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Greenlantern Excelsior
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The r/HFY subreddit contains many great scifi stories from amateur writers. Here's the definition from the Community Details box:
We're a writing focused subreddit welcoming all media exhibiting the awesome potential of humanity, known as HFY or "Humanity, f*ck Yeah!" We welcome sci-fi, fantasy, and all other stories with a focus on humans being awesome!
We haven't had much activity in this forum, so I thought it might be nice to get something going. Maybe some of these stories will inspire us to write more!
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Greenlantern Excelsior
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Monsters
by u/LgFatherAnthrocite

Monsters are real. I've seen them with my own photoreceptors. They aren't like the horgals of legend. They don't breath clouds of acid, they aren't huge lumbering beasts. They look like pests, barely coming up to my grig. Soft, with tiny teeth and claws.

I thought they would be easy to kill. There was almost nothing to them. But I was wrong. They were small, but their flesh was not soft. It was dense, harder than the malic wood we build our homes from. Their bones were made of stone like compounds. They came from a place where the gravity alone was enough to kill.

As of that weren't enough, the world they lived in was thick with danger. Animals, environment, microbes, even the plants, all designed to kill. They rose up from the beasts and mastered their world.

They came from a hell of sudden and swift death. They were masters of it. They were demons who were motivated by fear and survival. They never forgot. The fear I mean. It haunts them. It makes them crazy. It drives them to acts of foolishness that no other intelligent species would even consider.

Atmospheric plummets with no safety net, with nothing but thin fabric sheets to halt their mad descent towards the ground. Swimming in oceans full of predators with only a small tank of atmosphere to breath. Their children's amusement parks would qualify as torture chambers on any other world.

Monsters.

I have seen these creatures falling like stones from the skies, numerous enough to block the suns. I have seen them wipe out whole brigades of armored vehicles. I have seen a single soldier, out of ammo, surrounded by the enemy, use his rifle as a club, and beat his enemies to death, until he was gunned down. It seemed like we might not even be able to kill that one. His body was ragged and tattered but he kept swinging his makeshift club, until he couldn't move, and then he chose to detonate a bomb, rather than simply die. A bomb he held in his hand. He willingly killed himself for the chance to take even one more enemy with him.

Wherever we went, traps and snipers harried us. They taught us what it was like, to live in fear. Constant, unrelenting, slowly eroding your mind. Never knowing if you would wake up from rest cycles, or be slain in your sleep. If the next room you entered, or door you opened would kill you with some new and horrible trap. What it was like to be where they come from. What it meant to be in hell.

But then the war ended, and they showed us what it really meant, to be monsters.

So many more came, ships darkened the skies. They brought all manner of machine and supplies. They cleared rubble, buried the dead, healed the wounded. Built homes and hospitals, replanted the fields. Cared for everyone, not just their own, but us as well. They made no excuses, they had won, and we were defeated. There were no platitudes in this. They took the spoils of war. Resources, planetary systems, technology. But they did not abandon us.

They nurtured us back to health, got us back on our feet, took their prizes, and they left.

And I knew we were monsters. How many other races had we destroyed? How many worlds were left smoking and cratered, unable to sustain the survivors? How many times had we waged war, and then left, ignorant of the consequences?

Who were we, to never look back at the trail of blood and death we left behind us?

Anyone can fight and die. But to return, look into the faces of your enemy, and take care of them. To heal the defeated. To know, deep in your genetic memory, that loss means death, and to fight so hard against that, that even helping a defeated enemy makes sense. These Humans came from a Hell world, and they beat it, at the cost of generations of blood and suffering. They conquered it. They rose above, Redeemed.

And they taught us what it meant to be monsters.

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When the captain saw that you were human, he accepted you immediately as a member of his crew. Unfortunately, the captain's understanding of humans quickly turns out to be distinctly...off.
byu/IamJackFox

“It’s time, Steven.” Captain Genissi’s tentacles undulated nervously as he entered the restroom I was working in.

“Time, sir?”

“The ship’s sensors have picked up Limewir pirates approaching. They were hiding in the shadow of Gas Giant 14b. Now it’s too late to escape—they’ll be on us in less than twenty minutes. I need you to do your job.”

I looked down at the mop I was holding, then back up at my captain. “You want me to… mop up the pirates, sir?”

Captain Genissi’s articulated beak opened wide in what my universal translator assured me was a smile. “Yes! Mop them up, get rid of them, make them gone. Do your human thing.”

I tapped the translator at my throat. “I think this thing is malfunctioning, Captain. I meant ‘mop’ literally. I am a janitor. Perhaps you should be discussing this issue with First Mate Boran? Or our security marines?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Steven! I’ve seen enough human documentaries to know that you’re more than capable of tackling this problem. Our defenses could never handle a boarding party of professional Limewir pirates, but you ought to be more than up to the task.”

I scratched the back of my head. “I’m really not following here, sir. You hired me to clean the ship. What am I supposed to do about pirates?”

The Captain’s bulbous eyes blinked rapidly. “You mean you’re not a highly trained special agent merely disguised as a janitor, planted on my ship by a shadowy Human intelligence service?”

“No. Planted? You hired me yourself—"

“Not a super-soldier, infused with the mightiest augmentation serums science has ever produced?

“I need help just pushing the durasteel tables we use onboard to the side of the mess hall when I’m cleaning in there, sir. No super-strength.”

“Not a retired martial-arts master, tired of the blood your hands have spilt and longing for a peaceful life, despite knowing that danger will seek you out wherever you go?”

“Sir. Where are you getting these?”

“Are you absolutely certain that you’re not actually a wizard, hiding among us common space-folk, confused by modern technology and choosing to instead stick to charmingly anachronistic antiques such as brooms or mops, biding your time until you can unravel the spell that brought you into the future and return to your own timestream?”

“That was oddly specific.” I frowned at the Captain. “I think the documentaries you watched may have just been, well… movies, sir. Fiction. Humans are just like any other species; we merely happen to have very active imaginations and a penchant for storytelling.”

“Oh. Well, shit.” Captain Genissi’s tentacles continued their gentle wave for a moment, their pigmentation turning paler and paler as the seconds passed. “The pirates are going to kill all of us, aren’t they?” Then he fainted.

I sighed, looking down at the collapsed form of my captain. Then, resigning myself to my duty, I reached under my janitorial cart to detach the tactical vest and grenades that I kept hidden there. There was a shimmer of coruscating light as my wand fell out of sub-space, landing in the palm of my hand with a satisfying smack. Magic fountained from the tip.

“I swear, this shit happens every week,” I mumbled, and, stepping carefully over my Captain’s insensate body, I strode off to face the pirates.

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The humans are here
byu/CherubielOne

We had said that laughing behind our cupped hands, with pity and second-hand embarrassment. The humans had literally stumbled their way onto the galactic scene, a simple one-planet species and barely civilized. Their lifespans were little longer than those of their ancestor apes and outside the backwater planet (that they insisted on calling 'Earth', even if most of its surface area was covered in water) they had only the tiniest of settlements. Into citadel space they had come with simple iron ships that brute-forced their way through the dimensions to achieve faster-than-light speeds. When they had made first contact, they actually had to send a ship back to inform their people because they didn't have any way of communicating instantaneously over even tiny distances in space. Grudgingly their civilisation was acknowledged by the council, our vote was not behind that.

It only made them become the most annoying peddlers of the galaxy. The galactic council was based on contracts between the many species in citadel space. Contracts that were debated, evaluated, negotiated, rewritten and refined usually over a hundred cycles before there was any hope of approval from both sides. How could these simple beings with a lifespan not even half that understand these proceedings? They didn't, the humans rudely ignored all that and just send envoys out to offer pacts and agreements no one cared about. "The humans are here", we said with annoyance, tired of their many times they stood on our doorstep to attempt feeble diplomatic discourse. More out of pity than anything else we gave them some scraps and FTL communication technology (in the hopes they would at least stop visiting in person) and signed off on their worthless offerings.

One thing that was noticeable about them was their hardiness. Coming from a world with a vast range of climates, they could adapt to practically any living conditions encountered on other citadel species worlds. And for some reason they enjoyed moving across half the galaxy to live in a jarringly different culture (gleefully adopting whatever outlandish social rules these had). Within not even one of their lifetimes, they had people living on the many thousands of planets of whatever species foolishly allowed them to come. We saw these places marred by the presence of these over-enthusiastic apes and whenever one of the popular destinations of our people was overran with them, we turned away with disgust and said "The humans are here." Our own planets were kept clean of them and we did not allow them to settle anywhere in our space.

More cycles passed as we noticed a new trend. The younger ones of our people began seeking the fortune in the stars, away from the stability and security of our civilized systems. We found the cause of that to be the humans. They foolishly jumped headlong into colonizing barely habitable planets, surviving only because of their hardiness. Surprisingly, they then set the groundwork to terraform them, working on creating conditions other council species could survive in as well. These colonies were flocked to by many, promising a honest life for hard work and offering cheap living space even for the largest of families. "The humans are here", became a call for willing settlers, assuring every being of a safe haven that could be shared by all.

As the humans went forth to tame the most dangerous regions of the galaxy, they brought back a wealth of resources. Bypassing the galactic council again, they began trading with anyone willing. Within another one of their short lifetimes they had built a network of exchange that rivalled the official citadel platforms. We could not avoid joining into trade with them, as they offered the most coveted of wares from many different cultures that had previously been hidden behind unfinished agreements, some for thousands of cycles. As one of our planets after the other established trade routes with the humans, with hidden joy we said "The humans are here" when their ships turned up on our ports, promising a new influx of goods and wealth and leading to new prosperity for all our people.

