Whether they came from some far off galaxy or had been here, well-hidden, all along, we were never to know. One day, they simply appeared among us, big, terrifying… and incredibly ugly. It was a day like any other on this planet we call Earth, all of us going about our lives as usual, in our various countries, cities, towns and such. The latest wars and mini-wars, conflicts and confrontations, both governmental and personal were holding their own against each other for headline inches and news report minutes, as they had always done, since man learned how to spare no one the slightest bit of bad news. They meant us no harm, they said.
We believed them, of course. When faced with creatures up to ten times your size and strength, who carried weapons of a sort you’d never even imagined, that could vaporize anything they chose, what choice remained to an intelligent race such as homo sapiens sapiens? What they were, would become a subject for much discussion and wrangling amongst our world’s greatest minds. Just days after the first sightings, the United Nations’ hastily-called emergency meeting dissolved into a near-riot, as one of the invading force accidentally kneeled on three of the world’s most respected diplomats, while they were exiting their limos. It (he ?) appeared to be merely trying to peer inside the building, taking no notice of what and who was on the pavement. Sadly, Kofi Anan’s equally-renowned successor and both the UK and US ambassadors were so far beyond resuscitating, having been mashed flatter’n the proverbial pancake, that the coroner’s van was called for, rather than an ambulance.
Of course we tried to stop them! SWAT teams were thicker than flies, wherever one of the behemoths showed up. But what could mere bullets and tear gas do against things of such size that possessed powers of self-protection our best experts were unable to fathom? No, we didn’t have the chance of a snowball in hell, on a hot day in July, and we all knew it. Mankind took a backseat for the first time in millions of years and things would never be the same. It must be said, in all fairness, that the UN kneeler was openly distressed at the consequences of his clumsiness. Whether the expression of sadness and remorse was directed at the loss of such distinguished and revered life, however, or at the ruining of a perfectly good, trouser-like garment, I cannot say.
Having myself, been an understandably aghast observer on the scene, I can say that the Big One (what we’ve taken to calling them) did demonstrate an attempted gentleness afterwards, in handling several of the terror-struck spectators. Apparently curious in re our admittedly cowardly and infantile reaction to the accident, it picked up a few of the fear-paralyzed, one-by-one and, if I wasn’t imagining things, seemed to be trying to calm them down. You know… the way you’d hold a frightened pup or a baby bird fallen from its nest… stroking it’s head and crooning to it softly, to still the poor shivering, shaking thing. With the human species, intelligence overrode instinct, and that was simply not going to work. I saw with my own eyes, at least two of those unfortunate folk succumb to heart attacks or something similarly fatal. Or, perhaps they just ‘died of fright.’
So, there we were, the supposedly most superior species in this particular solar system, if not galaxy, reduced to inferior status in one fell swoop. Resistance was useless. Before we knew it, they were everywhere. Few compared to our billions, but so large and so overpoweringly more advanced, that numbers didn’t count. Our mightiest weapons were rendered unusable by a device they wielded from within their command posts, which remained hidden. An electro-magnetic charge was spread over all the various military installations, our space-based weapons were cut off from human control and lesser weapons had no effect on these beings whatsoever. Whatever they wanted of us, we had no choice but to capitulate to. The good news, if there could be said to be any, was that they really did seem to mean us no harm. Comparatively speaking, that is.
Following the establishment of the Big Ones’ dominion over us, other, more slightly-built and assumed-to-be female ones of their kind, accompanied by what could only be their ‘children’ appeared. As if having been assured of our inability to harm them, they then proceeded to set up house. Although they were humane enough (if such a term can describe such un-human things!) to settle down in our world’s least-populated places (extremes of climate seeming to be no problem), there were some who chose instead, to clear some of ‘us’ out to make room for ‘them’ in our towns, and even some of our most beautiful cities. Those ‘clearings’ were horrifically brutal, despite their other, gentler ways of dealing with us. Whole sections of a town or a city would simply be wiped clean by their mysterious implements, leaving bare ground for their odd dwellings to rise from, in a half-built/half-grown manner. The people who lived there were sort of swept to one side, if they didn’t get out in time, much like the Israelis cleared Palestinian houses and entire villages, if they suspected a terrorist might be hidden there.
