It was October 8th, the last edges of dawn were receding, and the courtyard was empty. The sun was beginning to peer over the nearby mountains, and soon the cool morning air would burn away.
An apartment door opened and Tom appeared in an old football jersey. He led his sixty-five pound lapdog, Cali, outside. The mutt woofed impatiently as Tom locked the deadbolt.
“I know, I know! We’re going already!”
Once Cali had done her colossal business, which Tom deposited into his neighbor’s trashcan, they started their walk. Cali, per usual, nearly dragged Tom through the neighborhood and out to the main road, then on toward a walking path.
As they approached the path, a loud electrical chugging sound suddenly filled the air, accompanied by an anguished cry. Both were cut off as quickly as they started. Tom hesitated, dropping the earbud he was about to insert, briefly hit with déjà vu. There was something familiar about that scream. Cali’s ears perked curiously as they neared the main turnoff to the path, where the sounds seemed to originate from.
Entering through a wrought iron gate, they slowly rounded a bend, pausing once the path straightened enough to see farther. The thin strip of asphalt with a single, broken yellow line stretched ahead of them. Completely empty, no other soul or creature in sight. The scream had been close, as if someone were just around this bend.
Unsure of what to make of that, Tom shook his head and gave the leash a little tug.
“Come on, girl…”
But they hadn’t gone very far before he stopped her again. A metallic item was laying in the middle of the path at their feet. Tom picked it up, inspecting it. It was indeed metal, gold in color, triangular, and extremely lightweight. A scoop was carved between two of its points which housed a wheel. Odd symbols covered one side of the object, while a different set circled the wheel’s outer edge.
“Look at this, pup…”
Tom turned the wheel with his thumb. It clicked from one symbol to the next, ending on one consisting of three connected spirals surrounded by an unbroken circle. He looked around, the path was still empty. Cali stared up at him, her head cocked to one side. She let out another impatient woof. He glanced at her before shoving the item into his pocket.
“Alright, fine. We’ll put up some ‘found’ flyers later.”
Cali happily dragged Tom onward.
A few minutes and a hundred brief stop-and-sniffs later, the two approached an underpass. Tom could see the city had finally painted over the graffiti underneath. He gave it a week before there would be more.
Tom stopped in his tracks. The freshly painted spot warbled in the middle with what appeared to be an electric current. He hesitated, then took another step. As he slowly approached, the warbling spot grew wider and wider, revealing new graffiti beneath.
When he reached the wall the spot was two feet in diameter. That odd electricity seemed to chew away at the edges, which ebbed and flowed around a revealed symbol. It matched the one the click-wheel had ended on. Above the symbol was a small indentation, the same triangular shape of the metallic object.
Tom tentatively reached for it, and drew back surprised as his pocket began to thrum. He reached in and brought out the object, which glowed and vibrated faintly in his hand. He stared at it a second, before bringing it toward the indentation in the wall. The object’s vibrations grew violent as it moved closer, before it shot from his grasp, lodging itself into the carved spot. It glowed even brighter as Tom stared, awestruck.
The ground shook beneath his feet and Cali barked nervously, pacing at the length of her lead. Small bits of rubble and dust fell from the underpass as the shaking became more intense. Suddenly a bright cone of swirling, warbling light emanated from the object, enveloping Tom as it angled to the ground.
Cali paced faster now, outside the cone, barking madly. Tom looked at her through the rippling light. Her barks grew more and more muffled as the cone’s energy built, droned. Reality outside the cone began to shift and skew as the power grew to an ear shattering pitch. The cone finally burst, the sound dissipating with its energy.
Cali’s lead fell slack, severed, dangling from Tom’s wrist.
Veins stood out on Tom’s face and neck as he doubled over, grabbed at the wall, and vomited. He tried to regain himself.
“Cali? Cali, come!”
But his dog was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the severed leash, confused.
As he wiped his mouth on his sleeve he heard screams. He looked around and gaped at the chaos surrounding him. The sky was now a severe, burnt-orange. Columns of smoke rose from the distant city and surrounding hills.
Many people ran around the path, panicked, dodging beams of light. A woman was hit and burst into a cloud of ash. Tom jumped.
“What the fuck?!”
He looked up and saw the air was filled with impossibly fast, swarming Alien Ships. They fired bolts of energy down on terrified people. Up, past the swarm, a Mother Ship hung in the atmosphere.
A frightened woman struck Tom in the arm as she ran past, bringing his attention back to ground level. He watched the frightened people scrambling for safety. Here and there they were zapped by more energy bolts, silting away.
Further down the path a small battalion of Marines fired at the Aliens from behind a barrier. A few Marines tried to herd the civilians that would listen. One of them yelled at Tom, but he was still too shocked to move.
The Mother Ship launched an energy bomb. It descended quickly before bursting four feet above the ground with a low WHHHOOOMMM, sending out a shock-wave of light.
“Robertson! Get down!” The voice came from Tom’s right.
He looked as a Marine in her late thirties tackled him to the ground, just before the shock-wave rumbled over them. More dust and rubble shook from the underpass. The woman stood, pulled Tom to his feet. Tom saw the name on her uniform: HOWARD.
“Are you hit?” She looked at him. And then at his clothes.
Tom blinked. “What?”
“Where are your fatigues?! Where’s your weapon?!”
He glanced at his attire, then back to her. It was all he could think to say. “What?”
