The Last City
By Daniel Emlyn-Jones
Zed watched his mother dividing the food blocks with the other women. It was a ritual which happened every evening, usually with much chatter, but on this occasion they worked in silence. She smiled at Zed, trying to reassure him, but her eyes were red with tears. Zed knew she was powerless. They were all powerless.
Behind them in the tinted window of dining mess 1137 of the Singaporean Sector, the sun was setting, a great bow-shaped sea of blood stretching across the sky from north to south, slowly sinking beneath the charred surface of the earth. The accessing of information was forbidden for the lowest ranks still living in the Singaporean Sector, but Zed had a unique gift for getting into the computer system neurally, and had seen pictures of the sun from millions of years before. It had been tiny then, and cast an extraordinarily bright and searing light.
Over the eons it had slowly become bloated as its hydrogen fuel ran out, growing so immense that the innermost planets Mercury and Venus were steadily consumed. The seas of earth eventually boiled away leaving scorched plains of salt, and all life was extinguished, except for the specimens rescued for the biospheres on which they relied for survival.
There was a time several centuries before when Earth had been covered in biospheres, a communicating network of sectors insulated from the furnace of earth's atmosphere by thick heat resistant walls. Now only the Singaporean Sector remained, a lonely citadel huddled on a hill which used to be an island, overlooking a scorched plain which had once been the South China Sea.
A great horn sounded three times and everyone stopped working and stood in silence. The voice of the Empress Dowager Exquagia echoed around the room, and around all the other thousands of rooms of the Singaporean Sector. Her speech was light and soft and trilled gently with the enunciations of the highest rank.
"Greetings my subjects, citizens of Singapore. We trust you are well."
"No we aren't fucking well," barked an old woman sitting in the corner. "It's alright for that bitch sitting in her palace on Europa."
"Ssshhh Esther!" several of the women hissed.
"The selection of people destined for the ark has now been made, and those lucky individuals will be informed by neural communication shortly. We live in difficult times, and difficult times call for difficult decisions. We must all do what is right, not for ourselves, but for the future survival of our species, and we trust we will not be informed of any unpleasant scenes. From the bottom of our heart, we wish you all the best of luck."
The horn sounded three times to signal the end of the royal speech, its echoes fading down myriad halls and corridors. Zed's heart thumped in his chest and his mother looked at him with an expression of terror, her hands shaking uncontrollably. From the computer system Zed had learned that selection of the ark's passengers was based on individual DNA profiles, and made to maximise genetic variation in the migrating population.
A pre-recorded voice of the Empress suddenly blared in Zed's head. "Many congratulations! You have been selected for salvation aboard the ark. You will be escorted by automaton to Europa at 7pm tomorrow evening. Be ready, please."
Zed looked to his mother and nodded. She screamed "no!" and collapsed into the arms of the other women, who lowered her gently to the ground where she lay insensible. Zed ran to her, knelt at her side and clasped her hand against his cheek, as if it had the power to undo what had been decided on a distant moon.
"Has anyone else been selected?" a woman called Krata asked, looking around the room. There were over 50 women there, but everyone was silent.
"And what are the rest of us going to do?" asked Esther. "Wait to burn to death?" The women looked at each other and knew that that was precisely what would happen. The only thing between the cooled biospheres in which they lived and the searing inferno of earth's atmosphere outside were 1m-thick heat resistant walls. These walls needed constant maintenance by teams of automatons, but for many centuries the imperial headquarters on Europa had diverted the money usually spent on such work into construction of the ark. As a consequence the walls had corroded, and all the other sectors of earth had been destroyed, resulting in the deaths of billions of people. The Singaporean Sector was the last bastion of human life on earth, but it was only a matter of time before it also succumbed, and they all perished.
"The Empress is right!" cried one woman. "We must see the bigger picture! It isn't important if we survive. What matters is that we survive as a species. My hope for the future is going with this boy onto the ark." She walked over to Zed and gently smoothed his hair with her hand.
