nother short story (sorry about this) while I lubber through Infinite Jest. Again, a short story about the end of the world, this time from the sun going nova.
So, in The Custodian, we learn through backstory that humanity has learned that the sun would be going nova in a century and that two beliefs were formed – Custodians, who thought we should preserve what we could and try to get those who wished to leave left. And the Affirmers, who believe that everyone goes, nobody stays, and that to make this happen, everything (and I mean everything) must be left behind. Our narrator is the last of the Custodians, who figured how to escape detection from the sensors left behind. He would prefer to visit the great sites of Earth, to glorify in its wonders and achievements, to savor our true humanity. And this he is happy to do. Of course, he visits one of the launching fields where the Earthers departed in their packed, utilitarian ships – the field is littered with dolls and toys and mementos the space refugees hoped to take with them but were forced to discard.
To not dwell on this, he orders robots to clean the site while he visits the great sites of Earth. This is contentment, he wagers. This is all a man of thought needs. But every so often, he gets a flicker on his detection machines – could another human be left behind? Finally he locates the firefly signal, tracing it down to the Eastern Appalachians. There he finds a cave with people who had rigged up their own shields to mask them but the device had faulted, exploded, and killed them all. And among the corpses, he finds a baby boy.
This he hadn’t planned for. This he didn’t want. He tries to set the robots up to take care of the child but it will only eat when fed by him. And to spare travel time, he takes the infant with him on his travels. Now, the sun overhead is flashing green – the sign that the nova is eminent. And suddenly there is more to this last Custodian than the art, the music, and the accomplishments of humans.
So a great story. If you’d like to read it for yourself, you can find it HERE – it’s only the work of an hour or two. I think you’ll like it. I sure did.