It had been about three weeks since the message came through. Crackling static through the receiver, distorted and mechanical, but just human enough to be understood.
“Hey boys, this is Grant Wilson at Control. They betrayed us! It’s over! It’s all over! They are bombing us to bits! There is nothing we can do! The Earth is on fire! It’s a burning mess! We didn’t want to use it but you have to. I’m sending you the co-ordinates. Take the missile and kill them all! It’s up to you now to save the universe!”
Simon Blake had been wearing the same pants for three weeks now, and felt anything but heroic. He had rashes all over his body and the seat belt dug into him uncomfortably. Michael Sykes was snoring in his chair. His once immaculate uniform was covered in stains, tomato soup, melted chocolate and canned fish. The stench in the cockpit was indescribable
Sykes snorted in his sleep. Blake wanted to punch him in his stupid face. The two best friends had been chosen as the Alpha Strike team. They’d worked hard to get there too. The psychologist had mentioned that it was important that people got along, especially on long voyages through space. It was the only reason Blake was there and not Michelle. Michelle was a vegan and as such didn’t get along with anyone. Even other vegans. Stupid psychologist. Oh well, he was dead now. So was everybody. Michelle probably was too, even though she’d been assigned off world to the lunar base at Triton. A cold post for a cold, calculating bitch. Blake regretted dating her.
Sykes had been a good friend of Blake’s for a long time before they trained to be part of the Alpha Strike team. They had gone to college together and excelled because they pushed each other. They’d pushed each other through the training too, each day meeting their challenges and driving each other to excel. Now Blake just wanted to smother him. It would be easy too. All he’d have to do is take off his jacket and hold it over his face. But it’d be too cold, so it wasn’t worth thinking about it – besides, the conversations were occasionally good, and he would hate to have the responsibility of being the last man alive, especially tasked with the glorious quest of vengeance imparted on him by a man he didn’t even know.
Blake scratched his teeth with a fingernail. There was a lot of plaque there. Still, it didn’t matter really. It’s not like he’d need the teeth where he was going. Why bother looking after anything? He looked over at Sykes. He was definitely asleep. Blake unzipped his pants and opened up a plastic bottle to pee in. It felt good. The pressure on his bladder had been awful. The seat belt was beginning to cut into his now flabby body. Some hero… He no longer had abs. Out here in deep space, with a dead planet behind him, mass genocide in front of him, peeing into a plastic bottle because he couldn’t be bothered to climb out of his chair and go to the toilet like a civilised human being. Sykes stirred and Blake hurriedly finished and tucked himself back in, cursing as he felt pee release against his leg in a small jet of warmth that quickly cooled, but remained nice and wet. He hated that bastard.
“Oi. Oi. Sykes. Sykes you bastard wake up.” Nothing. “You’re getting fat. Hell, I’m getting fat…” Blake scratched his belly. It felt good to scratch, and in the past few weeks it had grown dramatically. He hadn’t been bothered to keep fit. Neither had Sykes so all was good his end.
Sykes’s hand moved. Blake watched it intently. He was going to do it again. It slid up, up, and an extended finger started scraping about inside his nose. “Go on you gross bastard. Eat it.” Blake whispered to himself. He waited, waited and waited until the finger was in Sykes’s mouth, scraping against his teeth. Then he brought his hands together with a mighty clap! Sykes woke up with a start.
“What’s going on?” He asked in alarm.
“You enjoying your snack?” Questioned Blake innocently.
“Nothing.” Blake sighed. “You know You made me piss myself?”
“Good. I’m sure you’ll do it again before we blow it all up.”
“Sykes, do you know what the worst thing is? It’s that nothing we ever did mattered. All those wars we had, suffering, politics. All those arguments. Christ! Music. Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart.” Blake was emotional. It scared him slightly. He had never heart Mozart… Now he never would.
“Man, Mozart is a pervert. He wrote some good stuff, but he was sick. He was into weird stuff.” Sykes sighed. It was almost like the bastard was psychic.
“Everyone is dead. All our art is gone. Our entire species meant nothing.” Blake whispered.
“Shakespeare is gone Blake, it’s all gone my friend. No more MacBeth, no more Romeo and Juliet… No more Othello. The moor is no more. That’s kind of funny actually.” Sykes grinned.
“I cried when I thought about Victoria. I didn’t want you to see. She was a terrible wife and a terrible cook, and she cheated on me twice. Why is it that even though she’s gone it upsets me?” Tears rolled down Blake’s face.
“All these things are gone. We still care. We are still human. As long as we live, these memories will live on. Shakespeare, Vivaldi, your cheating slut of a wife.”
“Thanks man, you know how to cheer me up. You do know we’re both gonna die when the star explodes.” Blake tried to smile. The jab at Victoria pissed him off. He wondered why…
“We are almost out of Froggo bars Blake.” Sykes said matter of factly.
“Is life really worth living? We are going to die anyway.”
“Do you want a Froggo bar?”
