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"45,000 -- What’s going on down there?" Max tapped the side of his skull again to make certain the communicator buried in his ear was working properly. He instinctively looked downwards, all the while knowing a person could never see as far as Doc's platform. His eyes followed the orange ziptubes that ran between the platforms, parallel to the Space Elevator's 100,000 kilometer micro-cables. "Level two, you awake? Doc --What’s happening?"
"Yes, we are here, Maxus. We are here." Doc couldn't hide the worry in his voice. He automatically looked upwards towards the asteroid at 100,000 kilometers anchoring the primary cables between Earth's surface and the vast vacuum of space.
"We just got a bag with red ice all over it," said Max.
"Were you possible to pull it out?"
"Negative on that. It went past too fast. Why didn’t you tell us it was heading our way?"
"We have problem, platform three," answered the deep Slavic voice. "It is Lexon. She be sick."
"Sick? Well, she just got back from furlough, so she probably partied too hard. That-a girl, Lexon."
"No, Max, not good. She runs fever."
"Wasn’t her blood washed before she came back up?"
"She was decontaminated. Perhaps is something new," said Doc.
"You mean a new virus," asked Max.
"Yes. Just what mankind is needing...one more brush with extinction".
"Come on, Doc. Don't be so dramatic. Is Lexon okay?"
"I sedate her. She be sleeping now." Maxus could hear Doc take a deep breath. "She just began this vomit. She is facing cable, and then gets sick." His voice stopped for a moment. "As soon as Lexon was knocked out, I contact Luna... regulations and all that."
Max stooped down and nudged Jack to wake him up. He had been floating about two feet off the bottom of the five-meter cube. "There’s something going on with Lexon," he said quietly as Jack sat up, looking around. Max motioned for Jack to activate his communicator.
"Say again," asked platform two.
"Nothing. I was telling Jack about Lexon, waking him up," answered Max.
"Roger that, platform three." The voice ended for a moment, but Maxus knew platform two hadn’t clicked off.
"You should have contacted us first," said Max, a bit irritated.
"Is Golden Rule," said Doc.
"Yeah, we know," snorted Jack. "Whoever holds the gold, makes the rules. Did Luna answer back?"
"I tell them, but I get no response," said Doc with almost a sigh.
"In the twenty years I’ve worked on the space elevator, I’ve never had them answer," said Max. "They think they're too good to talk to Earth people like us. Officially, they haven’t answered in a century -- credits just keep showing up in bank accounts to pay for the bags of H2O we send up there." Max could hear the cable ka-chunk, as one hundred kilometers above him, the whip sent another ten- ton package into space. "I’ll clean up the cable, level two, if you’ll go over the climber before sending it back down to Baseship. Over."
"Will do, Max. I tell you if any change with Lexon. Over." The two men on level three tapped the scalp over their right ears twice.
Jack stood up, looking through the glass on the bottom of their glass cube. Their platform hung 94,900 kilometers above the mouth of the Amazon River. Two centuries ago, before mankind started sending water to the moon to fill up the Aiken Basin, the mighty river below his feet had held sixty-six percent of the Earth's fresh water. By now, the river had been depleted to only forty percent. Below him, Max could see the lights from the cities of Macapa, Belem, and Sao Luis. It was six hours before daybreak on the Eastern Coast of South America and the cities shone like diamonds on a black velvet sheet. Further inland, the cities of Manaus and Boa Vista were also ablaze.
Maxus floated down into a corner, trying to breathe deeply. "Doc said she might have picked up something down there -- on the Floor."
"But we’re all decontaminated before we’re sent back up. Our blood is cleaned on the base-ship."
"Maybe it’s something new, at least that’s what Doc said." Max unzipped a pocket and took out a tube. "I’m going to zone out for a few hours, Jack. Can you watch the cable for awhile?"
"Sure. It’s been almost two weeks since we had to laser any major space garbage. I think I can handle it. I’ll clean the cable, too. It’ll give me something to do." Jack walked over to a seat floating three feet from the cube’s bottom, and began to tell the computer to send a vapor into the green tube protecting the Ella’s cables, to begin the sanitation process.
Max air-injected himself and closed his eyes. He pushed off his magnetized shoes and was soon floating serenely in a fetal position in a corner of the cube.
