Thursday, November 8, 2018



Ransom is out there. He has a gun. He’s dangerous.

Logically, this is story’s end. Paradoxically, it’s the start of another.

Today, whatever day it is, there’s an exceptionally calm yellow sky, it’s clearly springtime, evening and silent. Shelly takes a few deep belly breaths, a couple of rapid knee-bends, and cracks her knuckles. Right. Ready. Mask with filters. Although, surely it’s too late for that. The spores are already there. She shrugs. Stepping outside, the city looks empty, but changed. Mould-slime underfoot, tall spiky moss and dense fungus. A plague of giant snails on slick glistening trails. Ta-clunk, Ta-clunk, Ta-clunk her boot-heels say to the plaza. Stepping over yet another corpse, barely recognisable, exploding outwards, ingrown and overgrown with an oozing gunk germinating into more varieties of moss. Yet Ransom is out there somewhere too, scheming his schemes, planning his plans.

If Ransom, why not others? ‘I mean, I’m no great shakes as a thinker’ she’d told Campbell, ‘but we can’t be the last. It’s totally irrational to think that way. Statistically, there must be remote untouched communities out there. Islands. Mountain villages. Where things will survive and continue.’

‘The spores are in the air. You can’t escape the air, no matter how remote your island or how high your mountain village. Billionaires may hide out in sealed subterranean bunkers, until it’s safe to emerge. But will it ever be safe…? Their children and grandchildren will be born and die underground, and the spores will still be here. The biosphere is irreversibly shifting. Nothing is the same.’ His breath rasps audibly in his chest.

Checking the entry-wound in Campbell’s side, there’s mould encrustation around its ruptured rim. She sponges it away carefully. He winces, but grins reassuringly.

Gizmos strut like three-legged chickens across the floor, pecking and twitching, meeting each other, sensing each other with sensors, then moving jerkily in precise circles around each other warily. Comical. Self-replicating, but only as and when necessary. Tay-Tay and Ri-Ri. We never had children. It just didn’t happen that way, despite all our trying. So they are our children now.

We are uploading and editing internet libraries full of information to the databanks beyond orbital decay limits. There forever. All human wisdom – HaHa, it’s there, for passing alien starships, or future terrestrial evolutions to discover. With these small mobile Gizmo back-up units, just in case.

‘Our last Will and Testicle’ jokes Campbell. ‘Remember how, in HG Wells ‘First Men In The Moon’, Cavor is brought before the Grand Lunar, to whom he divulges all human history. In the scrupulous interests of accuracy he truth-tells, the wars, atrocities, genocides, massacres, pogroms. Only to scare the absolute hell out of the Selenites so they want nothing more to do with us. Maybe we should do a presentational clean-up job on our legacy? Too late now, I guess.’

The endless frustrating dialogue continues in her head, it’s a struggle to turn off the leaky tap and keep those nagging thoughts from drip-drip-dripping.

In the teeth-grinding monotony, it amused them to self-scan, add their own electronic brain-patterns, memories and uniqueness to the whole. She works onscreen merging their two faces into a composite, retouching here… and here. Then transferring the image onto Tay-Tay and Ri-Ri’s face-screens. Yes, that looks good.

Movement to left. Ransom? She swings her bolt-action repeater ready. A huge hazy machine, like a ‘Star Wars’ walker is there between the multi-story and the supermart, then it’s translucent, then it’s gone. Madness and hallucinations are advance warnings of infection. She knows that. It’s what unhinged Ransom. But it can’t happen yet, it can’t. There’s more to do. It all began with prehistoric spores released by melting glaciers. We inhale them. They’re in our respiratory system. Crawling through the bloodstream. At first they erupt like ugly warts through the skin. Which grow, and grow. In the last hours of the now-extinct functioning-world there’d been theories about fossil evidence of earlier spore-plagues, but that’s all gone now. Everything’s gone. She kicks her way into the store. There’s sludge gumming up the floor. The air is hazy with drifting particles, the aisles dense with foul-stinking weed florets and sphagnum. Dull lichen-wheels are intersecting targets across the cabinet units in the sweaty fecund mulch warmth.

There are still cans inside. Is it safe to eat? Does it matter? The difference is die quick or die slow. Glancing warily to left and right she stuffs her satchel. There had been three of them. Ransom becoming increasingly twitchy and paranoid as they work the project between them, taking rota shifts. Until he slumps into deep coma-like depression. It’s all futile. Best to exert control now. Take the merciful euthanasia option while we still can. No future. No future at all. When Campbell argues back, Ransom gets violent. He uses the pump-action shotgun, wounding Campbell, before escaping into the city. He’s out there now. He has a gun. He’s dangerous.

Emerging back onto the plaza there are two huge machines that she catches from the corner of her eye. Their sensors swivel towards her, inquisitively questing, their attention searching her out, focusing on her. But when she turns, they’re gone. Leaving fluctuating after-images. Just the mustard-yellow spore-hazy sky, swirling in psychedelic patterns. And the coiled shells of giant snails. Hell, it’s their planet now. They’re welcome to it. Her attention drifts dangerously. Campbell had talked about time travel. If you could time travel, when would you go? You’d check out the significant moments of history. You’d be there for vital events that shape your time.

Ta-clunk, Ta-clunk, Ta-clunk her boot-heels say as she re-crosses the plaza.

Heartbeats stumble in her chest. The walls of her throat close in. Campbell is there. The sound of his raspy breathing fills the chamber. Tay-Tay and Ri-Ri are lying on their sides, inactive. He’d talked about downloading the full personality files into their AI matrix. He must have done that, and overloaded them. Stunned them. Campbell is lying still on the couch. He hasn’t turned around. She slumps the satchel down on the floor and takes two paces towards him. Suddenly scared. Something is not right.

When she touches him, he collapses forward. His skin is cold. He’s no longer breathing. Yet there’s harsh raspy breathing. It goes on.

NO! A hammerblow of terror. She makes a grab for the shotgun. Ransom is there in a loom of dark shadows. His skin stippled with a blistering rash of warts, some of them already erupting mossy tendrils of plant-growth. His eyes are black voids.

The explosions are deafening. The pain rips her apart. Nothing. Nothing. Nothingness.

After a long cold silence Tay-Tay and Ri-Ri twitch. Struggle to their feet, look around them in strange wonderment.

The ghostly future-machines close in around them, watching the first moments of their culture.

Logically, this is story’s end. Paradoxically, it’s also the start of another.

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