The invaders offered no explanation for the swath of destruction they were cutting across our world. No demands had been leveled. No spoils were ever taken. Their wrath was as merciless as it was mysterious. The beings were not extraordinarily strong or fast, but their advanced technology had rendered the Earth’s strongest nations powerless against them. What populace remained after the initial attack had been left cowering in the dark, waiting to die. I was once among them.
A military rescue unit discovered me unconscious but alive next to the smoldering corpses of my family. My wife and sons had been left burned and blackened alongside thousands of other poor souls. I awoke weeks later in a hospital bed. My burns had healed but my soul was left fractured.
More cities had fallen while I slept. I managed to track down the rescue team who had pulled me from the ashes and volunteered my services, hoping it would distract from the growing emptiness inside me.
I excelled in my new position. Whether pulling survivors from the rubble or stuffing the dead into body bags, I remained coldly efficient. As the weeks wore on, my emptiness transformed into a smoldering hatred of the invaders. My supervisor took notice of my pragmatism and nominated me for a spot in a new experimental military program. I packed my things and hitched a ride to the outskirts of a refugee camp where several bigwigs from the armed forces had been stationed.
After taking lengthy personality and IQ tests in the back of an armored truck, I was interviewed by Lieutenant General Toschgold of the US Air Force. She told me participation in the program carried a high certainty of death, but could provide a chance to strike a decisive blow against our enemies. I signed the paperwork without hesitation.
I was assigned to a unit under the purview of the USAF’s scientific division. During my initial briefing, I was told the AFSOC had managed to successfully recover some of the invaders’ tech from a crashed warship (likely due to pilot error–no weapons we possessed could take down the invaders’ aircraft). After careful study, the stolen machine was theorized to allow interdimensional travel via a telepathic link. I was among 50 men and women whose psychological profiles indicated their minds could withstand the strain of operating what had been dubbed the “Chthonic Device.” The eggheads warned us their research was incomplete–failure to maintain a proper psionic link with the device could prove deadly. No one quit the program.
After some basic low-gravity training, our unit was transferred to a carrier frigate in low orbit above Earth. I refused to participate in any team building exercises, knowing we were more sacrificial lambs than soldiers. I remained isolated, spending many nights staring through a porthole at the curvature of the Earth. The landmasses below were barely visible behind a choking, brown cloud of smoke. As the shadow of night fell, long amber lines of wildfires could be seen burning across the continents.
The Chthonic Device was unforgiving. If a stray thought entered the operator’s mind while lingering in outer-dimensional space, their atoms had a tendency to shred themselves apart. One by one, the other 49 men and women in my unit died attempting to harness the portals created by the alien tech. My compatriots cowered and wept over every fresh disintegration, but my eyes stayed wide open. Watching every failure. Observing the faces of those about to die. Learning from their mistakes. From the beginning I knew I was more qualified than the others. My mind had been consecrated in a baptismal font of pure rage. I was ready.
On the eve of Earth’s ruination, I became humankind’s final, desperate salvo. The invaders’ unspeakable atrocities had sharpened my mind into a white-hot blade of unquenchable hatred, capable of cutting through the fabric of reality itself. The time for retribution was at hand. The bastards had brought this upon themselves.
The eggheads reiterated all their trite warnings as I was placed inside the Chthonic Device. I emptied my mind as the teleporter hummed to life. My observations taught me emotions outweighed logic when it came to operating the alien tech. I didn’t think about where the invaders’ seat of power may be, but about how much I wanted it to crumble. I didn’t focus on who ruled their society, just my desire to watch them die. A singular anger guided me as I created a rift between dimensions. The circular edge of the breach frayed with electric arcs while the inside remained black as a moonless night. As the portal stabilized, I instantly became aware of where it was leading and who my target was. I had become the invader.
My vengeance would not be delayed. I sank my arms shoulder-deep into the swirling void, groping blindly until something squishy glanced my fingertips. I grasped at the mass and tugged hard, pulling a sentient phlegm ball into an envelope between dimensions. My vile prisoner screeched in pain, thrashing in my tightening grip. The invaders weren’t expecting a human to tear into their world like they had torn into ours.
Tentacles lined with sharpened spines emerged from the creature’s body and jabbed into my flesh, injecting lethal poison beneath my skin. I knew the venom would kill me in a matter of minutes but I was only concerned with the next few seconds. I had fractured reality to pluck the invaders’ slithering overlord from its gelatinous throne and nothing would deter me from my grim work.
My enemy’s gurgling language was unknowable, but it hardly mattered–the panic in its single, slit eye said everything. It sent a telepathic broadcast of its fear and pain into my mind, but its desperation only fueled my resolve and strengthened my grip. The thing’s insides slowly shattered in my clenching fists, feeling fragile as bird bones. Long strings of black gore slopped from my hands and fell apart in the void.
Before the mission began, Lieutenant General Toschgold assured me the death of the invader’s leader would bring chaos to their world. With my task coming to fruition, I imagined their execrable society falling apart and it made me smile. I was instantly punished for my brief flirtation with satisfaction. A deep, sharp pain began radiating throughout my arms as I vacated the Chthonic Device. I collapsed and the world went black.
