Trust Chapter 30

After almost an entire day away from home I finally dragged myself wearily back up the steep and twisting pathway which led to my front door. What had started out less than twenty-four hours earlier as a simple trip into the village for food had eventually become a silent nightmare played out in the dead streets of Thatcham. Alone and afraid I felt lost in the sudden hugeness of my tiny home village.

The shuttle craft hovered about ten meters away from the door. Perfectly still and silent it was just sat there without reason or explanation. Cold and tired and not daring to take my eyes off the alien ship, I fumbled in my jacket pocket for the keys to the house. My hands were numb and cold and I struggled to try and open the door. But it was already unlocked and for a fraction of a second I felt some hope. The only other people who had keys were Rob and Siobhan. Finding the door unlocked meant that one of them at least had to be inside.

'Rob?' I shouted as I pushed my way in. I kicked the door shut behind me and looked hopefully down the hallway. 'Rob? Siobhan? Are you here?'

My words echoed off the cold walls of the house just as my footsteps had echoed in the streets outside. I didn't believe for a second that either my brother or my girlfriend really were there but I instinctively knew that I wasn't alone. Before I had seen or heard him I sensed that Rob's alien friend was about.

'Your brother's in here,' he said in his dull and dishearteningly familiar voice. He was in the living room. He stepped out of the shadows and stood in the doorway.

'What the fucking hell are you doing here?' I spat as I barged past the alien and shoved him to one side. I found Rob sitting motionless on the sofa, staring at the ground between his feet. For a split second the room was filled with an immense black shadow and I turned and watched through the wide window with frightened fascination as one of the immense black alien machines powered silently through the turbulent sky towards the centre of the helpless village.

'Rob,' I said, quickly turning back to face my brother, 'can you hear me? Are you okay?'

What had once been my brother was now just a shell. Cold and emotionless, he was as empty and lifeless as my house and the entire village. I crouched down so that I was directly in front of his dull, vacant eyes but there was still no response. I gently shoved his shoulder and, although he rocked to one side, he still didn't respond. His corpse-grey skin was clammy and cold but he was still breathing.

'He can't hear you,' the alien said softly. I ignored him and continued to try and elicit some response from what remained of Rob.

'Come on, son,' I whispered. 'Just give me a sign. Let me know you're still there, will you?'

Nothing. I wiped tears of pain and frustration from my eyes.

'I know how you must be feeling...' the alien began.

'Fuck off!' I spat. 'Why don't you just fuck off? How the hell do you know how I feel?'

Still crouching, I rocked back and sat on the carpet in the middle of the living room. To my right was the television and for a second I turned and glanced into the cold grey screen. I could see Rob's reflection. He looked just as he had done when we'd sat there together and watched the news broadcasts when the first alien ship had arrived. What had the bastards done to him? What had they done to the world?

'It wasn't supposed to happen like this for you,' the alien continued, apparently ignorant to the strength of my anger and hate. He took a few steps closer and stopped when he was just a short distance in front of me. I quickly stood up so that we were on the same level.

'What are you talking about?' I asked, wiping my stinging eyes dry.

'It would have been so much easier for you if you'd been able to accept everything like the rest of them.'

'You're not making any sense,' I sighed. Nothing was making sense any more. While the rest of the world lay dead outside, it didn't make any sense to find myself talking to an alien in my home. 'Anyway, what the hell are you doing here?'

'Recording,' he said.

'Recording what?' 'Preserving your lifestyle for the archives.'

'What archives?'

'Our archives. I'm a historian and zoologist. We keep records of everything.'

I couldn't take any more of this in. I fell back into the seat next to Rob. His heavy body slumped against mine and I struggled to hold back more tears.

'The very least I owe you is an explanation,' the alien continued.

'You owe me a hell of a lot more than that but go on,' I grunted, unable to even bring myself to look up at the creature.

'Remember the night when I first came here to your house?'

