A sci-fi short story in which an alien invasion force targets Dubai
Unseen by any satellites, radars or any of Earth’s considerable complement of early warning systems, the sleek and stealthy long-range scout ship pierced through the upper atmosphere and continued plunging towards the end of its long, long journey.
Within, a lone commander, T’Kra, was fighting the controls, frantically pulling on a space suit and transmitting a series of one-way messages to his home planet. He was shouting to be heard over the many incessant warning alarms and alerts. His words wouldn’t be heard for days, but he was determined that his multi-light year trek would not be in vain, having got this far.
Yet another massive bang sent a shudder through the vessel nearly throwing T’Kra to the floor. He lunged at the holographic monitor, whilst pulling on the final sleeve of his EVAC suit: ‘EMP casing is gone, heat shields holding, hyperdrive engines offline…’
He locked on his helmet and finally got back into the command seat – strapping himself in tight. ‘We’re into the lower atmosphere, multiple system failures – this baby’s never flying again, we’re going down. Extending aero-wings, going to manual, opening shutters!’
T’Kra slammed a button and the solid shields around the windows retracted and the glass detinted instantly. He swiped across another panel and another holographic display appeared.
‘Well the good news is that we’re actually locked on the coordinates and aimed at the intended destination on the planet surface, the bad news is at this trajectory and velocity I might just wipe the whole place out myself – and that’ll give the game away, won’t it?!’ He bravely tried a put-on giggle.
He fired up the station-keeping thrusters and used them to start getting some sort of control of the falling craft. ‘Okay I’ve pulled it off a few degrees, now if I can just level if off, I could try to land outside of the city…
‘My goodness, what majestic terrain. We don’t have anything like this at home….’ Suddenly another new alarm buzzed alarmingly, whilst some of the shuddering suddenly stopped. ‘Ah! All power just died, that’s it, I’m gliding in now… Dammit, I’m too low… Oh Snojux, this is going to hurt!’
He crashed landed and blacked out.
Five minutes later T’Kra regained consciousness. The ship was totalled, and lying on its side. All alert systems silent at last. He unstrapped himself and immediately fell out of his chair. The impact caused him to yell out loud as he began to realise that all was not quite well with him. He switched on his suit’s monitoring and comms systems and ran an Emergency med-scan.
There was bad news and, well, more bad news. One of his arms was broken and one of his legs was deeply gashed, he was losing a lot of blood, but the suit had already administered painkillers. It also meant the suit had been punctured.
At least the comm system was working and tied into what remained of the ship’s back-up transmitters, all readouts suggested it was still sending a signal.
‘Well, I have to say, at least that wasn’t actually my worst landing ever.’ Again the contrived laughter – heroic till the end, that’s how he wanted to be remembered.
‘But the ship is dead and I’m badly injured. Without medical help my chances would be slim, but since the survival suit is ruptured, I have no hope now. The air in here will run out soon, and there’s no way of knowing if the air outside is breathable unless I actually go outside. If it’s not I’ll die instantly.’
He paused transmission and gave this some thought. He could either lie here and count his final minutes, or he take a chance that he could go outside – his planet’s astronomers had long since contended that this Earth was very similar in atmosphere to theirs. But of course he was the first ever to land here – so to speak.
Besides, his mission was to send back visual confirmation of the intended target. A much decorated veteran and pilot, he was dammed if he’d just lie and wait for death to release him. He reached over to the hatch release handles and switched the transmission back on.
‘Opening hatch, leaving vehicle now – I’m turning the helmet cam on too, though I have no idea if the signal strength will be strong enough to bring you video, just don’t expect super high definition folks, it’s the best I can do!’
Clambering out, he found the ground gave way easily. It was very soft. It was sand. Thick sand. Hot though, he could feel that even through his gloved hand. Flipping up his visor he found much to his relief that he could in fact breathe. But the scolding hot air seemed to sear his lungs each time he tried to speak.
His injuries drained him, his gait was faltering, his vision was blurring, his voice was gruff, but he continued to speak into the mic. With all his navigation equipment dead, he simply tried to make out the trail of wreckage, and then walk back along it, knowing that he had steered away from the city at the last minute.