Esther scowled and heaved herself out of her seat. "See the bigger picture? See the fucking bigger picture? I'll tell you what the fucking bigger picture is. We are caged in here like animals. We eat this filthy slop, drink our own recycled piss, and are separated from the men in case we breed and make more sewer rats to feed." She hobbled out of the corner into the room, and the other women automatically backed off. "Those walls could go any time!" She gesticulated violently towards the great bulwarks curving upward to the ceiling. So we wait here to die like good little boys and girls while those with the money and the rank are living it up on Europa. They have liquid water there. Can you believe it? Liquid water! Lakes and rivers, rain and waterfalls." She raised her arms as if in a cooling torrent. "They'll drift serenely onto their ark on the skirts of that bitch, and continue having a ball in some other solar system, while we die here like animals."
She looked suddenly towards Zed, crossed the room and roughly grabbed his shoulder. "If you manage to get anywhere near that bitch, slit her throat and tell her it's from Esther."
Krata pulled her away from Zed. "What do you suggest we do Esther?" she screamed. "What practical suggestions do you have?"
"None. We're fucked."
"Precisely. So why don't you sit down, shut up, and try to make the best of it."
That night Zed lay awake listening to the sound of his mother crying in the bed next to him. He climbed out of his own, knelt at her bedside and tried to dry her tears with the corner of his pyjama sleeve.
"I'm sorry, mummy," he said.
"It's not your fault."
"I wish you could come too."
"So do I, oh so do I." She sat up in bed and took his hands in hers. "You're going to have to be very brave."
"I'd rather stay here with you then go by myself."
"I know, but that's not possible. You are being given the chance to survive."
She dried his tears with the sleeve of her nightie and tried to smile. "You're 12 now, and very soon you'll be a man." She looked up at the stars in the dormitory window. "Some people believe that there is another world. Not a world in another solar system, not a world in this multiverse, but a world beyond death. My mother believed it, and I believe it too."
"What sort of a world?"
"I don't know exactly. But I do know that it's better than all the Europas in the multiverse put together."
"Will we be together there one day?"
She nodded through tears and embraced her son. Zed fell asleep in her arms as the sickly light of dawn steadily filled the room. The blast of the horn sounded the beginning of the new day.
The following evening just before seven, Zed's mother embraced her son for the last time, planting a final kiss on his forehead. The automaton strode into the room: "By order of the Empress, earth citizen number 30,647 is to accompany me to the Europa shuttle," it blared out.
Zed followed the robot, looking back to his mother one last time, as he was about to leave the room. Suddenly she tore towards him, screaming and frantically pulling him back.
The automaton rendered her unconscious with a taser.
"Leave her alone," Zed shouted, thumping and kicking against its metal. The robot lifted him effortlessly, immobilising his arms and his legs and carried him screaming through several security doors he had never passed before, down several corridors, and onto the Europa shuttle.
Several hundred people were travelling with Zed, and as they all sat in silence, Zed scrutinised them. He had never seen men in the flesh before, and as he studied their rough and hairy faces, it seemed extraordinary to him that in a few years he would become one of them. He also had the unsettling realisation that one of them might well be his father. The women of earth were fertilised by artificial insemination with a random cocktail of sperm from the men, a practice designed to maximise genetic variation, so there was no easy way of finding out. On board the shuttle there were children too, and Zed caught the eye of a boy of about his own age. He was crying, and Zed realised that he had probably also been separated from his mother. He made an attempt at a reassuring smile.
They landed on Europa many hours later and were escorted into a large white reception hall encircled by automatons. A very fat man in a large black cloak was standing at the front of the hall.
"I am Gnodish, servant of her Imperial Highness, and on behalf of Her Imperial Highness, Empress of humans, Exquagia the Great, I welcome you, citizens of Singapore, to Europa, and to a bright new future aboard the ark. I don't have to tell you how very lucky you are to have been selected for this honour. You have been sorted into groups and will shortly be informed by neural communication which group you belong to."
Zed began exploring the Europa computer system neurally. It was a far more modern and voluminous system than the one on earth, and he didn't know what to make of the incomprehensible swarms of maps and calculations, numbers and words which crowded his mind. As he was trying to make sense of the information, a voice blared in his head. "Congratulations! You have been selected as a boy in waiting to her Imperial Highness. Kindly follow Gnodish."
As Zed walked towards Gnodish, he realised that several other boys of about his age were doing the same. Groups of men and groups of women were walking to the various automatons positioned around the hall.
