Only Human – Sylvain Neuvel

—Central, this is Lapetus. Target in sight. [Copy that, Lapetus. Stand by.] Standing by … Right where we’re supposed to be. Am I good or what? —Oh, stop bragging, Bodie, you just punch in the numbers they give you. When you can make that giant robot moonwalk, then you can brag. —Moonwalk? Like in slow motion? —Seriously, Bodie? How old are you? —That’s Captain Hough to you, Lieutenant Baaaalllll. If I remember correctly, you tripped on a house the last time you had the legs. Fell face-first, broke Benson’s wrists in the process. Am I right? [Lapetus, this is Central. If you could stop bickering for a minute, we have a job to do. Are you facing the hotel?] Affirmative. It’s a nice hotel. Wouldn’t mind spending some R&R in this place.

[Do they have a clear view of the robot?] If you mean the people staring at us from the top floor, yeah, they see us all right. We’re taller than everything else in this town. You can’t miss us. [Roger that, Lapetus. We’re talking to their chairman now. Stand by for orders.] Standing by. Why are we in Tobruk, by the way? I thought the government was in Tripoli. —It is. —Then what’s here? —Another government.

Don’t you do any research before a mission? —But it’s the same country. —It happens from time to time. They had three governments for a while when I was a kid. —Which one’s the real one? —Depends on who you ask. Pretty sure they all say they’re the real one. —That doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, who cares, right? Twenty minutes from now, it’ll be an American general running this place. —You mean advising the democratically elected government of Libya. —Yeah, that. [Lapetus, this is Central.

The chairman isn’t as receptive as we’d like him to be. Use your light beam and remove the north half of the building. Repeat, destroy the north half of the hotel.] Copy that, Central. We’re— —Captain, top floor, second window from the right. —I see it. Central, it looks like there are people in that part of the building. Wanna give them a minute to evacuate? We can wipe out every car in the parking lot, that’ll make ’em leave. [Lapetus, you have your orders.] —What do we do? —What do you mean what do we do? You heard the man, Lieutenant.

Start from the center of the building and swipe to your right. Aim low, maybe we can spare those houses behind. —Yes, sir … In position. —Activating beam. Say when. —Uh … when. You can see the beam, right? You know when I’m done. —Terminating beam. Wow, that thing’s nasty. Doesn’t even make a sound.

Central, this is Lapetus. Target destroyed. Half of it anyway. [Copy that, Lapetus. We have it on satellite. Stand by.] Damn, I love this job! —I can see that. —What’s that mean? —It means what you think it means. You said you loved this job. I’m telling you that it shows.

That’s all. You have a problem with that? — … —Good! Moving on! We might be here awhile. What do you want to talk about? Books? … No? Movies? Have any hobbies I don’t know about? — … —All right, I’ll go first. I collect Cabbage Patch Kids. —I don’t know what— —It’s OK. I wasn’t born then either. They were dolls, supposedly all different. You didn’t buy them, you “adopted” them. They came with a birth certificate, adoption papers, a little card to write down its first word, when it took its first step, its favorite food. —They talked? —No, Bodie.

They didn’t talk. They didn’t eat either. It was just meant to look real, like you adopted a real baby that was born in a vegetable. —How do you adopt a doll? —You buy it, of course. They’re in a store. You pay, but you call it an adoption fee. Anyway, they were a fad in the eighties. People went nuts. There were fights in stores, all sorts of crazy things. They were only that popular for a short while, but they were made by one company or another for about forty years.

My mom had six of them. She gave them to me when I was a teenager, and now I collect them. The old ones are hard to find, usually cost a fortune. —You collect dolls. That’s not creepy at all. —I sold one last year for five K. —You sold a doll for five thousand dollars. —Brutis Kendall, born in the Cabbage Patch on November 1. Near mint. With box.

All the papers. —That’s nuts. I still think it’s creepy, though. You shouldn’t— [Lapetus, this is Central. The Chairman of the Council of Deputies of Libya has requested technical and advisory assistance from the United States. Job well done. Just sit tight. Navy is bringing in troops. ETA twenty minutes. Return to base when they arrive.

