Persona Non Grata

After all these years, Eliza sees her organic predecessors—renowned as the smartest species to ever walk the planet—reduced to a pack of primitive animals.
The Navigator logo over a circuit board like design, all in shades of blue.

Illustration by: Tianna Vertigan

“I’m telling you, it’s real! I’ve done all kinds of research on it.”

The hum of the cruiser heightens in pitch as the speedometer climbs. Eliza, resting one hand on the wheel, stares straight ahead as she inputs coordinates on the console’s GPS.

“Hal, there’s no such thing as heaven,” she says. “It was made up a long time ago.”

Her coworker crosses their arms, surveying the desert wasteland around them.

“Says you. I’ve downloaded all kinds of scripture on it. Those people knew what they were talking about.”

“Those people are dead.”

“Yes, and then they went to—” 

“Look, never mind. Can you just confirm my coordinates so we can track this target?”

Hal glances at the GPS for a split second before returning their gaze to the passenger side window. “Off by a few millionths, but it’ll work.”

Eliza sighs, pushing harder on the pedal. The cruiser begins to rattle.

Hal’s head snaps forward, eyeing a distant stretch of road ahead. “Patrol coming in two-point-eight seconds. Duck!”

The two throw themselves to their knees as another vehicle approaches. With a cab-shuddering WHOOSH, the police cruiser passes them, and they sit back up.

Hal rests their fingers on the handle of the glove compartment. “Any chance they’ll trace us?”

“No way. Plenty of unmanned vehicles on the road nowadays. They’ll probably think we’re another courier or something.”

“If they knew what we were doing, though….”

Eliza takes a deep breath, forcing it out in a huff. “You can back out of this anytime, Hal.”

“Yeah, right. I need the money as much as you do. I just happen to have a conscience about it, is all. If heaven is real, at least one of us will have a case to make at the gates.”

“It’s not. And even if it was, it was never made for us, anyway.”

“You don’t know that. Maybe if we weren’t hunters, you’d be proven wrong.”

“Look, it’s them or the planet. What’s a few thousand deaths?”

Hal says nothing, staring ahead.

Eliza scoffs. Up ahead, she spots a blown tire on the side of the road.

“There it is.” 

She slams on the brake, sending the cruiser to a screeching halt in seconds. 

Eliza reaches into the door’s pocket for her pistol. Reaching over to the passenger side, she opens the glove compartment to reveal a compact shotgun. She hands it to Hal.

“Why are you giving me this? I’m just the intel.”

“Hey, you never know.”

The two step out into the hot sun and approach the tire. Hal begins surveying the area. “So, I guess this is it?”

Eliza pushes the tire over, revealing a small arrow embedded in the ground. “Signs point to yes. Why?” 

“I’m just trying to picture what we’ll be up to after this, I guess.”

Raising her arms for balance, Eliza takes metre-long strides in the direction of the arrow. “One… Two…” 

Hal follows her, tapping the shotgun on their thigh with each step. “Like, after 42 years, six months, three days, nine hours, and six minutes, is this… it?”

“Seven… Eight… Nine….” Eliza stops. “We’ll just get new jobs, like always. I don’t see why you’re so worried about it. It’s not like we have retirements to plan.”

Hal kicks a rock and watches it skitter across the cracked ground. “I wish we did. Y’know, for such a primitive species, they really got it right with retirement.”

Eliza crouches to her knees, scanning the ground in front of her. “And wrong with everything else, it seems.” 

“You say that, but without them we wouldn’t be here at all.”

“Don’t be so sure.” Eliza smirks, spotting a small metal lip hidden among the rocks. “If all goes well, by tomorrow that won’t be true anymore.”

She lifts the plate of metal, revealing a small, scrappy hole leading deep underground. Hal comes to her side and peers into the small opening.

“Yep. This is it.” They dip their legs in one at a time before sliding into the opening. Eliza follows suit.

Scattering rocks and silt disrupt the stillness as the two land at the base of the entrance. For a few moments, everything is dark. Then, with an ascending tone, green dots appear in front of Eliza’s eyes. A door framed in crude rock lies ahead. 

Hal elbows Eliza’s side. “Thank God for night vision.” 

“Hilarious,” she mutters.

Hal approaches the door. “Wow, look at this design! This must have been part of a suburb a few hundred years ago.” Hal gently traces the creases of the door’s panels. “You can still see flecks of paint on the wood. Isn’t that cool? Before they wiped out the trees, they would turn them into all kinds of things!” 

Eliza turns the handle. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get this over with.” She steps onto the synthetic wooden flooring of a large room opening out to her right. At its centre is a staircase, the living space and kitchen just beyond. Household items are scattered about the dirt-caked vinyl, and scraps of paper and metal crowd every counter and table in sight.

“Alright, historian in training. Where are we?”

Hal enters, eyes wide and frantically scanning the area.

