The stars blinked at him as though trying to reveal a secret. Morse code, he thought? But he had never ever bothered to learn it. Maybe there is another human, or humans, out there in space trying to find their way home back to earth. And they just want to know if earth is still habitable.
He had never been much of a star gazer but it takes confinement to prompt you into new interests. Now he knew which stars were prone to miss attendance some days...at least the ones he could see from the small barred window.
The thought that kept him awake, though, wasn’t that someone was trying to communicate with him but that he was dying tomorrow. A public execution, they had said. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t continue the human race on his own anyway. But it was always a good day-dream. To think that there was at least one other person who could remember what made humans human. These beasts that had conquered earth and wiped out humanity couldn’t compare to the beauty that were human beings.
Sure, he remembered the wars (what little literature was left on them) and the raging violence, the murders and thefts, the greed and corruption, the differences and separations. Humans were capable of despicable acts too. But he mostly remembered the movies and the music and the books and the gardens and the buildings and innovations that hit the market every few months. Humans had great beauty hidden inside them. That’s what reminded him that these beasts were not human, they may look it from time to time but they had no appreciation for beauty. In their leadership, the whole world was a giant ruin and they lived in it so happily.
He had considered that there were honest humans within the ranks of the ‘N’Chusa’ - a species of shape-shifting aliens that had migrated to earth from their planet, but years with no proof wore out that thought. Having witnessed one of their ugly births, Human (for that was his name, the N’Chusa had stripped him of his real name and taken to calling him that for about a decade now. You eventually forget what you swore you would never forget) knew that they were naturally a big blue blob; about two and a half feet high at birth (or whatever they called their entrance into the world), with no limbs whatsoever, eyes as red as blood and as big as saucers, and could morph into the first living thing they saw within minutes then after that it was at will.
They had adopted all skin colours that humans came in which is why the humans couldn’t tell they were under attack when they first landed. The only thing that gave them away was the red hair - now that Human knew what to look for. They all maintained that despite whatever shape they shifted to. And it was easier for them to keep looking human - they explained it away as something to do with the air and the sun and the water. They probably just loved the structure, distinction and perfection of being human.
For some reason, he had been immune to whatever gas they had emitted into the world when they landed. It was a bloodless massacre and it only affected humans, your own body rebelled against you and the lungs and heart gave way. They played this clip for him every three days. To remind him of what they could do.
After ten years in confinement, he had long since outlived his purpose. They knew about minerals and different foods and farming. They had the basics of how to survive earth. He had been their teacher, from the age of nine; teaching the lead ranks how to read the books they later burnt, how to use the technology they later improved and how to mirror human emotion that they’ve never grasped. There was no grace in the N’Chusa despite his minimal efforts - no passion, no love, no joy. Even in the shape of humans they were all just giant blobs.
The stars were in their own dance that night and what a sight it was to behold, sitting out in the open on her balcony. The sky looked as endless as the sea (at least what she believed the sea looked like) and the stars gave the impression of precious crystals.
She had always enjoyed looking at the stars, reminded her that there were other forms of life outside Earth and she swore she would never forget. Perhaps if the human race hadn’t been so conceited about being the superiority of creation, they would not have been wiped out by a blob-like species. And looking at stars always made room in her head to think.
There was a public execution slated for late afternoon. She didn’t understand that. They had had ten years with no violence whatsoever and she had believed that the N’Chusa could be better Earth-inhabitants than man. The world was now a global village, a global village in the truest sense. Whatever the blobs had emitted into the air had pulled all the continents together to make one giant continent - it was understood the blobs were averse to looking at large masses of water. Or so they claimed.
She had lived most of the life she could remember as a N’Chusa. She had never questioned it for most of her life. Her hair was as fiery red as all of theirs and she spoke their language more naturally than these human languages they had taken to learning. It didn’t matter that she was as pale as a sheet and her ‘parents’ were as black as night - the N’Chusa took on as many skin colours as they wanted.