Navigation will send your get-home numbers in a minute.] Roger that, Central. Over and out. One more for the good guys. Spreading freedom, one city at a time. —I’m fairly certain they had freedom before. —Well, now they have more. Part One when in rome FILE NO. EE955—PERSONAL FILE FROM ESAT EKT Personal Journal Entry—Dr. Rose Franklin Be careful what you wish for.

About ten years ago—I was thirty-seven at the time—a giant robot from another planet visited Earth and decimated part of London. We succeeded in destroying it, but thirteen more appeared and dispersed a genetically engineered gaseous weapon in two dozen of our most populous cities. One hundred million people died in the process. Among them, this mysterious man whose name I never learned, who steered our every move ever since I was put in charge of studying that giant hand at the University of Chicago, and Kara Resnik, my best friend, who was also Vincent’s wife, and Eva’s biological mother. With some help, I found a way to alter the metal these robots were made of at the molecular level and disabled one of them. That was enough to convince the aliens to leave. I can’t say that I knew that was going to happen, that millions would die because I had discovered Themis and brought attention to our planet, but I was afraid it would. I was afraid ever since I was brought back to life. I felt … out of place, and I wished that whoever built Themis would come back and take her away. I also said I hoped they would take me with them.

They did. After the alien robots left Earth, General Eugene Govender, head of the EDC, Vincent, Eva, and I went aboard Themis to celebrate our—I was going to say victory, but that’s not what it was—survival. While we were there, the Council of Akitast—the group of aliens who decide how their world deals with others—had Themis brought back. She dematerialized on Earth and reappeared on Themis’s home planet, with the four of us inside. They call it Esat Ekt—Home of the Ekt, their people. In some small way, they’re also our people. The Ekt first came to Earth some five thousand years ago—twenty-four of them or so. They were among us for a couple of millennia. They were ordered never to interfere, to stay out of history’s way, but over time, some of them frayed and joined the natives. They had children—half-human, half-alien —who in turn had children—three-quarter human—and so on, until their descendants, indistinguishable from humans, had but a tiny bit of alien genetics left in them.

Three thousand years later, there was nothing left to distinguish them from. All of us, every single person on Earth, were related, however remotely, with the handful of aliens who chose love over duty, back when the Titans walked the Earth. We have been living here on Esat Ekt for nine years now, but we are still very much outsiders. Their entire society is built on the idea that different species shouldn’t interact in ways that can affect them, that each should be left to evolve according to its own set of values. Centuries ago, their kind was nearly decimated by the inhabitants of a planet their emperor had displaced, exiled for personal or political reasons. After that, they replaced their monarchy with a very complex democracy, and took their noninterference policy to a whole new level. To the Ekt, “polluting” an entire species with their genetics means robbing them of the future they should have. They view this as we would genocide. What happened on Earth was a tragedy for them as much as it was for us. They came to exterminate what they thought were a handful of Ekt descendants before they could contaminate all of us.

When they realized they were too late, they had already killed millions. We are living reminders of what they consider a stain on their history, like the Holocaust Memorial, or a monument to the victims of slavery. They will not be reminded anymore. One way or another, our time here ends tonight. We’re going home. FILE NO. EE961—PERSONAL FILE FROM ESAT EKT Mission log—Vincent Couture and Rose Franklin Location: Aboard Themis [Dad, don’t do this!] —It’s too late for that. Don’t come any closer, Eva. I don’t want to hurt him. Rose, can you hold her? —Hold her? No, I don’t think I can hold her.

Come here, Eva. Let’s not make this any harder than it already is. You don’t want anyone to get shot by accident. We’ll send him back, Eva. I promise. No one else has to get hurt. [What do you mean, no one else? What happened? What’d you do, Dad?] —Ekim, eyyots ant ipyosk insot. Ekim! Eyekant! [Ekim, don’t do it. You know he’s bluf ing. He won’t hurt you.