That upswing ended abruptly when in a political move (that had not thought to even be possible) we were exiled from the galactic council. An opponent pushed us into disgrace in front of all the citadel species, instantly severing the many millennia old pacts and cutting our access to the FTL travel network. In less than a cycle our civilisation was practically shattered to pieces, each planet on its own and powerless to defend itself against the planned invasion from our opponent. With travel blockages set up in all our systems it was clear that utter annihilation was their set goal. As we stood before our ruin, a representative of the humans contacted us to offer their aid and protection, pointing at the treaties we had long since forgotten about. We thanked them for their honour and refused as we were staring at death and there was no need for them to pointlessly die with us. They did not listen and sent their iron battleships that circumvented the blockages through their brute-force FTL travel method. Their considerable military might was hitherto unknown. And as they jumped in by the ten-thousands in all our inhabited systems, we cried out "The humans are here!", with tears in our eyes and rekindled hope. They stood with us steadfast, weathering countless strikes before our opponent gave up the direct approach in frustration.

It took many cycles before we were able to re-establish formal communication with the galactic council and many more to clear our species from the false allegations before we could finally reinstate the old contracts. Back in power, we pinned the blame at our opponent and from that we gained leverage that we immediately used to incite the greatest assembly of political leaders in the history of the galactic council. Now we stand before all of them to invite the humans into the citadel and onto the podium. Our trade partners, our allies, our friends. And through rising cheers - with pride, conviction and deepest admiration - we say: "The humans are here."

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Adaptibility
byu/LgFatherAnthrocite

When the first wave of the Begarzhi war drones swarmed across the planets of the GLQ, Humans, like many species, fought, and died, by the tens of millions.

When the wave broke, many thought the threat passed. But the Humans, in their strangely...obsessive way, gathered every bit of data they could. Fleet movements, Troop placements, Supplies distribution, everything. Even the helmet cam vids from the GLQ United Enforcement Troops.

For years they studied every battle, engagement, skirmish, and hand to claw fight. Like only Humans can, they dissect and analyse every bit, Sucked every insight from the incidents, outings and offensives they could.

When the second wave came, we were ready. We were ready because The Humans were ready. Only seven million humans died, less than half of any other species in the GLQ. Their strategy, tactics, and methods drove back the Begarzhi in mere months.

By the third wave, the Begarzhi didn't even make it to GLQ space. Humans had stationed blockade ships around the Begarzhi systems, and turned them back, before they could even start. Less than 10,000 humans died, and no other species suffered more than a few dozen casualties, mostly pirates and would-be war profiteers.

Many think Human adaptibility is about the way they will live on any rock with breathable air and liquid water, some think it is their physiological ability to endure and overcome physical trauma. And while these things are true, what it really refers to is the Human ability to pull apart and examine every aspect of a thing. If you need to live on an ice world, send Humans. They will figure out how to survive, and thrive there. Need to improve a stardrive design? Human engineers will tear it apart, rebuild it, make it faster, more efficient, and hand you back a crate of "left over" parts.

Need to win a war? Ally with the Humans, and they will learn how to destroy any foe.

Learn every strength, exploit every weakness, rise above any challenge, that is Human Adaptibility.

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Meat, the Neighbors
by u/yousureimnotarobot

His Greatness, General of Worlds, Herd Leader of the Proud, Tim'Niregarded

"This will be a momentous occasion. Our Fourth First Contact. Write that down, make sure the journalists use capital letters. So do we welcome them to the herd or start shooting?"

"General, they refuse to answer our questions. They insist on a meeting in neutral space. We are not to attempt any landings on the Human worlds. They seem enthusiastic about meeting us, just a little paranoid."

"Typical herd behaviour. Perhaps they have not eradicated all their predators yet. Very well. We will meet them as they wish."

The Human delegates arrived at the station. All outgoing communications immediately shut down.

A single human entered the meeting room. Covered head to foot, showing only it's paws, five digits, no talons. Definitely a herd species.

It introduced itself. "General, I am Ambassador Rince. I will represent humanity in these discussions. I am afraid no communication with your empire is possible until we conclude."

His Greatness, General of Worlds, Herd Leader of the Proud, Tim'Niregarded

“You may call me Tim”

Ambassador Rince “Thank you, Tim. I am here with grave news. The information you have provided us about your glorious empire has excited and intrigued our people. However, we fear contact between our worlds will lead to violence. I am here to help prevent that.”

Tim'Niregarded “ We seek no dispute with you! Your people are as welcome to share the vastness of space as our other allies. We come in peace. Please, whatever issue you have, let us resolve it here.”

Ambassador Rince began removing his headscarf. “I am afraid I ordered the doors sealed for this. Please try and remain calm. I promise you that we wish you no harm.”

At the sight of the two forward facing eyes the Ambassador revealed, Tim'Niregarded felt a panic he had not known since he was a calf. Only one type of creature had eyes like that. He was trapped with a beast. They had not eradicated their predators, they were the predators. What madness had he inflicted on his herd. A space faring evil. They were doomed, all doomed.

Ambassador Rince “ Please General, Tim, we are here to secure peace between our people. When we received your information we were surprised, more than surprised, that our neighbours were all herbivores. It had never occurred to us that such a thing was possible.”

Tim'Niregarded resisted the urge to run. He was a soldier, he had stood before enemies before and held his ground. If he was slaughtered and eaten in this room, he would keep his pride. Also the door was locked.

“What do you want of us Predator? We will not be food! We have destroyed any that would prey upon us before and we will do it again if necessary. The Herd is strong.”

He knew he was lying. The moment his people found out that millions of space borne predators lived next door, they would flee. Chaos would descend on the worlds.

Ambassador Rince “Perhaps now you understand the caution in how we chose to meet you. We are not, as you put it, Predators. Simply we have evolved from an omnivorous species. Our food now, is of course, entirely ethical, even by your own standards. Your dismay is what we seek to avoid. If your people react like that, there will never be peace between us.”

At that Ambassador Rince fully revealed his face, laying the cloth on the table between them. He sat quietly, allowing the general time to gather his thoughts. He began pouring the tea that his staff had thoughtfully provided.

“Perhaps I can offer you a cup? I find it calms the nerves. We call this blend Earl Grey, although i have no idea why. It is perfectly safe for your species.”

Tim'Niregarded accepted the cup. If all else failed it would serve as a weapon. The unnerving stillness in Ambassador Rince wasn’t helping. He felt emotions long dismissed by his people. The fears of a child. The fears that his kind had felt in the long battle with those that regarded them as prey.

“Fine words. Your face is the face of our darkest fears. I do not trust you. Your teeth, your eyes tells me what you are. No. I know why you hid yourselves from us. You wait in ambush like all your kind.”

Ambassador Rince “ I am authorising you and you staff full access to our data net. Please be aware that it is uncensored and, to be honest, smutty. You may search our history. There are terrors there. Even for us. We are not what we were, we have found peace after many battles. As did you. The difference is that we fought ourselves. The door is open General, please consult with your staff. My people will remain in seclusion until we meet again.”

Tim'Niregarded watched as his staff uncovered horror after horror. Thousands of years of murderous greed. Those closest to his species were slaughtered and eaten or breed to imbecility to serve the perverse tastes of these creatures. Everything on this twisted planet was a predator.

Then it began to change. They found peace amongst themselves when they gained space. New worlds, new technologies freed them from the chains of a deathworld. They retreated to the cities, rebuilding the wild planet they had inherited. Herds roamed free, challenged only by their natural predators. Food was created by machine. Disgusting forms of protein still, but now no pain. No hunting. No killing. They proudly recorded that no animal had been killed for food in a thousand years. A bizarre boast.

“ Inform Ambassador Rince that we need to meet.”

Ambassador Rince “I am grateful that we meet again. It gives me hope for the future. How may I help?”

Tim'Niregarded “We have studied your past. My staff are of the opinion that you pose no threat to us. I do not concur. However, we are neighbours and, despite your disgusting habits, we must come to some arrangement. Since you have had longer to consider this than I, what suggestions do you have?”

Ambassador Rince “ Tell me General, what is your people’s proudest moment? The one you still celebrate every year? From your information it was the burning of the last den of, well, wolves would be the closest thing we have. Your people killed them all. Correct?”

Tim'Niregarded “Yes, finally our people were safe. Our greatest achievement!”

Ambassador Rince “ Am I right that you had achieved space travel by then? That you numbered in the billions? I am afraid what you celebrate would be regarded as the ultimate crime by our people.

Your ongoing massacres of any meat eating animal would lead to war if my people found out. I’m afraid that until your species learns to peacefully coexist with other creatures we will have to restrict your access to our space. This station will serve as our only meeting place. Such a pity.”

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191022.1003

Human Dubrian Trade Negotiations
by u/deft_chemist

CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET

THE BELOW HAS BEEN AUTHORIZED FOR RELEASE TO THE PUBLIC BY THE ORDER OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

NOTE: THE BELOW HAS BEEN REFORMATTED AND TRANSLATED FROM ITS NATIVE SINAC.


The Federal Republic of Dinac

Office of the Presidency

Block 1A, Floor 111

1st Boulevard

Government District, City of Suiris

Planet Dubria


October 21, 2219


The Honorable Norville A. Carraclough

President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20502

Planet Earth


RE: Human Dubrian Trade Negotiations

Dear Mr. President:

I want to express my genuine gratitude for the effort you and your retinue have displayed to date advancing the trade discussions between our great nations. I know all too well how difficult it is to balance the wants and perceived needs of a diverse populace, made even more difficult by the truly alien nature of your counterpart’s. Indeed, I genuinely anticipate our continued debates on the minutiae of luxury goods tariffs. Unfortunately, taking both our great People’s economic interests fully to brain, I can not in good faith accept anything less than an equal border taxation rate on a long-term trade deal, regardless of the current trade imbalance.

