The Keeper of Mankind

by Font Bookfarthing

I knew the last human being who ever lived, and I was there when she died. It was in an alleyway, covered in the filth and refuse of the people who had scorned her and her kind her whole life. They had made her suffer for the sins of her race, and yet I had never known a kinder and gentler creature in all my life.

It had been many years since our war with the people of Earth. And yet most of my kin still found it easier to continue hating "the enemy"than to try a little understanding and forgiveness. They had their view of the world, and either couldn't or simply wouldn't take time out to try a little reason and clear-thinking. The near genocide we committed against the humans towards the end of the war ultimately saw to it that the hate would continue for many years to come. We hated humans because what was left of them was a pathetic collection of defeated, despairing souls. And the humans who survived hated us quite naturally for poisoning their world, nearly wiping them out, and making their few survivors completely sterile.

Sarah, as the last human being called herself, took up refuge in the city of Aukdul on our home planet after the death of her husband at the hands of a drunken human-hate group. Of course nobody would give her employment, so she had little choice but to take up residence on the streets; as it happened, in the same alley that I called home.

The first words spoken to me by her stirred me from a light doze in the middle of a typically dull afternoon. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, backing away from me as I opened three of my eyes. "I didn't know anyone was here." She looked longingly into the alley, assuming that I would consider it too small to share with her. "I'll go." She spoke our language with only a moderate accent.

"It's quite all right," I told her, stretching my arms. "I don't mind."

She was nervous. "Well, I... I mean I don't want to intrude."

"You're not. Help yourself," I said, gesturing to the foul-smelling rubbish all around me.

She nodded with a slight trace of relief lurking just under the surface. "Okay, thanks," she said with genuine gratitude as she pushed aside some broken plastic crates and sank slowly to the ground. She had a pack in her arms which she clutched to her chest, partly to keep it safe from others, and partly because it was a comforting, familiar object.

"I don't meet too many people who can tolerate a... human," she seemed nervous to even use the word. Afraid that if she said it aloud, I would know for certain that was what she was, and would then order her to leave. But she had to check things out. To see if I really was offering her a kindness by letting her stay, or if I only wanted to lure her into some sort of trap.

I had occasionally encountered this sort of cruelty in the streets myself, but humans were much smaller and more fragile than we are. And I can only begin to guess at how much cruelty little Sarah must have faced in her time on those harsh streets.

"I don't mind humans," I said plainly, rolling away from her to show my indifference.

"Even though we tried to conquer you?"

"You did not try to conquer me. I simply don't see a need to condemn you for the crimes of human leaders who were being put to death about the same time you were probably born," I said, guessing her age to be somewhere in the thirties.

She finally set her bag down, as the tension drained slowly out of her body.

After several minutes, her breathing steadied itself to a nice, relaxed rhythm. And then she spoke, "So what do they call you?"

I half turned to face her again, "Huh?"

"What's your name?" She smiled inquiringly at me. It was an innocent smile, easily out-shining the dirt that was smudged on her face.

"Habar."

"You're all right, Habar. I'm Sarah."

I waved vaguely and turned away from her again. And within minutes, she was fast asleep, using a pile of shredded paper as a pillow.

I had never heard snoring before. I was aware that humans did in face make this particular sound, but this was the first time I had actually heard it for myself. I found it oddly reassuring to hear such a primitive, organic sound coming from a member of that race which had tried to seize control of every other civilized people in the galaxy. And so I did not mind as the snoring continued on into the night. Instead, I took comfort in the odd sound. It gave me a feeling of contentment to have someone trust me enough to sleep so nearby.

I looked over at her again. The hair which was peculiar to humans was quite disheveled on her head, even though she kept her light brown strands to shoulder-length. Her clothes were dirty and torn. She was quite a pathetic sight. But not in any way repulsive. Rather... she stirred in me feelings of sympathy.

I rolled over and went to sleep myself, listening to the sound of the city... and he snoring.

#

Some days later, Sarah wandered into the alley, now almost comfortable in her new surroundings. She had acquired some bread, and was munching away quite pleased with how her day was going. She looked down at me, sitting on a nearly intact cushion we had recently liberated from a neighboring trash pile. "Hey, you hungry?"

