Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
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Turning Out The Lights

by Michele Dutcher

Tau Ceti -- 11.9 light-years from Sol

"I've heard the AI Gaia has re-opened Earth to humans", he told her, anticipating her reaction.

"Earth? You mean THE Earth? -- like Sol-system Earth?" She looked at him with disbelief.

"Earth, yes. THE Earth."

"I never thought I'd see it -- not in my lifetime. Humans walking on Terra. Amazing." The initial shock gave way to the obvious question. "Do you think we should go?" she asked.

He smiled, the slit in the bottom third of his face becoming the shape of a 'U'. "How can we not go? I already have the tickets." His fingertips began to glow as a holographic light sphere appeared with information about their trip inside. "On Corday we'll take the Einstein Bridge wormhole to the edge of the system, and we'll be on Earth two hourids standard after that." He looked at the face of the woman he adored -- still. "Happy 300th anniversary, my love."

"Happy 300th, my life," she echoed. "I love the way your cheekbones vibrate when you're happy, Delslume."

His cheekbones vibrated even more when she touched his glowing fingertips. Lost in the passion of the moment, the pair could not have been known their ticket was an invitation to a conversation from 175,000 years before they had been born.

Milky Way Galaxy, Sol-system, Earth, 200,000 years in the future

The globe holding the first humans in 175,000 years to enter Terran space landed effortlessly on a white, sandy beach. The sentient star-ship was courteous as it allowed the ten humans on board to disembark. "I have chosen to land exactly on the twilight line," informed the soothing voice. "Within 1/48th solar, the scenery shall be in total darkness. Have no fear -- Gaia, our gracious host, has promised we will be under her protection."

"This beauty is exactly as I envisioned -- only more-so," Marquite told Delslume after stepping onto the planet's surface. They felt the soft sand move beneath their feet and marveled at the vastness of the ocean that was tearing away at the cliffs in the distance. They walked away from the group and headed towards a tree-lined slope. "Everything is so alive, vibrant and growing."

Delslume looked towards the hillside when suddenly something moved. "What was that?" He found he had automatically taken his life-partner into his protective embrace.

"What is it, Del? -- what did you see?"

"Something moving among the shadows -- up there on the slope. It looked like...it looked like a Homo sapiens."

"No, it can't be. Homo sapienss have been extinct for..." And then she saw it too. "Shall we follow it, Del?" she asked cautiously.

"Do we have a choice? What an opportunity!"

So they began to climb the hill. The creature sat in a clearing now, near the crest. They approached the hulking form slowly, but steadfastly.

"It is a beautiful evening," started Delslume, knowing Gaia would automatically translate for him.

The Homo sapiens male nodded politely. "It is indeed."

"May we sit here beside you?" asked Marquite.

"Please, seat yourself. It has been far too long since I talked with a bionic."

The pair sat on the grass, noting their host was twice the size of either of them.

"We are surprised to find a Homo sapiens living on this planet."

"I am surprised as well -- to see two of whatever you are."

"We are Homo paxiens. Do you know about us?" Delslume leaned in a little as he asked, so as to get a good view of the male's reaction, but there was almost no response -- at least none that he recognized. "That is our shuttlecraft on the beach."

"That is my home at the top of the cliff." The three looked up at the seaside house. "When I first came here, that house was three hills from the beach." The lights in the windows began to glow as the twilight deepened.

"Have you always lived there alone?"

"No, no." The male hung his head in such a way that even the Homo paxiens knew was sorrow. He began slowly. "At one point, I lived there with a female and her two children."

"My name is Delslume and this is my life-long companion, Marquite. Your name is..?"

"They called me Finsen."

"Will you tell us your story, Finsen?"

It took the Homo sapiens a moment to collect his thoughts, but then he nodded, took a deep breath, and began.

"My life began when the human who was Finsen was sent to fight in the War on Bernard 3. It would take him 5.9 light years to get there, and 5.9 light years to get back -- perhaps a little less with Relativity's affects. So a replacement was built to hold his station -- as was the custom. This was so the children would not forget their parental unit."

Marquite was sitting beside Delslume and touched his arm lightly as she asked Finsen a question. "And you are the replacement that was produced?"

