Welcome to the eighth of twelve. For those not in the know, my New Year’s resolution this year was to write twelve short stories, one for each month. On the final Wednesday of each month, I will be posting the short story I worked on that month.
This month’s story is “By the Victors”.
The speaker’s voice echoed through the room in a language that was not human.
“And that concludes our meeting. We will reconvene at the beginning of the next human week to discuss and vote on the measure for mining within the continent called ‘Africa’. I stress that this measure is vitally important, not just for us but the humans as well.”
None of those in attendance were human either. Seated all throughout the large chamber were brown-skinned alien beings with teal eyes, four fingers, and three toes on something like a cat’s paw. They wore large, formal gowns of purple with flecks of orange and brown at the fringes. They sat in silence, their milky gazes directed on the speaker standing in the center of the room.
Despite the non-human assembly, the design of the building was certainly human. Brick clad in white marble lined the entirety of the outside. The inner chamber featured flags denoting various human nations that had agreed to the alliance with the Molkai, the alien race that had arrived on their planet a little over a decade earlier. The speaker’s audience sat at wooden desks arranged in a gargantuan semi-circle around the room.
“Now, I understand things have been trying for us lately. The humans have not always appreciated our choices. But in the end, they will come to understand that it is for the greater good of both our species. They will come to understand that we are only doing what needs to be done,” the speaker said. “So I implore you, take that into consideration when you cast your vote next week.”
In human time, the day was a Friday, and this was the final meeting of the Molkai Congress before they adjourned for the weekend. The vote would come on Tuesday.
“That is all I wished to say to you today, my fellows. May the stars bless your passing.”
“May the stars bless your passing,” the entire room repeated back.
As the alien congress emerged from the front of the building, they were greeted by a loud chorus of jeers. A large crowd of humans, carrying signs that said things like “don’t rock the cradle of life” and “stop destroying our home”, had assembled outside the building to protest the measure. Molkaian security personnel quickly surrounded the members of the congress, directing them to the backside of the building. A couple of Molkaians from the congress cast a forlorn gaze at the statue that graced the entrance courtyard. It depicted a human and a Molkaian standing face to face with their hands in each others palms…a gesture of companionship. These days, it seemed like an artifact of a long forgotten past.
As the group walked around the side of the building and exited through the rear gate, one of them spoke, more to himself than anyone else.
“I cannot believe how things have changed so much. When did they start hating us so?”
Another Molkaian, an older one as evidenced by the dryness of his skin, turned around and uttered a derisive snort.
“They are dumb, primitive creatures,” he said. “What do you expect?”
Arden Jefferson watched the news on the large flat-screen in his office.
“It would be the most unprecedented withdrawal of human land since the Molkai began their mining campaign six years ago,” a blonde haired reporter said, the Molkai Congress building framed behind her. Aside from the reporter, the street were empty. The protesters from earlier in the day had left, leaving behind abandoned signs and scraps of trash.
“If the measure is passed, tens of millions of people could find themselves displaced,” she continued. “I had the chance to speak with a few protesters earlier today, and their feelings are clear. One of them said, quote, ‘the Molkai won’t stop until they’ve ripped this planet bare’.”
Arden shook his head. He wanted to believe that wasn’t true, but with each passing day it became harder to deny the Molkai’s actions. Being a member of the human congress that worked alongside them, he had been privy to many a debate between the two delegations. To him, as the days went by, it seemed the Molkai grew more and more selfish.
He reached up with a hand and loosened the blue striped tie around his neck that complimented his gray suit and pants. Arden had never really cared much for formal attire. The tie felt like a noose around his neck. He brushed strands of dark brown hair out of his green eyes and continued watching the television screen.
“The Molkai congressional leader released a statement earlier today. He expressed sadness for the reaction to the measure, saying quote ‘I wish we could have come to a better agreement. I hope time will bring with it the realization that sacrifices will have to be made for the sake of progress’.”
Wouldn’t want you to sacrifice too much, Arden thought with bitter sarcasm.
His office was surprisingly large. There was a big wooden desk situated in the center of the room, facing the doorway. A long, gray couch sat nearby with a dark brown coffee table in front of it. The floor around the desk was lined with a patterned red carpet. Most of the walls were made of varnished wood, except the one furthest from the door. It was all glass, a giant row of windows looking out over the city.
“The vote is scheduled for Tuesday morning,” the news reporter continued. “It is tough to gauge what the reaction to it will be like, but judging by the atmosphere at the protest this afternoon, extreme action may not be out of the question.”
God…I can’t listen to this crap anymore, Arden thought as he picked the remote up from his desk and switched off the television. They always refuse to call it what it is: pure and simple exploitation.
A moment later, he heard his office door open. Turning, he found a Molkai ambassador entering the room. It was Kraye, the only Molkai Arden had ever really considered a friend. He could tell it was him by the jade pendant around his neck, cut to resemble a five-pointed star intertwined with a crescent moon. Some Molkaians, particularly ambassadors that worked alongside humans, would wear these individualized pendants to help differentiate between them.
“I assume you’ve heard the news,” Kraye asked.
