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Authors: George R. Shirer

Dawnwind 1: last man standing

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DAWNWIND:

LAST MAN STANDING

by

George R. Shirer

 

Copyright 2012 George R. Shirer

 

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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author

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ContentsCopyrightStormskyRainskyStormskyClearskyRainskyRainskyClearskyThank you noteAbout the AuthorOther Works by the Author

 

Stormsky

5813

Junian Calendar

 

 

They found John Epcott on the beach, sprawled in the sand. He had no idea how he had gotten there. In fact, most of his recent memories were hazy. He remembered the pandemic, of course, the end of the world. How could he ever forget that? However, the last few weeks were a jumbled blur until he woke up in the infirmary, aboard theUndaunted Spirit.

First Medic Sufo said he was suffering mostly from dehydration and exposure. Within a day, John was on his feet. Sufo and his staff kept a careful eye on him, while he came to grips with the situation.

“As near as we can tell, you’re the last human.” 

Lol Kitos, the First Officer of theUndaunted Spirit, had been the one to break the news to John. He had shown him reports from survey teams, dispatched around the world. The streets of the great cities were choked with corpses. There were no signs that anyone else had survived.

John thought he would have had a harder time adjusting to the news if not for the crew of theUndaunted Spirit. Except for hair colors and some minor variations in skin texture, the Junians were superficially identical to humans. The ship’s First Scientist, Jata Fex, explained that this was because human and Junian evolution had both been affected by the same outside influence.

Eventually, the mission specialists started to visit John. They were sympathetic and polite, full of questions about this or that aspect of human culture. Some had been preparing for this mission for years. John did his best to answer their questions, or at least provide a human perspective for them to bounce their theories off.

One day, Jata came to John and showed him a metallic sphere, about the size of a tennis ball. She handed it to him. The sphere’s surface was warm and soft. It felt disturbingly like skin.

“What is it?” asked John.

“We’ve been visiting universities and library complexes around the planet, making copies of their infobases. We’ve just finished.” She tapped the spheroid. “That’s a copy of everything we’ve got.”

John stared at the spheroid. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Take it home. Put it up on the infonet.”

He wanted to ask her what the point was, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he just smiled and said it was very impressive.

A few weeks later, Kitos announced that theUndaunted Spiritwould be leaving Earth. He and John were walking through one of the Smithsonian Museums at the time, accompanied by a group of crewmembers performing sensor scans on the exhibits. Later, John learned, the scans could be used to reproduce the exhibits, molecule by molecule.

“If there’s anything special you’d like to bring with you, John, you should get it soon.”

John had stared at Kitos. “You’re taking me with you?”

“Of course. We can’t leave you here. You’d be all alone. That would be cruel. Barbaric.”

“I thought there might be some kind of rule or something preventing it.”

“No,” said Kitos. He gave John a strange look. “You don’t want to stay here, do you?”

John glanced behind him, at the dark hallways of the museum. There was already a layer of dust coating everything. What would it look like in another year? Ten years? If he stayed, would he survive that long? What if he got sick? Or injured?

“No,” said John. “But, I think I’d like to come back some day.”

Kitos smiled and nodded. “Of course. It’s your home.”

He clasped John’s shoulder and the two of them walked deeper into the museum, the Junian officer and the Last Human.

 

Rainsky

5814

Junian Calendar

 

“Is he all right, Aunt Olu?”

Olu Teneso glanced up from her PIN. Her niece, Iseta, stood at the bottom of the stairway, looking up, clasping her hands. The tips of her long, slender fingers were pink with emotion.

“John is fine,” said Olu. 

“But he’s alone,” protested Iseta. She looked at Olu with wide, confused eyes.

“I know. John needs his solitude.”

“But. . . .”

Olu put aside her PIN and stood. She was a tall, graceful woman in her fifth decade. Her light blue hair was long, falling to the small of her back. She wore a dayrobe of purple lace and very little eyepaint. 