"Max, Max, wake up. I can’t raise 45,000."
"What’s happening?" Max’s voice faltered for a moment as Jack continued to shake him.
"Platform two. I can’t get Doc to answer back."
"Your line is probably just breaking up." He tapped his skull. "Doc? Answer back, Demetrius!" Maxus thumped his ear with his palm. The only sound was the zipping of a climber loaded with water racing towards the top of the elevator. "How long was I out?"
"About four hours. I let you sleep because…well, I know how you feel about Lexon."
"Have you tried raising level one and Baseship?"
"I got hold of Taber and Perry at 840, and Baseship is still there - but it has isolated itself from landside. Do you think we should take a ziptube down to level two to check on Doc?"
"No." Max’s tone was simple and resolute. "If they’re okay they’ll contact us. If not -- we’ll consider them under quarantine."
There was a slight buzzing inside both men’s audio-canals. Both men tapped their skulls.
"Level three, level three. Max and Jack, I have bad news."
"Go ahead, Doc."
"I am at Midway. I brought Lexon up here, hoping to use some of the medical equipment to help her. But she ...well, she die right away."
"Shit, Doc, she’s dead?"
"Yes. I try to make vaccine now from virus in her blood…while virus is still active."
"Okay, Doc. We’ll contact level one and call a meeting at Midway," Jack said, still reeling. "They’ll need four hours to get up there anyways."
"I will sanitize air after I be finished," reassured Doc, clicking off.
"Shit," repeated Max, tightening his fists. "Just ten hours ago Lexon was okay enough to come back up -- and now she’s dead. What the hell is this thing that can kill a person inside of one day?"
Jack stood looking through the bottom of the transparent cube at the Earth beneath his feet.
"What are you looking at Jack? I’m talking to you about Lexon!"
"Boa Vista, Max. Where did it go," asked Jack. They both were searching the surface of the planet now.
"You’re right. It should be right there." Max pointed downward. "It’s just gone -- simply vanished!"
"Oh, it’s still there, Max. It’s just in the dark now and without any power. A million and a half people without any protection in the darkness of the night."
"But how could the power just go out?"
"It’s the fusion reactors. If someone isn’t sitting at a particular desk at a particular time to punch in a sequence of numbers, the fusion reactors shut down…it’s a safety feature."
"But why weren’t the people sitting there, Jack? What happened to them?"
"The same thing that happened to Lexon, Max. The same thing that might happen to us."
At fifty-six thousand feet, the sliver of light on the Eastern horizon of Earth formed a perfect crescent, ushering in another day. The Eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean was warming up to a sapphire color as the sunlight began to race across its surface. Four desperate men were assembled in the large glass meeting room at Midway platform.
Max was the last to enter the ziptubes because he hated the ride. The ziptubes were only wide enough for one man in a spacesuit, and gave a person a constant feeling of falling. There were four positive magnetized strips on the transparent interior walls of the tubes. These repelled the negative layer on the spacesuit, keeping the man inside safely away from the walls. Small rockets in the suit shot the traveler up or down through the weightless vacuum. Being able to ride the ziptubes was a basic skill for the Ella's maintenance crews, and many employment candidates were ruled because they couldn't tolerate the enclosure.
As Max jumped into the ziptube, he selected one star in the Celestine Sphere to focus on. He knew it really wasn't a star, that it was actually the planet Venus reflecting the glory of the Sun. Somewhere inside himself, he decided to rename this bright light 'Lexon', at least for the trip downwards. He wasn't aware of it then, but he would call it Lexon from that moment until he no longer saw stars in the sky.
Max walked through Midway's door into the large, translucent room at 55,000 kilometers, pealing off the zipsuit as though disgusted with it. Doc grabbed his arm briefly, shooting him in the neck with an air-inoculator. The newcomer walked up to Lexon's spacesuit, which floated in the center of the room. He knew it held Lexon’s body. All five men stood quietly for a moment.
"Was it difficult to isolate the virus," Max asked backing away from the spacesuit.
"Was not hard…was easy," he answered proudly. "I be mee-cro-biologist. Is why they call me 'Doc'."
