Least of These Brothers and Sisters

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: March 01, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 01, 2017

A A A

A A A


Least of These Brothers and Sisters

 

Ted Hughes was a thoroughly uninteresting man. He was thirty-four years, six months, two weeks, three days, five hours, thirty-two minutes and five seconds, old, more or less, lived alone, with two cats for company, in a small, semi-detached house just south of Loughborough, when he wasn’t at his job in a hospital. Out of all the thinkers, geniuses, scientists, prodigies, auteurs, sheer brilliant minds that existed in this world, he rather paled in comparison.

Due to this, there was no particular reason for the spaceship to choose him. ‘Pick a random human,’ the A had muttered into the computer interface. ‘Any old sod, that’ll do.’

‘Are you sure?’ piped up the B, raising a trembling tentacle as its antennae quivered. ‘Because we might—’

‘The survey said “impartial,”’ thundered the C. ‘So it has to be exactly that! Now beam the git up and get on with it!’

And that had been the end of it. None of the trio present could have possibly imagined the impact the decision would have on their species, or indeed that of Ted Hughes’.

He arrived in a large, open room, with blank grey walls running from one side to another. A light shined from nowhere in particular, illuminating the room.

‘’Ugly bastard, isn’t it?’ sneered the C, taking the specimen in.

‘Mustn’t judge by appearances,’ the B reminded, giving something with the vague idea of a smile. ‘Now, let’s see if they’re alright.’

‘Its name is “Ted Hughes,”’ said the A as they rolled down the corridor.

‘Hold on, hold on. “Name?” What’s a “name?”’

‘It’s how they identify different members of their species,’ explained the A. ‘I’ve some examples here… ah, yes. He might have been a Daphne, or a Gabriel, or a Winston.’

‘And this is a… Ted Hughes?’

‘That’s right, yes.’

The C’s snout crumpled with disgust. ‘That’s a load of rubbish. Why don’t they just use olfactory, like us?’

By the time the trifecta of beings approached him, Ted had been dulled to all shock. Being shot up from Chester Road to an alien starship had started the process, and floating in zero-gravity had really finished the job off. ‘Hello,’ he said, idly raising a hand. ‘How do you do?’

‘Confirm – you are human?’ ordered the C, as angrily as a Garlian can manage.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ replied Ted, as if he’d just checked his receipts at the supermarket.

‘And a fulltime resident of planet… “Earth?”’

‘I do, yes.’

‘Excellent! Then the trial may proceed!’ The C clapped their flippers together in delight. This was going to be fun.

 

‘So, er, what can I call you?’ asked Ted, as he clambered down one of the corridors.

‘I am the A, this is the B, and the C.’

‘Right, I see. But what are your names?’

‘Garlians do not need names,’ said the C, quite affronted. ‘We have evolved past such a primitive identification structure!’

‘So you don’t have nouns? But isn’t “Garlians” one?’

‘…Silence, human scum.’

‘I’ve got to say, your English is very good, though.’

‘English? What do you mean, English?’

‘Well, the language we’re speaking. Oh! It must be one of those translator whatchamacallits, isn’t it?’

‘We are speaking Garlian, human scum,’ answered the C.

‘And by no small amount of coincidence, it just so happens to sound identical to what you call English,’ added the B helpfully.

‘How interesting.’ Ted had slipped into ‘tour-around-cold-medieval-castle mode’ now, simply nodding and smiling, taking in precisely none of the information. Not the best mindset for a first contact, looking back.

‘This… is the Trial Room!’ announced the C grandly, the doors sliding open.

‘And the bridge.’

‘And the bogs.’

It was a round white room, perfectly spherical – like what the inside of a snowball might be like. Four pedestals had been lined up – three at one side, then one at the other. As the A, B and C took their positions, Ted took what was presumably his.

‘Now, Ted Hughes,’ said the A, whose voice was somehow like every judge Ted had ever heard in unison. ‘You, as a self-confessed member of the human race, have been chosen to act as an example for your species. If you are found inferior, the planet will be purged of all life and reseeded with something different.’

‘Sorry, what? The whole of humanity’s on trial?’

‘Correct.’

‘Okay. Yeah. Sorry. Just… making sure I heard you properly.’

‘I see. The first part of the trial has already been instigating: In Elecco-Sah, what you designated… Nineteen forty-seven, an artificial alien lifeform was sent to your planet. The purpose being to see how your species would react, how it would treat it.’

‘Now hang about…’ Ted pressed his mind for a second. ‘Nineteen forty-seven, that would have been Roswell, wasn’t it?’

The A examined the information for a moment. ‘Yes, this was in the region of your planet you know as Roswell. That is correct.’

‘I thought it was. Everyone knows about that.’

‘Oh?’ said the C. ‘So perhaps you can tell us how your species handled this little new life it had found?’

Ted felt himself shrink slightly. ‘Oh, well, there’s a lot of rumours, urban myths, that sort of thing, you know…’

‘But…?’

‘But… well, we experimented on it, didn’t we?’ He was more asking the creatures than telling them. ‘Poked about, saw what it was made of, that sort of thing.’

‘Did you treat it humanely?’

‘Erm… well, I hadn’t even been born by that point, how am I supposed to know?’

‘A fair point. We must then go off the testimony granted by this artificial lifeform when what was left of it returned…’ The A put on an operatic voice, reading out: ‘“They were right ‘orrible geezers. Poking and prodding me like there was no tomorrow, then cut me open like a bloomin’ orange!”’

Ted swallowed. ‘There’s always one, isn’t there?’

