The Things that are Human

by vegetables [Reviews - 1]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, General, Horror, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Introspection, Mixed, Series

All around Cybermanchester and beyond, billboards made of light shone out the Doctor’s face, advertising her imminent speech. Cybermen of all shapes and sizes stared up at them with eyes that glowed themselves, while in pockets of rubble at the edges of their cities the humans stared up too. Those among them who could be excited were not, and those who could not be were confused. But all of them felt a sense of strange anticipation, as though something was happening that could never have done so before.

In the bowl of the shining white stadium, the Doctor walked over the snapping plastic grass. Sat on seats round its curve were rows and rows of Cybermen, training their video eyes on her as she slouched in her tiny way. Across the whole world screens were flicking on, Cybermen peering at projections on bellies as humans crowded round their half-broken televisions. The most desperate among them whispered that this was hope; that the company had found a spokeswoman who looked enough like them to understand the horrors they had faced. But most of them saw it for what it was: a show of power to crush their spirits for good.

All the same, the humans still watched on. For some of them, this was what they needed to abandon their emotions for good, and for some it was their pain that somehow kept them still going. Still others watched out of nothing but a sense of being part of something, at seeing something that was still made for them. It had been a long time, after all, since a human had thought of the world as their own.

There was no stage for her, no grand backdrop. There was just a microphone, in the very centre of the grounds. She came to it now and took it into her hand, knowing she was being watched by a whole world of eyes and glass.

In the box where a world ago a commentator would have stood, the brainless figure of Simon Jones sat watching. There was no need for the remains of his human body to be there; his distributed brain ran through every camera focused on the Doctor now. But ruthless as he was, he was not entirely unsentimental. And he still found he had a desire to be there, to watch his pet lose once again.

The Doctor flicked her microphone on, hearing it crackle and wheeze.

“Hello!” she said to the world. “Um.”

She fumbled, looking at notes that were all in the wrong order.

Humza, Lorna and Chris all cringed together from their hiding point in the stands, forgetting why they’d ever agreed to the Doctor’s idea. Beside them, their friend who couldn’t wear an expression shuddered in a plastic way.

“I’m here,” she said, “I’m here. To give.”

“Oh, God,” muttered Humza.

“Right. I’m here to give an inspiring speech about humanity!”

In the box above the stadium, Simon Jones began to grin…

“It’s just,” said the Doctor, “I’m not sure I ever said whose.”

Simon Jones stopped grinning.

The Doctor turned away from where she had been looking, up to the stands above, where row upon row of Cybermen were staring down.

“Cybermen of Earth!” she shouted. “Do you know who I am?”

We’re afraid we know exactly who you are. You are the Doctor; you have removed us from many worlds. We’re sorry; but we will have to remove you. You cannot be redeemed.

Chris shuddered, scared to agree with the sentiment of a creature who didn’t have any. All around the stadium, the scanner chests of the Cybermen began to grow laser red.

“You’re quite right,” said the Doctor. “I cant be redeemed! But it’s only now that I understand why. ‘Cause I’ve called you monsters and I’ve called you a plague on the universe, but there’s one word I’d never have used until right now…”

“Oh God,” said Simon, “she’s actually clever! I didn’t plan for what to do if it turned out she was actually clever!

...Human,” said the Doctor. “Because that made it easy for me! To kill you all, then to say that I’d never kill a person! But I wouldn’t kill a psychopath, would I? I’d let anyone live, as long as they had a face. But put that face behind a load of glass and plastic, and maybe there’s no telling what I’d do…”

Simon hadn’t planned for the Doctor’s speech to go well. But his mind still flowed through so many of the stadium’s machines, and there were many things he could do to stop that woman from winning. And so — without even having to focus — he turned his mind out to the world.

“We’re up, now,” said Humza, as the chairs round the stadium began to rock from their hinges. “Manchester’s finest. Let’s give United a run for their money, eh?” He took the nearest chair by its leg and swung it into another, shattering metal and plastic all over the packed stadium rows.

“Gillian!” said Chris to her plastic friend, “We can’t hold back a man that’s in everything for long! Are you sure you’re up to this?”

I’m a very smart woman,” said the 3D printer beside her, “ And I’ve got lots of guts to spare. It’ll hurt loads, but yeah! I can print him a new brain.”

“Just do it fast,” said Chris as she looked grim. Overhead one of the great stadium lights twisted and moved, its great square of circles staring in the Doctor’s direction.

Chris gave a sigh so loud that it squeezed on her cybernetic lungs.

“I promised myself,” she muttered, “that I’d never do this sort of thing again.”

She pointed her palms down so they faced the ground, and charged them so that lasers began to burn on the iron floor. The force of the pressure and heat slammed against her body, and slowly she began to rise into the air.

“What are you doing?” gasped her mother. “Checkout machines can’t fly!”

“Humza’s right, Mum!” laughed Chris. “You really are from the past!”

