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May 12th, 2019
Lucilius woke with a jolt as the Ipad buzzed in his lap. He had been dreaming about his old experiments with entropy and now this mundane apocalypse was yanking him back into his bland and grueling day. He picked up the Ipad. A program running in background had signaled the alert. Lucilius had programmed it to scan occasionally for old SpaceX internet satellites. There were still a few in low orbit, fewer as time went on but every once in a while Lucilius was able to hack into one if it got close enough.
His program had queried the satellite for any movement in the area and it had managed to ping an old NORAD satellite that was still operating some public channels. The program expanded a map of the area and indicated movement in the far east.
Lucilius stood up and angled the telescope at the horizon. He knobbed the viewfinder into focus and paused. A thin dark line split the horizon. He looked up from the telescope a moment and scanned the land with naked eyes before drawing the viewfinder into sharper focus. It looked like trees in the offing, beyond the sandy dunes. How, he wondered, but remembering the program alert he scanned the whole horizon. The dark green edge came to an end where it seemed the sands took over.
He looked again with naked eyes, but couldn’t figure out what movement the program was registering. Whatever it was, it was beyond the horizon he could make out.
He sat back in his beach chair and had the program query the satellite for any remaining internet ports. Servers had eventually been migrated to unmanned space stations and so the occasional connection yielded most if not all of the old internet to anyone who could make a request, but none of the stations were responding.
He swiped screens and opened his audiobooks. Putting on headphones, he clicked a Douglas Adams title and leaned back into the chair, waiting for a sensible laugh to rise in him.
The day was aging and he gazed up at the sky. A drone angled into the periphery of his view. He watched the aerial bot zig and pause and then zip to a new point in the planting matrix, black dots falling at each pause.
Lucilius had spent those final months researching tropical trees, ordering seeds from suppliers while outfitting a caravan to head north. Many had headed south to bigger cities when it seemed fractures were beginning to lace through society’s systems. Lucilius had known then that the time while money still meant something was coming to an end. He maxed out every credit card he could get his hands on in order to afford the equipment and then, before the fire storms he had set off to go north. The firestorms caught up with him as he’d driven, and Lucilius could still remember driving through corridors lined with fire for days, the sky black with smoke, the filters of the car keeping him safe.
While gazing high at the sky, Lucilius realized he had never queried what had happened during those last months when the world seemed to burn down. Surely news outlets had gone down with the ship of society, reporting till the equipment itself could no longer function. Lucilius chuckled at the single-mindedness of it all, quaintly captured by a news reporter continuing to report while doom surrounded the scene.
At what point do you give up on the inane habits of your own species and cut out on your own?
Lucilius breathed deep and sighed, opening his eyes again. But this time his periphery caught something new. In the deep red sky, there were as tint of darkness. Lucilius lifted his face and far out on the horizon there was smoke rising. The light of fire twinkled on the horizon and Lucilius sat up to the telescope and scanned the land up to the horizon. Something moved as his view zipped to that dark green band that was now alight. He moved the telescope back, down towards the dune plains where the view grew blurry with dust. Vehicles were spreading out, kicking up sand, heading westward.
“Shit,” Lucilius whispered to himself. There were dozens, maybe even hundreds of the vehicles fleeing from the burning land. Lucilius switched to the scope on the Barrett rifle and focused one of the distant vehicles into sight. It was miles away.
He sat back and paused for a moment. Then he picked up the rifle and walked it over to the buggy and secured it onto a swivel he had in front of the steering wheel. He packed up the telescope, initiated a callback for the drones and the Atlas bot and initialized the solar panels to repack.
He had planted fruiting trees throughout all the valleys from that eastern edge back to the place he’d made into a home. Those valleys had grown rich with soil, with fruit that had grown abundant and catalyzed the ground with rotting. There were only a few birds in all the forest he had grown, but no other animals. And these people coming across the dunes would find it all. The fruit and the trails. They would shoot the few birds from their trees and eat their eggs.
Nearly a hundred vehicles, he’d seen. Lucilius had no way of knowing who they were or what they were like, whether they were one of the old warring urban tribes or someone else.
He thought for a hard moment as he got into the buggy and powered it up. It had been years since Lucilius had come across a stranger, and now all these people where headed his way. The soil was thick and rich and full of water around his home where he’d build it. It would make it through a burn, he thought, looking around at the young dry trees that stuck up along the top of the ridge from the western slopes.
Lucilius turned to the filing cabinet and opened the bottom drawer. Secured within were rows of different grenades. He removed two fire-starters and looked left and right from the trail down into the woods.
There’d be less of a chance they find the trail if this whole place were burning, Lucilius thought. He looked out at all the young trees, his chest caving with an ache, wondering what kindness might exist in the people who were coming his way. And yet, who might be following them despite their kindness, their humanity? It was safer to burn his work, he knew and make the strangers turn, maybe starve back in the direction they were coming. He looked at the grenades, putting one down, he pulled the pin on the other and cocked his arm ready to throw it into the new growth on the ridge.
In that moment he paused, just to think it all through one more time.
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