getting the Led out
Bill Besterdon looked into his almost empty glass, gave the contents therein a final swirl around and then threw it back. The liquid still felt foreign to his tongue but he enjoyed the feeling it gave him when it finally reached his brain.
Everyone he had ever known had been dead for close to 40,000 years.
The greenish blue liquid helped take the edge off.
He missed the kick of whiskey or rum but he had long ago given up his attempts at finding a beverage that mimicked their post-swallow effects. Everything in these parts was always the perfect temperature, always smelled inviting and always went down smooth. The only thing you had to decide was what effect you wanted it to have after the seamless delivery.
By “these parts” I’m referring to anywhere outside of the Milky Way. Bill use to laugh at how insulted Iowa and Nebraska use to get over being called ‘fly-over country’… well, the Milky Way is often known as ‘a fly-through galaxy’. Earth was just a big ol’ Kansas floating in space. When there was an Earth.
There was an incident.
The truth was that everyone he had ever known was dead to him the minute he stepped foot into the cockpit of Venture 7. It had been conceived as a one-way trip from the beginning. He had, of course, volunteered for the mission. After he and Lindsey had broken up and the death of his parents there was nothing to keep him there. His friends had called it a ‘high-tech suicide’.
Truth was there was a big part of him that agreed.
So he was launched and it was estimated that he would arrive at his destination, a planet that seemed so much like Earth that he was told he could step right off the ship and catch some rays, in a short 22 years. He had even packed a cooler and suntan lotion.
In an example of how funny speed, time and distance can be in space, he was intercepted after only 5 years of travel by a spaceship launched from earth 5,000 years after he had taken off.
If you want to do the math on that feel free. Bill certainly never did.
Alien life and civilizations were surprisingly like he had been told they would be. Told by the science fiction writers of his day. Mostly carbon-based and a lot of them odd-looking as fuck. Violence and conflict was nearly unheard of as technology had removed most of the causes of friction.
So Bill floated (sometimes literally) through the cosmos from that point on, bouncing from the Silverado to the Omega Centauri, through the Norma Cluster and finally here to a little planet circling a large star in the Cigar Galaxy. Each jump through space putting another few hundred years between himself and the death of everybody he had ever known.
He sat in a perfectly comfortable chair and listened to the shit that passed itself off as music. He wasn’t even sure that it was supposed to be considered music as he knew it. It was supposed to act as some sort soundtrack to some sort of communal event, a way for sentient beings from countless planets across the universe to gather, drink and communicate. The walls were covered with inter-planetary bric-a-brac that gave it the appearance of an Applebees on acid. His fellow patrons gave the crowd from the bar scene in Star Wars a run for their money but nobody gave him a second look.
Bill heard about the final fate of Earth a few years back. Apparently a virus caused the dead to reanimate and suddenly the planet was crawling with the undead. The twist was that unlike how they had been imagined in literature for thousands of years the zombies were completely docile and spent their time just wandering aimlessly around. This caused a widespread WDWDAG (What Do We Do About Grandpa?) Syndrome which in turn created a very profitable Afterlife-Care industry. This in turn came to a sudden end when people found that cutting off the head of ol’ Grandpa saved them a lot of cash. Typical of humans, this started to bleed into the ‘not-quite-dead crowd and soon every nursing home was under assault. Just as it was getting a bit out of hand an enormous meteor slammed into Neptune, changing the planets orbit. This caused Earth to be violently wrenched from its own orbit and hurled unceremoniously into the depths of space.
A very limited number of ships made it off the planet by the time all life was extinguished.
He could have, at any time, spent time in a virtual representational of his old life. Pulled from his conscious and unconscious mind it would have been exactly as he remembered it. It could have even been better if he had wished.
He could spend an afternoon at the ballpark eating hot dogs, swishing down cold beers and watching his team win a close one any time he wanted.
He could even be the one hitting the game-winning home run.
He never bothered.
He had left that behind when he climbed into the capsule.
He had even made the decision not to procreate.
With only a few hundred homo sapiens scattered across the universe his DNA was in high demand. “Why bother?” He thought to himself. He had at least a few hundred good years left in his body.
Then he heard it.
Ramble On by Led Zepplin. Over the speaker system.
He had always hated Zepplin but suddenly the sound washed over him like a cool breeze. It was actually a coincidence of epic proportions, the odds that a human would actually be in the bar when a song from an extinct planet millions of light years away finally made its way into the ‘Party Shuffle’ of over 19 trillion musical selections.
(For the record there are only 2 Earth songs that made it into the galactic jukebox. The other was Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. Go figure)
Bill smiled and sang along the best he could, mangling the lyrics as he went. He considered looking around the crowded bar to see the reaction of ‘his’ song but figured it was pearls before swine. Why ruin the moment.
He thought briefly about crying and giving in to the grief that had to be there somewhere inside him.
He thought about getting sentimental and missing something about Earth or his former life.
“I’m a human damn it! I’m made of better stuff.”
Eventually the song faded and was replaced by the sound of a wind instrument that, unbeknownst to Bill, used the wind produced by the escaping methane of its player.
Procreation suddenly didn’t sound so bad.