Sunday, March 13, 2011

Third Times the Charm

(I wrote this in college, twenty years ago)

Third Times the Charm.

Judgment was passed.

They had been watching for thousands of years, debating on whether or not to do it. Factions argued and debated, pondering the flaws compared to the merits, Every point carefully sifted and measured. At the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the process sped up. The luxury of millennia was over. A decision had to be made. less than a hundred years passed before Judgement was rendered.

In sixty places a small cylinder was dropped into the sky, places where the wind was strong. The cylinders sublimated quickly, dissolving into nothingness.

Not nothingness, just particles smaller than the eye could see. Particles that multiplied, again and again. Tiny constructs that launched themselves into the wind, dived into water, and burrowed into the earth. It took three thousand years to make a decision that was irrevocable in two days.

At the stroke of the forty-eighth hour since the cylinders were placed, the particles could be found within any cubic inch of soil on earth, in the deepest ocean trenches, and at the top of the highest mountains. No island was spared, no mine-shaft, no secret hidden place. Anywhere on earth, everywhere on earth, the constructs could be found. If anybody had known to look.

At the stroke of the seventy-second hour, the constructs did their job, and crumbled. They dissolved into polymers that warped into compounds that melted into individual carbon atoms and a few trace elements, and vanished without a trace of their origin or purpose.

It took three months before anybody noticed something was different. Hospitals weren't as busy as they should be, in certain areas. Most of the usual things continued. People were still treated for cancer, for drug overdoses, for prostrate troubles and face lifts... but something was... missing.

Two more months went by before the hospitals knew for sure, and they were the first to realize.


They were still being born, at normal rates, nothing exciting or unusual. And yet... no one was coming in for the first time. Nobody who panicked and ran for a blood test because their protection failed came back with a positive result. No newlyweds who were trying, were successful. No matter how many fertility shots were administered, they just wouldn't take.

The hospitals kept quiet, and tried to decipher some sort of reason, but couldn't. No viruses were discovered, no chemical imbalances were detected. Hormones were normal, menstruation was fine, sperm counts were average, but no where was there a first trimester pregnancy. Two more months went by before the story broke.

No one believed the headlines at first. Why that's silly! they would say, silently demanding that their voices not crack. Just last week that young lady in apartment 4a had a healthy baby girl. They simply regarded the news as another attempt to sell newspapers through scare tactics.

On April 14th, at 7:53 AM, after a simple delivery, David Pinkham was born at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Shreveport, Illinois. A healthy six pound, four ounce baby boy.

He was the last child born on earth.

At first people joked about it. Today is nobody's birthday. No buns in the oven. Things like that. But the jokes didn't last long. Scientists began to look for the cause in earnest. Every nation had their best people on the job. No research was hidden, all cooperated. Sperm banks were set up everywhere, in the hopes that one man or woman was spared, or that a particular combination would work. Nothing.

They found part of the problem... people had been altered genetically. Something basic had been changed. What that something was, the scientists didn't know, How it happened, they had no clue, How to fix it, well... that was beyond them.

Animals were not affected, as far as man could tell, the wild creatures were spared. Insane, desperate attempts to merge animal and human DNA were completely unsuccessful.

David Pinkham was kidnapped when he was two years old. A young woman was apprehended, frantic, wild-eyed, and tearful. It's not fair! she screamed over and over. Why do they have one and I can't. David was returned to his parents.

This became a common problem among the last children, as they came to be called. More and more, people (couples mostly) grew resentful and jealous of the parents of the last children. Until they had to be isolated from the world at large.

More years went by, and no children were born. Some took it as a sign from God, and made peace with themselves, and their neighbors, and awaited the end. Others raged. Screaming against fate, they took their hatred and frustration out on others. They ended their lives in a frenzy of denial, taking many with them. A few trusted in science and human resourcefulness and patiently waited for them to make things right.

As time went on, the last children came of age. A new era of hope dawned on humanity, only to be dashed. They were infertile as well. Not even David Pinkham, who's name was known in every house and village, in every empty maternity ward, and every abandoned school, could create a child.

The earth at first despaired, then denied, and raged, and despaired again. Whole religions sprang up where people knew in their hearts and souls, if they were good and pure enough, they would be given a child. Some went the opposite extreme, reasoning that nothing mattered, so take what you want, there's no reason to leave anything behind.

In some places, monuments were erected, in hopes that other races, perhaps evolved apes or alien visitors, would know and remember humans. The wisdom and lore of the whole of humanity was sealed away in time vaults, hopefully designed to last millenium.

When David was forty, people had mostly grown accustomed to their fate. Genetics was the only science people were interested in. A few desperate people still trying to discover why and how. The vast empires were crumbling or gone. What was the point? Suicides were commonplace, spoken of in passing resignation. Few holidays were noticed, let alone celebrated.
People stayed in touch for a long time, but slowly communications decayed. The satellites stopped working, the phone lines went down, even the Ham radios began to fail as parts became impossible to replace.

Animals were becoming common again. Dogs had begun to go feral more and more, as had cats. The wild things were taking back the cities. People, the ones that were left, preferred to gather in smaller places. A storm would break a dam, an earthquake ruin a once cherished landmark, and no one would repair the damage. The forests and jungles were returning.

David Pinkham died at sixty eight, There weren't enough people interested in running a newspaper for it to be common knowledge. Nobody did an autopsy or examination to find out what he died of. Friends buried him, a few old men and women who wondered who would be the ones to bury them when the time came.

Nobody knew who was the last person to die, nobody was there to remember. What country he or she came from, what was the cause, how old he or she was. It didn't matter.

The judges of mankind began to arrive a few hundred years later. This time would be different. Mammals weren't the ones. Neither had been the reptiles. This was not the first time the judgment had been made on earth. The decision against reptiles had taken much longer than the ruling against mammals. Now they would try insects. The decision was reached quickly, only a hundred years of debate.

Cylinders were released, and the process begun again. seventy two hours later, the tiny nano-constructs did their job.

All over the world, in anthills, beehives, and termite mounds, the droning sounds... changed. Grew... aware. Became.... thoughtful.

A new day was dawning.

Maybe this time, the judges conferred, this time. This time they'd do things the right way. Third times the charm.