A quick grin passed over Max’s face in spite of the circumstances. Demetrius was as arrogant as ever, in a jovial sort of way. He began walking towards a machine in the transparent wall. "Coffee," he ordered and a green fluid in a beige cup appeared. "What's happening on the floor," he asked his co-workers.
"We haven’t heard from Baseship in three hours," Perry began. "But H2O is still coming up the Ella."
"There’s some kind of virus or influenza down there."
"Well, which is worse, Doc? - a new virus or a new flu," asked Jack.
"Is all worse - Virus or influenza or infection. Until mankind develops immunity to any bodily threat - is all worse."
"The broadcasts are telling people to stay indoors until it passes," added Taber from 840 kilometers. "They think it originated in the Philippines a little over a week ago."
"That would explain Boa Vista losing power first. They were the nearest to the point of origin."
"Why haven’t we been affected," asked Max, all the men turning towards Doc.
"Maybe it’s no direct contact with the virus," said Jack thinking out loud.
"But Doc had direct contact with Lexon," said Taber.
"Maybe it be the fact that we are weightless," replied Doc. He stopped for a moment, looking at the Earth below his feet. "Maybe this virus turns a man's immune system against him, clogging his veins with T-cells until no room left for oxygen and red blood cells."
"Okay, but what does that have to do with us being weightless?"
"When we be weightless, our immune system is suppressed, which is why they wash our blood before we come up. We survive just by chance...by being in right place at right time -- hanging here in Heaven."
Jack seemed to be searching the surface of the Earth below his feet. "Wait a minute. Where’s Sao Luis?" All five men stood searching the blackness. The sun had risen on Macapa, but the other cities were still in darkness. Only two diamonds remained on the black velvet blanket.
"No one goes on furlough," stated Maxus.
"Agreed," echoed the four men surrounding him
"We need to assume that Baseship is out of commission."
Taber stepped into the center of the circle of men. "I think we need to say a few words over Lexon before we even begin to think about the future."
"Of course you’re right," said Perry. They surrounded the spacesuit, with hands folded in front of them. They all noticed through her spacesuit's visor that her head was wrapped in a white cloth. Deep red stains had filtered through the cloth around her nose and ears. "Who’s first," he asked, all eyes turning towards Maxus.
"As you know, I had special feelings for Lexon. I won’t deny it, I can’t deny it. Lexon was a friend to all of us. I’m glad she died quickly and while on duty. It is how she would have wanted it."
Jack was next. He sighed deeply before saying simply, "She’ll be missed."
Taber took a step forward. "K.G. is quoted as saying, ‘Of life’s two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer’s hand.’ But I tell you, I found both of these in the person of Lexon Abrams. She possessed a good heart and a strong arm. Our lives are less because of her passing."
Doc stepped forward. "I will speak to the future. I know that as we stand before this woman we cared about, we may be discouraged. But when I look upon the surface of this world I know that right now, on the Floor, there will be survivors. Maybe will be one person in 500,000 people. Soon, they will begin to gather together things they believe will help them survive...maybe knife, maybe food. Soon they begin walking out of the cities below our feet. They walk past the devastation and death, walking further away from the bodies of friends and loved ones, into countryside. Some of these castaways might survive first desperate winter or first impossible summer. Many will not. But if they do survive, over impossible odds, then in one year -- perhaps even less - they will begin to wake up with only one thought in their minds. The thought will be this: ‘Today I will meet someone...I will meet someone and we will talk, we have conversation.’
"And this, my friends is where we be lucky. We be lucky because we have each other. I look into your face, Jack...and your face, Max...and your face, Perry...and your face, Taber. And I know: whatever needs be done, this we will do. We can do all this, because we be the lucky ones...we have each other to depend upon."
Doc stepped away from the spacesuit, backing towards the middle of the room.
"What do you plan to do with the body," asked Max, moving to Doc’s side.
"Attach the spacesuit to the cable and whip her towards the center of the Sun. That way, the body will burn up completely with no risk of further contamination."
"Good plan, Doc. Lexon would have wanted that. A journey into the Sun. Yes, she would have liked it."
Perry walked over to them. "What’s our next step?"
"We have six months of supplies in this room," said Jack. "I have family in Macapa. I say we wait here and see if they beat this thing. As long as there are broadcasts coming up from the floor, there’s a chance that things will get back to normal."
