Home > Forging Zero (The Legend of ZERO #1)

Forging Zero (The Legend of ZERO #1)
Sara King

CHAPTER 1:  An Alien Mistake

Joe Dobbs was fourteen when Congress discovered Earth.

The day they set their ships down in Washington, Joe found it hard to move from the TV.  His whole family, from his little brother Sam to his great-aunt Lucy…even his dad’s old Marine buddies who came over for beer on Fridays…all of them huddled together in his parents’ living room, attention locked on the broadcasts from all over the world.  Outside Joe’s house, there was relative silence.  Nobody was driving.  Nobody was playing football or going to the zoo or having picnics in the San Diego sun.  Everybody was inside their homes, watching the invasion.  Joe’s dad had gotten a huge TV for Christmas, so his house had twelve bodies packed in the room like sardines, filling all the empty space, breathing and re-breathing the same stuffy air, leaning forward in their chairs and sofas in silence, watching the live feeds from the frantic mass of reporters surrounding the capital with the total, rapt attention of the condemned.

Pundits took over the news channels, talking nonstop, twenty-four hours a day, debating the endless pictures of aliens, alien ships, and alien weaponry.  They said that their squat, tentacled forms were semi-aquatic, and the flipping gills that fluttered in the sides of their head were an evolutionary throwback, like an appendix in humans.  Sudah, they were called.  Humanity knew that because a reporter’s autistic kid was killed for touching them during a press conference, and the live alien tirade that followed included the word ‘sudah’ about three hundred times as the alien screamed at the bleeding, dismantled corpse of the kid, his parent, and two otherwise innocent bystanders.

Sam, however, disagreed.  As usual.

“That’s stupid,” Sam snorted loudly, once when it was just him and Joe in the room and they were listening to yet another lecture about the cultural importance of ‘sudah.’  “It’s not an evolutionary throwback.  It’s obvious they’re using them to breathe.  That means they came from a planet with something in the air.  They’re filters.  They keep stuff out.  They just don’t like someone touching them there ‘cause it’s like putting your hand over someone’s mouth and nose.  Cutting off your air, you know?”

All the adults had left to discuss whether it was safe enough to attempt driving out to Uncle Davvie’s place for some meats and vegetables—which had quintupled in price since the aliens had landed—leaving just Joe and his ten-year-old brother Sam to watch the aliens in the living room.

With just Joe in the room, Sam didn’t have to pretend to be ‘kiddy’ for the adults.  The skinny turd actually liked showing off to Joe.  He got out a pencil and walked up to the screen like an indignant college professor.  “See that?” Sam asked, slapping the pencil to the picture of a tentacled creature’s thick, ropy arm.  “So what if they’re boneless?  That right there is built like a snake.  There’s no aquadynamics.  It’s meant for swinging through trees.  Like an orangutan.  They’re land-dwellers.”

“Just shut up, Sam,” Joe muttered.  He tried to peer around his brother.

Sam, however, had other ideas.  He turned to face the TV.  “And they’re not a hundred fifty pounds,” he snorted, speaking directly to the bald, sweating Talking Head on the other end of the live news feed who was lecturing them on body size.  He crossed his arms over his chest and sneered, as if the very idea was ridiculous.  “They’re denser than us, you dipshit.  Look at the way it hit that car—” there was a famous video of a kamikaze attack by a drunken motorist on one of the aliens…which had resulted in a crumpled car, a dead motorist, and a very pissed off alien, “—it was obviously at least four or five hundred pounds.  Just the impact alone should’ve told you that.”

“Shut up, Sam,” Joe muttered, irritated.  “Get out from in front of the TV.  I can’t see through your scrawny ass.”

Sam rolled his eyes and turned to face him, but remained firmly planted in front of the television.  “Not like you’re gonna learn anything new.  They’ve been saying the same stuff for the last three days.”

“Now!” Joe snapped.  “Go find a coloring book or something.”

Sam sighed deeply and went to check on the adults.

Joe watched him go, scowling.  He hated the way his younger brother seemed so cocky about the whole affair; like he had everything completely under control.

Or, at least, Dad did.

Must be nice to be a kid, Joe thought, returning his attention to the aliens.  Something about them seemed…familiar, and it was giving him a nagging sense of dread that he just couldn’t shake.  Almost like he’d had a bad dream like this a very long time ago and it was starting to unfold before his eyes.

…and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

More than once during his vigil, Joe found his hands sweaty, his skin broken out in goosebumps.  As each new snippet of information came in from the White House, the feeling of dread intensified, congealing in his guts like a cold, hard rot.  Unlike Sam, Joe knew what it meant for their family.  For Dad.  A few hours after the aliens first landed, Joe had heard Dad and Manny discussing the military’s order to stand down.  He had heard their furtive whispers about a group of Marines ‘taking things into their own hands.’

Joe wasn’t an idiot.  He knew what that meant.  He also knew his dad didn’t stand a chance.  Not against that.

Tens of thousands of massive, skyscraper-sized ships, their sleek black bodies gleaming like obsidian, had landed on whatever building, parking lot, shopping mall, or school that got in their way.  The news helicopters that hadn’t been shot down had caught live pictures of the masses of aliens that came marching out of each ship, looking like glossy black ants marching in perfect synchronicity.

There were too many of them.  Some experts said they’d unloaded a tenth of the population of Earth from those ships, and each one a hardened warrior sporting advanced weaponry and glistening black suits that seemed to be utterly impenetrable to anything humans had to throw at them.

Dad didn’t stand a chance.  Nobody did.

Thus, Joe ignored Sam’s know-it-all bullshit and clung to every scrap of information, listening to the same tiny tidbits replayed over and over until he could repeat them by heart, praying to God that it was a bad dream and his Dad wouldn’t have to go to war.

God wasn’t listening.

The invasion wasn’t a game, wasn’t a huge hoax, wasn’t a dream.  It was real, and the longer the aliens stayed camped out in the headquarters of every major government on the planet, secretly talking to world leaders behind closed doors, the more agitated the populace got.  A thousand different debaters on television had a thousand different opinions.  They claimed the aliens were invaders, there to take humans as slaves.  Or liberators, there to raise human consciousness, end war, and give humanity great new technology.  Or diplomats, there to invite them into a vast alien democracy.

In the end, they were all right.

They called themselves Ooreiki.  When they weren’t encased in inky black suits and bulbous ebony helmets, they were squat brown creatures with huge, glistening eyes, tentacles protruding from their heads and bodies, and four parallel slits along each side of leathery necks that fluttered like gills, though they breathed air as well as any human.  They also lived a really long time.  Some said four, even five hundred years.

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