Rob Does Words
Treating fiction poorly since 2019


Life here was reasonably simple. Wake up, sort through the piles of garbage for anything that might be useful, eat and go back to sleep. Oh, and don’t go near the hand.

It lay in the middle of the tire piles and had been there for as long as anyone could remember.

There was no body to go with the hand; the arm stopped just shy of the elbow. Stories and rumours always came and went about the rest of the body, or other arms, scattered around different places, but no one had ever found anything besides this one arm.

It was just this hand. It was a quiet, looming part of our life. Where it came from was never talked about. You just never went near it.

Humans have always been evasive when asked about their narcissism and selfishness, but their words are usually contradicted by their actions. When they made it into space and found the many other societies which lived out there, they claimed to come in peace and to represent the ideals that had driven them to explore space in the first place, but when other species came to Earth they found impressive defenses surrounding the planet and only the barest bones of an alien diplomacy infrastructure.

The piles of garbage and ruins stretched for miles in every direction beyond the hand. Stories had been passed down from generation to generation about great cities and the nations they were built in. Sometimes, when you looked at what was left of the things said to be ancient buildings, you could almost see them, but deep down no one really believed the stories, so they kept to their tents and small huts and fossicked through the garbage; stories put to the side while we all tried to survive.

The first things to be built, in reply to the alien criticisms, were a series of interplanetary telescopes pointing out towards the center of the galaxy - where the vast majority of the other civilisations happened to be. Earth claimed it was for exploration, but also just in case, as they put it. The telescopes were paired with a basic – and probably ineffective – orbital strike system that many people – humans and aliens alike – joked would fire on Earth more than any alien threat.

These unnecessary defenses plus the mildly xenophobic attitude the human population had towards any aliens spending an extended length of time on Earth meant that humans weren't well received by the galactic societies. Eventually, humans were no longer invited to participate in what was effectively an interstellar United Nations and became outcasts.

Children, of course, climbed the hand. You can’t stop kids being kids, even in desperate times. They were yelled at, ineffectively, from the sand below, but they always just laughed and continued to play King of the Hand. Some of them, the few who could read and understand things beyond their immediate needs, would ask their parents about the strange writing on the hand. Some of the words were recognisable, words like “humans” and “safety” but none of the adults could, or would, explain it.

Of course, there were some humans who did make it into the alien societies. These people were understood to not represent Earth, and seemed to understand the nature of cooperation.

The humans who remained on Earth were not happy about humans out in space not representing humanity. A collaboration of nations banded together in an attempt to simultaneously improve humanity’s image among the stars and work on how the planet looked from the outside.

Humans have always had a strong fascination with themselves. Both as individuals and as a collective. No one would ever argue that they shouldn't, but in some cases, moderation does go out the window. For example, no one ever questioned whether the hand was a human hand. It looked human; four fingers and a thumb in the standard layout. It even had lines on the palm that mirrored human palms. So the question was always why there was a giant human hand in the desert. Not why there was a giant human hand in the desert. Humans tend to just accept things about themselves like that.

Most people called it shortsighted, others called it a marvel of engineering. Everyone else just laughed at them. But no one could deny the ambition - and the implicit threat - in what had been done.

They stood hundreds of feet tall and would be launched into space as a supplement to the already existing defenses.

They were giant, robotic humanoids. They called them Sentinels, much to the amusement of comic book readers everywhere. There were four of them and between them and the orbital strike weapons, the official word was Earth was safe from whatever the aliens, or whatever they called themselves, threw at them.

The Sentinels, surprisingly, worked. They were launched and sat in a high orbit around the planet in a vaguely threatening pose which also shone a light on the fact that humans could actually work together to achieve something that was used for the greater good. Critics were quick to point out that it was weapons that had been created by humans working as one, but they were ignored as the rest of the species were busy patting themselves on the back.

Aliens weren't fans of visiting Earth, which hadn’t been a tourism hot spot for quite some time before the Sentinels had been built. But humans, being what they were, believed that the robots had scared them off and that humans were now the top of the heap in this apparent interstellar arms race.

When the humans received no attention from the aliens regarding the immense robots 'protecting' Earth, they sent an early model of a new generation of Sentinel out into the galaxy on a so called exploration mission. Upon finding an alien outpost or research base or something – it wasn't made clear what it was – it sat in orbit and watched them.

When they challenged its presence, the affected aliens were told that the robot was just passing through and as long as they left it alone, and weren’t a threat, they’d be fine. And so, the robot was left unmolested and the aliens carried on with their work.

There is a certain sequence of events that actually happened. Even if no one sees, or experiences them, they still happened. There is an underlying truth to everything. Most of this truth is unrecorded, unexperienced. It just happens.

The truth we know doesn’t, and never will, include the sequence of events that led to the hand being lodged in our desert. Most of us never think about things like that, about the how of things. Our decisions have been made for us, and anything beyond digging through garbage is almost a luxury.

Humanity always maintained that the Sentinel was shot down. That the aliens, sick of seeing it, took matters into their own hands instead of following the proper diplomatic channels to complain about human activity. The aliens, in reply, charged the humans with negligence, stating the robot had fallen out of orbit itself, most likely because of mechanical error, in so doing, landed on their outpost, killing everyone there.

Most of the galaxy held Earth responsible, and demanded compensation from humanity. Earth’s only reply was words to the effect of 'our robot was shot down, this is your fault. Leave us alone.'

Frustrated with humanity’s inability to see larger pictures of things, how to work together with disparate cultures and points of view, Earth was declared a no-go place. While humans failed at even working together with other humans, there would be no further contact with the galactic societies.

In an uncharacteristic show of pettiness, a small force was dispatched to Earth to ensure they couldn’t run around the galaxy unsupervised. Their weapons were disintegrated and the giant robots destroyed.

They left a single arm, where the planets capital had been, as a warning to anyone who would reach beyond their means in fits of misplaced arrogance.