Flash: U is for Undying

Photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash (some color adjustment by Erin Penn)

“Where are the statues?” The loud voice echoed off the stone walls. “The monuments? I thought this was a war museum.”

The curator grimaced, gesturing with her liver-spotted hand at the stone walls. “If you examined the walls, good sentient, you will find the names of those fallen in battles inscribed.”

“There are a lot of names,” said the child with another adult visitor; the second, clearly subordinate, being held the child’s hand while the youngest of the group touched the stone, tracing letters.

The subordinate nodded, saying very softly to the child while the primary human preened. “Yes, a lot of people died in wars.”

“I’m not a damn sentient, not here on Earth. I might have to accept that woke nonsense up-stars among the Federation and its aliens, but here on True Earth, I’m a human.” Looking around, Elfrid Arnold sneered at the walls. “This isn’t even human writing.”

“Good … sir.” Dr. Holly Allegra, according to the info tag floating beside her in dataspace, kept her voice firm though it cracked with her advanced age and the subordinate heard her heartbeat spiking. “Humans had a wide variety of writings in the pre-space era. We are in the section devoted to those who died when the first nuclear weapons were used. Most who died were Nippon civilians. They used three different alphabets; on this wall, the casualties memorialized used kanji to write their names.”

“So these were the losers.” The man frowned, looking over at the subordinate. “I thought you got us a tour that meant something. I don’t need the kid learning about losers.”

The young woman ducked her head. “I’m sorry Mr. Arnold, this is the only war museum left on the planet.”

“Sir.” The curator clapped her hands for attention, her eyes narrowing. “These are the names of the dead, not losers. Please show some respect. They deserve our undying gratitude for their sacrifice while humans learned to become better.”

“We didn’t become better, girl. We were great back then.” The middle-aged man stepped close, the better to look down at the museum attendant. “The Sasathapaka outlawed war and have refused to give us the tech to catch up with them. Since they got the biggest hammer of the Federation, everyone else has to listen. But one day we will be great again.” He spun away, made two angry swipes at his dataspace, bringing the subordinate and the child back from where they had wandered. “Penny, move up those dinner reservations. The Greasy Grill, it’s a good restaurant at least, right?”

“The most expensive on the planet, Mr. Arnold.” After squeezing the child’s hand and sending him to his parent, the female human stood with her hands behind her back, the sud flowing down her body, over the skinsuit.

“Good,” Elfrid Arnold looked down at the curator, then back at the female, “stay here and get a refund on the tour, for false advertising. You can eat at the hospitality suites when you get back.”

The woman, who strangely did not exist in dataspace except for the tag of Assistant, which when Allegra expanded, only pointed to the man and his dataspace label, nodded. “Of course, Mr. Arnold.” Penny tilted her head to the side and did a minor hand movement. “The transport is at the door.” A small swirl of her little finger, ended with the comment, “And I’ve placed the order for food for you and Napoleon to be ready for when you are seated.”

“Don’t think this conversation is done here, Penny.” Mr. Arnold growled while grabbing his child’s arm. “I want you to go over the rest of the package and make sure there are no other mistakes.” With that, he pulled his child back to the entrance.

When the echoes stopped bouncing off the stone, Penny gave the curator a small smile. “I do apologize.”

The curator waved her hand as though clearing the atmosphere. “Most excitement of the month. Most of my visitors are researchers. Having a child was refreshing.”

The assistant nodded, before walking further into the museum, the curator following. “I’m not yet certain how far Napoleon will fall from his clone-father, but his mind hasn’t hardened yet.”

“Are you his nurse or instructor?”

“Oh no,” Penny chuckled. “Mr. Arnold is my employer. I’ve been with him for about five years. The tutors are all back at the planetary hospitality suites.” She started looking around, raised a hand to touch a name on the fourth world war monument, a sad look passed over her face, before she took a turn to the first world war section.

“You do know the Greasy Grill is hardly the best food on the planet.”

“Yes, but it is the most expensive, because of all the fines they have to pay to serve the health and ethic violations on the menu.” Penny’s smiles show a little teeth, a flash of canines, “and that is all he cares about. It will fill him with salt and fat. Make him tasty.”

Holly stopped, stunned a moment. “Tasty?”

“Hmm?” Penny had finally stopped in the World War One second, running her finger over the Cyrillic script.

If Holly remembered right, it was the Ukraine wall. Over half a million dead, but only a few thousand names surviving thanks to Russia’s systematic destruction of the culture and its history. The sad look circled then settled over the young woman’s face, like a dog laying down in its bed. It looked much more habitual than the subordinate mien she had adopted earlier.

“You said it will make him tasty.”

Penny shrugged in a way Holly hadn’t seen since her childhood, too much shoulder for dataspace movements. “He is beginning to annoy me.”

“Annoy?” Holly breathed, scared to hear what is next, but what Mr. Arnold’s dataspace label showed scared her more. Her researcher credentials unpacked a lot of the gray materials.

“The connections he has been making,” the woman, whose total existence in dataspace was defined in relation to her employer, walked around the wall to the other side. “He is getting too big for his britches. We don’t need another war.” She pressed her hand hard against one name. “Not yet.”


Penny smiled over at her, gently. “War will come, it always does. He is right in that humans cannot remain a child in the keeping of Sasathapaka morals forever.” The woman dropped her hand off the wall and did a few subtle hand gestures. “You have enough money to keep this going a bit longer, yes?”

“Um, yes.” The curator blinked. “I’m sorry if you paid for a tour, but this museum is completely self-sufficient. I can’t give you a refund because there is no entrance fees.”

“Yes, I’m well aware.” Penny laughed, walking toward the front doors. “But I couldn’t have gotten Mr. Arnold here if he knew it was free. Is Kateryna Senko and Winona Wildman working out well as possible replacements?”

“Um, yes?” Holly suddenly felt all her years at the mention of her assistants who showed up about five years ago, “Do you work for the Earth Foundations as well as for Mr. Arnold?” Somehow, she doubted he donated to the humanitarian organization.

The woman pushed back her blond hair as they reached the front door. “No.” Penny laid a very cold hand on Holly’s arm. “But thank you. You have my undying gratitude for keeping watch over these memories.” She touched the pillar at the open foyer, covered in quotes from dozens of cultures about standing against destruction and the ideals of destruction. A column protected from destruction by the UV shields in place around the facility, like every other habitable part of the planet. The ozone layer only now regenerating two centuries after the aliens ended the fourth World War. “Hopefully we won’t need to water the Tree of Liberty for another generation or two.” With that ominous statement, the assistant stepped out into the tamed sunlight to a small transport to return her to the hospitality suites near the starport.

Holly noticed one of her standard searches just came back with results. Wanting to give the best service, she always ran searches on those entering for previous museum experiences, because no one ever made it back to True Earth for her little obscure museum without serious historical interest. The app activated automatically and pings for Mr. Arnold and his son arrived milliseconds after their surprise visit. This final ping flashed Assistant.

Dr. Allegra considered the dataspace icon. Nearly a full hour to get that information. It looked … heavy … for lack of a better term. The researcher in her reached her hand up. The survivor in her, the one  that lived through the tail end of the fourth World War, swiped it into the trash and then sent her sweeper app to clean up the crumbs.

(words 1,480, first published 4/24/2023)

Undying Series
1. U is for Undying (4/24/2023)
2. Words on a Wall (5/28/2023)

2 thoughts to “Flash: U is for Undying”

    1. I hope to get a followup to this flash done. I got over 1,000 words in and realized I needed to totally rewrite that story again. It might take a month to do the Undying justice.

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