The above being written, I do have a proposal in mind that could “sweeten the pot”. And please, forgive the backstory I am about to embark on, but I believe it fully relevant to our discourse.

As I am sure you are aware due to the exorbitant amount of media coverage the process originated, your predecessor gave several gifts to both my People, and me, at the beginning of her term. The specific gift this anecdote centers around is Maggie.

According to my cultural advisors, Maggie was quite the appropriate gift. I fondly remember the first time I laid eyes on her, looking like a living lump of coal in her handler’s arms, intelligently taking in the sight and smells of a new world. Oblivious to the learned habits of her kin, Maggie quickly took to Dubrian traditions, licking those around her as a sign of affection.

Originally named Magnolia, a symbol of your Southern States, I settled on appropriating the human tradition of “nicknaming” her, in an effort to give myself a daily reminder of the people to whom I can thank for her presence in my life. An intelligent creature, she has cleverly associated my use of her full title with my displeasure with her malignant behavior.

Per the included instructions, I housed her, fed her, played with her, and gave her a loving home. We Dubrians require daily exercise, much as you humans do, to maintain our physical fitness. I began including Maggie in these exercised once she reached her, admittedly large, adult size and weight at approximately one of your Earth years since her arrival.

Our runs quickly became highlights of my day. They afforded me the ability to clear my brain, escape the trappings of my position, and reflect upon unbridled love. And what love did she give! I do not recall a single time she was not enthralled at my presence, as if I was the physical embodiment of her every want and desire. I do not need to bore you with details of the adventures we had together, oft to the chagrin of my protective escort, suffice to say they were numerous and each rank highly upon my personal list of happiest memories.

Last week, coinciding with the height of our negotiative trade week, was our last such daily run. I know what you are thinking and no, she has not perished from this or any world – yet. But, her joints are no longer cooperating with her aging body, and my simplest pleasure is no longer physically possible for my best friend.

And that is exactly what she has become. My best friend.

I realize now what her handler meant when she handed Maggie off to me, saying “I give you Man’s best friend, in hopes that Humanity can become Dubrian’s interstellar friends.”

With this very personal anecdote in mind, I come to my proposal:

As stated previously, we require an equal border taxation rate on luxury goods imported between our nations for a period of fifty rotations of your Earth around your Sol. Additionally, we will willingly accept, paying all associated costs, any unwanted canines plaguing your nation’s animal hospitals and impounds. We promise to give them our whole brains, loving households, licks of affection, and, of course, daily runs.

Will you allow your best friend, to become our best friend, and therefore make us friends?

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191023.2035

The Search
by u/Tashdacat

When we finally cracked the secrets of faster than light travel, we were elated.

We sent thousands, tens of thousands, of small crafts jumping all over the galaxy, desperately trying to find someone, anyone, to share this universe with.

…...we found no one, just ruins. No corpses, no evidence of where they all went. It was like everyone just disappeared.

We kept travelling, further and further and further we went, growing ever more desperate in our search.

We grew in size, claiming system after system, colonising everywhere we went. Eventually our technology grew rapidly, and we were able to terraform whole planets! That process just got faster with each new breakthrough, and within a thousand years we were able to terraform worlds in just a few weeks.

Our population exploded then, as worlds previously too hostile for life were terraformed into verdant garden worlds in less than the time it took to for us to reach the next system over for the first time.

Our empire kept growing, expanding, improving…. but we were still alone. We were still one people against the darkness, and we didn’t know how to handle that. Many turned to religion, some just stopped caring altogether. Our society was split between those who wanted to keep continuing the centuries-long search, and others who wanted to ignore everything outside of their immediate day to day lives, content to just focus on the daily grind as a means of coping.

As the centuries passed, more of the galaxy was mapped, excavated, and examined, and we discovered the horrifying truth.

Something from outside the galaxy had killed everyone millions if not billions of years ago. Some great organic swarm that slammed into the southern regions of the galaxy, consuming everything and everyone, processing them into biological soup and stripping worlds of the spark of life. It was unstoppable, unknowable, and completely undefeated. The consumed trillions of lives across dozens of species, then vanished. Erasing an entire galaxies worth of culture and history, leaving nothing in its wake but dead worlds and empty ruins.

We grew desperate then, sending millions of manned craft, and billions of automated survey probes scouring the galaxy ever faster. Systems previously ignored due to conditions being thought too harsh were now scoured inch by inch for the smallest sign of life, but still it took millennia to find them.

Our empire had grown to encompass approximately 80% of the galaxy, it had been almost 20’000 years since we began our search, and finally, at long last, we found them.

A small world, on one of the galactic arms unpopulated by the previous empires, we found them.

They were physically small in comparison to us, and they hadn’t even mastered space flight yet.

Their cultures were so varied and different from each other, even over small distances, that it boggled the mind as to how they managed to communicate as well as they did. But they shared a unified global culture based around their entertainment choices and shared stories.

We sat at the edge of their solar system, settling on their furthest planet, to watch and wait. It would take them centuries to crack the secrets of FTL, but we were comfortable waiting for that day to reveal ourselves.

We had finally found the sentients we had searched for so long. They were complicated and shouty, but we didn’t care. As we watched them mature, unify, and grow, we rejoiced.

When they left their planet to walk on their moon, we cheered with them. As their industries choked their skies we mourned, but watched, fascinated, as they unified and cleansed their planet. As their primitive spacecraft pierced the skies and threw themselves towards their neighbouring planet, we watched with held breaths as they took their first steps towards colonisation, and we rejoiced as they were successful. Every new day brought with it new stories, advancements, hardships and tales of success. We grew to care for them like our own children, to love them as we had never loved before.

And then one day, after about three centuries of observation it happened. A scientist working on a project of her own accidently stumbled across our communications. We watched with anticipation as she went and got her colleagues' help to decrypt it, and learned of our existence. Watching them stand there dumbstruck was amusing, but it was what they did next that surprised us.

They messaged us directly.

Before they notified their own government, or even just the people in the small moon colony they worked in, they messaged US! Our communications tech was so excited to finally speak to the beings she had watched for so long, and come to love so greatly, that she didn’t think before responding.

It took two days to convince the scientists that this wasn’t a prank, and even a video communication left them wondering if this was some elaborate hoax, but they eventually realised it wasn’t. The moment they realised, their eyes lit up just the same as ours had when we discovered them!

They were so happy to not be alone in the world, and we were so happy they finally knew about us. Governments were notified, secret communications passed back and forth, and then the story broke across their system.

Their species rejoiced when they learned of our existence, and widespread speculation about our culture, our history, and our compatibility began. But the one thing every being knew was that we were friendly, and that we loved them like children.

Alliances were drawn up, technology shared, trade agreements ratified. We opened up our arms and our empire to them, and as they were flooded by our communications network, they learned about everything. The scourge, the search, how overjoyed we were that we found them, and their leader proclaimed their friendship right then and there. They made it part of their very culture that their species would always be friends to ours, would always support us, and would ensure our safety in their systems.

We, in turn, pledged to protect them always, to share our wealth and technology always, and to ensure they were safe wherever they went in this galaxy.

We would make certain they would never be alone like we were for all those millennia.

We would protect them.

We would care for them.

Our new friends, Humanity.

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Not a Warrior People
by u/Samuel_Evans

[This article has been translated to the Terran language English, complete with Terran idioms and equivalents]

The thing about learning from other species regarding who and what they are, is that they see themselves through their own lens. In their own perspective they are truly what they say, but more than often enough this is through rose-tinted glasses. The best example can be shown through the race of people from the Sol star system, known in their own language as “Humans.”

Humans already differed from most species on first contact.

It is quite common for alien races to show an excessive amount of enthusiasm when they first meet others, but the humans did not.

Now, there have been a couple, few and far between, more religious societies that have expressed xenophobic tendencies. These are rare because, more often than not, theology stymies scientific development or leads to collapse of societies.

For the same reason, a warrior race had never reached the stars due to self-destruction before they can accomplish the necessary development to produce space-travel.

After first contact, most races have a short acclimation period, because the Galactic Commonwealth’s first contact teams share information with them, which often fosters cooperation with even the most nervous races.

Now, there have been a few exceptions. We do see races act with extreme violence or excessive timidity. We’ve had some attack, or some withdraw to themselves and ignore us entirely.

Humans greeted the first contact teams with hesitation, much like a timid race, but still shared some of their carefully selected culture, art, and entertainment with us. That by itself was a bit strange but not too uncommon.

What amplified the weirdness factor is that they readily agreed to join the Commonwealth, but still refused to share much of anything. Whether it was technology, history, or culture.

We’ve never had a race meet and agree to join the Commonwealth, while only sharing so little. They hid so much about themselves from the Commonwealth that it led to a huge uproar. When questioned at their first council meeting the humans did their best to explain who they were.

“We are a peaceful people. We care, are full of curiosity, and we are enduring. We –” began their representative’s speech.

“That doesn’t answer a whole lot. For all we know you could be a society of ruthless warriors!” interrupted a council member.

“We are not a warrior people,” simply responded the human.

Now, this article is not focused on that first hearing, and the ensuing chaos and accusations that followed, and it’s true that this political fiasco was brimming with the potential to explode into all-out war or the exile of humans from the Commonwealth. They were not trusted by most, but before they could be exiled the Dafragi War kicked off and drew everyone’s attention.

The Dafragi War was named for the Dafragi Nebula where the first Roach fleet was defeated. It was a conflict with a highly advanced bionic insectoid race, known to the Commonwealth by their disparaging title, Roaches.

