Hidden Within: Short Story

Wandering the streets, searching for some different images to capture. I have walked this way so many times, that it seems pointless. Then I realise that I have never stopped for any length of time here. It is such a weird and wonderful image, how could that even be possible? So one day I did, I took the time to take it in, not just to make an image, but also to let my imagination wander. What could this be? What alternative purpose could it serve? In another world, or perhaps in this one? And, so, a story began…

When they came, they came in hiding. The local populace would not have known of their existence. They snuck in under cover of the night, and burrowed into the earth. Unseen and undetected, they became part of the fabric, underground.

Scientist here to observe these strange creatures, these bipeds who form small groups, and at least attempt to mate for life. It was a long journey to this planet on the other side of the galaxy, and had it ever proven worth it?

Of course, knowledge can never be a waste, but such boring lives, such simple minds, it could never have been imagined. What did come as a surprise was how angry they always seemed to get. Occasionally entire groups would fight and kill each other. But, even individually, they seemed to enjoy nothing more than a good fight or argument. These creatures couldn’t even drive down the road without shouting. 

When the mind analysis software was finally calibrated, for some reason it took far longer than usual, what they found inside these things’ heads was worse than any behaviour which they had observed. It seemed that they spent even more time thinking about fighting than actually doing it. To the visitors it appeared that the whole race seemed to hate each other. They even began to wonder how they were still in existence.

After some time, when they had studied all they could, and were sure that there were no more surprises left, they called an end to their work. They sent a signal home, asking for withdrawal, and waited. All they could do was continue to watch, while they wished day after day that their ship would return for them. But the waiting went on and on, seemingly for ever. They couldn’t escape their hidden facility, the earth’s air was deadly to them. They had the technology to convert it into breathable air, so it could be taken in through vents, filtered and transformed, but there was no portable version. So the pipes that went up above ground were their lifeline, and they were firmly attached to them.

Years went by, and they remained locked in their underground tomb. There were five of them, all efficient and self-controlled. Yet, even for them, the time began to become a chore. They also found an interesting side effect, the longer they remained and observed, the more their own characters began to alter. Could just observing these creatures change their own behaviour? They had spent a long time on missions such as this before and never been affected. What was different about this place and people? Now they had some new data to study and occupy themselves with at least.

So, they observed each other now, and they talked. Their species had never felt the need to speak about how they feel, unlike these things which they had been observing, who seemingly never stop. Now, it seemed important, for scientific reasons, as well as for personal. They had to find out what was happening to them, and put a stop to it.

The more they talked, the more they seemed to feel. The more they thought about it, the more they seemed to worry and complain. No end seemed to be in sight, no cure was presenting itself. 

There was one of them that they worried about more, he seemed to be spending more time alone, even trying to avoid the others. When he was with them he didn’t want to work, he was always worrying or complaining about his job. Their species simply didn’t behave like this, but they allowed it because they all felt part of these changes in themselves too. But they soon came to regret that decision.

One day, a normal day, it happened. At the time they were struck dumb, one of theirs had never attacked another, not in the time of memory anyway. Perhaps it happened when they were still evolving into what they would become, but no-one even spoke of it as a possibility, it was not even in their lexicon. One of them spoke sharply, which was a surprise in itself, then the other retaliated with violence. The others could do nothing but stand and stare. The one who had been most affected, who had been hiding more, lashed out and hit the other across the face. A cut instantly formed and he began to bleed. The instigator seemed to get more power from seeing this injury and he jumped at the other, who was too shocked to react. He fell back and landed on the floor heavily, the air being knocked from within him.

The others just stood and watched, shell shocked by what they were seeing, such violence was incomprehensible. By the time they thought to help their fallen colleague it was too late. He was no longer moving, and they could see from the damage that had been done that he was dead. It was the first time they had ever seen one of their own kill another. On missions, sometimes accidents happened, there had even been incidents with alien lifeforms. Those were in the early days before they established rules of contact. Now it was rare for any problems of that type to arise.

Three of them just stood there looking at the other, the killer. They were scared, he was excited. But they all sensed that there would be only one way out of this, they had to take a lesson from those above, they had to strike quickly or die.

Within a moment they were all fighting, clawing, biting and scratching at each other. Blood was quickly spilt, the fight lasted only a few minutes. The only one who remained standing was the original aggressor, but he was seriously injured too. Yet, his time would come, and within a few hours there would be no life remaining in this underground prison. 

The people above would continue with their lives. Arguing, occasionally fighting, very often having thoughts of extreme violence. Normally they wouldn’t act upon them. If only they new what influence their behaviour had had on those poor innocent creatures. All that is left now are those ventilation pipes, sometimes people wonder what they are for, normally they walk by without a second thought.

© Neil Hayes and neilhayeswrites

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