Gnodish stepped onto a levitating platform which carried him through a doorway into a corridor, and Zed and the other boys had to almost run to keep up with him. They passed through another doorway and then Zed gasped. Up above them was a sky, and that sky was dominated by the great planet Jupiter. Unlike the sun on earth, a great furnace, Jupiter glowed with a pale and balmy light, red stripes encircling its surface like lines of paint dripped onto twirling porcelain.
The sun on Europa was demoted to a small red disc some 50 times smaller than the great planet, and its rays were pleasantly warming. A cool breeze blew on Zed's face, and he imagined that Europa must be as the earth had been millions of years before.
They walked along a path through beautiful gardens. Flowering trees and shrubs, clipped hedges, sculptures and labyrinths stretched into the distance as far as the eye could see, meeting hills and behind these, mountains. Zed remembered reading about the gardens of Europa on the computer system of the Singaporean Sector. When Europa was terraformed 12,000 years before, the gardens had been constructed over the surface of the entire moon, and maintained by an army of automatons under strict instructions from the ruler. Every style of garden had been built, and every great garden from Earth's history reproduced in immaculate detail. The automaton gardeners were green and therefore extremely well camouflaged, but Zed eventually saw one clipping a hedge, and then another on its hands and knees weeding a flower bed. Water was plentiful, and streams snaked through the gardens, sometimes roaring above them as waterfalls, sometimes burbling through rock gardens, and sometimes flowing silently beneath bridges. Every moment a new vista opened up, a new exquisite avenue stretching into the mountainous distance, deserted except for the odd flicker of an automaton.
Tears ran down Zed's face. If only his Mother could have been there with him. He was wondering where all the people were, when they passed a group sitting in an arbour, drinking from crystal flutes and eating delicacies from silver platters. They looked curiously at Zed and his companions rushing after Gnodish, and began whispering to each other. Zed wondered where they lived, and looking back to where they had come from he got his answer. A city rose out of the verdure, great towers clustered together around a large central dome.
They were travelling steadily downhill, and beyond the slope another city began to emerge. It was like the shining carapace of a giant tortoise, and totally unlike the city they had come from. After thirty minutes they came within its shadow. The gardens surrounding it were of utterly different character to the ones they had been walking through; far more elaborate and ostentatious. They passed beneath arches of blossoming bougainvillea, between pyramids of persimmon trees, and under great canopies of orchids. Many people were milling around, and eyed them with a certain respect. Zed wondered if it was because they were bound for the service of the Empress.
They reached a giant golden statue wreathed in flowers, and Gnodish stopped, bowed low to it, and then turned to them. "Her Imperial Majesty is here depicted as the ancient goddess Kwan Yin. Kwan Yin was a Bodhisattva, or enlightened one, who refused to enter into paradise until she had saved a suffering mankind. How very, very apt." He then passed behind the statue to a golden staircase that led up into the city, and the boys followed him. After several hundred steps they passed beneath the carapace, and Zed expected to be walking into shadow. Instead, the light changed to a bright gold. He looked up and realised that the underside of the carapace was a cloudless sky with a young bright sun, much as it must have been on earth billions of years before. A row of automaton guards parted and bowed to them, and they passed through into a courtyard. Zed vaguely recognised the buildings from earth's computer system, but couldn't remember where they originated from. Gnodish stopped and turned to them again.
"We are now in a life-size replica of the Forbidden City, a palace of great rulers from the dawn of civilisation, billions of years ago. Her Imperial Highness has a keen sense of history, and an exquisite sense of timeliness. This gesture, as tasteful as it is magnanimous, appropriately completes the circle of our human journey in this solar system, and readies us for our new life on Speran."
They passed through great courtyard after great courtyard, each guarded by numerous rows of automatons who parted and bowed as they passed.
Gnodish turned to them again. "We are about to enter into the throne room, and will be in the presence of Her Imperial Highness. Do as I do, only speak when spoken to, and smile." He grinned for the first time, revealing a mouth full of stubby golden teeth.