“I have,” Arden said.
There was a moment of tense silence between the two of them.
“What happens if it passes,” Arden asked.
“If it passes, we would begin preparations for the relocation process,” Kraye replied. “If all goes well, we would hope to get things moving a couple of weeks after the vote.”
“A couple of weeks? Christ…”
Kraye sighed. “I was afraid you were going to have a problem with this,” he said.
“Of course I’m going to have a problem with this,” Arden shot back. “Some of those people have been living there their entire lives. And you’re going to kick them out of their homes so you can dig up some minerals.”
“Come on,” Kraye insisted. “You know this will be good for both our kinds. The technology we can create with those minerals is far more advanced than anything you’ve seen yet.”
“That’s what they said when they took Australia.”
Arden looked Kraye over. Despite how infuriated he was, he couldn’t work up much hate for him. Kraye was one of the few Molkai he had ever truly liked. His heart was in the right place. He was just naive.
He didn’t want to take out his anger on Kraye, so he took a moment to calm himself.
“Two years Kraye,” Arden finally said. “Two years have passed since you mined that continent and we haven’t seen anything from it.”
“It takes time to process these things,” Kraye argued.
“It takes time? Or did you just get tired of sharing with inferior beings?”
He could tell that struck deep. Kraye averted his gaze, staring down at the floor for a moment. Arden sighed.
“I’m sorry Kraye,” he said. “I didn’t mean that. It’s just been a hard week.”
Kraye looked up at him and managed a smile.
“I know it has,” he said. “I just wish we could see eye to eye more these days.”
Arden had always had tremendous respect for Kraye. He was one of the few Molkai that spent time immersing themselves in human language and culture. As such, he was one of the only ones who understood the idea of contractions. Most Molkai spoke in an overly formal version of human language. Kraye, on the other hand, would seem like any other human if it wasn’t for his appearance.
Just then, a quiet chime came from Arden’s desk.
“That’s my phone,” Arden muttered. He walked around the desk and picked up the small, black phone that had been lying on it.
“What is it,” Kraye asked, seeing the expression on Arden’s face shift.
“A reminder. We have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.” Arden’s eyes drifted to the framed photo on the desk. He lost himself in the woman’s blue eyes and golden hair.
“God damn it,” he cursed under his breath, sitting down in his chair and rubbing his eyes.
“The cancer’s getting worse, isn’t it?”
Arden rested his chin in his hands.
“Any word from the waiting list,” Kraye asked.
“Of course not,” Arden snarled. “Every time I call they just give me the runaround.” He groaned, shaking his head. “Can’t you do something? You have sway with people don’t you?”
Kraye averted his gaze.
“I do,” he said. “It’s just…” He trailed off.
“It’s just what,” Arden asked. He tried to bite his tongue to stop the anger, but it did little good.
“Arden, please don’t do this.”
“It’s my god damn wife we’re talking about!”
Kraye summoned up his courage and faced Arden.
“It’s not like I haven’t asked around. It’s not like I haven’t tried to convince people. But if I push it any further, they might see it as an abuse of power.”
“So what am I supposed to tell her? ‘Sorry honey, but you’re not important enough to live’? Am I just supposed to fucking sit here while your Molkai friends withhold the technology that could save her life?!”
Silence reigned over the room again. Then, the anger in Arden evaporated. He buried his head in his hands and groaned once again.
“Ugh…it’s just the same shit day after day,” he said, his voice muffled.
“It’ll get better,” Kraye assured him. “I’m sure of it.”
“That’s what I keep telling Laura, and I believe it less each time I say it.”
Arden rubbed his face in his hands, then stood up.
“I need to get going and check on her,” he said.
“Is it that bad?”
“We hit a rough patch this last month. She had an IV in for the past week and just got it removed yesterday. We’re still playing wait and see at this point.”
“I’m so sorry Arden…I didn’t know,” Kraye said.
“It’s not your fault Kraye,” Arden replied. “Look,” he continued as he stepped around the desk and toward the door, “I really should be going.”
“Okay. May the stars bless your passing.”
“Yeah,” Arden replied without looking back. The door closed and Kraye heard his footsteps receding down the hall. He wanted to do something, anything, to help his friend. But he didn’t know what. Every time he had an idea, all he saw were all the possible ways it could fail. No matter what came up with, he was held in place by crippling indecision.
As Kraye stood there like a statue, the sun disappeared behind the clouds, drenching the office in cold shadow…
A blast of cool air hit Arden’s face as he opened the fridge. He scanned his eyes over the contents and selected a can of cheap beer. He popped the top and took a sip. Bitter and bland, but he didn’t mind.
“You okay honey,” a voice asked from the other room. “You seem distant.”
“I’m fine. It’s just…it’s been a long week.”
“Same as always,” Arden said as he took another sip. “Refuses to see what’s in front of him. I wish I could make him understand, but I don’t think I can keep fighting him every single day.”
“He’ll come around…I’m sure of it.”
“Fortunately, it shouldn’t matter,” Arden said. “Even if the Molkai vote for it, the human delegation would have to vote for it to. And from what I’ve seen, that isn’t happening.”
