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The Last Man to Die.

By: David Wildsmith.

“Ahhh, Jesus...!”
The fog of morning gave way and the disappointing reality of a new day cracked over Newton Hamilton’s old face like a rotten egg. Ambient, soft symphonies began to play from somewhere in the bedroom. “Snooze, god damn it, snooze.”
“You cancelled snooze. Happy Birthday, you have four hundred and twenty five new messages.”
“Piss off, Jackson! Cue voice: Sandra Washington!” A subtle hum and the previously charismatic, male voice changed to a very sultry, automated, English woman, “You’ve cancelled snooze, darling. Happy Birthday, you have four hundred and twenty five wonderful, new messages waiting for you.” Newton sat up with a dejected struggle, his legs hanging down to the floor. He was already tired.

“I think you’ll be excited to see this, Newtie” promoted Sandra. A holographic screen leapt up out of the base of the bed-end and began showing today’s news. “Mr Newton Hamilton, ‘The Last Man to Die’, turns seventy-eight today. The world awaits…” The view screen showed a sequence of short video clips from around the city; people lighting candles on birthday cakes in the shape of coffins, people wearing t-shirts with Newton’s face underscored by a variety a black humour one-liners and a small crowd outside his building singing happy birthday. As the newsreader finished the article, Newton’s face appeared onscreen.

“That photo was from my 50th birthday, ridiculous.” Out of habit Newton placed his hand in a bedside receptacle and was immediately informed, amongst other things, that he was dehydrated, probably from consuming too much alcohol the previous night, his blood pressure was lower than acceptable norms meaning he shouldn’t stand for fifteen minutes and after taking his medication he should probably seek medical advice. “Bah!” Newton disagreed and stood up.

When he came to, several hours later, the television was still playing various downloaded reports about him from across the global media. He was about to turn it off when celebrity newsreader Sandra Washington appeared on the screen. He liked Sandra Washington. The real Sandra Washington. “New-European and fifteen minutes of famer, Newton Hamilton, ‘The Last Man to Die’, turned seventy eight today. After shooting to stardom three years ago as the last surviving g-mod-H intolerant human alive, the world has been watching how this man is spending his final years. Legally forced to spend his retirement in a sealed, virus and germ free apartment, so that he has the same protection as the inoculated population, he has largely shunned any fame afforded him. And whilst the rest of the world becomes increasingly health and safety conscious, perhaps the most fragile man on the planet continues to flaunt his mortality with alcoholic and chemical excesses. Will this be his last year on earth? We talk with him in an exclusive Knowledge-Channel interview at ten.” Newton winced, picked himself up from the floor and headed for the shower.

The apartment was a glorious tip of the hat to the money his ridiculous fame had afforded him. Meticulously clean and with all the modern conveniences a home of the 2040’s could wish for, Newton now spent his retirement in luxury. Libertarians had argued his apartment was more like a prison than a measure of safety, but Newton had grown fond of the seclusion. The view over the city’s park was spectacular and broken only infrequently by the passing of the ‘Snayle’, an automated window cleaning unit that moved like it’s namesake over the building’s glass surface. The services were second to none with a broad range of entertainment and supplies being shuttled into his room daily by the building attendant. As a man with no family, work or social life he had not had reason to miss the outside world since moving there two years ago and in trying to avoid his fame, this had suited him just fine.

The large quota of messages on his answering service were mostly adverts and media outlets inviting him to speak with them in the subsequent days after the Knowledge-Channel had finished wringing him dry of the exclusivity rights they had so generously paid for. Despite his total contempt for what he saw as mindless drivel Newton still had a fond relationship with their money and therefore, agreed to several interviews over the following week. “That concludes your current messages, Newtie. You have half an hour before your interview with Sandra Washington on the wonderful Knowledge-Channel.” Newton paused. Hearing Sandra’s voice talk about the real Sandra Washington ruined the illusion. He contemplated switching the voice to another celebrity setting before distracting himself with a 9.30am cigarette and a pint of milk to see off his hangover. He wanted to be suitably ready for the real Sandra at ten.

