This 10,000 word short SF story/novella is perfect for fans of Ray Bradbury and Mike Resnick.
There was no good way to say it so I chose simplicity. Do I regret it now? If I had my time over, I might have done it another way. So, yeah, I guess I regret it. Had I known the consequences, I suspect I would have said nothing at all. At the time, I believed I was doing the right thing.
John laughed. It was an abrupt barking sound, like someone trying to clear their throat and chuckle at the same time. As with so many of John's responses, it was learned. Or rather: it was taught. I was the one who did the teaching. His laugh was a sound I was used to but I was aware that people still glanced at each other the first time they heard it. It wasn't quite right. There was a quality to it which didn't ring true. Until that moment, John
It was 2098. We were together for the first time in years, on a rooftop in Central London. Once, this had been a restaurant called La Brocade. It was famous for its food, but also because city traders used to go there to commit suicide by throwing themselves over the railings and onto the concrete below. It was a popular thing to do after the 2071 market crash.
John and I had loved the place though. When we were still kids, struggling with the realities of life in a residential care home, we used to spend every hour we could in this part of London. The glass fronted buildings, the unusually clean streets; the aura of wealth. All of it spoke of a future we wanted to be part of. We couldn't see the restaurant from the ground, but we had pored over photographs. It was arranged like a terrace garden, with canvas parasols above each table, wooden decking, and decorative shrubs and plants everywhere. We used to think it had its own climate. In every photo we saw, it was always sunny; always summer. For two poor nine year old orphans, it was like paradise. We promised ourselves if we ever had the money, we would eat there once a week. It took us fifteen years but we did it. In the evenings, we used to sit, picking at our food, and staring up at the night sky. It was a game for John. He liked to pretend he could see faces in the stars. He couldn't, of course. Seeing faces was a human trait, so I knew he was lying. I couldn't see them either but I played along, trying to make my friend - my truest friend - feel a little happier, a little less alone.
Now, though, La Brocade was unrecognizable. The single remaining parasol was broken, torn canvas flapping like a dying bird struggling one last time to take flight in the breeze. Poking through the damp, mouldering decking were shoots from some of the same plants that had been used as decoration. The railings, erected to discourage the suicides, had fallen away.
Below us, stretched out over miles, was the quarantine zone. It had physical boundaries - armed guards, electrified fencing; high graphene walls - but even from our elevated position, I couldn't see them. I knew John could, though. My eyesight was good, his was supra-normal. Always had been.
John again laughed at my words. "An alien?" he asked; his tone incredulous. "I've been called a lot of things, Frank. A lot of things, most of them really unpleasant, but that's a first."