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An original sci-fi short story

I'm too old for this crap. That was my final thought before I walked out of the gate. The Director of Facilities told me I was being juvenile. I flicked him the bird and got the hell out of there without breaking stride. I yelled, "I'll write you some day!" Now, that was juvenile.

What do I care what some goddam suit tells me about my own safety - he'd never seen the evac. I mean, what was he, frigging fifteen? The SOB had probably never even shaved. God, thinking hard, that was, what, ten years ago almost? Time sure does fly. My grandpa told me he would always remember just where he was when Obama got elected and his father told him he'd never forget where he was when JFK got shot - I know I'll never forget where I was when the jumpships took off.

I was standing in the Starbucks in the Miami Reservation. Me and the barista, some Cuban I guess, looked up simultaneously as the smoke echoed, the clouds of burnt propulsion, and the dazzling glare that lit up the whole city. We squinted as a slanted beam of light rose from the ground, like vertical daybreak, rising so we had to hold our hands up to shield our eyes from it. A roar so loud it made the windowpane judder marked the end. We didn't dwell on following the little white arrows into the sky, we turned and looked at one another with that tell-tale resigned look; raising our eyebrows, creasing our foreheads, sucking our top lips in, and getting the hell on with the day. That one look revealed pain, agony, anguish, rejection, anger, it conceded acceptance of what had happened to us.

No longer were we 'We the people', we decided it should be 'We the forgotten'. We knew why, we had come to understand why the Relocation Bill had been passed. There was (we were told) no big money backhanders to get a seat. No furious indignation about having to stay behind. That might have been the most surprising symptom of what we had become - I can't imagine the relative calm if it had only been a plane crash. Fights for the last parachute, screaming, arguing. I'm sure things were like that when I was a kid, before this all happened.

Everyone. I mean, you know, everyone; Italians, Africans, English, Americans, Japs, everyone, knew they had to make sacrifices. So there they went; nearly one billion people taking off almost simultaneously. Mars the new homeland of Homo Sapiens - it still stuns me that it took so short a time for everything to happen, especially when even basic building work always took so long with, you know, committees, zoning laws, and all that. The evac took less time to accomplish that the Great Pyramid of Giza, and that was built by an army of slaves. Ten years, in the scale of all things, is next to nothing.

My daughter went with her mother. We'd been separated a few years before so I felt bad, I mean, real bad for months but then I thought about those folks who were married or had plenty more kids and got picked up by the screening. There's always someone worse off than you, my dad used to say, and he was mostly right.

I knew but I never volunteered for nothing - let them come for me, I said. My family's always had heart troubles and no-one had gone by it for years. I figured that it must be my turn. It was the old poker phrase - if you can't pick the sucker at the table, it's you. The government made it free - but compulsory - so everyone had to go, hoping to make the list, fearing they would be cut. It didn't seem to matter who you were or where you were from; everyone got checked, green for those good to go and red for those to be left behind. Sure it was chaotic to start - some even wanted to stay so they could be together at the end and those who didn't like what they were told wailed out. Man, I understood what they were thinking, but when you get to my age you figure you might have ten, fifteen good years left, so I might not have even made the trip and that was someone else's seat.

Miami looked worn out. The tall pink tower block that leered over the beach was riddled with cracks and shattered glass. It looked like someone had sucker-punched it couple of years ago. I remember it from way back - full of life and color, not this faded, dying soul. The Beacon, The Colony, they were both decrepit and abandoned, for the first time. No more neon bulbs, no more Spring Break, no more parties. How sad, I thought, no-one's gonna remember it how it used to be.

The soft sand under my feet seemed paler and it didn't have that golden sheen anymore. My daughter's hair, boy, that's a golden color, if ever there was one. She had her mom's hair, my eyes. I hadn't thought deeply about her for, heck, a long time. It took a squawk to bring me back to my senses. I looked down and saw an old parakeet, brightly colored blue with a coal-black beak. Its wing was busted up and it couldn't fly, it just lay there, the broken wing jerking across the grains of sand, carving a jagged crescent moon. It cried out again but what was I meant to do for it? I walked on. There was still a long way to go even though I'd been walking for a day now already.

The compounds, named Reservations, were comfortable enough - you can't just up ad leave like that without looking after the boys and girls you left behind. No considerate, humanitarian. But it was all a bit too down home for me. One coffee shop, one hospital, one grocery, like the suburbs; the only thing they made sure we had a choice of was churches - one chapel, one mosque, one synagogue. Not that we could spend money like before. We each had a weekly ration book and, no word of a lie, few people stole or broke the law. I guess nobody feels like it anymore and what would steal and what for? It felt like that feeling where you just can't cry anymore, like nobody had the tears to spare, if you get my meaning.