It was a long climb up what appeared to be a vast dune. Eventually, panting, heaving and almost completely exhausted he pulled himself up to the peak with his remaining good arm and finally saw it.
A huge spike of a tower spearing the sky, the single sun’s setting light glinting off one half of it. With his capacities failing now, he couldn’t make out size or distance, but there was no mistaking the incredible building that dominated the city skyline, that there were no doubt the remote reconnaissance guys had got it right.
‘It’s here. It’s real. The intercepted reports were correct. The Earthlings’ tallest structure, their greatest achievement of architecture is at these coordinates….’
He could feel the life-force draining away from him fast now, maybe because he knew that he had fulfilled his final mission in his long and illustrious, career. ‘This is Commander T’Kra’s final report, long live the Empire – please tell my family I love them…’
Days later there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the auditorium back on his home planet as T’Kra’s final transmission was replayed.
A few minutes later the stunned silence changed to cheers as the Emperor announced an advanced invasion force aboard the latest flagship destroyer would be leaving for Earth imminently.
About five months later there was a massive gathering of people, huddled around the perimeter of the artificial lake featuring the famous dancing fountains at the feet of the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) in Dubai, the bustling port city and main tourist destination of the United Arab Emirates.
The Burj was not unused to seeing huge congregations of people, being one of the main staging areas of the planet’s New Years’ celebrations, and consequently it was also very familiar with spectacular fireworks and thrilling detonations all around it.
Tonight though the crowd was cheerless. It was sombre, almost silent, anxious and tense – the atmosphere was both subdued and charged. Stunning explosions were expected, but they were also dreaded. Bitter resolve seemed to permeate through a sense of helplessness and a quiet understanding that tonight everyone here would probably die.
Also unusual was the fact that the first line of the crowd was all made up of the UAE Army, supported with some forces from neighbouring countries. Tanks and heavy artillery were dotted around the entire vicinity, with emergency services on standby. There were even platforms with specially mounted extreme and super advanced laser weaponry just flown in from America.
One of the Middle East region’s most popular tourist areas was transformed and battle-ready. At the head of this, almost directly opposite the Burj had been erected a command-centre, and on its steps stoically stood the Ruler of Dubai
A frantic Chief of Staff informed him for the umpteenth time that a helicopter was standing ready, and imploring that he board it and join his family and the rest of the evacuees 100km inland at the huge desert camp were most of Dubai’s population was now waiting, glued to giant TV screens beaming footage live from Burj Khalifa area.
The Ruler continued to quietly and resolutely ignore the man, whilst at the same recognising and appreciating the man’s loyalty and concern and the fact that he was prepared to die here with him tonight.
As were all these soldiers, and behind them, those residents who had actually chosen to stay behind. They were a mix of locals and expats who lived in worked in this incredible city, poised and ready, not here to observe, but to fight. They were armed with anything they could have got hold of – hammers and kitchen knives etc. Not that that gave them a hope in hell.
If he made it through the night, he would never forget how his people and those that called his city home stood up for it. But the reality was that if the threat they were to encounter tonight was real, none of them would stand a chance, they would be obliterated probably from above, probably instantly. But he was not going to leave this city. He would not let the city that he had envisioned, built and realised, go down without him. If there was a fight to be had, he’d be at the forefront of it.
He hadn’t had to think about it much. He had decided this two weeks ago even as he had immediately ordered an evacuation plan and the desert sanctuary to be built. This was following the most surreal and unbelievable transmission in human history.
It could easily have been widely perceived to be a colossal prank or some kind of marketing or PR stunt – perhaps for a new movie. He would have dismissed it as such too – but for the fact that all the major world leaders had called him immediately, their intelligence and monitoring services having confirmed the transmission to be authentic and its source to have been from outer space.
Everyone on the planet had seen the bizarre transmission. It had suddenly come on the screen of almost every device in the world – leaving most people annoyed that some gimmicky app had taken over their monitors.
The fuzzy and blurry picture at first eventually cleared to reveal what appeared to be a circular room, with humanoid beings seated at consoles and controls. The aliens were all bulky, muscled, decorated in some kind of armour, with ferocious looking, determined and thickset features but still recognisable by human standards: two eyes, two ears, nostrils, and a mouth with two arms and two legs.