“We would be destroyed anyway by the inevitable heat death of the universe. When all the stars go out.” Blake closed his eyes trying to imagine the cosmos without human stupidity. It was hard. It was such a small universe and people were really stupid…
“Do you want a Froggo bar?”
“I wonder if there is a god. If any of our religions got it right…” Blake mused.
“Yes I want a fucking Froggo bar!!!” Blake hollered.
Michael Sykes left the cockpit to get one. Blake dabbed at his wet leg with the stinky towel he kept besides him. It was covered in coffee, gravy and urine and smelled obscene. Blake was in immense pain. He didn’t even realise it until he was alone. He had been sitting and sleeping in the same chair for weeks. It stank, and he had horrible sores on his body. He wished Sykes would get back so he could be distracted again. Thankfully he wasn’t gone long. He heard Sykes enter the cockpit much to his relief.
“Honey, I’m home.” Said Sykes, holding out the Froggo bar and snapping its neck with his thumb as he held it out. It wasn’t even out of the packet and it was as broken as Blake felt.
“You bastard. You did that on purpose. You know I like to bite the head off.”
“You’re a sick puppy you are, Blake.”
“Man, I have pants rash. I’m in a foul mood. Don’t fuck with me.”
“Why don’t you clean yourself down there.” Sykes suggested helpfully.
“There’s no water left. We haven’t had water for weeks.” Blake moaned.
“Just use cola and soap, that’s what I do.”
“Cola and soap?”
“Why have a rash when you can have a carbonated crotch?” Grinned Sykes.
“Oh you bastard. You’re torturing me. I’ve died and gone to hell and you’re the fucking devil.”
“We are heading into the inferno. The star killers! Michael Alvin Sykes and his expendable henchman. El Blake-O.” Sykes roared at the universe!
“What the hell is an El Blake-O?” Shouted Blake, resisting the urge to punch him in the crotch. He could imagine it too. The contact would be rough from the trousers, followed by softness, warmth and a satisfying splattering sound as his balls exploded like mouldy plums. The pain would be legendary. Satisfaction? Guaranteed!
The chocolate was warm. It had melted in its wrapper and reformed several times. It barely resembled the Froggo it had once been. Sykes had had a good forage through the supplies and found some cheese slices. Human ingenuity at it’s finest. The cheese slice could be added to pretty much any meat with positive results. There was no meat left, so Blake and Sykes took turns skimming them through the air and onto the gigantic window above them where they stuck for a while with a sorrowful slapping sound then vanished somewhere behind the console where they would inevitably end up melting. They had been inedible, having not been refrigerated, and at least they helped pass the time. Computer games would have been a distraction so they hadn’t been allowed any.
Blake went to the showers and poured cola over himself scrubbing himself with the rough soap they had been blessed with. It was warm and the fizziness had left it long ago. It stung his rashes terribly and he felt miserable and sticky. He had a long satisfying pee into the plughole which mostly missed his feet and made his way back to the cockpit.
Sykes was there staring into space, watching the stars in the background.
“You know, these stars never parallax like the movies?” He said. “They just stay absolutely still. It’s like we’re not even moving.”
Blake smiled wickedly. “Maybe we aren’t moving.”
“Don’t say that. Besides, I can feel us moving. The ship vibrates when it moves.”
“Maybe that’s your imagination. Maybe we are stuck in space frozen by the gods and they’re mocking us.”
“Is it right to do what we are doing? Is it right to blow up an entire star, killing all those aliens we never even met?” Sykes asked earnestly.
“They did it to us.”
“Not all of them. Probably just a few. Maybe they have their own musicians. Maybe they have an Alien Shakespeare?”
Blake shrugged. There felt like nothing left to say. “Don’t think about it.”
They decided not to.
Another week passed by. Things had taken a different turn. Sykes was sleeping more and more often. Blake hadn’t noticed it at first. Both of them just wanted to be done with the mission. Despite Wilson’s message being the last signal from anywhere, they felt no inspiration now from, the death of their species… They had to remain silent, and there was no one to hear them even if they did send a message.
Blake poked Sykes. He didn’t move. He poked him again.
“What? I’m trying to sleep.” Moaned Sykes.
“Hear me out. Life is futile, right? We are born, we live and we die. Our works live on, as does the impact we have, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter does it?”
“It’s too early for philosophy.” Sykes whimpered. He had a headache.
“It’s four in the afternoon.”
“It’s too early for philosophy.”
“When is a good time for philosophy?” Asked Blake.
“Never. But you’re right, it’s all futile anyway. It’ll all disappear with the heat death of the universe. All the greats will be gone. Thank god for it.” Sykes breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well, if that’s the case, answer me this: Have you enjoyed your life?” Blake murmured. He was deep in thought.
“Of course. Well parts of it. Well. Not really. Life is pretty shit.” Sykes thought about a few positive experiences. Being paid monthly, then income tax. The arms of lovers, and the inevitable breakdown and hatred of exes. Did he really enjoy anything?
