Thoughts from a writer/scientist, on Inauguration Day

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I’m wearing black today.

I’m not mourning “the death of democracy” or “the end of America.” I’m not protesting that my favored candidates lost in both my state of residence’s primary and the presidential electoral process. I’m not whining that a Republican is now president of the U.S. If a Republican like John McCain or Mitt Romney were taking over the executive branch, I doubt I would be as affected as I am today.

I’m mourning the celebration of willful ignorance, of hate, of division, of misinformation, lies, and propaganda. I’m mourning the priority of corporations and millionaires/billionaires over people forced to work three jobs to be able to feed their kids. I’m mourning the millions who will suffer from the rollback of eight years of social and economic progress in this country due to the vitriol and entitlement purposefully stoked in this year’s campaign season.

I’m very likely not one of those millions. Minus a couple of my life philosophies, I’m a member of arguably the least-marginalized demographic in this country. I expect my life will change little on a day-to-day basis, at least compared to others. But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean that I’m okay with the trajectory that we as a nation seem to be on now. For unrelated reasons I increased my social media use this past year, but it’s certainly been eye-opening to inadvertently experience the fear generated by recent political developments. I’ve spent the last several months stunned, bewildered, and angered by the seeming surge in prejudice and the us-versus-them attitude that very well may have become “validated” by the incoming administration.

Now, despite holding an advanced degree, I’ll readily admit that I’m not a very well-informed member of the electorate. I’m also not particularly brave or outspoken about much of anything (partly because I feel I’m not informed enough to be so). But I’ve tried, especially recently, to read more, to be more aware, to get more involved. It’s not saying much, I know, but this year marked 1) the first time I voted in a presidential primary, or any election not on a general presidential ballot, for that matter, 2) the first time I actually cared about and followed a gubernatorial race, and 3) the first time I contacted my state of residence’s senators on a serious sociopolitical issue. And when the presidential election was decided, the first thing I did was donate money to a number of organizations doing important social, economic, legal, and scientific work in this country, organizations that will likely face at once a surge in their necessity and newfound threats to their existence.

Does that make me a bleeding-heart liberal? Fine. I’ll wear that label proudly. Why should empathy and compassion be mocked? Why is it acceptable to care only about “me and mine”? There are 323 million people in this country besides “me and mine”. It’s simply horribly narrow-minded to think that they should, should want to, or should be able to live the way “me and mine” do. People on both sides of the aisle, from all walks of life, need to learn that not-understanding the “other” does not legitimize ramming beliefs, philosophies, values, and priorities down other people’s throats. “Different” does not equal “weird,” “criminal,” “immoral,” or “wrong.” Social, political, racial, ethnic, and economic statuses do not grant superiority. If you’re not infringing on other people’s civic rights and freedoms, your way is just as “right” as anyone else’s. Replacing empathy and compassion with shouting each other down and caring only about “winning” or beating the “other” (metaphorically or literally) just exacerbates the problems we face today and will face in the coming years.

So I ask, I urge, I implore: learn more about the concerns of others unlike you. Try to understand different viewpoints or, at least, accept that different viewpoints are not immediately invalid just because they’re different from your own or you can’t understand them. Don’t judge or dismiss people’s concerns and fears; your life experiences were nothing like theirs. Instead learn what caused them to be concerned or afraid. Engage them personally, constructively, non-confrontationally, if they are willing. Read about social issues and problems, from reliable, factual sources. And above all, acknowledge that they are people too, trying to live their lives and provide for their families, just like you.

Flash Fiction – The Harvest

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The last things he remembered were the news reports, the panic in the streets below, and the nausea threatening to empty his stomach. He’d had to turn away from the television anchors who obviously struggled to keep their shock and disbelief buried under professionalism. Then a blinding flash of white light, and he’d come to awareness here… wherever here was. He could see nothing before him, hear only a faint hum and feel a slight vibration through his body, smell cold, sterile metal. The nausea lingered, weaker but still disconcerting; his stomach rejoiced in determining that “down” still felt like “down.” He tried to raise an arm, lift a leg, but he’d been restrained, limbs and torso held in place by the cold metal he smelled. Where was he? How long had he been here? And what was happening outside?

A hiss of air from behind jarred him from his silent contemplations. Dim light seeped around him, sufficient to outline certain features of the room he was in. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see in his direct line of sight. Dull metal walls, floor, and ceiling. No windows, tables, or chairs. To his sides were different objects, but he found he couldn’t turn his head to see them.

“You probably want more light,” a voice rang out, deep, melodious, and with a rough edge.

Before he could respond, intense white light flooded the space, forcing his eyes shut in pain. He gasped, then heard movement behind him. “Who… who’s there? Where am I?”

“On board my flagship,” the voice replied.

He pried his eyes open, forcing them to adjust to the white light gleaming from metal all around him. The speaker, whose voice sounded too distorted to be natural, remained out of sight. “Flagship?” he echoed, his mind conjuring images of air craft carriers and naval destroyers. He struggled futilely to turn his head and meet his captor. “What are you talking about—“

His last word caught in his throat as the wall in front of him simply disappeared. Instead of smooth, reflective metal, he looked out on an orb of blue and white swirls hanging against a black backdrop studded with pinpricks of light.

