I'm walking down a street in Lexington, VA. About four o'clock in
the afternoon, near the end of summer by the look of it. New and
returning students at Washington and Lee and VMI are wandering
around downtown, youthful hope for the future showing on their
faces. A woman pushes a stroller, window shopping, making cooing
noises at her baby. A man is taking the training wheels off a bike,
while his son watches nervously.
It doesn't occur to any of them that the world won't continue on
substantially as it has, long into the future.
I awaken with a start, sitting bolt upright. The
dream is back. Practically every night now, it
returns; the dream of how life was before The Event. The
shock of cold water splashed on my face doesn't give me any
answers. Once again, I put it out of my mind and resolve
that it won't be back, but it's obvious that it probably
will be. I don't know why it has recently started to torment
Walking to the window, I try to remember what city I'm in
today, before receiving clues from the morning vista. Oh
yes, Saskatoon. Not that it makes much difference these
days, either to the two or three thousand semi-permanent
residents, or the itinerants like me. I'd been
here three days now, exploring the woods around what used to
be the town. Mostly just taking a break before deciding what
to do next. I asked the room for the weather in Kuala
Lumpur; I'd heard there was some sort of fight-to-the-death
tournament going on there. Currently 92 degrees with high
humidity, and a big storm expected in the next day. No
reason to endure that in whatever would be the rest of my
life; they could fight without me.
Showered and dressed, I went out and got some good ol'
bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'd pretty much been subsisting on
moose jerky while hiking, so that was a nice change. I told
the terminal to browse current announcements, no
restrictions. The people of Gibraltar were going to nuke
their famous Rock today; I'd really thought they would decide
to let it be. I didn't think it would be that interesting
anyway. A creative bungee jumping competition at the
Eiffel Tower? What the heck, it might draw a crowd at
least. I hadn't been around more than about ten people for
quite a while. I had the terminal make the travel
arrangements for me. It said I should be at the port in 27
minutes, as a taxi settled just outside the door.
As always when I'm in a long distance transport, I found
myself musing on the state of our world: population 3.5
million at last estimate, slowly dwindling, living a life of
total leisure in a technological wonderland,
whatever good or service we might desire provided by
self-maintaining automated systems that would probably last
for a million years, and most of us despondently waiting to
die – or actively hastening that end.
After It happened, the survivors took care of the logistics
of tending to ten billion fresh corpses almost out of reflex
(though the robots did the actual work, naturally). I think
the shock might have lasted much longer; the discovery
that the relative few of us left were all sterile
took us out of that but left us in a funk that probably will
never lift. Knowing that we're the last generation has
sapped our will to do anything important, least of all try
to find a way to fix the problem. Instead, our creative
energies find their outlet by devising more and more clever,
entertaining, and useless ways to spend our time, often at
peril of life and limb.
For a while, of course, we argued about what it was that had
happened: war theories didn't last long, since there was
nobody left untouched. There was no evidence of an epidemic
of some strange disease; until they stopped doing them, the
autopsies showed normally healthy dead
people, for the most part. The closest thing to a consensus was some
nanotechnology that got out of control, but why it would
only kill humans, and why it seemed to come and go so
quickly, is a mystery. Nobody talks about it anymore.
* * *
Paris. It was my first time here. It was hard to decide
whether it had suffered relatively more or less than other
great cities at the decimation of its citizenry. It was
easy to thread my way through the empty streets, toward the
(taller than I'd imagined) steel needle guiding me on.
I arrived at the tower with about twenty minutes to go before
the beginning of the competition. There was indeed a good crowd;
I'd estimate at least two thousand. A few people were climbing
around the structure above the first level, attaching streamers
and pennants that were waving in the breeze. After wandering
for a while, I took a seat on the grass next to a woman who
appeared to be, of all things, knitting! The output was already
about three feet long, obviously not a sweater or a pair of
mittens; my best guess was a sleeping bag, but that would be
Hi, do you mind if I join you?
Not at all. Here, hold this.
She thrust the skein into my hands and told me to pay out the
yarn so that it didn't get pulled taut. I asked her what she
was making. I was close: it was a body bag. She figured, just
in case one of the contestants plunged to his death, she wanted
to be useful, rather than just milling around like people do. I
told her the yellow was a nice color for it, and she proudly
pointed out the booties at the bottom.
Then an announcer came on the public address system, and explained
that there would be three separate rounds of competition.
- the Open,
with the contestants' scores made up of a style judgment from the
spectators, added to their base score determined by how close to the
ground they came. In this round, actually hitting the ground was
grounds for automatic disqualification.
- the Trust,
the same as the Open except that all of the entrants would
gather at the top before the round began, and would pair off;
the two would exchange cords, and then one of them would
decide whether they should each go ahead, or join the cords
and jump together from the second floor.
