I’ve just published this piece of flash fiction on Smashwords, where it makes title #35 I have published with them. Over the next couple of weeks it will percolate through the virtual distribution pipeline to various venues, links to which I keep over to your right, in the sidebar, at the very top. Socrates, Unafraid is short, sweet, and free. Since it is free, I thought I would share it here as well. If you enjoy it… well, I’ve just told you where to find the rest of my work, haven’t I? 🙂
By S. A. Barton
Copyright 2013 S. A. Barton
The cup slips from my fingers, as it always has. It shatters between my feet, losing itself on the marble as the fragments scatter, white on white. For a moment, the shards persist. Then they become faded, then translucent. Then they are gone, and I am alone. There is me, sitting before the garden that wreathes the edges of the portico in flowers, my chair, the table, the empty flagon. Were I solid, the poison would churn through my guts. I sit, regarding the nodding heads of the flowers, and imagine it burning. Instead, unseen, it nevertheless fades into invisibility, into nothingness, as the cup has.
Did it exist? Did the cup? Did I? I smack my lips at the saccharine and heavy aftertaste the poison has left as I watch yellow sulfur moths stitch unsteady paths among the dusty red of the roses. A chime sounds, high and tinkling: once, twice, thrice.
My body is ready. The chime has sounded each day as my body has stood ready, untouched, as thirty thousand days and thirty thousand cups have passed.
It, this body, stands among ninety-nine others; none have stirred. I can sense so. They stand motionless and ready in ranks, in a square, in a ruined acropolis meant to stand at the center of a new and untarnished humanity, spit out at last into the stars from the rotting, collapsing womb of a spoiled and dying Earth, a last paroxysm of the self-preservation urge of a species.
Around the ranks of these carbon-tubule humanoid frames engineered to endure eons and bear the minds of we the last teachers of Earth, arrayed against the smooth concrete walls, are honeycombed a thousand incubators.
Within them, thirty thousand days old, long turned to motes of dust, are a thousand thirty-two-cell human embryos, selected to bear the genetic diversity needed to seed a new humanity from among them. All poisoned by the subtle traces of heavy metals and radioactives in the atmosphere, undetectable from an Earth which sent this last doomed gasp. Perhaps there were a people here once as well, alien and yet enough like us to drown in their own waste and violence as we have. If there were, they have left less of a trace than we have. Only the poisons that have destroyed our final offspring remain.
I stare at the blank marble floor, contemplating the sunset not yet here that my virtuality will bring, and the sleep, the waking, and cup thirty thousand and one.
It is enough. Finally enough. For the first time, I answer the chime.
I have spent thirty thousand days in hiding, in grief, in a solitary despair at the fate of humanity. I sense the others have left their bodies inactive as well, for the same reason, I assume. I cannot imagine another.
But there are still we final hundred. Our bodies, our fleshly human bodies, are forsaken. But our minds, our thoughts: we are human in those. At long last I accept that it must be enough. It must: it is all there is. We still might build and grow, construct new bodies and load them each with one of our hundred minds. Time and experience will change all of us, new and old, and finally as centuries pass we will diverge, until from a hundred seeds there will be thousands and millions of us, different enough in time to be called different individuals, if sprung from the identical hundred roots.
I open my eyes; carbon laminate eyelids unshroud lenses of flawless and smooth diamond. I look out across the ruined acropolis, the still forms of my ninety-nine inert companions, the thousand dust-shrouded incubators become tombs.
None of those things are there. I stand, robotic limbs locked in place but warming with current, loosening, in a cylinder of industrial diamond mounted upon a modest pedestal of plain marble. My eyes, not needing the action but driven by the appendix of a biological reflex embedded in my virtual mind, blink once, twice, thrice in surprise, diamond regarding diamond. And my focus shifts, and I look beyond.
There is the acropolis, clean and smooth, the concrete hidden behind marble façade. Lights, aimed into the great vault above, reflect a comfortable and warm sunlight upon the thousand incubators, standing open and doorless to display the guts from which sprang the last thousand human beings.
Of my ninety-nine companions, no sign at all.
Before me, a dozen children mill about a single adult. One of the children reaches up and tugs at the dusty red rose of her blouse.
“The Unawakened, teacher. His eyes opened. Does that mean he’s not The Unawakened anymore?”
The teacher turns to me, eyes widening, mouth forming an O of surprise. I smile, finally.
Even late, teaching is what I am for. And there are children here after all.
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