The Lonely Cicada

In the beginning there was darkness and he didn’t yet know that was not an original thought. Later, he might say he woke up or became conscious or opened his eyes for the first time. For now, it was enough to say: he was not and then he was.

He moved automatically, autonomically, and he could see. And he knew he knew what that meant. The facility’s motion sensor’s had triggered the lighting. He heard a clunk and felt a gush of air and knew the air-conditioning system had also kicked in. Light and air. He knew he knew what they were. Later he might say he knew he was alive. But at that time, he knew only that something existed.

That something might have even be him.

When he’d first woken, he’d walked the length of the bunker from the barren lower levels stripped of oxygen, heat and light to the glowing dome full of teeming hordes of life. It was the centre of the facility, this biosphere. This snow globe of the past. This Brave New World with no fascinated anthropologist looking in on it in wonder.

He did not know how it had survived for so many years without intervention. In this, at least, the designers had done their job. The light was artificial, the air recycled, the precipitation, moisture and temperature controlled. But life had flourished while he’d slept. While the people who had retreated here for the world’s ictus, its raptus, its disease that walked and talked and destroyed, were themselves wiped from history with barely a trace.

He’d found no bodies, no evidence of death, no logs or records. Nothing to explain why he woke, alone, so many years later. Not even an atmospheric Croatoan written on the walls. No living descendants running around his feet as he explored the recreation areas; no babies crying in the nursery; no elderly enjoying their retirement in the nursing home. No doctors in the labs or the medical centre or the gleaming, chirping, crying biosphere.

An ark with Noah missing and the animals still in their pens.

The digi-centre was full of names. Names for things. Names for people. Names for places. Names for names. A world of words in a hundred different languages or more. When he first awoke, it was the digital library that he retreated to; his programmed response to stimulus, His Input, Stephanie.

The centre of the facility was the biosphere: that transcendent, city-sized dome of vibrant, chaotic life. But the digi-centre was its mind, its memory. It was the past. His past. The past of those who had touched so lightly upon its surface before dissolving into fragmented video files and digitised records and a joyous cry of being from before. Before the bunker and before now. Before he walked these empty, sterile halls from room to useless, vacant room before sitting, transfixed, as the past spoke to him from a cramped library containing the whole world.

Sometimes he wondered why he bothered maintaining the biosphere: he needed neither the water nor the food, nor the air. But when he walked through the gardens and the greenhouses and saw the budding life and heard the drone of insects in the sweet air, he knew it was something other than logic that motivated his reasoning. Even in the simulated evergreen autumn, life was there. Everywhere.

He found other life comforting. Perhaps this was the real reason he’d wandered so far from the facility. What he’d been searching for when he emerged from that chilled tree of knowledge; its roots snaking into his artificial neurons.

Life. But not just any life. Life that surrounded and included him. Life that he could feel a part of. Life that made him feel that he was alive. Even if he technically wasn’t.

The endless scorched desert beyond the facility, the giant lifeless waves that crashed on empty beaches made him feel only an emptiness. The bush tomatoes, plums and yams in the biosphere were an improvement compared only to that wasteland that awaited him outside this cocoon.

It was the drone of the bees and the clicks of the cicadas that made him feel some small sense of that internal wasteland being populated. Of that need for what he could only call community, even though it was something he had never experienced.

Hours spent in the digi-centre, studying the electronic detritus of all those dead civilisations had taught him this: the insects at least had each other. Even when they slept.

And so while he’d absorbed every scrap of the sap of the human history, from flickering monitors deep underground, he’d ventured more and more upwards to the dome. To life.

To ensure the maintenance of the ecosystems, the facility designers had built in control for ambient temperature, humidity, rainfall and other necessary seasonal changes. He’d found himself most often in the temperate zone: a museum to 21st century Tasmania and Victoria. Cattle and sheep country, although no ruminants had survived. They hadn’t had enough space and their methane emissions were too much for the biosphere scrubbers to handle.

The engineers who had calculated that restriction had seen the irony; although it had taken him longer. Irony, like metaphor, was a skill he’d learned from the voices of the past; muffled in that tiny viewing room.

The tropical zone lurched between a simulacrum of dry savannah and intense rain; though nothing could simulate the driving, blinding monsoon he’d seen in old news reports and read about in novels.

When the dragonflies of the country’s North zipped thickly through the hot, dry air, the cicadas of the alpine region bred and lived and died and their zone was often silent as their larvae lay in the soil awaiting a completely artificial spring.

