Title: Smothered Joy
Author: Luperkal
Rating: PG-13
Classification: VA
Spoilers: slight FTF
Disclaimer- One of the characters in this work of fiction is not mine. One is. The one that isn't remains the property of its creator. The one that is remains my property.

Summary: It's not easy being the stepping block to extinction for your own

My eternal gratitude to Mary for all your help, to Tamy for everything, and to Shannon for the encouragement.

I look into the tiny, dusty mirror. Not much to look at, as usual. But hey, it beats the view through the tiny, dusty window. I look pretty much the same as I always do. Pale, pale skin that's paper thin, revealing the spider web workings of my circulatory system in agonizing detail. Dull blue eyes that are cheap and lifeless imitations of my mother's. Deep gray circles underneath them with an inner rim of red complete the ensemble. Drawn, bloodless lips stretched over miraculously even and meticulously clean teeth.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't undernourished. The incessant rumbling of my swollen abdomen is a constant, one thing I can depend on day in and day out. I'm going to be twenty years old soon but I could still pass for a pre-teen. I stopped growing long ago, never making it past five foot two. My battered old gray T-shirt hangs off my frame, the thin cotton hanging lazily without support of bone and flesh. When the wind blows, the fabric rustles listlessly against the jut of my elbows. I never lived up to the promise made so many years ago that I would 'grow into' this shirt.

There's a lot I haven't lived up to, including my own expectations. And now, those are the only ones I'm left to answer to. When I had a working television a few years back, before the satellites stopped bouncing around the old transmissions in a cosmic hokey-pokey, I saw a commercial with the tag line 'nobody says they want to grow up to be a junkie.' I always wanted just to grow up. I succeeded on that account. My mother used to tell me about all her hopes for me, of what I'd become. We both knew it would never happen, that it was all doomed to fail from the start. One more foolish promise thrown to the wind, one more piece of clothing that still doesn't fit. There's splattered blood on the shirt, but it's not my own.

When my mother left, she didn't cry. So I didn't either. We ran together for thirteen years, lived through hell together for thirteen years. But we were never close, my mother and I. In the fairy tale land that I escape to in my treasured books, our hardships would have brought us together. Our struggle would have formed us into a perfectly synchronized unit. But this is no fairy tale world.

You can clap all you want, but Tinker Bell is dead.

My mother never quite forgave me for being born. She cared for me, protected me and sheltered me as best she could for thirteen years, but she never loved me. No one has ever loved me, and I'm pretty sure I've never loved anyone. Although I'd be hard pressed to say that I'd be able to recognize love if it came up and bit me. The only reason I know the word at all is from a mistake, a delusion. When I took this bloody shirt I'm wearing off of a half dead man, he looked up at me and said he loved me. I'll never forget the look on my mother's face when her ten-year-old asked her what love meant. My mother used to say that you could die many times before you actually physically died. She died one death then.

I've learned to keep myself numb to all feeling, good or bad. It's just easier that way. It's really the only way to survive. Assuming that you still want to survive. One day my mother didn't want to any more. But I do. For some ridiculous, psychotic reason the only thing that matters to me is survival. There's nothing left to live for, but I'm intent on keeping right on living.

My mother had that same psychotic tendency for a long time. Longer than most people her age. But I've outlasted her. I'm even stronger. You've got to be strong to keep going. One slip, one tiny slip in your resolve, and you're sliding out of control down the icy slope into the pit with all the other frozen dead bodies.

I don't have any ill will towards my mother. I never have. There were no pretensions between us; we both knew where we stood. I have to admit: I don't understand how she managed to hold down her outright disgust at me, at what I represent, for all those years. She was a good woman, that's for sure. But it would have taken a saint to love a child like me.

I have no idea how many of us are still left. Out of those that didn't die initially, those that weren't hosts, and those that weren't killed by the monsters bred in the hosts, not many wanted to keep going. Out of those that did, not many were strong enough. It was harder for the older ones, those that knew what it used to be like. I never had that particular problem. I was born the day it all started, along with all those like me.

My mother was one of the chosen ones. Selected to be a host to her own particular monster instead of a random beast like countless others. Half of me came from her, and the other half came from Them. Part clone, part alien, and part of my mother. Her devil spawn. If it weren't for the fact that my gestation took only a few hours instead of the standard nine months, you'd never know I was a bundle of hell instead of a bundle of joy.

My mother never gave me a name, and she never told me hers. I called her mother, and when she called me anything, she called me girl. Giving me a name would have made me seem too human, I suppose. Or brand me as belonging to her.

There was never a real need for names anyway. And there certainly isn't any need now.

