Less Than Human, 7

The road remained blessedly empty.

Reid flinched against the wind as they rode, unused to driving without a windshield. He would spare a glance toward Helena on occasion, but more often than not she seemed to be interested only in staring out the window in silence. On occasion the police radio would belch static, with only a few words even making sense. Reid would stare at the radio with worry. The men that were supposed to be answering any calls were miles behind them, dead. And they had killed Cassius, one of the few people he thought of as a friend. It made him tremble.

Tiberius, meanwhile, was holding the egg-shaped communicator, listening intently. On occasion it would emit a series of clicks, and once even a warbling whine, but for the most part, it remained silent, and Reid worried that it might be broken.

“That thing,” Reid said suddenly, surprising himself with his boldness. “That’s to help you get away, right?”

Tiberius only offered a cautious look, and after a drawn out silence, simply said, “Yes.”

Reid nodded. The road was bordered by tall trees, standing sentinel at their sides, and the patrol car rushed past, down the narrow asphalt ribbon. Reid thought about hiking through these woods as a child, and how his mama would smile so brightly when he’d spot an animal and call it by its right name. But those thoughts would quickly become overrun by thoughts of the dead policemen.

“Why are you trying to get away?” Reid finally managed. “Why do they want to kill you?”

It was Helena who answered, her voice subdued and fringing on anger. “They have no reason. It is, I suppose, to cement themselves as the dominant species. The humans that I worked with never acted like this; they remained passive and understanding. But these others.”

“Greed,” Tiberius responded. He had no emotion in his voice. “Mostly, it’s just greed. This planet was on the bring of destruction. We brought with us the necessary means to breathe life back into your people. I suppose we never thought that your people would want to take from us the things we used to save them. We didn’t expect adoration. We expected nothing. We hoped…hoped…for kinship.” He shook his head. “I suppose hope was too volatile a feeling for us to possess.”

“I remember when you came,” Reid said, his voice hushed. “I was just a kid. Daddy had gone off to the city to try and get us some money for food. Mama had to shoot at folks to keep them from stealing our things.” His face crumpled with hopeless fear at the thought. “I always thought one day someone would shoot her back, and that my daddy would never come home and that my mama would die and I’d be all alone, and everyone would steal the things I had. I cried a lot.” He sniffled. “Mama did, too.

“But then you came. I remember all those lights in the sky and Mama started sayin stuff like ‘Jesus has come! Jesus has come to take us!’ and sounding so happy. I remember she took down the big wood cross she kept on the leather strap and she hung it on my neck and told me to let The Lord see it.” He smiled at the memory. “That was the happiest I ever saw Mama. Even though she knew then Daddy wasn’t coming home, she looked like the sweetest, most pleased person I ever did see.”

Helena was smiling, and Reid shivered as she took one of his hands. “Tell me more, please. I like happy memories.”

Even Tiberius looked pleased. “Yes. Please, tell us more.”

“When she found out you guys weren’t Jesus, she was a little surprised. I guess we all were.” He laughed; not his loud, honking bray, but instead a soft chuckle. “But then when things started getting better, when things started working and people started getting along, I guess it didn’t matter that you guys weren’t Jesus. Mama even said, ‘They might not be Jesus, but they’re from Him.’ I remember thinking that was kinda funny.”

“Your mother,” Helena ventured. “How is she?”

“Dead.” Reid’s face twitched at the memory. “Doctors said it was something called an aneurysm. Said sometimes it just happens.” He rubbed at the corners of his eyes. “I remember the doctor said that it was the best way to go. Said she probably didn’t feel no pain, and it happened real quick. Said it was a blessing.” He coughed. “I miss her awful.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” Tiberius said softly. He was looking away, his eyes distant.

Reid nodded. “Yeah.” He blinked back the tears. “Yeah, me too.” He flexed his fingers on the wheel, trying to toughen up, just like his Mama would have told him to do if he thought he might cry. He remembered her telling him that he needed to be a man, because one day he’d have to take care of himself. If not for her, he would never have been able to do for himself. But here he was, able to do whatever he needed to do. “She wouldn’t have liked this. Not everyone pushing you away. She wouldn’t have liked them killing Cassius, not one bit. She didn’t even like it when folks would call you ‘glowheads’.”

“Your kind – humans – seems to relish the differences between one another,” Tiberius said, his raspy voice seeming far away. Reid glanced at him in the mirror and could see that he looked like his mind was somewhere else. It made him nervous. He remembered seeing Mr. Landers drunk one time, and although there was a lot more cussing, it was the same expression as Tiberius currently held. “I don’t know why you are all full of such fear, Reid. It’s fear that has ruined your people. Not hate. Not anger. Fear. It drives everything else. It makes your people erratic. It makes them dangerous.”

“Was Magnus right?” Reid asked. “Are we diseased? Do we need to be punished?”

Tiberius chuckled. “You aren’t perfect. Is that enough to to warrant punishment? Magnus, too, has been corrupted by fear. He is beyond us now. I hope, in time, he falls back on his ways and learns to keep his fear from ruling him.”

“I am afraid,” Helena whispered.

“There is no shame in having fear, Helena. There is only shame in allowing it to turn ugly, into bitterness, and fury, and hatred.”

There was a sudden, piercing whine, and Reid flinched. Tiberius held the communicator up, gently stroking its round, smooth surface, and Reid detected words. They made no sense, sounding like gargling and retching, but they were words all the same. He looked toward Helena, seeing her beleaguered face renewed with life.

“My goodness,” she breathed, and her face split into a smile. She seized Reid and kissed his cheek, making him buzz with embarrassment and exhilaration. “Reid, they’re coming.”

We’re going home.

The End

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