The sun was high and bright the day they came. I was sitting on the front porch trying to catch a breeze. We had awakened to a power outage, only to realize that it stretched for blocks in all directions. Nancy was making tea, to use up our ice supply before it melted and to cool us down a bit at the same time. I could hear her in there singing, some Taylor Swift song I would never know the words to. I may be biased, but I much preferred them from my wife's lips. Nancy was the queen of theater in our high school days, and if she had wanted to she could have gone on to really great things. That wasn't Nancy, though, she loved our little town. She always said the only thing she wanted to do was raise children and cook nice meals and love a man who would love her back. I had argued with her for years to strive for more, because not everyone was born as fortunate as she had been, or with as much talent, and for someone born into both you almost had a responsibility to pursue it. I could never break her resolve, though, and the more I tried, the more she was determined to marry me and have my
children. According to her, the fact that I wanted so badly for her to follow a road that could lead her away from me proved that I loved her the way that she loved me.
That summer was a record breaker. It was always hot in July and August, but July had seen its longest run of consecutive days, twenty three, with temperatures over one hundred. At July's peak, it was one hundred and ten four days in a row. We were hearing that with the heat wave we may see outages, and in the first week of August half of Evanston had been plagued with them. We had begun to think that we would get away without dealing with it, but that day proved us wrong, and I began to worry that there were worse days to come. Already it was a hundred degrees and by that point it was only just after noon.
“Honey,” Nancy called, “could you come help me?”
I headed in, and upon entering thought of turning back. I never considered how hot a house could get, and ours was fairly large, so with the windows open a nice breeze could flow through. It still felt like I was cooking from the inside.
Nancy was in the kitchen doorway fanning herself with a dish towel. The hair at her temples was matted, her shirt soaked under the arms and a half circle had spread down the front. “If this lasts much longer,” she said, “we're gonna have to move to Alaska. You know, I do have an uncle up there. Not that I've ever met him, but I'm sure he could help us find a place.”
I moved past her to get the tray, which was loaded down with two glasses filled nearly to the lip, a pitcher three quarters full and two bowls of ice cream, which was already becoming sippable. “Could you add a wheel or two? I've been meaning to change the tires.”
“Huh?” She turned, and smiled. That smile. I remember the first time I saw it, sitting in the cafeteria of Emery Howard Elementary. Robbie was saying something about the Bulls game and I lost the majority of what he was saying in the few moments it took for that beam to reach me. I don't think she saw me that day, as far as I know we were in middle school before she even knew I was alive, but I never forgot it, and I never will.
“This tray probably weighs ten pounds.”
“Well just take the ice cream off, I'll carry them myself.”
All I gave her was a smile. It wasn't sweet like hers, but it had its own bitter charm.
“Oh, I see, you just needed to point out the inconvenience. You know, one of these days I'm gonna really show you. I'll strap you with the fridge and have you carry it to the dump. You know, I think that's over ten miles. We can have the whole town come out and watch. They could throw rotten tomatoes and apples and all sorts of things at you. Hey, maybe we can even strip you naked and at the end we'll have you stand up on top of the pile for a speech. Now that would be an inconvenience, don't'cha think?”
“Oh har-dee-har-har. What a jerk of a wife I have. You'd really do that to me. I believe that.”
“Just take the stuff out before we die in here.”
I did, and we sat watching waves rise from the pavement. It was hard to breathe, but the tea and ice cream made it a little easier. Even if the drinks had been watered down and the bowls were full of melting goo.
“Oh, did you hear what they were saying yesterday?” Nancy asked. “About that satellite?”
“Yeah, sounds a little far-fetched you ask me. I mean, thirteen thousand years? That would mean either we put it up there before we were even supposed to have had anything close to that type of technology. No, actually, our entire history would have to be wrong for human beings to have put that up there thirteen thousand years ago. So that would mean aliens, and do you believe in aliens?”
“Well then how do you explain the complete failure of the internet?”
“Russia? China? North Korea? Who knows what they're capable of?”
“How would shutting down the world's internet capability help them?”
“I don't know how or why the internet went down, but I also don't really care, because what am I going to do about it? I'm more worried about this damn heat. Can you imagine sleeping in this?”
“We'll drag the couch out here and sleep on the porch. I'm definitely not sleeping inside tonight if they don't fix it before then.”
“That sounds...” A shadow was moving in and I waited to see if it was just a cloud passing by or perhaps a storm moving in. “Maybe it'll rain,” I said.