Eyekant ops!] You’re right, Eva. I don’t wanna hurt him, so don’t force me to. {It’s OK, Eva. Eyekant aktept eps.} [No! Don’t do it for me! I’ll stay! I’ll stay here with you.] —You can’t stay, Eva. Not anymore. You don’t know what we … never mind. There’s no time for this. Ekim, you’re all strapped in? Here.

Hold the gun, Rose. I need a minute to get into my harness, and we’re gone. —They’re coming, Vincent, we need to go now. —Dammit! I can’t get my arms through. —You can do it. Just relax. —I’m not sure I can. I’ve never piloted the upper body. Last time I saw someone put this on, Eva was like ten, I … —Can’t you switch places with Ekim? He can guide you through the commands on the console. —He said it’s complicated.

He had me at “orbital defense system.” I don’t think I—Got it! But I’ll never be able to close the front. Let me put the helmet on, see if it works without the braces closed. —Any minute now … We have to GO! —Yes! She’s powering up. Go! Go! Ekim, punch it in. Eyyots! —How long until … —Whoa. —What? Vincent, where are we? —I don’t know. I think we’re … It’s nighttime. Trees all around us. Ekim, is this Earth? Akt eyet Eteyat? {Ops eyoktiptet.

} —What did he say? —Euh … It’s an expression. Beats me. Something like that. —Look at the stars. —What? —Look at the stars. Do you recognize anything? —I don’t see anything familiar … Yes! That’s … la grande ourse. I don’t know the constellation names. The big bear? —The Great Bear. Ursa Major. —Yeah, that.

We’re here, Rose. This is Earth. —Wow. I can’t believe we made it. Eva, say something. [Dad, what did you do?] —Not now, Eva. [Tell me what you did!] I said not now. It won’t be long before someone notices us. Let’s lay Themis down so we can get out. [Just tell me?] Eva, what do you think they’ll do to Ekim if they find him here? He needs to get back.

Ekim, eyost yeskust ak eyyots esat. {Eyekant ets ops. Ethemis eyet onsoks.} —What did he say? Empty Themis? —He said Themis is empty. Drained. She used up all her energy to get here. There’s enough left to power the helmets but I can’t move the arms anymore. —How long do we have to wait, Vincent? [Dad, I’ll kill you if anything happens to him.] —Easy, Eva. When you and I drained her in New York, it took only a few minutes before she was able to move again.

Looks like we’re in the middle of nowhere. With any luck, no one’s spotted us and we can get out before the sun comes up. Heck, it might take days before we’re found. Just like last time. [Last time we almost died.] Then not like last time. Look, there’s nothing I can do. If I knew how to speed this up, believe me I would. —Go talk to Ekim, Eva. You have some time.

You should talk to him. You might not see him again after he’s gone. [I hate you, Dad. I really hate you.] —I know. —She’ll get over it, Vincent. Just give her time. —I don’t know, Rose. What we did, it’s … Anyway, she’s home, that’s all that matters. Now we just need to get Ekim home safe.

—He could stay here. —No, he couldn’t. They’d put him in a cage, stick needles in him all day. A hundred million of us died the last time his people were on Earth. It’s been a while, but I don’t think folks here would’ve forgotten. —What will happen to him when he gets back home? —Well, he’ll tell them we kidnapped him—we did. Hopefully, they’ll end it at that. —Do you think they’ll believe him? —I don’t know, Rose. What would you have me do? Write him a note? —He looks scared. —He’s a kid! He’s millions of miles away from home, and he may have just committed treason.

I’d be scared too. —You put a gun to his head. —Like I said, I’d be scared too. —We just traveled millions of miles ourselves, you know. —Weird, isn’t it? We’ve waited all this time, then, boom. We’re here. —Our … friend once told me it took ten days to get from there to here. It just feels instantaneous. I’m not sure how they’d know. —Know what, Rose? —How long it takes to get from there to here.

—They’d probably check the date? —How? We can get the date here, but what we’d need to know is the date over there, now. How do you get that? You go back, divide by two? —I have no idea. I … —You did what you had to do, Vincent. —Did I? Did I have to do this? —Don’t go there, Vincent. Don’t.

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