All one’s cherished possessions, all one’s means of survival in this material world, would be gone in seconds. Leaving the survivors of such instant ‘relocations’ to fend for themselves or throw themselves and their families on the mercy of the more fortunate (for the time-being, at least). It was a horrible burden on the communities’ resources and the governments’, of course. But, like the true superior species we once were, we just buckled down and did what we could to alleviate the suffering of the victims and then ‘carried on’ in an effort to maintain a ‘business as usual’ frame of mind that our leaders felt was our best (if not only)option. And, except for those relatively few who’d been affected directly, everyone agreed that was indeed our best course of action.
The other things began so slowly, so completely unnoticed at first, that they were in full swing before any of us in the news media caught on, I’m embarrassed to admit. That it might rather have been the result of that bane of our profession, news ‘management,’ I hate to even consider, though I must, in all honesty, concede it possible, our leaders being the cowards such usually are. Disappearances were up in significant numbers, but that could be explained by the ‘clearings’ and further accidents like the one at the UN, since remains are rarely identifiable after the ‘accidentee’ has been stepped on by a size 12E x 10 piece of footwear. We reported these, naturally, our ‘occupiers’ seemingly unconcerned about the dissemination of all the bad news they occasioned. As a public service, newspapers and TV newscasts ran lists of all the reported-missing in aid of their relations’ mostly vain attempts to locate them. That’s how I caught on to what was happening… very belatedly, to my eternal shame. Not that anything could be done about it.
You see, another odd thing that escaped notice for quite a while, was the increase of orders for large, pre-built, above-ground swimming pools; the most expensive, computer-run climate control systems; and huge, custom-sized sheets of safety glass. Nothing really out of the ordinary in such affluent societies as the western world was blessed with, to be sure. Considering the usual demand for comfort and perhaps military-aimed items such as these, an increase in demand was easily written off as merely the result of folks compensating for the stress of suddenly living on an ‘occupied’ planet. What no one realized, until I did some serious computer hacking, if you’ll pardon my back-patting a bit, was that the orders were being placed by, and the items delivered to… Big Ones! Superior not only in size and technology, they were apparently just as sly business-wise as those they controlled, and had used the usual dummy corporation cut-outs, off-shore banks and such to cover their tracks, just like our own criminals, corporate moguls and governments do.
Once I’d tracked down that intriguing bit of information, one question remained. “Why?” What could they possible want with those disparate items? Since our travel wasn’t in the least restricted, I sufficiently hooked my superiors with the mystery and was given carte blanche to ‘Get out there and get the story!’ before any of our global competitors caught on to it. Off I went, to one of the largest Big One enclaves in the American Southwest. My reasoning was that if these omnipotent, planet-sharers were so cagey about what they were doing, they were probably doing it in out-of-the-way, less-noticeable places more than anywhere else and I’d have a better chance of catching them at it in one of them, than in “BO-ville Glen” (formerly Central Park), where curious New Yorkers and tourists could observe them more easily. “BO-ville Mesa” was my first target.
And my last. I found out all any of us needed to know there. More than any of us wanted to know! Now, of course, everyone knows. Our children are taught all about it before they can even really understand its significance. It was generally agreed that it’s necessary to their survival, in this post-human era. The Big Ones could all disappear one day, just like the dinosaurs did, but still, nothing would change for us humans. It’s too late. We can never go back to what we were before them. We changed from being the dominant species on ‘our’ planet, to being just one more ‘lesser’ species so suddenly, that we didn’t really understand what it meant at the time. Unlike natural evolution’s gentle step-by-step adaptation, we didn’t have time to ‘get used to it’ before we found ourselves living such a completely alien life. I saw the hideous, though in retrospect inevitable, future we faced, not long after I reached Arizona. I almost wished I hadn’t.
