That’s the thing about this city. It was vibrant just eight months ago. Hard to believe by walking around now, but the streets used to bustle with activity day and night. Families casually wandering down the sidewalks, stopping to take pictures in front of the statues and murals hidden among buildings. Couples walking purposefully in and out of stores with their shopping bags. Men and women dressed in suits, rushing to or from business meetings. It used to be impossible to escape the sounds of humanity. The hum of thousands of conversations punctuated with the occasional bout of laughter or shouting, mixed with the orchestra of engines grumbling, machinery droning, and music filtering out from various sources. It was like white noise to me. The comforting clatter that soothed me to sleep at night.
Now the streets are too quiet. Today, like most days, I have been wandering aimlessly along the sidewalks for hours. Most people don’t leave their homes anymore. It’s not because they are afraid of being hurt out here--the Kelicons have never been interested in violence and they already got what they came for. No, I think people stay home because they don’t like to be reminded of how much has changed. My dad tells me I should stay home too. But a fifteen-year-old boy can only sit still for so long. And, anyway, I don’t see the point in hiding from reality. That’s why I walk.
There are no cars around at present, but I wait for the stoplight to turn green before I cross the street anyway. I’m nearing the edge of the city. When I reach the corner of Lucust and Pine I can see the wall-- hovering like a huge wave threatening to engulf the city at any moment. No one knows how they managed to construct it so quickly. It was discovered just minutes after the initial landing when people began trying to flee. We quickly realized we were trapped, and any efforts at fighting back were proven useless by the Kelicons’ force field technology. Even the proudest, most aggressive city residents had to admit defeat. They resembled small children attempting to beat up a body builder who just stood there, unaffected. One day there was a collective resignation, a sense of defeat. A realization that we simply could not win. That day an eerie silence fell over the city like a curtain.
My friend Bobby says the United Nations offered up our city for the experiment so that the Kelicons wouldn’t run rampant throughout the world. That allowing them to take over one area was a way to contain the damage. Some people think governments around the world have helped to orchestrate the experiment because it could be mutually beneficial to humans just as much as Kelicons one day if it is successful. Other people, including my dad, believe the United States government volunteered our city for the experiment in exchange for advanced technological intelligence. All I know is the Kelicons had been studying us long enough to speak our language, understand and use our technology, and navigate the ins and outs of our city. And it sure as shit doesn’t seem like anyone from the outside is trying to help us out of this.
Walking away from the wall now, I pass by rows of vacant shops until I am standing outside of West Park Hospital. My eyes scale the 500-foot building, and land on the windows of the tenth floor where my dad is working. He used to love being a doctor, but now he feels exploited. The hospital itself is largely the same as it was before. The same doctors and nurses treat patients who come in with injuries, major illnesses, and medical emergencies. But the main difference now is that the Kelicons oversee everything. They took complete control over the maternity ward.
Five months ago--on “Conception Day”, as it’s come to be called---my dad was allowed to observe many of the procedures. He told me then that he’d been surprised by the Kelicons’ bedside manner. When I asked him what that meant, he said they had been kind, gentle, and respectful with each patient. He told me they injected a long needle through each woman’s abdomen to plant the Kelicon egg into her uterus. When someone asked why they didn’t go the more direct route, they reasoned that their way was less invasive to the patients’ personal space. Many of the Kelicons, who looked just like us except for their longer limbs and purple-tinted skin, appeared almost remorseful. As if they understood that what they were doing was wrong, but they had no choice in the matter. My dad said it reminded him of how his grandfather expressed feeling when he was drafted in the war and forced to kill innocent civilians.
My dad tells me that most of the pregnancies seem to be moving along normally. The ultrasounds show near-normal development of the fetuses, though the limbs seem to be slightly longer. The medical teams are amazed. Of the 308 women who were impregnated on Conception Day, only one has miscarried -- at least so far. My dad says most of the women are expected to carry their pregnancies full term. He says that although Kelica is 908.3 lightyears away, Kelicons share 99.6 percent of their DNA with humans, which could explain the success rate thus far. But he also says he is hesitant to show any optimism. That even if the rest of the women give birth without issue, we still don’t know what types of complications the babies may face. Would they survive past infancy? If so, what would their development be like? There were millions of unanswered questions.
I’ve been walking for hours now. My head feels light and my legs are starting tire, so I head in the direction of home. A heavy fog has set in and I feel the first few licks of cold rain hit my cheeks. As I turn onto my street, I immediately notice the red flashes of the ambulance, which is sitting outside my neighbors’ house. Susan is being helped outside by her husband and parents. At 32, she was among the 308 eligible women who were selected for the experiment. I pick up my pace as I approach them, watching as Susan’s face crinkles up in pain, relaxes, then crinkles up again. Everyone is reminding her to breathe, as if it’s something she might forget to do.
“Is she okay?” I call and I close the gap between us. Susan’s husband glances toward me and I see the fear in his eyes, gripping him like a vice.
“She’s in labor.” For a brief moment I lock eyes with a teary-eyed Susan, and sense the feelings fighting for dominance in her heart. She has wanted to be a mother for years, but not like this.