Anya hurried across the park as fast as she could. Granted, it wasn’t very fast considering she had used up almost all of her energy on that last attack, but it was enough to keep her moving. She ran past the Picnic House and exited the park onto Prospect Park West, across from a number of brownstones.
People stared out their windows or from their doorways in search of what could have caused all the noise in the park. A number of them looked at Anya as she emerged and gasped. She realized she must look horrific: blood had dried on her clothes, she had twigs and leaves in her hair, dirt everywhere else, a huge pole arm covered in alien juice, and she had a wild look in her eyes from the adrenaline. She had also just emerged from the place that had been filled with fire and gun shots and screams.
“Shit,” she said and turned away as she strode up the sidewalk. Nobody followed her, and the farther she got from the park, the less people there were. Still, she had to find some way home. She didn’t see any cabs but 7th Avenue Station wasn’t too far. She just needed to get out of the area.
Anya crossed the street and froze when a pair of headlights illuminated her and a car came to a stop.
Carl’s Rolls Royce.
Anya darted to the driver’s side and knocked on the window.
“Shelly, open up!” Anya snapped and prayed the android had enough programming power to respond or do anything besides drive and fool around with Carl. She sighed as the window rolled down and Shelly cocked her head to the side with a soft whir of internal motors.
“Hello,” Shelly said, her voice cheerful but still monotone somehow. “I recognize you. Where is Carl? Should I stop circling Prospect Park now?”
Anya got into the back seat with her glaive and slammed the door behind her. “Carl’s uh, he’s busy. He said to drop me off and come back here later.”
“Okay then,” Shelly replied and Anya sighed again. Thank god the android was susceptible to requests. “Can you take me to Bushwick?”
“Yes,” Shelly said and drove away from the park. Anya leaned back in her seat and felt her muscles begin to relax. It was warm in the Rolls, and quiet, and the motion of the car was rocking her to sleep.
Anya slapped her cheeks and sat up. She couldn’t rest just yet.
“Uh, what do we do about Shelly and the Rolls and the plasma pistol?” Anya asked.
“What do you mean?”
Anya looked at Shelly in the rear-view mirror, but the android either couldn’t hear her or didn’t care.
“I mean, she’s a fucking super-advanced android and this is a car worth a lot of money and their owner is y’know, kinda not around anymore. We can’t just leave it out in the open or have Shelly circling the Park until the cops stop her. And I don’t want to be carrying around a useless ray gun.”
“Ah,” Felix said. “I can see your point now. Very smart of you! Well, upon expiration, a host’s property remains where it was, unless it is claimed by another host.”
“So, his stuff is mine now?” Anya asked.
“That’s correct! If you had stripped Carl of all his clothes and jewelry as well, that would also be yours. We can go back and do that if you want!”
“Hell no!” Anya snapped. “Even if I wanted to loot a corpse, that place is crawling with cops and firefighters by now. And anyway I don’t want his stuff. I want to get rid of it.”
“Yes, and now that you’ve claimed it, you can sell it back to the RAC store at a reduced rate. The items will be returned off-site and an amount of RAC will be deposited into your account based on how much use the item has received. For example, you’ve completely drained the plasma pistol of its energy and it is therefore not as valuable as when it was first purchased, but it still has significant value,” Felix said.
“Okay,” Anya said. She looked at Shelly again and bit her lip. “Is Shelly an AI, like you? If I return her to the store would that be like…murder?”
“No. I found that android model in the store. It seems they run complex algorithms and programs rather than truly sapient AI. You’re super nice for being concerned about that sort of thing though!”
“Yeah, great,” Anya said and took out her phone. Tori had texted her several times while she had been in the park.
TORI: Hey! I’m free now. I just couldn’t get away.
TORI: Is the aliens thing real?
TORI: Like they’re on Earth right now?
TORI: Anya? You there?
