Not What I Expected

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Science Fiction, Post Apocalypse, Extra Sensory Perception, Aliens,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: I was sent off in one of mankind's first starships, tasked with exploration and biological seeding of terraforming bacteria. Against all odds I made it back home to an empty planet.

I was one of the first to be accepted to the new space program. I was quite old at the time, well into my eighties, but that’s what they were looking for. The long-sleep process tended to regress the body. I was tasked with surveying 51 Pegasai and Alderaman. If the ship held out, I was to pass close by HD154345, Cappella, U 47 Majoris and Procyon on my way back home.

I was surprised to find that there was no radio chatter present when I approached the Oort cloud. I couldn’t detect even the faintest of organized signals. This worried me profoundly. I took a further eight years to visit the various planetary bodies on my list. On returning I found abandoned habitats around the gas giants, amazingly broad fields of grain on Mars and orbital smelters around Venus and Mercury. I could detect no signs of violence or radioactive decay products from fission or fusion weapons. It was as if everyone had packed up and left, not bothering to lock the doors behind them.

I managed to land the ship near in the Mediterranean basin, on the Spanish coast. There didn’t seem to be any current or incipient ice ages.

The Earth was silent. There were no humans left. Was I the last man alive? I’d ridden a slow-ship on a twelve thousand year journey through the stars and nobody was left to express interest in my painfully accumulated information.

It made a guy feel damned unappreciated, you know?

My ship was equipped by the finest minds of the time to insure my survival, be it in space, at sea or on land. I had machines that could spin long-lived, tough carbon-fiber-based cloth, thread, cord and rope that would serve as admirable sails and lines. I had the capability to produce sheet steel, wire, chain, steel bar stock and angle stock, as well as a water cutting table with which I could cut raw stock into nearly finished shapes. Another device would pump out industrial adhesive by the quart from local ingredients. A fascinating device manufactured robust fuel cells for my power requirements. By comparison, the chip and LED foundry was much more complicated. However, it worked in much smaller batches. I even had a way to produce cement and epoxy! Bigger batches and larger equipment such as a powered truck, a refrigerator or a freezer took some patience. They could take a week or more to finish.

I was a child of the twentieth century, a time when survivalism was an organized avocation split out under the re-enacting, path finding and the long-hunter groups. My devout participation in these hobbies went a long ways towards getting me accepted into the project. Once I landed back on the planet of my birth these skills became valuable once again. I was also a carefully selected psychopath. I don’t have much use for other people. I was told that selecting such a person was the only way of keeping a pilot from flipping out from being so far away from others, and for so long.

The cities, roads, dams and other works of man were missing, as if they’d never been. Oh, there was some notable geographical changes where cuts through mountain ranges were made for roads and rail lines. All I found were of man’s proud civilization were tumbled squared-off blocks of limestone and granite. I had nothing else to do, so I set about building a breakwater, a pier, a trimaran sailing vessel and a hacienda. I worked in granite and quartz where I could. The trees were frigging enormous. I had to use shaped explosives to drop them. Without the aid of advanced technology there was no way that I would have been able to cut, trim and transport the massive trunks to the sea shore. There I manufactured a huge tripod hoist to assemble my trimaran and set the mast. I let the thing sit on dry land for a year to cure and lose water content. Then I applied an industrial sealant to give the thing a long life span, and to keep it bobbing like a cork. I selected a trimaran because it did not require a keel yet would be quite stable in storms.

I had to use ropes, ramps, flying A-frame hoists and rollers to position the multi-ton blocks of stone I used for my home. Using an RPV I traveled about looking for natural resources which I could use. I found an exposed deposit of tar. I used heated metal formed into flat plates to make gasket sheets of the noxious stuff. They went between the blocks to make up for the weathering of the mating surfaces. Cement and wire reinforcing gave me cement shingles with which I roofed over my home. I had to dive deep into the foundry libraries to find a program that would provide me with thick sheets of clear glass, as well as a program to manufacture flexible copper pipe along with valves, compression fittings and a cutting/flaring tool.