Earth.

His mind scrambled to make sense of the image. Was it real? Could he really have been taken off the planet? And if so, how? The surfaces he could see looked nothing like the cramped and unfinished chambers and passages of the International Space Station he’d seen on news broadcasts.

The news broadcasts! Footage of panicking in the streets as pale-faced reporters told of dozens of vessels appearing in the skies above Earth, satellites being destroyed, the ISS burning in orbit. His stomach flipped anew.

“Ninety-six thousand… miles… from the surface,” the voice remarked. “Your language is clumsy.”

His language? The English sounded perfect… too perfect. Maybe they were altering their voices to hide their identity. But in person? How? Nothing made sense. He’d been kidnapped by some other country, who was… what? Somehow attacking the U.S. from space? How could this have happened without the government or military knowing? And why was he even brought here? “What do you want from me?”

“Just watch.”

“What am I—“

Then he noticed the specks moving across the face of the planet. “My fleet, assuming its positions in low orbit. Waiting for my command to activate the system.”

“What system?” he cried. “I have no idea what you’re—“

“You are an… archaeologist,” the voice barked. It was a statement, not a question. “You study old things, who made them and why.”

He waited, but no more came. “Y-yes?”

“Then listen carefully, because you will learn it all now.”

Words flashed in front of him, across his view of his home planet. Lists, their items scrolling and changing, almost too fast for him to recognize. He forced himself to focus on them through his confusion and panic, and caught familiar names. Great Pyramid. Machu Picchu. Colosseum. Stonehenge. Hagia Sophia. Great Wall. Easter Island.

“You were crude,” the voice continued, “and easily manipulated. From the very beginning, wherever we found you, you feared and worshiped us. It made constructing the system that much simpler.”

The very beginning? Constructing the system? The words distracted him from the names blurring past his eyes, but more modern names recaptured his attention. Eiffel Tower. Pentagon. Burj Khalifa. Freedom Tower. Space Needle. “What… what system?”

“A network of locations where the planet’s rock mantle is weakest. Markers. Targets. That you built, on our orders.”

Bile rose in his throat as he stared past the words at the specks crisscrossing the planet. Dozens. Hundreds. Targeting… the buildings? The structures? Nothing more than pushpins on a map? A corner of his mind mourned the years, the decades he’d spent in school, at dig sites, in analysis labs, only to learn that all of the great wonders of the world were… what? Bullseyes about to be destroyed? The rest of him shuddered at the implications racing through his already addled mind. “I don’t understand,” he whispered. “How could you have—“

“Godhood, at first. Then promises to help overcome plague, or tyrants, or other foes. Finally, technology. Your love of the inconsequential trinkets we gave you was enough to keep you enslaved. Assembling the very mechanism of your doom.”

Then, a short blast of noise from behind him: a snake’s hiss, a wolf’s bark, a lion’s roar, all rolled into something inhuman that he nevertheless knew came from the same source as the voice. Unable to move, he continued staring at Earth—as crisp orange lines suddenly projected from the specks around the planet, connecting each one to a spot on the landmasses. He felt the blood drain from his face, his mouth go dry, his eyes swell to saucers, but still he tried to speak. “Why? Why are you doing this? What have we done to you?”

A rumble answered him, one that vibrated the nearly vertical metal slab he was pinned to. When the voice finished laughing, it said, “Nothing. Humans are not the object of our wrath. You were never allowed to become a threat to us. You die merely so we can harvest your planet’s most precious resource—its metal core.”

Even as the words registered in his mind, he watched glowing orange cracks radiate from the fleet’s targets. Jagged, fiery webbing marred the east and west coasts of North America, spreading inward toward the interior, and where they met, huge chunks of rock—city-sized, state-sized shards of Earth—began flaking away. Beneath—magma, released through the planet’s mantle by the fleet’s energy drills. The fissures widened, whole nations breaking apart as the core’s fury destroyed the landmasses and boiled the seas.

“Why… why take me? Why am I up here? Why not let me die with everyone else?”

“You have been chosen to witness the end. We are recording your thoughts, the thoughts of the final human alive watching the destruction of his home. They, and you, will be added to others of a similar fate, as warnings to our enemies of the total annihilation they face should any others think to cross us.”

By the time the voice quieted, the rubble on the other side of the viewscreen was unrecognizable. The remains of the ruined planet hung in haphazard orbits around the exposed molten core. He could no longer speak. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he watched the Earth burn.

The source of the voice circled around, finally coming into view. Brownish green scales covered a bald head and face, a reptilian mouth curving in a gruesome approximation of a smile. Black eyes with yellow slits stared menacingly into his own. “Your thoughts have been recorded,” the being spoke with the occasional flick of a long purple tongue. “Now your body will be preserved as the last specimen of the human race.”

***

This flash-fiction piece is brought to you by a writing prompt from Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. The prompt – write your unique take on the apocalypse.