They ascended a short flight of stairs, and Zed saw a rather petite woman dressed in yellow silk sitting on a large throne. Her hair was arranged into a bun, and adorned with a glittering phoenix crown. Her face was white as milk, and her fingernails nearly as long as her fingers. Gnodish got off his platform, kneeled and touched his head to the ground three times. He stood and then kneeled again and repeated the process. He was huffing and puffing by the time he did it for the third time. Zed and the other boys tried to perform the actions while watching him to check they were doing them correctly. The result was a shambles. The bright laughter of the Empress filled the room.
"Never fear my boys. We will not require you to perform the grand kowtow every time you see us, but it does make for a nice introduction."
She got up from her throne, and walked to the supplicants, accompanied by several boys-in-waiting dressed from head to foot in silver.
"Look up so we may see you," she instructed the supplicants, and examined each boy in turn, making comments as she did so. "This one has interesting eyes. Far more striking than the image on the database. One blue, one green. We've never seen that before. He will do as our elixir bearer…Ah! This one is most beautiful! He will accompany us in the gardens so we may compare him with the flowers...Why on earth did we choose this one?" When she got to Zed she lifted his chin with the long nail of her index finger. Zed felt it sharp against his skin. "This one has an interesting face. Not beautiful exactly, nor handsome, but most decidedly attractive. A hero's face perhaps."
She peered into his eyes and though Zed wanted to look away, something made him meet her gaze. "And he is clever…very clever…gifted. He shall come to our bedchamber later and we will talk."
When she had finished examining the boys, she addressed them all. "You are our diamonds in the rough, who are blessed and favoured more than you can imagine. In order to sparkle, a diamond must be cut, and this…can sometimes be uncomfortable."
She smiled slightly, and put the nail of a finger to her lip. "But know that everything we do is for your own good." She signalled to Gnodish, who stepped onto his platform and clapped his hands briskly. The boys followed him as he drifted past the throne room and into the palace complex.
They were taken through another courtyard and to a dormitory. There they were instructed to shower, put on a special set of silver clothes, and anoint themselves with a special oil which smelt of flowers. Gnodish took Zed aside. "You are greatly honoured to be invited to the bedchamber of Her Imperial Highness. An automaton will escort you to the Room of the Seven Veils at 10pm. Be ready."
All Zed wanted was to be as inconspicuous as possible, blend into the background and be forgotten. Being invited to the bedchamber of the Empress seemed to be the opposite fate. Some of the other boys in the dormitory were tearful, and Zed took his mind off his evening engagement by trying to comfort them. Nearly all, like him, had been taken from their mothers.
As sunset approached, the artificial sky blazed with every shade of red and pink, and then faded to twilight, and finally to darkness. An automaton brought dinner to the dormitory, and it was the most delicious meal Zed had ever eaten. Several of the other boys were escorted by automatons to their various duties, and at precisely 10pm a golden automaton came for Zed. It entered and bowed low to him. "Her Imperial Highness desires your presence in the Room of the Seven Veils. Kindly follow me."
The automatons hadn't addressed the other boys with such deference, and Zed couldn't help feeling important as he followed the robot through the darkening courtyards, corridors and paths of the palace. The place was like a labyrinth, and he quickly lost all sense of direction. They eventually approached a large building with an ostentatious entrance guarded by ranks of golden automatons. They passed into the building, through several grand atria, and then into a chamber encircled with pink curtains of diaphanous silk.
"Go forward," said the automaton, and two automatons standing guard parted the first set of curtains for Zed to walk through. Beyond the first curtain was a second curtain also guarded by automatons, then a third, then a fourth, a fifth, a sixth. Beyond the seventh veil was a gigantic golden four-poster bed. The Empress was sitting up on her pillows and smiling at him. Several automatons stood guard, and one gently fanned the royal bed with a giant ostrich feather. Zed couldn't remember how to do the Kowtow so he just bowed.
"Come forward my dear boy. We can dispense with formalities here." She signalled for him to sit next to her on the bed.
"What is your name?"
"That's rather a simple name…. 'Zed'," she repeated with a little laugh. "I think you shall be called Agamemnon. Do you know who Agamemnon was?"
Zed shook his head.
"A great hero. You shall be my great hero."
Zed smiled, but felt as if he was teetering on the edge of a precipice. "I prefer the name my mother gave to me."
