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LaMonte Henderson

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The Last Woman on Earth
By LaMonte Henderson
Thursday, October 03, 2002



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The last human on earth kissed herself goodbye and boarded her small charter plane headed for the airport in Westhaven, San Angeles.

As she waved goodbye to herself from the tiny cabin window she noticed a tear streaming down her cheek and she couldn’t help it; she cracked a smile despite the deep sense of desolation and guilt she felt. Wanda II was learning fast, that much was true , and pretty soon she’d be able to take care of the place all by herself just as her preliminary programming had taught her to. She would still have the others to help her along, especially Isaac, Simon and Spot.

Regardless, she still felt a twang of guilt; she was about to die very soon and there was nothing she could do about it now. The others would have to take care of the remainder of the world she once knew. Wanda II had been programmed with the latest software and taught well. She knew her mechanical clone would be just fine. It was Simon and the others that really worried her. Despite their being some of the most advanced machinery on the face of the Earth, to her they were still just babies. For Christ sake, they were barely fifteen years old. Spot had only learned to bark two years ago.

“Simon?” she called out once she had fastened her seatbelt.

“Yes Wanda?”

“It’s time, dear. Would you mind taking the scenic route please; the route that goes along the river across the western mountains? I’ve always liked that route best.”

“Of course I do not mind, Wanda.”
Simon paused. She sensed his uncertainty. She knew what was coming and decided to try and nip it in the bud.

“Simon, just start the engine and let’s go. I have no desire to muddle over this again. Besides, I don’t have much time left.”

“Very well Wanda.”

The rejection that crept through his voice was unmistakable. Silence filled the tiny cabin. She sighed and glanced out the tiny window. Wanda II waved when she noticed the old woman’s round face looking at her. Wanda waved back. Simon was quiet for the moment but Wanda knew the silence would not last for long. If Simon was anything else he was persistent.

Spot had rushed down from the service antenna and now trotted down the main path next to the runway. He skidded to a halt next to Wanda II. Wanda blew him a kiss and he leapt into the air, landing in a puff of dust. He barked and wagged his tail just like Wanda had shown him. It was starting to sound very authentic. It still had a metallic quality but Wanda didn’t mind. It sounded so unmistakably Spot.

Wanda II was fanning the dust away, mimicking Wanda perfectly and Wanda smiled.

“Wanda II says she understands but not fully” he blurted out, “and still she will not explain. She insists that you explain to us. Yesterday, you said that today you were going to the airport one last time. You also said that you would not be back and to heed what Wanda II says. We do not want you to go. We do not understand. Please explain.”

Wanda sighed. This was going to be a bit more difficult than she had imagined. She glanced out the window again and saw Wanda II still waving. She waved back once more. At that moment, Isaac flew out his entry window to the east wing and hovered close to Wanda II. She threw up a hand, once again a perfect impersonation of Wanda, leaning to one side when he got too close. After he had moved a safe distance away, she turned and continued waving at the Wanda. Isaac’s little red light was blinking frantically. Wanda waved at him also.

“Okay Simon.” she said as she absently watched the automated pre-flight sequences. David had insisted on flying the plane himself. The cockpit seats and door had been removed shortly after his death.

Wanda II had made the necessary modifications so Simon could fly the plane for Wanda. Now, she had a direct line of sight to all the instruments. Not that it mattered much. They were there simply for her benefit; Simon didn’t need them. He kept all the dial and meters going just the same though. He knew it gave Wanda feel a sense of security and melancholy; he knew they reminded her of David.

The plane lurched slightly as Simon tested the hydraulics and Wanda jumped. Who would have guessed after all this time she still felt a little apprehensive flying under Simon’s invisible control. Why in her eyes, he was still a baby even though he reminded her often that he was the eldest.

“Once we reach cruising altitude I’ll try and explain it to you once more, okay?”

“That would be fine Wanda; maybe I will comprehend better this time. It is such an evasive concept but I am sure understanding will come in time.”

Wanda felt the excitement rising in Simon’s voice but choose to ignore it for the time being. She sat back in her seat and prepared for takeoff.
Simon got excited a lot lately.

But in her heart, she knew he would never fully grasp the concept of death. He was first generation, her baby. He had been with her since the beginning. He lacked the prime components; mostly the Cybernetic CPU and co-processor modifications but also data pipelines mods and software updates necessary for such complex formulas. The bottom line had always been this; he could not be upgraded without totally changing his personality. There was so much of David in him that she could not bring herself to modify him in any way. This insight brought on another moment of sadness. For her selfishness Simon and the others would suffer.

She absently wiped a tear from her withered cheek.
Wanda II on the other hand was Generation 5x2. She would soon fully understand the concept; hopefully she would explain it to the others, maybe explain it in analogous Syris+ C coding. That should help the others in comprehending. She was positive Simon would ask Wanda II again.

The realization that this was the last time she’d see Simon, the others or the farm again suddenly struck her. As if in a dream, she suddenly realized, this was the moment she’d dreaded for so long. Now, she was forced to accept the inevitable. Strangely enough, she felt a sense of liberation and detachment.

She had grown weary. And she hated living without David.

