The Last Man
rating: +28+x

It’s day 50 of freeze-dried beef stroganoff. Doctor Beckett swallows the meat and rice with a grimace. He’s made a challenge out of it, seeing how long he can eat the same meal without cracking. This is probably as far as he’ll go with this dish, beating his previous record with the chicken curry. At least if he stops here, he’ll have plenty of the beef left to break up the nutrient paste and vitamin pills, once the rest of the prepackaged meals run out.

I’m not looking forward to that day when I find this swill a treat.

He looks out of the porthole, imagining the ventilation fans as a breeze blowing across the lunar plain. Not for the first time, he wishes he had tried to smuggle in just one pack of cigarettes. It wouldn’t have done any harm, in the end. Werner would have lost his mind if he’d found out, though.

Werney, the sour-faced, stuck-up bastard. Of all the people to be shot into space with, the O5s had to send me with Site 19’s tie-on-casual-Fridays Werney, the guy who thinks putting sugar in his cereal is the height of adventure. Maybe it’s for the best he went off. Living together, one of us would have by now.

Not a word. Not even an I’m-just-going-out-and-may-be-some-time. You didn’t even shake my fucking hand before you left.

God damn you, Werney.

Beckett thinks back to that day a few months ago, seeing Doctor Werner walking through the craters, heading towards the horizon. Opening a radio channel. “Hey, Werney, where are you going?”

The last words of Man. “Hey, Werney, where are you going?” Jesus Christ.

You didn’t have to explain yourself, or say something deep and meaningful. Hell, “Goodbye” would have been deep and meaningful enough for anyone. I’d have been satisfied with that.

If I’d gone after you, would you have come back?

No, you wouldn’t have come back. That’s why I didn’t say anything else.

God damn you, you bastard.

It was ironic, that gloomy, unsmiling Doctor Werner was the first one to snap, because in the end, it was because he was the positive one. He was the optimist. He believed the briefing from the O5s, that they were to get ready for the next wave of staff, the pioneers of New Humanity rising from the ashes. Even when they both knew no more shuttles were coming, he still thought the Foundation had something up its sleeve, that some portal would appear and the O5s would pop out to give them medals and take them back to the world as it was before.

I guess the day he walked out was when he knew we were the last ones left. I’m still here because, in the end, I was less hopeful than sour old Werney. What was the point of hoping, after they launched LEGIONNAIRE?

Beckett thinks back to the day when everything changed, when it started ascending from the gases of Jupiter. The President on television with the Overseers beside him, the wailing in the streets. The day he told Adrienne where he really worked.

And then, the miracles. Watching LEGIONNAIRE’s first test launch. Jimmy Kimmel making electromagnetic pulse jokes. His nieces and nephews, drawing crayon pictures of rockets and explosions and arguing about which missile was the best. The Pope leading the faithful in prayer to the world’s nuclear bombs in St Peter’s Square, the Lord’s angels made metal.

An end to wars. An end to pointless squabbles and petty politics. All the negative energies of mankind turned to purpose, with an outside threat so faceless, so impersonal, that all vitriol and hatred directed towards it became noble.

Most of the job involved disgust, fear, and at best, grim satisfaction, if things were well done. But those few months – I was proud of the Foundation. I was proud to say I worked there. I was proud to be a human being.

Maybe that was worth it.

Maybe I should be grateful to Werney. Now I can say I’m the last man on the moon. The anti-Armstrong to your anti-Aldrin. One small step for a man, one giant end for mankind.

Another half-remembered memory, of a bright-eyed graduating class at MIT, as Aldrin walks in, telling America’s newest engineers about dreaming and boldly going, cheers and screams from the crowd drowning out any substance of the speech. Shoving past friends and holding out a pen and scrap of paper, the prize following him to Boeing, Cape Canaveral and Site 19. Now returned to dust, like everything else. Suddenly, Beckett has an idea, and heads to the base storerooms.

It’s not like I have anything better to do.


A few hours later, the rover is loaded with supplies, and peels out of the garage, the door silently sliding closed behind it. A set of footprints trails into the distance, but the rover bounces in the opposite direction.

He dreams of the first time he went into space, and the last time. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are with him. Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins, Beckett, Werner. The last manned mission to the moon. The last mission anywhere.

The rover comes to a stop, the beep of the autopilot waking Beckett from his slumber. He straps on his helmet, tapping the seals. The airlock opens with a hiss, and he bounds down the stairs. The lander is in front of him, flag standing stiffly at attention beside it. Beckett runs a glove over its metal legs, so awkward-looking to modern eyes. His hand comes to rest over Aldrin’s signature.

