This story was originally published at Reedsy.com, as part of the Contest #62 on October 8th 2020. The prompt that inspired this story was “Write about a character preparing to go into stasis for decades (or centuries).”
By Jayde Holmes
The Last Human on Earth had reached her destination. Beside her Goldie, the probably last dog on Earth, barked once and started wagging her tail, tongue lolling as she looked from Last Human and the Billionaire’s mansion. The Last Human looked away from the giant, ultra-modern monstrosity, and patted Goldie. The poor girl was all skin and bones, just like the Last Human. Last winter had been harsh.
“We made it girl” The Last Human said as Goldie leaned in for harder ear scratches. “Let’s see if Richie Rich here actually did it.”
And see if his house still had power. And water. And if the stasis machine still worked. And if it had been calibrated properly. And if the arsehole hadn’t found a way to activate it before the plague hit. And if they had even made it in time for Four-Twenty in the first place. There were way too many ‘and ifs’ for the Last Human’s liking. They should be two days early, but it had been hard keeping track of the days sometimes.
And of course, there was no way to know if the Alpha Centauri spaceship was still out there, so maybe she’d end up waiting for nothing after all this anyway.
She walked her overloaded bike to the gate, with Goldie following behind her. She had a sledgehammer and bolt cutters, but in her weakened state it took over an hour to open the gate and push her bike through. An alarm went off as they forced their way in. Good; the house still had power. And she still had C4 for the vault.
Goldie ran ahead and checked out every corner of the lawn. Despite the year of hell, it was vibrant green. The gardener robots were still working. The house had power and the technology in it still worked. She couldn’t believe their luck. As she surveyed the lawn, Goldie came running up to her, tongue lolled and tail wagging. She dropped to the ground and rolled in the grass, eyes half closed. Last Human tried to remember the last time she had seen healthy grass. She could barely remember, but Goldie made it look amazing.
That was all the convincing Last Human needed. she dropped to the ground and collapsed in the grass, savouring the smell of the freshly mowed lawn. Goldie came up to her and began licking her face, and the Last Human burst into tears. Down here in the dirt with her dog, she could almost imagine that the plague and the bombs had never happened. For a few minutes she lay there, imagining her family was just inside and her mother would soon come over and yell at her for getting so dirty. As if she could have done anything to stay clean during the last year.
At the thought she jerked herself upright. If the robots tending the lawn were still going, maybe she’d be able to find a functional bathtub. The thought excited her. The type of giddy excitement that had only existed before the plague, for those rare events like concerts or new releases.
Goldie came over and tried to sit in her lap. The Last Human patted her dog but the smile fell off her face. She had a lot of preparations to see to if she were to save humanity. A lot of terrible preparations. She pushed Goldie away, thinking of what needed to be done. Thinking of poor Goldie. She sat motionless on the lawn for a full five minutes.
Goldie came back with a yellow squeaky toy in her mouth.
“Good girl, that’s a good find” The Last Human said, standing up and taking the toy. “We’ll play with that in a little bit. We have lots of work to do first.”
She walked to the front door, her dog by her side.
It was time to check out this alleged stasis pod.
Last year, just before the plague hit, the Last Human had seen this mansion on TV. Its owner was an eccentric billionaire known for having a lot of high-tech toys. He’d been a laughingstock, but he had turned out to be right about the imminent collapse of society. She’d laughed as she saw him on the news. He’d been standing next to the stasis pod in his underground vault, talking to the reporter as a technician worked on the giant white and blue egg smashed into the wall.
“The world is going to hell” He had said. “It’s over. Blind Freddy can see it. I ain’t gonna live through no stupid arse war.”
“So you’re going to skip the war?” The reporter had asked. “Do you trust this stasis pod – this untested technology – to keep you alive?”
“I trust it more than the rest of the world. If it does kill me then at least it’ll be painless you know? If it doesn’t, then I wake up from a nice eight-hundred-year nap. By then either everyone has their shit together, or I can just party with the dudes on the Alpha Centauri ship.”
“You think they’ll know to come here for that party?”
“I have a beacon; I ain’t dumb. They’re the dumb ones for not taking any women with them though. Won’t be much of a party if you know what I mean.”
“Yes, of course not. Why not get in now? After all, the world could end tomorrow.”