The Empress laughed at his impudence. "What you prefer is of no consequence. How old do you think I am?"
Zed looked at her painted face. The layer of foundation was thick, but it hadn't managed to hide the crow's feet nestling at the corners of her eyes.
She laughed again, this time more heartily. "If you want to get on in this court my Agamemnon you will have to become a better flatterer than that!"
"It's quite alright. Your honesty is rather refreshing. But isn't it extraordinary? The human species has mastered every branch of science. Our knowledge of the biochemical machinery of life is absolute, we understand the structure of the multiverse and are preparing to travel to a planet in another solar system, and yet we still don't know the secret of immortality. I've had armies of the greatest scientists working on the problem for many years, but they never seem to get anywhere. They did manage to produce the elixir, which has prolonged my life considerably, but I will still die, probably before the ark reaches Speran." She traced a fingernail along Zed's cheek, and his blood ran to ice. "If you promise not to tell another living soul, I will tell you my age."
Zed stared blankly at her.
"I am 254."
His jaw dropped in shock and she laughed. "You will have to learn to hide your feelings better than that!"
"Stop being sorry," she chuckled. "Life with or without the elixir is far too short to be sorry. Anyway, let's change the subject. You are an intelligent boy. Don't you have any questions about your new life here?"
"Why can't the other people in the Singaporean Sector come on the ark? Why can't my mother come with me?"
The Empress frowned and sighed. "I have the greatest affection for the people of Singapore. It may surprise you to learn that I was born in that sector. As a young girl, like you, I ate reconstituted food, worked in the factories, and obeyed the commands of the Emperor enforced by the automaton army. Like you I was also given the rare opportunity to travel to Europa and meet the Imperial ruler, but once I became Imperial consort, and later Dowager Empress, my responsibilities had to change. Have you heard of evolution?"
Zed had read the word somewhere, but shook his head nonetheless.
"Well, it's the process by which our species was created billions of years ago. You see, once upon a time, before life began, the earth was a hot sterile desert baked by a searing sun, much as it is today but much younger. As the planet slowly cooled, water vapour condensed to form the oceans, and it was in that primeval mix that life first evolved. Things have a natural tendency to disorder, but in that ancient broth, the sun's energy drove the joining of simple chemicals to form larger and more complex molecules. It drove the assembly of those molecules to form the first replicating cells, which over the course of eons assembled themselves into the first animals. These animals fought for supremacy, butchering each other so that the fittest would survive, and eventually from this carnage, human beings emerged as supreme. The problem was that we became the victims of our own success. Once we became the dominant species, the harsh levels of competition which had moulded us were lifted, and many who in the past would have perished, were permitted not only to survive, but to breed. The bloodlines of the human species were running into disaster for many millennia, until our scientists came to the rescue with their back-breeding programme, which routed out defective DNA from the population.
"So you see, if the individual is put first, the species as a whole suffers, and in the end individuals suffer as a consequence. My late husband could never get his head around this concept. The only course of action is to put the fate of our species first, and the individual second. This solar system is doomed. Sooner or later the sun's fuel will be exhausted, it will become a white dwarf, and no amount of scientific wizardry will prevent our species from becoming extinct. The only way for us to survive is to travel to the nearest habitable planet, which happens to be Speran, a planet orbiting a relatively young star. The journey will take over a century. Fusion reactors on the ark can provide us with the energy we need for this time, and biospheres can provide oxygen and food, but it is impossible for everyone to go. We have had no choice but to be selective.
"Did you know, Agamemnon that early humans used to call Earth mother, because like a mother it nourished and sustained them? Earth can no longer do that. It is now a furnace, charred and lifeless. I am now mother to the human species, and just as the earth mother had to be cruel as well as kind, had to be cruel in order to be kind, I must make tough decisions for the good of all."
Zed didn't know what to say, so he remained silent. The Empress smiled. "Well, I better let you get some beauty sleep I suppose. You have amused us well enough this evening, and shall come again tomorrow. She then grinned and giggled like a young girl. "And if you are a very good boy my Agamemnon, I will show you a very special treasure tomorrow. It is the rarest of the rare, and none but the specially favoured have laid eyes upon it."