In a rented, 4-wheel-drive SUV with all the comforts of home, and then some, I set out from Phoenix, heading north to the Hopi mesas. I’d lived with those gentle ‘little people of peace’ for almost a year once, and hoped to gain some insight into this sudden invasion of our world, from their prophecy-wise elders, before scoping out the Big Ones’ nearby settlement. A surprisingly warm welcome was laid on for me, some of my work on their behalf still remembered. “Yes,” I was told, it was known that these ‘star beings’ would come back one day. The Big Ones, the Hopi were convinced, were none other than the “real kachinas” who’d long ago taught the Hopi how to live in peace with their fellow creatures in the universe. And, “No,” the elders said, none of the ‘visitors’ had come to them yet. They supposed they would, in their own good time. Meanwhile, the dances and the harvest festivals and the storing of the corn and the paper-thin rolls of blue corn piiki continued as always. This may be the end of Fourth World and the beginning of Fifth World, as the prophecies promised, they solemnly agreed. It was long overdue, was it not?
The Great American Desert was the perfect spot for the Big Ones. Up to 60 feet tall, and 10 feet wide, where else could they find enough elbow room for elbows that were bigger than human heads? I learned from my Hopi friends, that their village or whatever, was not more than 100 miles east of Third Mesa, the easternmost of the three high plateaus that were all the Navajo and the US government had left to the Hopi of their once limitless lands. With a desert-wise horse and trailer, provisions and emergency gear, I set off on my fact-finding expedition, with more trepidation than excitement. The desert is an unforgiving place. Mistakes made cannot be easily rectified, as the many sets of sun-bleached bones that litter it, make clear. It wasn’t something I could opt out of by this time though, so off I went, heading into the sunrise that was hours away yet. I thought I’d park just beyond Window Rock and get to the BO village before dawn, so as to ‘sneak up’ close enough on horseback, to see something without being seen. Good plan: bad idea.
I forgot how long it had been since I’d ridden a horse! In just a few miles, I was wishing I’d been smart enough to opt for blisters on my feet instead of places higher up on my anatomy. The horse was understanding, thank goodness, and kept to a steady, gentle walk that got me there on schedule, if partially-crippled. Nowadays, we’re used to the BO’s architectural preferences, but then, it was something of a shock to see what had reared up from the desert floor and towered over some of the lower mesas. I’d seen the ‘houses’ that had eclipsed Manhattan’s Central Park and Lafayette Park in DC, before I left, but even their immense size and alienness hadn’t prepared me for this. It was as if a gigantic Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi had both collaborated on the Louvre’s pyramid with I.M. Pei. Each dwelling stood alone, on its own acreage, just like our wealthiest earthlings’ most luxurious abodes. It was beautiful beyond belief. And terrifying beyond words.
The dawn was just breaking, as I got within 50-power binocular distance. Purple and yellow and pink-orange cloud wisps painted the sky, an abstract by some incredibly-talented heavenly artist. Their reflection, and that of the surrounding mesas, was caught in a seemingly-endless number of mirrored surfaces below. The houses of the Big Ones were mostly of glass here. Or something that looked like glass from where I stood, rooted to the spot in awe. This explained the huge sheets of safety glass, and the always too-hot or too-cold desert environment accounted for the climate control systems, I told myself (erroneously, as it turned out!), but what on earth could explain so many sales of pre-formed pools that wouldn’t be more than a foot bath for these folks?