Her sadness came in flashes.

Earlier, as she had tried to decide what to wear on such a special day, Isaac had passed by carrying a large bundle of her old clothes. He was headed for the incinerator just as she had instructed. A radiant yellow dress with an extremely large sunflower print had caught her eye.

Isaac didn’t protest when she snatched it from the pile; maybe because he knew that David had bought it for her, or maybe because he was simply tired of getting involved in arguments he knew he couldn’t possibly win. Either way, a deep and foreboding sadness had gripped her heart as Alice adjusted the hem. She wanted to wear it one last time.

She had found her favorite straw hat in her now empty closet. It had a synthetic daisy on the front. She had promptly placed it upon her head; she even wore it to the breakfast table.

David had bought it for her also.

He had bought it just before he died.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would please observe the no smoking sign.”

The voice of a long dead female flight attendant rang out in the tiny cabin.

She guessed Simon had been rummaging through ancient flight recorders again. He knew this moment was important even if he didn’t quite understand why and wanted to do something special for her. He was so considerate; it was one of the qualities she liked so much about him.

The cabin shook as the ion engines roared to life. The small plane was gently lifted into the air. She waved once more at Wanda II, Isaac and Spot then closed her eyes while the plane slowly ascended. After reaching cruising altitude, the plane began heading east. As soon as the butterflies in her stomach settled Wanda opened her eyes.

“Why do you always do that Wanda?” Simon asked.

“Do what dear? Oh, that! Well Simon, when the plane rises I get this funny feeling in my stomach. When I close my eyes it seems to go away.”

Silence.

“Remember we talked about imagination, Simon?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, this is like that. I imagine that it helps my stomach to calm down but in reality the plane just leveled off after we reached cruising altitude. It’s more psychosomatic cause and effect. Humans did it often, some called it ‘wishful thinking’.”

“I understand.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. You are free to move about the cabin.” This time the voice was that of a male flight attendant.

Wanda knew what was burning Simon’s circuits. In the near silent cabin she could almost hear his microprocessors computing, calculating, evaluating.

“Simon, how much longer to we reach destination?”

“One hour, ten minutes, fourteen point two seconds.”

“Would you please calculate another course, dear? I think we are going to need more time.”

“New course plotted, ETA is one hour forty eight minutes, five point one nine seconds. Is that acceptable, Wanda?”

“Yes Simon, that’s fine.”

There was a long pause. Wanda glanced out the window. She noticed that Simon forgot to spin the propellers again but it didn’t matter. She watched the landscape speed by, taking special notice of a couple of new flying machines that awkwardly flew beside the plane for a few miles before turning around and disappearing into artificial clouds. They were obviously curious about the last human on earth.

Wanda was thinking of a delicate way to breach the silence when Simon suddenly spoke out.

“Why must you die Wanda? The others and Wanda II don’t die …do they?”

“No Simon, they do not die. You know they produce their own fusion energy just as you do. You and the others will go on forever. You were designed that way.”

“But you produce energy also.”

“It is not the same type of energy, Simon. For one, I need carbon dioxide for energy transfer and I expel carbon monoxide. The plants need carbon monoxide and solar energy for photosynthesis? Remember how Wanda II had such a hard time reconstructing the atmosphere right after the dome was built? The plants kept dying. But I needed the plants to live.”

“Yes, but Wanda II and the others solved that problem, Wanda. I still do not understand why you would not let Alice implant the oxygen transfer unit.”

The implant was another issue that Wanda preferred to skip it for the time being. Simon did not understand how she could decline such an obviously superior upgrade. She knew he thought of her as a machine even though he referred to her as human.

“Simon, remember when you asked the main databases? How did you interpret death?” she paused a moment, “And this time don’t recite some definition the medical computer’s database told you. How did you interpret it?”

“Energy transfer level reaches zero percent. Oxygen transfer ceases. Alpha patterns distort and flatline. Cell composition deteriorates, eventually causing total body decomposition.”
Simon paused and Wanda imagined she detected something in his voice.

“You would not be able to speak to us any longer; you would not make that strange sound of laughter, you would cease to exist and I would feel the equivalent of the human emotion sadness at your non-existence.” Then he added, “I would miss you, Wanda.”

Wanda managed a weak smile despite the dull thudding pain slowly building in her chest. It felt like a giant hand gripping her heart, squeezing and twisting; pressing the very life from her.

“Yes Simon, I believe that you would.”
She glanced ahead at the array of dials and meters. Suddenly an ideal materialized and although she had tried different variations of the same method she thought it might be worth another try.

“Simon, go back to cell decomposition. Retrieve data of my cell composition around, let’s say, twenty years ago. Compare cell structure to present composition. Analyze and estimate ETA until energy transfer reaches zero percent.”

“Four hours, thirteen minutes and seven point nine three five seconds.”

“Do you detect any differences in my cell structure between the given time periods?”

“Yes. Cells deteriorate steadily after the seventieth year of your conception.”

“This deterioration is simply old age, Simon. Organic beings experience this phenomenon. You and the others are not organic, your energy cells do not deplete; energy distribution is not restricted to one mechanism. Do you remember last year when I was unable to walk?”

