The sky is red above England. It was a warm summer day across the entire island. But nowhere is it hotter now that in downtown London. The long used phrase "London is burning", has never rang so true as today. Six thousand degrees Celsius must be a local all time high. The inferno has already consumed a large part of the centre and is making its way towards the suburbs.
The impact of one opportunistically placed shot has sent an echo through the daily bustle of over 8 million people. It was probably the most destructive of all the blasts that struck Earth that day over Europe. From Moscow in the east to Lisbon on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, much damage was caused as the battle raged on. Two alien fleets were waging their own war while all of Earth was helpless to intervene. Collateral damage from the battle was ravaging the planet and its frightened inhabitants.
But nowhere had the blinding death struck with such unfortunate precision as in London. There was nothing left of the once proud and historic city center. The shockwave reached far out of the impact area flattening buildings and ripping ground appart. So vast was the destruction that a kilometre wide crater is now all that remains of the once great downtown. The only solice one can take is that for most it was a quick death. Fortunate are those whose lives were sniffed out in the initial blast for the wounded and dying can hold little hope of any help arriving. There is no one left to help them.
But all is not yet lost. Among the ash and rubble and death some still breathe. The lucky ones to not have resided too close to the downtown at the time of impact. Some will get out alive, others will not. It takes a determined person to get up and press on after being struck down by such an overwhelming display of power.
Alexander Brent lies on the terminal floor at the Heatrow airport. He is still unable to get back up from the blast that knocked him down. Time passes slowly as he gazes in to the dancing fires outside. The sight is otherworldy - as if an artist took a pitch black canvas and painted his masterpeace using only shades of red. The flames dance around the smoke laiden sky in the distance. London is burning.
Blood from the tiny cuts and laccerations on Alexanders face runs down the stalks of his short beard and fall to the floor. At places it has turned his naturally black hair red. The bleeding is miniscule but still noticable on his lightly tanned face. If only he had looked away when the explosion struck.
It was the twenty fourth summer of his life, though he was often presumed by others to be much older. The things he had done... They have left their mark on his soul.
Alexander recalls the sun setting before it all went dark. Before the terminal shook and the explosion tore everything down. His brown worn duster had stopped most of the glass but the shockwave threw him a long way from where he had stood.
Heavily breathing he instictively reaches for his hip just to find no gun there. It was a reflex he had developed in the time spent performing in... his line of work. To Alexander there were a few things that trully mattered and always being prepared was one of them.
He slowly checks himself for wounds. His hands are still shaking as he runs them over his face. Not distracted by the blood he concludes that the wounds are not serious.
"I should probably get up." he thinks to himself. There was no point in lying around anymore. The worst was already over. Now it was about dealing with the consequences. A thing he had done many a time before. To him this was just another difficult situation. Not to say that the concept was not new.
Further ahead lie other people. Some, now screaming in pain from their injuries. Others were screaming before the explosion and now no longer do. The lucky ones among them are still in shock. The glass is everywhere but in the windows. Frames stand empty, their contents having pierced metal and flesh like schrapnel. Rubble lies scattered throughout the crumbling terminal.
As Alexander slowly calms down he starts to pay more attention to his surroundings. Still, as if in a slow motion picture several paramedics run bye him. They head towards what seems like a group of people lieing somewhere closer toward the terminal wall.
Still slightly disorientated he finaly decides to get up. Having turned over on his side he brushes off the glass shards from his duster. Alexander finds it hard to force himself up. He feels as if he is pushing the entire planet away.
Arms and legs still shaking, he can barely stand. The red light coming from the city glitters in the tiny bits of glass littered around him. He spits out some blood and a tiny piece of glass. It had gone through his lip and ended up stuck between his teeth.
As he slowly shuffles towards the window frames a noise resembling an air raid siren becomes louder until it fills the terminal. It is pushing inside the through the windows along with smoke and heat.
"A little too late for that now." Alexander thinks. The sound is irritating so he tries to ignore it. Having shrugged off the background noise he peers towards the crater that once was a city holding some meaning to him. It is impossible to recognize it any more. The raging fires are burning outwards from a big, dark nothing in the middle. That is where the impact struck. It is in the opposite dirrection that Alexander wants to take now.
„Focus...” he whispers authoritatively. In moments like this he finds that giving himself commands helps. He looks back at the wounded people lying around him: A family of four desperately holding each other, probably still in shock. A stuartess dragging her wounded friend out of a half collapsed hallway. The poor girl is young, maybe she is pretty. He can not tell behind the long black hair covering her face. The stuartess is bleeding from her right arm, although she does not seem to notice. She is too afraid for her friends life.
