The Things that are Human

by vegetables [Reviews - 1]

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  • All Ages
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  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, General, Horror, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Introspection, Mixed, Series

In the hollow shell of what had once been a semi-detached house, Lorna tried to look at the assembled crowd again. She didn’t want to think of herself as old-fashioned, but she was still adjusting to how many ways there now were to be a person. A woman with the head of a parking meter was busily wiping the floor, as a face embedded in a motorised scooter was yelling at her to give it more elbow grease. And around them were people in wheelchairs and with prosthetic limbs and who didn’t look mechanical to Lorna at all. But people who looked exactly like Lorna would think of them all as the same, all equally disgusting and unworthy of being thought of as people at all. Categories seemed very strange, once you saw them from the outside.

She was judging them all, she knew. She didn’t want to, but it seemed to seep in, like the anger and the bitterness and everything else. She thought of how her Cyberconverted colleague had told her she could choose to have no emotions; how it had seemed a temptation almost as much as a threat. And how she judged herself more than anyone else, because–

“I’ve been a terrible mother,” she said out loud. “Sorry,” she added when Chris turned round, “you’ve not seen me so long, and I shouldn’t be–”

She looked away, down to the freshly scrubbed floor.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said. “And I probably shouldn’t tell you, but. I kept too many secrets from you, and… and I–”

She rocked very slightly, trying not to cry.

“I shouldn’t be listening to this,” said Humza, “but it’s happened to everyone, mate. There’s no use getting choked up about it.”

“You have no idea what I’m even talking about–“

“Mum,” said Chris. “It’s okay. The Cyberman you were with, it wanted you to be like it was, right? And for a second you thought that might not be such a bad idea.”

What?” said Lorna. “But how did you know?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Mum!” Chris said. “Look at this place; it’s rubbish! There’re holes in the walls; the shed I used to live in burned down. Julie over there’s just bones and wheels. Everyone here’s had that thought, and a lot more than once.”

“But it wasn’t like this then!”

“No. But it was still bad, wasn’t it? You said so yourself. The day you went missing, someone asked me the same question. And I thought about it for a second, too. But thinking it’s fine, as long as you don’t do it. We’d all have gone mad long ago, if we didn’t believe that.”

“It’s not the life I wanted for you,” said Lorna. “When I imagined you as a teenager, I wanted you to be strong, making your place in the world–“

From somewhere outside there was a furious crash, and an urgent beeping noise flooded through the shell of the house.

ARMY REQUIRED AT ENTRANCE THREE,” came a not-quite-a-woman’s voice from a speaker.

“An army?” said Lorna. “Are the Cybermen attacking this place?”

“Worse,” said Humza. “Some teenagers, doing what you wanted your daughter to do. And their parents, egging them on. Us Things that are Human aren’t exactly popular, among the humans that aren’t quite so thingy.”

“Ever beaten anyone up, Mum?” said Chris.

“Several times, when I was your age. But I always promised myself I wouldn’t tell you that. Bit of a day for breaking promises, eh?”

“And breaking arms,” said Humza, cracking his knuckles.

“Um. When I said I’d beaten people up, it was more, you know, bruises and scabs. I didn’t go about the playground breaking arms–“

“Well,” said Humza. “We’re not in the playground now.”

“I’m not sure I approve of you hanging around with this person, Chrissy,” said Lorna. “I’d always thought you’d suit someone who–“

“We’re not a couple!” shouted Chris as another hole was blown into the side of the building. A horde of people Lorna accidentally thought of as ordinary shoved their way in, as the Things that had been beside the wall all ran and wheeled away.

“MINCE THEM!” cried the woman at the front, swinging a makeshift weapon in a rage. “These things made my Harry into burgers! We’ll grind them into rust and stew!” She flung her weapon into a nearby checkout machine, which cracked in half with an utterly human scream.

MAKE THEM METAL SAUSAGES!” cried the crowd of furious people, “ GRIND THEM INTO BONES!”

“The way the world works now,” said Chris, as she charged up the laser on her hand. “Sometimes you have to break a few arms, even when you know it’s not right. But if it makes you feel better, Mum”–

***

–“We don’t ever kill!” the Doctor shouted to Simon as he picked up a large shard of glass from the floor. She was ducking and weaving as assembled bits of furniture circled around her, multiple metal and plastic bodies controlled by a single mind. Protesting, Simon smashed the glass into his older face on a nearby swooping screen, which only caused the face on the other to laugh harder at his youthful naivety.

No understanding of a distributed system, young man! You can’t wipe out a song by deleting it from your phone.”

“None of It’s him,” said the Doctor, “he’ll be in lots of different computers, a memory or two in each one. You’re not going to beat him by smashing in a screen!”

“For God’s sake, woman!” said Simon as he put his foot through a hovering and bladed lamp. “You said I shouldn’t kill him!”

“Well, you shouldn’t!” shouted the Doctor as her screwdrivers began to howl again. “Whether you can or not. Not killing, it’s how we show that–“

***

“–we’re better than them!” said Chris, the scanner on her belly flaring bright to stun the approaching humans. “We understand pain!” she shouted while causing quite a lot of it with a punch. “We’re hurting! They’re hurting! But we’re not the ones who kill!”

The invading people were far too angry to hear that, or to believe it if they did. The ingenious techniques the inhabitants of the house were using to stun and scare them were slowly taking effect, but they didn’t seem quite enough; the bodies of the dead that littered the floor were mounting faster than the bodies of the broken.

“Don’t hold with it myself, Lorna!” said Humza, whacking a man in the shins with a wooden bat. “It’s about surviving, isn’t it, at the end of the day? There’s no use taking the moral high ground!”

“It’s not about being self-righteous!” shouted Chris above the roar of the fight. “He’s never seen that, Mum. How it’s just about saying–“

***

“–that we’re better than that!” shouted the Doctor from under a thing all assembled from forks. “And that there are things we never do!” she continued as she took it apart with a spoon. “It doesn’t matter if they’re”–

–“a whole lot of murderous bigots,” said Chris in one part of the city–

–“a businessman torrented into robots,” said the Doctor in another–

–“they’re still people,” they said together without knowing it. “And there’s always another way.”

“It’s a noble sentiment,” said the older Simon’s voice from a speaker, “but he doesn’t believe it. And I know that because–“

The younger Simon began to scream, though there seemed to be no machine beside him.

“–I never have,” said the voice with a smile. Slowly, the tiny machines designed to massage the feet that walked over the carpet began to drag Simon into the ground.

“No!” shouted the Doctor. “You can’t!” She thrust out one hand with a shrieking sonic screwdriver, then when nothing happened thrust out the other as well. The two tools growled against the endless motion of the carpet, but Simon still continued to sink into the floor.

She saw his expression just before he vanished, which was one of the rarest of all. It was the face of a man who had known how selfish and cynical the universe really was, and had realised a moment too late how he had been entirely wrong.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

No response came from the clean and vibrating floor.