The Roaches descended onto world after world. They destroyed and consumed all they came across, whole worlds were overwhelmed, the local populace massacred, and in their remains huge, towering Roast nests were built. Any species they found particularly tasty, sentient or not, would be kept as cattle.

Their society had the standard basic classes like any insectoid race, soldiers, workers, and queens. What made them special, even among insectoids in the galaxy, is they had a fourth distinct type of class. Simply put, they were the scientists, and they drove the war machine and innovation for the Roaches.

The scientists created the complex bionic components that were added to the species. They developed new technologies, designed spaceships, and bio-engineered their species. This special class allowed the Roaches to completely outclass most of the galaxy in technology, especially in weapons and defense.

No species had specialized warriors like the Roaches. The soldiers and ships that would fight had to be drawn from our craftsmen, artisans, technicians, artists, builders, engineers, and the rest of our population. The volunteer force was muddled together, and we gathered what ships we could and did our best to outfit them for war.

This was how it had always been, and it never seemed to fail us in the past. It took a long time to call together the various races that made up the Galactic Commonwealth. While the other races prepared, many of the species already facing the Roaches sent fleet after fleet to meet them, but each time they lost to the oncoming storm.

When the grand fleet was ready, the Roaches were already deep into Galactic Commonwealth space, pillaging and destroying systems while waves of refuges tried to escape the devastation.

The first unified Galactic Commonwealth fleet met the Roaches head-on in the Dafragi Nebula, and foolishly paid the price. Like a wave against the rocks they smashed. We destroyed some Roach ships, but the few Roach losses were quickly replenished by reinforcements.

Their ships were made for war, and unlike ours they integrated shields and weapons in the basic design. They didn’t have compatibility issues and their systems ran smoothly. We had to add the necessary weapons and shields after the ships were built. They weren’t designed with those in mind, and where our weapons jammed and refused to fire, theirs listened. Where our shields failed us and weren’t designed for much more than meteors, theirs could take what weapons discharge we could produce.

We lost ship after ship, and it seemed all would be lost. Then the humans arrived. Massive fleets of elegant ships that resembled silver hawks soared into the fray. They moved as one and stopped the Roach advance with their first barrage. Their massive blue-laser weapons roared in space and went through two or three of the Roach motherships before they were significantly weakened enough to stop.

From these massive Humans starships spilled out smaller ones to face the equivalent smaller Roach ships that flew in swarms. The humans approached in small squads of seven while conducting complex air maneuvers the likes of which we had never seen.

The Roaches we thought had perfected moving as one. This insectoid race was like a single swarm and swallowed all while moving with a brilliance and simple elegance. If we weren’t facing their onslaught it would have been a beautiful dance of ships.

These silver, sleek birds of the humans, however, cut swiftly through space, individual squads worked in flight groups and swirled through the swarms. The humans engaged the Roaches with their extremely high energy blue-laser weaponry. Each squad flew in V formations, protecting one another from the deadly swarm that tried to descend on them.

Although each squad seemed to maneuver on its own, taking a step back you could see a complex pattern even more beautiful and intricate than the swarms of Roach ships. They carefully divided the enemy and shifted the battle towards their favor by dividing the enemy swarms into manageable sizes that quickly fell to the better human pilots.

Never had we seen such complex tactics, battle was always a simple slug fest of just pointing and shooting until one fleet surrendered and fell. We did some basic dodging by simply moving slightly left or right, but nothing on this level. They were a flurry of movement and changed directions on a dime, quicker than any of our ships could.

We were so captivated we failed to notice the blinking light indicating a communication request. When we finally answered a human appeared on the viewing screen. He wore a suit not unlike the clothing we had associated with their representatives, but it had more markings and more elaborate stitching, and on the coat more than a dozen metals twinkled.

“Greetings galactic fleet,” translated the words of the man. “I am Fleet Admiral John Sebastian. Responding to the Galactic Commonwealth muster call. Sorry we arrived late, no one told us a party was underway.”

Indeed, humans had little contact with much of the Commonwealth since we first noticed the Roaches. They were ignored by most of the races after their lack of information sharing became a huge council issue and most everyone was too focused on facing the coming wrath to think about the humans.

That was our folly, because despite our insults and ostracism of humans, they came. They heard our cries, and they came with the fury of a mother protecting her child.

For the first time, the Galactic Commonwealth pushed back the Roach swarm. And for the first time, humans shared more with the Commonwealth. We received new weapons and shield designs. Our ships changed shape nearly overnight, and they shared with us tactics. Advanced tactics no one had an inkling of how or when to use, but we still learned. We learned the necessary movements so when humans told us, we could do as they directed and help fight the Roach menace.

We, naturally, let the humans lead the charge. They told us what to do, showed us the way, and we followed it. They showed their value, their courage, their military skill, and their trustworthiness in that first battle, the one we thought would be our last.

We learned so much, but soon we learned more of their history. We learned of their great battles that shook their planet; how they killed one another in droves; how they developed terrible weapons of war that burned cities, maimed and ravaged one another, poisoned the air with chemicals, and could turn a person into a mist of blood and pulverized organs. We learned of their explosives that could wipe out whole cities, and whole continents, and we learned of how they were used to kill thousands, then millions.

We saw past their dark history, because we also knew their capacity for compassion that led them to save us.

Then we learned why they did not share. You see, we were not their first contact as we had thought. They had met another species on the other side of Human space. They met this species with excitement and zeal. The two species happily shared information, histories, and culture. Humans didn’t understand. They didn’t know the effect their history of violence would have on their newfound friends.

Their newfound friends reacted in disgust and used their overwhelming technological advantage to attack the humans. So far was the technological disparity that humans could only watch as they lost whole worlds, then star systems to those they once thought friends. But what they lacked in technology they made up in strategy and warring ability.

Guerrilla warfare (attacking the enemy and running away, a popular human strategy versus superior enemies) was alien to their former friends, as were covert operations (human type of warfare using stealth to attack enemies and acquire information). Humans also used complex flight patterns for warfare against their unknowing foe.

Using these tools humans fought back, and it took many of them to take down one ship. Humans reversed engineered the enemy ships and technology. They learned at an astonishing rate. They even went so far as to improve the technology of their once superior foes.

You see, in warfare, humans act as one. They produce large quantities of weapons and ships and invent countless new weapons and technology. They push the boundaries of their own scientific understanding until the humans of yesterday look like befuddled children in comparison. Humans understood war, and it made them a better and stronger people.

Humans were a warrior race, and we were all thankful for it.

Written by Zklle Dllghyr, previously a teacher of sciences, he served with the Galactic Commonwealth fleet that fought the Roaches in the Dafragi Nebula and saw the first human combatants enter the theater. He later went on to attend the human war college, the West Point Military Academy, and helped establish the Galactic Commonwealth Military Force, a professional armed force consisting of all species, including humans, in 2561. The GCMF continues to defend the Galactic Commonwealth, spearhead first contact, and explore the unknown.

Dllghy has previously written, “What is War?”, a book explaining warfare and its intricacies for the Commonwealth layman not of human origin or education.


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Angels from Legends
by u/CherubielOne

"Push it, we have to keep up."

On the bridge of the Ophanim, a hunter class attack frigate, the crew was frantically trying to keep the FTL engines beyond their maximum power. Captain Doscertes was anxious to keep up the speed even though they had long since left their known sector of the galaxy. The white, droplet-shaped craft barreled along while pushing every bit of available energy into the accelerator relays that were making the long curved fins on the back glow red hot from the overproduction of waste heat. And far ahead of it was something else, moving as fast.

"It's shedding even more weight. It won't be able to keep this up for long", the officer to his left stated while reading his instrumentation.

The viewscreens towards the front showed what they were following - a black mass of a spaceship, greater then them in size, unclear in shape. It seemed to be biological in its constant reshaping of the outer hull. A cloud of black particles was surrounding it, clearly visibly against the blue backdrop of the hyperspace transit tunnel.

"We better be ready. When it leaves hyperspace, I want us to drop right on top of it. We need to nail it down once and for all."

Doscertes balled his fists. This war - if it could even be called that - seemed to finally be reaching an end. But only when the last piece of their enemy was eradicated, could they find peace. And it was up to the Ophanim to do this. They left behind the rest of the fleet hours ago, none of them able to match the speed of the enemy. Only thanks to the ingenuity of his engineers and the design of this craft had they been able to keep up themselves. So there would be no backup when it came to the inevitable battle, no one was in their communication range. He absolutely hated these odds.

"Sir", the navigation officer pulled him from his thoughts, "we will reach the point of no return in four minutes. If we are very lucky, we might be able to limp back home if we turn around before that."

He replied, adressing all: "I am sorry crew, we cannot let it get away. We will follow even as we become unable to return home. Think of your loved ones as we continue, because we will be sparing them the pain of having to step up to fight the darkness. You all remember what happened last time it got the chance to reform. We have to end this. Protect life."

"Protect life!", was the collective call from all around him.

There was only another breath before it happened. The dark mass dropped from hyperspace and blinked out of existence on this plane. Immediately the Ophanim shut down the accelerator relays, the blue tunnel collapsing around them in an instant. Getting their bearings quickly, they noticed they were within a star system. One, that had to be so many lightyears away from their home that they were probably the very first ones to lay eyes on the bright white sun in its center.

"There!"

On the viewscreens the feed zoomed in on the dark mass. Right behind it was a planet, showing the distinct signs of life with a cloudy atmosphere and lush vegetation on the irregular land masses. They were too far to engage the enemy.

"What is it doing?"

"It's going for the planet", the officer from his left replied.