Arden turned toward the living room. Seated on the brown couch, face lit by the faint blue glow of the television screen, was his wife Laura. Her once golden hair had withered and dulled, her bright blue eyes losing their twinkle as the constant battle with cancer took its toll.
Arden remembered how she used to love the outdoors. Now she barely got outside at all.
“You’ve been working so hard lately,” Laura said. “I’m worried about you.”
Arden had to chuckle. “I’m not the one you should be worried about. What’s tomorrow’s appointment for again?”
“Oh…it’s just a checkup, to see how I’m doing.”
“And how are you doing?”
“Great actually. I haven’t felt so good in weeks.”
She was lying. That much he could tell. There was a deep tiredness in her eyes and she kept itching the part of her arm where the IV had been. When Arden had come home, she was sleeping on the couch.
She sleeps a lot these days, he thought.
“Well I’m gonna start making some supper. I hope you like reheated meatloaf.”
“My favorite,” she said with a hoarse laugh.
Arden pulled the leftovers out of the fridge and began dishing them up onto two plates. He was just about to place one in the microwave when the sound of an explosion reached his ears.
“What the hell was that?”
He turned. Laura wasn’t facing him. She had her eyes glued on the television screen.
“Laura…what’s wrong,” he asked. No response.
Arden set the plates down and walked into the living room. Laura turned, and he noticed tears forming in her eyes.
“Laura…honey…what is it?”
He heard shouting. It was only then that he realized the sounds were coming from the television. When he turned to look, a dramatic sight greeted him.
Hundreds of people marching through the streets of the city, holding signs high and chanting at the top of their lungs. As he watched, some people threw bottles of alcohol with burning rags in them through building windows, causing brief explosions of flame. A small red banner in the top-left corner of the screen read “live”.
It didn’t take long for it to dawn on him: the people were rioting. They had grown so fed up with the Molkai Congress that they were now resorting to violent action to get their voices heard.
Arden crossed his arms.
“Hmph…took them long enough.”
Kraye watched the riots on television, eyes filled with sadness.
“From what we’ve been able to establish, the rioting began just over half an hour ago,” a blonde human female reported. “It started on fourth street and has been slowly moving toward the center of the city. Police have been mobilized as well as Molkaian security forces.”
Why does it always have to be this way, Kraye asked himself.
“We’ve heard that the crowd has been gaining numbers as it moves throughout the city. It is reported that as many as five thousand people are-“
The reporter stopped mid-sentence, ducking as a flaming bottle of alcohol flew over her head. There was a brief explosion in the background along with the sound of shattering glass. The reporter took a moment to gather her wits. The camera shuddered as the person behind it evidently picked it up.
“We…we’re going to try and get some distance from the riot…uh…back to you Zach!”
“Thanks Beth…you stay safe out there,” a male voice said in response.
Kraye watched the news for a little while longer. They showed footage from earlier in the riot. When the group was smaller, they ran into a small contingent of Molkaian security near the Congressional building. When they refused to disperse, the security turned their weapons on them, utilizing rods capable of administering an incapacitating shock in a short cone radius in front of them.
At first, it seemed to work. But Kraye noticed that one of the weapons accidentally struck a small human child who was standing on the sidewalk. She let out a tiny cry before falling to the ground.
The camera focused on her as she lay motionless on the sidewalk. No one moved to help.
She had nothing to do with it, Kraye thought. And yet, she suffered…
It wasn’t long before the rioters got their revenge. They managed to disarm one of the security officers and threw him to the ground. He disappeared under a mass of angry figures punching and kicking. From there the rioters moved out, traveling along the main roads and recruiting more angry people to their cause.
After that, Kraye turned off the television. He didn’t want to see any more.
Reaching forward, he picked up a small purple bottle sitting on the coffee table. It was filled with a strange, dark green liquid sloshing around. The closest human equivalent, as far as Kraye could tell, would be alcohol. But Molkaians couldn’t drink it. Something about the composition made them violently ill. And in rare cases, it was even fatal.
Just another way we’re incompatible, he thought sadly.
Kraye popped the top off his bottle and took a deep gulp of it. He was tired…of the violence…of the hate…of the anger. But even he couldn’t deny that the strained relationship between the species was owed at least in some part to the attitudes of his fellow Molkai. So many of them looked down on humans as inferior. He didn’t have to go further than his front door to see the truth in that.
Kraye lived in a gated community of Molkaians protected by a private security force. He looked around him: at the marble counter in the kitchen, at the gargantuan high quality television he had been watching, at how sleek and clean everything was. And he compared it to what he knew of other human dwellings, most specifically Arden’s. Arden wasn’t poor by any means, but his house was old and in need of maintenance. Kraye remembered the last time he had been there Arden was having issues with the plumbing. “Third time in as many months,” Arden had grumbled while his wife looked on from the living room.
We spend all this time pampering ourselves and policing them…no wonder they’ve started to resent us so much, Kraye thought. He stood up and walked over to the kitchen window, taking another drink. The community was up on a hill, with a good view over the city.