What appeared to be the largest and fiercest of the creatures stood in the middle and his mouth was definitely moving, but all that could be heard was a low guttural barking staccato. Suddenly sharp crackling noise sent a high pitched feedback shrieking into everyone’s ears – almost deafening everyone on the planet.
This quietened and settled into a recognisable language: ‘P’Bra – have you got that damn translator working yet?!’ he seemed to be yelling over his shoulder. Clearly it now was and this must have been communicated to the being, evidently the leader, as he turned back to the screen and his gaze intensified as his mouth formed what could be approximated as a grim smile.
‘I am Commanding Admiral Z’Rod of the K’Jar Empire, and henceforth you will forever remember me as the conqueror of your planet, Earth. I am hereby claiming it for Emperor Z’Fagrat. By now it is possibly beginning to dawn on your simple and imbecilic intelligences that we are a superior force of what you would term Aliens. And since we are capable of intergalactic travel, you should have correctly surmised that our technological abilities are far more advanced than yours.
‘At my mere command we can wipe out your cities in their entirety. But we wish to rule you, not destroy you – that’s the good news. That bad news however, so that there can be no doubt about our superiority, is that there will be a destructive demonstration of our powers the likes of which you Earthlings have never witnessed.
‘We have selected to destroy one of your greatest achievements of your so-called modern era, the tallest building on the world – what you call the Burj Khalifa, situated in a town named Dubai. We are on a direct course for your planet now, any attempt to stop us will be futile. Prepare yourselves for our arrival and prepare yourselves for surrender to the mighty K’Jar Empire!’
He turned again over his shoulder: ‘End transmission!’
After a few days, when most people finally started to conceded that it wasn’t just an elaborate hoax – despite all the doubters and conspiracy theorists – it was decided that since there was no idea or comprehension of the abilities of the aliens, and no way to ascertain them, the planet would collectively have to let them ‘show their hand’ before planning and conceiving any kind of resistance and retaliation.
Besides, whilst they had been able to pinpoint the area of space the transmission had originated from, they had not been able to ‘see’ or detect anything there, or on a trajectory with Earth, despite utilising all the monitoring equipment at their disposal, both on surface and in orbit – thus actually fuelling the glees of the aforementioned conspiracy theorists.
The astrophysicists, aerospace experts and the scientific community had all drawn on their many years of experience watching Star Trek to postulate that the aliens’ ship – which must be a huge battle craft had some kind of cloaking or masking device that made it hard to find.
Nonetheless, with no other explanation and confirmation that transmission was indeed from outer space, the threat was taken seriously. The world’s most powerful leaders were now hidden in highly fortified bunkers observing what would happen – the nuclear option had not been ruled out.
The Ruler of Dubai stood alone as a representative world leader to face the unknown – first contact would happen here, in one of the most modern cities on Earth.
Suddenly there was a commotion behind him, and in the crowd, as people started staring at their phones. Clearly the transmission had recommenced. The attack was imminent. He stared up at the Burj Khalifa for a moment, then turned and went inside the Command Centre.
On the screen Admiral Z’Rod stood calmly on what could now be concluded was the ‘bridge’ of his ship, however around him the level of activity from his crew was clearly more intense.
‘Ah, Earthlings, there you are! We know how much you enjoy live broadcasts, so here you go. We have just dropped out of hyper drive – a form of travel beyond your understanding – and are about to enter your atmosphere.’
The command centre was now frantic with activity. Still not a single monitoring station on Earth had been able to detect this vessel, as vast as it must be. How was the possible? Hopeless as things were, it would still have been informative to have some idea of what to expect before it happened.
The Ruler went back outside. Some of the crowd turned to stare at him. The anxiety levels had just gone up. Things had just got real. A few scampered away, the bravado suddenly having escaped them. But most stood firm, knowing perhaps that it was too late to get away from whatever was about to occur.
He observed the increased excitement in the crowd and then looked back at the Burj Khalifa, letting his gaze follow it up along the shimmering, glistening panels towards the top. The sun was setting and the searchlights were starting to pierce and illuminate the early evening sky.
He peered hard into the encroaching darkness above, twice imagining he saw something – but then dismissing it as probably just birds or one of the many the drones zipping around that both his official personnel and others, including media, were flying around, trying to be the first to get video footage of the invading force.
