Clouds of orange dust swirled as high as skyscrapers, blotting from view everything but the glowing blue circles of the giant thrusters. The ground trembled underfoot as every remaining eye turned skyward, where immense silhouettes peeled back to reveal bright, hazy daylight. The silhouettes shrank into the distance, and the whirring and whooshing that had filled the previous weeks faded. And then there was silence.
Crowds stood speechless, until the dust dispersed and the last alien spaceships became just specks in the sky. They finally disappeared. A rapturous cheer sounded throughout the city—throughout every city—the siege was over. Such joy. Such excitement. Of the roughly seven billion people on earth whom the aliens had not captured and taken away on their ships, only Neil Banff refrained from celebrating. As the jubilant throngs began what was become a month-long party in the streets, Neil sat alone at the top of a hill and watched.
Only Neil suspected. Only Neil doubted. But then, only Neil had looked through a different lens as the whole thing unfolded.
They had followed his plan to the letter. Nothing had been overlooked, no effort spared, every actor had played his part with conviction. Their single miniscule fault, if one wanted to be picky, was that they had forgotten about Neil. Perhaps it was for the best, he figured. If they had remembered him they would have killed him.
A fleet of gigantic spaceships, threats of annihilation, the whole world consumed by fear… and then the ships left. In the end not a laser was fired. In the end demands were met, and planet earth escaped destruction for the bargain price of four hundred million of its inhabitants, taken as slaves aboard the alien craft. The mysterious oblong ships sailed for another galaxy, while the survivors remained on their little blue planet, counting themselves the most fortunate.
It all made sense. The aliens explained it. No one saw them, of course. There were holograms and crackly radio transmissions, but throughout the siege it was good old Morse code that carried most of the communication between the terrestrials and the extra-terrestrials. They wanted slaves. The best and brightest—politicians, royalty, Hollywood actors, billionaires. There was enough resentment toward those people; they had had their fair share of luck. There were a few lesser-knowns among the abductees as well—doctors, engineers, good-looking virgins with child-bearing hips—but there is bound to be a few innocent casualties in any alien conquest. What can you do?
So everyone on earth bought it. In a way, Neil was proud. Up until the spaceships appeared in his prescribed formation, he didn’t know if anyone had read his blog post: Planetary Evacuation by Means of Mass Deception. Well, someone read it. The spaceships, the fake aliens, the crop circles, world leaders convening, military failure, the constant noise—even down to the guttural alien language (achieved by playing Elvis Presley vocals backwards and slowing them down)—every detail was just as Neil had written. And it worked. With seven billion people watching, the richest and most powerful people on earth just strolled onto spaceships and left the planet. And the seven billion cheered.
One thing bothered Neil. He did not know why the rich and powerful left. Had the mother of all diseases broken out? Was there a monster meteor on a collision course with earth? A secret cataclysmic nuclear reactor malfunction? Rogue evil artificial intelligence? Was it just an attempt to create an off-planet utopia? Maybe someone discovered a greener pasture somewhere out there in the solar system. Oh well. There were more pressing matters.
If Neil’s predictions about planetary evacuation had proved accurate this far, maybe they would continue to. If so, those left behind on earth were, after a brief grateful-just-to-be-alive-brotherly-love-let’s-give-peace-a-chance phase, due to endure between three and six years of all-out mayhem before society stabilised. Of course, he could tell everyone that the alien siege was a big hoax, a distraction to allow the rich and powerful to abandon their fellow man. No, thought Neil. They wouldn’t believe it, even if they realised it to be true.
Contemplating what lay ahead, Neil found a tiny spark of joy, a glimpse of poetic justice. In part two of his planetary evacuation blueprint, he had focused on the likely outcome for those aboard the spaceships. He had never published that part of his writings, and so he alone knew what was to come. Of course, it was only a prediction. Maybe the rich and powerful would prove him wrong. Up there on their spaceships. With limited resources. And only each other. Fearing neither God nor man. Neil gazed up at the sky and smiled to himself.
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