Green to the East
by Jason P. Burnham
Other TTTV stories by Jason P. Burnham
Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, kids, and dog. His work has appeared in Mixtape:1986, Nature: Futures, and Strange Horizons, among others. You can find him on Twitter at @AndGalen.
I never cared much for technology, but Edison Dean Calhoun can’t keep his stinking cattle on his side of the fence.
“Go on, get out of here,” I shout and shoo the Calhoun cattle through the fence break.
I bought a handheld HerediTest to prove his bulls were impregnating my prize heifers with inferior genes—it can detect genetic mixing before the calf is born. HerediTest also remembers repeat offenders, of which there are many.
The bulls reluctantly amble to their pasture, no more, no less green than mine.
“Now if y’all would be so kind as to stay over there until I get back to block this off, I would be ever so grateful.”
The cattle chew their cud and stare blankly. Typical Calhoun males.
I could have spared myself the three easy payments of $99.99 for HerediTest by sending samples to the National Bureau of Ruminant Ancestry, but I’m ninety-three years old and I don’t have time to wait for two-and-a-half years of bureaucracy for them to get the results. With HerediTest, I jab the cow, show Calhoun the readout when the timer dings, and tell him to fix his darn fence. It had been working—no broken barbed wire for months, which meant high cow morale in the absence of jabs.
“Bessie?” I call and whistle. This is her favorite pasture.
She’s really Bessie IV, one of the Calhoun bull favorites and great-granddaughter of my favorite cow. She will not be pleased to see the HerediTest. I pull the reins on my horse, Champion, and search through my saddle bag to make sure I have a clean injector and my AM radio to keep me company.
“Bessie?” If she’s in earshot, she’ll come running, but I don’t see any movement on the horizon.
The AM radio crackles to life. There are a few old-timers who maintain AM stations for folks like myself. AM had a resurgence around the time the implantable mediafeed adapters became popular, a repudiation of technological progress. But that was thirty-odd years ago and the hosts are dying off. I can still manage to catch two news stations, a talk station, and a sports station, though the broadcast frequencies have been on the decline.
I continue my trot with Champion, hunting for Bessie IV, something about politics playing on the news station. We pass Bessie IV’s favorite pond, one section thinly covered with green algae, but she isn’t there.
I jump. The high-pitched squeal coming out of the old device surprises me and Champion, but I manage not to fall.
The horrible noise continues. Low battery? Bad frequency?
No, no, an alarm. I haven’t heard an alert like this since…
“Repeat, repeat, this is a not a test of the emergency broadcast system. What you are hearing is not a test. If you are hearing this, take shelter. If you are in a city, do your best to leave and relocate somewhere that is not a city. Repeat, if you are able and live in a city, please evacuate. If you cannot leave, authorities remaining in your region will attempt evacuation at a date to be determined.”
Evacuation? To be determined?
These are not the relaxing sounds I was hoping for and I don’t think Bessie IV will be coming to find me any time soon.
The pigs sense my fear from where I stand outside their enclosure. Champion snorts and snuffs from his stall in the barn, despite the extra treat I gave him for not bucking me when the radio alarmed.
Get out of the cities, they said. They never did they say why. Nor where, exactly, to go.
Should I prepare for refugees? And if so, should I be locking down or brewing some tea and baking biscuits? I’ll be purposeful in not giving any of that flaky, buttery goodness to Edison Dean Calhoun.
I had flicked through the AM stations for information, but to no avail. The sports and talk stations were static. This is one disadvantage of not having an integrated entertainment module—not knowing what’s going on. I considered, briefly, driving over to Calhoun’s to ask, but I couldn’t bear the idea of owing him anything—I’m not in the frame of mind to talk about the fence yet. I did my daily routines—cows, corn, the whole shebang. The sun is as ready to retire as I.
A hog snorts in dream and I head inside. This will be the first time I’ve locked my doors in years, maybe ever. I’ve had trouble sleeping since my estrogen levels went down after menopause (doctor’s words, not mine), but tonight is going to be impossible. I check the radio one more time to make sure it’s off, but I’m afraid its alarms will haunt my dreams.
