Contest #248 winner 🏆

Paradise Lost

Submitted into Contest #248 in response to: Write a story titled 'Paradise Lost'.... view prompt

79 comments

Science Fiction

Calls for help came every day, in every language spoken from Alpha Centauri to Xanoid 10.

Meteor. Famine. War!!!

Help us, they pleaded. Whoever they was in that particular society that had figured out how to contact us.

“Please remain calm,” I used to say. “A unit will be dispatched to your location.”

But after our people went Silent, the calls went more like this: 

“Hello? We need help.”

“We're sorry, but Planetary Assistance is no longer available. Our thoughts are with you during your pending apocalypse. Goodbye.”

“Wait —”

And I would hang up and log the call for our directors, who would mark the planet for further study before its demise. No tears — just another experiment ending. 

Of course, Earth was different. It had been a special project for our people. A hunk of spasmodic rock that we imbued with the best of all things green and growing, soft breezes, clear, cold sea, and people — people who looked perhaps too much like us, in hindsight. 

Of course, we were sensitive when they called.

Help, they called when they were cold, and we brought them fire.

Help, they called when they were hungry, and we taught them our very own methods of tilling the soil. 

When they ventured out of their cradle to the hostile parts of the Earth, we ushered in ages of warmth and good fortune that propelled them to prosperity. 

But help, they called, because they wanted more. And like permissive, enamored parents, we continued to give it to them until they wielded the means of their own destruction. 

The phone rang one night on my watch long after the Silencing. I checked the caller ID twice. Earth. A little tingle of electricity ran up my spine.

“You’ve reached Thalia IX — how may I direct you?”

“Hello? Hello? If anyone out there is listening, please, I need your help. Things are really getting out of hand here —”

An understatement if I’d ever heard one given the mass extinction underway on Earth amid the megacolossal storms and nuclear annihilation on a hair trigger.

“I'm sorry,” I said, clearing my throat to prepare for the sentence that usually got stuck like dry wafer crumbs. “But the Planetary Assistance Corps of Thalia IX is no longer available for rescue requests. Our thoughts are with you during your apocalypse. Goodbye.”

The girl made an indignant sound of surprise as I hung up. 

It was the ninth call from Earth this week, I found in the log as I began to add my notes. All previous agents had deftly dispatched the callers begging us to intervene, to send another ship, to save them.

Caller reports escalation on Earth, I began to type. It would be of interest to the directors.

Shrill bells jangled again. Earth again. I frowned as I picked up the line.

“You’ve reached Thalia –”

“You can’t hang up on me,” the girl’s voice said. 

The script prepared us for this scenario, though it was rare. Usually, our callers were in such a state of shock to reach us that they didn’t try again. 

“Thank you for your call. While we understand you might be experiencing feelings of worry, anxiety, or dismay —”

The girl groaned in aggravation. 

“Would you can it? My girlfriend is missing. We were supposed to shelter together this week,” she said. “Please, can you help me find her? I'm worried that she's lost or hurt.”

Shelter where? I wondered, and would have asked if the girl hadn’t kept talking at a rapid clip. This girlfriend had fled their home after an argument about letting others into their shelter. Days on, she hadn’t returned. 

How human to want to face obliteration together, and to do it alone out of spite, I thought as she spoke.

Finally, the girl paused her monologue.

“Look, I know who you are,” she said in a low voice. “I know you’re not — from here. This planet, I mean. But I know you’re watching.”

This was highly unusual and would require immediate escalation to a senior agent. I thought I should keep her talking while I send a request.

“How did you find this line?”

“It was on my grandfather’s old Macbook. I live in his house now. He used to work for NASA. Had all kinds of notes with it —”

NASA was an ancient terrestrial space agency with whom we had coordinated many of our attempts at aid.

“What’s your location?”

“Reno. Well, northern America. On the West Coast. If that’s what you’re asking.”

“And your girlfriend’s name?”

She paused and her breath hitched, as if the answer would break a dam she'd built across her emotions.

“Angel.”

And then the nervous feeling I'd been fighting back twisted through my arms and into my fingertips that hovered over the keys.

I tapped a-n-g-e-l one letter at a time. That was the name the humans gave to us long ago. Before we abandoned them. 