“What are you getting at?” Sykes growled. “Now I’m in a bad mood.”
“That’s good! Life sucks! Your life sucks! My life sucks! Everything we ever did isn’t going to matter and life is dreadful! I can’t think of anything worse!”
“So living in general is shit.” Sykes had to agree. Life seemed a miasma of torment the more he thought about it.
“So let’s give up. We don’t have to finish the mission.” Blake smiled a smile of relief.
“But it’s the only thing that’s left!” Protested Sykes. “We’ve been up here going crazy for I don’t know how many weeks now!”
“So what? No one cares if we finish or not. They’re all dead!” Blake was ecstatic!
“What do you want to do then?” Sykes asked earnestly.
“Let them live. It’s the cruellest thing we can do.”
“Man I hate those pesky greenskins.” I said almost to myself and I hung up. It had been a long call, and I was fed up of being stuck here with them. Control contacted me occasionally just to find out how their experiments were doing. They weren’t quite ready to lead their own societies. That much was clear. Another year and I was due for rotation off this space station. Until then I had to put up with them. Great…
They were unusual, the greenskins – at least they weren’t like us. Manufactured people designed to live on planets where growing food and sustaining life was complicated. There were lots of rumours about them, some probably true, but the only thing I knew for sure is I didn’t trust them.
Greenskins are genetically modified human beings, grown in vats underground, out of sight and mind of most of us normal people. Their unusual skin colour comes from the chlorophyll implanted in their skin, which allows them to photosynthesise. They are on average about the same height, if a little taller than normal people. Their internal organs have been reduced, so all of them are extremely thin, and their muscles have been enhanced making them efficient and durable workers. They are incapable of breeding, instead, they are manufactured. Their species definition is Human+. Human+, what a joke. They were created to help explore the stars, as a convenience, and nothing more. There were additional new features – but, to me, most of their humanity had been taken away.
A colony of greenskins was easy to sustain as they didn’t lose fluid in the way we normally do. We humans sweat, urinate and have normal bodily functions, whereas the greenskins retain their water in a new genetically modified organ which pumps water through their body and helps keep them hydrated. A complicated network of tendrils inside. I think this adaption came from some kind of sea slug… But I can’t be sure. The greenskins are fed a nutrient paste which is simple and cheap to manufacture, they are the lowest class citizens and they do not have the right to vote. Imagine that! It’s a horrible thought.
I can’t stand greenskins. I think the creepiest thing about them is that they can breathe both oxygen and carbon dioxide, converting the latter into oxygen. One of science’s little miracles. Whilst it’s useful for people like me which need oxygen to breathe, relying on people I cannot stand freaks me out.
By now I bet you are probably wondering why I can’t stand them… I haven’t seen a normal person in about a year now. I’m stuck on a space station with nine of them. Males and females. I don’t even understand why they make them different genders… I suppose it’s some way to make them fit in better, as if these creatures could ever truly fit into normal society.
It is our job to make sure that trade ships can safely land on the planet below, and whilst I am not fond of them, the greenskins generally do a good job. They know their place and they work hard. They don’t need to sleep as much as me, which means that I can work them pretty hard and they don’t really mind. They were built to endure, so endure they shall. Your average greenskins could live up to a thousand years theoretically, so I had to give them credit. They were efficiently made.
Every morning I got up and did a two mile lap around the station. They never wanted to run with me but we all had to keep fit. I guess they hated me as much as I hated them, but we all had our jobs and it was best to work together, an uneasy alliance against the tedium.
One day, I was approached by one of them, her name was Sarah and she had a complaint about one of the male greenskins. Andrew had apparently been watching her photosynthesise in the photosynthesis booth. As much as I didn’t have time for their nonsense, it was the important role of a man in my position to sort this kind of thing out.
I called him into my office. Andrew was an older greenskin, he had a slow nervous air about him. Clearly guilty.
“Good evening Andrew. Do you know why I’ve called you in here?” I asked.
“No boss.” He said sullenly. It was obvious he was lying.
I went straight to the point. “Sarah says you’ve been watching her photosynthesise.”
“So what? We all do it. Photosynthesise, I mean.”
“I don’t care, but she does. Knock it off or I will shoot you.”
“You can’t do that!” He protested.
“Actually I can, and I will. I don’t care what you freaks do in your spare time but you are bothering her, and now she is bothering me, and insubordination from your type pisses me off. You are lucky you are getting a warning.”
He left my office angry. Maybe I had been a little heavy handed. I didn’t understand what his problem was, but damn it all, they can’t even breed. What’s the point of staring at some naked girl whilst she drinks sunlight. I couldn’t think of a bigger waste of time. I decided to keep my gun on me in case he caused trouble. I didn’t see Sarah for the rest of the day. So much for lending a helping hand.
The next day, I woke up and everything was hot in my quarters, it was muggy and hard to breathe. A quick interface with my computer found my door locked and the room full of carbon dioxide. Andrew’s little gift for me. I tried to open the door, but my pass code had been overwritten, and I was unable to contact anyone for help. It was an assassination attempt.