Still, I left the compound. We were free to come and go as we pleased but you would be hard pressed to find anything of value if you had a mind for scavenging. If it had value, it was requisitioned by the government, traded, or taken by its owner. Probably explains why hardly anyone walked out of those big front gates.

We were mankind's lost puppies in the ASPCA shelter. It's inhumane to put us to sleep, so everyone who could pitched in to keep us comfortable and we huddled together in the cold. In our little hospices dotted across the globe. When I lay in that old bed that night in one of those Art Deco hotels on South Beach, I imagined what the world looked like from the portholes on the jumpships, assuming that they had them anyways. No electric lights to illuminate the coastlines or highlight the edges of cloud formations. It must be like staring hard at the centre of your lover's iris - you know there's life there but you too absorbed to see past the blackness. In one of those tiny pinpricks of light, we could be holed up in relaxation. No pressure, no future. Those that volunteered to work - like that Cuban in the coffee shop - did so as much as from boredom as for any extra perks they might have got. And forget duty.

A few days on the road, without encountering a single living soul now I was outside of the compound, I found myself day-dreaming of Mars. Poisonous air, red sand everywhere, little grey dudes with black almond eyes. That was what we were told as kids. Now I couldn't hardly believe there was anywhere for people to live but, sure enough, as we had always done in the past, every creed pulled together in adversity and set off for the new world - the first landscape terraformed from space. Must be one hell of a sight.

Heck, what do I care? I ain't ever gonna see it. My life is here - Biscayne Boulevarde, Palm Beach County, Florida, United States of America, if you ever feel like sending me a postcard, but you better do it quick. I can't take the silence, the boredom, anymore. I could always go back - nobody's getting turned away from Reservations, not that there are many people outside of the fence. Probably a few lunatics, but that's another thing that's never changed. I just need to see what the world looks like now without the gardeners, the street sweepers, and cleaners to keep it preserved how we remembered it.

All I had with me was the clothes on my back, a backpack full of camping gear, food enough to last the trip north plus a couple of days, a flashlight and a rifle. You never know what you might find - when some of the zoo animals had been evacced, a few got away, so a buddy told me. I don't want my final thoughts to be 'Who the hell would've thought I'd be eaten by a tiger on Broadway and 45th?' Well, I ain't never tasted tiger, maybe if I come across one, I'll bag it, cook some up. If you're on the verge of extinction, you don't care what's endangered and what's not.

I calculated I had a couple of weeks before I got to the Adirondacks. There might be pushbikes or, with some real luck, a car with a sniff of gas left in it along the way to speed my progress. I wanted to get to Blue Mountain Lake, the fishing lake where my dad took me a bunch of times since when I was a boy. It was all rickety even then - just a pot-bellied stove, homemade table and chairs, and two beds that were two inches too short. We loved it. Last time I was there, I'd picked him up from the retirement home, driven north for over ten hours, stopped off at a motel halfway, the Brookwood in Roanoke Rapids, if I recall, driven the same again and we got there late in the evening.

The following morning we had breakfast and spent the day fishing, bird watching, drinking beer, and tramping around the wilderness. It made me feel pure - strangely cleansed by the bites, mud, and the smoke from the stove, as if the sterile city made me feel grimy with its invisible smog, dust, smells, and sweat. He died only a few months after.

Nowadays, hardly anyone took time out of the city. I mean, before the evac. Bigger cities, more people, less space, less time, fewer souls. That's what it felt like to me. Every new invention supposed to save time made people think they had less of it. You never appreciate the time you have, I know that, which is why I wanted to spend my final days somewhere where time had stopped for decades. It's strange, time. Who came up with the idea of it? Who decided that we needed to measure it? Everything rotates in time, doesn't it; planets, moons, hands on a watch. Always uniform and unerring, until most recently. Days passed like weeks, hours advanced in minutes. You had to be on your toes as you never knew how quickly or slowly your waking hours could pass you by.

Dammit. Another dry tank. You couldn't find fuel for love nor money anymore. Every drop was requisitioned but you can't give up hope that someone slipped through the net. I had to rely on good ol' foot power to keep me going. I started to worry that my soles would wear out before my food. It was getting hotter and I couldn't walk on the melted asphalt without shoes, that much I knew.