- the Ultimate,
where the cords were provided at random, one of them having
been chemically treated so that it would be unable to bear
the weight of the jumper at the bottom of his fall.
A roar went up from the crowd at hearing the last. Glenda, the
knitter, being a local, had been aware of the setup, and the
clicking of the needles was uninterrupted. She mentioned that
there were baguettes and cheese in the bag next to
her, and that I should help myself. I smeared some ripe Brie on
a chunk of bread, and then cut a few slices of Port Salut that
she asked for. She apologized for the Brie not being the best;
of course, nobody was making it by hand anymore so this was
factory made. I assured her that it was fine (though I'm no
connoisseur), and she bade me try the other. The Trappists, she
told me, had decided to continue their traditions until the end, and
their famous semi-soft cheese was as delightful as ever. There
was wine also. I expected a red, as the good whites that had
been laid down when It happened should have been long gone by now.
She saw the surprise when I saw the bottle, and she explained
that the occasion demanded a white, and she'd liberated this
Chenin Blanc from a chateau in
Nantes, and had saved it for
Then the games began. It wasn't really all that
exciting, though I clapped loudly for the woman who had arranged for a
small toy parachute to deploy from her head a second or two before
reaching the bottom. The old man who broke both of his legs hitting
the concrete was disqualified, but as he was a local favorite, an
impromptu awards committee quickly made up an Honorable Mention sash
which he wore with a smile as he was carted off to the MedCenter, to
the applause and laughter of the crowd.
When it was over, we packed up the remains of the picnic lunch
and she invited me to come back with her to her
place. She lured me with the promise of something new that she'd
thought up, and wanted to share with me.
After a brief tour of the early 1700's house, she abruptly
stripped us both naked, and led me by the hand to the elegant
bathroom. The Rococo fixtures and furnishings took me aback
momentarily; I don't often haunt such gaudy surroundings, and my
brain couldn't immediately discriminate between what was form and
what was function. Even so, something seemed vaguely wrong with
the setup, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. She
dipped her toe into the silvery tub, which I hadn't realized was
filled, and pulled me along as she stepped in. "It's mercury!",
she laughed. "You've never had a bath like this!"
Facing each other from the ends of the tub, we slid our legs past each
others' until it looked as though we'd each been truncated at the
torso and set upon this perfect mirror, able to pass the ages only
with our charm and witty repartee. Under the influence of Glenda's
lovely breasts, half-submerged with the slight tides
covering and uncovering the nipples, it wasn't long before a small
island manifested out of the silver sea, halfway between us. She
giggled and reached out to touch it, and I discovered the novel
sensation of my erection waving through the viscous medium as I
gyrated my hips trying to keep it out of her reach. Eventually she
caught it and I surrendered with the grace of a puppy
relinquishing the tennis ball after a short contest of wills, knowing
that it will be thrown again.
We heard the front door open and close, and Glenda said that that
would be the lady who's been staying with her while she passes through
town. She called out to her. "Marilyn! There's someone I want you to
meet." Marilyn came in and was introduced to me. I lifted a hand and
watched the mercury run down my arm to fall from my elbow. Before I
reached her outstretched hand, mine was totally dry; I cradled her
hand and touched my lips to it, as I greeted her with an
enchanté in my best stage whisper. She didn't seem
particularly thrilled; just looked at Glenda and said "So, you decided
on one, huh?", then retreated back into the house.
Glenda and I didn't let that spoil our fun. We played at trying to
make each other look silly by using the surface as a fun house
mirror; we flicked tiny droplets at each other; we (unsuccessfully)
tried to draw designs on the wall. Eventually it was time to stop,
though; we stood and watched our reflective raiment pour down our
bodies, then stepped out onto the bare floor with no towels necessary,
and resumed our more pedestrian costumes.
Over dinner, it became clear to me from her attitude that Marilyn
was not impressed with Glenda's new diversion, nor with anyone who
chose to share it with her. Indeed, I would have to say it was with
scorn that she barely tolerated Glenda's recounting of our
metallic afternoon activity.
Well, sure, the mercury is poisonous, agreed Glenda. What of it? You
know we're all going to die. I'll never understand what you have
against having some fun first. Don't be such a stick in the mud.
But I don't understand why everyone is so sure there's nothing we can
do. A few scientists look into the problem for a year or so after we
got back on our feet and can't find a solution; that means we have to
give up? No! Anyway, I think I get the same satisfaction out of
looking for others who agree with me that you do from tossing your
life away in your hedonistic holiday.
What do you mean, "agree with you"? Agree how? So you find someone
that thinks we should struggle aimlessly, but what would you
do exactly when you find him?
Oh, she doesn't mean open up the laboratories and start
poking people with needles and such. Her plan is much simpler —
The cause of Glenda's sudden interruption was so unexpected, nay so
impossible, that I almost fell off my chair. A child stood in the
entranceway to the dining room. "Mommy, I'm thirsty." "Yes, dear,
let's get you a glass of water".