For the first time since I had met them, I felt respect for the greenskins. One of them, sadly a creepy little pervert, actually had some backbone. I logged into a guest account and typed in an emergency override for the door. If Andrew had been smarter, he would have known this was possible, but then again if I had been stupider, I’d be dead. I pulled out my gun, and made sure it was loaded, slapping in a fresh charge pack just in case mine was slightly depleted. I didn’t trust batteries if I had to use the damn thing.
I made my way down the corridor cautiously. I saw Nicole talking with Brian. Both of them were wasting company time. I waved at them and put my finger to my lips when, alarmed, they noticed my gun. Brian stood in front of her. It must have been some sort of vestigial male action, and maybe it was the mood I was in, but I kind of liked him for it. “Don’t worry, I ain’t after either of you guys.” I said, running off.
Then I saw Andrew in the hallway. The green drained from his face and he ran. He knew I was after him and he damn well knew why. I chased him through the cargo bay cursing his speed and stamina. The greenskins were built too well. I nearly lost him just before we got to hydroponics. I rounded a corner and entered the jungle.
It wasn’t a fair place to fight and it gave him the opportunity to ambush me. His olive clothing and green skin gave him an advantage, and he managed to sneak up on me. Smacking me in the side of the head with a spade, I went down. I couldn’t help it. He was strong and he pinned me into the dirt, shoving the handle into my neck. I gasped for air. He was so strong, and angry too.
Suddenly he was lifted off me. Brian and Nicole had pulled him off and were pinning him to the ground. I tried to speak and croaked out a few words of thanks. If they hadn’t followed, I’d probably have been killed.
Two hours later, I had the whole crew gathered. Andrew was guilty of two counts of attempted murder as far as I could see, on top of insubordination, hacking the computers and perversion. He looked sheepish and pathetic in the only pair of handcuffs we had onboard.
I stood in front of him and glared into his eyes. He looked away. Speech time.
“I know you don’t like me. None of you do. Heck I don’t really like you much either. This past year has been a trying time for all of us. You’ve had to put up with me, and I’ve had to put up with you. Now I learned something today. Something I didn’t ever want to learn because maybe I just don’t like admitting I’m wrong. Hell we are all wrong sometimes. I owe my life to two of you and you both have my respect. Brian, Nicole, thank you for saving my life. You could have just let things happen, but you didn’t, and I appreciate it. Thank you both so much.” Nicole’s cheeks flushed brown. I’d never seen one blush before. It looked weird.
Now it was Andrew’s turn. “Right. You. You are guilty of two attempts on my life, creepy stalking, hacking computers, generally disobeying orders and wasting company time. I want to shoot you dead. But that isn’t going to fly. I don’t see why you should get off so easy. I’ve arranged a transport shuttle to take you to a prison, far away from here, where none of us have to put up with you.” It was done. I didn’t have to kill him. Sarah looked relieved, as did the whole crew. I had made the right choice, even though it would have been within my rights to execute him. He would be going away for a long time, I would see to that, and his extended life wouldn’t be an advantage…
I looked at the rest of the human+s’. Maybe it was just the light but they suddenly didn’t seem so different. They were relieved. They knew me. They knew how much I wanted to pull the trigger and eject his lifeless body into space. I almost wanted to invite them for a drink, but they couldn’t even drink alcohol. What kind of person can’t drink alcohol? God only knows. I gave them the rest of the day off.
Later, I had a call, it was my brother.
“How’re you doing with those pesky greenskins?” He leered. He always took a distinct pleasure in my discomfort.
With recent events fresh on the mind, I thought I’d try and look at things a little differently, maybe I hadn’t always been fair…
“Hey, some of those greenskins ain’t half bad!” I said.
“Come One, Come All – To the Greatest Zoo in the Galaxy!!!”
The flyer was bold and red. It stood out from the mix of spam mail on Arthur Cawley’s carpet. Arthur paused whilst he read it. His son peeped out from behind a door. Arthur pretended not to see him and turned towards the door, looking back towards the mail littering the floor. He watched in the glass window as his son, Michael, got closer and closer, then with a mighty roar, he grabbed his laughing son and picked him up. “Got ya!” He cried. His son kicked and screamed, laughing his head off. Arthur couldn’t help but love him. Being a father hadn’t been planned, and Arthur liked to plan everything.
His wife however had other ideas. One day she had simply informed him that he was going to be a father and that she had stopped taking birth control pills. Arthur was pretty easygoing and took the news well. In the few years he had come to know his son, he had become very fond of him.
Jasmine Cawley came into the corridor. Her mousy features twisted in a tight scowl. “Do you two have to make such a damn racket? She asked, bitterness in her voice. She had always preferred quiet, but with a child in the house, she didn’t get nearly as much as she wanted.
Arthur smiled sheepishly. Their son was trying not to laugh, a fact he was well aware of. “I’m sorry darling. Hey, listen, I was wondering if you wanted a day out. Like old times. We don’t spend much time together anymore.”
