direction? For every person the Dominars have saved, another has been forced to go into hiding, or to abandon the life they once knew.”
Sabine laughs. “You mean criminals? Yes, their lives have irrevocably changed.”
“Okay,” Avyria cuts in. “That’s a big conversation and I wouldn’t want our last guest to be left out of it. It is my personal honor to welcome to New York City a top member of the Dominar Council. Please give a proper Earth welcome to Councilor Prust.”
The audience claps loudly, and I join in to be civil. Watching as the alien walks in from the wing, I remind myself he’s just a man. He may be thousands of years old and one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe, but he’s not a god—just a person.
Then again, he’s the most incredibly handsome man I’ve ever seen, including other Dominars. Though he wears a navy suit, his broad shoulders and massive chest hint at an otherworldly physique. Looking past his light green skin, I take in the hard lines of his face: a prominent jaw and cleft chin, long, narrow cheeks, and dark, full lips. I catch his gray eyes and for a second I can imagine I can see in them the eons they’ve witnessed. From his thick jet black hair and youthful, smooth skin, there’s no way to know his true age, but his unhurried, confident stride conveys a sense of his ancientness.
“We’re honored to have you here, Councilor,” says Avyria as Prust takes a seat. “How would you respond to people like Ms. Miller?”
“With disappointment,” he says, his voice deep and deliberate.
For a second, I’m reminded of the invasion, and the day all those years ago when the Dominars released my squad mates and me from their custody.
Hands bound behind our backs with some sort of alien gunk, we march off the beach, our freedom granted as a sign of good faith. A huge crowd has amassed to meet the invaders, but the families of my squadron are up front to receive us.
Hi, Mom, hi, Dad, I say when I get close enough for them to hear.
We’re glad to see you’re okay, says Mom.
Dad nods, his face impassive. He doesn’t say it, but I can tell he’s disappointed. After all my years of preparation, the first and probably last battle for our world ended in minutes.
Staring at Prust, my lips twist at the unbidden memory.
“Can you elaborate?” asks Avyria.
“Sure. A great leader once said ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I think you know who I mean,” he says, flashing a playful smile. “I want what’s best for humanity. I want you to prosper, united as one people, living in peace here on Earth.”
“That’s what we want too,” I cut in, though my heart thunders. I can picture his smile every time I blink. “We just don’t want the Dominars telling us how.”
Prust nods. “Unfortunately, the fact is you need us. That’s why we’re here.”
“So you say, but I disagree.” I shift in my seat, trying not to be intimidated by Prust’s gaze. “I believe humanity can thrive without anyone’s help, on Earth or anywhere else, and I’m prepared to prove it.”
“How so?” asks Avyria. Sabine turns to me for the first time, finally interested.
I smile, ready to drop a bomb. “I have a list of one thousand AAL members who are willing and eager to start a new life on another planet. Councilor, if you will give us passage, we are prepared to start a colony free of Dominar control. We will show that we can survive without anyone’s help.”
Stroking his chin, Prust leans back in his seat. “I want to respect your wishes, Ms. Miller,” he says after a moment. “I could find you a suitable world, though it would have to be outside of Dominar space. You are aware of what the galaxy is like in the Blight?”
“We’ve heard about it, yes,” I say. Last year’s human abduction scandal made Earth abundantly familiar with the dangers of the galactic region outside Dominar jurisdiction. “But if we wanted to live on a planet controlled by you, we would just stay here.”
“You would be free of our interference, but we would not offer you any protection,” Prust adds.
“That’s fine by us,” I counter. Does he think I’m going to back down? If he knew me, he’d know better.
“You could encounter hostile, dangerous aliens out there,” he warns.
I stare him in his pretty gray eyes. “I’m encountering one right now.”
Prust sighs. “So be it. Gather your people, Alexis Miller. You leave in one week.”
