Each step was painful, but this was Molly’s secret – to keep walking. Being up here at the highest ring helped, but each day seemed a bit more difficult than the last. The pain shot up her hipbone and she winced, her tight smile a temporary grimace. She had discussed it with them. Another artificial hip just wasn’t in the cards. There was nothing substantial for it to hold onto. They recommended a wheelchair. Molly had seen what wheelchairs had done to the others. No wheelchair! She was sure about that!
Honeysuckle and hibiscus, a variegated pink … odd … the honeysuckle has the same sickly sweet smell, but the colors shouldn’t match. Maybe I just remember it wrong ….
Up ahead the kindergarten class, chattering like magpies, curious, eager and so full of energy they can’t contain themselves. The children. That’s what made it all worth while. As she rounded the hedgerow, they saw her and the whole group rushed forward. They had been warned sternly not to tackle her and so they slowed just before reaching her. Still the jostling was painful.
“Tell us about the lions,” Johnny Tinsdale demanded. Johnny always asked about the lions. At one time, Molly had managed a credible roar. Now, she just pantomimed claws and teeth. Johnny and a few others laughed playfully.
The teacher, Miss Okimbu, had put a soft pillow on the bench. Molly nodded gratefully and managed to sit without falling much. The holograph team was hidden behind the shrubbery, but she could hear their equipment recording. She’d tried to stop that, but the PTB were adamant. “You are our treasure,” Captain Hartfield had told her, “please let us keep this for the next generation.”
“How old are you?” Linda Cortez asked. The teacher looked alarmed, but Molly calmed her with a gesture.
“Well, Linda, I’m a hundred and fifteen,” she admitted, “I’m the oldest person aboard and the only one not born here.”
“Where were you born?” Molly wracked her brain and the name finally came to her – Justine. Justine Brown. Justine was probably going to be an officer one day. All her scores, academic and social, were high.
“Justine, I was born in a huge city named Los Angeles. At the time, there were twenty million people living there. Do you know how many twenty million is?”
“Yes! There was a zoo in Los Angeles and that’s where I heard that lion ROOOOAAR,” and as the old woman roared, she winked at Johnny. The children all shrieked or giggled. It seemed to be one of their favorites, though they also used to like the kangaroo hop before her hips got so sore.
Another hundred and twenty years from now, these babies’ great-great grandchildren might hear a lion roar or see a live kangaroo hop if all went well and the frozen zygotes survived and took to each other and whatever environment could be cobbled together. It might be a long shot, but it was all the hope mankind had left. Signals from home stopped forty years ago.
Molly woke with a start and looked around her. The children were gone. The holographers were nowhere to be seen or heard. She still had Miss Okimbu’s pillow and a thin blanket had been added. Someone would collect them tomorrow – along with her body. Nothing got wasted. Somehow that was reassuring. Dear God, she prayed, watch over them. Give us this one last chance.
She could see the crops below, ripening in the perpetual light, the almost eternal light. So long ago – Bernie was a Bosun’s Mate Third Class and so proud of his uniform and his skills – the first of three men she’d outlived. Good men. A good life.
She hadn’t known it then. It was just the sweet way his mouth smiled at her and the gentle touch of his rough hands that had swayed her, that had taken her five light years from home. Otherwise, she’d have been in a mass grave somewhere, dead of starvation or radiation poisoning. Now she would still be useful. Everything got recycled.
She woke once more before the end. It had just been a feral cat sauntering by, rubbing up against her leg; that stubborn tabby with the slight limp. She chuckled a little. Birds of a feather, the two of us. Tiger continued his hunt. Odd. No flies at all, but rats made it.
Then she went back to sleep and dreams of Bernie’s sweet, rough hands.
©February 2016, David N. Dodson, Phoenix, AZ