Aftermath

Posted on May 21, 2018 in GTS Fiction by

A scientist witnesses the consequences of her invention. Written for the GentleApril18 story contest.

Everywhere there was smoking rubble, and a fine ash drifted down from the sky.

My breaths echoed inside of the biosuit, mingling with the loud chirps and beeps from the suit AI as it scanned the environment. All of the readouts indicated that this world was safe: normal levels of oxygen, trace levels of radiation and toxins. Which made sense, considering that the others had visited here and come back alive and well. I remembered their laughs, the way that they had casually scrubbed the blood and soot from their bodies.

One of them had slapped me on the back, laughing. “That tech is amazing, Dr. Platell. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

I had gone into the bathroom and dry-heaved.

Even now I felt my stomach twist and tighten, and I stood there, trying to breathe slowly until the feeling passed. I didn’t want to be here; anywhere else would have been better. But this was my responsibility, and so I crept among the empty shells of skyscrapers, past the scenes of destruction.

I had never been so aware of my own body. This world was so small and fragile, and my every action impacted it somehow. If I wasn’t careful, my hips or shoulders or elbows brushed up against buildings, shattering windows and leaving gaping holes. I tried to walk sideways down the narrow streets, inching my way along. Something crunched beneath my right foot, and when I lifted my boot, I spotted the flattened little disk of metal. It had been a car, and I prayed that it hadn’t been occupied. Crouching down, I examined the crushed thing in my footprint. There didn’t seem to be any signs of a driver or passengers, which was a relief. I already had so many deaths on my conscience.

I spotted movement in my peripheral vision. It was nighttime and the power grid was damaged so the only light came from the fires steadily consuming the city. I turned my head and noticed a tiny figure, their motionless body outlined in the reddish firelight. I think that they were hoping I hadn’t seen them.

I was still crouching, and when I tried to stand back up, the person fled. Or tried to flee. The streets were littered with debris, chunks of concrete and steel as large as my fist blocking most of the exit routes. The person was stuck between a crumbled section of building and myself.

I leaned a little closer, but not close enough to startle them. As I studied them, I saw dark hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, and underneath the thick layer of ash and filth, there was a scared face. The tiny woman was wearing teal scrubs, so I assumed that she was some sort of nurse or doctor.

She stood with her back up against the rubble, obviously frightened. Of course she was terrified of me; I had heard the others bragging about what they had done to this world. To them it had been a game, a way to give into their every cruel desire. It was appalling how dark and lustful the human heart could be, especially when someone was given limitless power.

The woman’s gaze was on my biosuit mask, and I realized that the strange alienness of it only made me more horrifying. I reached up, unhooked the mask with a sharp hiss of gas. She watched me remove the mask, her posture rigid and wary. At least she could see that I was a person, albeit much bigger than she was.

I put the mask down by an overturned truck and tapped on my chest.

“My name is Maia,” I told her. “I’m…”

I wanted to say that I was a physicist, that I was the one who invented the wormhole technology. That I had helped bring the monsters to her world. I couldn’t force myself to utter those words, though.

“…I’m sorry,” I said.

She stared up at me, shaking. I doubt that she understood me. Even if we spoke the same language, my voice would have been incomprehensible to someone her size. I wanted to reassure her somehow, to prove that I wasn’t here to harm her, or anyone else.

“They won’t be coming back,” I said, trying to keep my tone soft and soothing. And it was true, they wouldn’t. The lab was in flames now, and I had destroyed all of my notes. Every spreadsheet, every diagram, every report had been obliterated. I was the only one who knew about the wormhole tech at this point, and I carried the last of the transportation units with me.

The woman didn’t reply, but I wasn’t surprised. Trying to be as nonthreatening as possible, I held out one hand to her. Her gaze shifted from my hand to my face, and then back to my hand. Nervously she stepped away from the rubble, toward me. She had no reason to trust me, so maybe she thought that she was doomed regardless of what she did.

Her own hand trembled as she touched my index finger. I could barely feel her through the biosuit gloves, but I gave her the warmest smile that I could. How brave she was, I realized. There was no way that I could have approached someone who was as big as a skyscraper.

It could have been my imagination, but she seemed to relax slightly. She pointed at herself, said something that I couldn’t hear. A name, possibly? As much as I wanted to pick her up and lift her to my ear, I knew that it wasn’t a good idea. I wasn’t sure if I could even hold a tiny person without breaking their ribcage or spine.