That had been a while ago. Anya typed a quick response letting Tori know that she was fine but exhausted and that she’d had a horrible night but would talk with her later. Anya didn’t have it in her to relive the night again by explaining it all to her friend. It was too much. By the time Shelly arrived in Bushwick and Anya directed her to her apartment, she was ready to pass out.
“How do I sell this stuff?” Anya asked Felix.
“Here you go!” Felix replied, and Anya’s menu sprang up in front of her. It showed the RAC store, and three items in particular: the Rolls Royce, an android without any skin that revealed its metallic interior, and a plasma pistol. Each item had both “BUY” and “SELL” options next to them. Anya stepped out of the Rolls Royce and pressed “SELL” for all three and then confirmed her choice.
There was a sucking sound as air rushed in to fill the space the Rolls and Shelly had filled a moment ago, and Anya felt her pocket empty as the plasma pistol followed.
“You’ve been credited a total of 158,920 RAC!” Felix said. “With the additional 75,000 RAC you got from eliminating the enemy alien,you now have a total of…698,338 RAC! You’ve also risen to level 33. Congratulations!”
“Yeah, great,” Anya said and turned away from the empty space where the Rolls had been seconds before. There and gone in an instant. Just like Carl. Just like those cops. Just like she had almost been. “Damn.”
Anya slumped her way up to her apartment and collapsed into bed. She was too tired to contemplate the fragility of life. That was one of many problems for tomorrow.
Anya woke up to a dozen messages from Tori and several missed calls. All of them asked if she was okay, if she had heard about some kind of terrorist attack in Prospect Park, if it was her, and more.
TORI: Please just let me know you’re okay. Work now, talk later.
That was the last message Anya had received around nine, just before she woke up. She texted back that she was fine physically, and would tell her everything, but not over the phone. It was too much to relay through a text or a call. Anya turned on the TV to the news channel and was unsurprised to see Prospect Park.
A news reporter bundled against the cold stood on Flatbush Avenue in front of a web of yellow police tape and several squad cars. Cops, firefighters, and some people in blue jackets with “FBI” in big yellow letters on the back milled about in the background.
“——plosions and gunfire were heard from inside the park by multiple witnesses. I haven’t gotten any details, but at least one police officer was killed along with one civilian injured or dead, but the NYPD hasn’t released an official statement yet. As you can see, the FBI is also here, leading some to speculate that this was an act of terrorism. Multiple eye-witnesses have confirmed that there were at least two large explosions last night.”
The camera moved around her and focused on the park behind her. Most of it looked normal, but several burned trees could be seen in the distance.
Anya shut the TV off. She didn’t need to see anymore. She made herself some coffee and sipped it as she sat in her big armchair. She hadn’t even thought of going into work today, hadn’t called in sick or anything. It seemed like such a trivial detail now. Her boss would be mad at her, how dreadful. What was her boss throwing a tantrum when compared to the nigh-immortal nightmare she had fought last night? Four people had been butchered.
She had managed to help save the young officer, Ramierez, but Carl and the other three cops had all been snuffed out.
“Felix!” Anya snapped as she dragged herself away from her thoughts. Felix appeared on top of her knee with a flourish and a theatric bow.
“Ready to go!” they declared.
“The data stream that happened last night,” Anya said. “What the hell was that?”
“I’m not sure. Some kind of automatic response, maybe? An effort to transmit as much information to the other aliens before death would be my guess,” Felix said and shrugged. “A lot of it was encrypted, so the data I got is fragmented, but I got some good stuff!”
“So spill,” Anya said.
“The most complete data I was able to retrieve was a reading of enemy alien locations in the milliseconds before its death. Look,” Felix said and displayed Anya’s menu screen in front of her. It was zoomed out far enough to show the entire planet, and all across it were tiny red pinpricks of light, along with much larger, dimmer circles of orange. There were hundreds of the precise red dots, and thousands of the dimmer orange circles, with a few of them being brighter and smaller.
