LAST WORDS • by Richard Cripps

The five climbed the gantry in silence to view their work completed. As they walked out in front of the great viewport and were bathed in the light of the universe, their leader, Esil, wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. Medes, last of the species of great philosophers noticed this. She wondered, not for the first time, of the irony of Esil being asked to lead this great project, and was moved to speak out.

“A tear of pride for our achievement? Or fear of our oblivion?”

The leader shook her head and just stared out at the vista. Medes secretly felt the answer was neither of these options.

The five stood together in contemplation. After so many years of working alongside one another, words were largely unnecessary. The magnitude of their task — and of their achievement — lessened the need for words. Before them through the viewing port, a new world slowly hove into view past a cloud of interplanetary dust, and beyond it stars and nebulae stretched away to infinity. Their beauty held the power to strike mute all who beheld them.

Yet this was the last time they would be together, and Medes was compelled to break the silence. “What does one say at this juncture? How would you like your last words to be recorded?”

“Recorded?” said Ambard, engineer and last of his kind. “You know that soon all trace of our existence will vanish.” He spoke the truth with which they had all lived for so long. Although they persisted within the bubble, its waning energy would in just a short while be depleted, to expose the five to the universe of their creation. The old chemistry and the old physics would not endure in the new universe, where new laws of existence had been created to protect it from the powers that ravaged the old reality.

“Nevertheless,” said Medes, and she looked expectantly at each of them.

“Very well,” said Ambard, stepping forward. He thought for a moment. “May the miracle of life once again arise in this new existence. May this life be celebrated by the building of great structures and vast machines that persist for millennia as a tribute to the wonder of creation.”

The five nodded. Standard fare for an engineer, Medes felt, but it represented all of their hopes: that what was lost could return. As she stared at cloud formations swirling on the dimly lit planet below, her reverie was broken by Ambla, last of the race of poets.

At dawn’s break,
That days’ end
Shall come no more.

Medes let these words filter through her mind. The words of the engineer and the poet raised hopes close to her own desires, but she worried the sentiments were naive. After a respectful silence it was the diminutive Allis who stepped forward next.

“I wish…” said the last of the species of great scientists, “I wish there were some way we could leave an imprint of our existence.” He took a breath, perhaps thinking of the great discoveries he had made to enable them to build a new creation outside of their crumbling universe, and of how his discoveries would not only be lost, but cease to exist. “May the inhabitants of this new realm, whatever forms they take and whatever philosophies drive them, learn the secrets of their creation.”

“Hubris,” said Medes. “What makes you think we are even the first to be tasked with this great work?” The others looked quizzically at her, and in response Medes stepped forward to deliver her words.

“I stand here at the juncture of the old universe and the new, and I wonder: are we the first to join one universe to the next? Or are we but one link in a chain of cosmic events?”

There was quiet as they considered these words. That the circumstances leading to their great task could have occurred before was almost too much to bear. Was this the eternal cycle of creation, where the act of formation by default would bring about the means of its own downfall? And did their existence to this point depend upon others tasked with similar duties?

“An interesting idea you raise, Medes,” said Ambard. “Can a mature existence be achieved where poverty and war are a thing of the past? Or is it more likely that life’s desperate quest for survival inevitably sows its own seeds of ultimate destruction?” He looked meaningfully to their leader for reaction. Esil was nodding slowly, almost obsessively, as if trying to summon the courage to voice her thoughts.

The five stood alone. The last of each of their species – engineer, scientist, philosopher and poet  – waited to hear Esil’s last words while the bubble began to flicker and fracture around them. As if in response to the poet’s prose, a bright new sun rose over the nearest planet and bathed them in its yellow first light.

Perhaps triggered by this beam, guilt finally overwhelmed the leader, and the responsibility for unknown trillions of lives lost was too much for Esil to bear. She stumbled forward and dropped heavily to her knees. A great sob escaped her, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. As the bubble decayed around them Esil looked to the new sun.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” said the human, the last of the species of great destroyers. And she uttered the old universe’s futile last words:

“May this universe know peace.”

Richard Cripps lives San Diego and is a biology professor. This is his first published story.

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