I thought back to the hazy summer just gone and recalled our first meeting when Rob had brought the alien home with him. I remembered feeling uncomfortable like an outsider that night. Rob and Siobhan had treated the damn thing like a bloody superstar.

'I remember.'

'We talked a lot about what we were doing here and how we got here. We talked about what I did and where I came from...'

'And...'

'And most of it was lies.'

'I'm not surprised.'

'I was.'

'What?'

'I was surprised at first. But then again, I always am when it happens. You never get used to it.'

'What are you talking about?' I was rapidly getting sick of his bloody stupid games and riddles.

'I told you that my ship was on a mining mission, didn't I?'

I nodded.

'I was wrong, but that was what I truly believed at the time. That was what all of us who came here believed.'

It still wasn't making any sense.

'So what were you here for?'

'Our ship was a probe. It wasn't destroyed, it was sent back to the fleet. We came here to investigate this planet and see whether it was suitable.'

'Suitable? Suitable for what?'

'For us.' 'What?'

'I told you that the supplies on my home planet had been exhausted. In order to survive my people need more. We need more space and more resources and...'

'So you think you're just going to take it like that?'

'Wake up, Tom, we already have.'

An icy cold chill of realisation washed over me. The entire human race had been duped by these fucking monsters. I wanted to kill the alien in front of me but I didn't dare move. I wanted to hear the rest of his explanation first.

'But how? How did you do it?'

'Remember we talked about our technology? Remember that night when we argued about how you thought my society was wrong because of the way we work together for the common good? You said it was wrong and I disagreed...'

'I remember.'

'You said it was wrong for us to be able to manipulate thoughts and emotions.'

'It is.'

'I accept that you have your opinion. The beauty of working with minds is that you don't know it's happening until it's done. We've been looking at your planet for several years now. This isn't something that just happened overnight. Once we'd decided that it was suitable we began broadcasting..'

'Broadcasting what?'

'Simple and constant signals. We interrupted your transmissions and added a code of our own. We've been reprogramming the entire population of the planet for the last seventeen months through television, radio, the Internet, film and any other medium we could use.'

'Subliminal messages?'

'More complicated than that, but you're on the right lines. Think about it, Tom, how else could we have just arrived here and dropped ourselves in the middle of your civilisation? You didn't trust each other, never mind anyone else. You had to let us do it. You had to believe us. And we had to believe what we were telling you.'

'So why all the bullshit about the mining mission and the accident?'

'We needed to be completely sure the planet was right before occupation. We were sent here first to confirm suitability.'

'So you've been lying too, or were you being lied to as well?'

'You're starting to understand. My colleagues and I on the ship fully believed the story we told you. It was important to the mission to ensure that our purpose wasn't revealed so we didn't know what it was. Simple as that. We truly believed that we were stranded here.'

'Fucking hell...' I mumbled. 'But how...? How could you have...?' I couldn't think straight. This was too much to absorb.

'Yours was a fairly advanced society,' he continued. 'And the more advanced a society is, the more it tends to rely on different methods of communication. We just interrupted and modified what you were receiving.'

'But for what purpose? We were prepared to help...'

He shook his bulbous head slowly.

'It's not that simple. Our race continues to grow and we need to expand. We don't need your help, we need the planet.'

Now I was beginning to feel as though I was trapped in some third-rate science-fiction film.

'What are you planning to do...?' I asked cautiously.

'With a few adjustments we'll create an atmosphere similar to our home world and colonise. Your planet will become the fifth home world.'

'You've done this before?'

He nodded his bulbous head and stared at me with his baby-blue eyes.

'This is the second time I've been directly involved.'

'But you can't. Christ there are billions of people here...'

'Why can't we? That's a little hypocritical of you, isn't it? I don't expect you to agree with me, but I don't think that what we're doing is any different to what you've been doing for years.'

'It's completely different,' I spat, walking over to the window and looking down on the dead village below. 'Of course it's different.'