He still believed in the Africa measure. The resources they could gain from that continent would be a great boon for human and Molkai alike. So why were the humans so against it?
Because they’re incapable of making sound decisions for themselves, a voice in his head argued. They’re too emotional…like Arden. Always getting angry and outraged over nothing. They need a guiding hand…otherwise they would probably just end up destroying themselves in one way or another.
Then another voice in his head spoke up:
They were doing fine until we showed up. Are we really so much better than them?
Kraye silenced the voices. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to them.
Later that night, as he trudged up the stairs to go to sleep, he stole one last glance at the television. He wondered where it had all gone wrong. Kraye remembered when he had first come here, among the first Molkaians to ever live on Earth. It had seemed like such a perfect dream, an opportunity to share cultures and explore the intricacies of existence together.
But that’s all it had been…a dream. Reality was a harsh world…lit easily by hate and fire.
Arden looked more glum than usual when Kraye entered his office on Monday. He was sitting at his desk, his eyes downcast and a grimace stretched across his face.
“Arden, what’s-” Kraye’s eyes flicked to the half-empty bottle sitting on the desk. “Oh no…don’t tell me you’ve started drinking again.”
“Why not,” Arden replied, barely audible. “They’ve taken away my voice. I have nothing left.”
“What do you mean?”
“The vote, Kraye. Through some legalistic scheming they boosted the size of the Molkaian congress without us knowing. So it doesn’t matter if the human delegation unanimously votes it down…the Africa measure can still pass even if all but three Molkaians vote for it.”
Kraye averted his gaze, timidly itching his arm. Arden squinted at him for a moment.
Then, his jaw dropped.
“Oh my god…you knew about this?” Arden slowly stood up from his desk. “You knew…and you let it happen?!“
“Arden, please…I don’t want to-“
“No, I wanna know! I deserve to know why you thought it was okay to rip away the last vestige of power we had over anything!“
Kraye stood staring at the ground.
“Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Kraye didn’t move or respond.
“…You don’t even know, do you?” Arden threw up his hands. “Great…just fucking great! You sold us out! You sold me out and you can’t even tell me why.”
“Oh please, don’t be so stupid,” Kraye blurted out, lifting his eyes from the ground. Arden turned toward him, eyes blazing like emerald fire.
“Excuse me,” he asked, incredulous.
“You know exactly why we did it! Don’t fool yourselves into thinking it was anything but your fault!”
“Oh please Kraye, enlighten me. Why have your glorious people seen fit to stomp all over us?”
“Because you can’t think for yourselves! You don’t do anything besides complain, complain, complain! All you know how to do is destroy. Just look at the riots over the weekend and tell me I’m wrong!”
“Well of course they’re rioting in the streets…no one’s listening to them anymore! You sit up there in your little gated communities, looking down your noses at us. When’s the last time any of you actually bothered to listen? Those people out there…they don’t know what else to do! Any complaint they make is greeted with nothing more than disdain and condescension! It’s bullshit and you know it!”
Kraye’s hands began to shake.
“You people…you just…”
“What? Come on…tell me. I want to know what you really think.”
Kraye locked eyes with him.
“You’re nothing but a bunch of stupid, primitive mammals,” he shouted.
His words echoed through the room, followed by a momentous silence. The fire in Arden’s eyes simmered to a dull glaze. He was unable to speak for a moment, his lip quivering lightly.
“Re-really…that’s what you think of us?”
“Oh please Arden, I can smell the alcohol on your breath from here. You drink and drink, complain and complain…but you never actually get anything done.” Kraye glared at him. “We should have boosted our congress a long time ago. Then we could have actually gotten things done.”
“Oh? And what about the human vote?”
“Good riddance to that,” he said. “You people were too stupid to use it properly anyways.”
Arden slowly walked toward Kraye until he stood at his side, his expression still one of disbelief.
“So that’s how it is huh,” he said.
Kraye turned toward him and narrowed his eyes.
“It’s impressive, really, how pathetic you are Arden. For all your rage, you really are nothing but a useless ape.”
That did it. That was the final straw. Arden’s face stiffened and he regarded Kraye with a look he had never seen before…a distant and cold stare. It was as if he saw him as nothing more than a stranger. The anger in Kraye’s blood cooled, and the realization of what he had done began to settle in on him.
“You know what Kraye,” Arden said, his voice flat and emotionless. “At least I didn’t evolve from a disgusting slug.”
Then he turned and walked out the door.
“Wait…Arden,” Kraye croaked. But it was too late. The door slammed shut and Kraye was forced to watch as Arden stormed off down the hallway. Soon enough he disappeared, and Kraye was left alone.
It was the most horrible silence he had ever felt or heard in his life. He couldn’t think or move for a very long time. The scene kept playing back in his head like a broken record.
You really are nothing but a useless ape…
He stepped over to the window, a process that seemed to take whole minutes to do. He laid his hand against the glass and stood looking out over the city. It gleamed under the bright yellow light of the sun…buildings shimmering like jewels.
