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Denizens: 37 - Absent Friends

...With their new longevity, humans were now able to do things that they could only dream of before; accumulate several former lifetimes of knowledge, gain a dozen PhD’s from the still prestigious University of Earth, and travel to the far reaches of the galaxy. With so few people on earth, and getting fewer all the time as more left, everyone remaining lived like a multi-millionaire. The orbiting automated factories and the earth-bound farms produced all they could ever want or need, and people were actually competing for what little work still needed to be done...

The results of the epochal voyage through space and time of the spaceship Antares has resulted in astonishing changes in the lives of the inhabitants of Planet Earth.

Brian William Neal's monumental sci-fi novel nears it conclusion - and still there are surprises in store! To read this great story from the beginning please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.

Casa Katzmeyer
Near Laguna Beach, California
October, 2503

“For goodness sake, Arnold, leave them alone and come and get your lunch before it’s ruined.”

Julia Katzmeyer frowned in mock exasperation at her husband, who was indulging in his favorite pastime: fussing over their two dolphins, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or Rosie and Goldie for short. They had decided, for the present, not to have children. There was plenty of time for that, centuries even, and they still had a lot of traveling to do.

The alien, ’tau, had told the travelers that his people lived for about nine hundred years. Since a year on that alien world had been slightly longer than an earth year, humans could expect the average life span to be around a thousand years or so. Time enough and more, even though they were already more than five hundred years old. Also, with no disease or war to cull the population, they would have to wait for natural causes to do the job, and that for a long time yet. Even with off-world colonization, Humankind had been forced to become somewhat more circumspect in its breeding habits than it had hitherto been accustomed.

Arnold smiled, and with a last pat on the dolphin’s snouts, left the edge of the large pool in the center of the house’s living area. The two dolphins dived beneath the surface of the water and swam through one of the pool’s outlets that led to the open sea. They would return later to receive more of the attention they loved, not to mention the tasty treats with which Arnold constantly spoiled them. Meanwhile, Arnold joined the others at the huge oak table. Julia had prepared a vast array of dishes, and the table was laden.

When they were settled, and large helpings of food were piled on their plates, the guests looked expectantly towards the head of the table. Arnold filled his glass, as did they all, with a wine he had made himself from peaches, pears and apples gathered from his orchard, and raised it in their familiar salute.

“Absent friends.”

All those around the table echoed the toast, then they all fell to, and little was said as they enjoyed the sumptuous feast.

Although almost five hundred years had passed since the Event, they had remained friends. The human race had been, like it or not, dragged kicking and screaming into the greater galaxy. Over the centuries, several alien races had made themselves known to the people of earth, and humans had visited other inhabited worlds.

With their new longevity, humans were now able to do things that they could only dream of before; accumulate several former lifetimes of knowledge, gain a dozen PhD’s from the still prestigious University of Earth, and travel to the far reaches of the galaxy. With so few people on earth, and getting fewer all the time as more left, everyone remaining lived like a multi-millionaire. The orbiting automated factories and the earth-bound farms produced all they could ever want or need, and people were actually competing for what little work still needed to be done.

Now, Arnold sat back and refreshed his glass, looking around the table at his friends. He took a sip, and said, “Well now, what news? What are you all doing? What new plans do you have?”

They looked at each other, then Cal said, “Well, speaking for myself and Karen, we’re going to try something different. Different in a way, but then again, the same.”

The others looked puzzled, and Karen said, “I’m going to take up rock climbing, flying and parachuting.”

Cal smiled. “And I’m going to study medicine. New medicine, that is, for the new human physiology.”

There was general laughter around the table, and Arnold broke through the hubbub. “What an excellent idea! Each of you will learn the other’s field, so that you will have even more in common. I can see that catching on, you wait and see.”

Human longevity had meant that other changes had to be made as well. Marriages were no longer even ostensibly for life. Instead, contracts were drawn up, specifying the length of time applicable, which was agreed to before the ceremony. In the case of the three couples at the table, however, they had married under the old rules, and so far were as happy as they had ever been.

They were quiet again, and then Karen spoke wistfully. “You know, I still find myself wondering at the strength it took for Jonathan to remain behind. He, alone of us all, knew what he would be giving up, yet he still stayed, and cheerfully.”

“He did everything cheerfully,” said Cal, his mouth half-full of lobster.

As on all occasions when the name of their former comrade was mentioned, the two surviving members of the Hermes mission became introspective, emanating a poignancy that affected all the others at the table.

Then Arnold said, into the silence, “I wish I could have known him.” Tom, Jennifer and Julia all voiced soft agreement, and they smiled at each other. Then Cal laughed.

“And Bill, too,” he said, shaking his head and laughing again. “Wild Bill O’Rourke. My God, I can still see him standing in the doorway, that goddam big cannon booming away in his hand. He thought John Wayne was the hero, but he was a hero all by himself.” Cal sobered a little. “He saved us all.”

They raised their glasses, as they always did on these occasions, and drank again to their friends. Then the talk turned to other matters and, just before the lunch ended, Arnold asked Tom and Jennifer what their plans were.

“Well, we’ve decided to take that offer from Earth U. at Stanford and head on out to Antares,” said Tom. “ They’ve discovered another earth like…”

“With lots of ocean,” interjected Jennifer happily.

Tom smiled at her. “Anyway, we’re going to do a preliminary for the university. I expect it will probably take us two or three years, so you might not hear from us for a while.”

“What about Tom junior?” asked Julia.

Tom and Jennifer smiled at each other again, and it was obvious to everyone how much they loved each other, even after all the time that had passed.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” said Tom. “He’s at Procyon, working on a new story, and he’s got another in the pipeline. He won’t even know we’re gone.”

The lunch ended shortly afterward, and the friends took their leave of each other. Cal and Karen left for Phoenix, to prepare for another trip to England and Europe, and Tom and Jennifer departed for San Francisco, to arrange for the voyage to the Antares system. There was no need for protracted good-byes; they would see each other again soon, and anyway, they had all the time in the world.

*

Eight relative months later, Tom and Jennifer’s Lightship arrived in the Antares system, but they never made planetfall. As their shuttle was entering the atmosphere of Antares VI, its braking thrusters malfunctioned and the heat shield of Kivvex broke away from the ship. They were smiling at each other, holding hands and eagerly anticipating the prospect of discovering new life-forms on the planet below when the shuttle disintegrated. Along with the six hundred and fifty-five other passengers, they never knew, or felt, a thing.


***

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