The Last Bottle May 31st, 2014


This short story was originally written as a response to a writing prompt.
I'm re-posting it here to collect all my stuff together.

"Your full water bottle turns out to be the last water left on earth.
What happens to you and the water in the next 24 hours?"

I expected to die.

I mean we all did, really. But everyone else was dying of thirst. Not me. I'd been stockpiling it for weeks, of course. Other made the foolish mistake of sharing it with others, giving some to their family. I wasn't as stupid as that. I knew we needed more time. I'd stayed alive this long, waiting for everything to be ready.

As I walked towards the makeshift barracks, I felt eyes upon me. They couldn't possibly know what I held underneath my jacket. A genuine, 32-oz, army-issue water canteen. Full. The few survivors sat gathered around where the distribution lines used to be, even though the lines had stopped serving days ago. They just didn't know where else to go I guess. I'm sure any of the would have killed me if they suspected I had water left.

I approached the soldier on guard. He raised his weapon.

"I need to speak to the duty officer.", I said. Realization slowly dawned across his face.

"I heard the appeal, the one you put out on the radio. I have what you asked for."

He knew exactly what I meant, but unfortunately, so did the group of civilians nearest us. They jumped up and dashed towards us.

"Water?", screamed a young mother. "You've got water? Please!".

But the guard wasted no time. "Get back!", he ordered. But they would not listen. I'd seen it a hundred times in the past few weeks. They say pressure makes you reveal your true nature. I could see the desperation in the mother's eyes.

As the woman pushed forwards, the guard shot her in the head. She died right there on the street.

"Get this man inside, now!", the guard shouted to his unit. I felt arms pull me past the blockade, and into the dark interior of a Humvee. I heard two more shots fired as we sped off.

It took an hour to reach the launch site. As I watched the dried-up marshland go by the window, I had time to reflect on what had happened. I'd seen dozens die over the past few days alone, some of thirst, but most at the hand of another. I think what hurt me most is that they just couldn't see the bigger picture.

After the fallout settled, scientists had predicted 3 years until the oceans dried up. But they guessed wrong. It accelerated faster than any of us could predict. Within 8 months we'd lost everything.

I guess the launch team had been stockpiling water, like everyone else. But they made a fatal mistake. They announced their plan to the public. Eight days ago, just 20 minutes after the announcement broadcast went out, people descended on the facility. The guards couldn't hold back the small army of thirsty, angry survivors. The supplies were stripped in minutes. They drank everything.

When I heard the second broadcast yesterday, I weighed up my options. Drink, and live perhaps another few days, or come forward and become God. It was a no-brainer really. I guess other people might have done differently, maybe. Their loss.

I turned the canteen over a few times in my hands. It seems so small and innocent. Yet here I held the future of life in this universe.

It was a good plan, as plans go. We knew we had lost. People kept expected scientists to come up with a plan, a plan to save us all. Every day people would watch the news, waiting for the government to announce some new discovery that would save mankind. They never did. Our planet had it's chance, we messed it up. This seemed like the best fall-back.

As we arrived at the launch site, I could see men running towards our vehicle. At first I thought I was going to be attacked again. The Marine next to me saw my look. "Don't worry Sir", he said, "this is our escort."

We were walked across the tarmac to where the Space Launch System stood. It had originally been designed to ferry astronauts to the ISS, apparently. They'd wasted no time in retrofitting it for it's new mission. Soldiers crowded around me as we boarded the elevator, making sure no-one had any last-minute change of plans.

They gave me the honor. I personally opened the canteen up, and poured it out into the special bio-container they'd devised. Over 2000 different types of bacteria, amoeba, proteins, amino-acids, you name it, they had it. A little garden of eden, with me as Creator. Packaged up as some kind of eco-bomb, I suppose possibly the first time we ever used a bomb to create life.

The launch was quick. I thought there would be a big ceremony or something. But no, up it went within 20 minutes. As nothing else was a concern at this point, they told me, they were able to use more fuel and power than any previous mission had ever done. They estimated it would reach Titan in only 2 months.

As I sat looking out over where the marshland used to be, I thought about what we'd done. Spreading life to a new planet? Do we even have the right to tinker with other worlds? Well, who knows. One day, millions of years later, maybe they'll evolve into someone who can answer that.

But today, I'm done. The remaining scientists are packing up and leaving, claiming to find "shelter", but I suspect really just a good place to hide and die.

Me, I just lay back and watch the sun set one final time. I am the Creator. I am immortal. And now, I wait to become stardust.

Written by Richard Mitton,

software engineer and travelling wizard.

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