As Marilyn went off to attend to her child, I looked at Glenda with a
look that probably would have branded me an imbecile but for the
extenuating circumstances, and managed to eke out a "Huh?". "Yes,
that's Marilyn's daughter, all right. But let's let her fill you in;
she's soooo good at it", said Glenda, rolling her eyes at the
last. Apparently she'd heard the story more times than she cared to,
and was about to do so again. I filled all of the wine glasses while
we waited, then gave Marilyn my complete attention as she began her
I was pregnant when It happened. About two months, and I
didn't even know it. I was as surprised as everyone else when I started to show. As part of my normal post-partum care,
I learned from the MedCenter that I was still fertile. Those stupid
medbots, of course, saw nothing unusual in this, despite the
statistical impossibility that every other patient they'd seen for
months had been unaccountably sterile. I have a theory that being
pregnant during The Event somehow protected me, but I don't really
know. Whether that's true or not, I think it strains credulity to
think that there's not one man on the planet still carrying around
viable sperm, while he's off risking his neck in some adolescent
foolishness. My goal is to find such men and get some babies started.
Women, too. I've found one woman so far who was also pregnant, though
she miscarried, and the MedCenter says she's still fertile, though
another pregnancy would be very risky for her. So I'm always on the
lookout for them, but I'm recruiting women too. I thought the easiest
way would be to get the MedCenters to help me find fertiles, but the
strict privacy controls get in the way, and nobody seems to have any
idea how to get around them. They're so damned advanced medically, but
I'd trade some of that knowledge for a little susceptibility to an
argument that the world is different now than when they were
But everyone knows everyone's sterile. Even if, as you say,
someone here or there isn't, they likely don't know it, and assume
otherwise. They're all busy enjoying the last days, so how will you
Well, it's old fashioned evangelism, pure and simple. I'm just
traveling from town to town, trying to convince anyone who'll listen
to go to a MedCenter and get tested.
And is that working?
I've gotten fewer than ten so far to get tested – all negative. But
nothing's gonna make me give up. Someday I'll find him….
Ain't gonna happen. Humanity's had its day in the sun. You ought to
join the rest of us and party our night away. Have fun!
I guess my glass is half full. I've got to get up early in the
morning, so I'll say good night.
Despite thinking her a fool on a fool's errand, I was taken with her
nobility, and walked her to her bedroom. "Good night."
* * *
She was gone already when I got up in the morning and shared a light
breakfast with Glenda, who told me that Marilyn had left early to
start a long day of proselytizing. I told her that I was going to play
tourist today, and take in the sights of Paris. She wished me well,
and invited me to return and make myself comfortable in her home for
however long I stayed.
I took in the Louvre, and returned to the Eiffel Tower, this time to
ride up to the top. But I wasn't really into it; all day, my thoughts
kept returning to Marilyn. Her dedication to her task was impressive,
and I found myself wondering if she could possibly be right. I
canceled my planned visit to Notre Dame, and arrived back at
Glenda's house just in time to see a beautiful sunset across the
Seine. Glenda had mentioned that she might leave town for a while,
and evidently she had because I had the house to myself for a few
hours. I had intended to wait for Marilyn, but my hunger got the
better of me and I fixed myself a snack.
She found me in the drawing room when she got back, reading some old
issues of Le Figaro. She plopped onto the sofa, so tired that she
couldn't sit up straight. She asks me to pour her a glass of wine.
I reach around her from behind and let her take the glass from my
hand, and then gently massage her neck and shoulders. What was
intended to be a simple affirmation of human contact soon escalated to
intense therapy, as her muscles were in knots that would get her
advanced placement admission to a Merchant Marine academy. With her more relaxed, I
resumed my spot in the leather recliner opposite, and our conversation
soon found itself back on her quest. I asked her if her search left
her so tuckered out every night, and if she ever took a day off.
It's tiring work all right. I don't keep a set schedule, of course,
but I do rest one or two days a month. I do travel a lot, also, but
most of that time I'm still at it. The worst part is the constant
rejection and failure – though I try not to think of it as that.
There's just got to be someone else who thinks it's worth the
effort to try to go on. A lot of people treat me like I'm totally
crazy. And I admit that thoughts of quitting come into my mind
occasionally. I get so frustrated by all the negativity.
But I want to thank you for helping rejuvenate me. Even though you
don't agree with me, I can see in your eyes that you have some respect
for what I'm doing. And even though you're part of the majority who've
lost all hope, you still have a positive attitude on life.
A lot of those people go out and do crazy things because they really
want to die, just to get the whole thing over with. I'm not trying to
die; I just see that my life can't change anything, and I've decided to
live. And sometimes going out of your way to avoid dying can
prevent you from really living.