“I’ll take that chance. You gotta remember, I have a huge company that employs millions of folks who can’t just jump into a stasis pod to escape the coming shitshow. I gotta spend the next year wrapping things up, looking out for the little people out there. But that’s why Daveed here is setting things up now. If things go downhill next year, I want this stasis pod to be able to put me under without anyone else’s help.”
“And you’ve set the machine to activate at twenty-past-four on the twentieth of April. Is there any significance to that date?”
“It’s Four-Twenty baby. I want to hit it right before I go into the stasis pod. Can you imagine it? An eight-hundred year high? What better time to do that than Four-Twenty right?”
The Last Human had shared memes with her friends about the crazy billionaire being stoned for eight-hundred years. But a week after that interview aired the plague hit. Within two months, everyone was dead.
The Billionaire was dead. Last Human had just found a skeleton wrapped in a tasteless purple and gold dressing gown. The bones and satin were puddled together on a seat in the private cinema. On the seat next to him was an empty popcorn bucket, a small old tin, and a sleek remote. There were also bottles of vodka drinks scattered on the nearby seats and on the floor. The menu of Finding Nemo came up when she tapped the remote. The sudden blast of the movie score caused Goldie to yelp and back away from the bottle she’d been sniffing.
“He didn’t bring any tissues with him” Last Human told Goldie. “Did he run out? Or was the coward not even sick?”
Goldie nudged the bottle. She couldn’t pick it up because the squeaky toy was still in her mouth.
“Could you imagine being this guy?” Last Human asked. “His house is entirely self-contained, he has enough security to keep out the infected mob, and he had the stasis pod. He only had to survive until he got in the stasis pod.”
Goldie lost interest in the bottle and started rubbing the toy against Last Human’s leg.
“I guess some people just don’t have what it takes to survive” Last Human said as she patted Goldie. “Or maybe the thought of sitting around with a bunch of men and not being able to repopulate the planet bummed him out too much.”
She picked up the tin and opened it. Inside were a bunch of pea-shaped pills. Suicide pills? Drug overdose? Well, it explained how he’d died. She looked down on Goldie, holding the pill tin tighter.
Would the pills kill Goldie painlessly?
She’d found Goldie three months after waking up in her bed, recovered from the plague but unable to find any other survivors. As far as the Last Human could tell, all humans and their best friends; cats, dogs, and horses, had been wiped out.
“I suppose there could be more rich men holed up in their super houses” she muttered to Goldie. “Ones with balls.”
Internally she scolded herself. She couldn’t assume that there were other people out there. It was pathetic to pretend that someone else would swoop in and save humanity. She had to assume she was the last human, otherwise the entire race could go extinct. She turned and left the cinema. She didn’t pat Goldie, and she kept hold of the pill tin. Goldie followed her out, whining at her sudden coldness.
Last Human remembered those whines from when she first met Goldie. When she’d been wandering, searching far and wide for any sign of another person. She’d wanted someone to talk to. Anyone. She’d never been a dog person, but when she heard barking, she ran. Her skeletal legs propelling her through the wrecked cars and overgrown gardens, desperate to connect with anyone, even a dog. She’d followed the barking and found Goldie out the front of a suburban house. The dog seemed unsure whether to be excited to finally see another human or if she was supposed to still guard the family home. In the end, Goldie had led Last Human inside, to where the remains of a family of five were huddled in the master bedroom. Goldie sat at the end of the bed and started whining. It had taken the Last Human two weeks to persuade Goldie to leave her dead family and follow her.
She found the vault. It was unlocked. Great, the risks she’d taken to get that C4 were a waste. Of course, she had been terrified of destroying the stasis machine while breaking in, so she wasn’t too disappointed that she could just walk in.
The Billionaire’s vault was a pristine white hideout full of strange futuristic devices and rare action figures. The lights were dim, except for a bright blue glow coming from the back of the room. She walked towards the light. Behind her, Goldie’s nails clack-clacked on the concrete floor. There was no other sound. Not until Goldie squeezed the toy, making Last Human jump and swear as the squeak echoed through the walls.
“You” Last Human growled, turning towards her dog. Goldie wagged her tail and squeaked the toy again. She assumed the play position whilst Last Human tried to say something. She didn’t know what she wanted to say though, and all that came out was a strained laugh. She continued walking. Goldie squeaked non-stop.