No, not abandoned. Even Silent, we had sent our best ship to evacuate a few hundred of them. It had nearly torn us apart.

“Oh, shit, hang on,” the girl said suddenly.

A door burst open behind her. She set her phone down so the sounds were muffled, but I could just make out voices calling out in panic. A sound like static overwhelmed the line and just as I looked down at the phone to check if we had disconnected, the door slammed, and the noise stopped. Frightened  voices died down into a murmur. 

“Sorry. Newcomers,” she said as she picked up the phone again. 

I noticed that my heart had started to race. The protocol called this a sign of emotional investment — understandable, but a sign to cut contact immediately. Only I had a message from the directors to stay on the line.

“We’re unable to offer any additional assistance in departing the planet or averting disaster,” I said with genuine regret.

But the girl just snorted.

“I figured it was a limited time offer,” she said. “But please, could you find Angel? Could you help me bring her home? She has red hair and she’s very tall. Her cheeks are always red like she’s been slapped across the face, even though she’s way more likely to have slapped someone else. She has these lovely big round brown eyes and she was wearing fatigues when she left. She was so angry. I should’ve stopped her.”

She keeps talking, telling me all about how they met as children fleeing great ravages of dust with their families, and how they found each other again as revolutionaries.  

I thought I could perhaps grant this one selfless wish. It wouldn’t be intervening, not really, to find her partner’s location. It wouldn’t have changed anything about their fate. And I had a few moments before the directors would appear at my shoulder. 

“Standby,” I said in a voice barely above a whisper.

And for the first time, but not the last, I defied Thalian protocol. I accessed our cameras and saw for myself how our great experiment on Earth was ending.

A few clicks and the distinct figure of a tall, redheaded woman in military garb appeared on screen. She was standing at attention before a gate, eyes locked ahead in terror as others streamed past her.  

On our satellites, I saw the storm heading for the geographic coordinates of the caller.

The muffled static on the line grew louder.

“I can report that Angel is safe in a shelter in the next town over,” I said. And I covered the mouthpiece before I spoke again, so she would not hear the waver in my voice. Tears I couldn't control dripped down my arm. “Unfortunately, it may not be possible for you to reach her.”

One last moment of silence from this loquacious caller. She must have been able to hear the howl of the wind, the creaking of the timber board. She must have known before she called.

“I understand,” she said. 

The sharp steps of the directors began to rap through the hallway behind me. I had a vision of myself seizing control and forcing them to help. We could still help. 

“Thank you,” the caller said. “Thank you for finding her.”

Our thoughts are with you. The shallow words flashed through my head one last time.

Instead, all I said after the line was already dead, was:

“Goodbye.”

May 03, 2024 10:51

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79 comments

Alexis Araneta
18:11 May 03, 2024

Honey !!! What a gripping story. How creative to take the concept of angels and make it sci-fi. Smooth as butter, great descriptions. *slow claps*

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Honey Homecroft
16:04 May 07, 2024

thank you so much for reading!! :)

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Wendy Laharnar
22:45 May 10, 2024

Your story was so easy to read and understand. I was hooked even before the first twist and then another twist at the end. I was sympathetic to all three characters. I'm left wondering what is in store for your Angel on Earth, and what is in store for us. You presented a true image of ourselves. We've been warned in so many ways and still we continue to destroy our planet. This story should go viral. Congratulations!

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Honey Homecroft
11:01 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much for the kind words! I'm so glad it resonated for you.

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Jennifer Luckett
21:48 May 10, 2024

Congrats on the win. I felt empathy for the operator. I like how you made her compassionate and defiant with her decision to assist the doomed caller. A great read!

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Honey Homecroft
14:41 May 11, 2024

Thank you :)

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Kate Hathaway
13:18 May 11, 2024

Like the best writing, your story had everything it needed and nothing it didn't. Congrats!

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Honey Homecroft
14:42 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much for the kind comments :)

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04:48 May 11, 2024

Chilling, sci fi stuff. Wow! Congratulations on your win. All the help that was given didn't sound as if it helped them all to help themselves. Then in the end, when they really needed intervention, help was denied. Sounded like they had brought it on themselves. It's a bit of a wake-up-call story. We may get ourselves into a similar situation in the future. We need to do something about the situation now. We have nowhere to go, out there. I won't say we have no one to call on. That's another story. One unexplained thing in the story I won...

