Finished Dec. 27, 2015. Download PDF A Day to Rest.
A Day to Rest
It was another one of those storms when the wind howled to get into the domed City and the sleet beat upon the metal walls and the wave-breakers a mile out in the sea might as well not have been there.
Simon watched the storm with his father, the City’s lighthouse-keeper. For years Simon had guiltily resented his father for his career, condemning them both to the life of an Outskirter. Simon’s schoolmates probably didn’t even realize there was another storm: the impressive steel walls and soft luminescence of the City kept its Citizens well-insulated. But his father was a retired scientist. Worse, his father was a good retired scientist, and cared much for the future. So while the active scientists risked their lives outside the City, desperately running their tests and collecting their data, Simon’s father manned the lighthouse. In case something went wrong.
“Might they find something this time?” Simon asked of his father. He could see flashes of the island through the swirling storm. There had been an old church on the island, before people had moved inside the City for protection against the increasingly violent weather. Now, the church and its crumbling pillars were a disparate monument to the old times.
“Hopefully something good,” replied Simon’s father. “We need something good soon.”
But the wind howled and the sleet swirled and Simon and his father watched. The City chugged through its dwindling energy supply, and the scientists never found anything good.
When the last humans finally left, it wasn’t the environment or the violent weather or the chemistry that forced them away. It was the ecosystem. As they enclosed themselves in their Cities, plant and animal life had all but died out; the toxic waters and perennial stormclouds were death knells for most multicellular species. That the humans had persisted for so long on such a desolate planet was a testament to their strength, stubbornness, and ironic clasp to tradition.
Simon was ninety when the last HyperVessel lifted above the dense clouds. Like all the others, the ship carried animal embryo banks and plant seeds and bacterial cultures; it was now far easier to construct a new biosphere somewhere else than to turn Earth’s around. Noah’s Ark had come true, thought Simon grimly. Earth was spent: soon, the polar ice caps would be completely gone, and the lighthouse once manned by Simon’s father completely submerged.
The oceans raged in a deep, deep anguish for the life that had sprung up from within the sea’s womb. They raged and raged against the destructive wave come from life’s very own pinnacle.
15.3 million Standard Galactic Years later
Ramon contemplated the final two whiskey-pouches, the ones they’d been saving. “Don’t look at them,” said Rodrigo, behind him. God, he hated when his brother talked. Six Months of nothing but him and his brother and his brother’s ugly voice, trapped in this dirty, rickety hyperlander.
“Stop talking,” said Ramon.
Rodrigo shrugged. “The human universe is dying,” he continued. “It’s been a million Years since we’ve had any economic unity, half a million since Galactic Starvation and what? Suddenly they realize that we’re the only hope left. And not much hope, at that. It’s too late.”
“There are many other scientists,” said Ramon. “Someone will find something.”
Rodrigo smiled humorlessly. “There is nothing left to find. I don’t know how old humanity is, but we’ve found everything. We’ve used everything.”
“Then why save the whiskey?”
“For the end of the universe. When we truly know we won’t have to wake up and face it again tomorrow.”
Grudgingly, Ramon turned back to the hyperlander’s dashboard, as he had been doing for the last half-Year. It was out of habit, now: he’d long since lost all hope that the scanning screen would yield anything other than its hard, blank monochrome.
But this time, there was something. “Rodrigo, what is that?”
Rodrigo squinted at the board. “We’re in a dead sector. System dead for… fifteen million Years, holy shit!”
“Should we pass?”
Rodrigo paused as he contemplated the energy and time costs of a terrestrial exploration. The sector was dead—deserted by humanity
—but the earliest abandonment he’d known about previously was six million Years ago, not fifteen. He had strict regulations from the Scientific Federation; pass all dead systems; but even SciFed was dying along with the rest of the universe.
“Ah, what the hell,” he said. “But only seven Days planetside. I wonder if anybody even knows this system exists?”
Probably not, he thought, what with Galactic Starvation and all.
Day 6 of 7, planetside
At least the insufferable cloud cover had abated, courtesy of the hyperlander’s standard Cloud Abater 200. Now there was a sky, and the planet’s sun streamed down on the mosses and rudimentary bryophytes. There was water—lots of water—but it was all salted and ultimately corrosive. Rodrigo and Ramon had discovered that the planet’s core was mostly nickel and iron, and in a particular stroke of brilliance Ramon had used the ship’s hypercore to super-amplify its own magnetic pulse and introduce tectonic plate movements that would eventually raise mountains and form more dry land and do who-knows-what. They had oxygenated the atmosphere. The planet was certainly salvageable; Rodrigo wondered why its inhabitants had left, fifteen million Years earlier.
Salvageable as it was, however, it had become clear by the fifth day that it contained no solution to Galactic Starvation. It was too small. The early humans had depleted all of its chemical and nuclear energy supplies, and its sun was not significantly powerful. It had plenty of water, but water could be made with hydrogen and oxygen, and the universe contained enough of that.
“Let us drop an embryo bank here,” said Ramon suddenly.
“An embryo bank?” asked Rodrigo, surprised. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Ramon. “We have more of them than we’ll need, assuming we continue at the same rate for the next six Months. As a tribute, I guess, to the men that once lived here.”
“A tribute,” repeated his brother. “This planet already has an ecosystem.”
Ramon shook his head. “It has small plants and fungi. It has little globs of jelly, floating in the sea. An embryo bank wouldn’t ruin the ecosystem. It would kick-start evolution. Think of how cool it would be in ten thousand Years.”
“If the universe survives that long.”
But they agreed to plant the embryo bank and to come back one day, if the universe survived that long.
The sun set, and the single moon rose. Ramon and Rodrigo lay outside the hyperlander. They had worked hard. The weather was good.
“We’ll leave tomorrow,” said Rodrigo. “This planet will not solve Galactic Starvation.”
“Will we ever find a place or a thing to solve Galactic Starvation?” asked Ramon, as much to the stars twinkling above as to his brother.
Rodrigo sighed. “We are scientists,” he said. “We must hope. It is our job.” And there was silence. The two men stared at the heavens, which held nothing for them but distant coldness.
“Must we return to the coldness of space?” voiced Ramon.
“We must,” replied Rodrigo.
“We allotted seven Days for a terrestrial exploration,” said Ramon, “and we have spent six. Let us not cheat ourselves of the last Day.”
Rodrigo’s head was spinning. Galactic Starvation raged like the stormy oceans of old. And yet–
“Here,” said Ramon, offering the whiskey-pouch to his brother. “Have it. Today.”
Rodrigo turned on his side to face Ramon. They each stared into the other’s eyes for a long while. “We are scientists,” Rodrigo murmured quietly. “We have worked as hard as we could have, and yet it is not hard enough.” He accepted the whiskey from his brother, and turned back to face the stars.
And on the seventh Day, they rested.