Author : David Hartley

We’ve longed for this, the end of all times, echoed the rampant philosophers, baying for the choicest sound-byte to sing the species out. I flick the radio off, return us to silence. Better that than cloying intellectual redemption. I look to you, to your belly where propagation lies, wondering again what flush of nonsense brought about that defiance, wondering again if that is a baby pushing against your rags or a statement. You smile, as if that alone could reverse things, however much I wished it could.

Outside, the liquid creak makes itself apparent and your smile dies; closer now.

‘Shall we?’ I say. You are already rising, one hand cradling the bump of ambiguous potential, the other limp by your side, grasping for nothing. No weapons now, no point. No more bows and arrows, no lightning.

Together we lift away the rug-door and bow out to the balcony. There are two of them in the courtyard below, inspecting every brick, every wire and lump. Each touch is cautious; when something crumbles they whine and try to push the bits back together again.

Your hand slips into mine, grips. I purse my lips, whistle.

Creak, squeak, chatter, snap, they wheel on us and we stand firm; representatives of a fragile race at the weary end of its tether. It is almost immediate now; flails retracted, whip-limbs recoiled. Armed only with inspection fibres, softly, slowly, they creep, scuttle, and scramble up, over, and all around us. Their eyes, such as they are, have faded from scanner red to sky blue, an imitation of the expanse above perhaps.

They caress for hours and we resist squirming under the tickles. They spend a long time poking and measuring your bump, returning to it each time the rebellious unborn kicks or fidgets. I watch each grope from the edge of my sight, hands running cold with sweat. They inspect that too; catching drips, drinking it maybe. But we hold on tight, force of will, and not one touch hurts or discomforts.

Invader guilt, they have called it. A sudden cease of destruction replaced by this unease. No victorious mothership, no enslavements, just a mute confusion, a hasty sheathing of tendrils. We had been war-torn before they arrived, waging our own myriad paths of destruction across the globe, bending hell to cause devastation for obscure reasons. Perhaps, after all, they were just trying to join in. Trying to make a good first impression.

Our friends cease their inspection and we retreat. Throughout the night they build and build and build. By morning, a new Starbucks stands in the courtyard and they are gone.


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