"Well, I haven't actually eaten since yesterday," I answered.

She broke off a piece of bread and handed it to me. I immediately dug in. It was fresh bread. Not at all the kind I was used to having.

"We'll call it a birthday present."

"A what?"

"A birthday present?" She saw that I had no clue to what it was she was referring. "Forget it." She took another bite of bread.

"And just what is a birthday present?"

She sighed, looking through her bread and into a melancholy memory of her own, "It's nothing."

"No, I'm curious," I persevered. "What do you mean?"

She rolled her eyes and sat down next to me on the cushion. "Okay. It was one of our traditions back home. Every year on the date of your birth, everyone who likes you, or at least whoever's related to you, gets you a present... a gift."

"Every year?"

"Mm, hm," she nodded, chewing. "On your birthday... and on Christmas. Or if they just happen to be in the mood."

"In the mood?"

"Oh, yeah. There've been gobs of times when I just kind of found something I knew a friend would like, so I got it for them."

This seemed just too nice. "And how often did this sort of thing go on?"

"Well, I dunno. Maybe once a year or so."

"And how was the weather each time?"

"The weather? I dunno. Why?"

"Well, there's got to be some explanation for this. You can't all have been that nice."

"Habar! It's not that nice. I just makes you feel good to make other people happy. Now come on," she grinned mischievously at me. "Don't tell me you've never done anything like that?"

"Well..." my initial impulse was to lie and tell her that I did in fact often get things for people for no reason. But I couldn't quite bring myself to lie to her inquisitive, smiling face. The simple fact of the matter was that I had never surprised anyone with a present, even back when I had both friends and money in my life. And I felt as thought... perhaps I should have.

"Just... eat your bread," I eventually said, returning her grin.

A light laugh escaped her, and she tore off another bit of bread for me.

I don't think I ever enjoyed the taste of bread more than I did that afternoon as we sat there munching away, together in our alley.

#

Some days later, I was staring up into the thin bit of sky visible between the buildings above our alley, pondering life and its meaning (if any), when I was interrupted by raised voices rushing towards my rather public abode. And as I lifted my head to investigate, I saw that it was a group of three youngsters chasing Sarah. They had torn off the shirt she had been wearing. It was a white shirt with a large yellow circle in the front, in which there were two small dots and a large thin crescent underneath them. She called it a happy face, and it had been one of her most prized possessions from her home planet. And now there were only scratches and scars covering her upper body, no doubt inflicted by the young one who were chasing her.

Sarah ran into our alley like a frightened little animal dashing into its hole in the ground. She leapt past me and flew into a pile of garbage, collapsing from exhaustion into her back corner, the only refuge she had.

"We got it now!" one of the group squealed in evil delight. They began to move more slowly now, certain that Sarah had no way out.

I rose up from out of the shadows and stood baring their way; a mountain between them and Sarah. "Get outta the way! That's a human!" they explained excitedly, as though that was all the justification they needed for their violent intentions.

But I stood my ground, glaring powerfully down at them. My stance was plain: if they took one more step in her direction, I would kill them then and there.

But they hesitated, unsure of how far they could actually push me. They looked into my eyes, and then away again as they saw that I was unmovable. They had been counting on an easy victory; on inflicting pain on someone who was incapable of hurting them back.

Their leader pointed aggressively at me, "Next time!" They backed slowly out of the alley. And soon with cries of, "Traitor!" they ran off in search of other place to wreak havoc.

When I was sure they had gone, I bent down to examine Sarah. "Are you all right?"

She shook her head wearily. She was shivering and her whole body rose and fell as she labored for breath. "No," she finally answered through heavy sobs. "No, I'm not al right. Not at all," she said, turning my question from immediate concern into a summation of her life.

She was alive and breathing, and there was nothing I could do to relieve her physical pains, so I eased myself down next to her and put a reassuring hand on her tiny shoulder.

