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The Last Man

by
Steve Allsup


Still going through my Dad's endless files, I came upon an almost unbelievable discovery today. It was the original handwritten copy of the very first story I ever wrote, at the age of 12. I wrote and turned it in for a school assignment. I had long considered this story to be lost. Later I wrote sequels to it and it became the first part of my teenage Saga of Sord. I first read Tarzan of the Apes in April of 1969, and this story is dated November 17, 1969, so when I wrote this I was in the early fever pitch of ERBmania. You can also tell heavy influences from popular sci-fi films of that period, such as Planet of the Apes and 2001. Without further ado, I type this up at long last for anyone who cares to look at it. I can't reproduce the amusing "Charlie Brown" type handwriting that this is in, but I am not going to edit it in any way.

Part I: Bad News

April 1, 2050- It all started on a fine, beautiful day. It was a day that you wouldn't think of going into space, but rather a day that you would feel like being in nature, a day that you would feel like taking a long walk.

I had come back from the CENTRE, and I was relaxing and turning over in my mind the news that I had just received. I decided to visit Catherine Smith, the girl I was engaged to, and tell her. I walked out into the hall and stopped at the elevator.

Would it be right to tell her this way? She would be very hurt, but there seemed to be no other way.

I punched the railcar button. As I stepped into the elevator, I wondered how I could tell her. I was not much on words, so I decided to just come right out and say it.

The door opened. I stepped into a large, oblong room with double doors on the opposite side.

I looked at the clock. It was 2:30 P.M. on the dot. I lived in Chicago, and Cathy lived in San Francisco. It would take about fifteen minutes to reach San Francisco from here, I thought.

There were not many people in the room, for this was an old hotel. It had been built in 2000 A.D. I calculated quickly in my mind. The building must be 25 years old! My thoughts were interrupted at the loud ringing of a bell. I walked over to the doors, put two kimaks in a slot, and the doors opened.

I stepped in, and found that there was not one person in the whole car. The driver was sitting in the driving cabin, which was the next car.

I humorously remembered my history. How alike were the railcar and the ancient subway, but how different. The subway went little over thirty miles per hour, while the railcar went over a thousand times that fast! I never knew when the railcar started, because the car was pressurized. It was also anti-gravitational, so that it sped through the tunnel without ever touching the sides. There were underground railways all over the world, now that man had been able to conquer the sea and all its resources.

No one in the world was underfed, but the world was getting so crowded that the average person lived in an apartment twelve foot by eight foot.

The ride seemed endless. As I looked out the windows, the blank tunnel walls seemed to laugh at me. What did they have to worry about?

I started really wishing that I had never joined the CENTRE. It seemed to me that it was just a legalized version of the ancient underworld. You could easily get in, and you got paid well, too, but the problem was quitting. There just seemed to be no legal way to get out.

Finally the ride ended. I was in San Francisco, a city that I was extremely familiar with after continuous visits to Catherine.

Part II: Catherine

I stepped into a room similar to the other station, and I decided to drink a cup of coffee. The coffee really helped calm my nerves. After the coffee I boarded another smaller railcar. I stopped the driver when we reached Catherine's apartment house. I felt like a soldier boy telling his girl that he had to go to war.

The door opened.

"Cathy?"

"Oh, hello, John! Come on in."

"Cathy, I need to talk to you about something."

"What, John? Is something wrong?"

"The CENTRE has a new mission for me," I replied grimly.

"Please, John, don't talk about THEM while we're together. I can't stand it, and I wish that you had never joined!"

"But it seemed so promising."

"I don't care. Don't talk about it."

"They have ordered me to go on a forty year mission to Xertes."

"John, please don't talk about...What?? But you can't go! We're going to get married!"

"I've tried every possible solution to get out of it, but there is no way!"

"But this just can't happen! I've prepared for so long!" There was a note of pleading in her voice.

"I'm sorry..."

"John, we've got to get married now!"

"No, I've thought about that. No, I'm not going to marry you and then leave for forty years. I just can't do it!"

Part III: Into Oblivion

The next day at the CENTRE, they started preparing me for the trip. Shots, exercises, tests, ...it never seemed to end.

Finally the launch day came. I boarded the ship with three companions: Sam Krellik, Jim Bransford, and James Shiliff. We shook hands and strapped into our couches.

I watched Jim push a button. the countdown started. 10..., 9..., 8..., 7..., 6..., 5..., 4..., 3..., 2..., 1..., ignition, blastoff! I felt a tremendous hand pushing down on my chest. I could hardly breathe, and I had a hard time keeping my eyes in their sockets.

Finally the pressure died down. We all realized what came next, and I felt sick at my stomach. We would have to turn on the suspended animation. What would it be like to sleep for twenty years?

"Good night, John," said Jim, with a sickening laugh.

"See you in twenty years," I replied.

After we had said our good-byes, Jim flicked a switch. Gas started pouring into the room. Jim quickly got buckled in again. I watched the gas fill the room until all I could see was an unearthly white. I wondered how long I could stay awake. I felt dizziness overtaking me, dizziness, dizziness, dizziness, dizziness, dizziness....

Part IV: The Dead Planet

As I woke up, I saw Jim and Sam at the instruments. It seemed as if I had been asleep for a thousand years, yet it also seemed like only a second.

"Jim? Sam?" I said.

They turned around. They seemed extremely sad.

"You finally woke up!" cried Sam. "We've been awake for five hours."

"Where's James?" I questioned.

"He...he's dead," Jim said, slowly.

"Dead! But how?" I demanded.

"He must not have strapped in good. He fell out of his couch and woke up, I figure," Jim replied. "There was not way for him to go back to sleep, so he starved to death."

"But why didn't he eat the ship's rations?" I asked.

"He did. He ate ALL of the ship's rations before he starved," Jim answered.

"But that means...there's nothing for us to eat!" I said, horrified.

"That's right," Jim answered, coldly. We were orbiting the planet. A new possibility arose in my mind.

"Maybe there's life on the planet!" I said, hopefully.

"Not a chance. We've already checked with the instruments. That planet is as cold as a rock," Jim replied, sadly. "We've found out another thing, too. That planet is Earth! We must have gone in a huge circle. I estimate that life ceased to exist on Earth fifteen years ago. That was five years after we left! Probably there was an atomic war, or something of the like, and the people destroyed themselves and everything."

Part V: Death

That is the story of how I got in this situation. I realize that now I am writing the last words in this log. It has been two days since I woke up. We have found out that something is wrong with the oxygen supply. It is quickly being used up.

I am almost too weak to write. We are out of food, out of oxygen, and only a few thousand miles from Earth.

The oxygen should run out any time now. Jim and Sam are both dead. I can hardly breathe. Maybe...