It was the last thing I said in the world Nancy and I lived in together, the world in which we had met, fallen in love and planned out our life. What I had thought to be a cloud or a storm turned out to be an armada of what I can only describe as space ships. I hate that term, because it conjures images of little gray men or tall lanky creatures with spindly fingers prodding and probing and leering like the menace they were. I never subscribed to the idea that aliens were these terrifying things that only wanted to dominate and subjugate. I can't say that wouldn't have been the case, but it wasn't like in the movies, and I can't say that anyone had ever presented an idea that came close to the truth.
On that day, the world unraveled. We were already having riots and unrest due to the social injustices our country was facing, but when the Anunnaki arrived it escalated exponentially. The government wasn't prepared for an invasion. At least they weren't arrogant enough to think that the nuclear option was feasible. The riots lasted most of the rest of the year while negotiations were going on. The Anunnaki had demands, and as unreasonable as they seemed, I understood that they were unavoidable. They not only had the technology to take the planet from us, which would likely result in the death or imprisonment of most of the world's population, but they had technology to offer humanity. Things that could heal and regenerate, computers that were so powerful they made ours look like typewriters in comparison.
By the time the deal was made, a third of the United States had been destroyed, but not by the Anunnaki, human beings had done that. One hundred million people had been killed, by the police or opposing factions of street gangs, many of which had formed on the day the Anunnaki came. It was estimated that similar scenarios had played out across the globe, but no one knew for sure until the Net came back up, and by then there was no real way to calculate accurately. If there had been more deaths, the deal might have worked out better for us, but the Anunnaki brought with them the entire population of their dying planet. There were to be sacrifices on both sides, and to keep everyone honest, the executions were public, televised on every available platform, and completely random. There was only so much space after all, so many resources.
They were actually very similar to us, larger in stature, but almost identical in appearance. As it turned out, around four hundred thousand years ago, give or take a few thousand, they had come in search of resources to heal their planet. They had needed a work force, so they had taken the most intelligent creature at that time, genetically modified it over thousands of years and arrived eventually at Homo Sapiens. We looked like them because we were mostly made up of their DNA. In the end, to create a subservient being which would also be intelligent enough to perform the necessary tasks, they had been forced to use a recipe which was eighty percent Anunnaki and twenty percent that somewhat intelligent creature.
I supported their arrival even before learning these things, because I knew that if we had gotten to that point and needed a safe place to migrate to, I would have wanted the inhabitants of that place to welcome us as well. I understood that this meant humans would have to die. There was simply no other way. I also understood that they could very easily have killed us all and lived on Earth without us. They gave us a choice. They respected us enough, loved us enough, to live among us as family. Of course, we were, in the simplest sense of the word, but it meant a lot to me that they wanted to share space with us, were willing to give up millions of their own lives to accomplish this. So I supported them. I even supported them when we got the letter. It was a simple correspondence. They gave us a choice, so at least there was that. Either I could go, or she could.
Nancy wanted me to live. I didn't want to, not without her. She didn't want to live without me, either, so we had a bit of a dilemma on our hands. We called the number on the letter and told them that we couldn't live without each other. They told us that, unfortunately, that wasn't a factor, one of us had to go. I told them that they didn't understand, we couldn't live without each other, so we were going together. So long as that would keep someone else from having to go. Another half of a couple, perhaps. They said that they hadn't been presented this situation before, that they would have to check the protocol. I told them to do that, and get back to us, we weren't going anywhere.
I wasn't lying when I said that, because I truly did support their arrival. I loved the Anunnaki from the first time I saw them up there with the world's leaders agreeing to the Accords. I felt a deep connection with them, something so inexplicable that I never even tried to comprehend it. Nancy and I agreed that the Accords were the right thing. So when we had to decide on our personal contribution, we didn't argue once. If a sacrifice was to be made, we would make it as we had done everything else.
We spent our last night on the porch, watching the stars and the ships move through the sky. We talked about our life and we laughed about the things we had enjoyed. We cried over them, too. At one point she fell asleep in my arms. I wanted to wake her, but it just felt so good to hold her that way. I recalled the time her mother had died and I had held her just the same. It was near dawn when she woke up. She gave me the longest kiss we had ever shared, and we watched the sun rise together. I thought about the children we would never have, the days we would never spend contemplating our future or relaxing in the water down at the Robert Gray Swimming Pool, the nights we wouldn't get in front of the stove or under the covers, actually on top of them because she got so hot, the breakfasts that we would no longer share, sitting across from each other stealing glances like neither knew what the other was doing. Sitting there remembering our life and imagining the future we would never have, I knew that we were making the right decision.
Ours was a good life. A great one. Those words do no justice to what it was. As I lay here now, awaiting the injection which will end that life, I am glad that it's over. We loved each other from the first moment our eyes connected, and we love each other still, as we look into those eyes for the final time. There is no thought of an afterlife, because nothing can follow the life we are leaving.