When the night’s excitement finally ends and my adrenaline rush peters out, I crash into a deep, blissful sleep. I wake covered in sweat, though, my bed’s many pillows strewn about the room. Prust invaded my dreams; I can only recall flashes of the memory, but his face is clear. My nocturnal muse attempted to construct how he’d look without that suit, and the way his strong hands would hold me while we…
Dammit, that is not something I should be thinking about. It’s bad enough the aliens took over Earth—they are not going to rule my subconscious. Yet, I wish I could say this was the first time I’ve had such a dream. I know what my mind is not-so-subtly trying to tell me: clearly I need a boyfriend. Yeah, thanks, I got the message.
Groaning as I strip off my still-damp panties, I find my phone and turn it on. I had to shut it off overnight—the alerts kept coming in nonstop. After last night’s show I posted, One week? I’m ready to go now! and the avalanche didn’t slow for hours.
I meant it though. I really am ready; me and nine-hundred ninety-nine others.
Did Prust think only having seven days to prepare would deter our departure? He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. We’ve been ready to pick up and go for months, able to mobilize on short notice for a situation just like this. Though we assumed we’d be exiled from Earth rather than leaving it willingly, one way or another we’re leaving.
I swipe away all my notifications except for one text.
That was awesome!
I grin and write back, Thanks, Dani! Drinks tonight? We gotta celebrate!
Haha, last night on Earth tour? You bet!
It’s weird to think about it, but she’s right—it’s really happening. I’ve been building myself up toward it for so long, but it’s crazy to think that a week from now I’ll be standing on another planet, starting a new life, free of Dominar interference.
Sure, there will be things from Earth I’ll miss—late night sushi and bubble tea, seeing movies in a packed theater, singing ‘Wannabe’ at karaoke night… At least my parents will be there, and Dani—that’s all I really need. I can give up a few earthly pleasures for humanity’s future—but I will enjoy as much as I can before leaving.
So for a week Dani and I pack up our apartment by day and hit up the clubs by night. Instructions from the Dominars come by email, which I disseminate to the rest of the AAL participants. The ship taking us to the planet Piskiron will have enough cargo capacity to take years of supplies and personal belongings. It won’t take long for it to feel like home—especially when we start calling it New Earth.
Inevitably, a handful of our thousand drops out. I don’t blame them—it’s a big decision. Though we interviewed our applicants and verified their commitment to the cause, we anticipated some would flake and selected more than enough alternates to make up the tiny shortfall.
“Can you imagine being on the other end of that?” Dani asks me over martinis the night before our journey. “A week of anticipation, waiting for the phone to ring asking if you can come with us?”
I shake my head. “If all goes well, they’ll join us before long.”
The whole time we spend at the bar my phone doesn’t stop vibrating. Interview requests have poured in since my appearance on Our Earth. Now the outlets I turned down are trying one last time before our departure.
“Hang on,” I tell Dani.
To my platform I post, For everyone wanting an interview, relax! It’s not like we’re dying—we’ll be in contact with Earth!
I’d like to think that will help, but I doubt it.
“Now, where were we?”
Dani raises her glass for a toast. “To New Earth.”
I smile and touch my glass to hers. “To New Earth.”
“Lex, there you are!” Mom says as I get off the Dominar shuttle bringing us to the staging grounds.
What certainly looks like a thousand people have assembled themselves and their possessions across an expansive, grassy field an hour west of New York City. Its location has been a closely guarded secret—I didn’t even know it until boarding the shuttle. As a result, the media isn’t here to witness the massive alien vessel hovering high in the sky. They told me the colony ship Bountiful Harvest would be enormous, but I couldn’t conceive of its size: it must be at least a mile long. Dozens of shuttles are funneling people on board, while materials are loaded straight up by energy lift.
“Mom!” I shout, jogging to close the distance. I grab my mom in a big hug, inhaling her rich perfume. Looking over her shoulder, I nod at Dad. “Hey, how are you? How was your trip?”
“It was fine,” says Dad. “Over before we knew it.”
