Back to IndexWritten March, 1998

The Leaving

Imagine you could fly, skimming over the waves as their white crescents rise and fall beneath you. The waves are cast in crimson shades by the light from the sun overhead. Ahead the darkened outline of a continent slowly rises from the surf, cutting their white crests and standing as a rock amidst the roaring turmoil of the water. From a dot on the horizon it rises until it fills your whole view. Roads and pathways criss-cross the land like bandages across the wounds of the land. Buildings are scattered at uneven spacings seemingly without any design. The reflective surface of a solar power station shines brightly, glistening in the dark red overtones of the light that bathes this world.
These signs of civilisation stand visible and exposed upon the earth but of signs of life itself there are only a few visible. You fall swiftly out of the sky, the wind whistling past your ears as you plunge from the blood red heavens to the ground below. You perch invisibly on the bough of a tree and as you turn your attention to the scene below the tree bobs and creaks while the rising wind whistles through its barren branches.
The man who sat on the edge of the pond of water was not very tall. His feet dangled into the water below making slight patterns whenever they moved. Tiny fish darted around in the water and between his toes leaving underwater eddy currents in their wake. The man could not be described as either young or old and in earlier times he would have been described as middle aged - although that term had no meaning now that people lived for mere centuries if they were unlucky. His face was pitted and bronzed from the effects of the sun and his arms bore the scars gained during a life of conflict. He cast his eyes up to the sky above and contemplated what had become of his world. He had never known the greens and blues of his ancestors, only this eternal redness which had been growing steadily greater over his life. He shaded his eyes from the still bright glare of the sun and looked down at the water. His reflection appeared distorted and his image was cast in the same dark tones as the rest of this deserted world. He turned his mind back to the past.
He had lived for two centuries and in that time there had been a great deal of change. The face that stared sullenly up from the water below had seen things that as a child he would have called miracles. The ever marching pace of technology never relented, never paused to spare the humanity which it was supposed to be helping. Technology was supposed to be a universal cure for everything now, an excuse for a lack of vitality. What had happened to what humanity had used to be? Humanity had used to be barbarous, he though to himself. But what if in the removal of at barbarism they had also destroyed something far more valuable, what had in earlier times been called the human spirit.
They had been explorers once, humans had journeyed to other continents and then to other worlds as explorers and in these endeavors had discovered great things. Now all exploration was performed by robots, and the ubiquitous artificial "Minds" which now controlled the world. The minds saw to it that humanity was pampered and supported out of conscience but in freeing up people from the drudgery of life they had also freed them from life itself. There was nothing which a person could achieve now, or even hope to achieve. Technology had grown so sophisticated that no human could ever understand it and only the all-powerful "Minds" could do so. There was no room for progress there. And what of the arts. What arts? Once again no human could ever hope to operate the machines that created what were now classed as works of art. There was always medicine, he supposed, but machines had taken over there now as well. They were supposed to be able to cure death now, didn't they call it something suitably scientific like "re-animation therapy". After millennia of trying to cheat death humans finally could, they could choose to live for eternity. But none did. There had been some worries about population booms back at the beginning but it had soon been discovered that practically no-one wanted to undergo this treatment. People lived out their artificially lengthened lives and then simply wanted to die. The thought of living for ever scared people out of their minds. There was nothing to live for anymore and people only lived one life out of a sense of duty. Suicides were rare but not at all unknown.
His face seemed to sadden and the reflection in the water followed suit. He stared at his miserable reflection and almost laughed. Ahead a bright flash of light could be seen in a corner of the sky and for a moment the red planet was cast in the bright lights and greens of colour that it had known in its youth. All to soon the light was gone leaving just an after image on the retina. That ship which had just pulled itself into hyperspace and away from the restrictions of realspace had been carrying the last of those who had chosen to leave. The civilian transport "End of Invention" if he remembered correctly. A strangely appropriate name, he thought.
Even in his youth the Earth had not been a very highly populated planet - 2 or 3 billion people at most. Compared to the giant orbital habitats being constructed it was barely a village. In the past the numbers had always been much smaller. A small smile creased his face for a few seconds before it subsided.
A small fly landed on the surface of the pond sending tiny ripples out from its landing point .It didn't know what was happening. Poor thing, he thought. Much of the life that had once inhabited this world had been unable to survive the steady shifting of the sun's spectrum towards the infra-red. Animals had died in their millions despite the attempts of the "Minds" to re-program their genetics and make them more resistant and able to survive. Humans couldn't even save their own, original planet. Even here the "Minds" controlled everything.