Walking to her niece, Olu took Iseta’s hand and drew her into a hug. Iseta, at seventeen, was becoming a lovely young woman. Her light blue hair, the same shade as her aunt’s, fell in thick waves around a pale, expressive face. Her eyepaint was minimal, as befitted a young woman. She wore an ankle-length robe of semitransparent blue silk. A necklace of shimmering gemstones hung about her neck. 

“Isolation is not the same for John as it is for us,” Olu murmured.

Iseta frowned. “It isn’t?”

“He is not Junian.”

“I know, but. . . .”

“Shhhh.” Olu took her niece’s hands. “It’s good that you’re concerned for him, but John is fine. He’ll come down in a little while.”

Iseta sighed and shut her eyes, inhaled the familiar, comforting scent of her aunt. “It just seems wrong to let someone be by themselves.”

“If John were Junian, it would be cruel. I know. However, I‘ve learned something of how the human mind works, from my research and from observing John. The seclusion he seeks is normal for him. From what I’ve read, isolation seems to help human males process their emotions and work out difficult problems, to focus their cognitive abilities.”

Iseta frowned. “So when he’s alone, he’s smarter?”

“I don’t know about that,” admitted Olu. “But in the time he’s lived here, John has frequently sought to isolate himself.” Olu chuckled. “Usually after an interview with one of the specialists.”

“They upset him?”

“I asked him about that once,” said Olu. “He told me they sometimes made him feel alone in the crowd.”

Iseta looked up at her aunt. “What does that mean?”

“A sense of emotional disconnection from the present group.”

Iseta shivered. “That sounds horrible.”

“Yes,” admitted Olu. “It does, doesn’t it?”

Shaking her head, Iseta pulled away from her aunt. “If the interviews upset him, why does he still do them? Surely people would understand if he stopped.”

Olu took Iseta’s hand and led her to the sofa. They sat, holding hands, the younger woman still frowning.

“I suggested that to John once,” said Olu. “He said he would feel bad if he refused to talk to the specialists. Some of them had spent years preparing for contact with his world.” Olu’s smile was sad. She tightened her grip on Iseta’s fingers for a moment. “And he said talkingabout his world with people who were genuinely interested in it, helped him keep its memory alive.”

“Is that a good thing, auntie?” asked Iseta. “Wouldn’t he be happier if he put the past behind him?”

“I don’t know, my darling,” admitted Olu, sadly. “I just don’t know.”

* * * * *

John sat on his bed and considered the device in his hand.  The comm was black and semicircular in shape, made of a pliable material that weighed almost nothing. Taking a breath, John lifted the device and placed it around the outer shell of his right ear. 

Skin contact activated the device and John flinched, as he felt it squirm and press itself against his skin. He imagined he could feel the tiny filaments extruding from the device, piercing his skin, searching for his auditory nerves.

Maybe, John thought, I should have done this at a hospital. What if the thing hadn’t been properly programmed? What if it left him deaf? What if the filaments didn’t stop when they reached his auditory nerves and just kept burrowing?

Paranoid thoughts like these chased themselves around his head. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, chided himself for being stupid.

It’s a comm, he told himself. The local equivalent of a cell phone! Stop worrying! Everybody uses them!

He stood and walked to the cosmetic table, settled himself in front of it, turned his head to peer at his reflection. The comm had affixed itself to the outside of his ear, as it was supposed to, and it was rapidly changing color to mimic his skin tone. Tentatively, he reached up and touched the device. It chirped once and a pleasant synthetic voice said, “Device ready. Do you wish to set preferences?”

“No,” said John. “Not at this time.”

The comm chirped again and went silent.

John stared at himself in the mirror. He had untidy black hair framing a lean face, with dark blue eyes and a mouth that was set into a brittle line. His skin was pale and unblemished. Even the old scar on the bridge of his nose, the one he’d gotten falling off his bicycle when he was a little kid, was gone. The flesh beneath his eyes was only a little gray, now that he was actually managing to sleep through most nights.

No one had commented on the bags under his eyes and John wondered. Did Junians even get bags under their eyes? If they did, all the eyepaint they slathered on would probably hide it.

Automatically, he glanced down at the table. It was made of soft, golden wood, and, like most Junian furnishings, it was circular. The table’s surface was covered with cosmetics.

