Normal Ending: Last Tears (6/​8)

(Part 6 of 8 in “Three Wor­lds Col­lide”)

To­day was the day.

The streets of an­cient Earth were crowded to over­burst­ing with peo­ple look­ing up at the sky, faces crowded up against win­dows.

Wait­ing for their sor­rows to end.

Akon was look­ing down at their faces, from the bal­cony of a room in a well-guarded ho­tel. There were many who wished to ini­ti­ate vi­o­lence against him, which was un­der­stand­able. Fear showed on most of the faces in the crowd, rage in some; a very few were smil­ing, and Akon sus­pected they might have sim­ply given up on hold­ing them­selves to­gether. Akon won­dered what his own face looked like, right now.

The streets were less crowded than they might have been, only a few weeks ear­lier.

No one had told the Su­per­hap­pies about that part. They’d sent an am­bas­sado­rial ship “in case you have any ur­gent re­quests we can help with”, ar­riv­ing hard on the heels of the Im­pos­si­ble. That ship had not been given any of the en­cryp­tion keys to the hu­man Net, nor al­lowed to land. It had made the Su­per­hap­pies ex­tremely sus­pi­cious, and the am­bas­sado­rial ship had dis­gorged a horde of tiny daugh­ters to ob­serve the rest of the hu­man star­line net­work -

But if the Su­per­hap­pies knew, they would have tried to stop it. Some­how.

That was a price that no one was will­ing to in­clude into the bar­gain, no mat­ter what. There had to be that—al­ter­na­tive.

A quar­ter of the Im­pos­si­ble Pos­si­ble World’s crew had com­mit­ted suicide, when the pact and its price be­came known. Others, Akon thought, had waited only to be with their fam­i­lies. The per­centage on Earth… would prob­a­bly be larger. The gov­ern­ment, what was left of it, had re­fused to pub­lish statis­tics. All you saw was the bod­ies be­ing car­ried out of the apart­ments—in plain, un­marked boxes, in case the Su­per­happy ship was us­ing op­ti­cal surveillance.

Akon swal­lowed. The fear was already dry­ing his own throat, the fear of chang­ing, of be­com­ing some­thing else that wasn’t quite him. He un­der­stood the urge to end that fear, at any price. And yet at the same time, he didn’t, couldn’t un­der­stand the suicides. Was be­ing dead a smaller change? To die was not to leave the world, not to es­cape some­where else; it was the si­mul­ta­neous change of ev­ery piece of your­self into noth­ing.

Many par­ents had made that choice for their chil­dren. The gov­ern­ment had tried to stop it. The Su­per­hap­pies weren’t go­ing to like it, when they found out. And it wasn’t right, when the chil­dren them­selves wouldn’t be so afraid of a world with­out pain. It wasn’t as if the par­ents and chil­dren were go­ing some­where to­gether. The gov­ern­ment had done its best, is­sued or­ders, threat­ened con­fis­ca­tions—but there was only so much you could do to co­erce some­one who was go­ing to die any­way.

So more of­ten than not, they car­ried away the mother’s body with her daugh­ter’s, the father with the son.

The sur­vivors, Akon knew, would re­gret that far more ve­he­mently, once they were closer to the Su­per­happy point of view.

Just as they would re­gret not eat­ing the tiny bod­ies of the in­fants.

A hiss went up from the crowd, the in­take of a thou­sand breaths. Akon looked up, and he saw in the sky the cloud of ships, dis­pers­ing from the di­rec­tion of the Sun and the Huy­gens star­line. Even at this dis­tance they twin­kled faintly. Akon guessed—and as one ship grew closer, he knew that he was right—that the Su­per­happy ships were no longer things of pul­sat­ing ugli­ness, but gen­tly shift­ing iride­s­cent crys­tal, de­signs that both a hu­man and a Babyeater would find beau­tiful. The Su­per­hap­pies had been swift to fol­low through on their own part of the bar­gain. Their new aes­thetic senses would already be an in­ter­sec­tion of three wor­lds’ tastes.

The ship drew closer, over­head. It was quieter in the air than even the most effi­cient hu­man ships, twin­kling brightly and silently; the way that some­one might imag­ine a star in the night sky would look close up, if they had no idea of the truth.

The ship stopped, hov­er­ing above the roads, be­tween the build­ings.

Other bright ships, still search­ing for their des­ti­na­tions, slid by over­head like shoot­ing stars.

Long, grace­ful iride­s­cent ten­drils ex­tended from the ship, down to­ward the crowd. One of them came to­ward his own bal­cony, and Akon saw that it was marked with the curves of a door.

The crowd didn’t break, didn’t run, didn’t panic. The screams failed to spread, as the strong hugged the weak and com­forted them. That was some­thing to be proud of, in the last mo­ments of the old hu­man­ity.

The ten­dril reach­ing for Akon halted just be­fore him. The door marked at its end di­lated open.

And wasn’t it strange, now, the crowd was look­ing up at him.

Akon took a deep breath. He was afraid, but -

There wasn’t much point in stand­ing here, go­ing on be­ing afraid, ex­pe­rienc­ing fu­tile di­su­til­ity.

He stepped through the door, into a neat and well-lighted trans­par­ent cap­sule.

The door slid shut again.

Without a lurch, with­out a sound, the cap­sule moved up to­ward the alien ship.

One last time, Akon thought of all his fear, of the sick feel­ing in his stom­ach and the burn­ing that was be­com­ing a pain in his throat. He pinched him­self on the arm, hard, very hard, and felt the warn­ing sig­nal tel­ling him to stop.

Good­bye, Akon thought; and the tears be­gan fal­ling down his cheek, as though that one silent word had, for the very last time, bro­ken his heart.

And he lived hap­pily ever af­ter.