“Yes Wanda. You said you experienced a heart attack. After Wanda II made adjustments to your anatomy you could walk again. She said she found numerous flaws in your organic structure but you would not permit her correct them. It was shortly afterwards when I asked you to explain death. The medical computer had told me about the phenomenon.”

“Simon, no matter how many times Wanda II corrected my anatomy, eventually my energy transfer would cease. There is no way to correct old age. I am the last of my species, Simon. I am a different type of machinery. I was not constructed to last forever. The world now belongs to you and the others. The time has come for me to move on, Simon.”

“You say that you will cease to exist yet that you will move on. How can you move on if you are no more?”

‘Okay,’ Wanda thought, ‘now they had finally reached the torrents. This was where the ride got rough.’ She decided it was best to just dive in and start kicking those legs.

“Humans believed that there were two parts to existence, Simon; the body and the soul. One cannot survive without the other. When the body dies; the soul cannot survive on a physical plain and searches for a higher state of awareness where your physical body cannot venture. Eventually, your soul achieves that higher level and leads a different existence.” She smiled a wide loving smile, “You go to meet your Maker and your loved ones, Simon.”

There was another long pause.

In the distance, Wanda saw the twin cylindrical towers of the automated airport looming against a flawless artificial sky just inside of the dome the machines had constructed for her.

Outside of the dome, massive cyborgs factories dominated the landscape. Soon, the remaining trees and vegetation would be disposed of. It would no longer be necessary to maintain them once she was gone; they too were only for her benefit. Most trees were replicas anyway. They had been cleverly mixed amongst the few authentic trees that had survived. The mechanical birds that sang in their treetops had always brought her joy, though, and she hoped that the dome would remain long after she had moved on. She knew Wanda II had grown fond of it even though she did not need to breathe the oxygen it contained.

Surprisingly, Simon remained silent until after they had landed.

They touched down among various automated flying cyborgs and the engines died. Wanda unbuckled her seatbelt and adjusted her hat.

“Simon, you mind Wanda II. And don’t aggravate Isaac and Alice so much. They don’t have your sense of humor.”

“Wanda, if my fuel cells were to completely deplete would I see you again? Would I be… dead?”
Wanda hesitated for a moment.

“Yes,” she lied, “you would be dead and I would see you again.”

“Then hopefully, one day my energy transfer ceases and I get to see my maker.”

Wanda smiled. Simon could be a real sweetie sometimes.


“I would like that very much, Simon.”

With that she disembarked the plane, waved goodbye to Simon and walked the few steps to hanger A-10T. She heard the ion engines of her plane ignite and turned just in time to see it liftoff. It swung around in a small arch and head back in the direction in which they had come.

“I’m going to miss you Simon.” she said aloud before stepping inside the hanger.

The car was right where she’d left it years ago. She slid into the driver’s seat. Her heart-shaped locket still hung from the rear view mirror. She opened it and smiled as David smiled back at her. The picture had been taken years ago, right before the deadly virus had spread across the globe killing all but a handful of humans. The machines had been able to isolate and finally destroy the virus but not until humanity was all but extinct.
With David’s death, the last chapter had begun. And now, twenty years later, it was finally time for a horrific chapter in the book of humanity to come to a close.

She felt icy fingers squeeze her heart again but this time it didn’t hurt much; it felt like a large stone being pressed slowly but steadily against her chest.

Quickly, she reached into the glove compartment and found the keys. She stuck them into the ignition and turned. The engine sputtered then died. She turned the ignition again and the engine roared to life. She pushed the power button on the radio, shoved in her favorite cassette and turned the volume up. Soon, she was traveling the isolated highway, grateful that the machines and cleaned the debris and abandoned vehicles that had blocked her route long ago.

The cemetery was just ahead.

She drove through the gates and parked, right before another constriction gripped her heart, causing white dots to dance before her eyes. The pain was excruciating this time. Her gnarled hand shot to her chest.

“Not yet!” she screamed and climbed to her feet.

With sheer willpower she stumbled forward, each small step a major victory.

Up ahead, she saw David’s grave and headed for it.
Twice she fell, her legs protesting the lack of blood circulating through them, but she finally reached it. She collapsed before his headstone as another jolt gripped her heart. Slowly, she raised her head and stared at the inscription on headstone;

David T. Westling
My Beloved Husband
January 2002 – August 2058
The Last Man on Earth

And she smiled as the squeezing hands gripped her heart one final time, for she saw David approaching slowly through the haze.
“Good-bye Wanda,” Simon’s saddened voice echoed through the gigantic dome, “I will truly miss you.”

       Web Site: LaMonte's Generic Ezine

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Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione 2/27/2004
The Opposite Sex: Always a fun subject to write about, looks like you had some fun writing about this one. Because one thing that us men can't figure out is the opposite sex, and this is one of those stories where it plays around with that joke. Impressive write. I can relate to this because I had to adopt out my son almost four years ago -- he is five now, and the reason I write is so he can know is father as a writer and in that he can know him as a father. You really had a nice Ray Bradbury type twists in there.
Reviewed by Birdie Houston 1/29/2003
Excellent story!


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