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Copyright @ Marina Simcoe



 “Isabella Bruno.” The man in a dark suit wasn’t asking. Staring at me from the other side of the front entrance as I held the door open, he stated my name confidently, as if he already knew it was me.

 “How can I help you?” I asked cautiously, glancing at the two others behind him. The large, black vehicles parked at the curb in front of our house did not put my mind at ease either.

 “Michael Trevin.” He offered me his hand. “May we come in?”

 “Trevin?” I stared at him in shock, ignoring his hand. “TheMichael Trevin?” I asked, dumbfounded, even as I had already recognized the face of one of the three North American representatives in the coalition of Earth Governments. “You’re here? In Deer Rock?”

 The fact that someone so high up in the government personally visited our small town—far up North on the territory that used to be Canada before the three countries of the continent had been merged into one—should be a huge event.

 Had his visit been made public? How had I missed the news? And why was he at my house?

 “Can we come in?” he asked more persistently, moving forward, which forced me to step back.

 “Um, sure,” I mumbled, as if my permission meant anything at that point—all three had entered our small hallway.

 I smoothed my hair quickly and brushed my palms down my t-shirt, feeling painfully underdressed in my pajama pants. It was mid-morning on a weekday, but I had an evening shift at the store today and hadn’t changed yet. Luckily, I had at least put a bra on.

 “Who is it, Bella?” Mom came out of the kitchen, bouncing Lily, one of my sister’s twins, on her hip. “Mister Trevin . . .” She stared at the representative, her eyes opened wide, her mouth agape. “In my house?”

 “Mrs Bruno.” He shook her hand energetically. “Where would be the best place for us to have a quick talk?” Without waiting for an answer, he shoved past her and into our kitchen. His escort followed.

 “Um . . . About what?” Mom hurried after them. “Would you like anything? Tea? Water?”

 “We don’t have much time.” Trevin pulled a chair from the table and sat down. “Secretary Carter. Agent Miller.” He gestured at the two men accompanying him as they took seats at the table too.

 “What is it all about?” Mom moved her gaze from one man to another. Both her and I remained standing.

 “We are here to collect Isabella Bruno,” Miller blurted out, earning a stern glare from Trevin.

 “Me?” I stepped into the kitchen from the entrance where I had been standing.

 Surely this was some kind of misunderstanding.

 “What did she do?” Mom sent me a questioning stare.

 “Before I explain,” Trevin raised a hand in a calming gesture, “allow me to remind you that although our coalition is the main human governing body on the planet, it has been under the jurisdiction of the planet Keala for the past nine years. The extraterrestrials have left us to administer our population, but the Kealan laws take precedence over ours.”

 The aliens had come to Earth suddenly one day. Several giant flying saucers had hovered over a few major cities, and it didn’t take long for them to make it clear they did not come in peace.

 All military attempts by the coalition to attack the spaceships resulted in the immediate annihilation of our aircraft and missiles.

 Then they attacked us. Entire populations of several towns and small cities around the world were eradicated within minutes when bright rays of light had descended from the ships. All structures, machines, and animals were left intact. However, the people in those places were turned to dust in seconds—white ash all that remained.

 Human capitulation came right after the aliens threatened to annihilate the entire population of Earth in the same fashion if we didn’t surrender.

 As Trevin pointed out, the Kealans left the coalition in charge of Earth’s administration, not getting much involved in our politics or our way of life. They built two facilities, one on each of Earth’s poles, and implemented mandatory annual medical evaluations for all humans aged eighteen to sixty.

 Other than that, it was easy to forget with time that Earth had been conquered at all.

 “Please take a seat, Isabella.” Trevin’s stare carried a power I found myself unable to disobey. I sat at the table across from him, folding my hands over the large red strawberries printed on the plastic tablecloth. “About a week ago, the coalition received a request from the Kealans. They demanded you be handed over to them.”

 “Me?” I repeated, stunned, a fog of confusion and denial settled over my brain. “There must be some mistake . . .”

 “No mistake. They want you,” Miller bit off.

 Trevin leaned in, resting his hands on the table. “We were able to negotiate some time to discuss the situation last week. However, this morning, their request was made urgent—” A sudden thought appeared to flash through his mind. “When was your last medical examination?”

 “Yesterday,” I replied, clutching my hands tight. “What do they want with me?”

 The exams were done by the local doctor, for free and with no known health consequences observed. Alien robot-drones delivered the test kits and collected the data obtained. After nine years, the global medical exams had become the norm. By now, hardly anyone questioned it, begrudgingly accepting having to go see the doctor once a year as something that had to be done—kind of like renewing one’s driver’s licence, or filing taxes.

 “You had one done yesterday?” Trevin exchanged a knowing look with the other men at the table. “That may explain the urgency.”

 “How?” Even more perplexed, I moved my gaze from one face to another. “What do they want?” I asked again, since no one had answered me the first time.

 “Well.” Trevin leaned against the back of his chair, stretching his neck and obviously stalling his answer.