Surely I’d written enough in my long career, on the irony of humankind’s chickens coming home to roost and doses of their own deadly medicine being administered by fate, to doers of the worst of my race’s worst deeds, that I should have seen the handwriting on the wall with this. In my own defense, I can only plead that most common of human ailments, guilt-driven selective blindness. In these, my memoirs of the then just-beginning PHE (post-human era, as historians now legitimize it), I can admit to such frailty. At the time, I suppose, I was understandably loathe to recognize the obvious. Ignoring my cowardice, the obvious smote me between the eyes, on that radiant-dawned day in the desert. Or, to be accurate, between the eyepieces of my battered, but still-reliable, old Zeiss binoculars. How I wished then, that I could blame what I saw on faulty lenses! No such relief was afforded me. The scenes I viewed from that pinon pine-studded hillside overlooking “BO Mesa” have never left me. I see them now today, before I’ve even committed their then-incomprehensible reality to paper.
The swimming pools were easy to find. There was one on just about every piece of property within range of my high-powered glasses. Due to the height of my viewpoint, that looked down on the serene little big-sized village immediately below me, I could also… god help me!… look into them. Had I the strength to leave my spy post, I’m not sure to this day, that I would have, much as I screamed inside to be somewhere– anywhere– else. As it was, my legs turned to rubber and my innards to jelly, leaving me incapable of either leaving on foot or remounting the horse. For hour upon hour, I simply sat where I’d fallen, when my legs wouldn’t hold me up from the shock of what I saw, and watched, and watched, and watched. Those missing people were easy to find, too. At least the ones that had ended up here were. Seeing what I did, down there, it wasn’t hard to figure out where all the others on those lists had gone.
The pools, you see, had the big, custom-cut sheets of glass laid over their tops, like lids. Each of them had an easily-distinguished fancy climate control set-up, too. Pumping and filtering away, they were obviously keeping whatever was in the swimming pools heated or cooled, as the weather demanded, and supplied with ample supplies of nice, fresh, desert air. At first, I wanted to think they might have brought some live food source with them from their place of origin. After only a few moments of focusing on one particular pool, I could no longer deny the truth, horrific as it was, to my trying-to-deny-it mind. People were in the pools. Live, human people. Big ones and little ones. Grown-ups and kids. Children of various sizes and adults of various ages. Some pools had only one. Some contained what could be a whole family. One seemed to hold two sets of identical twins, and another, one ‘specimen’ of each color of the human spectrum.
Some of the pools were fitted out with room-like dividers and furnishings, one or two of those quite elegant and expensive-looking, like a dollhouse patterned after someone famous’ mansion. Others had just the bare essentials, a pile of what looked like rags, for bedding and a set-aside area with what I can only describe as a litter box designed for bipeds. As I watched, in open-mouthed shock, one of the Big Ones came out of her dwelling– it was a young ‘she’ as far as I could tell– and, after a long look at the multi-hued, lightening sky and a few stretches, approached her house’s pool, calling out something to those inside it. The sound carried across the quiet, early morning desert, but I couldn’t make out the words. The closest thing to it, I’d ever heard, was baby talk, that sing-songy, babbling kind of nonsense we only use on infants and dumb animals. She carried something in her hands that I couldn’t make out, because it was small, and only a little string or something, dangled from between her foot-long fingers. As she came to a latched door in the side of the pool, and shook out the object she held, I shuddered, recognizing it instantly.
The door unlatched, the Big One child– she looked like a pre-adolescent– bent down and held the object in her hand out, offering it to someone inside. I could see it taken from her hand, but not what was done with it, because at the angle I was viewing this particular pool from, that part of it was closest to me, and therefore I couldn’t see what happened right up against the pool wall. Before I had time to wonder, a tiny (by comparison) human hand extended out from the doorway, with something in it, handing it back to the great big hand it came from. Well, not altogether. The huge little girl took what I could finally see was the end of a line of some kind, straightened up, clapped her hands together, and whistled. And, just as I’d feared to see, out from the pool came a very well-built, healthy-looking, attractive human woman. . . on a leash.
