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Only Human

by J. R. Lowe about a year ago in Short Story
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A short story

The building trembled lightly as another explosion echoed from the distance, causing the ceiling to cough out dust from between its crevices. Constantly and without fail, the alarm system’s buzz rang over and over again. Its loud persistent sound was rivalled only by the clearly spoken recording of a woman’s voice as it echoed through the room, “Warning, the city has been breached...”.

The noise was unbearable and seemed to numb my ears as I reached to cover them. Yet my hands had little effect; I could still clearly hear the woman’s mechanical voice as the alarm finished its sequence and began again, “…Evacuate all personnel immediately. Warning, the city has been breached…”. It was obvious the other survivors were equally frustrated as they sat head-in-hands around the room. No one spoke a word. No one dared. There wasn’t much point in speaking anyway – the alarm seemed to drown out all sound except for the terrifying rumble of explosions and the hum of enemy ships. Their vessels passed by every few minutes as they searched the city for life forms.

This wasn’t just an invasion, it was an extermination. No one had anticipated their intentions when we first made contact. No one warned us. They poisoned us with their words, promising peace and offering trades. Then they literally poisoned us, although no one knows exactly how. Youth Sickness we called it, because it only affected the children. Whether this was intentional or not is a mystery. It just made things all the more horrific. The invaders were insidious; they were a plague. No matter how desperately we searched for it, there was no cure. Poisoned and polluted, their planet had slowly died. Their home was barren because of them and now they were taking ours.

What if they discovered us? I thought. I shivered with horror and, as if to distract myself, began to nervously scan the room. It was spacious and had a certain elegance to its modern design which, if not for the taunting sounds and overturned furniture, would have been somewhat comforting. Continuing their course, my eyes fixed themselves on a small window at the far end. No one had dared to approach it; fear of discovery held us back. Yet I could feel it calling to me, drawing me in like a magnet. What’s out there? How many of us are left? What’s left of the city? Only the window could provide answers. Giving in to my curiosity, I pushed myself up from the floor, took a deep breath, and crawled cautiously towards the window.

None of the others seemed to notice my sudden movement across the room. With their visions blurred with tears, figures distorted with wounds and ears ringing from the city’s alarm, how could they? It seemed to take forever to reach the window, almost as if it was moving further away with each step I took. As I walked, my eyes desperately tried to avert themselves from the rows of grieving figures which cowered helplessly on the floor. They failed. One particular figure seemed to stand out from the rest and it wasn’t until I drew closer that I realised why. It was a child and, whilst the other survivors constantly fidgeted, twitched or looked around nervously, he lay perfectly still. His glassy, bloodshot eyes seemed to stare straight through me. His body, draped over the arms of another weeping figure, was plagued with hideous black veins. I recognised the symptoms immediately, it was Youth Sickness, and by the looks of it, he didn’t have long. The weeping figure, who I assumed to be his mother, wept uncontrollably as she removed a heart shaped locket from her neck and placed it in the child's hand. She stuttered a series of words which, despite the deafening sound of the alarm, could be read from her lips like a book, “What have they done to you?” she sobbed, “No, don’t take him please… it’ll be ok…no, no, no, no!”. How could they do this to us? I thought as I turned away with horror, almost walking directly into the window. With my nose practically touching the glass, I held my breath, peered through and gasped.

The city lay in ruin; smouldering and black like a burnt out fire. A myriad of corpses were scattered amongst the rubble, disfigured and unrecognisable. Attached firmly to a building on the other side of the street was a large speaker which played the city’s alarm, “Warning, the city has been breached...”. My mind dulled the sound, refusing to process another repetition of the alarm. Aside from the violent explosions which glowed and rumbled in the distance, the street was abandoned and entirely deprived of life. Just how they like it, I thought. Shifting my gaze to the side, my heart jumped – an enemy patrol ship had appeared at the end of the street. It wasn’t particularly large but, considering what was controlling it, it didn’t have to be. In fact, its sleek and slender design allowed it to manoeuvre between buildings with ease as it floated gracefully over the bodies which cluttered the streets. I ducked down below the windowsill immediately, but it was too late. Over the sound of the alarm, I heard the distinctive hum of the ship as it stopped outside. Next was the grinding of mechanical gears as its door slowly opened, and the thud of multiple footsteps as its occupants drew closer and closer to the door.

Panic had sent the other survivors into a mad frenzy as they scattered around the room in search of an exit. Before anyone could escape, the door was forced open and the enemy opened fire. One after the other, the survivors fell to the ground. Their screams of horror were silenced as blood seeped from their wounds. Numb with fear, I collapsed helplessly to the floor. My eyes begged me not to watch but I couldn’t look away. At the side of the room, I could see the young child, still covered with vicious black veins. His chest heaved violently as he choked and struggled to breathe. From the way his glassy eyes glared at me from across the room, it was obvious he knew what I’d done. I desperately wanted to help him but didn’t have the means. The eyes confronted me one last time before they unfocussed and the child’s breathing ceased. His mother, still holding him in her arms, released a cry of remorse. She appeared to be oblivious to the massacre which was unfolding around her. Gunshot after gunshot, the woman paid no attention. Even when her clothes became stained with the blood which oozed from her chest, she refused to acknowledge the enemy and continued to cradle her son’s body in her arms. A single tear fell from her pale cheek as she collapsed to the ground and her remorse was ended forever.

The gunshots suddenly ceased and, as I looked around at the mounds of bleeding corpses which were scattered around the room, I realised I was the only survivor. From beneath the horror, a spark of hope emerged, only to be extinguished by the figure of an enemy soldier as it walked slowly towards me. Its eyes were the eyes of a predator; vicious and intent on killing. It stopped directly in front of me and I closed my eyes in surrender. As I felt it place the weapon between my two antennas, my last thought was of how hopelessly destructive the enemy truly was, how vicious and selfish they had become and how numb they were to the violence they unleashed.

Yet I didn’t blame them.

It was in their nature.

They were only human.

Short Story

About the author

J. R. Lowe

I confess, I don't exactly have a specific topic or writing style, or an organised train of thought for that matter. On the plus side, that means there's probably something here everyone ;)


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