“So how did you feel when the second last g-mod-H intolerant, Mrs Rhodes, passed away, I mean it was instant fame?” The interview, or was it the nine-thirty drink, wasn’t as enjoyable as he’d hoped.
“Umm, I really didn’t have an opinion. Life just moved on as usual.”
“Life as usual you say.” A slightly disingenuous laugh, “But whilst the rest of the world’s population was vaccinated against the effects of aging and all it’s diseases you weren’t able to take the same precautions. You were laid bare against the ravages of time that we saw our ancestors fall prey to. Something the modern human has grown almost to fear, something that mystifies our children. Surely this was an extraordinary situation to be left in?” Newton felt like Sandra was now working on her own self-indulgent sound bites. Hearing the closed question he pounced in the most unhelpful way he could, “No.” Sandra rattled off a few more overly ornate tapestries of wordage and called close to the interview, promising to “chat more soon.”

“Is that it?” Newton queried. It was 10.11am on his seventy-eighth birthday. The world was waiting for him to die and he would gladly indulge them if fate agreed. The Knowledge-Channel was selling soft drink with his face on it. He lit a cigarette and revelled in the fact that this very activity was illegal in all three federations and two republics. He was old, bored and longed for the peace anonymity had once smothered him with. There appeared to be no other choice. He took his medication, had a light snack, briefly fought with the milk dispenser and went back to bed. That was enough birthday for one year.

“Ahhh, crap…!”
Newton Hamilton opened his eyes and then opened them a little wider than usual. “I slept through?” he thought as the lovely symphonies, designed to gently welcome one back to consciousness, began to play. Automated Sandra began to speak, “Four…”
“…trillion messages from needy, bullshit, Sat-Cast journalists, yeah, yeah. Oh man.”, Newton grumbled. Sandra started again, “Four wonderful new messages are waiting for you, Newtie.”
“Four?” Newton sat up and put his hand in the bedside receptacle.
“Would you like to hear them now or after break…”
“Yeah, now?” The messages played. Every one was an advert for insurance companies asking ridiculous questions, as if they didn’t know the answer, “Are you a man aged seventy to eighty?” Newton, surprised by his own sudden lack of public attention, ignored his bedside-manner unit, stood from his bedside and went for a shower.

“Four messages? What’s the time, where are the rest?” Newton puzzled returning from the bathroom. “8.11am, you have no more messages. Were you expecting more?”
“Four hundred and twenty five one day, four the next. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
“I think that question falls outside of my operational skills set, Newtie.”
“I can’t believe I’m upset to have no messages. Might as well have some breakfast.” Newton, quickly gaining cheer with the prospect that he might no longer be trendy, news fodder walked through to his kitchen. The milk dispenser coughed and spat whilst struggling to fill his cereal bowl before he gave up with it and turned to take in the view of the park.

He stood silent, agape, a dessert spoon balanced in his left hand. Newton pondered what he knew of the seasons, his potential to be absent minded because of his advanced years, whether he had drank too much or slept too little. Confident that he was in command of all of his faculties Newton said, “Cue windows: zero tint.” An acknowledging hum and nothing changed. “It’s summer, yeah?”
“June 16th” the house answered.
“Why is the park brown?”

An hour later, Newton sat in front of a view screen in the living room. “…in fact there are no significant changes that we’ve been able to uncover at all, Sandra. It appears that all plant-life has just spontaneously died.” An expert botanist crushed a hand full of leaves in his hand to emphasise his point and Sandra Washington appeared back on screen performing her sad, yet perplexed face. “This worldwide, overnight die-out has many groups prophesising the end of all life. Dennis Sullivan, Central.”