If it was a cloaking device though… He imagined a huge craft, the size of the city almost, suddenly appearing above them. He shuddered at the imagined vision.
The Ruler beckoned to the Chief of Staff, who rushed over with a portable monitor. The cocky commander on the little screen now appeared to be leaning back on a console, still staring intensely, and then barked: ‘Increase descent. Ready all weapons!’
The crowd around the Ruler all simultaneously fell silent. The Soldiers raised all their weapons in response and everyone stared upwards.
On the monitor a crew member rushed up to Z’Rod and said something. ‘What?!’ roared the Commander. He punched the hapless crew-member who was thrown clear across the bridge.
Then, bizarrely, Z’Rod marched up to the monitor, right up to whatever form the recording camera would have been, and actually peered directly into it.
It didn’t seem to be for our benefit, or as a form of intimidation – even though the enormous angry face sent up a startled gasp around the crowd, and probably the planet. Instead it seemed a curious gaze, frankly somewhat astonished. Almost as if the monitor was a two-way system, and he was trying to look at the humans, rather than letting them see him.
‘Cut Transmission,’ he yelled. But somehow only the sound went dead. The video continued. The level of excitement and activity on the bridge of the ship increased dramatically. Whatever was about to happen was… Well, it was about to happen now it seemed.
The crowd tensed once again staring hard at the sky, poised for the attack. Several moments passed in absolute silence.
The silence was broken only by a low hum. The Ruler looked around and noticed one of the drones had dropped down to eye level very close by, probably malfunctioning. Annoyed, he gestured to one of the Sergeants on the front line near him, who immediately stepped up, swung his rifle butt and slammed the drone into the artificial lake. It sunk into the water with a fizz.
Meanwhile the transmission had cut out completely now, and everyone continued to gaze up expectantly at the sky, searchlights swinging around wildly.
A couple of minutes ticked by. Nothing had appeared. Necks were getting strained. Nerves were getting frayed. There was almost a sense of ‘let’s just get it over with now, come and destroy us already!’
The Ruler too was puzzled. Nobody on his staff had any information, the transmission had not recommenced. Satellites and radars still hadn’t picked up any kind of UFO. In fact it was as if the whole threat had just… vanished.
The Ruler replayed the night’s events so far in his head and suddenly hit the pause button, letting out a long slow breath accompanied by a prayer of thanks and an exaltation of the truly Almighty. Now finally ignoring the sky everyone else was still so intent on, he began walking, his staff scurrying around him in confusion, as he strode towards the sergeant he had gestured to earlier.
The soldier became aware of this, lowered his weapon and stood to attention. Once the Ruler had reached him however, he said nothing. He just stopped and stared at him for a good long moment, making the young Emirati – who had always been in awe of the Ruler – very nervous indeed.
Eventually the Ruler spoke quietly ‘Maashallah,’ and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. Everyone around them, including the soldier… and in fact everyone else too, because by now the cameras had turned on them and away from the darkened sky that didn’t seem it was about to yield anything more threatening than falling drones.
Finally the Sergeant found the strength to inquire: ‘Sir?’ The Ruler smiled gently, almost grinning: ‘You, young man, might have just single-handedly saved the whole of humanity!’
The soldier stared at him in bewilderment. The Ruler asked for the camera feed to be cut and then continued to speak to the soldier: ‘Fetch that er… drone back out of the water for me please.’
‘Er… yes Sir, at once!’
The Ruler held up his hand, ‘No, not at once. You need to do it very carefully. In fact you’d better get the Hazmat and Containment Team here before you do. Meanwhile quietly, and calmly, push back everyone from the water’s edge.’
And by now definitely sporting a grin, he turned and walked away as realisation dawned amongst those around him.
The reason they hadn’t been able to see or detect the alien ship above them, was because it was already here, and it was the size of a drone. The supposedly menacing aliens had somewhat miscalculated the size of their ambitions. In stature, they were, in fact, absolutely tiny beings relative to humanity!
The Alien invasion had been thwarted with not a single weapon fired, but merely swung. The Earth now possessed alien technology. And the Burj Khalifa would continue to stand tall.