The day it happened, I was perched on the rocky outcrop overlooking our ranch. I’d had enough of Jake, my little brother, teasing me about the field-hand who’d said I was ‘blossoming into a very pretty flower’. I’d gone up there to let my cheeks cool. I’d gone up there to be alone.
You could see for miles from that outcrop. You could see the house with its twin chimneys and cedar shingles, the patchwork fields with their swaying maize and stubby pea plants, the meadows beyond spotted with cattle. Every time I took Jake up there he would make that joke about how the people on the ranch looked like ants. Most of the time I’d even laugh.
I must have been the first to spot the ship. I’d thought it was a vulture, circling on the thermals, but as sunlight flashed off its back, I realized that the rumours we’d been hearing for weeks were about to become reality.
The sky tore apart. Below me, our jeep fire-balled. Our crawler leapt from the ground and rolled over and over, wrapping itself in flame. The booms were like a double punch to my gut. My family, our field-hands, they all spilled out of the house and the barns, running to see what was happening. It’s stupid what goes through your mind at times like that, but I remember thinking: ‘Jake’s right. They really do look like ants from up here.’ But then the sky tore apart again, and all I could do was scream.
‘No! Stop! Run!’
It was only a breath later that the ship landed, its door opening before it had even scratched the dirt. For a minute, all was quiet again, but then another noise started. It sounded like corn popping on the stove, but I knew it wasn’t, and it went on for the longest time. I only realised which side had won when I saw the raiders fan out from their ship and wash toward the house like a wave washes up a beach.
By the time I made it to the ranch, everyone who was still alive had been coded and loaded and the raiders were picking through the debris, kicking over bodies as if they were piles of hay, looking for anything that would make them a profit.
They say your mind goes into a holding pattern when you witness things like that, things like seeing your family and friends attacked and killed or herded into cargo bays like the cattle you’d farmed all your life. It addles your senses, renders you incapable of making sensible decisions.
I’d crept up to the house and was hiding behind the kennels. Not three meters in front of me, one of the raiders was bent over, pecking through the pockets of the body at his feet. As I stepped out, he turned and raised his gun. I lifted my hands.
‘Please,’ I said. ‘Take me with you. I don’t want to be alone.’
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