Kraye leaned his head against the glass, closed his eyes, and fought the urge to cry…
“It was truly a decisive vote. If you’re just joining us, the Africa measure has passed the Molkai Congress by a landslide, with only two Molkaians voting “no”. Despite the fact that the human delegation voted against it unanimously, the new Molkai majority means that the measure will now fall into place. It remains to be seen how soon relocation measures will begin for people of the African continent. We now go live to Beth, who is standing outside the Molkai Congress building. What have you got for us Beth?”
“Well Zach, as you said the measure passed due to the Molkaian majority. No word on relocation measures yet, but we did receive a statement from the Molkaian Congressional leader saying, in part ‘I hope our two species can move past our troubles and set our sights on a brighter future for all of us’.”
His head pounded. His hands shook.
Arden stared at the bottle filled with clear liquid on his desk. It seemed to shift in and out of focus. It was hard to think anymore. The world pulsed around him.
It had been only mere hours since the results of the vote were handed down like a judge’s verdict. Now the people living in Africa were subject to relocation at the whims of the Molkai. And they wouldn’t wait. They’d get things moving as quickly as they could. That was how they operated.
It made him sick. But he was powerless to stop it. They had seen to that.
From what felt like an incredible distance, he heard the office door opening and closing. Looking up, he saw Kraye eyeing him with an expression of concern.
“What do you want,” he asked, his tone spiteful and bitter.
“Arden…are you…what are you drinking?”
“Vodka,” he responded with a slight burp. “Far more potent than that cheap piece of crap whiskey I had yesterday. Tastes gross, that’s for sure.”
“Why do you do this to yourself?”
“Why do you care,” he shot back.
“Arden…please…that’s not…” Kraye stammered, then fell silent.
“Not what? Not fair? Guess what Kraye? Life’s not fair. But what would I know? I’m just a big useless ape,” Arden replied.
Part of him could see the pain in his friend’s face, that he was trying desperately to apologize for what he had done the day before. Part of him felt terrible for the words he was saying. But most of him was so glazed over that he didn’t care.
He glanced down at the bottle before him. Only a quarter left.
“How…how much did you drink,” Kraye finally summoned up the courage to ask.
“Well,” Arden began with a slight hiccup, “it was full when I got here.”
“Please Arden, put it away. I don’t want to see you do this to yourself.”
Arden looked up at Kraye, then back down at the bottle. A moment later, he buried his head in his hands.
“Oh what’s the point,” he groaned. “You were right. I’m a pathetic mess.”
“I can’t do anything aside from drink myself stupid.”
“That’s not true Arden, you still have the power to change things.”
Arden’s head snapped up suddenly, with such a wild look in his eyes that Kraye involuntarily took a step back.
“Bullshit,” he screamed, grabbing the bottle and slamming it down on the desk. The sound of shattering glass echoed through the office. Glittering shards littered the carpet between him and Kraye. Clear liquid oozed over the front of the desk, dripping off and staining the carpet.
“I can’t even…I can’t…I-,” Arden babbled, then stopped. Tears formed in his eyes and he hung his head in his hands again. It took a long time before he could speak
“I can’t even help my wife,” he said, choking up. “The only thing I can do is help alleviate her pain and I can barely fucking do that. It doesn’t matter. None of it fucking matters.”
“Arden…” Kraye began, but found himself unable to speak yet again.
Arden began standing up from the desk. “Every single day I come in here,” he said as he took a step, “and nothing changes. I-” Suddenly he stumbled and began to fall to the ground. But Kraye moved with lightning speed, catching him before he hit the floor and holding him up.
“Come on,” Kraye grunted as he supported his friend. “Over here.”
Kraye maneuvered the two of them over to the couch, and a moment later they were sitting. Arden’s head bobbled back and forth as he sat there, deep in the throes of a drunken stupor.
A long time passed in silence. Then, Kraye closed his eyes and leaned his head in close to Arden’s, so close that he was nuzzling his face. At first, Arden tensed up in surprise, but then he brought his arm around Kraye and rested his hand on his shoulder.
“Arden,” Kraye began after what felt like minutes, “I’m sorry for what I said. I was angry. I didn’t really mean all those things about you. My frustration got the better of me and I took it out on you.”
“It’s okay,” Arden replied. “I was being a dick anyways. I deserved it.”
“No you didn’t. I was unfair to you. You’ve been going through a lot lately. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that you’d get angry so easily.”
“Look, can we just agree that we both screwed up,” Arden asked. “This is getting a little too corny for my taste.”
Kraye opened his eyes and had to chuckle.
“Okay. I can agree to that,” he said.
Silence passed between them for a moment.
“Kraye…have you ever been to the history museum on the other side of town,” Arden asked.
“No…I haven’t. I never had much interest in it. Besides, Molkai don’t frequent that part of town. It’s predominantly human, and right now humans aren’t exactly fond of us.”
“Well you should. Sometime this week in fact. It’s not like the Congress is going to meet again. They’re in a recess for the next few days.”
“Arden…” Kraye began to protest.
“Please…for me? I think it would help you understand where I’m coming from…why I’m so against these relocation efforts. I’ve been thinking about history these days. Our history in particular.”