Shortly, with the sun emerging above the hills to the east, all over the neighborhood, Big Ones and their pets, were out for their morning walk. Looking more carefully, after the first shock had diminished somewhat, I could see that some of the pools had little ‘runs’ built out from them, the doors opening directly into enclosed exercise areas. A couple of these were quite elaborate, containing children’s playground equipment that I supposed even adult ‘pets’ would use, rather than atrophy in such close confinement. Big Ones of all sizes and ages strolled the paths between their homes, chatting with each other, their pets scampering about and visiting each other, too– so much like Central Park in the old days, that I couldn’t watch for long. I felt such soul-deep shame for fellow humans who had to submit to being treated like high-strung toy poodles or mischievous pups that couldn’t be trusted off the leash.
Big Ones petted and cajoled and scolded their human possessions, played with them and showed them off to each other. One small group I noticed, put theirs through a set of commands, led by what had to be an obedience-trainer. Refusal or failure to perform properly got the offender smacked with the lead, while some sort of edible treat was offered for compliance. Great pride was evident in the owners with the most attractive and best-behaved ‘animals’ and I was mortified to see some of those actually begging for attention, doing all kinds of stupid and self-abasing stuff, to get their owners’ approval. My stomach began to heave, as my mind fought to reject what it was being subjected to. I turned away from the ghastly display and lost my trail mix and power drink breakfast on the rocks. Shaken, horrified and disgusted, I stumbled my way back to where I’d left the horse, just barely made it back up in the saddle, and rode slowly away. I couldn’t see through the tears, for miles. It’s a good thing the horse knew the way.
— — — — — —
In no time at all, it seemed, the human pet business was one of the most lucrative ones on the planet. From special feed, to jeweled halters; pre-fabricated habitats, to ‘attitude adjustment’ consultants, the commerce generated by human petdom created billionaires overnight. Oh, no… not among the Big Ones! They were above that sort of thing. And not just pun-wise. It was our own kind, naturally, who grew fat and rich on the merchandising of the human race, just as they had on all the other species. This greedy breed knows no biological boundaries. Parents now go to brokers for the best prices they can get on their newborns. Auctions are held in maternity wards. Waiting lists for the best offspring lines are jealously guarded and genetic experts are now the most highly regarded of our kind, by our more or less benevolent keepers.
It has to be admitted, that the Big Ones’ laws regarding treatment of human pets are much more closely adhered to by them, than our kind ever managed, in millennia of pet-choosing, using and abusing. Human pets are kept clean, well-fed and healthy, and are assured a minimum of 100 square feet of living space in their habitats (= a spacious 10×10 room!). Of course, they can never go out of them without being on a leash, leash-laws being strictly enforced by the Big Ones, who fear losing their little darlings. And, naturally, all pets have to be neutered, immunized and ear-branded just in case they do, somehow get lost. All, in all, pets lead a very good life. “A dog’s life” you could say. Life expectancy greatly outdoes that of so-called ‘free-dwellers’ and they never want for anything really necessary.
I’ll admit it must be more than a bit disconcerting to be strolling down Fifth Avenue, along the Champs Elysee or San Antonio’s lovely River Walk and suddenly find oneself picked up in an enormous clutch of tree-sized fingers, to be peered at and poked, even undressed and sniffed at! Moms and dads seeing their favorite child appropriated as a plaything for some Big One parents’ kid, must go through the seven levels of hell. Sure put a stop to all those stupid and venal beauty pageants in a hurry, though! Suddenly, being good-looking wasn’t a bonus, but a curse. Thank the powers above, I’ve escaped thus far. Which has to have more to do with my unappealing physical aspect, than anything else. They do seem to prefer the most attractive examples of our species, as once seen everywhere in ads, on magazine covers and in the movies. Unfortunately for the lovelier among us, no one caught on to that until it was too late and they’d all gotten hooked on humans’ own version of beauty. It’s a great boon to the plain Jane and the downright ugly, I’ll tell you! Kind of a payback for all those centuries of taking a back seat to the fair of face and form.