An Alien Ship swooped low and fired above their heads. Howard pulled Tom aside as energy beams scorched the underpass wall. Another Marine ran up and fired back at the ships, covering them.
Howard pulled a sidearm from her belt and shoved it at Tom. “Here!”
He accepted it, unsure of how to hold it properly. She turned to the newly arrived Marine. “Martinez!”
The Marine fired off a few more rounds before he ran over to meet them. “Captain!”
Martinez looked at Tom’s clothes, confused, then back at his commanding officer.
“You and Robertson take the lead.” She handed Martinez something wrapped in cloth. “Get the package to the Colonel.”
He stowed it and nudged Tom. “Let’s go!”
Martinez ran up the path half-crouched, firing off rounds. He clipped a ship, which banked, then rocked the earth. Tom just stared after him, mouth agape.
Howard shoved him after Martinez. “Move out, Marine!”
Tom stumbled, nearly tripped, but found his feet. He ran bent over toward Martinez, the gun dangling uselessly in his slack arm. Howard followed, keeping a secure distance, covering the two.
Tom finally caught up to Martinez, who was still blasting his way through the chaotic zone, up the path. They both took cover, diving behind a small barricade as a ship bore down on them. Martinez quickly reloaded his weapon as Tom jerked and winced with every hit the barricade received.
He turned to Martinez, eyes wild. “What the fuck is happening?!”
Martinez continued to reload, glancing at Tom. “I don’t–“
“What is this?! Who are they?!”
Martinez paused, worried, knowing something. He grabbed Tom’s collar and pulled him close, searching his eyes. “Did they reprogram you, Sir?!”
Tom stared at him, baffled by the question.
Understanding dawned on Martinez’s face and he released Tom. “You’re not him. Fuck. You’re not him.”
The ship circled back and opened fire. The two ducked as most of the barricade was obliterated. Martinez got to his feet. “Come on!”
He ran to another barricade. Tom hesitated, then quickly followed after, nearly getting shot. He dropped down next to Martinez, terrified. Howard stole after them, barricade to barricade, boldly firing at oncoming ships, winging one which soared overhead and crashed behind her.
A piece of shrapnel flew from the blast, lodging into her thigh. She screamed in pain and dropped to the ground.
Martinez slammed the item against Tom’s chest and looked him in the eye. “Get this to the Colonel…Sir.”
Tom nearly fumbled the item. “I don’t even know who that is!”
Martinez pointed at the end of the path.
Tom could make out a small warble of blue light. A doorway of sorts. The occasional energy bolt hit it, but didn’t pass through. Inside the protective light, a figure watched the ensuing battle.
Before Tom could say anything Martinez was already running for the Captain, firing at an oncoming ship. The ship banked right and away. Martinez reached Howard, grabbing her pack, and dragged her backward toward a barricade.
The ship circled back and bore down on them, bolts of energy scorching alternating lines on the asphalt as it approached the target. Captain Howard fired her clip dry with an animal yell as both she and Martinez were disintegrated by the energy bolts.
Tom looked from their drifting ashes to the onslaught around him to the item in his hand. Shakily, he unwrapped the cloth, revealing the triangular metallic object he’d found on the path that morning.
“Oh shit…oh shit…”
The ship that ended the two Marines arced quickly and locked onto Tom, shooting at him.
He jumped out of the line of fire and ran for the doorway.
100 yards away…
He juked left, then right. He hurdled a barricade and quickly dropped behind another to dodge an energy bolt. He got to his feet and ran again, further down the straight path. A bolt barely missed his head.
Tom spun aside as gravelly bits ricocheted up from another miss and into his face. Remembering the gun in his hand, he began to fire wildly back at the ships.
He dropped down to avoid a swooping ship and slid under a raised barricade topped with barbed wire. Once the ship passed he continued, leaping another barricade in his rush. His foot caught the topside, throwing him off balance, and he slammed to the ground.
In his hand, the object clicked a few times and began a slow beep. Tom saw it was flashing along with the alert.
He looked up just in time to roll out of the way of another energy bolt, then hauled ass for the Colonel.
Another barricade. The beeping sped up.
He juked a bolt. The beeping grew faster and faster. The Colonel prepared to open the doorway, his hand on the sensor.
Tom leapt as the doorway opened, his hands outstretched.
The object glowed incredibly bright, emitting a continuous, uninterrupted tone as time elongated, slowed.
Mid-jump, Tom finally noticed the Marine standing guard beside the doorway, staring at him, mouth agape.
Tom’s own jaw dropped. The Marine looked exactly like him. They could have been twins.
An energy bolt sliced through Tom and he disintegrated, leaving a cloud of ash where he once was.
As the object fell from the drifting ashes it released a pulse of energy, opening a small tear in reality below.
The Colonel let out an anguished cry, diving for the metallic triangle.
The object dropped through the tear, which immediately resealed itself.
It was October 8th, the last edges of dawn were receding, and the walking path was empty.
Suddenly, two feet above the ground, a bright flash occurred as a short rift opened.
A loud electrical chugging sound filled the air, accompanied by a familiar anguished cry. A small, metallic, triangular object fell from the opening and onto the path. The rift quickly sealed back up, cutting off the sounds.
Moments later, down at the head of the path, a man and his large dog rounded the corner. He paused briefly, as if confused.
Finally, he shook his head and gave the leash a little tug, continuing toward the object.
“Come on, girl…”