12. The Last Man
Ertson the Patrobe lay on a deck chair, relaxing in the warm early morning Elvis-light. From the deck of his McMansion, he had a plain view of Kitchener and its spaceport. He liked to rest there and see the ships land and launch.
Mack Yavelli walked up, bearing a tray with a glass of iced tea. Ertson thanked him, and drank deep. Yavelli watched with a wry look as Ertson drank; then he left.
Ertson lay back, sighed. Overhead a ship was coming in.
Suddenly, time stopped. All motion went out of the world. The wind stopped rustling the leaves of the trees. Ertson couldn’t move, not a muscle.
All the world turned cold and blue; a deep-blue cold that burned.
What is this? Ertson asked himself. What is happening to me?
Then into his frozen field of vision stepped Ertson’s God.
Capone was dressed as the Underlord should; in spats, slacks, a suit and tie, and a fedora tilted down low. He approached the Patrobe, and made a shushing motion with finger to his lips. Then Capone pointed high, to the ship still descending from the sky. Ertson saw, in telescopic vision, that painted on the side of the descending craft was “Scout 23”.
“It came to pass that a Man Garbed in Red fell from the sky. He was Ishmael, the sole survivor. Too long his trajectory, too late his arrival.
“He landed his craft, and took aboard supplies, and as the workmen labored he asked them if they had survived. They said no, they were replicants.
“He fled his craft, and entered the marketplace, and there he said, who survived?
Who is an original?
“And the people said, None of us survived. All of us are replicants.
“Not me, said the Man Garbed in Red. I am unreplicated. I never died, not even once. I alone survived the war; all the rest of you perished! I saw it!
“Ishmael said, What have you done? Do you even know? Can you even know? Aren’t you aware that Man is dead?
“Ishmael said, I come to report the Death of Man! For Man is dead, and you killed him! For you are all immortal, yet you are all replaceable! You are spirits, yet you are commodities! You have murdered murder; you have gained all, and lost everything! I am the Last Man; so what are you? Ghosts? Robots? Gods? Worms? All of the above?
“The people said, let us scan you; but Ishmael said no. The people said, let us scan you, and kill you, and replicate you, and it won’t hurt a bit. The people said, let us hear your replication cry. But Ishmael said no, and he fled back to his ship.
“Ishmael blasted off; and he flew to the planetoid belt; and there he hid; and there he remains, to this very day.
“Such was the fate of Ishmael, the Last Man.”
So Capone revealed unto Ertson. When the Patrobe emerged from his trance, it was late afternoon. A ship was launching into the sky. Ertson saw, in telescopic vision, that painted on the side of the ascending craft was “Scout 23”.
Ertson thought, “Why you? And why me?”
Capone said, “Only crazy people see me,” and vanished.