CERN, LHC, Event Horizon, these were all familiar terms in our vocabulary now. Just as Andoya, Dong Feng, Vikram Sarabhai, Alcantara, and Baikonur were renowned by their launch signifiers - Alpha, Xi, Mu, Rho, Iota - why we still used a dead language, I couldn't tell you. I'm sure it was some romantic notion about preserving our civilization, who knows. The news about the disaster was suitably stern. The effects are inevitable. The human cost will be unimaginable. Like hearing the plane you are about to board for your honeymoon is guaranteed to crash before arrival but if you wouldn't mind just fastening your seatbelt before take-off, that would be great. Peanuts or a hot towel, sir?

You had to dip your head to go through the little front door. The lintel sagged and the hinges complained briefly but I still had enough spunk in me to force the thing open. As I suspected, deserted cobwebs, dust, brown plants and, I guessed by the droppings, rodents had made this their domain. My first job was to fire up the fat little stove to get some heat into the place for when night fell. My first job was to fire up the fat little stove to get some heat into the place for when night fell. Wait, did I just say that a moment ago? I seemed to remember there being a little generator for emergencies, so I rooted around the cupboards and the store room to see what I could find. Sure enough, there it was -white electric light splashed into the hidden corners, frightening away the shadows. I imagined the rats and cockroaches shielding their eyes from it, just as I had on launch day.

The next day, or was it the day before, I drank a coffee and exchanged glances with some guy, Cuban, I think, and we went back to our... Hold on, that's not right.

That night, I ate the dried parakeet meat with some pasta. It was enough to fill me up and I had a bottle of bourbon from under the floorboards in the old man's room to wash it down. He also had some in the storm shelter. He had this notion that me and my pals could up here some time and use it for a party - well, I could have quite the party now if there was anyone else to share my time here with. Time.

When the news was announced of the catastrophe, I was packing a suitcase - or maybe I was unpacking it - I had a holiday in Mexico booked and I hadn't really been paying attention to the TV; it was on to drown out the silence. I'd wandered into the kitchen to pick up a bottle of water and what I saw on the screen made me think there was a disaster film on HBO - you know the kind, where Bruce Willis or Will Smith used to dish out a few corny lines before crashing headlong into adversity. We all wish we could be like they were but, in reality, it never happens to anyone like that. My first thought was how'd they get Katie Couric to play herself as a news presenter. I thought she acted the part well - all stern, trusted delivery, sharp, expensive suit, her eyes never wavering from the Autocue, despite the tears. It wasn't for a few minutes before I realised that this was for real, not some convoluted, fantastic, Hollywood plot.

I sit here in the cabin. I had been sitting like this for a while now. Was it days or months? It could be no more than a month if the scientists had got their calculations right. But they had got everything else so wrong, hadn't they? So, who could you trust. Landfall was expected this September but it feels like a long August to me. The old CB radio I managed to dig out from behind the sherry and the Armagnac provides a pinprick puncture in the all consuming quiet. Occasional cries for attention ring out as the voice on the other end scrolls through the broadcast frequencies, pirates they used to be called - looking for consolation, conversation - their own existence to be confirmed. The world is in limbo, or hiatus, like we're all waiting for a bus. After a while, the broadcasts have stopped. I eat, frequently drink, fitfully sleep. I am simply waiting it out.

At last! One car with probably no more than a cup full of gas. I guessed it would as I could see why nobody in their right mind might have checked it out. The windows had a thick, greasy sheen to the inside. One of them, the driver's side, had been smashed open. I took the keys from the ignition and opened the cap. I managed to find a piece of hose to put into the tank and, with no little effort, dip it in and yank it out to see how much was in there. The smell inside the car was unpleasant but at least, after a few goes and bit of tinkering under the hood, I got it to start. I didn't feel bad about leaving the blue-faced owner under a tree in his front yard. Might make the drive before landfall after all.

It was a late evening in September after all which punctuated all of that waiting with finality. A rush of heat melted the unseasonal snowfall. I hear rumbling from afar edging nearer which had started a few days ago, maybe hours. The expansive vacuum neared. I step onto the porch with my final bottle of Jack. Other signs of futility appear - a small flock of scattering birds take to the air with a rattling clap, then swerve and disappear again. A deer bounds in terror towards me but in slow motion, veering away at the last moment. The last moment. A clearing of clouds, the moisture and pressure in the air changes perceptibly. Sparks shimmer, electric pulses leap across spaces between trees four, five feet across. That roaring noise now like a wave, trees and shrubs drop away into a chasm that creeps closer to the setting sun at my back. Gathering pace, its unbroken path is steady and measured. A constant amid the chaos. Shadows waver and, by the time I've finished my bottle, the Hole has arrived, tugging my hair and pulling at my clothes like a gale. I toss the bottle a few yards ahead of me and see it hang, tantalizingly, in the still air, then disintegrate into invisible shards of matter, scattering into the unknown, vanishing never to return. I watch and wait for my turn.


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