's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Signal Receive "

Submitted by Irene Vallone

I doubt that I have much time. Even if they don't notice me and destroy my escape pod, I only have an hour or so of air reserves, and I don't expect any rescue. But before I die, I must tell my story, and by extension, that of my species. My species does not deserve to survive, but perhaps it deserves to be remembered.
I should begin with a brief history of my kind, to give whatever future listener I may have some context. Lucky that the last human happens to be a historian, I suppose.

My species - humans, humanity - stagnated on Earth for millennia. Even as we burned our planet's ecosystems to the ground and stripped its crust to the bone in our search for minerals and fuels, we could not muster the courage to venture outwards. Even after we managed to colonize the neighbouring planets, we still did not have enough to keep ourselves above water. It seemed that our civilization was on the verge of collapse.

Somehow, we pulled ourselves out of extinction. Somehow, we invented the Drive.
Even if I had access to the technical documents, I couldn't tell you how the Drive worked; I have extremely limited knowledge of quantum mechanical engineering. But that doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Drive gave us the ability to travel the stars, to go between solar systems in the blink of an eye. It brought about a new golden age of humanity, one that only recently and decisively came to a close.
It seemed inevitable that as we explored space, we would encounter other forms of intelligent life, other creatures wondering if they were alone in the universe with whom we could ally ourselves, with whom we could share the experience of the newly opened galaxy. And in a way, we did.

We encountered dozens of intelligent life forms during the early years of our expansion. The planets of Alpha Centauri, Barnard's Star and Sirius all held civilizations. We had proved that we were not alone in the universe; we finally had someone to talk to. The only problem was that all of these beings, save ourselves, were just beginning to master fire.

At first, no one could believe it. We thought that it was a joke, somehow, or a mistake. How could we be the most advanced beings out there?

As we continued to expand, we realized that it was no joke. Nothing in our local galactic arm had advanced beyond the Bronze Age.

We despaired at first. We had expected to leave our world and to be embraced by some sort of galactic confederacy of wisdom and light, to be raised from our species-wide infancy by titans of knowledge. The hard truth, however, was that there was no such confederacy, and there were no such titans. We expected a universe of gods, and we discovered a universe of ants.

Our leaders, who had unified us for our species' own safety and survival, were not about to let something as simple as a complete collapse of our expectations and beliefs split up our species now. We decided that, in the absence of some greater extraterrestrial order, we would start our own. We would unify these lower species, take them under our wings, and raise them to levels of glory they never could have imagined on their own.

At first, this plan went unchallenged, and was a great success. We gave them elegant names, symbolic of their young ages and unformed statuses - the Izanagi, the Wurugag, the Embla, the Idaltu. We introduced ourselves to these species as humbly as possible, presenting ourselves as their brothers from the outer stars. We attempted to translate their languages, puzzling over how to link languages of color change and olfactory pheromones to our own vocalizations. We granted them modern technology that changed their lives forever, allowed them to live five times longer than they would have without our help, granted them the means to expand their small civilizations to every corner of their worlds and beyond. We took them to the stars with us, and they marveled at the beauty of worlds beyond our own. For a few short centuries, we were the rulers of the galaxy, fathers and mothers to the stars, and our subjects were our beloved children.

Any student of history would tell you that this could not last.

Gradually, this age of love and brotherhood came to an end. We began to stop seeing the other species we encountered less as children and more as wards, not advanced enough to take care of themselves and forced upon us by circumstance. We began to see them as less than ourselves, for not having the acuity to leave their home worlds themselves and for becoming burdens upon our society.

Our uplift attempts became half-hearted, then hate-filled. A lack of interest in cultural study became an aggressive stamping out of nonhuman culture and replacing it with our own. Our egalitarian society faded away to a world where nonhumans were second-class citizens. Species we once considered our children became our vassals, and our vassals became our slaves. We abandoned the kindness and equality we once showed to nonhuman species, and became the lords and masters of the Human Colonial Empire.

You may question why I say "we" in describing the actions of my ancestors. Their callous actions were undertaken tens of thousands of years before I was born. I cannot help but feel personally responsible for their actions. They destroyed as they pleased, and eliminated other cultures without mercy or thought, and now the punishment for their actions has come. My former crewmates claimed that it was not fair, and that they were not responsible, but they never tried to change the way things were. They never released their servants or tried to restore the lost cultures of their subjects, and now it has come back to them.