She leaned against my arm, and soon her tears dried up. She rested her soft, warm body against mine, clinging to the one person in her world on whom she could rely. We stayed like that for most of the night... half afraid that they hoodlums would return with reinforcements. Buy they stayed away.

They had assaulted her simply because she was a human. That was their only excuse. All they could see was the evil that members of her race had caused many years ago. They had absolutely no concern for the fact that she was a living, breathing creature who could love and feel pain as they could. And not only did they fail to feel sympathy for the pain they caused in her... they actually relished in her misery.

But then it wasn't entirely their fault that they felt such hatred. They had been raised in surroundings where those kinds of thoughts were perfectly acceptable. It was simply the way things were done. They were creatures of their environment, and were to be pitied for it. Only Sarah had risen above her expected position in life... spiritually.

I eventually started to nod off with her still leaning against my arm. Until she began to snore. And I smiled. I could sleep later.

Was it possible to love another species, I wondered. I had loved pets before. But I was beginning to feel something more for Sarah. It wasn't sexual. Just a deep bonding.

#

"Spare some change?" I asked for the hundredth time. Nobody could spare any. Nor could they spare anything I might use to barter for food. Until one person walked by. He said all he could spare was what he called a pen. He held out in front of me a little plastic stick. He said it came from Earth. Of course it was meant to be an insult, but I didn't care. I took it.

What was it she had said? Whenever you're in the mood? Well then, we'll see if this is now they do it, I thought to myself. I would give her this pen as a present. I had no idea what the thing was, but no doubt Sarah would be more than happy to explain it to me. At the very least, we'd get a laugh out of it.

I headed back to our alley. There was a smile on my face; a smile as big as the one on her old happy face shirt.

I turned the corner into our alley and my heart froze! Sarah had been hoisted up with a rope around her neck as two un-thinking monsters of hat danced about in glee, throwing trash at her. She squirmed, kicking out feebly towards her attackers.

I exploded in rage! I rocketed straight into her tormentors before they even knew I was there. The three of us went sprawling across the ground. One of them got up and tried to hurl me against the wall. But I felt the pen still in my grasp, and I thrust it into his face with all the force I could muster. He howled in pain and fled, with his partners close behind.

I dashed over to Sarah, grabbing her legs to take the weight off her neck. I reached up and untied her, and we both dropped roughly into the garbage, her body landing on top of mine. I took her in my arms and set her down next to me very gently. She moved slowly and painfully, trying to cough, but lacking the necessary strength. All of her energy was gone.

"Sarah?"

She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.

I touched her cheek as gently as I could, and she looked up at me. A tear appeared in the corner of one of her eyes. I reached out a finger and touched the tiny, precious drop of liquid.

She smiled up at me very faintly... and slowly went limp, her life leaving her body like water draining out of an over-turned cup. Her smile gradually slid from her beautiful, dirty face.

It was several minutes before I could face it. My friend Sarah... the last human being... had died.

I clutched her body next to mine and just blubbered miserably until I had lost all sense of time... alone now in our alley.

#

"That was so many years ago..." Habar looked beyond his little hospital room and into the past. A fresh tear appeared in his eye now.

"Can I ask what you did with her body?"

"I had her buried. It was the custom or her people."

His doctor looked down sympathetically at the aging Habar, breathing his last breaths.

Habar tried to reach over to his belongings by the side of his bed. The doctor helped him. He reached into his bag and pulled out a tattered piece of cloth. It had a yellow circle on it with two dots on it and a crescent underneath. "I found it after she died. She loved it so. And she had no one to pass it in to. And now I have no one to pass it on to. Except you... now that you know who she was." He held it out to the doctor, "Please take it." He looked desperately into the doctor's eyes, "Please. Take it... and remember."

The doctor took it reluctantly from Habar's frail, old hands. As he held I tup, he could just recognize it as a happy caricature of a face smiling in joy. "Humans made these things?" he asked.

But Habar had stopped breathing. His four sightless eyes staring up into infinity.

The doctor carefully folded ths shirt over and tok it reverently away. He wasn't sure what he would do with it... but he knew he had to keep it.

And he had to remember.