Kraye didn’t really understand what Arden meant by that, but it didn’t matter.
“Okay…I’ll go see it tomorrow,” he agreed. He was still reluctant, but he wanted to do something to make his friend feel better.
“Thank you Kraye,” Arden said.
Kraye got up from the couch.
“You going to be okay,” he asked as he turned to face Arden.
“I’ll be fine. I just need to rest here a while and get my head back into place. If anyone asks, just tell them I’m feeling a little sick.”
“You’re too good to me Kraye,” Arden said with a smile.
Then his face grew serious. “I’m not pregnant am I?”
Kraye stared at him, baffled.
“What…I…why would you be?”
“Well I’ve heard that Molkai only nuzzle those they want to be their mates,” Arden said, a sly smile crossing his face.
If it was at all possible for Molkai to blush, Kraye’s cheeks would have turned a bright, crimson red.
“Wha…I…I don’t…uh…” he stammered. Arden just laughed.
“I’m only teasing Kraye,” he said. “I’m flattered…really. After the last few days I was certain you hated me.”
The two of them looked at each other for a long time, both feeling the warmth of the past returning to their hearts. Kraye enjoyed it for all it was worth. He remembered the times when he first met Arden. Arden had been so happy back then…so enthused about the idea of working side by side with an alien race.
Maybe there was a chance to reclaim that feeling…maybe…
“I’ll be your voice Arden,” Kraye declared. Arden began to open his mouth, but Kraye stopped him. “No no…I won’t accept any objections. If they won’t let you have your voice, then I’ll just have to do it for you.”
“Thank you Kraye. Well I suppose you should be going then. Do try to visit that museum tomorrow will you?”
“Of course Arden.”
Kraye turned around and began to leave.
He stopped and turned back around.
“What is it Arden?”
Arden was quiet for a moment. He had a look on his face that said he was trying to decide if what he was about to do was a bad idea or not. He took a deep breath.
“May the stars bless your passing,” he finally said, using the Molkai’s native tongue.
It was rough. And he butchered some of the words. But Kraye couldn’t help but be touched by the effort.
“May the stars bless your passing,” he said in response. Then he walked out of the office.
The sun was shining bright on the old museum the next day. The marble outside glowed a bright white in the light of day. The inside was no less impressive, with giant pillars that rose up from the first floor into the second and all the way to the ceiling. Kraye found himself struck by their size when he first entered the museum. He could feel the stares of the humans around him, but he ignored them. At any rate, no one bothered him.
And so, despite his reluctance, he began making his way through the exhibits. None of it really grabbed him. The museum was primarily focused on human inventions, tools of creation as well as weapons of destruction. To a Molkaian eye, none of them were particularly impressive. Kraye scanned over the exhibits, trying to understand why Arden had insisted he come here. But an hour passed with no revelations. Then another. He was beginning to think that it was all a waste of time.
But then, as he came around a corner, he stopped dead in his tracks. He was confronted by the stare of a plastic mannequin figure. It was that of a human, wearing clothes made out of animal hide and fur. He was carrying a sack on his back and was hunched over. More than anything, it was the sadness in his eyes that drew Kraye’s attention. There were others behind him as well: another male, a female, and a small child. They shared the man’s look of exhaustion and despair as they trudged through a muddy landscape.
He lowered his eyes to the plaque in front of the exhibit.
“The Trail of Tears,” he mumbled aloud.
“Find something interesting?”
Kraye turned to find a human female standing next to him. She had short red hair, bright brown eyes, and looked fairly young. If Arden was there, he would probably say she was “college age”, whatever that meant. She was wearing a uniform given to her by the museum, colored blue and yellow after its logo. A piece of paper stuck to her chest informed him that her name was “Jennifer”.
“I don’t see many of you around here these days. Sad really…I’ve always wondered what our history must look like to an alien eye,” she said.
After a moment, Kraye decided she seemed pleasant enough.
“Honestly I…I couldn’t really tell you what it looks like,” he replied with an awkward laugh. “I’ve never had much interest in history.”
“That’s a shame,” Jennifer replied.
The two of them stood staring at the mannequins for a moment.
“What’s this exhibit about,” Kraye asked finally.
The smile faded from Jennifer’s face. At first, Kraye was afraid he had done something offensive. But then she ran her eyes over the mannequin man and he realized it was something else.
“It’s such an ugly story…the Trail of Tears…”
“They look so sad,” Kraye observed.
“Because they were forced out of their homes. Back then, the government passed something known as the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans to migrate. They had to walk over hundreds of miles of rough terrain.”
“But why,” Kraye asked.
“People wanted the land…for resources, homes, expansion, and so on. It didn’t matter that there were already people living there. Supply and demand…it’s one of the oldest rules we live by. They wanted the land, so they got the land.”
“But why the name ‘Trail of Tears’? Sounds so horrible…”
“Because it was. The trek was long and hard. Thousands of Native Americans died during the process of relocation from exhaustion, disease, famine…you name it. Men…women…children…no one was spared its wrath.”