 “Your current physical state may be of some importance to them,” Carter joined in.

 “What do you mean? When will I be able to come home?”

 Carter glanced at Trevin. Something in the expressions of the two sent a chill of trepidation down my spine.

 “I willcome back, won’t I?” I insisted, louder.

 “The extraterrestrials offered you Kealan citizenship. Through marriage.” Trevin shifted in his chair, making it squeak. “To that extent, they also agreed to honour our traditions and have a proper wedding ceremony—”

 “What wedding?” both Mom and I said at once.

 Rolling his eyes to the ceiling, Miller leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Yours,” he explained, with a dramatic sigh of exasperation. “The aliens want one of them to marry you.”

 “Which is a good thing when you think about it,” Carter rushed in. “It could be presented as a gesture of good will—”

 “Presented to whom?” I jumped from my seat. All of it stopped making any sense whatsoever. “What are you all talking about? I’m not going anywhere. I’m perfectly fine where I am. Why would the aliens want me anyway? I’ve never met them and don’t want to.”

 I’d watched the news broadcast of the few official visits of the Kealans with the coalition. The images of their tall figures, draped in black cloaks, hoods drawn low over their faces, left an unpleasant impression on me, bringing the Grim Reaper to mind.

 “And . . . a wedding? Really?” I wrung my hands, pacing in front of the table, as if moving could help me wrap my mind around all of this.

 “Miss Bruno . . .” Carter jumped out of his seat, too.

 “This is just stupid!” Skipping down the stairs, my sister, Mary, barged into the room, her son Luca under her arm. “His diaper is changed.” She handed Luca to my mom, who put him on her other hip, opposite to his twin. “Honestly, guys.” Hands propped on the tabletop, Mary stared down Trevin and his escort. Less than two years younger than me, she had always been the more assertive and outspoken one. “Just listen to you! An alien wedding? What the hell are you talking about? Is this some kind of a joke for reality TV or something?”

 “It will be televised,” Carter announced, brightly. “The preparations for the event have been in full swing since the initial demand was received.”

 “Even before I was notified?” I muttered, wishing I could just wake up and stop this nightmare.

 “And who are you?” Mary threw at Carter sarcastically, one corner of her mouth lifting up. “The wedding planner?”

 “Ma’am.” Miller rose from the table and moved on my sister. “It’s imperative we deliver Isabella Bruno—”

 “What do you mean by deliver?” Mary scoffed. “Bella is a free woman, she has rights—”

 “Exactly,” Mom stepped in, balancing the twins on each hip. “You can’t just come in here and take her—"

 “You’re forgetting that noneof us are free, miss.” Trevin got up, shoving the chair back with a screeching noise, his jaw muscles flexed.  “Not since the capitulation to the Kealans nine years ago.”

 “We have orders to take your sister.” Miller crossed his arms over his chest. “Your permission is not required.”

 “I don’t want to go.” Dread slithered up my spine, cold and sticky. “My home is here. My job. I have a life . . . I—”

 “Isabella.” Trevin took a step my way.

 “No.” I glared at him.

 “She is not going anywhere,” Mary insisted stubbornly.

 “This is all definitely way too fast.” Moving her gaze across the room, Mom appeared completely lost. “Why all this rush? Who is this man . . . um, this alien, who wants to marry her? Why? Does he like her? They’ve never met . . .”

 “Like?” Miller grimaced. “What does that have to do with anything?”

 The front door opened with a knock.

 “Bell? Are you home?” I heard the familiar voice of Johnny, my boyfriend of four years. 

 Mom bounced on her heels to calm the twins who started fussing. “What I’m saying is that this is not a proper way to ask someone to marry you,” she argued with Miller.

 Trevin pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re missing the point, ma’am. Weare not the ones who make demands here.”

 “Who is getting married?” Johnny walked in, tossing back his shoulder-length blond hair, some of which perpetually hung over his face.

 “The freaking aliens are planning a wedding with Bella!” Mary blurted out, gesturing at Miller and Trevin, as if they were the aliens in question.

 “Mary . . .” I exhaled, feeling like my knees were about to give out, a pounding headache threatened to set in.

 Johnny moved a confused glance from her to Miller then finally to me. “Is that true?”

 “We don’t have much time.” Trevin ignored him. “The flight to Capital City will take at least two hours. With the ceremony scheduled for tonight, the team will have to start getting you ready soon.”

 Ready. . . 

 Ready for what? The wedding?


 My heart skipped at the realization that all of this was real after all. Fear settled heavily in my chest, threatening to turn into panic.

 “How will you ever get anyone ready to marry some alien dude?” Mary yelled at the three. “No matter how much time you have. Who the hell is heanyway?”

 “We have not been given the groom’s identity,” Trevin replied coolly.

 “Mary is right, though.” Mom shook her head. “This is insane.”

 “Your family will be well compensated, of course,” Carter started.

 “This is not about money!” Mary snapped.

