This is part of a short story I’m writing which I’m hoping will become part of a longer story. This is more exposition than actual story, but I figured I’d throw it out there and hopefully that will force me to keep working on it.
Every 14 seconds, the guns fired. Their noise was endless. Day and night they fired without ceasing. The sound of their firing was inescapable; it filled the sky with its enormity.
Jericho was of course used to this. It had taken some time, as it had for everyone on Earth, but after six years, he almost didn’t notice them anymore. The Drums, some called them. An enormous sound track to a life consumed by work.
Not everyone had gotten used to the constant drumming. In those early days and weeks, many had gone insane. People couldn’t sleep. They became anxious, irritable. Social breakdown occurred, and riots were everywhere. The animals had it worse, for they could not understand that The Drums were there to keep them safe. The Drums were the last barrier between the Earth and God knows what fate the invaders would visit upon them all.
As the weeks stretched into months, most people adapted. Those that couldn’t adapt tried to find somewhere the sound of The Drums couldn’t reach them. They soon found this to be impossible. After all, for The Drums to work they had to be everywhere, across every latitude and longitude. They could try earplugs all they wanted or try earplugs under earplugs. They would stop the noise, sure, but the noise was in the ground too. It rattled windows and shook tables. The sound of The Drums was in their bones. So the people who couldn’t adapt went insane or died, as they always had throughout history.
Jericho had adapted, as he always had, to survive. As the invaders tore their way through the Solar System, Jericho had watched with the rest of humanity. When colony after colony fell, martial law took hold. Rapidly a global government formed and Jericho was forced to leave his job as a civilian engineer and work for the local government. They needed his skills and each person now had to do what they could. From each according to their ability, as they said. As the world heaved and cracked around him, he set to his work.
It wasn’t bad work. He still got to do what he had studied his whole life to do, after all. So he couldn’t complain about that. Those that didn’t possess such useful jobs were stuck with manual labor usually, but they couldn’t complain. If they did, nothing would change. There was no room for preference anymore. Jericho also got a decent number of food credits because of his status as an engineer. So it wasn’t all bad.
The global government restored order, violently at times, but Jericho stayed away from such conflicts. Part of adapting is knowing when to fight and when to keep your head low. Jericho kept his head low and focused on his work.
And there was plenty of work to do in those days, for the global government had come up with a radical plan. A last ditch effort to stop the fire sweeping across the solar system. They would make the orbit around the Earth a lethal minefield. This will work, they promised, until we can go on the offensive. By this point, all the outer colonies save the Martians had fallen.
Many people protested, saying they were leaving those not on Earth to a horrible fate. In truth though, no one knew what fate the colonies had come to. By the time the invaders were in range of each colony, they fell silent. No reports had ever come out of those colonies since. People assumed it wasn’t good. Jericho was among them.
This is our last hope. Mars will fall and they will be at our doorstep, the cradle of humanity. This is our last hope.
So they build The Drums, titanic guns that fired mines into orbit every 14 seconds. The mines would linger in an unstable orbit for a few hours, then reenter the atmosphere and explode, far too high to harm anyone on Earth. For this reason, the guns had to keep shooting, day and night for years on end, like a heart keeping Earth alive.
Jericho was instrumental in the construction of several of the guns in his local area, a place the government had ordered him to live in at the beginning of the project. It was said by many that without him, the project would have failed. The reality was that his happened all over the Earth. The construction of The Drums was a monumental task of human engineering. Some called it the greatest accomplishment of the human race, greater even that the terraforming of Mars. The whole of humanity was involved in either supplying food and basic services to the masses or building and supplying the guns.
The Drums became the center of human activity. Cities sprang up around them, minimalist though they were. All of humanity was finally united in a common task.
The guns began firing and never stopped.
Mars fell a week later. The moon fell silent. The great test had come.
Of course there was still hope that the fighter ships around Earth would destroy the invaders. It was the greatest armada ever assembled, a fleet of many nations. People held on to the hope that at Earth’s doorstep, their fleet would destroy the invaders and stop the fire that had traveled so far across the Solar System and destroyed so much.
The destruction of Earth’s ship was incredibly bright, and every ship’s death could be witnessed even during the day. Horrified, the people of Earth listened as each ship was engaged and destroyed. There was much heroism among the fighters up there, as there always is among those who fight with their back to a wall. Defeat was a foregone conclusion though. It was apparent from the outset.
The invaders destroyed every ship of Earth’s great fleet in a matter of hours. Earth could now only rely on the wall it had built. There was nothing left to do now but wait. The workers on Earth still toiled at their positions. They didn’t have time to stop now. Now more than ever, they had to keep the guns firing.
Those that were off shift gathered with friends and family to wait and see if their plan would work. Some prayed. Some though the apocalypse was at hand. It was to them as if the Second Coming was upon them, but instead of Christ, the Devil had showed up.
At last, the invaders made a thrust towards Earth. The sky lit up with explosions. Thunder followed, a rare hiccup in the normal 14 seconds between drums. Then nothing, but the guns every 14 seconds. Every 14 seconds for the last six years.
We’re saved. Our plan worked, people would say. Praise God.
Jericho knew the truth though. He might have adapted to all of this, his new life, The Drums, the food shortages, the rationing, the global government, but he still knew the truth.
They weren’t saved.
They were trapped.