“Well it would be nice to do something as a family.” She snapped. “You’re always working.” It was sadly very true…
It wasn’t really fair though. She hadn’t had a job in a long time, and he was doing everything he could to support them. But Arthur didn’t mind. He finally had a family. He liked the cute way his wife’s face scrunched up when she was annoyed, and he annoyed her often, just so he could enjoy her irritation.
Arthur held up the flyer. “Michael, look. Do you want to go here? They have wild animals from all over the universe.”
“Is it fun?”
“Yes, there are lots of wonderful animals and plants there. People have brought them from many different planets.” Arthur beamed.
Michael’s eyes widened. He had never even been off-world. “Will there be insects there?”
“I don’t know if they still have it but they had the most beautiful butterfly sanctuary. They used to use it to house one or two of the endangered species as well, just to conserve space I think. It’s very beautiful. Maybe it’s still there…”
“When can we go dad?”
“We can get a shuttle this weekend, if that’s alright with your mother.”
Michael looked at her so hopefully, how could she say no? Jasmine sighed.
It was in the butterfly sanctuary that the Charrawuk lived, in a large forested enclosure, rich with plants from the moon she had once lived on. The floor was covered in a thick dark red mud, and covered in a faux coral texture in the parts which were dry to emulate the land she was used to.
Wolf made his way into the enclosure. He was incredibly cautious. He knew well the dangers of a wounded animal, but he had smelled the blood coming from the enclosure, and he needed to investigate. It was, after all, his job to make sure the animals were healthy in this part of the Zoo.
Everyone called him Wolf because he had such a keen sense of smell, and because in general he was pretty solitary. The other keepers joked about him in this way a lot and it annoyed him, not because he cared that he was a loner, but because he knew that wolves were pack animals. He didn’t look much like a wolf. He was clean shaven and bookish and had his thick glasses on as his vision was deteriorating.
Everything was calm in the sanctuary. Wolf knew this silence. It was the silence of the hunt, when nature itself knew he was being watched. He wiped the misting off his thick spectacles and sat in the mud on the floor of the enclosure. The smell of blood still in his nostrils, he called out. “Gambit! I know you are watching me darling. Come out!” Not even a sound. “Don’t make me come in there after you! I want to go have my lunch.”
Wolf knew better than to bring food into the enclosure with him. Most animals when frightened will take food from a person if desperate, but it never helped their relationship. He heard the deep panting behind him. Thick hot breath on his neck. He knew the power of the Charrawuk well. One swipe could take his head clean off. “Hello beautiful.” He said it loudly, slowly. Letting her know he knew she was there.
Wolf slowly turned around and faced Gambit, the last Charrawuk in the universe. Her moon had been destroyed by a small meteor three years ago, and she had no knowledge of the death of her species. Gambit had no discernible eyes, but he knew that she could recognise him somehow. Scientists couldn’t be bothered to work out how her species worked, with her being the last one, it seemed pretty pointless. The scientists at the Zoo were much more interested in species that they could make money out of for years to come, and Wolf knew a couple of them were secretly experimenting on some of the aliens. He had reported it, but past that, there was nothing he could do. He had to just let it go.
Wolf could see the blood stains around Gambit’s mouth. Green and thin, it smelled like human blood, almost, but slightly more so like vinegar. Wolf held up his hands and approached her cautiously. She pounced on him knocking him to the floor.
Wolf didn’t panic, he just began to tickle her tummy. She hissed at him and released him rolling over so he could rub her tummy more. The one thing he knew about the Charrawuk apart from her insatiable appetite for the Earth cuttlefish was that she loved having her tummy rubbed, tickled and scratched.
Wolf sat for a while with the Charrawuk, he reached out and took one of her large claws and placed it on his face. Just over his mouth. The claw dropped. He placed it back. He could feel the Charrawuk was confused. Slowly he took his hand and placed it over the Charrawuk’s mouth. She hissed at him. She opened her mouth and let him look inside. The inside was full of thin spine like teeth, and looked more like a cactus than any Earth species.
The Charrawuk was a carnivore, and an extremely dangerous animal. In the wild she would have torn into him. Gambit was used to the human species by now though. She looked so alien to him, but Wolf could tell she was intelligent. He saw the problem. In the roof of Gambit’s mouth was embedded a large shard of glass, smaller shards were there too, but they hadn’t cut so deep. Thin green blood dripped from the wound. Gambit hissed at him again.
Nervously, Wolf reached inside and began pulling out the smaller pieces of glass, bit by bit, he gently removed them, saving the big one for last. The alien knew he was trying to help and sat still, letting the strange looking man take the glass out. Wolf felt a burning anger inside him. There was no way glass could have gotten into the enclosure. It was another case of abuse, or simply incompetence on the part of whoever prepared her food. If he pulled out the big one first, she wouldn’t have known about the smaller shards until she fed again and she would have disappeared into the undergrowth. Finally he pulled out the big one. A blur of silent movement and Gambit had vanished into her miniature jungle. She was incredibly fast. Wolf was glad he wasn’t her prey.