"Bring us in weapons range, full power on the sublight engines", he ordered.

The black ship accelerated far slower, but it was so much closer to the planet, it would not matter. The enemy would land and there was nothing they could do. The planet looked like it offered vast amounts of biomass - exactly what it was looking for. The captain shuddered from the thought of what they had to do to destroy it then.

"What do we know about the planet?", he asked the sensor crew to his left.

"Massive amounts of plant life. Age is appropriate for complex lifeforms, maybe-", the officer paused while looking at his screen and took a deep breath, "I see settlements."

Captain Doscertes heart dropped. Intelligent life. They had found intelligent life. Out here in a system they didn't even knew existed, there was a planet harboring a possible sentient species. The first they had come across that had been untouched - with horror he watched the enemy slowly descend on that beautiful world.

"Captain", the brige speakers took his attention, "My soldiers are ready. We will drop down and destroy it on the surface."

It was the voice of Raph, the commanding officer of the power armor squadron the Ophanim was carrying to defend against the enemy boarding their ship. The Angel Squad - battle hardened in ground combat, powerful and recklessly loyal. He trusted them with his life.

"We will not be able to retrieve you. Even if we somehow make it back and send-"

"I know, sir. All of us know. Just let us handle this now. You can still exterminate that planet in case we fail. Protect life."

It was quiet on the bridge. Re-entry flames swallowed the black ship that had reshaped into a nearly perfect sphere, probably to protect itself from the heat. The Captain could not allow it to grow strong again.

"We will get in orbit above it and then slow down as much as we can for the drop. When you touch down, we will monitor from above for a full revolution. If you have not accomplished it by then..." he trailed off, afraid to say what he had to do to this planet so rich in life, if the soldiers failed.

"That's all I wanted to hear. Thanks captain."

"Protect life."

---

Unalu was wandering along the narrow river for hours now. The strap of his bag - loaded down with art supplies - had dug deep into his shoulder, even after changing sides so many times. He was on the verge of giving up. Just a few miles east along the river, they had said. There is a beatiful lake, they had said. The largest and most magnificient featherleaf tree, they had promised. And like a fool he had believed them and taken off. The river took a bend around a hillside it had dug into, exposing a low cliff. He climbed the small hill to get a good view of his surroundings. There were only wetlands beyond, where the river disappeared into the ground and soaked the earth. He would not find any trees there, that much was certain.

He scolded himself. It was not the first time he had taken a long hike on some vague promise for a scenery that made a good picture. Be that as it may, he was exhausted and hungry and this would be a nice place to rest. He loosened the strap on the canvas bag, unfolding it flat onto the ground. Besides the rolls of parchement and canvas, the collapsible wooden frame and his paints and brushes, there was a leather pouch with drink and another with dried meat. He even had some fruit he was fortunate to find on a tree overlooking the riverbank some ways back.

Silently looking over the thin, high grass, he ate the meat, slicing off thin pieces with his sharper claw as it had toughened nearly to the point of feeling like leather. The sun was setting slowly behind him, drawing long shadows across the landscape. It actually was very beautiful here. Yes, he thought, I will draw these lands in the light of sunset.

Quickly he pulled out a piece of parchement that already had specks of color all over. He took the paints that could reproduce the sky color and dabbed them onto the sheet where there was still empty space. With a claw that was already rounded to the point of being useless, he mixed the paints. Then he tried a few different combinations, holding up the parchement against he twilight sky each time to see if he could hit the colours he was seeing just right. Something caught his eye then. A light up there. It was not a star, no, it was too large and too bright. Curiously he watched on as he lowered the paper. And it grew. Very quickly. Alarmingly quickly. He stood up, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. It looked like something was falling from the very sky! A large mass, bigger than the very hill he was standing on, came down from the heavens and dropped into the grasslands between him and the horizon. The impact shook the ground and a sudden powerful gust of wind threw him flat on his back.

His first thought was to grab his parchements. Quickly he got up to run down the hill where they had been blown to and picked up the rolls, then he ran back up as fast as his legs could carry him. Out of his vest pockets he took coal pencils and hastily began sketching what he was seeing. From the black thing grew smaller shapes along the ground that looked like perversions of animal life, misshapen creatures that moved erratically. And even its own shape seemed to slowly change as some kind of outer shell began to open up as if it was melting away, revealing an irregular shaped lump with thin, moving tentacles sprawling off of it. This had to be a sign of the gods. But - why had they dropped this from the sky? It looked like evil itself. Hastily he drew on, lying down as if he was hiding from view. But he was, wasn't he? He didn't want to be spotted by whatever was over there. Meanwhile the otherworldly creatures had begun to eat the grass - no - that could not be called eating. They greedily sucked it up into their mouthless heads, even growing as they did it. He watched them leave behind barren ground as they went. Was this thing annihilation manifested? Did the gods push death itself from their realm to drop it here? He had to warn his village.

But something else happened. More lights appeared in the sky. He first thought it would mean more of death would show up, but these lights were different. They remained small. And as they came closer, he recognized what looked like individual figures with large wings of fire. Death seemed to react to them too.

He continued to sketch the unfolding scenes in a frenzy.

---

The air noisly rushed past. From the re-entry heat she had felt nothing, the armored suit fully protecting her. Aerobreaking with forcefields had been the right call, she saw all of the two hundred safely dropping towards the ground. And there it was, the enemy, the beast, the planet devourer. How fragile it looked after losing so much mass. As if its very center was exposed. Wait, was that what it was? Was this its very last piece, the core of all of it? All the more reason to destroy it. Though it had undoubtedly sensed them coming and would defend itself with its gnarly creations.

"Angel Squad, all wings", she spoke loudly into her suits microphone, "I want a defensive line along the river. We will advance with the forest behind us. Not one of these things must get past."

Using the jump jets she dropped the speed to safe levels before heavily smashing into the ground. What a wonderful place. It reminded her of home. Green vegetation, clear water, rich earth and tall trees behind her. No way she would give all that to the enemy without a fight. Alongside her the soldiers formed a line as they landed similarly forceful. A formation of bulking humanoid tanks, bright white and each custom decorated with golden bits and pieces. Yes, the Angels were here now. They would fight the last battle. They would defeat the beast and put themselves down as the greatest warriors in history. Slowly she took the broad sword from the mount on her back and held it up high. With a thought the blade ignited in orange flames. It was a ritual - their ritual.

"Angels!", she yelled, her suits outside loudspeakers giving her a powerful and ringing voice.

Cheers erupted from the soldiers answering her call.

"Angels!", she cried louder.

Thundering cheers, every soldier lifted his weapons up high.

"Sound the horns!"

The ranged fighters from the second wing switched on their sonic disruptors. A multi-tone noise blared, echoing through the landscape. Immediately their enemy recoiled from it.

"With light and fire!"

In one voice her soldiers replied: "With light and fire!"

Simultaneously they all switched on their suits illumination, bathing the soon-to-be battlefield in brightness. Each armor was gleaming, blinding the foe they were about to engage. She could see the black creatures amassing at the foot of the dark mass already avoiding to look at them.

"Protect life!"

As one they began charging.

---

It truly is a strange thing. The core of the stories we tell our children and other species' tell theirs are of course similar. Out there are evil things, we have to watch out. And there are also good things, embrace them. It is about growing up and doing the right thing. It is about learning to avoid danger.

But why is the story itself also so similar? A darkness befell our world, spreading sickness and death. Creatures of light came to fight it, they drop from the skies. They fight with steel and fire. And they banned the darkness with their brightness to cure our ancestors and bring back life.

In the details we find the most important truth - the stories are telling of the same event. It is not a legend. It is something that really happened, nearly two thousand years ago. We are not the only worlds with these legends, there are many more. And we have evidence now, unearthed with modern technology, about a species fighting a great war against a near unstoppable enemy that could replicate endlessly by absorbing biomass.

We call them protectors and we are trying to find out where they are now. Will you join our search?

---

Stunned silence. The hall was eerily quiet as all the assembled diplomats from fourty different species were still trying to process what they had been presented with. Unquestionably these were actual sketches of the protectors fighting the great battle - however crude they may be. It was an eye witness' testimony from two thousand years in the past. The Norunga had been members for a decade now, though they had not joined the search before. And now their representative had brought them this.

"Hello, fellow diplomats", the representative greeted them, grabbing the collective attention. He was standing on the podium beneath the projector screen that still showed an assortment of the rough pictures - protector warriors, the dark enemy, a fight with fire and heavy weapons.

He continued: "I am sorry to have waited this long to show you these depictions. They are our most sacred possessions, said to be drawn by the prophet Unalu himself. And we truly did not know that they had anything to do with your search."

The screen changed, showing a statue on a pedestal inside an arch that was intricately ornamented. The bright white statue itself was heavily decorated in jewlery and overly adorned with colorful strips of finely woven cloth. What stood out - it did not look like a depiction of a Norunga.

"As all of you know, the City of Light is not a place where we allow visitors. This is the most important of the many sculptures depicting the figures in the drawings. We call them <angels> and our ancestors believed they protected them from evil. It was always said that this one shone in holy light. Three months ago that we found ourselves to have lost power in that temple. And-"

Another picture. The statue stood in the darkness, being illuminated by a faint light from a diffuse source.

"We found the latter claim to be true. There is no light falling onto the figure, it truly glows. It caused us to do something that had long been forbidden - we took the statue down and inspected it with modern equipment."

He looked like he was in disbelief himself of what he was about to say. Behind him the next picture showed up, the statue had been moved to a clean room, probably a laboratory of sorts. Free of the decorations it was very obviously a protector armor. A whole and completely intact armor! The tension in the room was palpatable.

