A/N - So this is a revised version on my previous short story, 'Message in a Bottle' but after reading some comments I thought this story deserves to be fixed. With a new title, a lot more words and a poem, hopefully I've addressed all the possible questions and problems that were in the earlier draft and not added a whole heap more as this is a bit longer than my original work.
Feel free to check out the original version and tell me if this was in any way an improvement, otherwise; Please enjoy!
“The earth was charred, and the sky spat venomously. Stark, towering monoliths spiked from the ground, daring to scrape the tumult of clouds above. They were the last crumbling remains of humanity. Hollow bones through which the wind whistled and howled.
One stood apart from the rest, for atop its head it held a star of light. One final flicker of life. It was in this abode that the last human, Jeff, lay sleeping.”
“Wow, now that this poetic, Pixa,” said Jeff, applauding a bubble of blue glowing light on a television screen in front of him. It seemed to shy away, bashfully, at his praise.
He picked up his pen and began to write out the small paragraph of description. “An excellent opening line, you’ve really outdone yourself.”
“Why thank you,” said Pixa, her blue glow brighter. “Having the complete works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Edgar Allan Poe installed on my database, does have its uses now and then.”
Using a small hidden camera in the ceiling, she spied on what he had written down. “Venomously has a u in it, dear. And you’ve got the l and the e mixed up in whistled.”
Jeff stared up at the screen and grimaced. He set his pen down. “Fine, you do it then.”
Barely a moment passed before the passage of text shone in front of him. He read over it and nodded with approval. “Good. I’m going to grab a drink. Help get my brain moving.”
Jeff stood up and walked across his apartment to the kitchen. His home of the last thirty-two years, ever since he had been born, was a large space; taking up the entire top floor of the building it sat upon.
Each wall held expansive panels of ceiling-to-floor windows that had been drawn close with heavy curtains, hiding the world outside.
His feet passed from cushioning carpet to the cool kitchen tiles and Jeff tapped a large object which several centuries earlier one would have thought was a fridge. “Tea, please.”
An opening appeared to reveal a mug positioned to catch the torrent of steaming liquid that coursed out of the machine, from deep within the building. Food and drink came to him, passing through an endless cycle. Mechanisms designed and built years before he was born took his waste, then purified and reconstructed it so that it could be used or eaten again.
“Where were we?” asked Jeff, taking the mug and returning to the sofa before the screen.
“Writing your accounts as the last human on Earth,” answered Pixa helpfully.
“Last human as far as we know.”
The light on the screen dimmed, “Is this what this is all about Jeff? What has suddenly inspired you to write? I’m sorry dear, but we both know there is no one out there. No one can be Out There.”
“I’ve never been Out There, I’ve never left this place.”
“Because you are lucky.”
Out There, was a land of death and decay. In here, Jeff was safe with Pixa in the world built by those who had wanted to protect him; to protect his family. No one is Out There. A mantra that had sung him to sleep in the glow of her console.
Jeff turned away and sipped his drink. It was as warm and delicious as it had always been, the taste never changing no matter how many times it was recycled. “Please, can we just write.”
Pixa never argued with him, never went against his will. It wasn’t in her programming. She was there for him. Closing the curtains against the nightmares and singing him to sleep.
Setting down the mug and picking up his pen, Jeff stared blankly at his notepad. He began to write; “Alone, above the world, he remained. Alive through the efforts of his… um.”
“Forefathers?” Pixa suggested.
Jeff nodded. “Forefathers. Alive through the efforts of his forefathers, who had built this sanctuary to protect him. Installing a guardian to-”
“My, my, a guardian?” Pixa added what he had written to the paragraph of text already on her screen.
Jeff shrugged and opened his mouth, but a loud beep derailed his thoughts. The lights flashed red and Pixa had disappeared to be replaced with the universal sign of annoyance; a little wheel spinning incessantly. Rising to his feet, Jeff jumped over the coffee table he had been using as a writing desk and reached a hand to the small wheel; frightened to touch it and banish it forever. “Pixa?”
