Day 5: June 5, 2106
The storm was over when I came out into the evening light. The sun was low, sending long orange rays across the tree tops and against Gyges' pitted sides.
The air was fresh and amazingly clean. I could not remember ever smelling air like that, even in Idaho in the 1980s. Without people the world is strange, but it is clean.
The coyotes were out again last night, prowling. I watched two walk along the edge of the forest not far from the entrance. Have they ever entered the dome? Overhead, just before darkness fell, I saw a hawk circling the trees. Once more the stars were impossibly bright.
Where have all the people gone?
I too must learn patience, it would seem.
When I came down again, I thought of all those yams. Certainly the ones lying in their tents down these radiating aisles must have been yams, victims of the new neurophage weapons. Human nature certainly did not change after my departure!
The need to bury them was now great. I felt as if these were relatives, friends, and that I must accord them the dignity of a final rest. Such sentimentality is not characteristic: I was always a practical, unemotional observer of the world, of the universe. Now though, I had to act.
I ordered Gyges to prepare a series of graves. There were six of them, six holes, dug with her soil sampling diggers (she did not have the luxury of laser mining or drilling, as they did later here on earth). I found the equivalent of a gurney stored away in a closet - a table with wheeled legs, anyway, and the size of a person. One by one I lifted these strange fragile bodies from their beds, placed them on the cart and moved them to the escalator. Since the stairs no longer moved, and I could not convince the Local Node to repair them, I had to carry them, again one by one, up the steps.
It had grown hot and very muggy by the time I got them all outside. I should have remembered that summer in the midwest was like this, but I was from Idaho and had never really experienced the heat. Sweat poured off me although it was only ten in the morning by the time I had finished.
I laid them in their graves, a neat row not far from Gyges herself. I asked her if she knew the words.
"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust," she said.
"Yes," I told her. "Those words."
I looked down at the bodies. They all looked alike to me, dried up like that, the skin dark and papery, drawn back against the bone. One of them, I thought, could be Scottie. I could be doing this for him, for the boy who panicked, who broke away and was hit. One of them could be Seemie Devore (I knew it couldn't, naturally; she had a funeral). I could not tell by looking at them.
There would be no one here to bury me, I knew, when I too died, because I had been alone too long, or because my food had been exhausted and the agrobots no longer functioned, or because I had at last gone mad.
I stood for a long time beside the graves, long after Gyges had finished the funeral oration and filled the graves again. Long after she had installed small identical markers of extruded plastic from her small manufactory.
As I made my way back to the terminal, I tried to understand what had gone wrong with Peter's world. So many problems were solved; there was no poverty, no disease, no global wars, no fear of nuclear annihilation. Everyone had meaningful work. The economy was controlled. There was plenty. All these were distant utopian dreams when I left. Intercorp had begun to merge, and was organizing big projects like the LP-5s, it's true. But problems remained in the world. There were still famines and droughts; there was still an arms race and political tensions.
All that was gone in another fifty years or so, when Peter was born. The world was safe and relatively clean.
Yet I have learned of duels, of new kinds of weapons and new kinds of disease with them.
Perhaps the world was too safe, too predictable. For some, the world had grown boring. People had nothing to challenge them, nothing to which they could aspire. So those who felt the need fled the safe comfortable world of the Intercorp Council. They went to Antarctica.
This is the fifth day I have entered Worldnet. The system has been repairing itself with amazing speed. This morning Homer appeared almost before I sat down. He began speaking immediately. He seemed agitated, excited. He had never seemed so human.
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All text © 1986 Rob Swiggart. "Portal : A Dataspace Retrieval" is available courtesy of the Author's Guild Backprint Programme. ISBN: 0595197841All programming and software © 2002 Salim Fadhley. Released under the GPL. Code available on request.
Updated: Sun Apr 14 2002
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