You couldn’t have missed him.
Like some vision of an apocalypse that had already come to pass, he sat wrapped in his stained Bedouin apparel, his gas mask a small hole where his face should have been.
Perched on probably the last rock on the planet, he quietly sought his peace with the destruction.
Mr. Knight, I presume.
Funny, he said, as he tore open his mask, no one’s called my by that name in at least a couple of centuries.
I’m guessing that’s as long as it took me to find you.
Immortality’s a bitch, he mentioned, his face scarred, not wrinkled. It’s not what they made it out to be. I mean I could always slit my wrist or jump off a cliff.
But you never had the courage to.
It’s always the cowards she chooses for immortality.
Oh her. Yeah.
You know, I have a theory, sort of. Self ingratiating really.
Let me hear it. I sort of like self ingratiating.
Yeah. That it’s like vertigo. You know, how the people most afraid of jumping off are the ones who most want to.
At that he laughed a lot. Betraying that he hadn’t heard a joke in at least a century.
You’re funny. He said. I like you. What’s your name?
Max. I said. Max Black. Got a light?
Stick it to the earth. The planet’s almost burned down to the core.
Sure enough. The tip of my cigarette lit up as soon as I touched it to the surface.
Smells funny, he said. What’re you smoking?
Menthols. Want one?
I don’t smoke.
I laughed now. Not convulsively like him. My quiet cynical laugh.
Once you get in the business of manufacturing doom, you get off the idea of buying it.
What shit. I said. You’re afraid of the cancer, aren’t you?
Are you mad. Look around you, I breathe cancer day in and day out.
Day in and day out, I said. Explain day out. This galaxy has two suns, there’s no night here.
Day out sounds cooler. It’s funny how all the phrases I knew are slowly losing their meaning.
From one liar to the other. I said. It’s always about sounding cool, isn’t it?
Yeah. So how did you find me?
I don’t know. I didn’t even know I was looking for you.
Yeah. I just let serendipity guide me. It sort of sorts things out.
Well. So how does this sort itself out?
The earth is dying. I think you could save it.
I already did. Once.
I know. I think someone wrote about it.
Something good, I hope.
No. they know everything, you know.
The internet man. It sucks. Though I thought it was pretty cool back then. Whooping Andromedan ass and all.
Oh it was. Despite, well, your inconsistencies. And do you know we’re all one now. Humans and Andromedans and Altarians and everyone else. We’re all a Federation now.
Yeah. Now you don’t know who’s the enemy.
Yeah. Always been my issue with multiculturalism.
So, you’re going back with me or what?
No. too much of a cause man. But I do know of a fantastic café around a nearby star system.
They’ve got only one sun. And you catch the most beautiful sunsets there.
Unless you want to go back and try saving the earth on your own or something.
Are you mad?
So let’s go then, he said, with some luck we’ll catch happy hours.