‘The most important thing you can tell about a species is the way it treats lower lifeforms,’ said the C haughtily. ‘But that’s the end of phase one. The next is a detailed study of your species’ history and background, considering every facet, individual and epoch.’

The trio hummed for a second.

‘It is done. You are found to be inferior.’

‘Now hold on! Wasn’t that a little quick?’

‘Speed is irrelevant. It takes as long as it takes,’ said the A.

‘Can you tell us something that happened between Gakka-Pul and Toorj-Kpw?’ asked the C. It paused, then explained: ‘Nineteen thirty-nine and nineteen forty-five?’

‘Do you mean World War Two?’

‘And what about…’ The C stopped itself this time. ‘…Nineteen fourteen to nineteen eighteen?’

‘That’s World War One.’

‘Are you a military historian, by any chance, Ted Hughes?’

‘No.’

‘So these wars are common knowledge.’

‘Yes, they are.’

The A leant in slightly. ‘Only a truly bloodthirsty creature would revel in its own brutality so.’

‘No, no, it’s not like that!’ stammered Ted. This wasn’t going well. ‘It’s – it’s so we remember it, and not make the same mistake twice, that’s all.’

‘So these would be the only wars your species has indulged in, would they?’

Ted stopped. Oops.

‘I take it you don’t know about the Boer War? Or the Mongol Conquests? Or the Cold War? What about the Napoleonic Wars? War of the Roses? Taiping Rebellion? American Civil War, Russian Civil War, English Civil War…?’

‘…Point taken.’

‘No other species, Ted Hughes,’ snarled the C, practically spitting out the name, ‘has had such an ability at self-annihilation.’

‘Now just one moment!’ shouted Ted at the top of his lungs. The creatures fell silent. ‘Yes, there’s been a fair few wars, but just think about why they happened. Wanting to protect their homelands and family. Wanting to do what they believed to be right. Wanting to stamp the slightest trace of absolute evil and tyranny. Tell me; is that a bad thing?’

The creatures thought about it. ‘Yes,’ said one bluntly. ‘Now, for phase three of the trial. You will be put through a series of rigorous physical—’

Ted was flung to his feet. The entire ship rocked and tremored; however, the creatures all remained steadfast.

‘What’s happened?’ he shouted, stumbling to his feet.

‘It would appear that the supports systems have failed,’ said the A matter-of-factly.

‘And is that bad?!’

‘Well, could be better, could be worse.’ At a guess, Ted would say the thing had shrugged.

‘Warning. Warning.’ The voice seemed to be coming from nowhere; like he was only thinking it. ‘Impact procedure initiated.’

Ted felt his eyes widen. ‘Impact what?’

‘Impact procedure,’ said the A, almost bored. ‘When the ship comes under danger, it finds the nearest planet – yours, in this instance – and crashes us into it. That way, the passengers have a chance of survival if the ship is destroyed.’

‘But crashing a ship into a planet, isn’t that a bit dangerous? Won’t a lot of people be hurt?’

‘Oh, yes. Wipe out the entire species, in fact.’ Ted gaped. ‘But well, that’s we were going to do anyway. Saves a job, really.’

‘You – you can’t be serious! You have to stop it!’

‘And why is that?’

‘Because… because it’s not right, that’s why! You can’t just wipe us out like that!’

‘But we found you to be guilty. Inferior. Why shouldn’t we?’

Ted didn’t have time to answer. A great hole suddenly yawned in the wall – or possibly ceiling, it was hard to tell in this room – with nothing but inky darkness on the other side.

One of the creatures – the B, possibly? – toppled from their podium suddenly. Without thinking, Ted reached forward, like reaching for surface whilst falling through the air. The B – if it was the B – noticed him, and extended two flippers and some of the tentacles in return. The closest tentacle coiled around Ted’s forearm, snagging around his elbow.

Ted managed to find purchase on the floor, holding both him and the B in position. The A tapped a button, and the hole sealed shut again, closing like a mouth.

‘Well,’ said the A. ‘That was a turn-up, wasn’t it?’

Ted, hands on knees, panted for breath, eventually standing up straight.

‘Phase three of the trial…’ The A tiled its head back. ‘…completed.’

‘What?’

‘Congratulations. Perhaps your species hasn’t failed after all.’

‘No, no, go back a sec. Phase three?’

‘Yes. You didn’t think we were actually going to ram your planet, did you?’ The C gave a guttural rumbling that technically could be called a laugh. ‘No, it was just a test!’

‘Exactly,’ added the B. ‘You saved one of us, despite us having to destroy your planet. You wouldn’t gain anything from it, yet you still acted selflessly. That is what we were testing.’

‘Right. So does this mean…?’

‘Unfortunately, your species will have to fail all three phases before we can actually do anything. So you’ve gotten a second chance.’

‘We’ll be back at some time. Just make sure you make things ready this time.’ And with a huff, the C sent Ted Hughes back down onto the planet.

‘Now,’ it said. ‘Game of draughts, anyone?’

There was a terrific droning. All three Garlians covered their ears, omitting a pained whine themselves.

GARLIANS, the sound told them. It wasn’t speaking; more forming the words before their eyes. YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF FAILING ALL THREE PHASES OF THE TRIAL. ‘What?!’ barked the C.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN TELL ABOUT A SPECIES, announced the voice, IS THE WAY IT TREATS LOWERS LIFEFORMS.

‘Oh,’ said the C. ‘Yes. That. Bugger.’

 

And far across the universe, the planet Garli was suddenly blotted out, in the merest blink of an eye.


© Copyright 2018 Ben Ramsey. All rights reserved.

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