She moved away from my hand and gestured to something in the distance.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered.

The woman shouted, her voice barely a squeak, and I tried to look where she was indicating. I didn’t see anything in particular, though. Noticing my confusion, she slipped past me, and I figured that she would run for her life. But she continued to yell up at me, and so I followed her, trying to avoid the abandoned cars and trucks and buses.

She took me past a city park, the maples like bonsai trees and the park benches like model railroad props. It was gradually sinking in how massive I was, and there was a part of me that almost liked it. Was that how the others had felt when they had arrived here? Had they felt like gods among men, standing high above the buildings? I could almost see how intoxicating that would be, to lose one’s self like that. The ruins of the city served as a sobering reminder of the consequences, though.

I recognized the hospital when I saw it; the layout was similar to the hospitals on my own world. Half of the structure had caved in, and there was detritus all along the sidewalks. This was where she had wanted me to go. As I watched, she scrambled up the rubble, began digging through bricks and fragments of drywall. I finally understood, and I bent down, delicately sifting through the remains of the hospital. It was amazing how light everything was, how I could lift masonry that probably weighed several tons to the tiny people.

The first survivors were shocked to see me, but they were too hurt to do anything. I didn’t want to touch them at first, too nervous that I’d crush them accidentally. But who else was going to help them? I wasn’t even sure if there were any emergency personnel alive in this city. I gingerly wrapped my fingers around one of the people and pulled him out of the rubble, relieved that I didn’t injure him further.

The small man in my hand was young, dust sprinkling his tightly-curled hair and bruises purpling his skin. As I cradled him between my fingers, it finally sank in that I was holding a living, breathing human being. Someone with friends and a family, someone with hopes and dreams and fears.

I placed him on the hospital’s lawn and took out more survivors, extracting them with as much care as I could manage. How long I worked, I wasn’t sure. By the end of it, I felt lightheaded, exhausted. It wasn’t from physical exertion; moving the debris had been ridiculously easy. It was more of a mental weariness, as though I wanted to lay down and sleep for the rest of time.

But there were things that I needed to do first.

I sat down near the area that was once the emergency room and unclipped the transporter from my belt. It was such a harmless-looking object, a polished black cylinder that resembled a soda can. No one would have believed that such a thing could have caused such devastation and misery.

The nurse in the teal scrubs approached me, wiping sweat and muck from her forehead.

“If I destroy this, I can’t go home,” I explained, and she glanced at the transporter, as big as a grain silo to her. “But that’s the thing. I can’t go home. They’ll find me, and they’ll force me to build more of these transporters.”

She looked on as I opened up the side of the transporter and ripped through the thin wires. I took a grim satisfaction in its destruction, and I bared my teeth in a snarl as bits of wiring crashed down to the lawn. When the transporter had been reduced to nothing more than a useless hunk of metal, I flung it aside.

I buried my face into my hands, too exhausted to do anything else. I’ve done it, I thought. The technology was wiped from existence, its secrets locked up tightly within my mind. This world would never be visited by another bloodthirsty giant or giantess, but that knowledge didn’t cheer me up much.

A feathery sensation tickled the side of my thigh, and when I lifted my head from my palms, I saw the woman’s minute hand pressed up against my leg. I didn’t know what she wanted; I had dug out everyone that I could from the destroyed hospital.

Then I saw her smile. She had been trying to comfort me, I think.

I would have said something to her, even though we couldn’t understand one another, but something else caught our attention. From high above came the roar of jets, and we both gazed upwards at the same time. The tiny woman backed away as I stood up, listening to the noises in the distance. The sky was still a dark indigo, although the first faint rays of morning were breaking through the clouds and I could see the jets as they soared toward the city. The military had arrived at last to fight off the gigantic menaces. What they didn’t know was that the actual menaces were a billion miles away, and there was only me.

I tried to remember what the others had said as they boasted about their trips to this world. Hadn’t they claimed that the toy-sized tanks and airplanes had been ineffective against them, that they had trampled them underfoot, swatted from the sky? Or was this just desperate thinking on my part?

Either way, it was too late. I was trapped here, and I could only hope that they’d see me as a person and not some horrible, inhuman monster.

Slowly I raised my hands in surrender.