The plants were next. They got sick for a little while. Soon they grew back, but they were a little different. That was the first clue that something was happening. By the time the Earth’s scientists figured out what was going on, the changes had already started. Anyone within a thousand of miles of the Hedron got sick. They got better, just like the plants, and they too were different.
The Hedron was changing them. No one could agree on the how. Concentrated radiation bursts or nanotechnology rewriting DNA. Whatever it was, it was so advanced that now, almost a century later, the human race still didn’t fully understand what’d been done to it.
The purpose of the Hedron wasn’t to carry aliens or information, it was to change the world and every living thing into a copy of the alien world. Ryan shuddered, just like he did every time he thought about it. The process hadn’t completed. The one thing the aliens hadn’t anticipated when they launched their genocidal probe was humanity’s capacity for destruction.
The alien machine’s defenses were almost unbeatable, pin-point lasers and microwave bursts, but a few nukes of the hundreds launched got through. The world leaders knew what they were doing to the planet, but they didn’t have a choice.
For a while, humanity cowered in bunkers and the few cities that’d escaped the worst of the fallout. They thought they’d won. When they ventured out, they learned they were wrong. Nests of people, half twisted into aliens, dotted even the most irradiated areas. Most of the population had been warped by the Hedron, and they weren’t content to leave the process half finished.
Whether by instinct or programming, the former humans gathered together, trying to rebuild the technology destroyed with the Hedron. Cities fell, their inhabitants gone without a trace. Humanity retreated underground, desperate for ways to fight back.
It was the alien’s own technology that provided the answer. Over sixty years ago now, the first suit was reverse engineered. A complex web of circuitry and artificial muscles. The suits increased speed and reaction times and offered protection from radiation and attack. The biologically superior aliens finally had a foe that could match them.
The only problem was the interface. Neuroplasticity was the word, if Ryan remembered correctly. A brain wasn’t meant to be hooked up to a cybernetic exoskeleton. You needed a brain that could constantly form new connections and rewire itself. You needed a kid’s brain. Anyone fourteen to twenty-one had to serve, unless their parents could afford the steep fines and taxes. Everything was more expensive your entire life if you didn’t serve, from food to owning a business. So usually the draft didn’t skip more than a generation. Ryan’s family hadn’t even been that lucky. Four generations of service. If his grandfather hadn’t lost everything in an attack, Ryan’s father might not have had to enlist.
No use thinking about that. Theo had finally snuck up to his position. His friend would know if he was distracted. Theo wouldn’t lecture or even mention it, but Ryan felt bad if he wasn’t looking out like he was supposed to. He peeked out behind some jagged chunks of rock to check on their targets. The aliens were totally preoccupied. They seemed to be putting some kind of antenna together.