'Why is it? Is there any difference between us taking your land and you taking the land of someone or something else? You've been doing it for millions of years, and now we're doing it to you.'

'But we're not just some other animal...'

'You are.'

'But we would never treat another people like this...'

'You would,' he said simply and without malice or spite. 'In fact, the way that we are doing this is fairer and more humane than anything from your history.'

'What's humane about what you're doing?'

'Most of you don't even know it's happening.'

I stared out at the silent world as the alien's words ran round and round my head. Could it really be true? Had I lost everything? I remembered looking out from the same position countless times during the summer just ended. Now all of that seemed a million miles away, and those rapidly distant memories felt painfully perfect and idyllic. Back then I'd had a life to lead, a brother to argue with and a girlfriend to hold and be held by. Now, if what he was saying was true, I had nothing. So why was I the only one? 'Why am I different?' I asked. 'Why am I here talking to you while the rest of the population is...' I looked down at what remained of my brother but I couldn't finish my sentence.

'It's difficult to achieve one hundred percent success. Not everyone is able to accept the program.'

'How many are left?' I wondered, thinking instinctively (for a fraction of a second) about rebellion and honour.

'About half a million of you in this country. Look, I'm sorry that it didn't work for you. It would have been much easier if you hadn't had to go through this.'

I didn't want to hear his answer, but I had to ask my next question.

'So what happens to everyone else? What about the rest of the population? What about the billions of innocent people who are sitting vacant in their homes like Rob? What are you going to do with them?'

'We're not going to do anything with them,' he answered. 'We don't need them.'

'So are you going to ship them off somewhere?'

'No.'

'Sterilise them? Stop us reproducing?'

'No. There's going to be a cull.'

'What?'

'I said there's going to be a cull. I thought you might have worked it out by now.'

For a few long seconds I didn't know how to react. I just stood there uselessly, shifting my weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other and staring at the creature in front of me.

'But how...?' I stammered. 'How are you going to...?'

'That's not important.'

'When?'

'It's already started. It will run land mass by land mass. There are probably one or two continents which have been completed by now. Things should start to happen here in the next few hours.'

The alien took a single step forward and, instinctively, I took one back.

'I'm sorry that it had to happen for you like this,' he said. I didn't know if his sorrow was genuine or manufactured. More to the point, I didn't care.

'So what you going to do about me?' I spat. 'If I'm not going to conform to your fucking program, what are you going to do about me?'

He answered quickly.

'Nothing.'

'What?' 'Nothing,' he repeated. 'There's no point, is there? What are you going to do? This isn't one of your science-fiction books or films, you know. There's nothing you can do to stop the inevitable. We're not going to catch a virus and die. You're not going to find a computer glitch and destroy our ships. There's absolutely nothing you can do except sit here and wait...'

What he said made it all the more harder for me to accept what was going to happen. There would have been more dignity in dying in battle, but it looked as though I wouldn't even be able to pick a fight. I felt like a lone tree left standing in the remains of a forest where thousands of others had been torn up by their roots to make way for a new city . And what could I do to stop this happening? Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing.

'Sit back and watch,' he continued. 'You might be able to survive for a few weeks. Keep out of the way of the cull and find yourself somewhere remote and watch it happen. I've seen it happen elsewhere. It's exhilarating.'

'What is?'

'The change.'

That was enough for me. I had to get out. I was wasting precious time and I knew that I had to get back to Clare and Penny. But I couldn't leave Rob. I reached out and grabbed his lifeless hand.

'Don't waste your time with Robert, there's no point,' the alien said from a position just inches behind me. 'He can't hear you. He can't see you. And even if he could, he wouldn't know who you were or how to talk to you.'

I squeezed Rob's hand hard, hoping that I could force a reaction from him. There was nothing.

'Come on,' I pleaded. 'If I can fuck their programming up then so can you. Come on!'

I slapped his face. Nothing.

'This isn't doing either of you any good, Tom. I suggest that you get...'

'Fuck off!' I spat, turning round and glaring at the alien who continued to talk unabated.