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Honey Homecroft
11:07 May 11, 2024

In my head, the people of Thalia have experienced a regime change/awakening of sorts that they're making things worse by constantly intervening, and so have stopped. But there are factions that disagree — and so one last helping hand was the compromise. Thanks for reading:)

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04:04 May 11, 2024

WOAH! Did not expect the angel twist. You seamlessly flowed that into the story without any interruptions. This was a great one!

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Honey Homecroft
11:08 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much! It was a fun one to write!

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Trevor Woods
21:00 May 10, 2024

Typical call center...passive aggressively polite and not helpful at all. I would have asked to talk to a supervisor. Ridiculous.

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Micki Fournier
22:11 May 10, 2024

I really enjoyed this story. It is very creative and had my attention locked in. Congrats!

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Honey Homecroft
11:02 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much :)

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Honey Homecroft
11:02 May 11, 2024

It's a problem across species!

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Erika Sams
12:57 May 11, 2024

Wow. That was incredible! I was sucked right into the moment and felt every emotion of your characters. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartbreaking story!

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Honey Homecroft
14:43 May 11, 2024

Thank you for reading :)

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John Rutherford
10:52 May 11, 2024

Congratulations on your story

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Honey Homecroft
11:02 May 11, 2024

Thank you!

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Juli Maher
03:27 May 11, 2024

Love this. Easy to read. I especially liked the surprise of 'experiment' and 'angel'. Well done!

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Honey Homecroft
14:46 May 11, 2024

Ahh thank you so much for reading!

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Amanda Martin
02:56 May 11, 2024

Hot damn… that was amazing.

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Honey Homecroft
14:41 May 11, 2024

Thank you :)

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Jenny Cook
02:40 May 11, 2024

What a wonderful story. I hung on every word, wanting to know the ending,but dreading it as well. We have all experienced the typical call centre "script reading" and total lack of empathy many times. But this was a life or death situation... "Clearing my throat for the sentence that usually got stuck in my throat like biscuit crumbs"...absolutely brilliant!

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Honey Homecroft
14:42 May 11, 2024

Thank you for reading and the kind words:)

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Darvico Ulmeli
01:50 May 11, 2024

Congratulations for win.

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Honey Homecroft
14:46 May 11, 2024

Thank you:)

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Anna E. Walters
01:41 May 11, 2024

This is a thought-provoking and thoroughly engrossing story! Congratulations!

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Honey Homecroft
14:46 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much!

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Rachel Henry
23:15 May 10, 2024

Congrats on the win! The story was gripping and I felt myself wanting more with every twist. Each character felt so real in such a short story and I really connected with each of them. Great job!

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Honey Homecroft
14:46 May 11, 2024

Thank you very much :)

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21:23 May 10, 2024

Congrats on your win! Very well written, creative, and engaging piece.

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Honey Homecroft
14:43 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much!

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Myranda Marie
21:19 May 10, 2024

Congrats ! Well deserved win !!!

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Honey Homecroft
14:43 May 11, 2024

Thank you :)

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Joni Elbourn
20:29 May 10, 2024

An imaginative and compelling piece, I was completely engaged. Congratulations on the win.

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Honey Homecroft
14:42 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much :)

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Melissa Coleman
20:20 May 10, 2024

Definitely the winning piece. I really enjoyed reading this. So many different feelings came to the surface. I feel like it would make a great novel! Congrats 👏

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Honey Homecroft
11:18 May 11, 2024

Ahh thank you so much! That would be awfully fun to write!

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Paula G. I.
19:50 May 10, 2024

Be they created to oversee humanity or simply assigned a job to hear our pleas, angels having intimate knowledge of humanity and growing attached enough to offer comfort of any kind is a heartwrenching concept. And this is a heartwrenching story. I'm going to begrudgingly thank you for this lump in my throat. Thanks, Honey.

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Honey Homecroft
11:18 May 11, 2024

I'm happy to hear it moved you :) thank you for reading!

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