 “Her dad is in the hospital,” my mom muttered softly, shifting her pleading gaze from one of the men to another. “At the very least, you need to let her say goodbye . . . Why this rush?” she groaned.

 “Johnny . . .” I grabbed my boyfriend by the arm and shoved him into the hallway, desperate to get away from it all, to shut the noise out, to get some time to do something . . . Anything.

 “Is it true what they’re saying, Bell?” Johnny asked as I dragged him around the corner and out of everyone’s sight. “Are those SUV’s outside theirs? And is that Michael Trevin, for real?”

 “Miss Bruno!” Miller’s voice thundered behind me.

 “A minute, please. Give me one freaking minute!” I yelled back. “Johnny.” I whispered quickly, panic vibrating through me. “This can’t be happening . . .”

 “Do they really want you to marry an alien?”

 “Apparently, it’s the aliens who want this. Johnny.” Gripping his shoulders, I gave him a shake. “Please, help me. Let’s run.”

 There was no way I was going to return to that kitchen where they all waited for me.

 Until this morning, I’d been a regular small-town girl, working in a convenience store since I graduated high school eight years ago. With my oldest brother in and out of jail for the past several years and my father in and out of hospitals with his ailing heart and lungs, I had been helping my mom with my four younger brothers who were still in grade school and more recently, with Mary’s ten-month-old twins.

 My plans for the future had mostly included marrying Johnny—whenever he saved up enough money to buy me a ring and asked me to be his wife—and eventually starting a family.

 It was not a glorious life, but it was mylife, and I was content, living right here in Deer Rock, where I knew everybody and everyone knew me from the day I was born.

 This whole thing now felt surreal and terrifying.

 “Get me out of here, please,” I whispered, not sure myself howthat could be accomplished or where I could run to. I just needed to be far away from here. “I’m not going with them. I need to hide.”

 “Bell.” His hesitant expression broke my heart. “You know their drones can find you by your DNA?”

 I knew—that was how the Kealans traced those who tried to evade the medical testing—but I couldn’t think rationally at that point. 

 “We’ll hide in a cave, somewhere, where the drones can’t fly?” My voice dropped, however, as did the hope in my heart. “I can’t do this, Johnny . . .”

 “Maybe just for a little while?” he suggested.

 “What?” I stared at him in disbelief. “You actually want me to go with them?”

 “Tony should be out next month,” he spoke quickly. “I’m sure your brother will think of something.”

 Tony—my oldest brother and Johnny’s idol since we were little—always came up with something. I wished he were here. Unfortunately,  Tony’s ingenuity had been wasted on raiding gas stations and convenience stores, which had put him in jail for the second time in his twenty-nine years.

 “Together, we will find a way to get you out later,” Johnny promised.

 “It means I’ll have to go with them now,” I whispered, every fibre of my being refusing to accept the idea of that.

 “Listen,” he said soothingly, stroking my arms, but his gaze flicked to the wall behind me as he refused to meet my eyes. “If they want you . . .”

 “Then you don’t?” I snapped.

 “No, it’s not that. Just, you know, they always get their way . . .”

 “Johnny. Are you afraid of them, too?” I stepped back, not wanting to believe the obvious, but feeling completely alone already. “Are you breaking up with me?”

 “There is going to be a wedding, Bell,” he sounded apologetic. “I don’t want you to end up feeling guilty over what may come afterwards.”

 “Are you kidding me?” My throat tightened painfully, and I brought my hand to it.

 “I just want to make it easier for you,” he continued in a rush. “No matter what, I won’t see it as cheating on your part. Okay?”

 “I can’t believe it!” With a sob, I shrunk further away from him, feeling both ashamed and disgusted.

 He reached for me. “You know we don’t have a choice—”

 “Isabella, it’s time.” Trevin walked out of the kitchen, his voice firm.

 Breathing hard, I backed away from both of them, moving to the front door.

 “Miss Bruno . . .” Miller came from around Trevin, but I was no longer listening to whatever either of them had to say.

 Twisting around, I dashed for the exit.

 “You go, sis!” Mary cheered from the kitchen just as one of the twins started crying.

 Shoving at the front door with my shoulder, I ran outside, without having any idea where I was going. Panic overtook me, propelling me to sprint as far away from this place as possible, away from the men in suits.

 “Miss Bruno!” The doors of one of the black vehicles in front of our house flew open, and two men in black uniforms leaped out. They cut me off and tackled me to the ground on our front yard.

 “Quickly, in the van with her,” Miller bit out the command, catching up with us.

 “Let me go!” I screamed, fighting against the hands lifting me off the ground. “I don’t want this! I’m not going!”

 The last I saw before they shoved me in and shut the doors were the pale faces of my family standing in the doorway of the house where I grew up.

 My sister, comforting Lily in her arms. My mom, her hand over her mouth, Luca crawling at her feet. The thought of Tony and my dad flashed through my brain. The images of my little brothers who would come home from school that afternoon and find me gone.

 I never got a chance to say a proper goodbye to any of them.

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