1:16

“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.” – Homer

The summer sun never set while defiantly avoiding the unavoidable. It shone as a beacon of hope. As a giver of light and warmth in a world of darkness and cold. It seemed perpetual until the day when there were days no more. And death became the rule, and life an exception. Winter killed as it crept through earth and flesh despite the Vessel’s reactors glowing hot red in the night. They were the only reminder of the absent sun as they taunted the living with their futility. It was in the twilight before the darkness that humanity shattered. The exodus for a future sealed in blood.

Birth at three-two! Kiron called from atop the shelter. As the sun had moved, he saw the glint of a replicator finishing its work. Another day, another birth. Another death.

I’ll get it! Ëoz answered from inside and got up from the ground, and went out the opening. She looked up at Kiron as he pointed. He was still like a statue against the sun. She waved at him, but he could not see her with the light in his eyes. I’m going! She said. Kiron sat down on the parapet and drank from his bladder.

As she approached the location, there were faint cries among the winds, and she stopped and listened. The gusts carried an infant’s cries. Then she saw movement on the ground a stone’s throw away. She hurried there and stood awestruck. Its small hands grabbed at the crisp air filled with steam emitted from the plump body. Its little feet kicked aimlessly. She picked up the crying infant into her arms, swept it in her cloak, and cradled it against her chest. It became quiet.

Ëoz looked toward the building and Kiron. He seemed to watch them from where he sat. Ëoz started walking toward him.

What’s with the newborn? Kiron yelled when she came closer.

I have it here, Ëoz answered. Not realizing the implications of the question.

What? Kiron said.

I have it here, She repeated.

Was it dead already? Kiron continued, Do you need help to fetch it?

No. Come and see.

Kiron climbed down the shelter, approached Ëoz, and looked at her confused. His eyes jutted between her face and the bundle in her arms.

What’s that? He asked and took a step closer. When Ëoz uncovered the little face, he said, Don’t you tell me it is… Is it? No. No!

Look, She said and held the infant for him to see.

Don’t hold it like that! Don’t get attached to it!

Why not?

Because it can’t live.

Why can’t it? She said and held the child closer.

This is no place for an infant. It’s too early for that. All keeping it would accomplish is a slower death. Give it to me. It will be painless.

No, Ëoz said as she took a step back. Think, Kiron… Think about it.

Don’t be stupid, Ëoz. Do you remember winter? Do you remember those never-ending nights of cold and starvation? How we fumbled for food in the darkness when we had no more fuel to burn? We barely survived. We were thinner than the dried-up dead on the fields. We were animated corpses when the sun reappeared. Winter is coming.

You said it yourself; we survived.

Ëoz, He begged.

Tears ran down Ëoz’s cheeks, and she sobbed, Why can’t you see it as I do?

You’ve listened to me every step of the way, Ëoz. Look where it has taken us. Don’t stop trusting me now. Give it to me.

Ëoz backed away, and he followed. The tears on her face had started to freeze. Then she turned and ran in the direction of the tower where Aesk kept watch.

Ëoz! Kiron called for her and pursued.

From his vantage point atop the watchtower, Aesk noticed the commotion. He saw two darker silhouettes against the beige shelter. They seemed to stand still at first, but they grew larger by the moment. One of them went down and disappeared. The other did the same. He got to his feet in an attempt to see better. One of the figures got up again. It held something in its hands, swung it over its head, and smashed it against the obsidian. A scream echoed over the fields. It was Ëoz.

Aesk hurried down the watchtower and set off toward Ëoz and Kiron. He found Ëoz standing on hands and knees crying over an infant’s dead body. Kiron watched her. The infant’s head was deformed and swollen with blood, its face had deep lacerations, and one leg was broken. There were shards lodged deep into the soft flesh. It did not move nor make a sound.

What have you done! Aesk shouted as he pushed Kiron away and fell to his knees beside Ëoz.

Kiron stared at them. He said, What would you have fed it? Flesh? And even if we could have fed it—what kind of human would it grow up to become?

Why! Why? Aesk said as he looked up at Kiron through tearful eyes.

This is no place for a newborn, Kiron said.

What kind of fucking monster are you? Aesk said.

I am no monster. All I want is to see humanity thrive again.

Through infanticide? Aesk said.

If that’s what it takes.

It isn’t your decision alone to make, Aesk said.

I’ll do anything needed to further the survival of humanity, Kiron said. I’ll do whatever it takes. No matter how much it hurts me. No matter how much it hurts you. Humanity’s future is the only thing that matters. When I’m done, there will be many babies born, but now isn’t the time.

Ëoz looked up at him and said, I hate you, Kiron. I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anyone before. I’ll never forgive you. Every time I look at you, I’ll see this; see what you did. You always talk about your grand plans, but how could you build a civilization by killing innocents?

Aesk grabbed a shard and rose to his feet, and stared at Kiron.

I will kill you too if that’s what’s needed, Kiron said as he locked eyes with Aesk and drew his knife.

No! Ëoz said and got up. Stop!

I don’t want to kill you, Kiron said to Aesk, ignoring Ëoz. But I will if I have to. And I’ll scatter your parts so that you won’t regenerate. All you have is a shard in your hand. I have a knife, and I’ve killed before. I have it in me. You don’t; you aren’t that kind of person.

Fuck! Aesk shouted and threw the shard at the ground. I won’t steep as fucking low as you. What would killing you accomplish but more death? It’s pointless. I thought I had found a little shimmer of humanity in this gruesome world. You shattered that image by killing an innocent child. A child who could’ve been the first to inherit the earth. I can accept killing adults if that’s what is needed, but not a fucking child. Fuck, I want nothing to do with you anymore. I’ll leave and don’t try to find me. Ëoz, He said and turned to her, Will you join me?

Ëoz hesitated. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it again. Her gaze was turned to the black ground.

Look at me, Kiron said, and she did so. Are you willing to squander all this; destroy all we have built because of this folly? Haven’t I led you well? Haven’t I succeeded where no one else has? Remember what I said that night a long time ago. Remember.

I, I must stay, Ëoz said, looking at Aesk. I must, She repeated and began to sob again.

It’s your decision, Aesk said. You must decide. Not me, not Kiron, you.

She looked at Aesk with tear-filled eyes and said, Stay with us, please—don’t go.

I will go, He said. I will not be a part of this.

Please, Ëoz pleaded.

No, He said. Have you made your decision?

Yes, but…

Okay, Aesk said and turned his back to them and began walking. Ëoz ran up to him and grabbed his arm, and whispered into his ear. He smiled the last smile for a long time and said farewell to her. Then he left them.

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