He climbed out of the enclosure to be confronted by Ty Peel, one of the keepers. Ty was furious.
“You know how stupid you are Wolf? That thing could kill you.”
“She doesn’t want to kill me.”
“I don’t care. It is dangerous. That stupid thing bit one of the other keepers. He left before you came. You think you know it? Try going in there when it’s hungry.”
“She’s always hungry Ty. She was in pain.”
“Don’t do it again. I’ll report you if you do. Last thing we need down here is another idiot getting himself killed. Then we’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll have to look at your ugly stupid face on the news for weeks.”
Despite his anger, he was right. It had been a dangerous thing to do. Wolf sighed and zoned out as Ty ranted into the evening. You couldn’t please everyone. He wondered if their boss would be happy that he had helped the Charrawuk. Probably saved a bit of money on vet bills, and no one got hurt. What a day!
Arthur, Jasmine and Michael sat in the shuttle as it lifted off, punching through the atmosphere with a dull hissing sound. Michael had his face pressed against the window. He had never even flown in anything like it before, and it fascinated his young mind. He was an inquisitive child, always interested in learning about new things. Jasmine sat reading her novel, completely oblivious. She couldn’t stand technology and kept lots of old books because she liked the smell. The pages smelled dusty and old, and books weren’t printed anymore. They had been handed down in her family for many generations.
Arthur poked his son. “Hey, are you excited kiddo?”
Michael nodded. “How many aliens will be there?”
“Oh plenty. Last time I went I saw some really weird stuff. They even have some giraffes from Earth!”
“You mean they really exist?”
“They’re heavily endangered now, but yes.”
Michael couldn’t believe it. The giraffe was one of the weirdest things he had ever seen on his computer. He couldn’t believe that they could be real. Growing up on An asteroid colony, he had never seen one.
They landed at the Zoo’s space port and paid the entrance fee. The family day ticket was cheap and a small buzz of excitement ran down Arthur’s spine. He remembered his first time here, but so much had changed! It looked completely different. He wondered if there would still be puppet shows, and how many new aliens there would be. As humanity explored the stars, they kept finding life just about everywhere. It was exciting for him. The gates were big and bold and the family walked through them greeted by mascots dressed as amazing creatures from all over the universe.
Michael could barely contain his excitement and ran ahead of his family. Arthur laughed and joked with him and even Jasmine had lightened up. It felt like the beginning to a good day. The sky was a beautiful gold, lit up by the yellow sun, and they explored the Zoo. It was much too large to explore completely in one day, and at Michael’s insistence, they decided to visit the butterfly sanctuary before going to see if giraffes really existed.
There was a que outside and they waited for a while. One by one the families went inside, first one door would open then the next, to stop the butterflies escaping. A keeper stood there letting people in one by one. “Good Afternoon I haven’t seen you before! Welcome to the sanctuary. Arthur saw his name badge, it was dull and faded. Ty Peel. Keeper. He shook Ty’s hand and walked through the double doors.
The sanctuary was beautiful. They had to get through two doors to get inside, and there were butterflies and moths everywhere, all different colours, shimmering as they flew through the air. The lighting was beautiful and the ceiling was made from crystal glass. Michael had never seen anything like it. He stared up at the thousands of butterflies which danced above him.
The sanctuary was home to three rare types of alien, all from the same small moon that had been destroyed three years earlier. They were kept in separate cages due to their predator-prey relationships. The lowest on the food chain were the Tinks. Small insect-like aliens which were somewhat similar to the Earth pill bugs. They rolled up when people came near them. Small pink antennae wavered out of their protective shells as they squawked in alarm. They would never become used to people who came into their enclosure and picked them up and talked about them. Sometimes the keepers would go in just to roll them around, and they squeaked fearfully at them.
Tinks were slightly intelligent and they were wary of anything that came near them. Whilst away from people, they purred and clicked at each other. No one cared to figure out whether or not they had any form of complex language structure. Their homeworld had died and eventually, their species would too. They scavenged around hungrily for mushrooms in their enclosure. Fungi were the only Earth foodstuff that they could eat. Arthur watched them with interest. Jasmine couldn’t be bothered with them. She detested all kinds of insects and sat back warily watching the butterflies as they flew around her.
Suddenly there was a shout. A tourist had spotted a small child in one of the enclosures. Everyone ran to the edge and looked in. Arthur was aghast. It was Michael. He waved down to his son who waved back and beamed up, unaware of the potential danger he was in. Arthur motioned to his son to be quiet, putting his finger to his lips. Michael nodded and Arthur beckoned him to come to the edge of the enclosure. Everything in the air was silent. Michael began to feel afraid. He felt a hot breath on his neck, but was too afraid to look behind him. His father’s face was a mask of hopelessness, grey in the warm sunlight.