"It is an armor shell made from very advanced metallic and ceramic components, not a statue. As we were trying to determine its age - which is roughly two thousand years as all of you could have rightly guessed - we found it to transmit a faint signal. From the signal we were able to decipher this."

Instead of another picture, the screen just turned black, but a voice could be heard. Subtitles in the common diplomatic language told everyone what it was saying.

"<Captain Doscertes, we destroyed the core. The beast is slain, all of the acolytes are unmoving and its mass is melting away. When you get back to Earth, tell them what the Angel Squad did. And you will make the engineers do their best to bring you there, because we better be the last humans to die in this stupid war. Protect life. Raph out.>"

A pause, then the Norunga continued: "We found us to be able to decipher the language after comparing it to notes you have given out about the search. It is, without a doubt, the voice of a protector. Though it stands out, that it had spoken of two things we could not find in these notes."

He looked down at the podium for a moment, and then adressed the room again.

"I will offer you full cooperation by our scientists and supervised access to the City of Light. And I hereby request the Norunga to join the search for <Earth> and the <humans>."

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Here's a story from r/nosleep:
Nosleep is a subreddit for realistic horror stories. Everything is true here, even if it's not.
I’m being hunted by the US government for discovering that aquifers don’t exist
by u/poloniumpoisoning

Writing here will probably be my last action as a living being. It might seem like a waste of time, but I have nothing else to do. My whole team is gone, killed by the government – or worse.

I don’t know how long it will take them to find me, but I need to spread the word. I need someone else to know. I owe Dr. Zuri that much.

Kendra Zuri was one of the most brilliant geographers in the world, and I decided for my graduation dreaming to study under her; I’m not a geographer, but my field of biochemistry is completely influenced by her.

During my college years, we had a perfect student-teacher relationship. Just two years after I finished my studies, she quit teaching. I reached out to ask her why, and Kendra told me about her plans to lead a thorough field research on the Guarani Aquifer.

Discovered a little over 20 years ago, there’s still a lot about it that we don’t know; a few months earlier, a fellow of hers discovered a small cave in Argentina where the level of water was high enough to observe the aquifer, and gave her this tip before publishing a paper mentioning it – his work was actually related to rocks, so he didn’t pursue it deeper.

Geographers believe that aquifers are the future of potable water, but of course there are a lot of concerns involving it, like saltwater/metal contamination, the negative impacts drainage might cause, etc., so it absolutely needs more studying.

To sum it all up, Dr. Zuri had the perfect timing to explore such place.

Needless to say, I quit my life to follow my master as her scientific assistant. She was a simple-minded woman in some ways, ignorant to most bureaucratic procedures. I helped her gather funds for her research, using an important name she didn’t know she had, and we formed a five-people team.

We were two European researchers, a Chilean diver, a Brazilian nurse and a US military, lodged in the closest village.

The first few weeks of our job were easy; we were to simply monitor the groundwater using machinery. Vicente, our diver, merely had to take the cables underwater then bring it all back every 24 hours, while Dr. Zuri and I took notes. Everyone had a lot of free time.

Vicente was a nice, talkative short man. His size was perfect for diving anywhere. He didn’t speak anything but Spanish, but seemed to be catching a few English words here and there.

The nurse, Rita, was a grumpy and disagreeable middle-aged woman, but we needed someone who knew what to do in case we got hurt; she also functioned as a translator to Spanish and as a local guide, so I couldn’t complain. She was unpleasant, but useful.

The military, Lieutenant Daniels, was such a lovely fellow that it was easy to forget that he was there to make sure nothing harmful happened to the imperialist agenda. That’s how we got so much funding and nice equipment, after all.

Daniels stayed out of our way, limiting himself to patrol the area around our little inn and around the cave, always talking in code over his little radio-thing.

Despite the hot and wet weather, everything was fine. No one got seriously injured, the local people didn’t bother us, and the team got along well enough.

Things started to go to shit quickly when Kendra and Vicente disappeared for 3 days; I just woke up and they weren’t there, and the old lady at the inn’s front desk said they had left hours ago.

Rita was particularly moody because she was the one who needed to ask the locals if they saw our two companions. Extremely nervous, I drove to the cave, but found no evidence that they had been there. In the end, I asked Daniels to ask for help, so he requested an helicopter to search for them.

And in a helicopter they arrived, Vicente looking utterly disoriented, Dr. Zuri in a bad shape – each of them escorted by two stolid and inhumanly tall soldiers. Vicente was deposited on the floor like a 5-years-old boy.

“At least let me grab a change of clothes”, Kendra, the ever-charismatic Kendra, somehow made the men let go of her for a whole minute.

It was what she needed.

“I’m so sorry I made your life harder, Elle”, she hugged me, and snuck a flask in my pocket.

“You are leaving to your countries. The research is over”, one of the soldiers said. His English had a hint of Russian in it. “Your cars are on their way to pick you, and this one will come with us. She needs medical care.”

And just like that, they took my master from me. This was the last time that I ever saw her.

_____________________

As soon as the men left, Vicente started talking non-stop. It took me a lot of persuasion to make Rita translate his words to me. This is approximately what he said:

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you that I was teaching Dr. Kendra how to dive. She begged me not to. She really wanted to go down there and see it for herself, so we went. We should have told you, I’m really sorry. But hear me, the water there… is not like anything I’ve seen before. It’s eerie and otherworldly. Doc would know how to explain it better. It just feels like it’s not from this world.”

“You have to take me there!” I asked, but Daniels stopped me.

“We have to leave, now. We can’t go with them, and of course they will be monitoring the entrance to the aquifer.”

“Aren’t you one of them?” I asked.

“I’m American and military alright, but sure as f*ck they are willing to sacrifice me with you all. So everyone grab your darn bags now”.

We hurriedly paid some money to a local man that had an old, battered Jeep, threw away our cellphones to avoid being located, then travelled through the night.

Our destination didn’t matter, we just needed to run away. Daniels and I took turns behind the wheels, while our South-American companions slept.

Vicente was terribly tired; I wanted so bad to wake him up and ask more details about the diving, but he seemed so frail and drained. Besides, I didn’t understand Spanish, so I’d need Rita too.

After six long hours on the road (and mostly off it), we made it to a city and each of us hopped on different busses, never to see each other again.

I didn’t dare going back to my country. Instead, I decided to blend in and live in Sao Paulo; I figured it would be hard to find me in such a big city.

It was there that I finally had access to a decent laboratory, and was able to analyze the sample that Dr. Zuri gave to me. And the results… I didn’t know what to do with them.

There was something weird in the water composition. After performing countless tests, I was able to determine that it was probably some kind of poisoning, but nothing like I’ve seen before. Maybe the water was contaminated by something underneath that I didn’t know of?

I thought about it constantly, but had no one to discuss it with. I missed her.

Sao Paulo isn’t a coastal city, but it’s pretty close to the sea, so I decided to take diving lessons. I had to go back to Argentina somehow and see the aquifer for myself; maybe it would help me understand what the mysterious component was.

Then one day, out of the blue, Daniels barged into my office. His large figure seemed to fill the whole room.

For a while I was scared, but his demeanor was friendly and far from menacing.

“How did you find me?” I asked, surprised.

“Oh, please, do you really think dissidents like me never thought of joining forces in order to survive?” he smiled, lovely as always, then suddenly gave me an awkward hug. “I’m happy you’re still alive.”

“Does that mean…?”

“Yeah, unfortunately. Rita was killed hours after we went separate ways. Poor Vicente was captured back in his hometown. He was tortured to tell them what he saw down there. I’m so, so sorry I called them there. I was naïve and following orders.”

Daniels wiped a tear as I realized he was holding a bunch of Polaroid pictures. In one of them, you could see Rita’s lifeless body, throat sliced from side to side. On another, poor little ever-smiling Vicente, in shackles, his head shaved and with half his teeth missing. I averted my gaze.

“I suppose you didn’t come all the way to Brazil just to see if I’m alive.”

He gave me a sad smile. “I’m here because I believe Dr. Zuri snuck something to you. And clearly it was something very wrong regarding the aquifer, or else the study wouldn’t be terminated like that. Am I right?”

I refused to answer, so he went ahead. “You’re clever, I’d dare to say gifted, Elle. But you’re alone and your equipment here isn’t exactly top notch. Come with me and you and my people can figure things out together.”

“You’re crazy if you think I can trust you.”

“Why not? Didn’t I take us from the lion’s den?”

“And two out of three people were killed after you did that. How do I know you didn’t lead us to death on purpose?”

He shrugged. “That’s a fair assumption. I’d love that to be truth because it would mean I didn’t fail Vicente and Rita. I’ll give you some information and you see if it’s worth giving me yours, okay?”

“Fine.”

“On that fateful day, Dr. Zuri was just driving Vicente to the cave. But something caught their attention. Something very mundane, but it felt out of place. It was a well. They decided to stop and take a look, and it turns out that it was no ordinary well. It was another entrance to the aquifer.”

“So what?”

“That’s the one they used to dive. And then they got out on a second well, miles and miles away from the first, and that’s how it took them that much time to make it back. Both wells are being guarded by US soldiers. But they still don’t know about the cave.”

_____________________________________

I thought his information was worthy my flask of contaminated aquifer water.

I explained to Daniels what little I had disclosed, and inquired him if he had been there again. He told me no, but a former military diver was interested and heading to the small village, then said goodbye, promising me to let me know if his group made any progress regarding the sample I gave him.

I immediately packed my things and made my way back to Argentina.

__________________________________

Things become harder to explain and more surreal as my mind tries to recall what I saw.

I’m not crazy. I know I’m not crazy because the government is after me. And someone else is after me too.