“That’s good,” I reply. “Come on, let me show you to our boarding zone. We’ve got priority cabins—”
Dad interrupts me, pulling us into a hug. “Sweetheart, I’m so proud of you,” he says. “You really did it.”
“Thank you,” I say, my hands suddenly shaking. “I know leaving Earth wasn’t Plan A, but—”
“It’s fine, Alexis. It’s the best we’re going to get.”
He pats my back. I blink fast, my eyes burning.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say.
I would have liked to post a picture of Earth in the distance as we took off and started our journey, but Dominar ships go too fast. We exit the atmosphere in mere seconds. The former fighter pilot part of me goes queasy at how many Gs we would have pulled if not for Dominar technology shielding us from the change in momentum. If only the Dominars came here as peaceful explorers, rather than powerful conquerors—I’d have really enjoyed learning about their spacecraft.
Our trip to Piskiron is only going to take two days. On the first ‘night,’ such as it is in space, Prust requests our presence in his ship’s main deck, a massive chamber capable of seating far more than just a thousand people.
“Thank you for joining me,” says Prust when we’ve all settled in. He’s wearing a tight white shirt with a gray vest and pants that match his eyes. “I won’t keep you long. It is my duty to provide a little orientation for your journey, and I will take any questions you have.”
Oh, here we go.
I try to pay attention as he gives us some of the basics we already know: we’ve got a lot of essential supplies to get us through the first few years, everything from food and medicine to construction materials and equipment. We have military-grade deployable tents that will provide shelter, but we will be responsible for building proper homes and facilities. The planet has the right conditions for humanity to survive, but like Earth, it has its fair share of dangers.
“My plan is to live on Piskiron with you for a time to observe the situation,” notes Prust, eliciting some groans. “It is my duty to report back to the rest of the Council how you fare, for better or worse. I do not intend to interfere with the colony, but I will render general assistance if asked.”
He pauses, letting his words sink in. I’m not thrilled that he’ll be staying—the idea was to live on a planet without any Dominars. But, if he’s not telling us how to live our lives, I suppose his presence isn’t a big deal—and hopefully I won’t have any more dreams about him.
“Okay, that’s all,” Prust concludes. “Enjoy the voyage. Get some rest, and good luck.”
Everyone on board plasters themselves to the windows as we arrive. We watch Piskiron turn from a green marble to a lush expanse of forest with palpable excitement. People vie for position to be on the first shuttles to make landfall on our new home.
Prust chose a clearing a bit more than a mile wide for our landing, perhaps because it would make for a decent settlement site. Part of me wants to find another location just out of spite, but I’d rather get to work. It’s going to take days just to finish unloading the ship.
“Lex, you gotta give a speech,” Dani says as we disembark the first shuttle. “This is like your Neil Armstrong moment.”
“Good idea,” I reply. “Round up Ed, Steve, and Jeanne. Tell them to keep everyone close for a brief ceremony.”
An hour later, everyone has gathered, waiting for me to speak. When Dani returns, she and Ed carry a stepladder they’ve gotten from the building supplies.
“What’s that for?” I ask.
“There’s no stage,” says Dani. “How is anyone going to see you?”
She’s right—I’m on the short side. Plus, it’ll look great for my first social media post from New Earth.
I climb up a few steps and project my voice out to my people. “Good afternoon, everyone! Welcome home!”
The applause goes on for five solid minutes. My hand even gets tired from holding onto the ladder’s top rung.
“Thank you!” I shout. “I don’t have much to say right now. I’m sure we’re all excited, but also a bit nervous. Not gonna lie, this is a bit scary, don’t you think? We have so much work to do, and it’s not going to be easy. But we’ve got what it takes, right?”
They cheer again at that, giving me a second to take a breath. My head is starting to ache, probably from the volume of sound thundering around us.
“We’re going to show this planet… that humanity belongs… and the Dominars… don’t…”
I let go of the ladder as my vision blurs. The last thing I see is the ground rushing toward me.