A Little Thing

The ship stood inside itself and looked out through blue fabricated eyes. From beneath rain-wet trees, it watched the last villagers toiling up the hill towards Alice’s cottage. Sensors in the old woman’s bed (pulse fifty-two bpm and falling), told the ship it was time.

Erosion patterns on Mars, courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA

The ship stood inside itself and looked out through blue fabricated eyes. From beneath rain-wet trees, it watched the last villagers toiling up the hill towards Alice’s cottage. Sensors in the old woman’s bed (pulse fifty-two bpm and falling), told the ship it was time.

It cupped its hands. A weasel coalesced between its palms. The ship waited fourteen heartbeats, let the animal bound free, then began trudging up the hillside in the rain. In the copse behind it, two panicked rabbits sprang from the undergrowth and raced away.

Inside the cottage Alice lay, pain-free and lucid. The villagers stood around her, chatting in low voices. The old woman’s eyes widened as the ship entered.

“What’s this?” she whispered. “It’s only me. Why all this fuss?”

“I wanted to say goodbye,” said the ship. It left the door to the cottage open.

Outside, the rain hissed down, a million tiny kisses. In a gorse bush behind the cottage, out of sight, two rabbits disturbed a falcon that took to the sky in an explosion of tawny feathers.

Alice watched the rain. A tremor shook her. (Forty bpm and falling.)

The ship waited two heartbeats and turned up the sun.

The clouds parted. A million rainbows danced on the hillside. The falcon chased a flock of swallows past the open doorway. The birds threaded the shafts of light, swooped, wheeled, and were gone.

“Oh. Beautiful,” said Alice. Her eyes closed.

For one long heartbeat nothing moved. Alice let out a final, long breath.

“Goodbye…” The ship sighed, took her in its arms, and led the villagers out onto the hillside.

They lifted their heads to the sky. Rain pooled in their eyes, dissolved their calm smiles and their homespun clothes. The villagers melted away, their jobs done.

“Time to let go,” said the ship, and the rain took it, too. Soon only Alice’s body lay on the turf.

The ship slid onwards through the velvet silence of space. In the bio dome, the body of the last human lay alone amongst the daisies. No heartbeat counted the passing time. The ship waited fifteen minutes and then switched off the clouds. But the rain did not stop.

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