Automatons held the curtains open for Zed to depart. The Empress held out her hand. "Kiss it my Agamemnon," she said and he did as she asked. "Until tomorrow." She blew him kisses as he left her bedside, bowed, and departed through the veils.
Zed followed the automaton back through the maze of paths, courtyards and corridors to the dormitory. Outside the dormitory building, the automaton bowed low and left him. He was about to reach for the door when someone grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pushed him roughly against the wall.
"Ssshhh!" came a harsh whisper and a finger was placed against his lips. An older boy scowled down at him.
"Who are you?" Zed asked.
"As you are now, so once was I, as I am now so you shall be." His voice was in the process of breaking and undulated from soprano to bass.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Zed angrily. If he'd been older and bigger he'd have pushed him away, but he knew that if they fought, he'd lose.
"I was once Boy of the Seven Veils. I once had the ear of the Empress, just as you do now. It was your first time, wasn't it? How did it go?"
"It was scary."
"It will get scarier."
"Why did you leave?"
"I didn't leave. It is not for us to decide when we leave the service of the Empress. I was dismissed."
"Well, let's just say she likes her boys to be young, and I... am no longer young."
"What do you want from me?"
He stared at Zed, and suddenly his eyes looked like those of an old man. "I don't know really. Just to warn you I suppose, not that it will do any good."
"Warn me about what?"
"You'll find out."
Zed couldn't sleep that night. The Empress's sickly sweet perfume lingered in his nostrils, and in his mind lingered her words which made sense but didn't make sense. Then there was the older boy's warning. As he lay awake watching the moon and the stars in the artificial sky steadily passing across the aperture of the dormitory window, he decided that escaping from the city was his only option. If he made it to the great gardens of Europa, he could easily hide in them. The Empress would be unlikely to delay departure of the ark just for him; she'd find another toy to play with easily enough.
Once the ark had gone, he would emerge from hiding and try somehow to make it back to earth and rescue his mother. They could then somehow get back to Europa, and live happily together in the great city. As the golden light of dawn began to fill the room, together with the sounds of birds chirping, he finally began to doze. He was entering the computer system again, just as he had done after arriving on Europa, but it seemed smaller and more manageable somehow. He could see maps of biospheres and fusion reactors, and the incomprehensible swarms of words and numbers seemed to appear in distinct groupings and patterns. He was beginning to understand their significance, but there was something inherently confusing about them. Just as he was about to put his finger on it, he fell asleep.
"Wake up young man!" Zed awoke with a start to see Gnodish towering over him. The sky was high in the sky and the dormitory was empty.
"Her Imperial Highness has asked me to inform you that you may do with the day what you will, but an automaton will escort you to the Room of the Seven Veils this evening at 10pm." The man turned and left before Zed could say anything.
Zed jumped out of bed, wolfed down the breakfast laid out for him, and then made his way back through the Forbidden City in the direction of the golden stairs, avoiding the throne room by as big a margin as possible. He wasn't sure if he would be permitted outside the Forbidden City, but decided that the only way he'd find out was by testing it. He crossed deserted courtyard after deserted courtyard. The first few sets of automaton guards parted for him and bowed low. As he reached the edge of the Forbidden City, and the final set of guards, his heart was pounding in his chest. They also parted and bowed, and he felt like he was walking on air as he left the Forbidden City.
Where yesterday the area outside the Forbidden City had been deserted, it was now heaving with people, and Zed elbowed his way through the crowds in the direction of the golden stairs. He planned to slowly descend the stairs, like someone on official imperial business, and then make for the gardens. But as he reached the place where the golden stairs should have been, he saw a great window, and what he saw there made him fall to his knees and wail in despair. In the window was the planet Saturn. He was not in a city, but on the ark, and it had departed.
"Oh I'm sorry my dear, but I thought you knew," said the Empress vaguely that night. "Anyway, onto more important matters. I must show my very special treasure." She snapped her fingers and an automaton came forward with a tray. On the tray was a gigantic vase which glistened so brightly it looked luminous.
"It is cut with twelve million facets from a flawless eternal diamond. My great, great grandfather-in-law discovered the rough rock in the mountains of Europa, and had it cut. It is the hardest and most durable substance in the universe, far tougher than ordinary diamond, and utterly priceless."
