Author: Bill Cox
He walks into town just as everyone who could is walking out. Running seems pointless to him, but he can’t blame them for trying. People pass in ramshackle jalopies, their worldly goods piled precariously up, held steady by blank-faced children. Others leave on mules or bicycles, many just on foot. A military truck trundles past, leaving a trail of acrid, black smoke in its wake. In the back he sees four soldiers sitting, grinning, with two teenage girls sandwiched in-between, uncertain looks on their faces. In another time he might have been concerned enough to do something, thoughts of his own daughters on his mind. Now he just lets the truck disappear past the town boundary.
He sees the town’s cantina and walks towards it. It’s not a big town, just a paved main street puffed out with shanty housing and caravans. Funnily enough, it’s still big enough to have three churches. Out here, on the galactic rim, people need religion more than ever, to provide comfort against the dark, to reassure them that they are central to God’s creation despite all the evidence to the contrary. From each church he can hear the sound of singing, a desperate, last-minute show of faith that is unlikely to make any difference.
He walks into the cantina. There are a few other souls here, all drinking alone, hoping they can blot out the fear and hopelessness through some form of alcohol-induced nirvana. He’s no intention of getting drunk, he just fancies one last libation before the end.
Surprisingly, the bar-keeper, a weary-looking middle aged man, is still there, pouring drinks.
“What’ll it be?” the bar-keeper asks.
“Whisky,” he replies and the bar-keeper pours him a glass. He raises it to his nose and breathes in the scent, before drinking the amber liquid down in one go, savouring the warmth that flows down his throat and into his stomach. The bar-keeper pours him another without asking.
“So, you gonna wait for the Wave here too?” the bar-keep asks.
“Don’t see why not,” he replies. A sudden desire to explain arises within him, so he continues.
“I thought I was going to make my fortune here. Frontier mining planet, stake myself a claim, head back home a millionaire. Then the intergalactic economy collapses. No more spaceflight, we’re left here on this rock to fend for ourselves. Come to Providence, they said. Make a fortune, they said. What about the Wave, I asked? Oh, don’t worry about that. It only happens every five years. We ship everybody off-world when it happens. When they go back into hibernation then everybody comes back. What could go wrong?”
“So I took my family here. Wife and daughters. I lost them to the Wave in Saragossa. Barely made it out myself. I end up here, with nowhere else to go, as the Wave is everywhere else. It’ll be here as well before long, so why not enjoy a last drink?”
Suddenly weary and with nothing more to say, he takes his whisky outside and sits on the steps of the cantina. The town is quieter now, save for the muted singing coming from the churches. The twin suns are setting, casting an eerie, orange hue over the distant mountains. It seems somehow appropriate.
Soon the Wave will be here, a global migration of flesh-eating insects, trillions strong. They’re circling the globe, consuming everything in their wake, before eventually returning to dormancy. Then the twin suns will rise again, on a cleansed world.
It’ll be a fresh start for the planet.
He raises his glass to that.