'Do you want me to tell you exactly what's happened to him? Shall I tell you which parts of his brain have been disabled and which parts we've left operational? Will it help if I...?'

The creature's words trailed away into silence as I stood and stared up into his cold and emotionless face. His bright blue eyes stared back at me. He was on my property, how dare he tell me what to do? His kind had destroyed my brother, my girlfriend and just about everyone and everything else that meant anything to me. Memories of all that I'd lost clouded my mind. The loss of everything I had owned and everything I had been hurt like a thousand knives stabbing into my skin. And just for a second it was all this alien's fault. Just for a moment all of my hate, fear, frustration, pain, rage and terror was directed towards this one, despicable alien bastard. In a single movement I launched myself at him and knocked him flying across the room. Overbalanced by his bulbous head and struggling to pick himself up with his long, flailing limbs, he lay at my feet, cowering.

'Don't do this,' he pleaded as he slowly dragged himself back up. 'Don't waste your time.'

'You take my life and now you want pity?' I hissed, stunned by the creature's gall.

'I don't want anything from you. You haven't got long. Just get away from here and...' I ran at him again, grabbed him by the neck and pushed him out into the hall. Still holding tight, I swung him round and slammed him up against the wall. I clenched my fist and hit him square on the jaw. He crumpled to the ground at my feet again and began to crawl towards the front door.

'Fucking bastard,' I yelled as I ran after him. He turned and looked back at me and I could see that there were tears running down his face. Thick, dark blood was pouring down his chin from a spit in his lower lip. The bloody thing was crying and begging for mercy.

'Please,' he sobbed. 'This isn't my fault. I didn't plan any of this.'

For a fraction of a second I felt some pity, but all it took was for me to picture the friends and family that I'd lost to bring me back to feeling nothing but hate and despair.

'What good is your perfect fucking society now?' I sneered as I picked him up by the collar and held him against the wall again. I looked into his pathetic, whimpering face and then closed my eyes and concentrated my thoughts on all that had been taken from me. 'Where are the others to protect you?'

'Please...' he croaked. 'I've got work to finish...'

I was never going to hold Siobhan again or hear her tell me that she loved me. I was never again going to walk along the beach with her at dusk and make love all night. I would never go drinking with Rob again or run through the village or watch a film on TV or listen to music... One last look into the alien's eyes.

'You've taken everything I had,' I hissed.

I lifted my right hand and covered the creature's face with it. I squeezed tightly and could feel his chin, cheeks and forehead beneath my fingers. I squeezed hard, hoping that it was hurting. I pulled his head forward and paused for a second.

One last whimper.

Letting go of all my hate and anger, I slammed the fucker's head back into the wall. He slumped. I pulled his head forward then smashed it back again. Forward then back again. Forward then back again and again and again until I felt the fucker's skull crunching and splitting. I let the body go and it fell to the ground.

Back in the living room, Rob had rolled off the sofa and now lay face down on the carpet. I thought for a second that he had made a conscious movement but it was obvious that he had not. I owed it to him to make one last-ditch attempt to revive him and to try and snap him free from this dire lethargy. I picked him back up and sat down on the carpet in front of him. I looked up into his expressionless face.

'Rob...' I whispered. 'Rob, it's me, Tom.'

Still no response. With every second that passed so the pain I felt increased.

'Can you hear me? If you'd just say or do something then at least I'd know you were there and...'

It was pointless.

'I just wanted you to know that...'

I couldn't even bring myself to finish my sentence. There was nothing I could do. My brother was gone. Wiping tears of sadness, confusion and fear from my eyes, I walked towards the door. I stopped and turned back to take one last look at what remained of Robert Winter. I knew that Siobhan would be in exactly the same desperate condition, and that made the pain even worse.

I knew that I had to get back to Clare, and until I was with her I would be completely alone.

My family and my life had been taken away from me.

Rob and Siobhan had been the last ones to have mattered.

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