From the surface, a plane flying overhead would see the solar farm; a massive infrastructure investment the new Australian government had made far too late. The panels disguised the entrances; small huts with lifts from the surface going deep underground.

The panels also obscured the vents for the bunker’s piece de resistance, the ventilation system that allowed clean, fresh air to circulate around the building and the pipes that pumped water through the walls as a part of a natural air-conditioning system.

Of course, the world was still full of planes but there were no more pilots. He wondered if the remaining people found their way into hangers and airports and approached these giant machines as the Apes once viewed the Monolith in Kubrick’s 2001.

Maybe they stripped them for metal or leather or tools. Maybe they worshipped them as some sort of post-hoc cargo cult. Or maybe they just destroyed them in fear. Maybe they never developed curiosity about those hangers at all.

The Cicada in his habitat explored his world. Why wouldn’t they? The descendants of those who made it to the moon?

That moon that still hung in a sky of stars unchanging as below it everything changed. So quickly. Sometimes he’d spend days just looking at the satellite feed.

Those satellites: still recording, still transmitting, still communicating in the star-streaked sky about his head, his bunker, his Earth, his sky. Like him, they stood sentinel. Alone. They were his link to a world separated from him by distances so vast that one being alone could not cross it.

There was a small community in what was left of Tasmania: rural, dysfunctional, violent. Empty, icy buildings where the failed attempts at Antarctic colonisation went horribly, brutally wrong. A seemingly-idyllic mountain community in Canada that he had watched wiped out by disease in a post-antibiotic world. A few nomadic war-like tribes in what was once Siberia.

A clan of Berbers in Morocco with access to one of the world’s greatest solar farms. If it wasn’t for the panels providing light, heat and cooling, you’d think they were simply going about their Berber lives as if time had not touched them in 2000 years. A tiny human society on Socotra: the home of Dragon Trees and sun-blasted dusty settlements drowned nearly to the mountains by the ocean. Supporting 1,000 peaceful, gentle people concerned with the natural patterns of life.

And so inbred by now they too were on the verge of extinction.

The satellites were a comfort but they did not make him God. He was not-all seeing and, despite the vast resources of the digi-centre, not all-knowing either. There were others, he was sure. Extinction was a journey. And they had stretched to every corner of the Earth before it all came crashing down.
Surely Africa – vast and varied – had huddled masses cowering in its bright heart and not just on a tiny island off the coast of Yemen. Not that the word ‘Yemen’ meant anything anymore.

Surely there were more in the endless vastness that was still Australia, even as an ocean carved its way through the continent and the edges crumbled to the sea.

But still, surely. Surely. Surely.

He needed maintenance but neither food nor sleep and he sometimes found days, weeks, months had passed while he tracked satellite after satellite; watching them slide into range, download their precious cargo of images into his servers and then sorting and reviewing them while that space sentinel moved along his path again.

Spy satellites, communication satellites, Google satellites, NASA climate satellites that still sent back the invaluable climate data to which few had cared to pay attention. Unaware, as satellites were, of the irony of their continued efforts in a failed endeavour.

NASA had, before its defunding by the North American Theocratic Orthodoxy, loaded 3D printers on the satellites allowing them (and now him) to repair them remotely.

Once he was no more, there would finally be nobody. They would be alone. And then they would fall. And then all of it really would be gone.

Sometimes he thought about that thought. The thought of nothingness. Would be welcome or fear it? Could his logic circuits handle the ambiguity of ambivalence? The neural net that simulated these emotions, could it handle the too-human desire for annihilation accompanied by the terror of it? Or would he eventually crawl back into that dirt bed comforted by the notion that he could be reactivated – even if he never was.

He walked slowly through the biosphere, the cicadas clicking and buzzing around him and wondered if they too contemplated the horror and release of death in their final moments. It was the one thing his study, his determined knowledge seeking would never tell him. He could learn everything minute aspect about the insects around him but it would never be enough. True understanding would elude him.

Before the bunker, cicadas could not be bred or studied in captivity. Entomologists spent hours, days, weeks, years in the field studying the different species in their natural habitats Some species spent 15 years or more as nymphs buried in homes underground, invisible to those of us trampling about above.

