Simple Things

Short Story

I rarely visit the ocean anymore.

Then Umberto tells me the last female has died.

"So we go out again, my old friend," I say, activating one of the dome's six airlocks before stepping in.

Outside, I'm struck by the noise. The antiseptic quiet of dome life now replaced by bawdy shouts from the free, native wind terrorizing this empty landscape. Tinnitus, caused by the change in air pressure, rings in my ears over the pssssss-pffffff of my air-regulator. Frost on the ground dazzles my vision and complains beneath my boots as I lug my 1.4Gs or so toward the distant shoreline.

Last week, Dr. Martin had assured me everything was on track with Lucy’s pregnancy. "Her second trimester had been nominal, that is considering her significant deviation from what would be considered average female human physiology."

"Just give it to me with the bark on, Martin." I hate it when damn fools talk like that.

"Well she's not human, of course, but I still think she could deliver normally at full term, Captain."

"But a normal, healthy human child, right?" I watched Martin stiffen as he toyed with his wedding band.

Now it's a week later and both Lucy and the child are dead. Just one human egg remains in the freezer.

I can see Umberto on his buggy, bouncing along, silhouetted by low twin suns, gigantic circus balloons of yellow and orange. He'll reach the shoreline before me but I don't mind because it's the simple things like walking and sunsets that give me time to reflect. So I remember Lucy. I remember her gentleness and humour. And I remember her bravery.

"Captain, are you not pleased?" She asked.

"Of course I am, Lucy." I grabbed my tablet and rolled my chair over to her aquarium.

"You were thinking of your mate, weren't you, Captain?"

I'd forgotten how well she could read my face; lulled into complacency by the tablet’s voice translator. I leaned in close and pressed my face to the glass, meeting the probing gaze of her single, placid eye.

"Yes, and the others too," I said.

"We weep for your lost women and the children they couldn't give you."

Close now, I see Umberto has the gear out. There's no way I could ever carry that much so far, especially at my age, so I am glad for that buggy and my loyal, good friend. I wish I could toss my regulator away and breathe deep the sea air and feel the sand between my toes, like so many light-years gone. But already my mind is shifting gears. I channel my maritime ancestors as Umberto and I quietly get to work.

"What happens if no one responds?" Umberto asks as we wade with the skiff out into the thick, frigid sea.

I inspect the undulating horizon.

"You can't catch a fish if you don't throw out a line."

"You sound like a real salt, Captain."

We climb into the boat and I make a quick check inside my duffel bag: sounder, translator, net, rope, thermal blanket, Lucy's recorded plea. Umberto has a steady paddle going now. I scan the sky, watching for seagulls that will never come.

I remember.

"Dad?" I asked.

"Yes, son."

"If I was the last boy on earth, what would happen to me?"

"Why would you ask me a question like that?

"I had a dream I was the last boy on an island with two suns in the sky."

My father frowned.

"Toss me the rope and hop in. Fish don't wait."

I dared not mention the mermaids.

Now Umberto, his back to me, rows steadily and purposefully. Viscous fluid glints solar red and yellow as it drips, syrup like, from the tips of his oars. Oxygen bubbles as large as a fist surface and join our wake, oily half-domes that twist and bob around the sounding tether before they submerge again, still unbroken. The wind has settled to a child's whisper as the last sun floats on a flaming horizon.

I cock my head and listen carefully for their answer.

End.

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Simple Things