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The Only Ones
A short story by Alistair Fruish.
I have never seen a zombie eat human flesh. They like flesh alright, but they tend to buy it from the meat counter at Tesco, or the butcher’s shop. I was the only one who suspected that aliens had staged an invasion. It was in Tesco that I first noticed the clues that led to my deduction.
She appeared to be an old woman, with a bit of a limp, grey curly hair, about five-foot tall, with a weary smile and wearing a raincoat. She was standing in front of me at the checkout, when I noticed that she had purchased an abnormal amount of vodka and four bottles of aspirin. Not that this in itself proves that the woman was not of this world, it is just an example of the kind of details that I’m programmed to notice. I suppose that you are wondering what a normal amount of vodka is? Three half-litre bottles seemed a bit excessive for a little old lady.
Standing behind her, as we waited our turn, – the till’s computer interfering with my wiring – I grew more and more certain, until finally I could no longer contain myself and screamed out loud at the top of my voice: that they had landed amongst us and it was plain to see that they were fearlessly shopping amongst us also. That was when I still thought aliens were bad. But the alien disguised as an old lady was the only one who tried to help when the security guard zombies came up behind me, though I was unsure how they could see me, and attempted to turn me off and force me out of the store, before I could even pay for my victuals. She said she didn’t mind if I went in front of her and they should let me pay for my shopping. I was grateful to her and said no more about her interplanetary nature. I thought that I should try to find out more about her, before I could turn her in. Though she seemed quite nice, perhaps she was sent here to help us. I was to find out more. This was my program.
I paid for my goods in silence and waited outside the shop, until I saw her shuffling along, dragging her shopping trolley behind her. It was one of those pvc affairs, that can fold down. I followed her at a safe distance. To be sure she did not see me, I put a jumper up over my head. Normally I am invisible. Aliens though, can see me. The old lady saw me. So in order to prevent her from noticing me I placed my pullover over my head, as I’ve said. This made walking difficult; but not impossible, because I could still see quite a bit through the loose knit wool. And that is how we continued through town: her in front, pulling her cart; me away behind, hidden inside my jumper.
I don’t know why I expected the zombies to care about an alien. The illusion of my emotion almost fooled me, but no one else seemed to be taken in. The zombie on the till at the seven items or under checkout didn’t even blink when I screamed the revelation that intelligent life existed in the universe, I supposed, they supposed they were it. All the other zombies in the queue remained still. Zombie eyes, dead eyes, always avoid mine. Though I too am dead, or rather not alive. Maybe I used to be alive, but I became a robot that thinks it’s human sometimes; then I hear the gearing and I remember.
They carried out the operation in the night, they must have done. I remember little about it. I awoke. The world was different. I examined my body closely, but they had done a good job on me, I could barely tell that I was no longer a human being. I still needed to eat and shit, but I wasn’t a person any more, if indeed I had ever been one. I was a robot. When I came down those stairs I heard the gearing and I knew what had been done in the night. I think my wife knew that I had been picked to undergo this change, or to be copied and so she made arrangements and moved out a week before I was changed, or made. I can not blame her for not wanting to live with a robot. Though apparently she knew in advance, I was not consulted and was as surprised as robots can be, by the transformation. My reactions are limited by my programming. My wiring hummed and my major valves opened and closed more rapidly than they now tend to.
I awaited instructions, but none came. Created and abandoned. My decisions seemed to be exactly that, but that is programmed into all robots. We are all copies of things. Imperfect copies of imperfect things. I could not locate the person I was based on. Perhaps I have replaced him. I remember his wife had left him – me – but whose memory is this? Whether the instructions are my own, or are created for me, I carry on.
She did not move very fast, neither did I. We made slow progress. The jumper had the added advantage of protecting me from the rain. We reached a block of flats. By the time I entered them she had gone. Perhaps I had lost her to the lift. She could not have seen me through the jumper, so it was unlikely that she had given me the slip.
Aliens wanted us for breeding experiments, so I had read. They wouldn’t find me very useful in that department, since the creators had not copied that aspect of the person I was based on. I don’t remember the last time I took off my clothes.
I sat down on the floor, in what was probably a puddle of piss; took the jumper off my head; picked up a piece of broken glass and tried to open up my wrist. I looked up; the alien was in front of me. I stopped trying to open up my wrist. My program allowed me to stand up. I followed her to her room. She said that she intended to take me back home. I asked her which planet that was. She made a cup of tea and did not answer. I drank the tea; it may have had chemicals in it. I disengaged. When I awoke, I saw the old lady pouring the vodka down the sink. Alien activity was occasionally puzzling. I was not programmed for it. I asked her how long she was going to spend on this planet. She said that she didn’t know, and that she had recently altered plans to leave. I asked her if she was going to experiment on me. She said if that meant cook for me, then yes, she certainly would experiment on me. I did not remember the last time I had eaten, or what I had done with the stuff that I had got from Tesco. I told her I was glad she had decided to stay on earth a little longer. I asked her if there were more like her. She said, as far as she knew, she was the only one. I told her there might be two of me.
© Alistair Fruish 1999
Alistair Fruish is contactable through Twitter.