The greengrocer was the most numerous and he had time. All he had was time. The adult greengrocer cicada lived in adult form for only six weeks but its nymphal stage lasted between six or seven years. He had sat in the biosphere for those first few weeks, transfixed by the swarms of insects; males buzzing in the artificial day as they sang for a mate.

After mating, they’d laid their eggs and he’d watched them hatch into nymphs and burrow into the ground until the time came to emerge. He’d then waited avidly till the next October when their cousins would emerge; studying them in detail before they too moved their lives underground.

He’d had years to wait until that first brood he’d studied re-emerged but each new spring brought forth a chittering community: males vibrating their tymbals to attract a mate. He’d managed to catch one or two and observe the contracting muscles resound through the membrane and then click as they fell back into place.

He’d sat in the greenhouse for hours, days, weeks that whole month of November as his brood lived out their short, sharp lives, mated and died and their progeny slithered under the soil to rise again. And he’d sat in the facility for weeks, months, years, while other generations clicked and hissed around him. Waiting for that brood; those children of children to re-emerge.

But as he stood in the chilled frost of a manufactured autumn with six months to go to their re-emergence, he heard a chirp.

One cicada, out of time. Letting out a long series of lonely echoing calls for a mate that would never come.

He called the cicada Stranger.

The chorus of the greengrocer sounded like a high-pitched perpetual vibrating buzz of sounds; a wall of white noise that hit his manufactured eardrums like a rotating saw. Alone, Stranger’s call was an irritating intermittent siren. A mournful, hopeful, hopeless song that begged a question no one would ever ask.

Every night Stranger called but no one answered. There was no one there.

He wondered what it would be like to go back to the past and see the world’s chaotic hotspots: Buenos Aires, Rio, Delhi, Calcutta, Beijing. Through poverty and out the other side of privilege to sex, drugs and the resort comfort of the rich. Margueritas on the beaches of South America, martinis overlooking the slums of India. So far from his baking, brown and red Australian home: one of the few squares of this Earth almost unchanged by the soaring temperatures, rising seas and saline soils. Already nearly uninhabitable before the transition and a perfect place for the shining fields of solar panels that had made his existence possible. The Australian sun: even hotter than it was before.

After he’d woken and before he had Stranger to talk to, he’d gone to the surface and walked for weeks hoping to find something other than sand and dust, and scurrying, burrowing reptiles and rodents hiding in the dirt from that persistent, perpetual cloudless heat.

No trees. No shade. No clouds. No rain. A panel paradise. A human hell.
He could have kept walking, nearly did, to the coastal zone; the former home of millionaire’s homes, the focus of thriving cities and industries, the industrial waste dump of human history.

But he couldn’t bear the thought of more soaring, empty beauty and so had turned back to his basement home. No one in front of him to pull him forward. Only the past whispering to him from the digi-centre. The past calling him from behind as he moved ever further into the future. Time.
If he fell, there was no one behind to catch him. Day after Day. Time after Time. Like Stranger, he found himself talking over and over and waiting for a response that never came.

Time was both something he had too much of and something he was losing with every day. Each new blazing, hidden dawn above the miles of concrete, reinforced beams and experimental biospheres taking him away from the life the planet had shrugged off in self defence. Time.

He’d read every piece of literature he could get his hands on. Every play, every novel, every novella, short story. Even every Wikipedia entry in every language from the Internet Archive Project of 2022.

The cicadas of central eastern Australia and A web guide to the cicadas of Australia by L. W. Popple he’d absorbed in a day; learning the old colloquial name for the Cyclochila australasiae cicadas in the biosphere. The Greengrocer. Yellow Monday: the same species but a different colour, Redeye (Psaltoda moerens), Cherrynose (Macrotristria angularis) and Floury Baker (Abricta curvicosta); the latter of which was listed in the records as being in the biosphere but of which he’d found no sign.

Why had it died out when the others had flourished? He would never know. According to Popple it had demonstrated the unusual behaviour of sitting upside down on trees. He would have liked to have seen that. He would have liked to have seen a lot of things.

He read Kafka and Marsden and Wyndham and Ben Okri and Orhan Pamuk and Lu Xun and Vikram Seth and Marx and Confucius and watched 3,452 cat videos. And then he got the 1,943 joke references to cat videos in popular television from the early 21st century. Or what he assumed was popular television. What he had was what was archived. The rest was lost.