To Alexanders right a middle age man is crawling across some fallen ceiling panels towards the emergency exit at the far end of the terminal. His life is flowing out of him one red drop at a time throught his fingers as he feverishly clutches his stomach. The man does not see as well as Alexander does from his vantage point. The staircase leading outside has collapsed. Gone. No way of getting out that way. Destroyed by the blast that ruined the poor man. But Alexander will not tell him that. The man needs some hope to hang on to. Alexander would not want to die without fighting himself.
Alexander feels a sharp pain in his chest and briefly stumbles. He bends down and clutches his knee for support. He presses his free hand against the painfull area. It would seem that he did not survive unscathed. And who knew what was still to come.
Alexander frowns to think that just a few weeks ago all of the world was rejoicing as it withnessed the arrival of an alien species in our own solar system. The long coveted question of 'are we alone' had finally been answered. Soon enough excitement turned to terror as observatories reported of over a thousand large vessels that took up orbit over moon. Far too many for diplomatic intents alone.
Panic, riots, chaos. Complete mobilisation of the entire military force of the world. We were prepared to fight back, the little we could. But it was not that simple...
Two whole weeks passed without as much as a greeting from the alien armada. All our attempts to communicate were met with silence. It only added to the anxiety. The stock markets were crashing, our economy crumbled in mere days and the aliens had not even done anyting. And then this.
Alexander is still pondering the past days events as he surveys his surroundings for a way out of this chaos. His look briefly stops at the man that was crawling towards the staircase. He is not moving anymore. Alexander walks up to him. He is dead. His empty eyes are still veering towards the one salvation he sought in the last moments of his life. Alexander, with his limbs still shivering, slowly kneels down over the mans body.
„Rest in peace.” are the words that he says to him as he closes the mans eyes for the last time.
He never knew him. Too many strangers in the world to spare even a second for consideration. Maybe he had a family? Maybe not. Would the man have done the same for Alexander? Even though distracted by these thougts, he shoves them asside as unimportant for the time being. It was about time to leave.
It is a cold world in which he lives in. Did it realy have to take an Armageddon to make it it a little warmer, kinder maybe? He becomes slightly restless. Understanding that he is just wasting time he turns towards what seems like the exit. Still in considerable pain, he slowly makes his way to it.
A small, plastic bottle of painkillers lies next to one of the paramedics bags. It must have fallen out as he searched for some other equipment. Alexander slowly picks it up and pours some of the pills in to his pocket. They are going to come in handy once the adrenalin subsides. He still needs his wits about him so this is a better alternative to getting drunk to lessen the pain.
Still, for the first time in days he feels at peace. No longer worried abbout the possibilities he looks back at what he has reacently learned trying to peace togeather a reason behind all this destruction. The question 'why' constantly came across his mind. Why was there no answer to our attempts to communicate? Were we realy not even worth talking to? They could have at least warned us of the coming battle. But they did not.
He understands that is is a foolish notion of abandonment, but still... All of humanity and therefore even Alexander was hoping for the attention that a more advance species could provide. The need for acknoledgment was very human. Yet they chose to cast us down.
Alexander ponders these thoughts as he is searching for his missing belongings. A large black suitcase that was just with him a moment ago. The explosion must have thrown it somewhere.
He finaly finds it laying by an overturned information stand. Alexander kneels down next to it and tilts it up. He enters the code and locks disengage. As he opens the suitcase his trusty sidearm comes in to view. A Smith & Wesson model revolver chambered for firing .460 calibre magnum rounds. He has always found the rather large gun a trusty backup weapon. The most notable perk was the ability to chamber three different calibres of amunition aside from having one of the most powerfull pistol rounds in existance. It took a strong person to fire the gun repeatedly but Alexander was up to par. Having loaded the drum of the revolver with five bullets he puts the few spare in the pocket of his duster. He figures that he will not need the suitcase anymore. It is much easier to travel light.
As Alexander makes his way out of the crumbling ruins of what not too long ago was one of the most lively places in London, he once again finds himself feeling as if he was in a warzone. The roars of sirens, the screams of the wounded and frightened people and the thick mix of smoke and dust that is laid out like a veil covering the destruction all arround him with its silent, choking touch. Explosions can be heard in the distance. Long dancing trails of flames lick the sky on the horizon as the cities industrial zones are set ablaze. He briefly stops to try and make sense of the direction he must take to get out of the city. Going in the opposite direction of the fires seemed like the easy deduction but he would need to avoid the labyrinthine streets of the old city in favour of a more straight forward route.