“That’s…that’s terrible,” Kraye said, aghast.
He stood in silence for a long time, staring into the plastic mannequin’s eyes. He was feeling something…a ghostly pain welling up from an ancient past. His stomach seemed to tighten of its own accord, making Kraye uncomfortable.
“And no one thought to stop this,” he asked. “No one thought it was…wrong?”
Jennifer pondered for a moment.
“I can’t say for sure,” she finally replied, “but I think there were a few dissenters back in the day. It didn’t matter in the end. Progress always wins. And it doesn’t care who it leaves behind in the dirt.”
“But that’s not progress that’s…that’s genocide! They may as well have shot those people themselves! At least then it would have been a painless death.”
“Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.”
Kraye looked over the exhibit for a long time.
“It’s so similar,” he began. “It-” He bit his lip. “It’s like…like Af…Afri-” He couldn’t finish. Kraye could only hang his head in despair.
Jennifer seemed to sense that he wanted some time alone.
“I’ll be in the reception area if you have any questions,” she said. Then she was gone.
Kraye raised his head and stared into the gaze of the mannequin man for what seemed like an eternity. But he couldn’t see the plastic figure anymore. No…all he could see was Arden.
Arden…marching through the muck and wilderness of a long distant time.
Arden…beating himself up over his inability to help his wife.
Arden…destroying a bottle of his only solace.
Arden…tripping and falling to the floor.
The pain was intense. It stung deep. But it all made sense. He understood why Arden had been so against these measures from the start. Because he knew. He knew how it always played out. It was so selfish…and Kraye saw that now.
Time passed. The sun lazily dipped below the horizon, covering the land in a dark orange glaze. Dogs barked off in the distance. Humans left their places of work, returning home and settling down on the couch after a long day. Lonely animals wandered the street, looking for scraps of food no one was willing to give.
And the Molkai? They returned to their cushy houses, sealed behind their fierce metal gates manned by unfeeling security personnel.
Out of sight…out of mind…
All the while, Kraye sat there staring into the mannequin’s eyes, unable to tear himself away. It was only when the museum intercom announced they were closing in five minutes that he managed to make his feet move.
As he emerged from the building, a cloud of darkness began sweeping over the land…complementing his grim mood…
And so the years marched on…
Nearly two centuries later, new museum was opening in the heart of the human city. This one was of Molkai design, and devoted to humanity. Inside a large, ornate room decked with marble pillars and a high ceiling, a large crowd of Molkaians gathered. A single, female Molkai stepped up to a wooden podium with a microphone and motioned for everyone to be seated and silent.
“We are gathered here today to dedicate this museum to the human race,” she began, speaking the human tongue flawlessly. “To all of those gathered here, I urge you to never forget your history…never forget the things we did in the service of ourselves.”
The audience applauded. A few even cheered. The speaker motioned for quiet once again.
“But I could talk forever on the subject, and my word would still not be enough. That’s why I’m glad to introduce someone who is working side by side with us to ensure that the history will be remembered. I would like to welcome Johnathan Walker to the stage!”
The audience stood up and clapped their hands as an old human male, sat in a wheelchair, made his way to the podium. He had a small oxygen tank on the back of his chair, with tubes that fed into his nose. His eyes were a deep blue, and what remained of his hair was a wiry gray. A couple of Molkaians lowered the microphone so he could speak into it.
“Greetings,” he began, then broke off in a brief fit of coughing. “I’m fine,” he said to the female Molkai, who was about to step in to assist. The old man turned back to the microphone. “You’ll have to excuse me…it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken before such a large crowd.”
He took a deep breath.
“There’s so much I could tell you…but there’s one story in particular I remember…one story I can never forget. I was a child…twelve years old in fact. They came to our city, fed up with the dissent. My family was lucky. We had chosen to be neutral, so we were ignored. But our neighbors weren’t so lucky. They were outspoken critics of the Molkaian regime. A handful of Molkai security busted down their door in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. I remember it well because I was playing in the yard. I could hear the yelling, the screaming…the begging. My mother rushed outside and tried to drag me into the house. But it was too late. I heard the sound of a Molkai weapon discharging. It echoed through the street…which sunk into a deathly silence afterward. The silence was broken by a loud wailing…coming from the house.”
A tear formed in the man’s eyes and he looked away for a second. After collecting himself, he continued.
“Our neighbors had a little girl…about my age. They shot her because she wouldn’t stop crying. Then they dragged the family away. We never saw them again after that. Their house remained empty for years…condemned to waste away into nothing.”
The audience appeared to be hooked on his every word. They never interrupted or made noise, even when he paused. They stayed silent, patiently waiting for him to continue.
“But it wasn’t long before we were forced to move. Buried deep beneath our city was an undiscovered vein of minerals that the Molkai saw fit to take. The vote passed easily and so we had to leave our house behind. The day we left, there were huge protests in the street. It wasn’t until later I discovered that the Molkai didn’t even bother trying to pacify them. They just blew them all into oblivion from orbit.”
He paused again, in the throes of another coughing fit.
