The Dolphin Dauphin, boss of the High Council of Terrestrial Intelligences, ordered the total evacuation of Earth. “The time’s come,” he whistled. “Sol’s going sub-giant. So get your butts outta there.”
Poor Mother Earth was worn out, her mountains eroded to hillocks, her fields parched and empty, her seas shallow and dirty. Few species were left; Queen Dolphin and her Pod had a condo in Andromeda galaxy. The School of Whales had gladly accepted a new home with deep, clean waters, and the Murder of Crows had packed themselves up, lock, stock, and bill-laser, and sailed themselves off to no-one-wants-to-know-where.
Only the Last Man on Earth refused to go. The Boss didn’t have time to worry about just one critter. “He’s your direct ancestor, you take care of him,” he told the Last Man’s genus mates. “I’m washing my flippers of the whole thing.” The High Council had more important things to worry about, such as leasing the soon-to-be sub-giant Sol to a clan of gypsy thermovores.
Conventional wisdom had said that an intelligent species cannot evolve, that it would cull the genetic variants and mutations that someday become new life forms. Conventional wisdom had also said that one who sails too far falls off the edge of the ocean, that a craft weighing more than air can never fly, that the speed of light is inviolable, and that no more than six therblats could inhabit a stable wurm. But the universe is vast, humanity had spread far and wide, and a billion years is a long time. Humanity evolved, conventional wisdom be damned.
Humankind’s descendants, Homo Fortis, Homo Cogitatus, and Homo Rectus, stepped off their ship outside the Last Man’s plain shack overlooking Olduvai Gorge. Earth herself held little interest for them. A million planets were known to them, and one more was just one more spherical pile of dirt.
Homo Rectus pulled his long white beard aside and knocked on the door.
“Go away,” the Last Man shouted.
With a shrug, Homo Fortis pushed the door down. Three and a half meters tall, it was child’s play for him. “Oops,” he said. Watching distractedly, Homo Cogitatus ran a hand across his large, bald head and suggested, “It might have been more efficient to turn the knob,” before returning to his mental calculations.
The door down in any case, Rectus led them inside, his robes kicking up a tiny cloud of Mother Earth’s dust as they crossed the threshold.
The Last Man’s cottage was small, and cluttered with the knickknacks, baubles, dinguses, and tchotchkes of a species’s life. Antlers hung next to pennants on the walls; shelves were lined with bird’s nests, colored beads, and nuclear pellets; the jawbone of an ass leaned against a hyper-ion rifle. “I told you to go away,” the Last Man growled, “but since you’re here you might as well stay. Want a bite? I’ve got some sushi here somewhere…” He sniffed the air and made a face. “Maybe not,” he said.
Rectus pulled Fortis away from the snacks. “We’re here to take you away from all this,” he announced.
“Why?” asked the Last Man.
“This planet is on the verge of uninhabitability,” Cogitatus interrupted his computations to explain. “You only have about 3.45 times ten to the fourteenth nanoseconds left.”
Rolling his eyes, the Last Man settled back into a heavily padded armchair draped with the fur of a sabertooth tiger. “Well,” he said, “I’m not going.”
“You must,” Cogitatus told him logically. “You will die here if you do not. Since you do not wish to die, you must leave. Q.E.D.”
“I could carry you,” Fortis offered.
Feeling something that someone else might call empathy, Rectus asked, “Why, ancestor? Your time here is done, but there is still the universe.”
The Last Man shook his head. “For you there is the universe. You were born in the universe,” he said. “For me, I was born here.”
Fortis reached out. His fingers had triceps. “I’ll just pick him up,” he said.
Cogitatus pulled his thoughts back from his calculations to suggest, “He is intelligent. An appeal to reason should suffice.”
Rectus laid a hand on Fortis’ burly arm. “It would be wrong to use force, my cousin, and,” he added, turning to Cogitatus, “one cannot persuade he who will not listen. I believe your mind is made up, ancestor,” he told the Last Man, respectfully.
“It is,” he said. He got out of his chair, looked out the window at the dying landscape, then picked up the skull of a dodo to contemplate. He said, “The best of us left our Mother Earth. They packed up and went to the stars, and it is those that begat you.”
He turned back to face them. “But I never left. This is my home, the only home I’ve known, and when it passes I shall pass, too. But first I’ll get one hell of a suntan.” He scratched his back with the skull, put it back down, and said, “So I’m staying. Can I get you a beer?”
Declining, Rectus gathered up the others by eye and led them from the shack. As they walked back to their ship, he contemplated the Last Man’s Last Words, ‘Can I get you a beer?’ They showed patience, humility, generosity. Humanity. They would do for an epitaph.
300-odd trillion nanoseconds later — Cogitatus would have known the exact number — Mother Earth’s time came, and the Last Man’s time with it. He was last seen in Bermuda shorts and sunglasses, raising his glass toward his fate.
Dave D’Alessio is an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and ex-award winning animator now masquerading as a working social scientist. His fiction has appeared in The Other Side of Paradise, Stories in the Ether, and the Veterans of Future Wars anthology; he has also published non-fiction and academic works.