But she couldn’t shape shift like they could. And she had tried. Her guardian (whom she had been so convinced was her mother) had tried to tutor her in the art of shape shifting. ‘All you have to do is focus and imagine yourself as something else’. That was the first clue that maybe she was ‘Nfunfu’. In N’Chusa it meant dirt and they always used it to refer to the humans who were here before them. She had taken to eating up all the information she could find on humans and that explained somethings about her.
That her skin reaction whenever she ate dairy-products wasn’t a poor form of shape-shifting but an allergy. That her eyes pouring out liquid wasn’t a sign of pending extinction (because blobs didn’t die but just wasted away) but an expression of emotions she had never caught on. That her need to close her eyes and sleep? wasn’t something to be frowned upon but how her body recovered from fatigue. She was ‘Nfunfu’ and had taken to learning their history, their achievements and failures, for they had so many of both.
She harboured the thought that there were others like her who had been assimilated into this weird species. Would human pride allow it? But she knew no one else could have survived that gas. They played the clip of their conquest every week and had doused the gas into the air every three days within their first three years to make sure no one else survived. On nights like this, where everything was quiet and the stars at their brightest, she wondered why she had survived. And today she thought perhaps she had been found out and the public execution was for her.
Would her ‘parents’ allow it? She doubted they loved her in the way her heart ached for but she had been a part of their lives for years. Could she just be erased like that…along with the entire human race? She went out for a walk.
The guard came in to ask for his last request. Human was amused to see them act it out so well but then again humans had left enough data of how they did everything. He asked to take a last walk around what portions of earth he could and he asked that he do it alone. It made sense, where else was he going to go? No blob was going to grant him asylum from their own government. He went out for a walk.
The first thing, and probably only thing, that gave him away was his hair. It was coal black, of a texture humans of before must have called kinky and crowned his head in an Afro. It caught the starlight and kept it hidden in that thick mass. His skin colour blended with the night but made his face stand out somehow. He didn’t seem to notice her and that gave her time to study him.
The N’Chusa had done so well with mimicking humans but they failed to get the strength of their strides as though Earth was theirs to dominate, the pride in the throw of their shoulders, the grace in the turn of their heads, the emotion his face betrayed. By all standards he was the most beautiful human she had ever seen…the only other human yes, but still the most beautiful.
She watched him sit on the edge of the ruin. Earth was full of ruins now. He bent his head and she saw his lips moving. Who was he talking to? She approached him cautiously. He passed a hand through his hair, threw back his head and gave a sad laugh. She had only had that sound in the movies the blobs kept for learning. It dawned on her that the public execution was for him. He stood out like a sore thumb, he could never pass for a blob.
‘Who’s there?’ he said into the night, standing up.
‘Me.’ And she walked into his line of sight. Before he could recover from the shock that he wasn’t alone as he had wanted, she added, ‘You are human.’
‘How bright of you to notice.’ he mumbled as he took up his spot on the edge.
‘I’ve never seen a human before…I mean another human before.’ she rumbled on. If he was being executed in a few hours, they didn’t have time. ‘And I’ve always wanted to know so much about the species. The human race. What happened before, if you can remember a time before this, what they were really like, what was most memorable about them…anything and everything about humans.’ she looked at him expectantly.
He returned the look with his own suspicious one. She realised what he must be seeing. A girl with red hair like every other blob-girl. For the first time in her life, she cursed having red hair.
‘Another human, huh? What’s your name?’
‘Ruby68012.’ She said without hesitation. She needed him to trust her so that he could share information. He did something with his mouth, it looked inviting and forbidding at the same time. Maybe this was what they called a smirk. She hated her name too, there was nothing creative about it like the names she had read about. It wasn’t exactly distinctive. There were 68011 other Rubys before her. It’s how the blobs named themselves. You took on a colour name, as the blobs were so obsessed with colour, and the number of your admittance.