He takes one last look at the others. Indeed, the number of people in need is staggering. But right now he is in no shape to help anyone but himself.
He makes his way out of the airport and in to the nearby suburbs. Half collapsed housing stretches as far as his eyes can see. Some local fires have also broken out but they are nothing when compared with the hell that lies behind him. The streets are laiden with rubble and turned over cars. Some cracks from the impact can bee seen on the asphalt and as he makes his way further he notices a few houses that look as if they had been torn in half.
And then there are the people... Hundreds of them. Walking, running, limping, jumping. They are all trying to get out of the city. There is no traffic, just a ragged bunch of people going one way.
Alexander thought that there should have been more of them. Did the explosion really kill that many? Most of the people he comes across are in a pretty bad shape. Some of them require medical attention but there are hardly any medics among them. A big, tall building like a hospital was probably hit hard by the shockwave. He looks back. Indeed, there are barely a few tall buildings left standing. They were on their own for now.
Having walked for a while through the ravaged cityscape, he notices a teenager rummaging through the remains of an electronics store. Upon closer examination it becomes clear to Alexander that he is stealing mobile phones in droves. The boy digs them up and puts them in the pockets of his red hoody.
Alexander quietly walks up to him. "Why are you doing this?" he asks.
The boy is startled and drops what he was just picking up. "My mother owned the store!" he stutters a desperate lie.
But his body language betrays him. The shaking hands, the humped back. He had been caught stealing and he knew it. Alexander figured that he could not catch him if the boy decided to make a run for it. It was not his business, really. He just could not abide such foolishness.
"I asked, why are you doing this?" Alexander says. "What are those things worth to you?"
The boy meanders about for a while. "Nobody is going to need them now." he says. "I just figured that I could save some of these from the fires."
"Some of these?" Alexander sighs. "Boy, you better help the people. They really need it. Not some piece of garbage that commercials showed down your throat as important!"
"But... but..." the boy stutters trying to justify his actions.
Alexander determinately makes his way to him and grabs the boy by his hoodie. He slaps him in the face. "Look around! What do you see?"
The boy is so frightened that he can barely muster the words to answer, "R... Rubble?"
"Wrong." Alexander says. "There are wounded people everywhere. They need your help. Do you see her?" he points at a middle aged businesswoman on the other side of the street. She is clutching an improvised crutch made out of a broomstick. She is slowly limping forward with a pain filled expression on her face. "You are going to help her get to safety, do you understand?" he lets the boy go and half heartedy kicks him in the butt. The boy makes his way over to the woman without as much as looking back.
Alexander sits down. The pain in his chest is coming back. He takes a few of the painkillers to try and remedy it. Having rested for a few minutes he continues on his way.
What the hell is wrong with people? Why do they care so much about foolish items and so little about one another? Alexander just could not wrap get his mind around it. Why? And why the hell was there no answer. No warning from the aliens. The anger slowly grows inside him.
He is walking down a particulary beat up looking street. There are half collapsed brick houses and demolished stores everywhere. There is no one else here besides him.
Alexander is climbing over a rubble mound when he notices a little brown haired girl standing next to a column of a two story townhouse. She is wearing a dirty, light yellow dress with little dark dandelions. It looks as though she is searching for something.
The little girl is pulling out some of the rubble that is blocking the buildings entrance when an explosion rocks the street. The second floor of the building starts to crumble but the little girl is still under it. Alexander haphazzardly dashes to get her out of the way before it is too late. Sides still aching, he grabs her and carries them both away from the falling rubble. A few seconds later the house collapses in on itself.
"Are you alright?" he says while examining the girl for injuries.
"I am sorry," she sobs. "I did not mean to break the building."
Suprisingly, appart from a bruised knee, she appears to be completely unscathed. She is looking Alexander in the eyes.
"Hey, hey. You did not do anything wrong." Alexander comforts her. "What were you doing under under it?"
"I was waiting for mommy and daddy to come out." she points at the same building Alexander just rescued her from.
Even if they were inside, there was nothing Alexander could do for now. The whole city was falling apart on top of the massive fires slowly spreading. They might be safe this far out already but there realy was nothing that Alexander could do about the girls parents. In all likelyhood they were already dead.
"I do not think that they are inside the building anymore." Alexander lies.
"Oh, ok. Then where are they?" the girl asks.
"Someplace else, maybe." he answers.
"Will you help me find them, mister?" she clings on to his hand with her little dirty, warm fingers.