“Yes Sandra, despite calls for calm from the United Federation of Governments, the Psuedoscientologists have released a statement today claiming that there is a conspiracy within that very federation. A conspiracy aimed at addressing our spiralling population crisis in the advent of the zero-age death generation. Other people pondering the crisis are asking where will all our next breath of air come from and could we have fallen into the same fate as the dinosaurs? Dennis Sullivan, Central.”

Newton looked back out of his window at the tobacco brown park that just yesterday had looked like an emerald forest. Traffic, flanked by an alarming police presence, moved keenly around the gardens. “Well I can see why I’m out of favour.” he muttered under his breath before something in his very own apartment caught his eye. A pair of leafy green ficus’ bordered the arch to the hallway.
“Are they real?” he pointed, the house researched, Sandra responded,
“They were purchased from Hazel’s Nursery for sixty thousand each on the 14th of January 2047.”
“Why aren’t they dead?”
“I think that question falls outside of my operational skills set, Newtie.”
“I really need to make some friends.” The Sat-Link began to ring.

“Hi Newt, it’s Peter.” Peter Bond was the building’s service attendant.
“What the hell’s going on out there?”
“The plants thing?”
“Yeah, it’s incredible.”
“Nah, it’ll blow over, they’ll sort it out.”
“Uh huh.” Newton looked suspiciously at his Ficus’, “Why are my Ficus’ alive?”
“Pardon?”
“My indoor trees. If every other plant is dead, why not them too?”
“It’s a sealed building Newt, no wild air. I bet whatever’s killed the plants hasn’t been able to get to your trees. I don’t know? Anyway, just checking in to see if you need anything?” Peter’s voice hushed to a whisper, “I have some more cigarettes coming in next week…”
“Ahh….my milk dispenser!”
“Oh yeah, I need to refill and trim the lines. I’ve got to service the ‘Snayle’ today, so I’ll be out on the windows, you’ll be OK till the morning?”
The Sat-Link blinked off. “Yeah…” Newton sounded unconvincing as he looked at the ficus’ and lit a cigarette.

“Ohhh…oh my shoulder!”
Newton looked straight up at the ceiling from his bed as the soft symphonies introduced him to another day. “Good morning, Newtie…”
“I think I don’t like you so much anymore, Sandra”
“…you have no messages to attend to at this time. However, it is a wonderful day outside the building, eighteen degrees.”
“The press will call soon enough to ruin it, I’m sure. What madness is on the news this morning?”
“I think that question falls outside of my operational skills set, Newtie.” Newton sighed,
“Could you turn the Sat-Cast on?”
“I think that question falls outside of my operational skills set, Newtie.”
“Sat-Cast? Cue Sat-Cast: On”
“I think that request falls outside of my operational skills set, Newtie.”
“Why?”
“There are no channels currently being broadcast.”

Newton didn’t have his shower that morning. Instead he hobbled into the living room, past two finely presented ficus trees and up towards the window in the kitchen. Whilst the dispenser trickled barely a mouthful of milk into his glass, he stared out of his window. Of all the mornings to do so, the metal frame of the ‘Snayle’ window cleaner partially blocked his view as he looked over towards the park. The tobacco dry leaves had started to blow across the surrounding park roads. Roads filled with stationary cars. Stationary cars curtained by littered pavements, pavements that were littered with lifeless, uniformed human bodies. Newton’s gaze froze into a day dream stare even as the ‘Snayle’ continued it’s methodical, preset crawl across his view.

To his horror, the automated window cleaning unit had moved a full thirty centimetres across his fixed stare and before he realised he was looking directly into the expressionless face of Peter Bond, the building’s service attendant. Peter lay motionless on the gantry, a catatonic glaze, barely inches from his own. Newton began to mouth the words of a question. He tried to overcome his dread, provoke a response from the house and have any voice bring him back to some sense of composure. A newspaper tucked under Peter’s toolbox flapped in the wind. Newton looked at the teasing headline, “Last Man to Die turns 78!” He looked down at the glass in his hand, to nobody at all he muttered, “…its half empty.”