I know it was hard for my mother not to love me. I know she wanted to, but she couldn't let herself. If she did, she would have considered herself a traitor to her kind. She never got over the guilt of harvesting me; the seed of destruction. She used to cry every night. I'd hear her when I was supposed to be asleep. I asked her what she was crying about once, when I was six. She said they were tears of joy. Let it not be said that sarcasm vanishes in the face of certain doom.

She used to give me the strangest look sometimes when I called her mother. It was as if I physically made her sick. My mother didn't like to touch me very often.

There weren't many of 'my kind' to begin with, and many of them didn't make it past their first day. Infanticide takes on a whole new light when your child is only half human. If the newspaper from that day had ever made it to print, it would have been an amazing headline. Baby girls born to infertile mothers in one day. The religious nuts would have called it a miracle. And they would have been dead wrong.

In a way, I'm very special. Very important to Them. My mother was, too, but she served her usefulness to Them by having me. They decided it would be easier to colonize gradually, to allow the nature of the planet to adjust to their needs. So that's where 'my kind' and me came into the plan. Even though part of me comes from Them, my sympathies (the little I have) are decidedly human. It's not easy being the stepping block to extinction for your own species. The guilt, if I ever let it get to me, would be overwhelming. That's why it's best to stay numb. Nothing can touch you there.

I guess the only expectations I've actually lived up to are the ones from Them. Eventually their plan will be complete, and the human race will be gone. Leaving no more pitiful creatures like me, who feel guilty for their genetic indecisiveness.

I don't go outside if I can help it. There are too many dead bodies. And even worse, there are the bodies of the dying. They beg, plead, call out. I'm not entirely unfeeling, I do have some compassion. Just not much. They haven't bred any new monsters in ten years, so there's no need to worry that the rotting flesh of the half dead will mutate into a screeching banshee. They don't need any more monsters, since they've pretty much run out of hosts. The monsters have done their job, clearing out the masses, making way for the new arrivals. Eventually they'll have to breed n' weed out the monsters too.

But for now the monsters exist, a force to be reckoned with. They're drawn to the bodies of the sick and dying, looking for an easy meal. Overstuffed on bodies, they've become less savage over the years, evolving into lazy, drooling beasts. But it's still not smart to get caught out in the open with one. Besides, even if there weren't any monsters, I don't have the resources to help anyone else. I can only take care of myself. And there's no way in hell I'm putting my life on the line for someone who's as good as dead already.

I don't spend a lot of time bemoaning my fate. It may be my destiny, and it may be a rotten one, but it's my life. I'll live it the way I want to live it. As a general rule I don't kill, but I will if it comes down to that or my own death. I killed my first human when I was eleven. It gets easier with practice. Like I said before, it all depends on your state of mind. Numbness is bliss.

I finally stop staring at myself in the mirror and turn my attention where it belongs. The squalling infant lying on the dirt floor of this week's underground shelter. This child has twice as much of Them in it as I do. They can have me harvest as many of their tools as they want, but it doesn't mean I have to cooperate. That's the funny thing about destiny: if you don't put up with it, it ceases to hold its power over you.

I've never killed anything before when doing so didn't hinge upon my survival. But in a way, this is life and death. I need to do this to save what's left of my soul. I will not give up; I am strong enough to keep going. I can't take care of this -- thing and keep myself alive as well. I'm not as good as my mother. I'm also not as foolish.

I press my bloody T-shirt over the tiny infant's nose and mouth. And press. Hard. It kicks and struggles beneath me, desperate for air. Desperate to keep living. Yes, there is definitely some of me in this child. It starts wailing, crying and sobbing as loudly as it can through its muffled baby lungs.

And then it stops moving. And it is silent.

In Their great plan, they forgot the variable of the human spirit. Of human stubbornness. They forgot that with being the almighty gods from afar, there comes a distance that makes Them weak. Without their moronic human helpers, which they so cleverly in their great genius killed off, they have as little control over my body as I do. I'll carry Their genetic mutants, as programmed, as infallibly as the persistent quartz watch of my mother's that still keeps ticking away. And just like my mother did every year, I'll kill Their creation in cold blood. My mother caught on pretty fast, and I have the benefit of her experience. The watch keeps ticking, but there's no way in hell to know if it keeps the correct time.

I lift my T-shirt away from the sticky, unmoving little face. I'll deposit the carcass outside for the monsters. But I'll take it far away from here so I don't have to listen to the snapping of the tiny bones. I do have some compassion. Or maybe I'm just getting squeamish, as I grow older.

Its hair is soft between my fingertips as I pick it up. The same red tint as mine is beneath all the dirt. The same color as my mother's was. I realize suddenly that I'm crying. I haven't cried since my mother left. They must be tears of joy.

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