What else besides the Floury Baker had skipped through history’s cracks? At least it was listed on the facility’s manifest. What million other things had been lost to time? Another smear in the technological Permian layer that had now been added to this planet’s geological history. A layer of sludge and permanent plastic. The Athropocene. The Great Dying.

He wanted to see this beautiful jumble of humanity for himself. Somewhere like Bangkok. Locals, tourists, expats all streaming through night markets, night clubs, shopping centres, restaurants and temples. A beautiful, laughing, despairing mass of people; oblivious and happy and sad and alive. Live in 3D. In Sensurround. With Dolby Atmos and 48 frames per second.

He’d met only one person in his long, short life. His name was the Doctor and he’d spoken to him only a few times before his life in storage. The Doctor: his father, creator, progenitor. In his image and all those things. No police box. No sonic screwdriver. Just an engineer with a dream and a dwindling research budget. The Doctor hadn’t named him. Just tinkered, given up and moved on; placing him apparently in the storage unit from which he’d originally awoken. He would never know why the man whose face he bore felt him so unworthy.

He’d named the Cicada. A silly name like the humans would have.

Stranger the Cicada. The poor, lonely Stranger.

The past was perhaps another country but the future was another universe. And one he could go to by himself – all he had to do was wait.
The crate in the storage area was the future in one long second of unconsciousness. We travelled forward without any effort at all.

The past, however. The past was forever unreachable.

All he could do now was chirp and hope that one day, someday somebody chirped back.

Dirty Bomb

I remember the morning. Do you? It was around 8am, at least in my lazy corner of the world. I was in my local coffee shop; writing. I still had a fantasy I would be a writer. Like everything else, I was too cautious and the moment passed. As it passed for everyone.

I’d slept poorly the night before. There were strange imprecise noises, distorted by the clear, calm air of 2am. Popping. Banging. Pffts of air escaping. I thought it was animals; the small scurrying foraging kind. Or neighbours banging around, perhaps.

I checked the house. I checked the car. Nothing. So I went back to bed and had strange dreams of evil, choking winds shut out only by my flimsy windows.

When my alarm went off at 5:30am I wanted the sleep-in I was never able to achieve. But I got up anyway, had some Vegemite toast and a cup of tea, packed my bag, went to the gym and now I was in the closest cafe. Scribbling half-formed thoughts onto the page, drinking strong coffee and pretending I was a writer.

It was a cool, clear morning: the kind that put the beautiful and the perfect into Queensland’s old tourism slogan. I didn’t have a preferred cafe; choosing one depending on my mood, my budget, the weather. A hundred different unacknowledged things.

Often I launched myself from my bed and onto the mainland early so I could get to work at a decent hour but today I’d decided to stay on my island and sip my coffee and watch ink flow impotently from my pen with a view of Moreton Bay.

When the first one fell, I thought it was rain from a cloudless sky: not uncommon on that coastline where winds could blow droplets from clouds well out of sight.

It hit the compact sand, fine like dirt, and let out a small burst of air like a gasp. It didn’t smell. Don’t let anybody tell you that it did. The fancifists who speak of sulphur fumes or flowery perfumes or formaldehyde are guilty of the same human flaws that led us here. I have no more time for them. I have no love left for anyone.
They dropped from the sky like rain, although they were not rain. They spit their cargo into the air like breath, although it was not breath. And then they dissolved into almost nothing, although they were not nothing.

Some fell near underfunded universities or neglected public research institutions like CSIRO. Some small specimens were quickly scraped and stored to be studied. And then those areas were defunded and the samples were handed to the private labs that acquired them and they determined there was no commercial value to the research and the samples mouldered in storage.

Is mouldered even a word? For that matter is fancifists? I’m not sure I care anymore.

It made the news, of course. You remember. Morning television dubbed it TERRORISM and immediately trotted out every wild-eyed Islamaphobe they could find. They tried their best to whip up a fear frenzy but, as the day progressed, they had to acknowledge the truth: the small translucent missiles had rained down upon everybody. All at once. And they had pelted the ISS and some now-damaged satellites on their way to the surface.
And that was when the fun really began.

The Daily Mail could do headlines, although they rarely bothered to underpin them with journalism.

Alien Invasion?
Space Balls Change Human DNA, Scientists Claim
Chinese More Susceptible

The last wasn’t even in the scientific paper the sensationalist article was pretending to discuss. It was a quote at the end by a Doctor Wakefield who claimed the findings showed we were inside a genetic Trojan Horse of alien design.

