a short sci-fi story.
Above the fractured crust of a ravished Earth, a spacecraft cut through the thinning atmosphere. Onboard, the eyes of two Zephyrians — beings from a distant planet — trailed over the desolate landscape, each gaze filled with curiosity and somber reflection.
"There, Belfor, lies the remnants of humanity," Ethru commented, his voice a dull hum in the sterile silence of their ship. He pointed at a sprawling grid of overgrown highways and the remains of once-majestic towers that sprouted from the green like ancient fossils.
The Earth, according to their archives, was once inhabited by a species called humans — curious bipedal beings that possessed a peculiar knack for paradox: they exhibited both indomitable spirit and profound recklessness. These humans had since been wiped out, their ruins serving as the only testament to their existence.
The spacecraft, a sleek piece of engineering that seemed to defy space and time, continued its flight over the carcass of Earth, on a mission of curiosity. They passed over endless swaths of corroded skeletal structures slowly surrendering to the insistent creep of nature.
"Now look at this, Ethru," Belfor gestured towards an enormous scene, a decaying sprawl of steel and concrete. In its heyday, it was surely an imposing sight.
“It must have been a metropolis," Ethru whispered, almost in awe. He could imagine the humans, like ants in a colossal anthill, scurrying through streets and towers, each engrossed in their own labyrinth of existence.
"So many lives intertwined, and yet, each one, distinct."
They traced the remnants of once-vibrant arteries where humans had ferried back and forth in machines. They saw gaunt towers piercing the heavens, and circular hubs with spokes stretching outwards like the rays of a sun — monuments to human ingenuity now reclaimed by the indiscriminate embrace of time.
"Interesting, isn't it. How they built their nests of concrete and metal, trying to resist the very wilds they were a part of. How they yearned for permanence in a world governed by transience,” Belfor reflected.
Ethru nodded, his focus lingering on what must have once been a place of learning — a multitude of square structures centered around a towering edifice. He could almost hear the echoes of laughter, of shouts, of discourse.
"Yes, they sought to understand nature, but also to conquer it and be its master. They were thinkers and builders," Belfor concluded. "And now, they are but a memory."
As they flew over the ruinous tapestry of civilization, they pondered the fate of this species that had reached for the stars, yet faced defeat when the heavens struck back. It was a merciless alien race from the far reaches of the galaxy that had rendered humans extinct. At their peak, humans had advanced quickly and were teeming with potential. However, they stood no chance in a contest of violence against their invaders. Humanity had only just begun as a spacefaring people, budding cosmic life slain in the crib, unable to protect themselves.
In a brutal wave of conquest, Earth was laid to waste, reducing their vibrant cities to ashes, and their ambitious dreams to dust. Now, only a few fragments of their works remained, scattered across the planet. To the Zephyrians, this graveyard was an archaeological wonder, a grim reward for vanquishing the vile species that had brought Earth's demise. The humans had exhibited a mysterious nature rarely seen, equally perplexing and alluring to even the most sophisticated of Zephyrian scholars.
“Why didn’t they surrender their planet?,” Belfor questioned.
“It’s impossible to know,” Ethru grunted. “They were a proud people.”
The spacecraft skimmed over the crests of ancient pyramids, their tips kissed by the setting sun, standing stubbornly in a desert wasteland.
"They built them to honor their dead," Ethru noted, his tone a cocktail of fascination and respect, "Monuments to remember those passed."
"Or perhaps," Belfor proposed, "a desire to leave a more permanent mark."
“And it has,” Ethru shared. “Ironic that it is these dusty tombs that remain intact, and not their more modern creations.”
“Maybe they really feared death,” Belfor pondered.
“Yes,” Ethru replied.
As their spacecraft journeyed over the sea, the greenish hue of a colossal statue emerged, partly sunken yet enduring against the tide, her torch thrust high in a silent proclamation.
"What a peculiar sight," Ethru noted, studying the elegant figure.
“What function did it serve?”, Belfor scoffed. “Imposing, yes, but surely no defense for this harbor.“
Belfor scrutinized its form, recognizing its conductive, copper trim.
“Perhaps it powered them in a way we can’t perceive.”, Belfor said bemusingly.
“Surely not energy as we understand it. An oddity, indeed.”
They flew over the ruins of a great wall, snaking across the rugged landscape like a petrified dragon. Its once mighty stones, weathered and crumbled, bore silent witness to the passing of time.
"Their desire to protect and isolate was strong," Belfor observed, his gaze riveted to the serpentine structure coiled amongst the rocky landscape. "The humans, despite their shared experiences, were also a species of divisions."
"Yes, but their grandest works tell another story," Ethru countered, "A tale of unity in their diversity. The labor of many hands, united in a single endeavor."
Belfor guided the spacecraft over a serrated chain of mountains. “There,” he muttered, heading towards the highest point. Belfor selected a lone peak dusted with eternal snow and landed the ship gently upon its crown. Encased in their protective suits, Ethru and Belfor descended the ramp into the frozen wilderness. Icy horror whipped at their visors, yet amid the hostile white, a splash of color caught their attention.
“What…what is that?,” Belfor stammered.
Here, they stumbled upon an unexpected scene. Emerging from the slope were the preserved bodies of two humans, locked in a tableau of their final moments. Their faces were twisted in an expression of fierce determination, their eyes forever staring up at the unreachable summit.
Ethru and Belfor shared a glance. They understood the concept of death, but had never seen it in such a tangible form.
"Why here?" Ethru wondered aloud, his gaze unflinchingly locked on the human forms. "Why would they pursue such hardship?"
Belfor fell into silent contemplation, trying to fathom the motivations of a species so fundamentally different from their own.
"They tried and failed. Their equipment was primitive, and their ascent too slow," Belfor stated, a note of sorrow in his voice. “A storm must have trapped them.”
“They were unlucky,” Ethru interrupted.
And so, standing amidst the stark desolation of the mountain peak, the Zephyrians pondered the tragic legacy of humanity — a species swallowed by the jaws of time and space, snuffed out far too soon.
”Perhaps their spirit and recklessness were inextricably linked,” Ethru finally conceded.
“They got so close,” Belfor uttered. "They were indeed brave and foolish."
"Yes," Ethru agreed.
"They were human."