This might be the only normal city left in the world. We have challenges; like access to food, water, and medicine – but life can almost be normal. Children can grow. There are people to educate them. A person can even fall in love with the possibility of a future.
The rest of the world might not be like this. As far as we know, it is all in ruins. People hide in the ruins like roaches. They hide from the wasps. That is what we call the aliens who have tried to exterminate us. When they crawl out of their ships, they look like human sized wasps. They are terrifying.
We might all be gone by now if it weren’t for the hero, the Cybernetic. When I was a kid, my mother told me stories about him. He was the good guy, the aliens were the bad guys, they fought, and he saved the day in the end. When I was old enough, she told me a different story.
When my mother was young, she went to graduate school for engineering. She wanted to work with communications systems. She met another student from a different part of the engineering program, mechanical engineering. His name was William. According to her, he was brilliant and obsessed with his work; but he dropped everything for her when she was around. It made her feel special, and she fell in love with him before she realized it. Her picture of her future back then included two things: research and William.
The university was cutting edge in communications. My mother was there for space vehicle communications research, but there was another part of the program the school liked to show off. They had built a system that sent messages from Earth into space. It used a stronger signal than any other system before it. Unfortunately, it worked.
My mother told me the aliens must have decided Earth was infected by humans. The first thing they did when they arrived was destroy the university that was sending the signal. They leveled it. William survived by climbing into a robotic suit he built as a part of his research. It saved him from being crushed by the building falling down around him. Mother survived by sprinting into a fallout shelter built during the Cold War, but she was trapped in it. She was running out of air when William found her. He used the strength from the suit to remove rubble from her exit. The power in the suit was depleted by the time he was done moving things out of the way, but first responders arrived and took my mother and William to safety. At least they thought it was safety.
My mother said that whatever engineers from the school survived were taken to a military base. They were put to work figuring out how to fight the aliens and connect us with the rest of the world. The aliens had cut off all of our communications. My mother worked on restoring them. She didn’t know what William was doing. He wasn’t allowed to tell her. She didn’t really care as long as she got to see him.
Just when my mother thought she had found a way to communicate with others, the aliens attacked the base. My mother said that the base had our best defenses, but they were no match for the aliens. After the aliens got rid of everyone outside, they stormed the buildings. It was the first time she saw them out of their spaceships. The wasps crawled through the halls and easily broke down doors. Anyone witnessing the assault probably tried to wake themselves from the nightmare. The alien carbines turned everyone they shot into dust instantly. Some would say mercifully.
My mother said that she hid in a closet. When the door suddenly opened, she kept her eyes closed. She waited for the instant nothingness. Instead, something powerful picked her up and carried her out. She tried to look back as she was carried, but she could only look at the ground and the footprints the thing carrying her left in the black dust that covered the floors. She began to cry. Then, she heard William’s voice as if it were coming through a speaker telling her that everything was going to be alright.
After carrying my mother to the cover of a nearby forest, William told her that he had been helping the military engineer soldier enhancements. He built advanced suits of armor, but the systems were too complicated. No matter how well trained, one person couldn’t control their movement, defenses, and weapons at the same time. He told her they had also developed plans for larger vehicles that would be a match for the alien ships and could be run by human crews. But before they could build them, they had to be able to defend themselves from wasp soldiers.
Mother told me that William had found one solution to the problem of operating the suits. He showed her. He was wired into the suit. He told her that when the wasps attacked, he was testing the suit’s movement system.
The suit ran out of power as they talked. She asked him to climb out of it so they could keep moving through the woods until they found people. He said that he could not. It took a team of surgeons to plug him in. To control the suit, his nerves had to be attached to all of the suit’s sub-systems: head, arms, legs, fingers – everything that had to move. When my mother asked him why he had done it, he said it was the only thing he knew how to do to protect her.
The wasps found them. William told her to run. When she said she couldn’t leave him, he said he would catch up using the suit’s emergency power. My mother ran. She said that when she looked back to see how far behind her he was, the wasps were shooting at him. He was blocking the shots they fired at her. Instead of turning him to dust, the suit absorbed the shots.
When the wasps’ carbines did not take William down, the aliens swarmed around him. He brawled with them. She said she thought for a moment that he might win, but there were too many. Even as the suit appeared to run out of power, it took all of the wasps there to beat him. My mother said that when she looked back for the last time, the wasps were tearing him apart.
My mother did not want to admit to me that she was devastated, but I could tell. She stopped telling me the story at that point. She didn’t tell me how she escaped the wasps or how she was saved. That was not the point of her story. Her story was not about action, it was about romance. In her story, the girl and the boy did not end up together.
I don’t know when or how my mother moved on, but I’m here. I hope my mother is as happy as she can be the way things are. I’d like to think that my mother and father love each other as much she and William. She’s the only one that knows.
Before I heard my mother’s story, I watched the Cybernetic defend our city. I saw the armor absorb the shots from the wasps. I didn’t question how he could fight off the wasps when no one else could. I never wondered why he protected us instead of some other city. Now, I wonder who drives the suit.