|20 May 2006 @ 12:05, by Beto Hoisel|
A few decades ahead humanity will be decimated by the climate disruption and the ultraviolet no more blocked by the ozone layer. The last man on Earth had a project: The Egg of humanity.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Tonio was, since years, becoming used to speak less and less. Mainly because there was less and less with whom. He could spend days without saying a word. Weeks. With whom? When Mike was alive, with him. Then, the compulsory, ultimate silence. Without telephone, without television, without friends or enemies to give news, an oppressive muteness of everything that wasn't more than the silent clamor of the triumphant death.
He only had to conclude everything he organized and do it according to his literally singular situation. All dead, as far as he knew. He left Fort Belvoir at dawn. In the previous day everything was checked: the bottles of drinking water, the dehydrated fruits, the cylinders of fuel, the portable towing device, the steadiness of the anchorage of the cart wheels where the Egg rested inside of the truck-container of the enormous vehicle. Everything correct, just as he designed.
A lot above the human trivia, stars and planets shone indifferent a little before dawn. The Moon, in the west, there was a lot of time had assumed the threatening and aggressive face of who had been offended hardly. But it was the Sun that, furious since appeared in the horizon, attacked. From the generous father it was, he had become cruel, sadist, avenger of the human madness. There were already many years he was not the same Sun as always had been: the life donor. But Tonio still found a way of smiling because he knew that to see the things this way was an illusion: what the Sun now gave us was the same as he had always given; the Sun doesn't change in the human timescale. Unforgivable was to see destroyed his patient work of billions of years: the delicate protection he put around everything he created here – the invisible veil without which nothing could live. The subtle veil of Gaia – the same veil of Maya under another version. But men never got to believe in invisible veils, they never had the feeling of what was this: what such a veil could be.
The shining truck – the last one that still moved – ran effortlessly in the ramp stretches, headed towards the road along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tonio felt like a monstrous creature of many wheels and a large aluminum womb: the metallic uterus where the enormous gray egg traveled. His red and dry eyes, salty of all of the tears he already cried and had forgotten, Doctor Tonio knew that his trip was the most archetypal of all those already undertaken. The last one. A trip from the definitive solitude to the absolute loneliness, as the last witness of the human insanity. Many of the abandoned cars were shown covered in dust and dirty, already with some rust: there were years they had died together with their owners. Other, more recent, along Tonio's itinerary. Some bodies still emanated their stench, others concentrated in large groups that decided to die together. A waste land.
He arrived to the divisor of waters, along the top of the mountains. Now there would be ups and downs always with wide vision to the east and west, till the far away horizons. Frequent attacks of the erosion making dangerous the margins of that old highway, built to sightseeing, landscapes and tourism, forbidden for trucks, one of the most beautiful of this country, one of the best attractions of a trip to the Appalachians. Yes, the Earth is becoming Mars. From this point here one can see, can prove that Eliot's title-metaphor became literal. Tonio, without any pain or sadness, outlined Shenandoah Park without any concern to side-looking at its vast ruin. Everything dry. Dead. The highway ran along the top line of the mountains, so that he could appreciate with his last eyes the devastated earth extending down the two slopes, up to where his view could reach. And silence. No birds, butterflies, bugs, green plants, nothing. Maybe some insects, if well sought after. If he stopped the truck a little, he could try to listen better some sounds in the distance. But only the cold autumn wind could be heard sometimes when deviated by the trunks and dry bushes close to a gas station abandoned a long time ago. Always many crashed and upside down cars, some burned in the insanity of the final days. There were a lot of decades – Tonio remembered – the landscape here was colored with all the tones the leaves assumed in this season: from the many greens to the oranges, to the ocher, salmon and red. In the spring, wild flowers enhanced other colors of life spilled on the hillsides, still full of vigor. But this was a long time ago, when Tonio was a child. "And there are many years that no more children are made" – he wondered.
Then, lost in thoughts with other visionaries, he obstinately developed his project along more than one decade, convincing each one who could give him support. He went after the government, when there was still a government, he went to Fort Belvoir's command while there was something like a command.
His project: the Egg.