“It just…goes to show you…hatred…only brings…despair…”
It was obvious he could no longer continue. The female Molkai speaker came to him and crouched down while another Molkai held his hand over the microphone. There was a brief, indistinct chattering from the podium. Then the old man was wheeled away while the female stepped up to the microphone.
“We do apologize for that. You have to understand, Jonathan is very old and has a hard time speaking. But please, do not let his words go unheeded. It is plain for all to see the damage we have wrought against humanity.”
There was a chorus of murmured agreement from the crowd.
“Now, food will be served shortly in the reception hall. But for now, feel free to browse the exhibits.”
And with that, the crowd dispersed and began meandering around the room. One young Molkai in particular let his eyes run up and down the different exhibits. He examined the arrowheads, pottery, and moved forward through time. He had just finished reading about something called the “atomic bomb” when his eyes caught sight of something strange.
It was a Molkai elder, standing apart from the crowd. He had his arms crossed over his chest and was obviously displeased with his surroundings. Although he knew it was impolite to intrude on the business of an elder, the young Molkaian could not help himself.
He was only within a few feet when the elder finally noticed his approach.
“Excuse me,” the young Molkai began in his native language, “but-” He stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were drawn to something around the elder’s neck. It was a faded jade pendant, cut to resemble a five-pointed star intertwined with a crescent moon.
“Are you an ambassador,” he asked excitedly, a smile on his face.
The elder looked down at him.
“You speak human,” he asked.
The young Molkai’s smile faded.
“Yes,” he said. “But-“
“Then use it. I have no interest in Molkai anymore.”
“Why not,” the young one asked.
The elder seemed to ignore his question, Instead, he turned his gaze on the wandering patrons. He scoffed. “Look at them…all walking around and paying respects to a race they cared nothing about not that long ago. They’re blind. They can’t even see this museum for what it is: fake. Empty. It’s a lot of pretty words and nothing else.”
“Why do you say that?”
The elder pointed in the direction of the female Molkai that had spoken at the podium.
“You see her?”
The young Molkai nodded.
“Yeah…I think she did a good job speaking.”
The elder let out a small croak of a laugh.
“She’s good at using her words, that’s true. But she’s lying to herself..”
“What do you mean,” the young one asked.
“I bet you didn’t know she used to be an ambassador as well.”
“Do you see a pendant around her neck?”
The young one squinted.
“N-no,” he replied. “Where is it?”
“If I had to guess,” the elder said, “she probably threw it away.”
“I remember when she came here…fifty years ago in human time. She was just like the others…always voted yes on the measures. Always voted to further the Molkai cause without stopping and thinking about what it might mean for the human race. She’s pretending…pretending it never happened. She wants to sweep it all under the rug and not take accountability.”
“But what about you,” the young one argued. “What about what you did? It’s not fair of you to judge her like that.”
“Guess what? Life’s not fair. Was it fair that my friend had to watch as his wife slowly died from cancer? Was it fair that our people had the technology that could have saved her life, but refused to use it? Was it fair that I had to watch as he drank himself stupid after her death? At least I know I screwed up. I have no illusions on that front. If you really think it’s not fair of me to judge her, then you’re just as ignorant as the rest of them.”
A long silence passed between the two of them.
“What happened to him,” the young Molkai asked.
“To be honest…I don’t know. One day he was there, and the next he was gone. He just packed up and left the city. I never saw him again. He’s dead now for sure. Humans don’t live even half as long as we do, after all.”
The young Molkai looked away from the elder and ran his eyes over the museum.
“I am learning about the hostilities period right now with my class.”
“Oh? And what do you think?”
“After seeing all these weapons the humans built…do they really deserve our respect? They seem so violent and primitive.”
The elder scoffed.
“Have you ever been to the Uninhabitable Zones?” The young one shook his head. “Well if you can go there…if you can see the pollution and devastation we caused…if you can witness all that and then tell me they deserved it? Then maybe you’re right.”
The elder averted his gaze and ran his eyes over some of the exhibits.
“They were once over seven billion strong…and now there’s barely a hundred thousand humans left.”
“Really?” The young Molkai was stunned.
“They didn’t teach you that in school, did they?”
The elder Molkai fixed him with a harsh stare.
“Don’t you know? We happened, kid. We came in and swept the humans aside so we could dig up the ground beneath them. We polluted and destroyed the land with our mining. We kicked them out of their homes and corralled them into makeshift communities while we took what we wanted. And those that didn’t die from easily preventable diseases killed each other over what little food and possessions they were left with.”
The elder let out a long sigh.
“Oh, we pretended like we were doing it for the benefit of both of us, but we were living a lie. In reality, the humans were just an obstacle…an inconvenience standing in the way of us getting what we wanted.”
The elder looked down at the young one.
“History is written by the victors kid. You’d do well to remember that.”
“Why,” the young one asked.
“Because then you might not make the same mistakes we did…the same ones I did.”
And with that, he turned around and strolled out the museum entrance. The young one stood alone in the center of the atrium, watching him go. Eventually, the old Molkai disappeared into the darkness of the night…never to be seen again.
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Back to normal next week.