I got up to get us each a brandy, and found her leaning against a pile
of pillows in front of the fireplace. I joined her, and we offered each
other sips from our snifters as we snuggled close. "I've talked enough
about me," she said. "Tell me about what you've been doing."
Oh, let's see. I tried cliff diving in Acapulco. I pulled up
the sleeve on my left arm to show her the scar I'd gotten. I went
up to the moon and placed dead last in a road rally across the Mare Imbrium
from Copernicus to Cassini. I thought I was doing pretty well
until I got caught by the terminator, and spent about six hours in
the dark finding my way back. I was at Pamplona last year —
Hey, I was there!
That's great! Did you make it all the way?
Oh, I wasn't running; I would be scared to death. But I was nearby,
and I made sure to be in the city for the run. I watched the whole
thing from a restaurant balcony, getting sloshed on sangria. That's
more my style – yawn – oh, excuse me. I need to get into
bed, but I want to hear more. Please?
She didn't have to ask twice. As tired as she was, after a bit more of
my adventures being whispered in her ear while we lay spooning, she turned
over and reached for me, and we pulled each other into bliss.
The next morning, I left a note and an aperitif on the nightstand
and hightailed it out of there. With an outlook like hers, I wouldn't
be surprised if she would try to "convert" me and get me to join her.
Sure, I had listened sincerely and with a sympathetic ear, and she was
right in seeing a bit of encouragement in my eyes, but I wasn't going
to let things get out of hand.
At the airport, I took the the first flight I saw, and ended up in
Yokohama; I tried some fugu. It tasted okay, but I didn't see what
all the fuss was about. I guess there've always been people who wanted
to flirt with death.
I went to Tierra del Fuego to see the penguins. For some reason
(nobody knew or cared why) their population had exploded since The
Event. I went to Pompeii and found it abandoned. A flyer on a tree
told me that Marilyn had been there recently.
In mid-January, I found myself in Bergen. I bought some Nordic skis
and spent a solitary week getting to Oslo. Once there, I found
fliers all over town describing Marilyn's appearance in the central
park that afternoon. Well, there was certainly no reason to
avoid her. I wandered around a bit, toured the Stortinget, then
headed to the park. She had told me that she'd only ever gotten seven
or eight people to listen at these things, but I saw a crowd that I
reckoned at about four hundred. I looked around, but there was nothing
else; this had to be it.
Yes, it was she. I slowly made my way to the front of the crowd, while
the reaction alternated between cheers and what
seemed like silent awe. Reaching the front, I saw what must have been
the reason. Looked like she'd found someone, because she appeared to
be about four months pregnant. Yes, she spoke of one other fertile
woman and two men that had been discovered as a result of her
crusade, since The First One. I could hear the capital
letters as she said it.
At the end of her speech, the crowd dispersed, quite a few heading in
the direction of the nearby MedCenter. I waited until most of the
hangers-on had left, then approached her from behind and said "I guess
you were right!" She turned and, after a second of non-recognition,
exclaimed to her small entourage, "Oh my God, it's The First One!",
and gave me a big hug. After unclutching, she took
my hand and pressed it against her belly. "Say hello to your son..."
"My son????" I managed to croak out. "Yes,
his name is Seth. He's the first of the Second People. Come, join me
for dinner and I'll tell you how things have been going." Still
somewhat dazed, I agreed.
Over dinner, she told me of her initial disbelief, and then mounting
excitement, at learning, shortly after I'd left her, that she was
pregnant. Far from being in a delicate condition, she had
practically redoubled her efforts, and within the following two weeks
had found the first man to be confirmed fertile.
Of course, we need to find more women, hopefully more than men —
Jeff, the first one, felt at once elite and useless, with no women
available — but at this point every fertile we discover is treasure.
It's gonna happen, I know it! Just yesterday we got word that Amelia
is pregnant. And since I've been showing, people are really beginning
That is wonderful, Marilyn. God, you must feel so great. I mean, if
you find enough people to reach some kind of critical mass and turn us
around, it'll all be because of you.
I leaned over to kiss her; she moved to meet me halfway, and I felt
myself continuing forward, off my chair and ending up on one knee in
front of the new Mother of Mankind. I don't know if it was genetic
information, racial memory, or just cultural programming, but I found
myself in the time-honored position that hadn't been seen for too long
in our world. I took her hand in mine, and gazed up at that beautiful
I want to raise this child with you. I want to see him gain brothers
and sisters all over the world. Will you forget my doubts, and let me
join you in your work? Will you marry me?
Her whispered "Yes!" was the sweetest sound I'd ever heard — until
the birth cries of our first son five months later.
Take care what you say in the chatterbox! This story was inspired by this
[expea] /me bathes in mercury
[C-Dawg] The good thing about bathing in mercury is you don't need a