First, a team work. A vast team of high level people, determined people, as if that endeavor could save them from their inexorable fate. A doom that would swallow all of them, like Saturn did to their children. Then, the team went decreasing as everything more. Fort Belvoir had a very convenient crematorium and everything became more hygienic for those who remained alive. There were no longer emotions and they not even commented on the new deaths, when consummated. The last was Mike, in the previous week. The fearsome acute leukemia that, in three weeks dropped their chosen in the raffle of death. Months ago was Mike’s companion, the last woman of whom there was news – certainly the last in the whole planet, given the exceptional conditions of survival preserved in Washington and Fort Belvoir.
As the ultraviolet grew of intensity – an emissary of Shiva to accomplish his extermination mission – "fight for survival" associations appeared and also clubs of suicides, which promoted periodic rituals of collective suicide for those who opposed to stay passively waiting for the pervasive, omnipresent triumph of Death. Strange was the survival of those clubs, where periodically the managers committed group suicide.
After the famine periods in continental scale, that in few years liquidated billions of people, and when all were adapted to the lottery of the death, be it for a cancer, for the widespread immunodeficiency or for the acute leukemia, came out the terrible phase of the urban and regional collapses. It was when it became evident that cities die, in the same way people and dogs die. And the death type that one after the other liquidated the metropolises of the world was a simultaneous breakdown of their vital systems: collapses of communications, energy, drinking water and provisioning. Almost always the garbage collection was already paralyzed from well before, turning cities into enormous pigsties. But pigsties without pigs, nor mice or dogs, now extinguished, killed of hunger – because they were all blinded by the ultraviolet. Only the cockroaches seemed to multiply happily: the party belonged to them.
The multiple flaws of their vital organs left the cities in coma, but the definitive death occurred for thrombosis in the arteries that demanded the exits to the rural spaces. The excess of vehicles and the frenzied, disordered traffic invariably took to accidents and these to definitive, total jams confining millions of desperate into horror sceneries. The survivors of the highways, that occupied the cars paralyzed in double, triple, endless lines separated among those who soon left to continue his escape on foot and the other that refused to abandon their car, their last goods, their final ownerships, being there until finishing the water of their precious bottles – or to see them stolen by others. A few days after its death, the city began to emanate the absolute stink of millions of deteriorating corpses. Each dying metropolis was always enclosed inside of a large halo of bodies and skeletons of those who tried in despair to flee, to flee, to flee... but flee to where, if everything was desolation under the impassive witness of a devastating Sun?
The Appalachian Trail runs – crossing it sometimes – beside the Blue Ridge Parkway destined to the old times wanderers, when the foot trips along sightseeing trails was a popular sport. But that was up to about twenty, thirty years ago. It was when became clear that such practice was more and more risky, for the growing incidence of the ultraviolet as the layer of ozone vanished. "'As the layer of ozone vanished' is an almost poetic sentence" – drifted Tonio's thought. It had stopped existing little by little, the transparent veil of Gaia, abandoning its inaccessible, invisible existence, by itself so close to inexistence. Most of the human population died without understanding the whys and the reasons of the death arriving from the sky. Only the widest and definitive explanation that everything summarized: a revolt of the gods – the explanation that everyone could understand.
When was accurately evaluated the inexorability of the end, when he made the calculations that nobody dared to do – or, if they did, soon tried to forget and to look at the other side – Doctor Tonio, PhD in nano-information science, impelled by a family tradition, began to conceive his project. It was his great-grandfather, Carl Sagan, who created the first messages "to whom it can interest" produced by humanity.
Eighty years ago, when there wasn’t yet a consciousness that the humanity's and life’s end were in the short time plans of the gods, Carl Sagan created special messages to put in the ships that would leave the solar system "forever", heading for the stars and to an unlikely encounter with some remote addressee. In the probe Pioneer-10 followed a plate containing data about the time, the point of the galaxy from where it came and on the beings that produced that craft. In the ships Voyager, some years later, he sent a recording of sounds of the planet Earth, messages of fraternity (Tonio couldn't avoid a feeling that there was hypocrisy there) in hundreds of languages and many other data about the proud civilization that had built that ship. To whom those messages would be destined, whose intact survival in the interestelar space could be of billions of years? For that was known of the immensity of the cosmic emptiness, it would never meet an addressee. Nobody, in the enormity of nothingness that – by far –is the main content of the universe.
And, on the trail of his inspiration, Tonio had accomplished the largest and more complete of all of the messages to Anybody There: the Egg – that contained inside its shell of titanium the most elaborated of all of the syntheses of History, the definitive encyclopedia of the scientific knowledge and of the passage of man on the planet Earth, in trillions and trillions of registered bytes. When Tonio turned to the right to enter the US-64 and took this road to the west and begin the transverse crossing of Appalachians, he felt as the courier of his own message.