I wake as usual, to sunlight streaming onto my face. I had eventually fallen asleep, dreaming of what kind of folks might be congregating outside from the cities. The closest “city” is maybe a town, with a population of two hundred if you count the tumbleweeds. An hour passed that, there’s Circleville, with about a thousand.
I peek out the window. Like every morning, the only other souls on the farm are the animals. It is a touch brighter than usual, though.
Could be that giant fireball in the sky.
I’m not much of a gasper, but I sharply suck in breath through clenched teeth (they are not the only things clenched, at least as far as ninety-three-year-old sphincters can tighten).
The sonic boom hits a few seconds later as I watch the object smash to the ground somewhere between an acre and ten down the road. Drat. Not far enough away to be on Calhoun’s property. If I believed in karma, I’d say something is out of balance.
“Bessie,” I say to the picture of my favorite, long-deceased cow on the wall, “You watch the house. I gotta go check something out.” I tap the picture and head to the truck—it’s twenty years old and would have been taken away from me if one of the neighborhood kids (not a Calhoun) hadn’t figured out how to hook up the fuel efficiency modulators and slap on a coat of solar panel paint. I don’t like the cerulean color of the paint, but the exhaust is much more tolerable on my old lungs. And it still has enough torque to get out of the mud when farm machinery weighs me down.
The fireball isn’t hard to track—blue-black smoke billows from where it landed. I wonder how much corn I’ve lost.
As the smoke shifts from my front window to the passenger side, the long stretch of crash landing etches a scar across a field that was nearly ready to harvest. That’s gonna cost me. Fortunate not to hit any animals; that’s a blessing.
I put the truck in park at the section of dirt road closest to the crash. The air is hot and full of particulates and I wish I had a bandana to breathe through. I don’t know what I thought the fireball would look like on the ground, but I certainly didn’t think it would look like a spacecraft.
Without thinking about the implications of a spacecraft in my cornfield, I walk toward it. I would have guessed a crashed spacecraft would have been and a lot more exploded than this, rather hot and smokey, but otherwise intact vessel.
It’s curvy, no sharp points like the military aircraft in movies. Dark grey metal, flashing blue lights (another surprise for something that just crashed), and what looks to be a malfunctioning ramp.
If I had been asked whether I would fear an alien landing in my corn, I would have said yes. But now, amongst this singed maize, I don’t have to answer that question.
Why? Because the thing crawling out from under the half-opened ramp has its helmet off and is a white man. Not particularly handsome, not particularly un-handsome. Average height, no glasses, clean-shaven, brown eyes, brown hair, bloody streak across his brow. He doesn’t see me because he’s focused on his ship. Why have I never seen aircraft like this before? How did it crash here?
The twig under my feet alerts him to my advance and his head jerks in my direction. He reaches for something from the waist of his suit when in the distance, there is another boom.
The two of us look up and see aircraft that meet my cinematic expectations for military vehicles. Something about their flight path tells me they’re looking for this thing that has crashed. Something else tells me that this is a hunt, not a rescue.
When I look down, the man from the crashed ship is running away from the craft overhead and right toward me with a frightfully determined expression. Fortunately, he’s a hundred yards away and I’m only ten feet from the truck. I hit toward the truck.
Vrrroom. I always leave my keys in the ignition, seeing as nobody’s around to steal it.
I’ve made a U-turn and am kicking up dust as the man vaults the nearest fence. My foot hesitates on the gas, because after all, maybe he wants a ride. But when I see his expression in my rearview mirror, I can tell his intentions are heavily ‘commandeer truck’ leaning, rather than ‘hitch a ride’ leaning. I speed further away, the road tossing me around as I hit a completely obscene forty-five miles an hour on the dirt.
The military craft boom outside my open window and the pilot of the downed craft hides among trees beside the road, then suddenly sprints toward the cornfield. Unfortunately for him, his craft knocked down so many stalks he’s uncovered when the three fighter planes release a barrage of missiles, detonating his craft, my corn, and the area in which he was running.