The hacienda design featured a protected courtyard surrounded by cool, deep covered galleries of thick stone, designed to protect the halls and doorways from the hot sun of midday and the fierce winds of tropical storms.

I came back to Earth apparently as a fourteen-year-old. Whenever I aged to the point that I felt pains on rising in the morning I hibernated for a while. Each time I awoke I had to restore some furnishings and replace the woven goods, as four hundred years in unprotected storage has a tendency to destroy organics. In this fashion I managed to survive another few thousand years. The sea always provided, and my vegetables seemed to reproduce cleanly, having been selected for reproduction with minimal genetic drift.

I was awakened early in one regeneration cycle. The ship’s A. I. detected organized signals. They came from in-system! I got busy building a cannon-shaped antenna and a powerful 21 gigahertz transceiver to reply. I didn’t use it immediately. I took great care to evaluate just what the hell was transmitting, and what was being transmitted. It had all the earmarks of another A. I.! Still and all, that wasn’t an automatic blessing, now. An A. I. could be perverted just as any other thinking being. I refocused my directional antenna to point to the Jupiter habitats and transmitted my call sign.

I received a rather extensive message in response. It took a while to decode.

Mankind had received an interstellar visitor while I was out gallivanting about the galactic real estate. Within a generation man had adopted a synthetic virus that gave everyone telepathy and the ability to teleport. A seductive call to a cluster on the other side of Cygnus whispered for everyone to join a nanescent singularity. They packed up everybody; hat, ass and dog; and leapt off to God knows where. I prayed that it wasn’t a con job. I wondered about galactic-level apex predators. What would a signature be? A pyramid scheme?

Accompanying the message was a digest of mankind’s progress in physics and engineering from before I began my mission until mankind left the planet. It made for some fascinating reading material. They’d actually discovered a reactionless drive! It had a few drawbacks though. One, it couldn’t exceed about .88 C and two, it was quite power hungry. Third, it was useless for matching orbits as when the power was removed the object under acceleration resumed the same complex velocity vector it had before being moved. You couldn’t match orbits with it for shit. It was great for traveling from place to place on one planet, though. I promptly integrated the theory and engineering application into the ship’s design library. It made for a really cool aerial motor cycle and a floating hoist.

I lived on, continuing my existence in forty to fifty year intervals punctuated by four hundred year ‘siestas’. Thankfully the ship had a truly long-term preventative maintenance system. Most of the ship was multiply-redundant solid-state electronics that could construct its own nano-scale maintenance mechs. Those could boot-strap into larger, then larger robots, up to the size of a fuel-celled construction and repair spider half as big as I was. Without these facilities aboard ship my regeneration would cease, and soon I would as well. Living had gotten to be a habit.

I’d taught the ship to produce a decent rum. I sat on a chair at the harbor, enjoying the cooling sea breeze while sipping a rum punch. I’d noticed something strange about the local animals recently. The raccoons were acting differently and they were larger--about twice the size I was used to. Their heads seemed differently shaped as well. I decided to experiment.

I had the ship make some one inch knives with two inch handles, twenty of them. I wondered if I could trust the little buggers with fire. Hell, why not give them a chance to fail. I had twenty ferro-cerium rods prepared that were four inches long by a half inch thick. Then I had sixty pieces of dark brown organic fiber waterproof canvas made, about six by six feet. Next came cordage. Nothing really thick, though. I had it made about made about three millimeters thick of a strong but supple synthetic, in hanks of a hundred feet--eighty of them. They’d need something to cook in. A one quart brass pail with a bail seemed about their size. I had forty of them made as well. The last thing I had made were little four ounce brass cups with flat bottoms and friction fit tops. I knew that if I were right they’d be used for everything under the sun. I had two hundred made. It turned into quite a pile of stuff. I hauled it all into a small clearing not far into the woods where I put it in a locked plastic shed.

I had human-sized samples made of all the items I’d had prepared. The knife had a four inch blade and a four inch handle and the tarps were twelve feet square. My pail held two quarts. My four cups each held twelve ounces. I was roughly four times their size.

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