“The red dots are the enemy aliens. Unlike menu hosts, they are able to accurately locate each other’s positions down to a few centimeters, so these readings are very precise! Gotta admire their attention to detail!”
“Hell no I don’t,” Anya said. “I’m guessing the orange circles are us? Hosts, I mean.”
“Got it in one! The circle sizes and the intensity of their light indicate the estimated area a host is in. The larger and darker the circle, the less precise the reading, while the smaller and brighter the circle, the more accurate.”
“So this was last night?” Anya asked.
“Can you show me what it looked like from the time the aliens entered the atmosphere to the time the puppet alien died? Like enemy alien movement and such?”
“That’s a swell idea! I sure can,” Felix said. The map flickered and a clock appeared in the upper right corner from the time when the aliens appeared last night and began to fast forward. As it did, the tiny red dots moved around on the map, always toward the orange circles. When they got closer to an orange circle, it began to shrink and brighten until it was a precise point of light.
Most of the orange lights vanished.
Hundreds of them.
“What the fuck?” Anya breathed. “Are they…dead?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. It appears the enemy aliens searched for the nearest hosts, closed in on their locations, and terminated them.”
“How many?” Anya asked.
“Well, the last reading I had at the time of initial host integration was 10,608. At the time of the enemy alien’s death late last night, I can confirm through enemy data that 2,792 hosts were terminated.”
“Two…thousand?” Anya gasped. She had Felix rewind the display. The red dots all appeared near as many orange circles as possible, often near clusters of three or more.
Dots and circles, Anya thought, That’s an easy way to think of it. A lot easier than monsters and humans.
Almost three thousand people murdered by monsters like the one last night, and in the span of a few hours. Felix had said that not all the host menus had been activated. How many people had been killed, not knowing how or why, or with any chance to really defend themselves? How many of them had been killed after the puppet alien died, or were dying right now?
“Casualties were highest in North and South America. Over 80% of terminated hosts happened there,” Felix said.
“Why?” Anya asked.
“I’m not sure. There wasn’t a lot of movement from the enemy aliens on other continents, but in the few hours I have from this alien’s atmospheric entry to when you killed it, the aliens in North and South America were far more active.”
“Huh,” Anya said. “And the enemy aliens, were any others killed?”
“Yes. Twenty-one enemy alien signals were lost, presumably upon death, prior to the death of the one in Prospect Park. You did a really amazing job of blasting it by the way. Very impressive!”
“Yeah, great,” Anya mumbled. Not good enough to save Carl or most of the cops. She and Ramierez had barely made it. She took a deep breath and refocused. Wallowing in survivor’s guilt wouldn’t help her any right now. It wouldn’t help her survive or figure out how to get out of this mess.
She looked at the map again. Felix had set it on a loop, repeating the time of the puppet alien’s activity. Most of the orange circles moved around too, indicating the hosts there going about their business, but several of them never moved. One of them, a particular small, bright orange circle all by itself was in Columbia, South Carolina. There were dimmer, larger orange circles in Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle, Toronto, Montreal, Havana, Los Angeles, Nassau, and more just in North America, but the one in Columbia, South Carolina was the brightest and the most still, and it was alone.
Two thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two people.
She had panicked last night. She had watched four people get butchered in front of her. The police had fared no better than Carl, and hundreds if not thousands of people around the park had been in danger. She couldn’t be everywhere at once and she couldn’t rush around aimlessly searching over an entire continent for hosts.
But she could at least go to one, for a start.
“Felix, bring up the vehicles sub-menu of the RAC store,” Anya said.
“Sure thing!” Felix said and a selection of hundreds of thousands of vehicles fit for air, land, sea, and space appeared in front of Anya. “What’re you going to buy? Something to celebrate your victory?”
“No,” Anya said. “Something to go save somebody’s ass.”
ARC 01.Invasion//VOLUME 01.The Menu from the Stars//END