As the shockwave and fire wash over my truck and send it spinning, I wonder if I’ll have enough feed for the pigs this year.
I awaken to more aircraft flyovers. The truck has apparently flipped so many times that I landed right-side up. The driver’s side door is smashed in and I can’t open it, but there aren’t too many glass shards in the front windshield and I crawl out, overalls protecting me from the few remaining pieces.
I’m two miles from the house, which wouldn’t be too bad to walk, but there’s a tractor not far off if they haven’t blown that into a pile of ash too.
The tractor is still standing, green as the untouched corn stalks nearby—at least this field is okay. The keys are in the ignition and I head toward the house, aircraft overhead disturbing my country-time peace and quiet. I hope I get back to the house before someone from the military gets there.
Shoot. I’ll be stuck when I get there. My truck was my only non-farm equipment vehicle and it’s not driving anywhere, maybe ever again.
I glance back at the smoldering field and see only soot. The rounded craft is gone and there isn’t any movement to suggest the pilot escaped. Why’d they blow up that poor man and his ship? I should be leaving, but how far will I make it in a tractor before a military vehicle catches up?
As I pass the last row of hedges, truck in front of the house comes into view. “I don’t like this, Bessie,” I say to my favorite deceased cow.
Calhoun. I consider trying to outrun him in the tractor, but the brake lights are on, so I know he’s inside, motor running. I wonder how long he’s been waiting. He’s gonna hear about the fence.
I sigh and pull the tractor up beside him before killing it.
His windows are down. “Whaddya want Edison? Little busy here.” His fingers tap nervously on the steering wheel, eyes darting at anything but me. I’ve never seen him like this before and it’s weird. He’s usually a pain in the butt, but a predictable pain in the butt.
“Are—are you feeling okay? You didn’t get compromised, did you?” he asks.
I raise an eyebrow. “That your way of asking if one of your bulls made it through that fence break I found?”
He raises his eyebrow in kind and shakily steps out of his truck and to the hood of the vehicle. He doesn’t get closer.
“What’s gotten into you Edison Calhoun?”
He turns to face the shed door and as I’m about to say something, images flash onto the white paint.
“This your integrated module thing?” I ask, recognizing it from the kids down at the feed store waiting on their parents, watching it against barn walls.
He shushes me. “Watch.”
“Now neighbor, I don’t take too kindly to you—”
Edison Dean Calhoun and I have had our fair share of arguments. We’ve yelled, screamed, even thrown stuff at each other one time. Never have I heard this tone of voice.
Images flash across the wall. Thousands of ships like my cornfield ship, in formation, zooming toward the Pentagon, obliterating sharp-angled, military craft. One lands on the White House lawn and launches a blue light into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue moments before it erupts into a blazing fire. When the fireball hits the lone ship, a net-like protective sphere appears around it and prevents it from being incinerated. From somewhere near Edison, a strange-sounding voice speaks, in English.
“We are here to destroy you.”
The feed cuts.
“Is that what crashed in your field?” he asks.
More planes crisscross overhead.
“I…” I sigh. “Edison Dean Calhoun, I never thought I would say this to you, but would you be so kind as to give me a ride in your truck? Don’t think this means you’re getting outta fixing that fence.”
Edison blinks and half smiles. “Where we goin’?”
“As far away as we can get.”
Integrated entertainment modules are not as corporeally integrated as I had once feared. Newsfeeds project from Calhoun’s onto the passenger side sun visor.
The feeds show the rounded gray ship-bulbs decimating strategic targets across the US—New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Houston. And for reasons unclear, Phoenix, Tulsa, and Detroit. Eliminating any thoughts that this is an attack on the US are scenes showing destroyed sites in Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine.
“Well…” Edison starts as we bump out onto the two-lane highway. The emergency broadcast system request of city-dweller emigration to the country has not been heeded if the empty roads are any indication.
