The ground is still scarred from the launch – baked earth and glassy sand, blackened and skeletal trees. In the end, panicking, the ships took off from wherever they could. This used to be a park. On the edges of the scar the grass is straggling back, poisoned-yellow.

It would never have worked, of course, if there had been more than a few million of us left. There was plenty of space for me, if I’d wanted to go; we built to excess like we’ve always done, everything going into the ships so we could flee the wasted planet like the crime scene it was. We’d killed the birds, by that stage. The ships took the zoos’ stocks of DNA, but we won’t see a tiger again.

We couldn’t all have stayed – not enough air or water or food for even our tiny remnant of population. If the ships succeed it’s only because they made their rendezvous with the comet and stole its massive core of water ice. We had no ice left: the polar caps went decades ago.

The joke’s on them, though. Crammed into the metal hulls, they can’t be sure they’ll ever find a new home to vandalise, even if we deserved it. I, and the few dozen like me who stayed, have had it no harder; scant air and water, enough food to cover the time it took for the plants to re-grow from the piles of bones. But for us, now the skies are clear, the temperatures dropping; the other morning the rain was almost clean. The sparrows, hardiest of human-adapted birds, are back, just a few, but chirping cheerfully. Today, on the edge of the scar, a daisy has opened its yellow face to the sun.

I like this world a lot more with its people gone.

13 thoughts on “Gone”

    1. I’m glad you liked this, I worried people would find it a bit depressing. I think the idea is that space travel happened because it had to, everyone would have died otherwise, which is the kind of push that’s likely to overcome a lot of the current problems.

  1. Very groovy, and lovely writing, as usual.
    Kind of depressing, but cheery, if that makes any sense.

    Great casting of humans as villains, with
    > so we could flee the wasted planet like the crime scene it was
    > stole its massive core of water ice

    Typo at
    > for even the our tiny remnant

    The more upbeat ending was welcome, and
    > the other morning the rain was almost clean
    and the return of the sparrows offers a slightly warm sense of hope.

    1. Eek! you are perfectly correct, that was a typo. I hang my head in shame. Wait, no, I correct it, and then hang my head in shame. After I’ve finished typing this comment.

      I’m interested that you find the clean rain and sparrows the most memorable image of hope. For me, the fic clicked into place with the daisy.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this and didn’t find it at all depressing. Certainly, there is an apocalyptic edge, the guilt about what we have done to the planet and the animals that we have permanently destroyed. But we didn’t live through that in this story. For me this story was about the beginnings of new hope and a brave new world, which means that we didn’t completely destroy everything and that a newer and better civilisation is possible. Everything is getting better and better, the huge population crush is gone and there is now space and possibility. It felt almost like a beginnings of a kind of utopia. I was completely identifying with the voice that was left behind and not at all with the hordes packed into space ships.

    I really loved some of the language: the crime scene and comet sections like comovedy, the coldness of the destruction descriptions, e.g., “We’d killed the birds, by that stage. The ships took the zoos’ stocks of DNA, but we won’t see a tiger again.”

    A small niggle from third reading: I’m not sure about the timing. If there is still a scar from take off then the ships must have left relatively recently, and recovery (in the form of grass growing on the scar’s edge, daisy and sparrow) seems too fast. But that doesn’t interfere with the impact of the story at all. Thanks.

    1. Very glad you enjoyed it :>. It’s not as positive as all that, though; if you think through the implications, a “few dozen” staying behind are not going to be enough to start a brave new anything. I see them dying off in a generation or two – when I say “gone”, I really mean it. I’m nasty that way.

      Valid point re the regeneration time of the scar – I saw it as being poisoned as well as burned, probably radioactive, hence the length of time, but you’re right, it doesn’t come through at all clearly from the writing.

  3. I didn’t think through the implications of “a few dozen”, but still find it positive for those who are left. I’ve never been one for considering the ability of the human race to reproduce and continue on into the future as a particularly positive thing :-) So, living out my days with a few like-minded souls while watching the planet we nearly destroyed come back to life seems a pretty good life to me (especially compared to being stuck in a metal ship for years).

  4. Well, yes, that’s exactly how I saw it, I’m glad I’m not alone in a somewhat self-limiting idea of “utopia”… :>.

    You know what they’d do, of course. The ships would all come back after fifty years, having not found another planet, and would proceed to royally re-stuff-up the regenerated Earth. Sigh.

  5. I really enjoyed the peaceful utopian vibes – I don’t see this as dark at all. The darkness is in the past history and the narrator seems very pleased with the outcomes of her decisions.

    I like the division that the narrator seems to make between herself and the ‘stay-behinders’ values and those of the rest of humanity.

    I’m not sure I like the sentences where this is made ambiguous, eg ‘*they* can’t be sure they’ll ever find a new home to vandalise, even if *we* deserved it’.

    Also found the ‘we’ve killed all the birds’ at the beginning and the ‘sparrows’ at the end a bit confusing.

    1. Interesting comments, thank you! you make me realise that in fact the confusion in values is perfectly deliberate – the narrator is both different to those who have left, and extremely conscious of guilt and complicity in the destruction of the Earth. However much you hate what humanity does as a whole, you’re still human, so no condemnation can be free of guilt. But I don’t think, yet again, that the 250 words is enough space to make this work.

      Fortunately, we were wrong in thinking we’d killed the birds, there were clearly still little pockets somewhere.

      Thinking over this scenario, it’s really not realistic, more (once again) emblematic: if realistic in any sense, there really must have been some ridiculous politics behind the decision to leave. I cannot imagine that any other planet whatsoever can offer fewer challenges to colonising than our own, however stuffed up.

  6. Some great writing here, with bits that I really enjoy. For instance, I like this jump to detail in the first paragraph:
    > This used to be a park. On the edges of the scar the grass is
    > straggling back, poisoned-yellow.
    I find it very evocative, more so than I think straight narration would have been. Ditto for the daisy opening to the sun at the very end.

    > We had no ice left: the polar caps went decades ago.
    I wondered about the tense. Shouldn’t it maybe be, “We have no ice left”? “Had” seems to imply that something has changed — that state of affairs is over, and ice has returned. But then maybe it has. But I’m just being picky.

    > temperatures
    I think should be “temperature’s” or “temperature is”.

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. I was a bit unsure about this one. Your confusions about tense noted, I think it’s part of the same duality elementalsystems picked up on – staying versus going, being part of the human race versus feeling differently, and past and present blur a little. FWIW, yes, I think the ice caps are slowly returning.

      I disagree, however, on “temperatures”. “Now the skies are clear, the temperatures dropping” isn’t a misplaced contraction, it’s an elided verb construction in which temperatures are definitely plural. Its sense is actually “now the skies are clear, the temperatures [are] dropping”, I’ve just left out the second “are” for purposes of euphony. The omission is probably a highly technical grammatical construction with its own polysyllabic Greek name, such as I am totally abysmal at remembering even if it did happen to exist.

      1. I see what you mean with “temperatures”. It actually works for me when I substitute another word: “now the skies are clear, the cats dropping” (totally different image, though 😛 ). Somehow “temperatures” still refuses to sound right to me, but that’s probably a personal foible on my part.

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