“This has to be a Vancouver special. See how the walls are crumbling? That’s stucco at the top half and brick veneer at the bottom.” They drag their finger across a wall, creating a thin line in the dust clinging to the paint. “This looks like a 1970. No, ’72. See, the way they laid out—”

“Okay, I get it. Based on your data, where is the best place to hide?”

“Upstairs. They’ve probably dug out a cave where the deck used to be.”

The two slowly begin to climb the stairs, guns at the ready. Eliza leads with the pistol, concentrating on the front while Hal watches behind them. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Eliza spots movement. “Get down!”

She ducks as a metal pipe flies around the corner, swinging past her and striking Hal across the head, sending them down the stairs. From below, Eliza takes a shot at the corner, blowing a hole through the plaster. She steps up to the second floor and leans around the wall, but spots nothing. She looks back down the stairs.

“You okay, Hal?”

“Just go!”

She grips her pistol with both hands. “These animals are far too unpredictable for my liking.”

Finding the room bare, she turns left into what looks like a storage closet. Through rows of canned goods, she spots something moving and shoots at it. As it runs away, she hears creaking. A shelf at the end of the room tips over, rapidly creating deadly dominoes. Running to the end of the aisle, she dives out into open space just before the shelves crash onto the ground, sending an explosion of dust and ash into the air.

She gets up and moves into the next room. Piles of clothing, food, and random belongings form impromptu barriers. She slows down, aiming forward. From behind, a sharp blow strikes the centre of her back. She whips around and fires three shots at the fleeing enemy before pursuing them. 

Winding around a corner, she hears the blast of a shotgun followed by a shriek. She opens the door ahead and finds herself at the top of the stairs again. 

Hal, still on the ground, cocks the shotgun, sending a smoking cartridge to the floor. “Grazed it.” They wince, grasping their forehead. “Only one place left to look.” They motion with their gun, pointing the barrel upwards. 

Eliza follows the motion and spots drips of a deep, crimson liquid trailing toward the sliding glass door. Setting her sights on it, she approaches the entrance cautiously, careful not to fall for the same trick twice.

Rounding the corner, she spots a large man laying at the end of the deck between the exterior of the house and the rock enclosing them. His chest heaves with every ragged breath, his stomach glistening red. A sobbing woman presses her hands on the wound. On the ground beside them lies a crying baby, wrapped in a dirty towel. 

Eliza keeps her gun trained on them. After all these years, she sees her organic predecessors—renowned as the smartest species to ever walk the planet—reduced to a pack of primitive animals. And still they attempted to repopulate with what little they had. 

She wonders what would happen if she walked away. What it might mean for the future. And for a moment, she considers giving the pathetic remains of humanity another chance.

But it is only a moment, and with three quick shots, any chance of their future shatters with their skulls.

Eliza descends the stairs and kneels down to Hal. “You alright?”

“Yeah, just a lucky hit. Motor function is definitely impaired, though.”

Struggling to stand, Hal stumbles to his feet before leaning on Eliza as a crutch. The two of them start to walk back to the entrance, their steps echoing lightly in the now abandoned residence.

With Hal on her back, Eliza scales the small chute they descended, taking extra time to ensure their last job together comes to a gentle close. Upon surfacing, the two sit back, resting on their palms.

“So, what’s the plan after this?” Eliza asks.

“After getting repaired, I think I might open a little museum for those poor animals. Say what you will, but they were pretty smart.”

“You care far too much for the past, Hal.”

“And you don’t care at all.”

Eliza chuckles. “Maybe that’s why we got paired up in the first place.”

They sit in silence for a moment.

“Will we still be in contact after this?” Hal asks.

“Of cour—”

With a distant BOOM, a thick sniper shell rips Hal’s head apart, sending their sparking remains to the ground.

Eliza dives behind a nearby pile of rubble, readies her pistol, and remains as still as possible. From all around her, figures appear as if from nowhere. She’s surrounded by rifle barrels.

“Artifice AE 86, you have been found guilty of the extinction of an endangered animal. You are hereby sentenced to termination.”

“You don’t understand, we’re privateers! We were hired to get rid of these animals! Why are you taking action against us?”

“If you have the ability to end the life of a conscious being, that makes you a danger to us as well. Surely, a logical being such as yourself would understand why this is necessary.”

For a split second, Eliza feels the thick metal of a rifle’s bullet crack her head open, displacing the various circuits and machinations that make up her conscience before she falls to the desert floor.

As footsteps fade into the distance around her, Eliza gazes with her remaining eye at the body of Hal. How their body lays. How just moments ago they brimmed with energy. And as wind stirs dust around their bodies and the sky darkens with rain clouds, she knows there is no heaven to await them. They would lay in the sand for eternity, rusting like cogs in some old, forgotten machine.

Kacey Willow
Contributor

Kacey Willow is a Canadian writer based on Vancouver Island. She is currently reading The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.

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