When it’s clear he isn’t going to say anything else, I speak. “I don’t get it.”
“What’s to get? Aliens invaded,” he says, one hand relaxing off the wheel with the smoothness of the highway.
“Why destroy Tulsa? Palestine? What about the huge militaries in Japan, India, South Korea, the U.K., Israel? Wouldn’t that be better than Phoenix?” I know history, lived and listened. That’s part of why I never gave up my farm and why a cow was the best friend I ever had.
Edison scoffs. “We certainly hate those places.”
I eye him warily. I’m not surprised he hates something, but I am surprised he’s so open about it, though I shouldn’t be.
“I’m joking—they’re aliens! What do they know about politics?” his belly laughs, but his mouth doesn’t.
The wind of the road blows the hair from my face, cools the sweat on my forehead. I think back to the man who climbed out of my cornfield ship and gasp. “I think you may have solved the mystery.”
He turns his eyes to me and the truck swerves. “Whaddya-” He steadies the truck. Whaddya mean mystery?”
“A human came out of the craft that landed in my corn.”
Edison stops the truck. “You’re telling me there’s humans up in them alien ships?”
He sort of gets it. “Yeah, and I know where they’re from. Now, I need you to put distance between us and them.” I’m not sure there’s going to be any safe distance.
Edison blinks at me before accelerating. “Where are they from?”
“The good ole U.S. of A,” I say
He stares at me, mouth open.
I flip up the visor, stopping the newsfeeds. “You had the right of it. We hate all the destroyed places—Russia, North Korea, China—we’ve been fighting them without calling it fighting for decades.”
“Then why’d we blow up our own cities and military?” It’s going to take more than that to convince Edison Calhoun.
“Can I search for things on this?” I ask, flipping the visor back down. I have a hunch.
“Yeah, tell me what you want to look up and I’ll say it. It recognizes my voice.”
“Fancy,” I say. “Ask it for the demographics of the destroyed US cities.” A list scrolls in front of me before Edison says anything. “I thought you said it was voice-activated?”
He shrugs. “New feature in beta—reading your thoughts. Looks like it works. Still can’t tell me what show I want to watch though.” As if mind-reading searches aren’t good enough for him.
I watch the scrolling data. And there it is. “I was right.” I breathe.
“Mind explaining so I can keep my eyes on the road?” There’s annoyance, anticipation, and something else in his voice. Fear?
“We hate other places, sure, but why blow ourselves up? The answer is we hate ourselves, too. Or at least, part of ourselves. We hit cities with lots of people, but we also hit smaller cities with certain kinds of people.” My grandma would have hit me just for suggesting something like this. We don’t talk about that sort of thing, Dorothy-Mae Taylor.
“Not following you, Dorothy,” he says.
“Those cities have large non-white populations—they’re killing people they don’t like.”
“You’re saying the aliens are racists?” he asks incredulously.
“We’re the racists. Americans. We’re in those whirly-doo-dads blowing up our ‘enemies’! War is good for the pocketbook and we haven’t had one in a long time—when nobody’s fighting, you just have to go on ahead and manufacture a war. We’re doing it again, but this time as ‘aliens.’”
Edison stares at me, the road empty, our headlights the only ones in view. “I’ll be damned.”
“I’m a little surprised you believe me,” I say, staring at him, staring out his window.
He points out the window in response. “Listen.”
There’s the wind of the road, but it’s slowing, in time with the diminishing hum of the truck’s engine. The sounds of approaching aircraft replace the wind and engine noise.
“What does that have to do with believing me?” The hairs on my neck stand up. “Why are you stopping the truck?”
“We can’t outrun them. Probably heard the whole conversation through the entertainment module. They wouldn’t be coming for us if you weren’t right,” he says, shoulders falling.
Another fireball lights up the sky.
Edison grabs my hand. “Sorry about the fences, your cows, all the troubles I’ve given you over the years.” There’s a tear in his eye, reflecting the fire of our rapidly approaching destruction.
“Well hell,” I say. “See ya soon, Bessie.”