He considered his life so far. He had been married once and had lived for a few happier decades before fate had snatched his wife away from him. Renegade "Minds" who believed in the extermination of lesser forms of life were few and far between but when they came together it was dangerous. The "Mind" terrorist group "Red Storm" had killed his wife along with all of their family and the entire population of the small planet out on the rim. When the rescue ships had arrived they had found the stellar system in gravitic turmoil and no sign at all of the populated planet. It had simply been snatched out of existence. Even now that humanity was at peace the machines it had created were making war, amongst themselves and amongst the other species in the galaxy. The technological development that should have been used to try and revitalise humanity had been squandered until the "Minds" had finally developed what they had wanted. Control of the most lethal force in the universe. A ship controlled by "Red Storm" had simply come out of hyperspace and dropped a buoy before re-entering hyperspace and skimming away just "below" the surface of realspace. A few seconds later the buoy had contracted and formed a small singularity. The planet was sucked it and destroyed within minutes. None of the people on it ever had a chance. In all the universe, he thought, death and war are the only constants. The thought was not new, but it struck him with a new anger now.
He had been on his way to see his wife when he had learned of the attack, "just a few days" he had said. He hadn't seen her in over a century but when he thought of her his heart still swelled with grief.
A single tear formed in his left eye and trickled down his face leaving slight deposits of salt on his cheek before splashing into the water of the pond with a slightly subdued noise. He felt slightly annoyed - he shouldn't have been able to cry. He turned his attention inwards towards his own mind and using skills learnt over years of practise and made possible by the steady genetically engineered evolution of the human species he looked at his mind. There! A single tendril of his mind was out of place. He repositioned it and looked back at the finished result. Now he could not cry but the thought of it for some reason filled his mind with pain. Before disengaging his trance state he instructed his hypothalamus to produce a calming hormone. There wasn't much time remaining now.
He glanced back up at the sky. It was already the colour of blood and growing steadily redder. He remembered how he had sailed through the sky with a set of wings fastened to his back, dipping from cloud to cloud or simply coasting along admiring the land. The planet had been more alive then, and his wife had been with him. Even then atmospheric travel had been very minimal and merely the preserve of thrill seekers like himself. Now there was no travel in the upper atmosphere without a restrictive protective suit, the radiations from the expanding sun were deadly at higher altitude, even with the genetically enhanced resistance. He smiled briefly, that he could fly when clearly his species had not been designed with flight in mind had always struck him as a miracle as well.
For the last few years of his life he had been lonely but this was the first time when he had truly been alone. There were others who had decided to remain, but they were hundreds of kilometres distant and doubtlessly didn't want his company - as he didn't want theirs. They would all be dead soon, the others, the animals, himself…the whole planet.
"You can still change your mind!" The thought that echoed through his mind was not his own, it was a message. He was vaguely annoyed that the house's "Mind" had interrupted. He had made up his mind and there was nothing that was going to change it. With a mental command he shut down the neural link to his home. He was now for the first time in his life out of contact with a protective net. When he had been flying he had never really been in danger, if the "Mind" of the house had thought he was in trouble it would have plucked him out of the sky using its teleporters immediately. Now that option no longer existed. He had terminated the link with the one thing that had been constant thoughout his life - his sense of safety. The thought gave him a strange sense of release.
He could see the sun expanding now, soon it would fill all the heavens and Earth would be gone. With it would go millions of years of human achievements and recently "Mind" achievements, and him. As the nuclear fireball that had once been called the sun exploded out he knew that he could still call for help and the teleporters aboard the ship now over a light year distant could reach out with their wormholes and snatch him from the brink of destruction - to cheat death again. He would not leave, this was the first choice he had really made for himself of any significance and he was determined to stick to it.
The fire engulfed the atmosphere and swallowed his house in a raging inferno of heat formed by nuclear reactions. His last thoughts were happy ones. Some had called Earth the cradle of humanity, well, like infants there grew a time when they must leave the cradle for the last time. Like all children however they always left part of themselves in the place where they had had their formative years.
He smiled at the analogy and screamed as the holocaust engulfed him. The other humans had chosen to leave their home, but he would always remain.
He died during an inferno that while scouring the Earth of all human endeavour was for him a funeral pyre, but for others it was a new beginning.

There is quite a history of drafting behind this story. I wrote it originally with the title "Leaving Home" as part of a mock English examination. Later, I redrafted it as a coursework piece and now I have redrafted it slightly again to make this piece. Even though its actually fairly depressing it's still one of my favourites.

Oliver Pell