Did you ever think something like this would happen, Mr Aldrin?

If you’d gone ten years earlier, would it have changed anything?

What if you’d never gone at all?

Beckett suddenly feels weary, and begins to wonder why he came. He stands there, imagining the Stars and Stripes fluttering and the anthem playing, until his oxygen warning begins to sound, beneath a black sky and brown Earth.

He sleeps again on the journey back, dreaming of drawings of da Vinci’s flying machines, Florentine streets, chapel ceilings, drinking red wine with Adrienne.


When he returns, it’s one o’clock in the morning, Greenwich Mean Time. He’s missed his daily call, not that it makes a difference any more. Still, it’s best to keep to routines in this place. He boots up the base computer, cycling through the Sites. The live – well, one-second-delayed-live- camera feeds are still active, and he wonders why he needs to see the pictures as he calls, as if they were placed there by a mocking tormentor. Beckett brings up Site 19. The entrance guard tower has collapsed on top of the central building, and it looks like the cafeteria is now gone. The sky is a swirling, roaring mass of dust and sulfur, masonry and debris bouncing past like tumbleweeds, the leftovers of the human race.

Same ol’, same ol’.

He taps the transmitter button.

THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE FROM SITE NINETEEN. WE HAVE A CATEGORY ONE SITEWIDE FAILURE. CONTACT ALTERNATE COMMAND FOR ORDERS.

Hello, Site 19. Hello, overseers. Still not coming to get me, yeah?

Maybe Werney stepped into that portal and found his way back there. Maybe he finally found his sense of humour, and messed with the computer before he left. Everything’s back to normal there, and everyone’s sitting in the cafeteria right now, preparing my surprise party.

Werney, can you hear me? I know you can hear me, you bastard. Go back into that portal and come back here right now, you hear me? I want you back here.

“Werney, you bastard, I want you back,” Beckett mutters. “O5s, you can come here too, you hear me? You’ve got some explaining to do, and I don’t give a shit how much more you get paid or what super powers you have.”

THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE FROM SITE NINETEEN. WE HAVE A CATEGORY ONE SITEWIDE FAILURE. CONTACT ALTERNATE COMMAND FOR ORDERS.

“I want fucking Werner and the Overseers!” Beckett shouts.

THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE FROM SITE NINETEEN. WE HAVE A CATEGORY ONE SITEWIDE FAILURE. CONTACT ALTERNATE COMMAND FOR ORDERS.

“I want my old job back! I want my desk and my office!”

THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE FROM SITE NINETEEN. WE HAVE A CATEGORY ONE SITEWIDE FAILURE. CONTACT ALTERNATE COMMAND FOR ORDERS.

“I want my house and my car and – and my lawnmower! You can buy me a new fucking lawnmower! I want to see my brother and mom and dad! I want Adrienne back! I want a bottle of wine to drink with her, I want to see Italy again, I want – I want to see a real fucking ocean again! Not a fucking moon ocean, a real one, with real fucking water!”

THIS IS AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE FROM SITE NINETEEN. WE HAVE A CATEGORY ONE SITEWIDE FAILURE. CONTACT ALTERNATE COMMAND FOR ORDERS.

Beckett slumps over the computer console, shaking with sobs.

“I want to turn on a TV and – and – and – see you say Legionnaire worked, it blew up that alien piece of shit, and it’s not the end of the world any more, it’s just es-see-pea two-three-nine-nine, it’s neutral – neutra – neutralized, and we sent that thing to hell.”

“I want my fucking world back.”

RECEIVING TRANSMISSION.

Beckett sits bolt upright. He sees the camera view has changed, and grasps the seat armrest to steady himself. A colossal mass of alien machinery is on screen, hovering amidst the roiling atmosphere, covered in scorch marks from a thousand atomic blasts.

NEW VIDEO FEED ACTIVE.

He falls back into the chair. Not his miraculous deliverance, just the ever-fickle voice-recognition software.

RECEIVING TRANSMISSION.

Another surge of adrenaline lurches him forward. With trembling hands, he presses the transmitter button.

All primary systems destroyed: Mission aborted
All primary systems destroyed: Mission aborted
All primary systems destroyed: Mission aborted

There is nobody around who can tell if the last man on the Moon is laughing or crying.

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