There were twelve years of elaboration; a lingering and complex team work that implicated in difficult consensus on what to register and how to focus the controversial subjects, mainly in the initial phases of the project, when there were still discussions on such matters. Behind those debates, the desperate research of technical means to register information in an indelible way, capable to resist for millions of years without deteriorating. This was the horizon of Tonio: millions of years. As for the registered contents the controversies were not prolonged, because although there was still diversity of point of views among groups and ideologies that collectivized thoughts, there was no more enthusiasm, interest or motivation to make positions prevail. In this terminal phase of the humanity, the ideologies, the theories, the verbose elaborations of the intellect lost their value, if it is that some day they had any. Nothing better than to look at those things from the privileged standing point where he was now – smiled Tonio.
The researches on the technical means to register data so that they didn't corrupt drove to the discovery that the best place to record a message is the interior of the crystalline lattices, particularly that of quartz. After thousands of years of evolution of the many substrata for the human writing – from the stone to the papyrus, from paper to the magnetic tapes and the optical disks – the conclusion was that the most reliable of all the support materials is really the good old ancestral stone, now worked by the nano-alterations of individual atoms in their rows, inside the crystalline structures. In thousands of fine slices of unbreakable quartz, Tonio and his team got to register terabytes of data, unalterable during millions of years – that’s what they foresaw.
That research had entirely absorbed Doctor Tonio and his team, whose center of operations and assembly was at Fort Belvoir's laboratories, a research institution right to the south of Washington, DC. He had made calculations – it should be said he had foreseen – with intuition and perspicacity that Washington would be the last city in the world to fall in collapse when the humanity and the whole life on Earth dive into the terminal phase. And, in Washington, the most probable place to resist until the last day would be Fort Belvoir, a scientific base of military origin, endowed with the most complete resources of self-sufficient survival under siege. The up to date technology laboratories installed there would be the incubator, or better, the perfect ovary to produce the Egg – foresaw Tonio successfully, years ago.
The turnpike US-64 also had a row of up and down ramps as the truck crossed the slopes of parallel mountains where lied lifeless dozens of small towns. This was what remained of the old Appalachians, where he had sometimes vacationed in his youth. The succession of slopes would only end when he entered Kentucky, two hundred miles to the west, by the end of the afternoon, after passing by many ghost cities ahead. In fact, so dead they were not even ghosts they left.
In the beginning of the last descent, before the prairies of Kentucky, Tonio stopped the truck for a last night of sleep. Tomorrow, if nothing unexpected happened, he would arrive to his destiny: Fort Knox. Before sleeping he checked the final actions he would have to accomplish to deposit the Egg inside the underground fortress, where the American government stored all the gold he could collect, while still convinced that it was worth to do such gathering. He lied down on the bed above the driver’s seat and slept a deep slumber without dreams. To dream of what?
In the middle afternoon of the following day, he arrived to the formerly secret facilities of Fort Knox, which once had been the better defended place of the country. The succession of prohibitions and warnings of Military Area and Area of National Security had not been removed, even if they already didn’t mean anything, since not even sentries there were anymore. Before the sunset, the Egg had already gone down in its electric cart and, in the heart of the fortress; it was deposited carefully by Tonio in a type of cradle that he arranged amid the piles of gold bars.
Then, he closed the heavy safety doors and walked a little in the roasted external atmosphere, removed the glasses and the protections against the ultraviolet, had a sip of water and sat down hugging the knees in the high of a small elevation. He stayed gazing the red clouds of the west and the Sun already hidden in the horizon. It is what just like he had foreseen: water he had to his side, but no feeding at all. It’s what was foreseen in his plan: from there he would no more get up. Water, he would drink while there was any, but he would feed no more. It is what he had foreseen, as an integral part of his project, however preserved in secrecy until the end: what he would do after having put the Egg inside the supercoffer.
Tonio sat down in lotus position and from that he no more would get up. With the fixed eyes in the horizon, immobile day and night, he moved just a little when had one or two sips of the bottle, to his side, once a day. After twenty-eight days of continuous meditation, his skin peeled by the Sun, Tonio left his daily consciousness and floated in the air. He saw himself from the high and smiled.
He was dead.