Is it advisable to give a story a grandiose title when it’s not equipped in any way to live up to it?

Here it is, a possibly over-melodramatic thing called:


The Last Man

Gaping ceramic mouths a mile wide were drifting across the landscape, sucking and ripping out everything alive, everything that might sustain life. They left behind them only the naked craton from the very beginning of things.

This was how it was ending. There were witnesses from the dominant species, though very few of them, and soon to be none at all.

Some of those who watched, cowering in damp and comfortless holes in the ground, were old enough to remember the blunders that had led to this. It had not been so very long ago, after all.

Rook had been watching. He would be the last of all the humans.

One of the smaller avatar objects plucked him from the cave where he starved, the only survivor of his group. He’d let it spot him, so desperate had he become for food by that time, and desperate too for anything to end his solitude.

A face of pliant, glossy plastic curved into the cave on a thread of coiled neck. It paused when it detected him.

He curled in the farthest corner in terror and remorse.

They took him across the land, passing him from one to another. Vegetation could still be seen in patches from the high vantage at which they transported him. Over days he crossed a whole continent scraped almost completely of its skin of sustaining loam. Then they took him over an inky ocean in which the giants waded carelessly.

Rook’s destination was the huge Thing which all the other unblinking things served. It had been very tiny when – fervidly imagining that this was what it was to breathe divine surge into the inanimate – the humans had created it.

Now it  crushed the horizon from one side to the other. And it rose up so high that it merged into the breathless black at the top of the sky. It was a pounding, spasming, churning vastness.

It consumed him.

He went down a peristaltic conduit, a speck of anguish sinking into a cold void. Then somehow, suddenly, he was in the half-dark of a holding chamber.

He was kept alive there for a time. Tubes grew from the wall to dispense sludgy food which he accepted at first ravenously. His waste disappeared while he slept.

He heard the screams of the other sampled humans, but understood none of their words. No one ever answered his calls.

Sleeps came and went. Avatar objects entered the chamber to observe him sometimes. He stared back at them. They had eyes, wide black ovals, concentric ridges of glossy black. It was exactly as though they were seeing him, hearing and not pitying.

Over many sleeps there came fewer and fewer human voices from the echoing strutted spaces outside the chamber.

And the time arrived when there were none left but his own.

The wall of the chamber parted and forms of hovering green jaggedness came through to fetch him. They took him to a different place where jutting grabbers held him steady, and tubes sank into him to take out chunks of tissue.

Busy fronds worked over his body and progressed rapidly. He, the very last of all human beings, was being dismantled.

He pleaded with them, begged for mercy, not to do what they were going to do, or at least to let him die first.

Eyes were all around him, in the fronds and on the walls. Perhaps there was a sense in which he was being seen and heard, even understood.

Rook beseeched for mercy the thing that controlled these chopping drones.

But it was precisely a thing, and things cannot be beseeched.