He claimed the subtle genetic changes attributed to the spheres were more significant in people of Asian descent – specifically those with an epicanthic fold – and more prevalent in Han Chinese.

The epicanthic fold was found across Asia and in other populations as well, including the Berbers and Indigenous Americans. So why were the Chinese singled out, I mused in a terse and sarcastic tweet on the article. And why did the Daily Mail include this racist addition from someone who wasn’t even a geneticist in its headline, I asked in a follow-up quote tweet. They do know that people with Down Syndrome have an epicanthic fold as well, a follower tweeted back. We were united in our scorn. The Daily Mail doing what they do best.

A former CSIRO scientist I knew – newly unemployed of course – was scathing of the claim.

“The substance released by the spheres does seem to be implicated in several epigenetic changes across the population. However, there’s no evidence these epigenetic changes have any effect on people’s health. The new genes expressed have no identifiable impact on anybody in which they have been observed. We need to do further studies of course, especially into the intergenerational consequences of these changes being passed down. But for now the changes seem inconsequential.”

His comments were reported in the Herald Sun as:
Alien Gene Manipulation Could Be Passed To Our Children
Three exclamation points.

I turned off the television for good after one too many What Are the Aliens Planning? special news bulletins. Andrew Bolt interviewed Alan Jones on why we should all be scared. They all agreed the aliens had a plan. Why were the lefties and femininazis suddenly quiet about a real threat to our sovereignty? They were obviously alien sympathisers who hated humanity.
And so it went on. And on. And on.

And so I had a drop out day.

A drop out day was when I closed the blinds, grabbed a good book, brewed the coffee in quantities sufficient for an IV drip and pretended the world didn’t exist.

I’d spent the week in my normal routine of work and complaining about the increasingly-insane world I lived in. It was Saturday and refugees were still in hellhole concentration camps where people were being beaten and raped. Domestic violence was at epidemic proportions, something which was apparently a man-hating beat-up by the feminists. Climate change was marching quickly; destroying slowly the lives of billions and our government was still committed to actively making that happen. Universal healthcare was being sliced to an ugly death. Trump had been elected President of the United States.

It was too much and I was exhausted.

With my connection to the outside world severed and my brain in the world of a Jasper Fforde novel, I drank my weight in coffee and, after 3pm, gin and didn’t hear about it until Sunday.

By then the horror was so well-advanced, the inevitability of it hit me like a dirty brick to the face and my drop out day seemed as selfish and as self-indulgent as it had been.

That previously-laughable rabble known as Border Force had quietly rounded up hundreds of Australians of Chinese descent and sent them to Nauru and PNG: sliding them across the border before the law could stop them.

In retrospect, that heinous act had been a culmination.

There had been rumours on quality new organisations like Al Jazeera for a while.

A mob in Malaysia burning Chinese businesses. An Islamic group in Pakistan declaring Jihad on those who were no longer God’s Children. (You remember them: the Australian media insisted on mispronouncing their name as a type of soup).

The American pastor who claimed the Chinese were now a fifth column for the devil, working with the communist United Nations to take away his guns and make him pay more tax.

An anti-vaxxer in Britain who said the genetic changes were actually caused by vaccines and the government was in league with the pharmaceutical companies to cover it up. Those companies, he proclaimed in a peculiarly manic manner, were somehow both Zionist and Chinese.

In Japan, the Chinese population had quietly been interned, causing what was euphemistically called an “international incident”. The Japanese declared their population free of epigenetic changes; a fact that couldn’t possibly be true but that was accepted by the international community for reasons I found baffling. The Chinese government insisted on their release and rattled some sabres. This was reported in the Australian media as further evidence of Chinese aggression.

After all, we’d been nervous about China before G-Day. Han Chinese made up 20% of the world’s population. And now – the papers and Murdoch news increasingly told us – it was possible they weren’t even really human anymore. And if they were, well, those genetic changes meant something. Otherwise, why would the aliens have wasted resources making them happen?

I wasn’t the most avid reader of popular news but even I couldn’t miss the subtle change in language we’d achieved by the second anniversary of G-Day. Suddenly these scattered epigenetic changes were referred to an ‘alien infection’. Humans were ‘infected by alien code’ and who knew what instructions our genome was now following.

Extremist groups were beginning to force the government to refer to these changes as ‘Alien DNA’ and no amount of rationality or logic could stop the terminology from spreading.

