in fiction

Short Story: The Last Human

The beings gathered around the deck. Anticipation was high and there was a buzz of chatter about their next destination. It was somewhat of a surprise because even though they knew what it was called and where it stood, very little was known about it outside the circles of the tour company and the people who had discovered it. The buzz died quickly when the steward came around to the deck. All eyes turned to him expectantly and he cleared his throat before announcing,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you are travelers from far or near, across the galaxy and some even beyond. In these past few months, we’ve shown you some remarkable places. You are no ‘alien’, pun intended,” some chuckled, but the steward continued, “to the variety of amazing adventures that our galaxy has to offer. We’ve been to moons ravaged with volcanic activity, we’ve dived into dying stars about to erupt into supernovae and we’ve seen the tombs of cultures long gone, but none of them have come close, in absurdity, to what we are about to witness on the planet below us. You might think that you’ve seen everything, but you’ve not seen anything till you’ve seen the largest museum in the galaxy!” With a flourish, the steward waved his hand and the ship’s motion sensors detected that as a command to open the viewing screen on the far wall. Everyone scurried to the wall of embedded diamond, which, while protecting them from harmful rays of the dying star nearby, also enhanced the view of the planet below them. What they saw below was an astonishing sight. The entire planet was covered with white plaster and buildings covered every single square inch of land and water that was visible from space. They had seen city planets elsewhere in the galaxy, but they were all dirty, alive beasts that shipped in goods and beings and shipped out laws or product, being vast industries of some kind or the other. But this planet was deathly serene. There was no movement, no sound, not even a space ship coming out of the place. It was dead. The steward started speaking and everyone turned their attention towards him.

“As you can see, there’s nothing there except for beautiful, serene buildings. It’s a harmless planet with a bloody history that we’ll explore when we get there. Away shuttles leave in five minutes. We expect there to be huge interest, so make sure you’re at your assigned shuttles. Also, note that the planet is a virtual maze and you can easily get lost, so you must stay close to your guide – Me.”

No sooner had he finished that the entire guest list rushed to their pods. The steward smiled, this was always an amusing trip.

Soon, the pods had reached ground level on the planet and everyone had disembarked. The air was not suitable to most, so everyone was wearing specialized suits that provided their specific type of atmosphere to them, along with a direct voice link with the steward, who was now standing atop a few steps. People had just started looking around when the steward’s voice beckoned them back to the steps.

“Welcome to Earth.” He paused for a dramatic flair and some people reacted in awe, thought none knew why this was so special. “Humans, as the beings of this planet used to call themselves, were interesting cultural people. They always maintained a mixture of hypocrisy and good-natured civility and valued, above all, their culture and what they called ‘religion’, a superstition that was prevalent even till the last days of their civilization. They were not native of this planet initially, but not knowing any advanced technology, made this place home. They lived for many millennia and as they went, their artists created a lot of art.

They were extremely prolific, producing large amounts of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts along the way. The problem was that they soon started valuing this art above anything else. Art, even of the most absurd kind, was bought and sold at high rates. People collected this art, even as more and more was being created every day. This led to them creating special buildings where they placed this art, despite the fact that art is just a depiction of our current moods and thoughts. Soon, this primitive culture started giving so much value to this art that these buildings, which they called museums, were overflowing. Laborious that they were, these humans kept on making bigger and bigger museums and expanded them to span entire cities.

Now, it must be understood that these humans were a violent race. They killed and raped over the silliest of reasons. Genocide was a common theme in their history. Suddenly, all the space on their tiny planet was not enough. You see behind me, amazingly large buildings, each filled to the brim with art on every wall, every floorspace and every nook and cranny that you can imagine has been used. You cannot fathom the amount of art that is stored across the entire planet. But it was not enough. As living space decreased and museum space increased, there were frequent revolts and wars over space. Unsurprisingly, the common folk did not care much for art, but the rich and powerful gave too much importance to it.

They eventually moved up and colonized the air and some even went to live on settlements in space, revolving around the Earth and still fighting for art that no one had the time to see or the place to put. In the last big war they fought, everyone perished, leaving behind this amazing collection of art on a dead and useless planet. Earth then stayed stagnant for nearly a hundred years before our founder discovered it, while following a comet that revolves around this star, which the humans called Sun. He didn’t need to do much to find information about this place, as information portals exist at every corner, inviting us, informing us and enchanting us with Human history and the most popular art relics nearby.

Now’s the time to look around a little. We’ve stopped at the location that seems to be the most popular. Here, art from across the centuries of human existence has been displayed and it seems to be a sort of grand entrance to a round planet. It doesn’t make sense, but who are we to judge?” A couple of beings chuckled. The crowd started to disperse, with a warning from the steward, “Please don’t wander too far. In only a short while, I’ll take you to see the most astonishing artifact of this museum.”

Most people ignored the steward. Everyone on this trip was an adventurer and was looking for interesting things. Why this was an important stop, between trips to dangerous planets and desolate moons, was anyone’s guess, but it seemed like a good pit stop to stretch your legs before moving on to the next item, a big gas giant in the same star system, with a promise of terrible terrain, if you could call it that, and a dangerous mission – to race to the center of the planet. While most people planned on tactics to win that race, some went around looking at the artifacts in the buildings. Their suits automatically translated everything to their own language, making it easy to understand the logic and history behind the art in front of them. Soon, the steward called to regroup. It was time to see the last exhibit and get off this boring rock.

The steward had prepped some cruisers to quickly move to a new location and was asking people to gather around while the final preparations were finished. “Now, my fellow beings, I will show you the most interesting artifact of this civilization. We found it far away from the planet itself, in the ruins of the cities that these Humans setup for themselves just outside the Earth’s atmosphere. We placed it with these other artifacts, in a place we felt was fitting, as I will explain later. Please get into these cruisers and we will reach our destination.”

The cruisers zapped to get everyone to the location mentioned by the steward. They all surrounded a small container, which had a glass casing, hosting a solitary object. There was a network of tubes keeping the casing cool. The steward stepped up with pride, “This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the last Human. We found it in the remains above this place, floating in solitude. It should not even exist, but it seems that Humans had the tendency to cryo-freeze anything that they could not understand or repair. In this case, this body has an illness that is debilitating. This human could not walk or run or even move much, so instead of curing it, they simply packed it into a box and stored it away. When we discovered it, the systems surrounding it were close to failing, but we intervened, if only for the sake of legacy. Please note, my fellow beings,” the Steward shifted ever so slightly towards the group for effect, “this Human, is Alive!” A wave of current passed through the group. This was amazing indeed! The last being of an entire civilization, no matter how boring in itself, was an awesome thing. The beings took turns to stare at it and the steward gave them ample time to inspect the Human before speaking again.

“Though this Human is alive, we have not and will not release it from stasis.” The wave of excitement died quickly. “It would be immeasurably cruel to allow it to live in a world where its entire society is dead, killed by their own vanity. Even though we have the tools to fix the disease inflicting it, our Board has decided never to undertake this task. Instead, we’ve decorated it at what we consider to be the center of this planet’s building design, thereby finally reuniting Man and Art, a journey which began so long ago, during the inception of this ill-fated race, when the first Humans hoarded the first piece of art in their homes.”

The group studied the Human one last time before heading back to their ship and on to the next adventure.

  • Xey

    Amazing short story! Very interesting concept and great climax at the end when the guide (spoiler) sais that the human is alive! 😉