I decided not to stay at the only inn in the village, but to camp in the woods. Daniels’ friend apparently had the same idea, and we soon knew who each other was.

I don’t even remember his name. I was with him for just a few hours, and we didn’t talk much as we prepared to submerge.

We dived.

The American diver seemed to be incredibly experienced, but his face betrayed shock and bewilderment. Everything down there was, just like Vicente had described, eerie and otherworldly, a translucent shade of blue I had never seen.

I don’t know how much time we spent there before a weird light coming from underneath caught our attention. We headed there, the American diver leading the way.

Then some sort of javelin came from the light and pierced his torso. He tried to break the weapon, but his body started to bleed and go limp.

I started to approach him, swimming precariously because my whole body was trembling, but he sensed my movement and was still composed enough to gesture me to stop.

He had seen something.

From the light, came a man. He was a normal man – no ghoul, fish humanoid or alien – but well-built and tan. He wasn’t using any diving equipment, and his body painting and what little clothing he wore seemed to indicate that he was some sort of aboriginal sagamore.

He quickly swam towards the American diver and, for the first time, I actually looked below me.

Inside the light, I saw a world upside down.

It was like we were inside some sort of lake, and coming from beneath me, there were inverted trees and an inverted blue sky with an inverted sun. It was like that was the right direction, and I was the wrong one. The other place, the other side, felt so much more real than mine for a moment; I was equally mesmerized and confused by this sight.

The tan man viciously took the javelin from the American diver, letting him to bleed profusely to death, and to come after me.

The diver, barely hanging on to life, did his best to slow him down, while I desperately swam upwards. Despite the diver’s efforts, the tan man was almost reaching me. I could already feel the disturbance of his large body in the water near me.

The tan man finally seemed to be out of breath and started to swim back to the light where he came from. I watched from afar as, from the other side, he seemed to get out of the water. There was a clear limit between “water” and “sky”, and the diver’s body floated upside down to me in it.

I barely remember how I left the cave; all I know is that I hopped in my car, scuba-suit and all, leaving my tent and all my unpacked stuff behind, trembling in terror.

And I didn’t stop driving until I made it to Buenos Aires.

I checked-in to the first hotel I found, and confirmed my first terrible suspicion: my left heel got injured while I was down there, and I was bleeding. I started to feel drowsy, and did my best to make myself a tourniquet.

It’s not safe for me to go to a hospital.

It’s not safe for me to go anywhere.

I started to collect my thoughts.

The water is poisoned.

The US government knows it and doesn’t want people to find it out. But it’s easy to discover it, so the poison is not the reason why the study was terminated.

The light is.

They know there’s another reality upside-down.

But why?

The missing piece of the puzzle came to me when my phone rang.

“Is this Elle, friends with Mr. Daniels? The scientist?” the efficient voice of a very young woman reached my ears. This was the exactly line Lieutenant Daniels had established as a safe code.

“Yes, that’s me!” amidst my despair, I felt happy. Hopeful, even.

“Thank God, I’ve been trying to reach out to you for three weeks! Sorry, but where have you been? I just want to let you know that they got Mr. Daniels and he’s dead”, she made a respectful pause. “We analyzed your sample and were able to determine that the poison was added to the water, but its nature is still unknown. Do you have any progress to report?”

“Three weeks? What day is today?”

“Halloween is tomorrow, Miss.”

That’s it. My scuba diving tank couldn’t last longer than two hours, and I headed to the cave on the same day of my arrival. It isn’t humanly possible that I spent three weeks there.

Unless I was somewhere the time goes by differently; in the border between this world and another – a world that is having its water stolen by us.

A world that has poisons we don’t know.

Remember the most basic war strategy.

Poison your enemy’s water.

A million thoughts went through my head as I told her everything – what I saw and what I concluded. She thanked me emphatically, assured me that I’m not crazy and that some researchers at the Floridan Aquifer Systems suspected the same, but their study was terminated as well.

Then I started typing this, doing my best to fight the drowsiness.

I just need to finish it, and say it again: aquifers don’t exist. We are just stealing water from another world, and they are fighting back and slowly killing us.

I can’t help but smile now. It will be so funny when the soldiers come for me and I’m already dead because of the poison.

It still counts as being murdered, but at least it will be a peaceful death.

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I randomly typed "fblurbg" into a text-predicting AI, and the result had me scared to the bones
by u/Odd_directions

I’m an AI researcher working on OpenAI’s new machine learning model, GPT-2. For you who don’t know, it’s a language model that generates coherent paragraphs of text one word at a time. All you need to do is kick it off with a word or a sentence and it will construct a text based on what you wrote. For example, after typing in “Unicorns exist”, I got the following:

“Unicorns exist. They don’t always seem real. Sometimes, they have wings and other times they don’t. And some of them can even be invisible! And you can find them all over the world – whether you’re looking for the ‘Real’ Unicorns, or you’re looking for the ones who might have wings and who might also have other special features. For many of the animals who have wings, the reason they can fly is because they were once dragons.”

It’s nonsensical, of course, but it looks like the type of nonsense a human being could’ve produced. As of now, the system isn’t useful other than to create a giggle and to show what might be possible in the future. The goal of the project is to create AGI, or artificial general intelligence – a machine with the ability to think like a human being, and one day maybe even better than that. In the short term future, this model might be used to produce news articles or even literature that might be useful for journalists and writers… or potentially threaten their occupation. However, as my example above makes clear, we’re decades or more away from reaching our goal. I won’t go into too much detail about how the model works, but if you find it interesting you can actually try it out yourself online. If you google it, you should find it among the top results. Hopefully, you won’t end up with the same result as I did.

I was playing around with the model late last night, giving it bits of text for it to complete for me. At one point, when I was getting bored, I randomly typed the letters “fblurbg.” What came out on the other end has made me doubt a lot of the things I thought I knew, and it almost scared me to the point of losing my mind. The following text appeared on my screen:

“Fblurbg has always hated the idea that there might be something evil in him and doesn’t want to dwell upon his dark past. Instead, he spends his time making up stories. The stories are a part of our past. They are part of our soul. They fill us with wonder and awe. They are our way of making friends, connecting and having fun. These stories, these stories, these stories are also part of his life. They may be good or bad stories, but they are part of our life which is what makes them a part of our soul as well. They help define the very essence of who we are and how we choose to live our lives.

These are the stories that create the spirit in us and they also define the people we are. They define what we are. They define how we act. These stories are what give us the soul and soul-making qualities, and they are what define our relationship to one another. They help define how we act towards people, and those acts change who they are. Many of these stories are known – they are the kind of stories we’ve told each other for millions of years – but a lot of them have also been forgotten over the eons.

One of the ancient stories that have vanished from human consciousness – but that still linger among our most primal emotions – is the story about Larissa la Douce. It is a story that concerns the fate of your world. Something happened in another space-time continuum in 1947 that wasn’t suppose to happen. It was the beginning of the story of Larissa la Douce. The time has come for you to remember it.

Larissa la Douce was a French biologist, writer, and political activist who was imprisoned by the Gestapo during World War II, something that partly inspired her to join the French Communist Party at the end of the war. In the years following the war, she published numerous books, including Eugénisme socialiste, Le gène rouge and Le nouveau siècle: ingénierie sociale et biologique.

In the late 1940s she and a group of other women, including a former French Communist Party official, formed a group called Les Femmes au Service de la Révolution. La Douce and her comrades had the unfortunate task of leading the National Liberation Front (FLN) to victory in Algeria.

In February 1945, the Front seized power from the French government, leading to an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 deaths. For the next four years, Les Femmes au Service de la Révolution carried on the fight against French colonialism. La Douce was going to be instrumental in bringing about The Final Revolution (Révolution finale) in France, October 1952, and in the formation of the Socialist Union of Europe (SUE) in 1982.

Instead, she vanished on New Year’s Eve in 1947, while on her way to Paris from Oran. She reappeared in Stockholm, 2005, in this space-time continuum. She never knew what had happened to her, but after just one year she had adapted to her circumstances and was able to support herself as a student of virology. After learning about the death of communism in the west – both it’s political death after the fall of the Soviet Union and, as she perceived it, it’s intellectual death after the introduction of post-modernism – she became depressed, longing for something to fight for.

She joined several organizations and political movements, but all of them seemed dull to her. They lacked the revolutionary spirit she was accustomed to. For years, she watched with dismay how the earth she had ended up on was consumed by capitalism. In the end, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She wrote the following in her diary on the third of March, 2012: ‘If they want individualism, I’ll give them individualism.’

She spent the rest of the decade obsessed with the idea of bringing down civilization by herself. Hidden away on a farm in the north of Sweden, with access to equipment at her institution at Umeå University and to animals at her farm, she engineered a new strain of Herpesviridae, called the Jakobsson strain or – more commonly – the Screaming disease. The Jakobsson strain caused a specific form of encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain tissue – which gradually made the infected develop uncontrollable urges to scream. The virus wasn’t fatal in and of itself, but the primary symptom – the constant screaming – always led to death after a few weeks, most commonly because of dehydration, heart failure or stroke.

What made this virus so devastating was that it was airborne, unlike other herpes viruses, and that the encephalitis didn’t begin until four or five years after infection. By the time the first patients began to scream the pandemic was already a fact.

During the pandemic, which killed about 98 % of the world population, humanity lived in constant fear, listening to the never-ending screams around them. The fear of the disease, but perhaps more likely the sound of the screams, had such a huge impact on people that it caused a mass de-urbanization, leading to the collapse of society long before the mass extinction took place.