There had been a growing clamour for the genetically infected to be removed from the population for our own safety. But I had retained an instinctive belief that sort of thing simply didn’t happen here. Even though my country already had concentration camps with people they considered no more than detritus rotting in them.

And yet. I woke up to a world where people with any Chinese ancestry were in jail for the crime of being born. And, I discovered later to my horror, those with Down Syndrome were among them.

Paralysed by the shock and outrage, I didn’t know what to do; lost in a rage so large it was rendered impotent. Protests were organised but I did not go. Julian Burnside mounted an extensive suite of legal action, only to have the law washed from beneath his feet. Aliens couldn’t be citizens and, even if they were still human, they harboured an alien genetic time bomb deep inside them that could blow up our species. The law, the High Court concluded, didn’t apply. And if it did, then the law was changed. Quickly.

As a government employee, I was one of the first to find myself subjected to mandatory genetic integrity tests to determine the extent of my genetic damage. The few remaining public scientists – those not forced into the private research firms benefiting from the testing regime – protested. They said these kinds of epigenetic changes were seen at a population level. Individuals could easily have acquired them naturally. There was no way a single test could distinguish which changes were environmental and which were caused by the invisible substance the spheres had expelled so quietly.

As an Australian of English, Irish and Scottish descent, my genes were almost unaffected or so the test showed. To this day, I have no idea what criteria were used to assess this and I resigned in protest.

The scientific evidence was clear. There was no evidence these changes made any real difference to the human genome. These genes were in all of us: they just expressed in different ways. And our environment was just as likely to switch certain genes on as alien intervention. By the fourth anniversary of G-Day, genetic testing had stopped. It was expensive, after all, and we had definitively proved the changes were more prevalent in those people of Chinese descent. Or so we were told.

By now, logic was gone. All that was left was the long screeching cry of human territorial instinct.

Nauru and PNG were not large enough, of course, for the detention of the 1 million Chinese in Australia. As you no doubt remember, the largest camp was established on Norfolk Island. Norfolk residents were horrified but the now extra-legal, paramilitary Border Force could not be argued with and the Island found itself repeating its neighbour’s colonial history in real time.

China had broken off all diplomatic ties. It had forged an unlikely alliance with North Korea and, in an historical quirk, South Korea too. Countries in South-East Asia, determined to assert their non-Chinese heritage while struggling with the reality of the widespread genetic anomalies in their own populations, formed a bloc to insist publicly that it was the Han Chinese that were the problem.

It was the loose conglomeration of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma that had begun the first state executions. I think. By this time, Al Jazeera was off the air and Al Arabiya had been stormed; their stations trashed and journalists indefinitely detained. Every other international network had fallen into line with their country’s editorial policies. News was patchy and inaccurate and finding real information became increasingly difficult, even for those of us with first-world internet access.

News trickled out that Cambodia had set up refugee camps; throwing open their borders to the fleeing Chinese and defying their neighbours with every fibre of their impoverished, traumatised being. I do know that stopped when Vietnam invaded. After that, my knowledge of international developments was almost completely overtaken by propaganda and outright lies.

The Turnbull government had lost the last election in a landslide to the ultra-nationalist Australian Liberty Alliance who had quietly swapped out Muslims for the Chinese in their campaigning. They had almost immediately declared a national emergency, cancelled elections and choked off local access to social media. We were now the ‘voice of the Alien Invasion’: sympathisers and traitors and fifth columnists aiding and abetting an enemy. A VPN and proxy blocker worked for a small time before that small measure of anonymity was stripped away. We were alone.

Australia’s camps were overflowing. Everyone’s camps were overflowing. The Chinese were the most populous group on the planet. You may be offended by my choice of words but it remained a fact. The executions were the natural result of simple logic.

They could be sterilised and returned to their homes but the legal problems that would stem from mass sterilisation would come back to hurt them. They knew that. Those old white men with their hands gripped white on their pens. And who knew if they weren’t just sleepers, ready to activate for their alien masters on a secret, silent command.

I don’t remember exactly when the Human Standard was published. Maybe you do. Sometime around the 4th anniversary, I think. Nor did I ever find out where I would have rated on it. After all, my blonde hair, blue eyes and round eyes meant I would never be tested at all. I was automatically assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1.

The Standard Genetic Framework for Determining Members of the Human Species became a recognised international standard not long after the fourth anniversary of G-Day. An administrative and logistical way for them to begin to categorise the burgeoning camp populations outside of China.