Eyepaint was very much a unisex thing here, but John had not felt comfortable embracing that particular aspect of Junian culture. He had asked Olu if it would be all right if he didn’t wear eyepaint, and she had said it was fine. 

I should go downstairs, thought John. Olu had come to understand his need for alone time, but the other members of her extended family still found it alarming.

And the last thing I want to do is frighten the locals, thought John.

He stood and gave his clothing a quick glance. Clothes on Juni were also largely unisex. John wore an ankle-length robe of metallic gold threads beneath a light robe of dark russet. Sliding his feet into house-sandals, he automatically ran his hand down the front of the robe, smoothing away the wrinkles.

God, thought John. I look like I’m wearing Liberace’s nightshirt.

The thought made him snort, but it bolstered his mood. He walked out of the room with a smile.

* * * * *

The house was a two-story pink cylinder, capped with a glittering, crystal dome. It had not been built, as John understood it, but grown. The first floor contained two spacious rooms; the daychamber, where Olu spent most of her waking hours, and a kitchen/dining area. There was a smallish formal entry chamber at the foot of the circular stairs, and a discreet wastechamber behind them.

Buttery yellow walls were programmed to display large, circular windows that pumped in real-time images from outside. The floors were made of some kind of synthetic wood, similar to oak in appearance. Soft, sumptuous couches and deep, circular chairs upholstered in patterned fabrics of yellow and orange, smothered in tasseled pillows and cushions, filled the daychamber. The air smelt faintly of flowers and incense.

Olu perched on the edge of a couch, holding the hands of her niece, Iseta. They were chatting quietly, heads close together, their light blue hair gently curtaining their faces. Both women turned to John as he stepped into the room, favoring him with warm smiles.

“Welcome, John,” said Olu. “Look who’s come to visit.”

John smiled and touched his shoulders then lowered his hands, holding them out, palm up. “Hello, Iseta. You look lovely today.”

The girl ducked her head and John saw her fingertips turn pink. Standing, she returned his greeting, placing her hands, lightly, palm-down atop his.

“Welcome, John. You are well?”

She said the last with a bashful look, as if unsure if the question would offend. He wondered, vaguely, what he had done to make her self-conscious. 

Making a mental note to ask Olu later, John said, “I’m fine. Better now that I’m in such lovely company.”

Iseta’s fingertips turned pink again. Behind her, John saw Olu shaking her head in amusement. She patted the couch next to her. 

“Come join us, John. Iseta and I were just talking about you.”

He raised an eyebrow, curious, and took the spot next to Olu. Iseta sat on the other side of her aunt, her head lowered, her fingers cupped to hide their tips.  Why didn’t they just wear gloves? Thought John. Another question to add to the list. 

“I hope I’ve been an entertaining subject.”

“I’ve been trying to explain to my niece the differences between human and Junian psychology,” said Olu.

“Oh, that’s easy,” said John.

“Really?” Olu made a sweeping gesture with her hand, a movement John was certain she used in her classes at the university. “Enlighten us, please.”

Iseta must have also recognized Olu’s tone and gesture. She had lowered her head and was trying very hard not to smile.

“Basically, Junians are just nicer than humans.”

Olu arched her slender eyebrows. Iseta frowned.

“Expand on that, please,” said Olu.

“Well,” said John, “from what I’ve read and personally experienced, Junians are much more empathetic than my species was, much more group oriented.”

“Are you saying that your species was more . . . callous than ours?” asked Iseta.

John frowned. “Aggressive might be a better word.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” admitted Iseta.

“Let me put it like this. During the entire history of my species, we were never at peace with one another. We were constantly engaged in violent conflicts over things like resources, philosophy, religion, and ethnicity.

Now, compare my culture with yours. Your people have conflicts too, but the way you go about dealing with them is very different. A Junian’s first impulse, in most cases, is too look for a compromise. To find a solution that’s fair and equitable to both sides.”

“Well, yes,” said Iseta. She glanced at her aunt. “That way everyone benefits.”

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