"Let’s contact the moon," suggested Taber. "As a backup plan. Just in case."
Maxus snorted with spite. "We’ve been shooting bags towards them for two hundred and fifty years. We’ve given them our world’s best resources in exchange for money - and they won’t even talk with us."
"They would if we cut their umbilical cord," seethed Perry from level one.
"Those rich fucks are set up by now," spewed Jack. "I hear they’ve filled the Aiken Basin with our water. They have a million people living on its coastline."
Maxus slammed his fist onto a table. "Then there should be ample room for five more men, if it comes to that. I say stop throwing them supplies and they’ll have to talk to us."
"I’ll key in the computer commands for the base," said Jack.
"Everyone stay away from the cable. No one goes back to their platforms. We’ll just set the space garbage guns on auto, and sit here, in this room for a week. Let’s let time tell us what to do next."
Five men existing in a glass cube, watching helplessly as their world goes to sleep. After four days all Floor transmissions went dead. After six, there were no diamonds remaining in the night.
"Maxus! Doc! Wake up! Luna’s calling."
Max crawled out of the strap cocoon he was sleeping in and plunged his feet into his magnetized shoes.
"People of the Ella … People of the Ella," commanded a shrill voice coming from the transmitter.
"Ready?" asked Maxus softly, looking at the men around him. He slid his palm over a colored spot on the wall. "We are here, Luna."
A hologram appeared, hovering over the base of the transmitter. The creature before them was most certainly human, but two and a half centuries of reduced gravity had radically changed the way she looked. She was frail and tall, her appearance closer to a preying mantis than a human.
"Representative of Luna, we are honored."
"We have taken notice of the absence of materials coming from your Ella."
"The five of us gathered here need to talk with you," said Maxus.
"We know of the death affecting your world. Your night sky is growing ever darker and our transmitters are growing ever quieter. This, however, has very little to do with us."
"This outbreak, this plague on the surface is severe, but the five men you see before you are unaffected."
The lady of the moon could be seen conferring with others around her. "We do not believe you are unaffected, men of Earth."
Max began to anger, but tried to hide his rising emotions. "The five of us ask that you reconsider and allow us to find sanctuary in your cities."
"Out of the question." There was silence on both ends. "We, the people of the smaller double planet, have decided to discontinue our use of the Ella. Our cities are full, brimming with life and food. Our canals and seas are deep and full of fresh water." The lady of the moon brought a cloth to her mouth and sneezed before regaining her formality. As her hand fell behind her, she finished her statement.
"Any further parcels flung towards Luna will be considered an act of war." The transmission ended abruptly.
Taber quoted without emotion: "K.G. tells us: How gravely the glutton counsels the famished to bear the pangs of hunger."
Jack turned towards the cable and noticed the absence of the sound of spiders being hauled. As promised, Luna had already stopped the pick-up unit at the Baseship. He went to the food provider and ordered a mixed drink. The other men, except Doc, followed suit.
Perry, Taber, and Jack then began to discuss the transmission among themselves.
Max began to re-play the transmission over and over. "I say we give it twelve days and then climb to the moon." He walked around the recorded three-dimensional hologram one more time.
"What are you looking for," asked Doc, noticing that Max was watching the moon woman’s hands.
"Just looking," answered Max smiling. "Haven’t seen a moon girl before."
"She probably wouldn't date you either," Doc joked.
"Yeah, chicks hate me. There’s a whole Galaxy of women out there waiting to reject me." He stood up, turned to the group, and crossed his arms before speaking. "I figure there are five billion people on the Floor. That’s enough to keep this virus alive for years. It’s the whole China equation -- if you march thirty people off a cliff in China every minute, you'll never run out of people because there are so many being born to take their place. We have a four month supply of food so we can’t sit here forever. That leaves going up. Maybe in ten or fifteen years, after this disease has run its course, we’ll come back."
"Makes sense," replied Perry. "But what kind of defenses does Luna have. You heard what they said about 'any further parcels'."
"I guess we’ll find out, won’t we. As far as our defenses, we can dismantle the lasers we use to zap the space trash. When we get on the surface, those lasers can be used as weapons, if needed."
"That’s a mighty big ‘if’," noted Doc.
"Well I’m not spending the next four months sitting in this cube waiting to die."
