Less Than Human: Refugees

Four aliens, once allies of humanity, find themselves targeted as enemies of mankind. Their only ally is Reid, a mentally handicapped delivery driver.

Stacks of litter trembled as insects swarmed throughout, searching for a lost morsel of sweet. The trees were twisted and skeletal, stretching out in a caricature of agony and reaching for the skies in the vain hope for a rainstorm. There were a couple of old cabins, their roofs caved in under the weight and strain of nature and time. Once, this was a place of leisure, perhaps a favorite location for families seeking a release from the day-to-day. Now, it was a reminder of how far things had fallen, and perhaps a warning that the worst was yet to come.

Helena poked at the meager fire with a long stick, mimicking the actions of Tiberius, in hopes of keeping the flames alive. She was tall and slender, with a sheet of silvery hair hanging down to her waist. Normally, she kept it clean and shiny, but at the moment it hung from her, looking tangled and frayed. Twigs and cockleburs had taken residence in the tresses. Helena was not a vain creature, though; she was, at the time, much more concerned with their survival.

She heard a rustling from behind one of the cabins, and she stood. Her eyes, the color of amber, went wide and trembled slightly with fear. She licked her lips and took a few steps away from the fire, ready to run at a moment’s notice. Her eyes relaxed, as did her posture, as she recognized the figures.

There were four of them; three tall and slender, with silvery hair, just like Helena, but broader in the shoulder and definitely masculine. The fourth was about two feet shorter, and seemed rumpled and sloppy despite his obvious joy. Helena’s colleagues, Tiberius and Cassius, were talking to one another in soft, serious tones. The other one, a Celestial like herself that she did not know well, was named Magnus, and like always he brooded silently.

Reid followed Tiberius and Cassius, laughing a slovenly, braying laugh on occasion. She’d seen those like Reid in her time here; they were once known as mentally challenged but had now taken up the more modern term of “subhuman”. Reid’s demeanor was childlike, and he looked upon the Celestials with a sort of reverence usually only associated with worshipping a deity. He was kindhearted and loving, and Helena was fond of him. Tiberius and Cassius enjoyed his company as well; according to her colleagues, there had always been “precious little happiness” in the humans. Magnus, meanwhile, steered clear of Reid, and often warned that his simple nature would be their downfall.

“Any news?” Helena asked, hopeful. It had been 72 hours since the humans had begun their assault, and many of the ships had already fled. The Celestials that hadn’t been massacred were on the run, keeping ahead of the kill squads that came for them with unrelenting aggression. Tiberius and Cassius believed that they might be able to locate some of the ships that had been used for research purposes. Magnus, who apparently had experience with some of the human crafts that were still in their infancy, went along. Reid joined them as well, to serve as a sort of lookout.

Tiberius was the oldest, with a silvery beard hanging low from his jaw. He regarded Helena with an expression of hope. “The ships that were there were in no shape for flight. But we did manage to salvage a communicator.” He held a small, egg-shaped device in his hand. “I made contact with one of the other ships. They can’t return due to damage, but they are trying to reach another to make a safe extraction.”

Cassius smiled. “It’s good news. We didn’t come across any of the humans, either. I’m thankful for that.” He glanced in Reid’s direction. “I was fearful of what could happen if our lookout was going to have to play his role.”

Reid didn’t look in their direction, instead staring at the fire. “When I was younger, mama would cook marshmallows on fires and make s’mores,” he said, thoughtful. “They was the best thing I’d ever ate. I could sure go for a s’more right now.” He smiled at Helena. “I wish I could make you one, miss. You’d love it, I’m so sure of it.”

She smiled sweetly at him and stroked his hair. “Perhaps another day, kind Reid.” She noticed that the others wished to speak with her. “Could you please make sure that we have enough food in your truck? It is good for us to have an inventory.”

“Yes, yes, I will do that,” Reid grinned, and he bustled away, looking very pleased with himself and his usefulness.

“We’ve got to keep moving,” said Magnus suddenly, standing on the far side of the dwindling fire. His face was ashen, and his eyes peered around distrustfully. “The humans will monitor our communications. They know how to track our signals. Carrying that device around with us is twice as dangerous as keeping the simpleton. We should leave him here and go.”

“We will not just abandon him here in this empty place,” Helena said. She spared Reid a glance. “He has been our only friend and ally. Without him, none of us would even be here.”

“She is right, Magnus,” Cassius affirmed . “Until we are certain that Reid is in good hands, he is staying with us. If the humans were to find him, their punishment would be severe.”

“And what if they find us all because he slows us down?” Magnus demanded. “He doesn’t even understand what we are facing. He still thinks that everything is as it had been!”

“Peace, Magnus,” Tiberius said. “If we begin panicking and thinking rashly like the humans we will make a mistake. Remember what you are.” His face was devoid of emotion. “As for our little savior, his ignorance of the situation at hand is best served. If he were to know the accusations against our kind, how then would he react? The poor soul would truly be lost.”

Magnus frowned, and just as it seemed he had a response, he threw his hands up and stormed away to the edge of the campground.

“I worry about him,” whispered Cassius, looking after Magnus with a dreadful expression. “He is one of us, but at the same time, he is not. He thinks far too much with emotion. It is unnatural.”

“He has been working directly with the humans for far too long,” Tiberius concurred. “We must do what we can to help him. He might not behave like us, but he is of us. If they find him, they will kill him as well. If we are able to prevent it, we must do so.”

Helena frowned. She’d rather liked Earth when she had first arrived, but now, it was looking far too dangerous. Humankind had been so thankful when they’d first come. Now, for whatever reason, they’d turned savage and brutal. Most of her former colleagues were dead, butchered in their homes and in the streets. The humans cried out angrily for them. The ones she’d known had never acted so horribly.

Reid was walking back, his eternal placid smile glued to his face. It was his childlike nature that made him so unlike the others of his kind. Helena found his demeanor to be wonderful. His intelligence might be lacking, but his kindness and loyalty outweighed any mental deficiencies he possessed.

“He is in danger as long as he is with us,” Tiberius said, and Helena could tell that he had been reading her thoughts. She turned away, ashamed; it wasn’t proper to read thoughts without permission. Tiberius did not apologize. “I know you care for him, Helena, as do I. He has been as good a friend as I have had since coming here. But the humans won’t give him leniency because of his handicap. They’ll punish him.” He took her by the hands, turning her away from the approaching Reid. “Once we are somewhere safe, we have to abandon him.”

“You’re right.” She looked over his shoulder, toward Magnus, who was still stalking about, looking furious and frustrated with everything. “It feels wrong that we would lose Reid, who is as innocent as a human could be, yet we keep that one, who has been corrupted.”

Tiberius said nothing.

The End

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