On a minor level of distress, is all that being picked up and put down again, nowhere near where you were, with no means of transport handy to get you back there. If only they’d learn to put folks back exactly where they found them, after oohing and ahing over an interesting specimen. But, no, they pay no attention to what is to them just a few inches difference, and to us can be miles from where we need to be. Not to mention the damage that can be sustained by being grabbed in a hand with 10 times the strength of our own! Sure, some of the kinder-hearted Big Ones will take an injured human in and nurse it back to health, but most of us would really rather recover in our own beds, tended by a human doctor, not one of those Big One pet-vets, whose idea of TLC is force-feeding though a funnel.
Some of our race think that the home-kept pets are the most fortunate of us all, being given the run of Big One’s homes, protected from all harm, even fed from their own plates and allowed to sleep at the foot of their beds, and so on. But those I’ve seen, who were taken from normal human life, appear to have lost much of their human spirit; seem to have adopted behaviors that please their owners, given up what once reflected their inborn nature. And then, there are the ones who’ve been bred as pets. Those poor souls have lost all semblance of human individuality and self-sustaining abilities, having been selectively bred to have this or that particular physical oddity, just to amuse the ‘superior’ race that claimed dominion over them.
It’s so unbearably sad to see so many of this once proud race living in those little one-room, glass-topped ‘tanks’ just like turtles in a terrarium or snakes in a wire cage. Never again able to just live as they were meant to, free to come and go whenever and wherever they choose, to love and live with mates of their own choice, to run free on a beach or a meadow, swim in the sea, play in the snow. Living out the rest of their lives looking out of a cage, a pen– taken out now and again to be played with and made to do tricks, but never to be free to be human again. But then, again, they are well cared for, aren’t they? They’re loved and coddled, cuddled and kissed. And fed and watered and even have their living places cleaned for them. Just look at all that. Most of those who’re picked up from the street or their backyard, or off a mountain trail, or wherever, and kept as pets, or ‘protected’ in zoos or otherwise on display, would never be able to live so well on their own, now would they?
In many ways, it’s better than being on the dole in the UK, or on welfare in Europe or North America. And it certainly beats being homeless, as so many have been in our human world, for close to forever. Then, there’s our perception of the whole thing to consider, too. We must admit the Big Ones are far above us in intelligence and development, therefore they must know a lot that we simply aren’t capable of understanding, with our limited minds. So, it’s possible– probable even– that we’re meant to submit to our superiors like this. They must have some sort of cosmic right to do what they want with us, merely by being bigger and stronger and smarter. Right? So, I guess they’re not doing anything at all wrong, as they see it. We should probably look at it that way, too.
No? It’s unacceptably inhumane, you say? Well, I suppose the breeding thing might be a bit hard on the girls and the women. And one might make a case for babies needing to stay with their own mothers. But they all do get the very best pre- and post-natal care. Much better than non-pets, by far. One must admit that the earth’s population problem has pretty much been solved, since the Big Ones came. Controlled breeding was always the only answer, but we humans were so damned stubborn about our precious procreative ‘rights’ that we lost sight of the big picture. Big Ones are very big on the big picture, if you’ll pardon a little play on words here. After all, they are more intelligent and much farther advanced than humans would be, even in another million years. And, they are the top of the line here now, aren’t they? Nothing we can do about that, is there? In closing, it’s interesting to note, that since the advent of human pets, humans don’t keep pets any more. Anyone surprised?
Life (Without Parole)
caged birds and bowled goldfishes
indoor cats with outdoor wishes
kenneled dogs and stabled horses
longing for more than fenced race courses
habitrailed hamsters and guinea pigs
running crazed circles in whirlygigs
terrariumed turtles, snakes under glass
longing for sand and growing grass
cellbound rapists and those who’ve killed
with violent humans jails are filled
padded room-dwellers, prisoners of war
longing for freedom they’d had before
what crimes have all our ‘pets’ committed
that with bars their homes should be outfitted?
what harm have these innocent creatures done
to anything, or anyone?
if roles were reversed, how do you think
you’d rather live… free, or in the clink?