She blasted in a red, straight line towards the giant stadium light, which had ripped itself from its holdings to float ominously in the sky. She landed on its lightless side as its light burned down to the ground, and furiously started to punch it as it made its way towards the Doctor.

“We don’t have long, Gillian,” said Humza to the gargling printer beside him. “You’ll have to print fast, no matter how painful it is.”

Gillian was groaning to herself as the cells inside her body began to lump together, and the beginnings of a brain began to print into the world.

We’re sorry,” the Cybermen were saying. “ We are not human; we have been upgraded”

“But what does that mean?” said the Doctor. “What makes you better or worse? The people who made you did have emotions; what if those seeped into how you all saw the world? So you assumed you were better, without ever really considering why? What if the real way to upgrade… was to turn back to what you were before?”

The speech was booming out on the giant screens as Chris kept smashing away, desperately trying to hold the giant light back. And as she channeled her anger at the Doctor down into the plastic of the light, a very tiny part of her began to hope…

That’s not quite right. Upgrading is not an emotional matter. We are superior in the one way that matters. We will survive. We will sur…”

“But you won’t!” said the Doctor. “Don’t you see that? The people who built you, they’ve made you not to see! Look around you! A man in a thousand machines, with no need for a brain at all. How long, d’you think, will it be ‘till he doesn’t need you anymore? How long until you’re on the scrapheap too, with your big old primate brains? What’ll you do when it’s not enough, for you have no emotions at all? Do you really think what’s happened to the other humans won’t also soon happen to you?

We’re sorry. You are asking us to go against our returns policy. You are asking us to give up our world.”

“I’m telling you how not to lose it! How you can keep control of everything, by seeing it another way.”

But you have always seen us in the same way. As something to be opposed, and to be fought. You have never believed in the possibility of an alliance”–

“That’s exactly right! And so I didn’t see. That this time, fighting you wasn’t the answer; that this time we were on the same side. Because I’m even worse than you, at missing the obvious! ‘Cause I’ve fought monsters for so long, and been one for so much longer. And so sometimes I forget… that there are times when none of us need to be.”

The hulking square of the light was getting closer to the Doctor now, no matter how fiercely Chris was fighting to delay it. Lorna and Humza were smashing chairs fiercely with wooden bats, but all round the stadium there were more which were scuttling towards them. And below them in furious concentration, it was clear Gillian still had a lot of brain left to print...

“You are not evil!” shouted the Doctor, “you do not seek destruction, and you don’t need to be superior! You are emotionless beings, so you can look at this dispassionately. You can see it, because you know I see it now.”

And she began to smile a smile so big that an emotion-regulating circuit couldn’t handle it, a smile that might make even a Cyberman start to attempt to grin…

“I said I’d give an inspiring speech about humanity! And this is it! Humanity can be huge, if you want it to be! It can include things I despise and creatures I condemn! Those that I love and those that I always kill; but that doesn’t matter to you today! All that matters is that you see the only thing you care about, and that,” she chuckled. “Whatever form it takes… HUMANITY WILL SURVIVE!”

All of the Cybermen’s eyes began to glow. “Attempting to verify,” said one, then another, until all of them were doing it in a way that was totally out of time.

“This is DANGEROUS PROPAGANDA!” shouted Simon from a Cyberman’s torso. “You can’t allow this to continue!”

I’m sorry,” said the Cyberman, punching its chest so it shattered, “We are attempting to verify.”

Chris looked down at the woman she had hated since she had been ten, who had saved her then broken her then taken her mother away. And for the first time since the rise of Cybermanchester, she began to fall in love with her again.

Please wait while we verify,” said Cybermen all over the Earth. “ Please wait while we verify.”

“No,” shouted Simon from a million different speakers, “NO!” He reached out with the trillion bits of his mind, to get into every Cyberman on Earth and stop their brains and circuits from working away…

...and far away on one side of the New Trafford stadium, a woman who was a printer finished working with a ding

“Right,” said Humza, punching some code into a small device. “Let’s do some illegal downloading.” An odd beep came from the thing he was holding, and a mind started to download into a brain.

NO!” Simon tried to scream, as a million electronic devices were snatched away from him. Chairs clattered down to the floor all around the stadium, and Chris leapt off the floating light as it fell to the ground with a crash.

Gosh, he’s thinking some right unpleasant things,” said Gillian, “and after I went to all the bother of printing him a brain.

Around her, hundreds of Cybermen were chorusing out of time, still attempting to verify the Doctor’s argument.

That is logical,” said a Cyberman eventually. “ Humanity will survive.”

Humanity will survive,” said another. “ Humanity will survive.”

They all began to repeat it, one after the other. And the Doctor began to repeat it too, her real woman’s voice strange against the fake ones, as she began to laugh and smile and throw her hands up in the air…

“Humanity will survive!” she laughed. “HUMANITY WILL SURVIVE!”

“You know what?” said Chris to herself. “I think there’s a chance… that we actually just might.”

She looked down at the woman who had indeed saved the world, and for the first time in forever she let herself smile too.