The Last Scientist

by: Chris Thompson

The table is set for the the continuing tales of….’The Last Scientist’…..

Our tale begins in the declining years of the universe, on a star-thinned arm of a once vivid red-blue galaxy, now darkened and fading into emptiness. Within this realm exists a grey, wobbly planet, benign and ordinary, yet still clinging precariously to life as it orbits a dying star. Long ago abandoned by its inhabitants, who fled the encroaching coldness and sought refuge in the relative warmth of the galaxy’s core, the planet is a ghost orbiting silently about its fading sun. And it is on this world, within a once magnificent city, on the highest floor of a crumbling research facility, that there stands a scientist.

He is cultured and well-read, scholarly and academic, as if cast from the mold of a child’s imagination. Aged and with a long snowy beard, his horn-rimmed spectacles perch precariously, neglected and askew, on the southern tip of his wrinkled bulbous nose. His eyes are piercing, betraying his vast intellect, and yet radiating a childlike spirit. Quietly there he stands, rigid and determined, peering out from a grimy, long unwashed window upon the derelict city and contemplating the course of his existence.

After many long moments, The Scientist’s meditations are interrupted by the chiming of his pulse centrifuge. It is a curious machine, invented long before he was born and improved upon countless times until perfected. With a pleasing, almost rhythmic purr, the instrument calls to him, announcing warmly that his latest spin is complete. Rousing himself promptly from his musings, The Scientist walks to the machine and caresses it, gently touching the contacts that control its lid. The machine responds to his touch as if alive, vibrating faintly, and with a groan of equalizing pressures and a discharge of liquid-chilled air, the heavy lid slowly opens. It rises noisily on great mechanical gears, its rusting metal teeth protesting noisily as they mesh together, turning faithfully to expose the insides of the once new but now antiquated machine.

The Scientist leans into the instrument, its cavernous maw swallowing his frail-looking arms, and carefully removes six delicate glass vials, their vaporous liquids roiling in a frenzied display of color and light. He sets the samples down on his workbench, allowing them a momentary rest, and then adds a measured amount of an odd, faintly glowing green liquid to each. Retuning to the machine, The Scientist reaches inside, deeply this time, his arms swallowed up to his shoulders by the machinery, and places the six vials back into the pulse centrifuges empty slots. Closing the lid securely, he lets his fingers dance over the controls, eliciting a friendly chirp from the machine, and enters from memory the parameters of the next spin. With a protesting whine the machine rapidly picks up speed, its rotors expanding into countless dimensions and causing the hum to rise sharply in crescendo, until the noise disappears as it surpasses the limits of perception.

Standing in front of his desk The Scientist looks down and checks his notes, confirming out of routine and prudence, that his settings for the pulse centrifuge were correct. To him this is no ordinary spin. To The Scientist this is to be the Last Spin. The Last Spin in all definitions of the word because there is nothing else left to discover. Nothing else left to study. No more questions to ask. Holding this thought centrally in his mind The Scientist returns to his perch in front of the window, stroking his beard rhythmically and awaiting the results of this the Last Experiment. For that truly is what this is, a final question that needs answering.

In the millions of years that The Scientists race existed they tirelessly pursued answers to every imaginable question. With an infinite vigor and a fanatical zeal, his people boldly set out to discover everything about their existence in the universe. There was no question that was too big or too small for his people to ask as they all had answers.  And through careful experimentation and testing they would attain those answers, every one of them. It became his peoples only focus and they threw the resources of a race behind it, elevated its process to a religion, making its scientists priests, the questions scripture and the answers gods. And now, with the completion of this spin, The Scientist will have the answer to his life’s work, built upon by the experiments of thousands of scientists before him and thousands of scientists more before them. The answer to his question would lay the final piece and complete the great puzzle started by his race so many eons ago.

Looking out the window of his lab, The Scientist watches in the half-light of the planets failing sun as a herd of tiger-deer graze on the tall grass growing in the cracks of the long abandoned avenues. To him, they exist in apparent harmony with the universe, unaware of their status. They cannot comprehend that the cosmos are in decline. Cannot understand that The Great Heat Death’s rattle is sounding across the universe. That Entropy has finally won. Their ambivalence to their fate pleases The Scientist. ‘What good are answers when there is not a universe to consider them in anymore?” he ponders out loud. And as he silently watches out the window, a strong wind picks up, blowing the debris of the long deserted city throughout the streets and startling the foraging herd of tiger-deer with its raucous clatter. As the herd scatters, a pair of wildebears materializes from the squat ruins of a crumbling wall. They leap into the air, their powerful jaws snapping, and massive claws thrashing throughout the herd but they come away empty. The Scientist smiles slightly at the great beasts misfortune and watches inquisitively as they wander off dolefully into the city’s ruins.

With a whine and a beep the pulse centrifuge announces the end of its cycle. Sensing The Scientists distraction, it sets the lid opening to automatic and enters a stand-by mode, purring rhythmically as it waits for him to retrieve his samples. Having lost sight of the wildebears The Scientist returns to the centrifuge. Reaching in, he removes his vials and holds them up to the slowly fading light coming from the window, marveling at their existence. “Ahhhhhh.” he says, with a sense of understanding that seems to emanate from somewhere deep within his body. He delicately lowers the vials, placing them on his workbench and turns to his notebook, making a careful notation of the results. He suddenly feels saddened that no one will ever read them. After a moment with that thought he closes his notebook and places it on the shelf above him, the last in a long line stretching across the room. The Scientists notebooks chronicle a lifetime of careful experimentation–his experimentation–and yet they simultaneously represent the efforts of a race realized. There is power in that duality and it soothes The Scientist’s lonely mind.

His life’s work complete, The Scientist sets about unhooking the power supply for his lab. Slowly he kneels down and disengages the small thermo generator at his feet, plunging the lab into semi-darkness. In the half-light of the setting sun, he takes in his surroundings one last time, lingering on nothing in particular. Noiselessly he opens the door to his lab and proceeds down the yellowing hallway to the grav-chute. A car lies there awaiting him, dim and with its doors open and The Scientist plugs in the thermo generator, powering the grav-chute for the descent down to the ground floor. When the grav-chute arrives, it opens with a chime, announcing to a moldering and water-stained lobby its availability. The Scientist abandons the thermo generator and walks out the towering glass doors of the building into the street below. As he turns a corner he is startled by the two wildebears coming up the street, a pained looked of hungry determination in their eyes.

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