"Okay, we don’t have rocket ships, so how do we get there," asked Jack.
"If you’ll slip into your zipsuits, I’ll show you." The men did as instructed before Max walked over to a door at the back of the cube. "As you well know, a century ago this elevator was not only used to haul freight to the moon, it also hauled people." He dramatically slid his hand over a rectangle on the wall and a door opened leading to another room. The five men entered and were amazed to find antique computers and lasers and two large spider pods floating towards the back of the small warehouse. There was enough seating inside each pod for six people. "These were used before Luna closed the doors to tourism. If we put them on the cable, they should still be operable."
The other men looked inside the capsules. "Does it have any inertial guidance?" asked Jack.
"All we need to do is get close. This elevator is programmed to throw us directly into the Aiken Basin. The bags of H2O that we’ve been sending explode and disintegrate on impact, but we’ll swim to shore, taking our lasers with us."
"We could whip around the back of the moon and catch Luna from the dark side," said Taber.
"That’s what I was thinking," agreed Maxus. "There should be some fuel left in these babies too, in case we need to fire the thrusters briefly."
"Sounds as if you’ve thought this all out, Max," said Jack.
"That’s what I.Q. is my friends," said Max, taking a small bow. "It’s the ability to survive no matter what the circumstances by making use of all aspects of your environment."
"Show-off," mumbled Jack good-hearted as they re-entered the front of the platform, leaving the pods behind them.
"Taber and I will retrieve the lasers from the platforms. I just hope we don’t have to use them," said Jack, nodding to rest of the group while jumping into a ziptube.
Twelve days later, five men sat in two pods, five kilometers from the top of the Ella. Once through Luna’s force field, maybe these survivors could state their case to their distant moon cousins. After all, they were all homo-sapiens when small genetic differences were put aside.
Doc and Jack clung tightly to their lasers in one cushioned capsule. Max, on the other hand, had his weapon safely stowed under his seat. He was sitting in the viewer section of his pod, along with Perry and Taber. Max seemed to be lost in thought, but he was actually saying his quiet goodbyes to his home-world and the stars around him. He quickly searched the deep-purple surrounding him and found his very own star, Lexon, beaming at him, as though welcoming him into the galaxy.
"We’ll be back when it’s over," said Perry, trying to break the silence. "If everything isn’t dead by then."
"K.G. has told us: ‘The butterfly will continue to hover over the field and the dewdrops will still glitter upon the grass when the pyramids of Egypt are leveled and the skyscrapers of New York are no more.’"
Max smiled re-assuredly and looked up at the asteroid above him that kept the Ella anchored between heaven and Earth. Long after they had escaped the planet, this satellite would be held in geosynchronous orbit. Light was blazing behind the planet under his feet now, forming a perfect corolla around its edges. It floated against a black vacuum dusted with an infinite number of shining grains of crystal.
Perry watched as Max caught his breath. They felt the pod jump onto the whip, followed by a moment of gravity as the pods accelerated towards the moon.
Over the next sixty-six hours, the five Earthmen would have plenty of time to become acquainted with every crater of their new home. The men moved about the spacecraft using their fingertips to propel them. They studied holographs overlaid with maps when they weren’t worrying about their welcome.
After eighteen hours into the trip, the Earth was the size of a baseball held at arm’s length. After two days it was a sliver in the darkness, and a new world was racing towards them.
On day three, as they slipped behind the lunar horizon, Earth was suddenly out of sight and their mission became more ominous. Their lives were under the control of lunar gravity, which bent their path even further.
"What’s your angle of descent," radioed Jack, his pod following Max’s.
"Lunar injection angle at forty-five degrees," Max read off the instrument panel. "We’ll have to make some corrections manually."
"You figure we’ll have enough fuel in these old globes?"
"I checked them out five times, Jack. We should have enough for a two-minute burn."
"And then what, Max?"
"Well, if we can’t get on course by then, Luna will see us and blast us out of the air." There was silence on the other end of the communications link. "On my mark, Jack, fire your thrusters -- three, two, one… mark."
Both sets of thrusters burst on, flames against the blackness of the Lunar surface. "I can’t believe we’re actually doing this," mused Jack as we watched the burn in front of him.