"Alright..." Alexander reluctantly answers. He was not particulary keen on babysitting but there was no one else to take care of the girl. For now he would have to do it.
"Why are the buildings all broken?" the little girl asks as they walk down the rubble laiden street. A turned over bus is blocking the entire drive way.
"What is your name, little one?" Alexander asks.
"I am not little, I am nine years old already!" she proudly declares. "My name is Sandra. And what is yours?"
"I am Alexander." he replies.
"Al-ex- an-de-er." she struggles to pronounce it. "You have a very silly name."
"You can call me Alex." he smiles.
"Ok, Alex!" She does not relent. "Why are all the buildings broken?"
"Because a bad thing has happened."
"A bad thing?"
"Did the bad thing also happen to mommy and daddy?"
She raises an honest question but Alexander is reluctant to answer. Does she really need to know the truth?
"Why are you asking so many questions?" he asks to change the subject.
"Daddy always tells me that asking questions is good." she playfuly kicks a piece of rubble down the steet. "He says that there are no silly questions. Just silly answers."
Alexander can not help himself but to completely agree. Still, it would be better if the girl would not ask such hard questions. He decides to change the dirrection of the conversation.
"What is it that you like to do, Sandra?" he asks.
"I like playing with my friends." she answers.
"Do you like to play with dolls?"
"No." she shakes her head. "I like playing cowboys and indians."
"I thought only boys like to play that game." he says as they go around a corner of a collapsed convenience store at the end of the street.
"There are no other girls where we live. I play with the boys at the playground and I always win!" she proudly declares.
Their conversations is severed when a long tail of fire lands somewhere ahead of them. Startled, they look up only to find that the sky is filled with such fiery manifestations. Alexander quickly understands what is going on: the debris from the battle above has made its way to Earth. The shower of billions of ship parts was raining down on them, impacting Earth at high speeds.
They start running. Not a single house seems safe enough as they pass them by. Having ran for a while they finally notice an old man waving at them. He is wearing a dark blue wool hat with a matching sweater. The the legs of the old mans brown cotton pants end in his knee high black rubber boots.
"Follow me!" the man yells. "You must get the girl into safety!"
Alexander and Sandra are among a dozen or so people that follow the man in to the backyard of his house. Among the many flowers and bushes lies an old bomb shelter. It must have been built during the Second World War.
The old man throws out a few gardening tools and buckets. There is not much room and what little there is fills up pretty quickly. The old man looks around outside one last time before closing the hatch behind him. The bomb shelter was not very well protected. Its tin plate roof was covered by no more than a couple of feet of dirt, but at least it did not threaten to collapse in on them.
The cramped room is mostly silent. Some people whisper but most are squeezing together without as much as making a sound as the explosions echoe outside. They were safe. For now.
Some time passes with everyone awaiting the end of the barrage. 'Any minute now' turns to 'any hour now', as the frightened occupants of the tiny hole in the ground start to settle in.
A lone but bright flashlight illuminates the some four metres wide and eight deep room. Wooden benches run along both walls. With some help from the old man every one has found a seat. The man himself sits down by the exit and blankly stares at the partialy oxidated walls in silence.
Alexander looks around the room. People are still scared and in shock. But Sandra seems ignorant of the awfull situation even as the loud howls of falling ship debris can still be heard. Once in a while they feel a slight tremor from the impacts that land more closely to them.
Concerned that the tension exhibited by everyone else in the room, Alexander looks to ditract Sandra from it. "Are you not scared little girl?" he asks.
"No." Sandra's ponytails dance around as she shakes her head. "But I am worried about mommy and daddy."
Alexander stops short of sighing so as not to convey his disbelief to her. He does hope that they are safe and sound, hiding in some place with a roof over their heads. But it was unlikely. He decides to try and cheer the girl up.
"You said you liked to play cowboys and indians?"
"Yes." Sandra shyly nods.
"Then... I have something fore you to play with." He carefully unloads and double checks his revolver before handing it to the little girl.
Her cheeks bloom as she reaches for the gun. Suprised by its weight she almost drops it. Alexander reacts and catches it. She patiently waits as he hands it over to her a second time.
"Now, do not aim at other people." he says.
"Why?" she asks while curiously examining the revolver.
"It is not polite. Never do that." Alexanders mind briefly fazes out as he remembers some of his own experiences in that regard. He snaps out of it when Sandra asks a more difficult question.
"Can I point it at the aliens?" she asks.
This time Alexander does not know what to say. Would it be wrong of him to concur? After having given it some thought he decides not to answer directly. Who knows what the aliens want with us.
