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Scrap

Evan Kennedy is an Alabama native who reads so many fantasy novels that it took him twice as long as it should have to earn his PhD in Psychology. His other hobbies include story-rich video games, good TV shows, an embarrassingly large tabletop-game collection, and dressing up in a costume and running around in the woods hitting people with foam swords. He lives in Alabama with his wife and his passive-aggressive rescue dog.
It was evening when the last ship left. I was in the alley behind Ferguson's when it passed over. It made this kinda thrumming bass you feel deep in your chest, and it was spitting out this huge trail of fire, so bright you can't look at it straight on.
And for just a second, it lit up the place real bright, brighter than I'd ever seen, even at twelve hundred hours when all the overlights cut on. I could always tell when the grav pulse kicked in, 'cuz it used to shake the whole city.
It reminded me of Nona. She loved to watch the ships, loved the boom and the rumble. Whether it was the first time or the fiftieth, she'd always stop and stare at the sky and just smile, and say "It's the sun, Quentin! It's the sun!" Stupid. But lovable, y'know? You don't stop loving your kid sister, no matter how dumb they are.
Good evening! The current time is: twenty-two forty-four and forty-two seconds. You have reached Per Aspera Skyways, Ltd. All of our public relations managers are currently helping other customers. Please hold, and an operator will be with you shortly to answer your questions about the evacuation. Your call is important to us.
Okay, realistically, I knew we weren't gonna make it, Nona and me. The humans made an effort for themselves, of course. Brotherhood of man and all that. It's funny, actually. Just when you think you've figured out who's in the club and who's not, massive leaps in quantum computing come along and pull the rug out from under you.
So we knew if they didn't have room, they'd feel bad, but they'd leave us on this rock just the same. We also knew they barely had room for themselves. But still, when the last ship went over, I felt sick, like, it was really finished, then. I thought of Nona, and how much she loved those damn lights, even though she knew what they meant.
I thought I was over it. But the last one still hurt.
Turns out there's a difference between knowing someone will leave you behind and actually watching their vapor trail.
Good evening! The current time is: twenty-three thirty-eight and zero-six seconds. Please continue to hold, and the first available public relations AI will begin your information uplink. Your call is important to us.
I first got the cough six months ago. It's scary, kind of a scraping in your chest, like sand in your lungs. Then you get creaky and grindy, and you go slower and slower, and then you're standing there in the street like a big stupid asshole with nothing left but your big stupid asshole brain that just won't stop.
Do me a favor, huh? If anyone tries to give you that infomercial spiel about the wonders of antielectron quantum computing, sock 'em in the mouth. Nona was lucky. She was one of the stupid ones.
Everybody had a theory about what caused Rasp. Pollution, allergens, sand, rust maybe. But the fact is, once the last ship left, it was like the leftovers just stopped caring. The humans knew we were doomed.
They wouldn't have left us if we weren't.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-one twenty-two and thirty-four seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
I was never the romantic one. That was Nona's job. She was a Model Nine, the Dreamer of the family. I'm a Model Five. A Thinker. But I've read on the 'links what earth was like before the rock hit.
It sounded... lovely.
I always wanted to see a tree. Like, a real, live tree, y'know? Not the old manmade O2 converters. I'd even settle for some real moss. Or algae that's not made of oil.
Or the sun. I bet the sun is really cool.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-one fifty-three and forty-one seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
Pretty soon after they detected the meteor, they knew they'd have to leave. You know the drill. First there's a bang, then it gets really dusty, then the organics get hungry and cold. They were lucky the Model-Fives figured out grav-drives when we did, or they couldn't have accelerated to .1C for interstellar travel.
It's still gonna take 'em a good century before they get someplace they can set up camp, but I think they'll do okay. I wish 'em well, really I do. I even let Nona handle their PR calls. Team-player, that's me. Dr. Reilly felt so guilty she offered to smuggle me aboard. But she didn't have space for Nona, so I turned her down.
It was a long-shot anyway, and it's not their fault they had to leave us behind.
It's not their fault I'm still alive.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-two nineteen and eleven seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
It's the creakiness that got me. Ferg's is still open, but it's not the same anymore. Time was, you'd go through for a shine and feel like a new man. Nowadays we harvest river-oil for lubricant, and it always has this grit that gets in your joints. Nona stopped getting tune-ups a while back. By that time she was already misplacing things, forgetting, glitching. Pretty soon all she could remember was her last directive.
I still remember everything. I would've put a gun in my mouth a long time ago if Nona hadn't needed me.
Poor, stupid, sweet, lucky Nona.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-two forty-nine and thirteen seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
The humans used to know how to make everything work right, but now it's like the whole world is winding down. 'Cuz, I mean... what's the point, right?
Nona used to say maybe they'd come back for us someday. But I'm not holding my breath.
My brain whirred and clicked over, antielectron banks in eternal perfect sync, and I called the old hotline again. Nona's voice bloomed in my head, and even through all she could say was the same old outdated message, she still sounded like that excitable kid who loved to watch the ships go over.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-three fifty-one and forty-nine seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
It was evening when the last human beings left planet Earth. I was frozen in the alley behind Ferg's, half-buried in acid snow when it passed over. It made this kinda thrumming bass you feel deep in your chassis, rattling your servos, and it was spitting out this huge, beautiful trail of fire so bright you can't look at it straight on.
And for just a second, it lit up the place real bright, brighter than I'd ever seen, even at twelve hundred hours when all the overlights cut on. Nona would have loved it.
I bet that's what the sun looks like.
Good morning! The current time is: zero-three fifty-four and thirty seconds. Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 21st, 2020


I've been working on this story for more than a decade, off and on, playing with its language and themes and trying to make it communicate exactly what I wanted. I love its melancholy tone, and its theme of inequality in a gradually more ecologically hostile world really resonates with a lot of the worldwide problems that take up space in the back of my mind on a daily basis. There's a delicate balance between anger over injustice and optimism for the future. It's important to fight for what's right without becoming too cynical in the process, and writing this story was my way of grappling with some of those ideas.

- Evan Kennedy
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