Thursday, May 30, 2019

5/30/19

And Quietly it Ends
By CB Droege


THERE ISN’T MUCH LEFT DOWN THERE, the message came through on her screen after the typical delay to account for the bounce it took through several make-shift communications relays in orbit. These systems weren’t really meant for this kind of communication, and even plain text strings were almost too much for the failing equipment to handle. They’d gone too long without maintenance. Too long without communication from the ground.

I KNOW, she typed, but then stared at the message for a moment before backspacing it and typing out, WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S LEFT DOWN THERE. She pressed ‘Send’ and waited again. It would be at least a full minute before she would get a response.
She had known when she told him her plan that he would try to talk her out of it, but she was doing what she had to do. It had been six months without any communication from the surface. They needed to know… She needed to know what had happened, who was left, why there were no radio signals from the earth at all for so long.

THERE IS NO WAY TO VACCINATE YOURSELF! popped onto her screen. Of course; his disease hypothesis again. She found it very unlikely. For everyone on the planet, and three of the five orbitals to fall silent all at once, that would have to be an impossibly fast-moving disease. Of course, neither of them was a microbiologist, so it might be something neither of them understood.

She was a botanist and he was a psychologist. Not much overlap in their fields, but they’d still managed to have some pretty stimulating conversations when the delay was shorter and the messages were longer. I’M RUNNING OUT OF FOOD, she sent.

Her own hypothesis was a massive solar flare. That would explain the lack of radio broadcasts from the surface and the other orbitals and the rapid decline of the rest of the equipment in orbit. Also, it left the chance that some people were still alive.

I’LL BE ABLE TO DOCK WITH YOU IN JUST A FEW DAYS AT MOST. She sighed. They’d been trying to find a way to get their orbitals docked since just a few weeks after whatever happened. She no longer believed that there was a chance. He had enough supplies to keep them both for another two years, but there was simply no way to share them.

I'M GOING, she sent. She wasn’t going to convince him. She was going to have to start the separation and reentry process without his blessing. She dragged her console with her as she moved to the debarkation lock and began to get into her vacuum gear. She opened the airlock and glanced at her console.

She was expecting another argument. I LOVE YOU, was all it said. She frowned. It wasn't the first time he'd told her that, but she knew it wasn't true. They knew that they might well be the only two humans left, and that was a powerful emotional force, but it wasn't love. It was an intense desperation for contact. She was a scientist, and she had to see things objectively. She felt the same pull to him, but she knew what it was. They barely knew each other, really. He was either deluded or trying to manipulate her.

Annoyed, she pulled one glove back off and typed, TOO BAD YOU DON'T HAVE A VACCINE FOR THAT!

"Sorry," she said aloud, then deleted the message and instead typed, I LOVE YOU, and sent it. In a way, she even meant it.

She didn't wait for another reply. She flicked the console and watched it float away in the microgravity of the passage as she reattached her glove. Then she swung herself into the lock, and started it cycling. In a moment, she would be in her reentry capsule hurtling home.


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CB Droege is an author and voice actor from the Queen City living in the Millionendorf. Recent publications include work in Nature Futures and Science Fiction Daily.

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