The lights cooled to their usual placid brightness and his familiar blue bubble appeared on the screen. “Oh, sorry about that. The satellites and antennas have been out of service for several decades, so it took a while for me to get them sorted and reroute some more power to them from the solar panels-”
The blue bubble hesitated. “There’s a message, dear.”
The coffee table creaked as Jeff dropped onto it. His legs no longer seemed strong enough to support him with the added weight of this new information. “A message. How? Who?”
A new voice, to share with him new words. A voice from where he had been taught his whole life no voice should come.
“It wasn’t from Out There, my dear.”
Jeff pressed his palms into his eyes. For a moment he had thought he wasn’t the only one, he wasn’t isolated alone in his star. “Well, where did it come from then?”
“More accurately, somewhere close to Cernunnos 17-6, which is roughly 9.34 billion light-years away.”
“So, you're saying this message came from aliens?” said Jeff, frowning.
“That does seem to be the case,” Pixa confirmed.
“Left it a bit late, didn’t they?”
He rose to his feet and began to pace around the apartment. Pixa observed him with worry, “Would you like me to play you the message, dear?”
Running a hand through his hair, Jeff bit his lip and nodded.
A song echoed around the empty apartment, of highs and lows and longing. The message was short and to Jeff, the tune made no sense. But whether he could understand it or not didn’t matter for it was a sound made by another world. A world that was crying out for someone to hear it, so it wouldn’t be alone in this universe of nothing.
“Would you like for us to send them a message back?” asked Pixa. The sounds stopped.
Jeff stopped as well, “You can do that?”
“I believe I may have the ability to do so. Though I cannot guarantee it being successful and there would inevitably be a delay.”
Jeff nodded. With a sigh, he leant into a curtained wall and pushed his head into the fabric until he could feel the solid, transparent shield that protected him, behind it. Aliens. Aliens now after every scientist, conspiracy theorist and science fiction fanatic had gone. There was only Jeff, and he had spent the last two years binge-watching every program on the last surviving version of Netflix.
Outside, the thunder crooned a lullaby and painted like a toddler with lightning across the sky. Jeff hadn’t realised he was sinking until he felt himself sat upon the floor. With his descent, the fabric of the curtains had shifted, allowing him to see past the thick glass to a land empty of anyone or anything.
Pixa had said there would be a delay. How could he know that if these aliens ever did receive his message and followed it back, that he would still be alive? They would be searching for another dead planet from amongst millions.
They were out there, and he was here, separated by a wall built from time. Jeff felt more alone than ever.
If they came; no one is out there, would become, no one is in here. Such truthful lies.
Eyes drifting closed, Jeff whispered to himself the old story he had always been told when the wind sang like a siren in the dead nights;
“Out There, life has withered and only bones remain.
The lands have blackened, and the waters turned to acid.
The heavens turn in endless turmoil above,
casting spite onto its child it once loved so dearly.
Never go Out There, my sweet dear, darling.
No one is Out There in that human-made hell.”
“Jeff?” Pixa called softly.
Pushing off the wall to his feet, Jeff began walking to his bedroom. He needed to sleep and escape into his own world where aliens didn’t suddenly call out to him and he didn’t live in an empty paradise.
Pixa watched him from her many eyes around the apartment. “Jeff? You can talk to me.”
He stopped at the doorway, meters away from collapsing into his bed’s pillows. He gulped and leaned on the frame for support. “I can’t make these decisions. Whatever I choose, nothing will change.”
“It, It,” Pixa never stuttered. “It will for them.”
Jeff was silent.
“They will be rewarded with hope and the knowledge that, at one point, they weren’t the only ones.”
The apartment was quiet as Jeff turned from his bedroom and walked slowly back to the window. He ripped the fabric that covered it away, pulling the curtain back to reveal his reality. He stayed there a moment. A moment that ignored time and spanned more centuries than the Earth had ever known.
“Pixa,” he said finally.
“Send a reply.”