"We’re due for lunar daybreak in sixty seconds," said Max. "Hold, hold, hold...throttle back, Jack! Throttle back!"
Daybreak was upon them, the light of the Sun reflecting off the craters and boulders two-hundred meters below them.
"I can see the Basin, Max," yelled Jack.
"Just ride it out, Jack" he answered. "God’s speed my friend."
Their stellar lifeboats sifted noiselessly through the force field enveloping the moon city. Even the plunge into the water in the Aiken Basin was not as much of a shock as it was a feeling of being swallowed, then falling upwards.
Eventually, the castaways pulled their way up and over the edge of the water-filled canyon, leaving their zipsuits on the shore. Instinctually, the men’s hands occasionally ran over the barrels of the weapons they carried on their backs. The temperature under the force field was as mild as humans could make it -- a perfect seventy-six degrees.
The edge of the glimmering city was no more than fifty meters from the emptiness of the pit. Max pulled his laser over his head, allowing it to lead the way towards the windows of a large building. They could hear machinery working away inside the complex. Max motioned for Taber and Jack and to lag behind, while he, Perry, and Doc did the obvious -- they walked through the door, ready for a showdown.
"What’s that slime all over the windows," asked Perry, nodding towards the walls.
"It be death," answered Doc stoically. Then he turned towards the center of the city. "Can you smell it? That sweet smell," he asked.
"Guys, get in here, we’re heading into the heart of Luna," ordered Maxus to those still waiting outside.
One hundred meters inside the buildings, in a courtyard lay open to the sky. The bodies of five-dozen charred Lunarites were neatly stacked into the shape of a giant bonfire.
"That’s what I was smelling. They must have covered the bodies first with a perfumed accelerant, to burst them into flame, while disguising the stink of the disease," said Doc. "A pocket filled with posies. You saw this ooze on Luna lady’s handkerchief, didn’t you, Max."
"Yes. I wasn’t waiting twelve days in the hope Earth might recover. I waited twelve days knowing the Moon Colonies were dieing."
"Lexon beat us here, my friends," sighed Doc. "The red ice we saw on the bags must have provided a decent enough environment to support the virus during space travel. Then it found a warm, cozy home inside the waters of this dark, Lunar basin, multiplying quickly until the monster was called forth from the pit by a thirsty Lunarite."
"So, why are these machines still running if everyone's dead?"
Nick stepped up, pointing to the roof. "Solar power. Luna was placed here, at the South Pole, because of its gift of sunlight every day. I think we'll find dark houses scattered throughout the complex where it's possible to sleep."
"Sleep sounds great," said Doc, "I make prescription for us all to take turns, sleeping in shifts before we go further into the city. We have a long road ahead of us, just cleaning up after those who built this world."
And then something moved inside the pile of bodies, throwing a charred ribcage to the floor. Five men whipped their lasers in front of them in unison.
"Come on out," shouted Max towards the blackened bones. "We know you're in there."
The fragile, pink, bony fingers of a hand peaked out over a skull at the top of the pile. A few femurs clanked onto the floor at their feet. And then a face appeared - the frightened face of a boy, maybe five or six years old. It wore the despondent expression of a child who couldn't reason away the feeling that he too should be dead and burned.
"Why are you here," the child's voice asked inside the Earthmen's heads. "Are you demons come to haunt me now that I have no family to protect me?"
"Mental telepathy," whispered Taber out loud. "Amazing."
In unison, the men lowered their lasers, letting them drop to the ground, overwhelmed with the miracle before them.
Later that month, while carrying out bodies to be burned, Doc discovered a laboratory. "This be wonderful," he explained those around him. "Is reproduction lab, for making of children. The six of us can decide to begin again the human race, or we can stop it with us."
Nick raised his hand quickly. "I vote for putting this stuff into full gear pronto. The only woman I've seen in eight months was that Luna hologram."
"I'm with you," laughed Taber and Max. "Start her up."
"Well, there is bad news about that, and worse news," lectured Doc. "In sixteen years we will have women." He held up an index finger indicating ‘one’.
"I'm willing to wait..." said Nick shrugging.