Arthur could see that there was a keeper in the enclosure now, slowly edging his way through the brush, holding some kind of gun, pointing it at the alien standing behind his son. It was Ty. The keeper brushed some sweat from his brow and levelled the gun at the alien’s back. A beam of light emitted from the weapon with a dull crack, tearing a hole in the Charrawuk’s chest. Michael screamed as he felt something wet hit him from behind and ran. Gambit bellowed in surprise and confusion, blood spraying out of her as she collapsed to the floor, life ebbing away.
Arthur was knocked to one side by a small bespeckled man who vaulted over the wall and into the enclosure. The man dropped to his knees when he saw the lifeless alien. He was too late. Looking up the man saw Ty and ran at him shouting, pulling the gun out of his hands and punching the keeper in his face and stomach repeatedly until the man fell on the ground. Arthur couldn’t figure out what was going on and climbed clumsily into the enclosure to look for his son.
The sanctuary felt hollow and dead to Arthur, it felt cold and uninviting. The butterflies, which had only minutes before seemed beautiful and tranquil no longer captivated him. He kept walking back to the enclosure and looking in. The body Of the alien had been covered in green plastic and keepers walked around it talking and taking pictures. Arthur shuddered and turned away. If he hadn’t brought his family there, this creature might still be alive. Eventually, his wife came and dragged him out, fed up with everything. On their way out, a reporter tried to flag them down. Arthur refused to comment.
A few hours later. Michael and his family sat in the shuttle on the way home. Arthur felt horrible. If he had only paid attention, this would never have happened. Jasmine resented him for it and took no responsibility, and Michael was silent and pale. He felt sick. Though they had given him a new shirt to wear, as his clothes had been covered in blood, his back still felt wet. He wished he had never gone to the Zoo. His eyes were dull.
Wolf cornered Ty outside the staff room. Ty hadn’t seemed at all bothered as he had laughed and joked about it around the table with the other keepers. He enjoyed the role of hero. Wolf’s anger rose up inside him. They had always hated the Charrawuk… He wondered how the kid had even got into the enclosure. Wolf pinned Ty against the wall. Ty was much bigger and stronger but Wolf was furious with him.
“You did that on purpose you little bastard!” Wolf snarled.
“You broke my nose.” Whispered Ty.
“You’re lucky I didn’t break your neck!” Wolf felt like hitting him again.
“I’ll have your job for this.” The keeper grinned.
Wolf lost his job, and Ty Peel got a promotion.
The news networks quickly picked up the story. They heard about the death of the Charrawuk and about the fact it was the last of its kind. Ty talked about how remorseful he was about having to try and save the kid from a terrifying and dangerous wounded alien. The horrible choice he had to make. The public hated him for it, especially when Wolf explained what had really happened. They ranted about it to each other and it was talked about all over social media, all over the hypernet, and on planets and colonies all across the galaxy.
A few years later, no one remembered Gambit the Charrawuk except for Wolf. The angry people spent their anger on other things they didn’t really care about, like politics and each other.
She glared at me with alien eyes across the tempest of her rage. Her antagonistic words tore into me across the classroom, cold and quiet in which the pupils hid their mirth as she shouted me down. She was one of the taller students, and she was too close to me for my liking. I had never felt so intimidated by a pupil before. The silence screamed around me and I wished that I could snap and lash back at this girl, seemingly possessed, as her words echoed around me, but alas, I could not, I must remain professional, no matter what.
Her essay had been shockingly appalling. Clearly the work of a few minutes of mindless scribble, no real thought or effort had gone into it. Full of spelling mistakes, it warranted a harsher grade than I had given it, part of me reflected and wished I had been more honest. I had wanted her to feel better about things, not worse.. My anger smouldered inside as I chewed the insides of my cheek rather than shout back. Her appraisal of my marking deserved a barrage of furious abuse. But I had to resist the bait. How many teachers had fallen into traps like this, it had cost people careers. I needed to focus and remain calm.
She was clever in her own way, and I would not be the mouse to fall into her trap as her unearthly eyes bored into me, searching for some weakness she could exploit. It annoyed me. To see someone so capable yet someone who cared so little for their work. She could have written something creative. She just simply had not bothered. The class looked on, hungry for my obliteration at her hands. Traitors all, ungrateful little swines. You would think after so many months, they would have some form of sympathy. To hell with them. Their wicked grins burned into me from all sides as they whispered to each other. Her shrill ranting egging them on.
I smiled weakly as I blotted out her madness. This girl was set upon destroying me over my simply pointing out the fact that she hadn’t cared. Heck, it’d been a secret until she started this private little war with me. I felt such terrors as I kept my mouth shut, it was becoming so very hard to speak. She was close, very close to me. My fist was clenched in my pocket. I reprimanded myself and I forced myself to relax it. She was so close now, eyebrows angry, fierce, a snarl on her lips. Her shoulders, shaking.
Had she put in one iota of thought into her damn essay, this would not be happening. Had I been less blunt and more constructive, maybe she wouldn’t feel such fury. Suddenly, I could bear it no longer. I asked her to sit down. Calmly.