Even thousands of years ago, scholars and scientists wondered how and why all of the civilizations we subjugated were so recognizable to us. Although many of them were reptilian, decapodian, vegetative, or otherwise unlike us, they were all recognizable as forms of life, capable of communicating with us and sharing compatible cultural elements. Most humans brushed this off as a happy coincidence, the one bright side of being burdened with the education of savages, but some wondered as to why this was.

More importantly, we worried as to what would happen when we met something truly alien.

The turning point came about when colonial ships began to breach the Fifty Thousand Mark - when humanity spread to solar systems fifty thousand light years away from Earth. They discovered many new forms of intelligent life, none of which were any more advanced than those we had previously discovered. Before we could even question how this uniform development was possible, the exception made itself visible to us.
The time had finally come. This was the moment at which humanity discovered a more advanced species.

Word did not reach Earth of this new species until it was already too late. The ships at the Fifty Thousand Mark were destroyed without so much as a squeak back to the Human Colonial Empire, and our extant colonies were being wiped from the face of the galaxy one by one before the imperial fleet could be assembled.

We fought back against this new species, but we had no chance from the start. It was like diatoms attempting to wage war on a blue whale. They took no notice of us, destroying our colonies in the same way that a human might pick a piece of lint off of their clothing.

We were unable to even communicate with this species. Those who wondered what would happen when humanity encountered something truly alien to it received their answer, unsatisfying as it may have been.
These creatures refuse to communicate with us, whether out of disdain or a lack of translation. Their technology is beyond anything else humanity has ever seen; their ships are organic sweeps of shifting fluid that bend and change like grotesque living creatures, appearing from nowhere like a spreading pool and shredding their opposition with lightning-fast paper-thin extrusions. Their motivations are mysterious to us, but they seem to wish only to destroy other intelligent species, to wipe all trace of humanity and its subjects clean. For lack of a proper name for these creatures, the Empire dubbed them the Ahriman - the destructive spirits.

Indeed, whether or not they are creatures at all is something that many once debated. I was never one for superstitious thought until this day, but I cannot help but see these Ahriman as something fundamentally greater than we, as no mere sapient species. They are forces of nature. Fighting against them is as futile as trying to attack an earthquake.

They swept through the galaxy like a plague, killing everything they encountered. Not even our patron species were spared; their home worlds were utterly scorched, stripped completely of intelligent life within hours. Any fleeing ships were destroyed in moments.

The Ahriman were first encountered by humanity one month ago. Now we are extinct. Now all of our former children and servants are extinct as well. They have freed our slaves with death. For humanity, I fear a far greater punishment, something beyond death.

Earth was destroyed two days ago. The Ahriman descended and destroyed every individual population center in under three hours. There was nothing anyone could do.

I am recording this message in my escape pod, having jettisoned from the library-ship alone. Several minutes ago, an Ahriman ship slipped in above us and shredded our ship in less than a minute. Only by chance was I close enough to the escape pods to survive. I can see their ship hanging in space outside, drifting next to the cloud of ruined slivers that my former ship and crewmates have become.

I am the last survivor of the Palaeoglaux. It seems likely that I am the last survivor of humanity, or soon will be. But it is unrealistic of me to expect that I will survive for long.

To any who hear this message: Years ago I might have cautioned you to cherish your younger extraterrestrial siblings, to protect them, instruct them, raise them as your children. I might have urged you to never betray their trust or exploit their naiveté or weakness as we did. But now, I can bring myself to say no such thing. Humanity never learned from its own mistakes, and it is doubtless to me that neither will you.

I can urge you to do only one thing: to forget humanity.

I have reconsidered what humanity deserves. Neither life nor remembrance is something that my species should be afforded at this point.

Listener, I urge you: forget my species. Go on with your own life, and make your own mistakes. You will doubtlessly see many suffer, and few of them will deserve it, but their numbers pale in comparison to those who have already suffered unjustly, at the hands of my own kind.

This is Malaika Van de Velde. Last crew member of the archivist ship Palaeoglaux, last citizen of the formerly great and bountiful Human Colonial Empire, and last human, signing off for the last time.
I am ready to receive the punishment I deserve.