They walked past a row of display cases and stopped before the back wall, where the stasis pod was lit by strips of blue LED lights. The pod itself took up half the wall; a large plastic and metal egg covered in pipes. Between all the plumbing and the tanks, she could just make out a flight of tiny white stairs heading to the entry hatch. The rest of the wall was covered in wires and monitors. The monitors displayed every tiny detail of the machine, as well as the progress of the Alpha Centauri ship, the state of the house, and the date and time.
She rushed over to the screen with the date and time.
The monitor said it was already the twentieth of April.
She’d lost count of the days at some point, and now instead of having two days to prepare, she had only two hours.
What did she still need to do? The case of frozen embryos she’d salvaged? It was already in the freezer; even if she knew a better way to preserve it, she wouldn’t have time to do anything more now. Her mementos from before the plague? It would only take a few minutes to find a spot for them in the vault. That bath she wanted? No. Too risky. She’d probably stay in the tub forever.
The only thing she needed to do now was deal with Goldie. She had thought she’d have two days to figure that out, not two damn hours.
Goldie had dropped the squeaky toy and was now sitting on the floor. Her tail was wagging slower, and her eyes were fixed on the Last Human.
“I’m sorry Goldie” Last Human said, her attempt at baby talk ruined by the creak in her voice. “I have to do it. I have to go. There are only men on the Alpha Centauri ship; I’m the only one left that can have any babies.”
Goldie tilted her head. The Last Human walked up to her and dropped down, grabbing her dog in a massive hug. Tears ran down her face.
“I need to go Goldie. I need to wait for more people. I don’t want to be the last human anymore.”
Goldie was whining again. Last Human told herself that Goldie couldn’t understand her, but with Goldie being her only company for the last year, she’d never really believed that.
“Please Goldie, tell me you’ll be okay without me?”
Goldie kept whining and licking Last Human’s face. The Last Human kept picturing Goldie at her old house, hungry but unwilling to leave or eat her dead family. How long would she wait outside the vault for the Last Human to come out? Who would help her survive the winter?
“I don’t want you to suffer without me” Last Human said. “I can’t do that to you. But… but I don’t…”
How could she kill Goldie? This innocent dog; her last friend?
“I need to survive” Last Human said. “I can’t give up like that arsehole Billionaire.”
But you’ll probably die in the stasis pod.
That was her own doubt, resurfacing for the millionth time, but as she looked into Goldie’s eyes, she imagined it as Goldie’s argument.
“I have to at least try to save humanity” Last Human said. She pushed away from Goldie and tried to open the pill tin with her shaking hands. “I’m sorry Goldie. I love you.”
“Bark! BARK!” Goldie jumped on top of her, knocking the half-open tin out of her hands. A few pills flew out. Goldie sniffed at one that landed nearby and backed away. The Last Human grabbed the pill in one hand and grabbed Goldie by the scruff of the neck in the other. Goldie looked up at her with big sad eyes, her barks turned to whimpers.
“I have to leave you behind” Last Human said. “And I can’t leave you to die alone. I need to take my chances in the pod. I have a duty to save humanity.”
Goldie continued to fix her big puppy eyes on the Last Human as she whined, reminding her of the duty she had taken on when she’d coaxed Goldie away from her dead family.
The Last Human felt the pill crush in her clenched fist. She broke down into ugly loud sobs and wrapped her arms around Goldie, careful not to smear any of the crushed-up pill in her fur.
At 4:20 the stasis pod came to life.
“Welcome” A monotone female voice filled the vault. “Human cryostasis procedure now commencing. Please stand by.”
The hatch opened, valves were released and tubes within the egg moved into position.
“Support structure is in position. Please step into the stasis pod.”
A countdown had started on the monitor closest to the pod. Large blue digits counted down the years, days, hours, and even the minutes and seconds until the Alpha Centauri ship was estimated to return.
“Please step into the stasis pod” The voice repeated.
Forty minutes later, the voice finished its narration and fell silent. The stasis pod sealed up in a puff of liquid-nitrogen fog. It would not open for another eight-hundred-years. If it ever did.
Upstairs, out on the lawn, the world’s last human threw a yellow squeaky toy to the last dog, a quivering smile on her face.