She looked like and sounded like every other blob. He couldn’t shake that. Perhaps she would have a front row sit for his execution. But it was nice to have some-thing? to talk to. One last conversation. Someone to hear his last thoughts and words. Ten years later and he was still afflicted with human vanity. And there was that bit of ‘other human’. Could there have been more of them? He had worked with this awkward government and they had never let it slip that there was another. Were the humans in hiding somewhere? Did they know about his execution? Were they planning a rescue?
‘I’m Human.’ he said.
‘Yes, I know.’ she chuckled. She CHUCKLED and he looked at her, really looked. She was of a pale complexion and slender build, the fire in her red hair didn’t take from that in her brown eyes, with her height and body features - he put her at about 13/14 years. It was a good thing he had been forced to teach the blobs and in so doing had learnt enough.
‘No, I meant my name is Human.’ Her face contorted into pity…or was that disappointment. He was out of touch with human emotion but that’s what gave her away - the display of emotion.
‘Oh nothing, I just thought your name would be a little more interesting.’
‘What’s in a name,’ he whispered, ‘It wasn’t always Human but I can’t quite remember what it was before. How many of you are there?’ The question was out before he remembered she said she had never seen another human before.
‘How many of what?’
‘Forget it. Why are you here?’
‘Taking a walk. Why are you here?’
‘Taking a deep breath of freedom.’ They both sat in silence and mulled that statement over.
‘How long do you have?’ She finally broke the silence.
‘Not long. Should be in the other world by tomorrow night. Doesn’t the public know about the public execution?’ She smiled. It was nice to finally use sarcasm on someone who could get it.
‘I meant before you have to go back inside. I’m thinking, maybe, we can fail their plans for the execution.’
Her mind was working overtime. They didn’t have time and she knew it and she wanted to ask so much more than she was getting out. Maybe it was the awkwardness of first meetings. He looked so much older, so much wiser and informed. He looked fearless as he looked up at the sky, as though he didn’t have a pending death looming over his head.
‘Just you?’ he asked with his eyes still cast upward. She didn’t blame him for questioning her. What did she know about plans and counter-plans? But she had an idea and it just might work.
‘Me… and you. There’s a ruin not far from here. We could hide you there as we develop a better plan. Maybe consider underground living?’
‘I’ve been away from the sun for so long.’ He said bluntly.
‘Fine. Not underground. But until we have a way forward. I could convince them to let us co-exist. We could live together, humans and blobs. It couldn’t be that hard. I’ve done it.’
‘You look just like them.’ She didn’t know if it was resignation, disgust or envy.
‘If you promise not to give up, I won’t give up either. We can find a way. Humans are resilient. Always resilient.’ She stood up and offered him her hand, ‘Hurry before they have to take you back.’
He followed her into a ruin that was too homely to be forgotten. He looked at her questioningly and she blushed. What a sight it was. No blob could mimic that. He found himself smiling.
‘I come here often,’ she said in defence. ‘There’s food and water to last you about a week but I’ll be back here within that time.’
‘And you are sure that no one else knows about it?’
‘I’m sure. But just in case I’ve set traps all over the place.’ She shrugged, ‘I was desperate for alone time. There are cameras on the outside so you can tell who is coming close and hide. And this is not permanent. Just...till there is no execution. You can keep up with the information with the gadgets here. I’ll be back tomorrow night.’ He watched her walk out with his hope in her hands.
He lay on the most comfortable bed he had had in ten years. He could barely see the stars from this confinement but he wanted to let them know he had gotten their message. He just hoped that he had not traded one prison for another.
She couldn’t believe there was another human out there, in her own hideout. She watched the stars wink at her from her bedroom, probably pleased with what she had done. She continued watching them till she fell asleep, dreaming of how to save the boy with a huge black Afro, skin as fine as chocolate and voice that reverberated in her mind like an echo.