Doc held up the second finger. "...and they will all be our daughters." Doc began to hand out vials while pointing towards doors in the hall. Then he held up both hands to halt everyone for a moment. Dimeitri turned to Vashi, the Luna boy they had discovered in the pile. "I have found something else, Vashi." He opened the door to a room just past the entrance, allowing the child to go in first. There were bottles on the walls, thousands of them.
"What are they, Doc," he thought towards Dimeitri. All the men were inside the room by now, looking up at the rows of pink glass.
"They are embryos, Vashi. Moon children waiting to be born, if you so desire."
"If existence would not have been better than non-existence, there would have been no being," quoted Taber.
"Kilhil Gibran again," asked Perry. Taber nodded yes.
"I so desire," spoke Vashi, for the first time actually using his vocal cords to communicate instead of just his mind.
Fortunately, the first incubated batch of moon humans produced a near equal number of boys to girls: 1067 males to 983 females. The first embryos to be brought forth totaled around one hundred.
The five fathers would have their hands full assisting the automated child-rearing robots.
Thirteen months later, Maxus was air-gliding through an indifferent alley between two non-descript buildings in the abandoned section of Luna when he saw something move. It seemed to be merely a whiff of smoke or a puff a dust, but he slowed down and dismounted, just in case. As he turned the corner on foot, there she was, strolling softly while humming quietly to herself.
The noise of Max's shoes hitting the ground made the woman turn to face him. Her form was hunched forward enough for Max to know she was closer to the end of her life than to the beginning.
"Hello," he began with a stifled whisper, as though throwing the word down an infinite corridor.
Her wrinkled, heavy eyelids studied him head to foot for a moment. She shook her head sadly. If Taber would him been there to see her, he would have quoted Kalhil Gibran as saying, "The strong grows in solitude where the weak withers away."
And within that one moment, that one exchange of glances, Max knew she would have no place in this brave new world.
Even before the death of her civilization, she had moved through these streets unnoticed and unseen. Her elderly body had allowed her to walk stealthily among her own people, through their loud crowds, so she had learned long ago to be content to be only with her own thoughts. "Rememberance is a tripping stone in the path of Hope," Gibran might have reminded her. Each day she would wash, dress, and feed herself. In the evenings she would watch a hologram from her youth or ask a Biblio for new information on a variety of subjects.
She would continue to do those things now, using a very small portion of the unlimited energy of the Sun. Eventually she would die in her a very small room of her very small house, alone and in peace.
Max stopped himself from following her into the shadows.
During the next two decades, the descendents of mankind would hear rumors about a woman living in the abandoned section of Luna. Eventually, their numbers would encroach upon her solitude, but she would die before they actually found her, which was okay - she belonged to the past instead of the future.
Later that day -the day of his chance meeting with the moon lady - Maxus was traveling home when his glider's gyroscope failed and he crashed into the side of a Starbuck's dispenser. He died instantly and was found the next day by Vashi, using a locater inside of Max's shoes. Oftentimes, death makes no excuses for whom it chooses, allowing the elderly to outlive the young and productive.
"Now children, let's remember to put the date on the top of your papers before you place them on my desk," instructed the tall, fragile teacher. She pointed to a series of numbers and letters hovering behind her. "Maxtember the 25th, 427," she reminded her eight-year-old students. All of them checked their papers, making corrections as necessary. The children’s linage could have easily been traced back to the six fathers, but it seemed a superficial detail by now. A bell rang loudly and the students raced to her desk, pushing papers into a pile before running out the back door.
Mrs. Harper grabbed one of the girls by the arm, gently easing her beside the desk. "Laurie, would you like to wear the red scarf today during recess?"
"Oh yes, Mrs. Harper, very much!"
The teacher leaned forward, tying a red cloth around the child's neck. Stepping outside, the teacher led the girl into the middle of a circle formed by other students. Five boys ran into the center a formed a line by joining hands. The girl grabbed the hand of the boy at the end of the line, as the six children began to rotate within the circle.
"Watch your nose, Watch your ears,
When the red ice does appear.
Whip about, whip about...Run With FEAR!"
The children squealed with laughter as the girl was launched into the circle, touching as many classmates as she could catch.
And the children of men played in eternal sunlight on the smaller sphere of a double planet called Luna…as a small light began to shine on the planet once called Earth.
|Outrunning the Storm|
by Michele Dutcher
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by Michele Dutcher
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