ShortRead of 8th October
Author: Gary Gibson
What's the story: Gary Gibson is the right man to write a book about ecological disaster. Not because he dreams in frozen waste lands and desolate cities (he might), but because his role previous to becoming a professional writer was at an environmental agency.
Extinction Game is a sci-fi vision of Jerry Beche, the last man on Earth. Rather than suffering the same fate as humanity, he’s rescued, placed in a crack team of specialists from alternate Earths and given a mission to recover data and equipment from other worlds set to fall into desolation. But questions soon arise as to the motives of the group who rescued Beche, and why they want him to collect weapons from dead plants.
Release date: Out now
There’s an old story I once read that starts like this: The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. Except for me it wasn’t a knock, just some muddy tracks in a field that told me I was not, as I had long since come to believe, the last living human being.
But before I found those tracks and my world changed in ways I couldn’t even have begun to imagine, I stood in front of a mirror and wondered whether or not this would be the day I finally blew my brains out.
The weapon of choice was a Wesson semi-automatic I had prised from the fingers of a man named Herschel Nussbaum ten years before. This was just moments after I killed him and four days after he had nearly tortured me to death. I kept the gun in a bathroom drawer, under the basin before which I now stood. Its barrel was sleek and grey, and the grip had wooden insets of a fine, dark grain that felt warm against the skin when you picked it up. I thought about opening the drawer, how easy it would be, how quick. Click, bam, and no more Jerry Beche. No more last man on Earth. Just an empty house, and the wind and the trees, and the animals that had inherited the deserted cities and towns.
I’d had this same thought almost every morning for the last couple of years. Under any other circumstances this would, I admit, appear excessively morbid. But I was all alone on a world devoid of human life. I feared growing too old or too sick or so feeble I would no longer be able to make that choice, to end my life on my own terms. The only certainty I had left was that one day I would take that gun out of its drawer and join the rest of my species in extinction. I’d push the barrel against the roof of my mouth, angled up so the bullet would blow straight through the top of my skull. I had nightmares, you see, about screwing it up. I dreamed of blowing half my face off and waking up in a pool of blood and bone fragments, still alive.
Or at least, that’s what I told myself I’d do.
I didn’t open the drawer. Instead, I picked up a jerrycan of water placed by the door, and poured some of it into the sink. I splashed a little on my cheeks, and when I looked up I caught a glimpse of my unshaven face in the mirror over the sink. I looked thin – gaunt, really. It had been a long winter, and I wondered, not for the first time, if some undiagnosed masochistic streak kept me from settling down somewhere warmer than England. For the first time I noticed a touch of grey at my temples that made me look like my father.
It makes you look distinguished, I imagined Alice saying.
‘It makes you look distinguished,’ she said from behind me.
I turned to see her leaning against the frame of the bathroom door, arms folded across her chest, one corner of her mouth turned up in amusement. She wore a thick navy cardigan over a red T-shirt that clashed violently with the ratty green scarf knotted around her neck. I never saw her wear anything else.
‘Remember you have to check the wind turbines today,’ she said, stepping back from the door. ‘Last thing we need is another power failure.’
I nodded mutely. There had been another outage the previous evening, the lights fading to a dull brown before eventually stuttering back to life. I had a diesel generator as backup, but fuel was precious and I didn’t want to use any more than was absolutely essential. I had made repairs to the transmission lines only the week before. The problem, then, could only lie with the wind turbines up the hill that were still functioning.
I dried my face and stepped back out into the corridor, then hesitated. I could hear Alice humming from the direction of the kitchen. What was it that suddenly felt so wrong? What was it that...?
Of course. How could I have forgotten?
I made my way back to the bedroom and picked up the broken I Ching coin from the bedside table, a piece of black cord tied around it so that I could wear it around my neck. It was my lucky charm, my talisman, the last remaining link to the life I had lost long ago.
For more excellent reads, check out our previous choices below - just click on the link:
(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)