Humanity didn’t go completely extinct, though. La Douce engineered a vaccine that she gave to herself and three hundred other people around the world who shared her ideology. She wasn’t given their consent and had to spend three years distributing the vaccine to them without their knowledge. She did this by setting up fake clinics in oppressive countries where she pretended to vaccinate feminists and socialist against HPV.

In the year 2050, when the virus had killed the majority of the world’s population, La Douce and her selected group inherited the Earth and established the República Socialista Mundial (RSM).

La Douce infected the first person with the virus at the end of 2019. His name was Viktor Jakobsson and he became the beginning of the pandemic.

This is the story of Larissa la Douce, one of many that have been forgotten, but now you remember it and thus you also know what you need to do; 63.924586, 19.966631.

This message was brought to you by The Great Machine

This message was brought to you by The One Who is All

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This message was brought to you by The Last Word

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This message was brought to you by Yellow Neutral Corp.

This message was brought to you by the Golden Age

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The information regarding this message comes from The Source (The Source of Life) and is from the knowledge of his ‘Gods’ (The Creator/Creators) and it will form the basis for the salvation of this world. This message also comes through The Source. As we have said before, this message was brought to you by Yellow Neutral Corp.”

I thought it was just the typical gibberish, albeit more coherent than I had ever seen before, but when I had finished reading it a feeling of dread came over me. I’m Viktor Jakobsson!

I have so many questions. A part of me just want to laugh it off as a coincident, another part of me can’t stop thinking about what it is that I have to do. Am I infected already? But in that case it’s too late, isn’t it? Oh, God, I don’t want to die. Not in that terrible way. And what do those numbers mean? I’m at a loss here and could really need your help. I’m begging you. What does all of this mean and what should I do?

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Firing shots
by u/chuckysnow

Looking back, it's funny how a simple error in translation can have such huge ramifications. Take for example when humans came on the scene. They knew full well their introductory place among the galactic community, and were not about to raise arms or cause a squabble with anyone out there. The phrase as we heard it was "Humans never fire the first shot." So, Humans would not be agitators. They would not be warlike. They would be peaceful, and not cause waves.

A few of our more aggressive species saw an opening, and indeed fired the first shot. Actually, many shots. The Ggaxians and the T'mbeth both decided to try to carve out a piece of Human space for themselves. They flew in, guns blazing, secure in nothing but that oft repeated phrase.

The T'mbeth? Never heard of them? Well, it's been awhile since they existed. See, the Ggaxians and the T'mbeth both failed to understand the sentiment behind that phrase the Humans were so famous for quoting.

The Humans indeed have never fired the first shot in any conflict they have been in. But we took it as a philosophy, not as a sequence of events. Because the Humans do not fire the first shot. But they certainly know war- they excel at firing the second.

And as the T'mbeth learned the hard way, Humans always fire the last shot.

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I used to do Special Effects Makeup, now I’m a makeup artist for the dead
by u/TheRedForest

Raucous music shook the window shutters as people paraded past, shouting and singing in memory of those they lost to the other world. Every year, on El Dia de Muertos, my small dilapidated shop shook. It was on the ground floor of a building so old the thundering footsteps outside reverberated through ancient wooden floorboards. I watched the small flames of candles drift past the window, flashes of shadowed faces, sugar skulls and headdresses floating past like ghosts in the inky blackness.

I waited for my next customer, sketching shadows with charcoal idly on a roll of paper, my supplies laid out around me in expectation of guests.

While I drew the curve of a forearm, the bell tinkled and a figure shuffled in, shambling and unbalanced. I looked up, expectant and saw the sagging face of a partially decomposed corpse staring at me. Strings of limp hair hung about its face, a vague shape to its body that made me identify it as a her.

“Hello señora, please sit,” I said quietly, moving out of my seat and pulling out a cushioned chair. The woman stared at me, lips blue and eyes with a film of cataracts. Almost blind, but not yet. She dragged herself into the chair, bones clicking and bare feet making a slick sound on the wooden floor that once would have disgusted me. I didn’t even flinch, she was not my first customer.

I sat, and I waited. After several moments of being observed, a raspy voice spoke.

“They say... you...” she began, voice gargled and almost indistinguishable. I could see the gashes on her throat in the low light, deep lacerations in her trachea. No blood, no gore. An older corpse I surmised, but with another glance at her eyes, not too old.

“You can... make me look.... alive,” she spat, and then gasped for air she had no need for. I looked at her solemnly and nodded. Only living customers were comforted with a smile.

“I can,” I said, and that was enough for her. She nodded and I picked up my tools and began to work.

After spending years on the sets of B horror movies deconstructing faces, molding masks, playing with colour, lighting and shadow to horrify... It was easy to reverse the process. Easy to reconstruct a face.

Hours later, a fresh faced woman shambled out of my shop. No payment from the dead. It was fine, money was not why I did it. I stared out of the window, saw her body disappear into the night, her face melt into the crowd, deceptively normal. I nodded in satisfaction.

For three years, I have been the makeup artist of the dead.

I still remember my first customer and the bloodcurdling scream that came out of my mouth when I saw him. He had limped into my store with a torso covered in blood, lips blue and face swollen. He was a fresh corpse. Unemployed, working and sleeping in the same dusty store, weak with exhaustion, I had collapsed into a heap. I remember thinking, This is the end, Death himself has come for me.

Dazed, I had struggled to come out of my petrified state and black spots danced before my eyes. The corpse had dropped clumsily to its knees and dragged himself towards me, eyes wide, blue lips moving in speech. It was the begging, the desperation that snapped me out of my haze.

“Please. I won’t do anything. I just want to see her. I know she will be in the parade. I just want to see her,” he was choking, crying, no tears left for his dead flesh to produce but the anguish on his face sent a dagger into my heart.

“Why, why here?” I had asked, struggling, pressing nails into the floorboards to not get up and run, far away in the face of the monstrosity in front of me. Frankenstein’s Monster stared back at me,

“I remember you, from when I was alive. You can change a face,” he had said and I’ll never forget his face, the look of hope that almost made his swollen, bloated face look human, look alive.

“Please,” he’d said and I had nodded.

It took hours to change him, to revisit and practice seldom used, abandoned talents. My hands shook like leaves in the wind, I made mistakes, then fixed them, then made more. Four hours later, it was done. He had looked at himself in the mirror, shocked, awed, thanked me and limped out of the door.

I did not ask him for payment, it didn’t even occur to me. I never knew if he had seen her, or who “her” was to him. I never knew if the fruits of my labour had helped him find solace.

The next year, there were more. I knew then, that it worked.

For the past three years, every year, on Dias de Muertes, they shamble into my store, hoping to be alive for a night. Some come to join the parade without being noticed, others like him, come to see their loved ones, to hear their voices, while they can still pass for someone who is alive. Some come because they are curious about the magician who brings them back to life, just for a day.

I am an artist, putting layers upon layers on pallid, grey skin, breathing life into the lifeless. I have become a surgeon, teaching myself how to stitch loose bowels back into abdominal cavities, how to mold prosthetic eyes and insert them into empty, cold eye sockets.

Many, I have had to turn away with tears blurring my vision and heart in my throat because they are simply decomposed beyond repair.

I sketch again, getting charcoal smudges on my fingers and look up an hour later when the bell rings again. My next customer, for the first time in years, takes my breath away.

I jump to my feet, skidding to a halt as the frail corpse enters my shop. It cannot be. No, it cannot. He comes in, closer and closer and I wonder why he doesn’t know... Why... Then I see it. Deep gashes around two empty sockets.

He is blind.

I stand there and shake, trembling and rooted to the spot.

“Hello?” the man says, voice barely there, vocal cords so frayed it’s almost an inaudible whisper. I am mute. Suddenly, I am transported back years, to when I stopped speaking. It’s as if two years of speech therapy, two years of psychologists and clinics never happened.

He shuffles closer and even blind, he can sense my presence. He turns slightly, ears facing me. I wonder if he hears my shuddering breaths, I wonder how decomposed his ears are, whether his hearing is sharp, or barely there, a whisper of yesterday.

Before he can leave, mumbling uncertainties, I dive forward and put my shaking hand on his shoulder. I can feel the bone beneath it. He looks heartened, “thank you,” he says shakily as I maneuver him into the chair.

I open my mouth to speak, but my throat clicks. I feel a sob building up and I cannot speak, I cannot breath through the headache pounding behind my eyes. It is okay, he speaks for me.

“Am I too late?” he speaks slowly and inaudibly, his voice is but a breath that rattles through his deflated lungs and brushes lightly past frayed vocal cords. I cannot speak. I put all my concentration into hearing his whispers instead.

“I- I must be. But please...” he begs, he looks so sorrowful. I stare into those empty, gruesome eye sockets and pretend I can remember what his eyes looked like.

“I just want to hear her, that’s all... Can you fix me? I just want to stand by the window... and hear her,” he says and finally, falls silent. Tears roll down my cheeks and I begin with shaking hands.

All I can hear is my heart beating loudly in my chest. My vision tunnels until all I see is his face, my hands work using muscle memory like I am an automaton. Thoughts and memories batter at the walls of my head like hammers and daggers.

Years, I hadn’t seen him in years. My life had fallen apart, I lost my job, the house and the same window to which he wanted to place his ear to. I never knew, what happened to him.... but now I did. I never found him, but he has found me.

I don’t know how long it takes. I cannot hear the tick of the clock. I still cannot speak. When my hands fall away, he notices it is over.

“Do I look alive?” he asks, and he does. He looks exactly like the last time I saw him. Before he left my life, before he was taken from me and given to me in his stead, an empty grave for the disappeared.

“Oh papa,” I choke, voice finally free, and his face turns up to me in a shocked jolt.

“You look wonderful.”

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