I awoke in the frigate’s medical bay. General Toschgold (no longer a Lieutenant) was hovering above me, her uniform laden with medals. Before I could ask how I had survived, she informed me the battlefields on Earth had gone quiet for the first time in years. With the invaders’ leader dead, the war had swung in our favor. I attempted to salute the general but quickly realized I couldn’t. I had lost both of my arms, just above the elbows.
After General Toschgold left, a timid doctor walked into the room. She explained how the dismemberment of my limbs by the collapsing portal had kept the gelatanoid’s venom from spreading throughout the rest of my body. Although I had survived, my weakness left me disappointed. I silently vowed to never abandon my anger again.
A few hours later I was fitted with advanced prosthetics as a reward for my service. My young doctor hailed me as a hero and I did my best to remain patient as she sung my praises. While finishing the installation, she informed me with great sadness that although my new arms had full range of movement, they lacked the capacity for sensory input. They would always feel numb. I smiled and told her it didn’t matter–anyone I cared to hold had long been taken from me. I watched with curiosity as a tear slid down her cheek, knowing I’d never shed another of my own.
The invaders’ ruling class may have been crippled, but the war was far from over. During my time between dimensions I had experienced a vision–a way to eradicate our enemies using the Chthonic Device. Upon discharge, I arranged a meeting with General Toschgold. She initially rebuffed my plan, but acquiesced upon realizing I was the only one capable of using the alien tech. I thanked her for understanding my vision and began training for the second phase of my extended mission.
There wasn’t much time to prepare. The invaders had already resumed their attacks and were regaining the ground they had lost. During my brief stint of training, I discovered I could choose where portals appeared–even far beyond the confines of the device. I also learned I could set them in motion. The revelations changed my plan of attack. I kept General Toschgold in the dark, worried she would delay the second phase in order to test the expanded capabilities of the Chthonic Device.
The day of the raid had arrived. I stepped into the teleportation chamber with complete confidence in my abilities. I cleared my thoughts for the final assault as the technicians readied the device. When mission control gave me the go-ahead, I focused my anger and activated the alien machine without delay.
Based on my first experience, I knew exactly how to locate the invaders’ homeworld. Retapping my great hatred, I tore a fresh rift above their planet. The next task proved more challenging. I struggled to maintain my second portal after sending it hurtling toward a precise set of coordinates given to me by mission control. The breach faltered until I imagined an intense heat burning away my enemies as they howled in agony. When my rage hit its apex both portals finally stabilized–one stationary and the other rushing though the darkness at incredible speed. I broke out in a cold sweat and prepared for the grand finale.
I traveled through the first portal I had created and immediately began plummeting through the atmosphere above the invader’s home world. Despite my flight suit and oxygen mask, the gasses of their bizarre green sky immediately started to choke me. I was ready to die, but I hoped to survive long enough to enjoy the show.
A great city revealed itself as I parted the cloud cover. Gleaming structures reached to the edges of the horizon, each topped by coiled spires. Unlike the concrete expanses of Earth, the megalopolis beneath me seemed to be in perfect harmony with nature. A forest of blue trees zigzagged between the buildings, some taller than the most soaring towers. Dropping further and faster, I observed strange, undulating birds circling above a series of emerald lakes brimming with whirlpools. I coughed violently as I marveled at the wondrous sights below. The invaders’ world was beautiful beyond reproach. I couldn’t wait to watch it burn.
The planet’s incredible gravity pulled me faster toward the ground, but I knew I would run out of oxygen long before I hit the surface. The pain of the ice-cold air penetrating my suit became almost unbearable. I begged the sky to reveal my parting gift to this amazing world before I died.
An intense buzz filled my ears and I blacked out. I woke up disoriented inside one of the city’s shining towers. My suit and oxygen mask were gone, as well as my new arms. I gasped for breath and fell to my knees as dozens of gelatanoids surrounded me. They were several times larger than the one I had crushed–their emperor had been no more than a child. Lacerating tentacles wrapped around my body and held me aloft. The invaders’ telepathic hive mind flashed images in my head, showing me how they had sent their own portal to pluck me from the sky before I impacted the ground.
I grinned and gasped at the same time as I began to lose consciousness. With my last breaths I told them what was about to happen, not caring if they understood my words or not. I explained how I had sent a portal careening through space toward Alpha Centauri A. As soon as it made contact with the star, it would teleport a cylinder of 30,000 degree plasma through the same portal I had fallen through. I smiled through my rage and pain, knowing a blazing spear a thousand miles long would soon arrive to tear their planet apart. Earth’s victory was mere moments away.
The instant my gift filled the sky with scorching light, the invaders sent another telepathic burst to my brain. As my body burned away I realized the horrible truth. My second portal hadn’t found its way to some distant star, but Earth’s own sun. Puncturing its core had unleashed a massive hydrogen explosion, obliterating the entire solar system.
I should have known better. My emotions were key to setting the portal’s path, not some vague sense of coordinates to a faraway galaxy. After all, the sun was the only star I had ever truly known. My world and the world of my enemies had been extinguished in one fell swoop as my hate blossomed across dimensions.
Had I another instant to live, I might have laughed.