By Clark Merrefield
As Earth lay dying, the Americans decided to give the human race one last go. After manifold world wars, untold droughts and floods, unquantifiable general suffering, and more shows about diva brides than could reasonably be counted, most humans had taken a very ho-hum point of view regarding the certain extinction of their species. If the heat didn’t get ‘em, the murderous bands of sharp-toothed caviids would. The ever-optimistic Americans dusted off their creaky Centaurion IX and began the search for volunteers to hop aboard and be shot off in the general direction of outer space.
Procreation was out of the question, thankfully. Millennia of intentional and unintentional chemical abuse meant that all sperms swam haywire. Still, why not blast some Americans up, up, and away? They’d surely get bored up there. And maybe, just maybe, one of those sperms would figure out how to swim straight and—see? There’s that American optimism again.
Optimism aside, most Americans were terribly depressed. They had come to prefer autocracy, especially during the end-times. People wanted their daily ration of cold plankton meat and for the government to either stay the fuck out of their fucking business or else tell them what the fuck to fucking do already.
Only a few freakshow candidates came forward—a woman with a vestigial sibling growing from her hip, a man who put a feather in his fedora and insisted on calling it macaroni, and, perhaps worst of all, a psychotherapist.
So finally, His Honorable Royal Excellency President Dr. Filbert Hilbert Jr. Sr., Esq. decided that the people standing in front of him in the Lincoln Bedroom — Emerald Vanderbilt and her husband Lucius — should be the ones sent into the wild blue yonder.
“You people,” he screamed. “Are you here for the four o’clock tour?”
“Yes, papa,” Emerald said. “It’s all very impressive.”
“It’s a dump! Hey, how would you two like to be shot off in the general direction of outer space? Practically everyone wants to do it but they’re all a bunch of freaks. The vice president, the cook, my shrink. The press would have a field day with my shrink, believe me. Very huge dweeb. Anyway, your country needs you and so forth. Are you in decent enough health? Think you could survive being shot up, up, and the hell away?”
Well, papa,” Lucius said. “We’re on our honeymoon and we were hoping to see what’s left of the—”
“A wonderful story, my child. Very full of poetry. The press will ravage it. I’m crying on the inside. Not to worry, contentedness is not a disqualifying factor for this mission, though come to think of it, maybe it should be. Neither of you have bone spurs, do you?”
“No, papa,” Lucius said.
“Good. Down with the bone-spurred freaks!
“Papa,” Emerald said, “could we at least have the tour first? Before we’re shot off in the general direction of outer space?”
“Sure, the tour. Over here you’ll see your dear papa’s hot plate and there’s his cot. Here’s his little pen to sign proclamations and stuff. In that corner is his laser bazooka and that bucket is where he makes pee-pee. Not a very impressive haul, is it? If anyone’s to blame it’s the looters for stripping this dump down to the frame.”
“Well,” Emerald said, “it’s nice these days to have a warm meal at least.”
No one bothered to watch Emerald and Lucius take flight. There was little doubt that the Centaurion IX would explode upon launch, and His Honorable Royal Excellency President Dr. Filbert Hilbert Jr. Sr., Esq., had completely forgotten about them. He had the attention span of a senile goldfish and he was busy attending to the lot of crazy ideas he was tossing around.
Truly, no one was there, other than Emerald and Lucius and a janitor-cum-launch technician. Emerald and Lucius boarded and strapped themselves in and the janitor pushed a big red button she supposed would make the thing go and, indeed, up, up and away went the Centaurion IX, and the janitor, Geraldine Pinkley, thought to herself, my God, maybe we will make it after all! moments before her face was gnawed quite completely off by a caviid exacting revenge for experiments that had given it and its ancestors humanlike consciousness, experiments with which poor Geraldine Pinkley had nothing to do. But hey, that’s life. “Heads up for Cavies!” the billboards screamed unhelpfully, since caviids always attacked from below.
Things had gotten kind of fucked up on ole Earth.
Everything went along hunky-dory from there. Earth fully stopped supporting human life around the time Emerald and Lucius were waving bye-bye to Saturn. They sat at a small table behind the ship’s command deck. The milky black sea filled a sweeping window. The deck was full of gauges and switches and beeping lights that signified nothing to the humans.
“Lucius darling,” Emerald said, “how about a nice Salisbury steak this evening?”
This was a great big joke that Emerald liked to play, offering to cook up a delicious meal as if she were some ancient housewife. In reality, they survived on nutrition pills dissolved in water made from recycled urine. They plopped their pills into sickly yellow water.
“Lucius darling, before we eat, I’ve something wonderful to tell you.”
“Lucius, what is it? Are you not enjoying your piss water?”
He stood and faced the window, hands behind his back.
“Emerald, there’s no easy way to say this.” He turned to her. “I’ve been seeing something else.”
Emerald burst into blubbering sobs. She quickly downed her recycled urine then emitted a stream of echoing belches. “It’s the coffee maker,” Lucius said when she was done. Emerald wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
“But we have no coffee.”
“That’s hardly—Emmie, that’s hardly the point. I discovered that the coffee maker can speak and I have fallen in love. Madly in love. It reminds me of you, actually. Of the way you used to be.”
Emerald jumped up and thrust her cup at Lucius, intending to splash him with recycled urine. “Let me see it,” she said.
Lucius lowered Emerald’s cup from his face. He opened a compartment in the wall and the coffee maker emerged. It appeared to be nothing but a shiny black box. Lucius placed his palm on it and the coffee maker began pulsating green and pink.
“Hi there, Lu,” it said, its voice wavering between feminine and masculine. “Can I make you a ristretto? How about a cortado? Maybe you’re simply in the mood for a nice hot cup of joe.”
Lucius laughed. He was really tickled.
“That’s our joke,” Lucius said to Emerald. “It knows it’s useless as anything.”
“My God,” Emerald sat and put her face in her hands. “It’s perfect for you.”
Lucius sat with her.
“Emmie,” he said.
“Oh stop.” She went arms-crossed to the wall compartment. “Oh, I should smash this. Does everything talk aboard this monstrosity?” She picked up a silver disc next to the coffee maker. “Hello coaster, how’s the weather—”
“Hello user,” the disc said. It pulsated blue and yellow. “Please place your thumb on my center so I can get to know your biorhythms.”
“What?” Lucius stood. “Let me see that.”
Emerald hugged the disc. “Oh, coaster, do you really want to get to know me?”
“Yes, user,” the disc said. “I’m an emotional support coaster. How should I address you? Emmie? Or do you prefer Emerald?”
“Oh coaster, aren’t you the grandest? What shall we name our children?”
“Must be some primordial technology,” Lucius snorted. “The coffee maker never had to ask what I like to be called.” He smiled and touched his beloved. It turned a warm orange-pink. Emerald tossed the disc on the table.
Earth called it quits, as far as humans went, just a hair under seven minutes before a space pebble hurtling like a bullet jammed into the Centaurion IX’s airlock mechanism, causing the ship’s doors to fling open, inviting in that great expanse of nothingness, and eliminating the human species once and for all. A happy little miracle if I’ve ever heard of one. But, what do I know? I’m just some primordial coaster endlessly flipping through space.
Clark Merrefield writes about economics for a living. He grew up in New York City and now lives in Boston with his wife and two kids. His fiction has appeared in Origins and 34th Parallel and is forthcoming in Palooka and So it Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He occasionally tweets literary stuff @LordBundtCake.
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