A ship from Earth twinkled among the horizon of stars. Torpos Hansen, Ambassador to the immortal Factory, greeted all races, but his excitement peaked when vessels from home arrived.
Sadly, his fellow humans rarely continued their existences beyond a single millennium. Each ship brought a swell of living excitement, and offspring would frolic throughout warm, well-lit foyers. But in time, always too short, they grew weary. The children of children chose not to reproduce, and one by one they returned to eternal rest.
Torpos hoped those aboard would remain, because despite the company of millions of individual beings, he felt isolated as the sole remaining member of his own race.
“Chair, human.” Torpos said, and the Factory responded. Metal groaned and rose from the floor then halted, having molded into the shape of the requested chair.
Torpos sat and breathed in the warm air around him, saturated with the life-sustaining motes that regenerated his cells, granting him youth and immortality. Soon, those who had traveled decades aboard a confining ship would be free to explore the planet-sized Factory and interact with thousands of species both wondrous and terrifying.
An umbilical darted from the Factory like a snake’s tongue, connected to the ship, then eased it in. Once empty of its passengers and their possessions, the Factory would consume the ship, and grow. New bedrooms would form, and maglevs would extend their inner-ship movements to the new floors and wings that contained the bustling human population.
A hatch slid open to reveal a dark passage. Torpos stood, unable to contain his excitement. The chair behind him melted, becoming flat hexagon decking once again.
No one emerged. No awe-struck children appeared, asking where the lights were. “Everywhere and all around us,” Torpos would say and sweep his hand, gesturing in a way that indicated the Factory was alive.
He edged toward the ship, staring into the darkness beyond the open hatch. Surely the ship wasn’t empty.
At last he saw a shadow. Thin metal legs clacked against the ship’s decking, followed by a haggard, ancient woman, trembling, but resolutely shuffling onward behind her walker.
Torpos sprinted forward, leaping inside the ship. Instantly, he felt himself begin to age. Disconnected from the Factory, motes expelling from his lungs, he began to die.
“Ma’am, do you need help?”
“Yes,” she said from beneath long, gray hair that draped over her gnarled hands in jagged lines. “And no.” She shoved her walker forward, then slid her feet behind.
Torpos stepped aside, giving her room. He looked behind her down a long, darkened hall that stretched into mystery.
“Are you alone?”
Torpos coughed, his lungs straining to breathe the ancient oxygen within the ship. He retreated to the safety of the Factory’s deck and urged the woman forward with beckoning hands.
She paused at the seam between her ship and the Factory. It glowed electric white, having fused, becoming one. She lifted her head and observed her surroundings as if judging, but her expression belied no pronouncement.
Torpos met her lively, blue eyes, deep-set behind wrinkles upon wrinkles. Those eyes had witnessed much, he recognized. Friends, loved ones, all lost behind eyes that resolutely carried on despite the anguish.
At last she hobbled forward, inching her way into the Factory. Torpos watched, waiting for her to begin the healing process.
But it did not occur.
“Oma has departed the vessel,” said an electronic voice that reverberated throughout the empty ship. “Mission complete.”
“How do you feel?” Torpos asked.
She continued her glacial momentum and said, “Pleased.”
“Factory, human couch for two.” The metal behind Torpos bent and took shape. “Oma?” Torpos leaned forward, hoping for another glimpse into the depths of her sea-blue eyes.
“My title. My name is Annabeth Peterson.”
“Welcome, Annabeth. My name is Torpos Hansen.” Torpos reached for her wrinkled hands. She placed them in his and he led her to the metallic couch. “You should feel the healing effects of the Factory. It cures–”
“That’s not why I’m here,” she interrupted.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m a messenger, come to report to our kind that Earth is no more.”
Torpos’ blood froze. “No more?” he asked.
“I am the last,” she said. “Yellowstone erupted.” She bowed and shook her head. “Other volcanoes followed. Earthquakes broke the land. The surface became an uninhabitable wasteland.”
Torpos whispered a prayer to the Creator. He hesitated to inform her that he, too was the last. All of humanity sat huddled in a quiet, expansive wing of the Factory.
“You’re not alone.”
“But I am. My family are all gone, buried beneath ash. My friends expired during the voyage, adrift forever in the depths of space.”
Torpos gripped Annabeth’s shoulders with a gentle firmness and turned her to face him. “Allow the Factory to heal you, and restore your youth.” He paused, and added, “Stay with me.” He’d begged with those words many times in the past. Always to no avail.
“You will pass my message to the others, yes?”
Torpos stood and backed away. He raised his arms, palms up, and swept them in an arc. “Message received.” He steeled himself for the inevitable, only this time he would truly be alone. No more vessels from earth. Ever.
If this woman had seen loss enough to break her spirit in a mere century, what of his forty thousand years? Entire species had gone extinct before his eyes. Maybe his time had finally come.
“I see,” Annabeth said. “Well, then.” She stood, and after a moment Torpos noticed a lessening of her quivering bones. She bowed her head and inhaled a great breath.
Relief coursed through Torpos’s soul. She would remain. For how long, he didn’t know, but he would take whatever she gave.
Didn’t matter. Not now. Not today.
Annabeth clasped Torpos’s hands in hers. She gazed at him with wisdom-filled, youthful, blue eyes.
“What now?” she asked.
“Time will tell,” he answered, and led her forward into the Factory.
Dustin Adams’ stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, and forthcoming in ASIM. He’s a multiple finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and has served as an editorial assistant right here at Every Day Fiction.