"Very nice," said Zed, looking sullenly at the object.
"Oh come now don't sulk," smiled the Empress. She put her hand on Zed's shoulder but he shrugged her off.
"I see I will have to work hard to win my Agamemnon. I am presently going to make my farewell speech to the people of Singapore, before the ark departs this solar system, and you shall see that I am as humane as I am just."
An automaton appeared, and handed her a microphone. "All is in readiness, Majesty," it blared.
The Empress preened herself a little (even though her audience would be unable to see her), and spoke into the microphone. "Greetings my subjects, citizens of Singapore. We trust you are well. The ark has now departed from Europa, has passed the orbits of the outer planets, and will shortly be leaving this solar system. We are bound for the planet of Speran which orbits a young main sequence star in the constellation of Centaurus. The journey will take over a century by which time we fear we will be dead. But it is not our future, but the future of the human species which is important. We sacrifice our own life for the greater good, just as you are sacrificing yours, and we thank you for it.
"The cities of earth have almost all been destroyed by the sun's growing fury, and the city of Singapore now stands alone as the last place of human habitation there. We were born in Singapore, and confess that it is through our own special favour that the city remains. Regrettably, as we leave the solar system aboard the ark, this favour must end. We are aware that the slow destruction of the biospheres of earth has caused much anxiety, a distress which we deeply regret from the bottom of our heart. For this reason, we have decided to minimise your suffering by ending it quickly. In 10 minutes, all hatches opening from the Singaporean Sector onto earth's atmosphere will be unsealed, and you will all die instantly. Take the time you have left to say goodbye to your loved ones, and to prepare yourselves. You have our blessing as your Empress, as your fellow human, as your fellow Singaporean and as your mother."
Zed shook his head and mouthed no at the Empress, his hands clawing impotently at her bed sheets.
"It's for the best my dear. Trust me."
"Why can't you send them to Europa!?" he screamed.
"There's no one left on Europa, my dear Agamemnon, only the automatons left there to maintain the great gardens. We are all on the ark. If I sent the people of Earth to Europa they wouldn't have the skills or the knowledge to survive. It would be too cruel."
Zed rushed from her side and tore through the veils one after another, so fast the automatons didn't have a chance to open them for him, or to bow. He ran into the night, and down path after path, through courtyard after courtyard, blind to where he was going. A voice blared in his head.
"My Agamemnon dearest. Try to understand. It's for the best."
"Shut up you bitch," Zed screamed.
He eventually hurtled into a large domed biosphere about a kilometre across and several kilometres high. He ran through ornate gardens of bamboo, cherry blossom and lotus, clouds of butterflies scattering as he entered a forest of towering trees. Deeper and deeper he ran into the forest, the trees becoming larger and larger. Eventually he entered a grove of giant redwood and slumped at the foot of the greatest of these trees.
He tore furiously into the ark's computer system with his mind, and perhaps because of his terror and his anguish, the whole system suddenly became crystal clear to him. He saw the map of the ark, the biosphere of the Forbidden City where he hid, and all the other seven biospheres. He saw the fusion reactors, the rocket engines and the laboratory complexes, and for the first time he realised that he had not only the ability to see the information, but the power to manipulate it. He found the great doors of the ark, which opened onto space, and instructed them to unseal. He was asked for an access code, and frantically searched though ranks of numbers, and after several minutes found the correct sequence.
Into his head cut the voice of the Empress. "Where are you my dearest boy? The task is done. The people of Singapore are no longer suffering. Your mother is no longer suffering. Do not grieve, my dearest Agamemnon. I am your mother now."
"My name isn't Agamemnon, you bitch. It's Zed!"
He entered the access code, and the doors of the ark were flung open. A mighty wind tore through the biosphere as the air left the ark for the vacuum of space. Great trees were felled in the tornado, and clouds of cherry blossom were ripped from their branches. After the wind there came a deathly cold, which froze everything to absolute zero. The fusion reactors exploded, the Forbidden City was pulverised, and the fate of the human species was sealed.
Just over a century later a priceless vase of eternal diamond cut with twelve million facets crashed into the seas of Speran.QLRS Vol. 14 No. 1 Jan 2015