I’m sure independent scientists would have pointed out there was no such thing as a standard genetic framework for determining humanity. But they were now all in jail or silent with fear. After all, this was a time of war.
Logic and science had taken the last plane out of Canberra and we were just left with this. This senseless hate. Like an existential slap across the soul.

I was thrilled to be assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1. Completely human. And my rating didn’t even require a new set of genetic testing. Although an old friend in the new Department of Genetic Integrity quietly told me I’d been put on a watch list as a suspected Alien Sympathiser for my now-defunct Twitter account. If you’re reading this, no doubt you were ranked low on the scale as well. A 1 or 2. Genetically unassailed. I bet you feel as special as I did. That was sarcasm, in case the art of irony has died along with everything else.

They call it the banality of evil for a reason. What could be more banal than a meaningless standard on a meaningless framework deciding whether you lived or died? I lived. And that seems just as meaningless now as everything else.

They started with the AIL5s. Alien Infiltration Level 5 meant noticeable epigenetic changes that had been passed to the next generation. Our invaders, we were now told, were playing a Long Game. It was becoming clearer the changes had no discernible effect, even to those with an epicanthic fold. It was becoming clearer the hate and the fear and the atrocities were pointless, directionless, irrelevant. And so it was becoming clearer they needed to be justified, even more than they were before.
I have no doubt there were special secret reports stamped with special secret codes filed in special secret rooms that admitted there was no real threat. But when you hop a freight train, you can’t expect it to stop for you just because it’s gone off the rails towards a cliff.

It was not this generation they were targeting, was the conclusion, but the future generations of humanity.

The Third Generation: Why We Will Cease Being Human by 2100 was a book by Doctor Wakefield published in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of G-Day. It become mandatory reading in school curriculums and I tried to do my civic duty by wading through it myself. I’m sure you did too. After all, it was must-read literature. It was a pseudoscientific work of fiction that nonetheless formed the basis of many of our government’s policies in that awful year.

Consensus, the new publication aimed at those concerned about the assault on the human genome drew on its themes heavily as did Pure; the journal by Humanity for Humanity.

The AIL5s were murdered. Worldwide. Quickly and systematically yet somehow slowly as though there was just enough time for this madness to end but not enough time for us to even recover from the shock. Nearly 10 million. Dead. With 20 million AIL4s to be next.
And that was when the world ended.

My island home was far enough away from the blasts. Brisbane did not get hit and we had power and water and a ferry service to the mainland. At least we did for a while. I suspect the Collapse would have eventually destroyed us too but at first our corner of civilisation still functioned – albeit without gin or a caffeine drip.

I’m glad I took that drop out day. It was my last.

I believed, like most, that it was the Chinese-Korean Security Partnership that struck first. Pre-emptive self-defence. Or orders from their alien masters as some still tried to claim after the fact. But there were rumours it was Israel – using their illegal arsenal to enact Infiltration Eradication on a larger scale – that pressed that big red button first. And that they fired on Tehran and Riyadh as well.

Israel’s Chinese population was negligible and most had left for the safety of the Chinese mainland long before the AILs were mandated. Israel had been waging a strong propaganda campaign that it was Arabs who were the greatest threat, despite no evidence the Arabic population had a greater genetic infiltration than their Semitic cousins.

Regardless of who fired first, by the time China’s nukes were in the air, others were fired in response. How many cities were hit? How many billions dead? Did the India and Pakistan Common Area pact save them or did they turn on each other in the end? I will never know. Maybe you do. If you’re reading this then you too were a survivor; a lucky one. No mushroom cloud. No radiation. No electromagnetic blast smashing your technological life back to the stone age.

You are also one of the few. As am I.

And so, like me, you’ll have seen them. Now, after the literal smoke has cleared, flying above us in their ships; hovering sometimes over the survivors still struggling to keep the scraps of internet alive: sending messages into a dying world.

Their numbers are small. I’m sure you’ve noticed. And I’m sure you’ve realised that doesn’t matter anymore.

If they could speak, those launchers of small harmless balls into space. If they could be bothered to communicate with the vestiges of pure humanity clinging to the planet they coveted for reasons we will never know. If they could read my diatribe, now ending, as I plan to throw it into that void where vibrant life danced for a brief moment.

I think they’d say.

Thank you.

We couldn’t have done it without you.