"If they are bad aliens, Sandra. Then you can point the gun at them." he says.
Still busy examining the heavy weapon she nods with a determined expression.
Alexanders gloomy face briefly turns to a smile. But he suddenly feels the sharp pain in his chest return. He presses his hand against the sensitive area.
Sandra, still holding the gun in both hands, looks up at him. "Do not worry, Alex. I will protect you from the bad aliens." She points the gun with some effort at imaginary aliens next to them and pulls the trigger mimiking the sound it makes when fired.
She points the gun around shooting the creatures one after another. Alexander catches himself counting the gunshots. "No use doing that." he thinks. "She will not run out of ammunition or imagination for a while now." He corrects her aim with a gentle tug of the hand just so that she would not point the gun at the old man sitting opposite to them.
"Do not point it at humans, remember?" he says.
Sandra cheerfully nods. To a child her age their predicament seemed less bleak. She continues playing her little game even as another explosion sounded nearby. All that Alexander could think of, however, was that someone might have gotten hurt by it. But watching the little girl play somehow helped him take his mind off the more pressing matters.
Alexander secretly takes a few painkillers out of his pocket and swallows them when she is not looking. It is getting very late and it seems like they will have to spend the night in the shelter.
"I will keep that while you sleep." he takes the gun and puts it in the pocket of his pants. "You can play cowboys and indians again tomorrow."
"Cowboys and aliens." Sandra corrects him.
"Fine. Cowboys and aliens it is. But now you must go to sleep." He takes off his brown duster and hands it to Sandra. "It is going to be a cold night."
"Are you not going to be cold?" she asks while putting on the comically large outfit.
"I will be fine." he answers.
She jumps up on the bench and lies down next to Alexander hugging his right hand. She is tired from the days events and falls asleep quickly. Alexander can feel her calm breath on his skin.
Alexander slowly loads the bullets back in his revolver. He notices the suspicious gaze of the old man sitting opposite to him.
The old man is looking at Alexanders gun. "Are you a police officer?" he asks with some hesitation.
Alexander understands right away what is it that concerns the man. "No." he honestly answers.
But the man continues pressing the matter, "Are you a soldier then?"
"No." Alexander replies. "I am not a real soldier." he adds after a moment of consideration.
The man does not seem satisfied by his answer but asks nothing more. He just looks at Alexander with a piercing gaze.
Alexander sighs. "I am a mercenary, old man."
"I see..." says the man. He finaly adverts his gaze from Alexander and starts tinkering with an old dusty shortwave radio by the entrance. "And how is the girl related to you?" he asks.
"She is not." Alexander replies. "I found her alone, rummaging through the rubble."
"Do you think her parents..." says the man in a lowered voice.
"Yes. Maybe." Alexander says. He looks at Sandra to check if she is not listening to their conversation. The girl appears to be asleep. Alexander can still feel her rythmical breathing on his arm. "I hope not." he adds.
"So do I." the man says. He tweaks the radio some more until it finaly turns on.
There is mostly static but as he shifts through the frequencies he comes across a looping message.
"Stay inside at all times." says a man in a calm voice over the radio. "Avoid going outside untill you are sure that the 'event' is over. We are not at war. It was not a confirmed attack by the aliens. The government insists that the destruction caused by them was collateral in nature. Stay inside and await further instructions. This message will repeat itself until changed."
The old man turns the radio down and looks at Alexander. "What do you make of it?" he asks.
"For now I guess we will have to sit tight and wait." Alexander replies.
"How long will this last? I do not have any emergency supplies down here? How long are we expected to wait?"
"I can not answer that." Alexander looks at the other people in the shelter. "I think we might have to send someone out to gather what little we can."
"Maybe we can wait until those things stop falling?" the man says.
Alexander shakes his head. "It might take too long." he replies. "To make it fair, since it was my idea, I volunteer to go."
"We should at least wait untill morning." the old man says. He opens the hatch to briefly look outside. "The fire is still raining. I hope the others can find a safe place."
"How old are you?" Alexander asks out of curiosity.
"Eighty two." the man replies. "I was but a small child when I first hid down in this bunker. Back then the Germans were bombing the city." He closes the hatch and sits back down. "I never believed that I would have to use it again."
"I think a lot of people had thier beliefs shattered today." Alexander says.
The old man takes a long look around the shelter. "I think we have lost more than just that..." he replies.
Alexander can feel the painkillers taking effect as the sharp pain in his chest is subsiding. It is going to be a long night. He closes his eyes and tries to sleep.