"I am that replacement unit. I am a Turing-grade nanobot, absent of degeneration." Finsen made a small flourish with his hands and bowed his head slightly. "I fixed meals for the family, protected them, and accompanied the female -- Tortontis -- to social functions. I was to have been de-activated once my predecessor returned -- but he never came back." He took a deep breath and really looked at them for the first time. Their lack of any facial hair took him aback for a moment -- but he had grown used to creatures other than Homo-sapiens to talk with. "How goes the war on Bernard 3?"

"There is no war anymore," answered the female quickly. "The concept of war simply proved to be evolutionarily invalid. It was destructive and wasteful."

Delslume stepped into the conversation. "Why destroy someone who disagrees with you when that human might have an answer you will need someday?"

"You talk as if there are no humans who look like I do," said the man.

"This is exactly the case." Delslume could see the disbelief in Finsen's eyes so he raised his hands to make it clearer. His fingertips began to glow as the trio studied the night sky. A thin, sustained shaft of light shot out from his left hand, seeming to point out a few of the multitude of stars above them. "Our historians tell us that, until 100,000 years ago, homo-sapiens inhabited this small group of stars here. Our ancestors, however, chose to migrate to these stars here -- and now we are as plentiful as the stars themselves."

"There are none who look as I do -- at all?"

Delslume and Marquite shook their heads no. "50,000 years ago, some of our people went out to find our lost cousins -- but found only ruins."

"Perhaps there were diseases or famine..."

"War was simply a dead end on the evolutionary tree. As Homo paxiens, we are in constant communication with each other. Even now, those closest to us are learning of this conversation."

The Homo sapiens's bitterness was palpable. "Tell the future I said 'hello'."

"Come with us. You have so much to teach us," said Marquite, unable to contain her excitement.

"I have no interest in this bold new future. I am truly a child of war. This planet is where I belong."

He looked up at the house on the top of the cliff. "They are buried up there -- just to the left of the willow tree. I expected Tortonis to de-activate me before she died -- but she told me she couldn't bear to do it."

The odd trio sat for a while, not knowing what to say next. The shuttlecraft began to glow a deep burgundy. "It nears time for us to go. What can we do to help you?"

He straightened up a bit before answering. "I've often thought that: if I had an expiration date -- not known to me, but still a deactivation date -- my life would be better."

Delslume looked over at him. "We could do that yes, but are you so eager to die?"

The last quasi Homo sapiens in the galaxy drew his arms around his legs, as though he was cold. "No, it is not that I'm eager to die, it's just...it's just..." His eyes brightened a bit. "If I knew that eventually there would be an end, then every morning I woke up I would say, 'Look at this! I am still alive today! What a gift life is.' And then one day, I would be like them -- at peace." He looked longingly at the glow of the windows as the quiet light reflected off the willow tree."

"Understood, my friend," said Delslume. "We will relay your wishes."

The three got up now, shaking the chill of the night air from their arms and legs. The difference in size was overwhelming, but Delslume held out his small hand. The Homo sapiens looked down at the three fingers and a thumb, but finally took it, holding the tiny hand in his. The trio shared a smile.

As the pair climbed into the shuttlecraft, the others looked at them with pleasure, for they too had mentally been a part of the meeting on the hillside. The ship began to climb and, unbeknownst to any of those aboard, the Homo sapiens nanobot raised his arm and waved goodbye.


© 2010 Michele Dutcher

Bio: Michele Dutcher has been published in various online magazines including AlienSkin, Bewildering Stories and Aphelion. She has a Bachelor of Science from Indiana University with minors in religion, art and social sciences. She lives in a carriage house in Old Louisville, Kentucky with two evil cats, a sweet-natured Border Collie named Miss Dukes, and one possibly depressed ghost. (Let us hope that Miss Dukes is prepared to fend off fiendish plots against her by the aforementioned evil cats.) Ms Dutcher's most recent Aphelion appearance was Oz, March 2009. As 'bottomdweller', Michele is a frequent contributor to the Aphelion Forum, commenting on other authors' work and entering Nate Kailhofer's monthly flash fiction challenges (winning the October challenge with her story 'Heirs of Atlantis').

E-mail: Michele Dutcher

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