I didn’t expect her to, but she did. Quietly. She apologised for her outburst, and sat down in her chair. The whole class looked at her. She glared back and they turned from her, fearful of becoming her next nemesis. I sighed and leaned on my table. It had been a tough few weeks. The exam period was always a tricky one. Maybe the pressures of home life had gotten to her.
The rest of the lesson passed uneventfully. No more outbursts. No problems with any of the students. I felt more at ease than I had, but a strange anxiety afflicted me. The pressure was off. I couldn’t help but feel the memory of the nightmare situation surging through my body. Those strange eyes, staring into mine, looking beyond my pupils and into my brain. They flashed like fire opals in my memory, a kaleidoscopic miasma of terrors waiting to tear my soul to shreds. I felt like someone was watching me… But then those thoughts were gone. My heartbeat was fast and I felt sick, but nothing happened. I ran and got myself a cup of water from the staff room. A little dizzy, but I would be fine. The next period was an easy one. I sat, bored out of my skull, showing the class a video I had seen at least 12 times before. It was even more tedious for me than them!
Once school had ended, I climbed into my car and sat there at the wheel, the cold car seat smooth against my back, my fingers trembling. It had to be the cold having this effect on me. I still felt a little off, but the dizziness had gone, replaced by a dull ache in my hands, probably the onset of arthritis. Great. What a fantastic way for the day to end, I mused. I looked up into the rear view mirror as I set my car to reverse.
A surge of dread. There, in the mirror were her eyes, glowing and alien, boring into my very soul. I felt sick with fear. What was wrong with them? Why did they sparkle? Like a myriad of eldritch colours, they mesmerised me. But she wasn’t there, it was a trick of the mind and nothing more. I felt so very sick again… What was wrong with me? The aching in my hands became a dull throb.
I started to drive back. It was a dark, cold evening. Most January evenings are similar. I found myself watching the white lines passing under my car, again and again and again. There was something soothing about it. I didn’t want to look at the mirror again, and avoided it all the way home. I felt uneasy. It was like I was still in the classroom, like the twenty odd children were all watching me, frozen in those eyes. This didn’t feel normal. I felt like I was on the edge of a breakdown.
Why couldn’t I remember her name?
I felt like I didn’t even know this girl. I had taught her for the past few months, why now was I forgetting stuff like this? I knew all my students’ names. Except for her for some reason. Everything about today exhibited a dreamlike quality. I was sitting in my lounge watching the television, but there was no signal. I was just staring at it, and I didn’t know how I’d got there. The air in the room felt so thick and heavy. Staring into the black and white dots as they danced around the screen, I began to make out colours. I couldn’t look away. Her eyes began to form in front of me, glittering, a thousand colours, burning with anger as they cut me to the core.
She was there in the room with me. I hadn’t seen her enter. It was like she had just appeared out of the noise on the TV screen. The hair on the back of my neck raised. The eyes were so hateful and I could barely look into them, but I could not look away. It was like a strange form of hypnosis had rendered me incapable of action, as she got closer and closer to me.
I tried to look away, to blink, anything! Fear overcame me, paralyzed like a rabbit in the headlights, I couldn’t move a muscle. There was nothing I could do, no essence of movement as my body refused to cooperate with the increasing urge to flee…
I must have blacked out for when I awoke, I felt stiff and rigid. The sofa behind me felt cool, hard and unusually uninviting. The television was still on, still showing mad static, which danced erratically around the screen – but there was no sign that anything had been in the house with me. Could it all have been a dream? I tried to think of the girl, but I couldn’t remember her. I couldn’t remember anything at all, not even the colour of her hair. Had she even been real? I sure as hell didn’t recognise my memory of her. I couldn’t even remember what she looked like.
I walked upstairs, feeling stiff. My clothes, far too loose, hung loosely off my body. My chest felt tight and I felt the urge to throw up. I felt dizzy and tired, as though I hadn’t slept. But I was sure that I had dreamed everything. I felt pain all over, like a thousand needles dragging against my skin. I looked over at my alarm clock as I entered the bedroom.
It was time to get dressed. I didn’t have time to shower, it was too late. I mustn’t be late. I wondered briefly if there was time for breakfast or if I should grab something at the local shops. I took a step towards the cupboard and tripped over something. Looking down to my horror, I saw my body, lying there on the ground. Eyes open, a mask of sheer terror on my face. I tried to scream but no sound came out. I stumbled to the bathroom and threw up into the toilet.
Looking up into the mirror, I saw someone I couldn’t recognise and yet I knew so well. Someone I didn’t know – but I remembered those kaleidoscopic alien eyes looking back at me, glowing like a fire opal. I open my mouth but I cannot form sound, a dull hiss of breath from my lungs. I can feel myself starting to cry as dizziness and nausea take their hold on me.
I am a girl that I don’t know, with no memory of how I got here. The only thing I recognise is my former body, lying on the floor, and the eyes that are staring back at me – which aren’t mine.