This is a work in progress feedback is welcome.
The Last Child
The stars seemed to be shining brighter than ever they had before. Every night they seemed more dim and distant. There were not many stars left in the sky anymore, or at least that’s what Toyvo’s grandparents had always told him. Grand tales of what life was like back where they grew up, where plants grew without electric lights, and the sky would turn blue for hours each day. Toyvo had never seen a blue sky or a sun rise. All he had ever known was a dark barren world covered in soft white volcanic ash.
Now was one of those rare moments when the ash wasn’t falling from the sky and it was safe to breath outside. Toyvo loved stargazing and on the rare occasion that the sky was clear he would spend the entire time laying in the soft ash staring at the dim twinkling stars. He knew the name of every star, there were so few of them left, in the sky. He knew which stars had burned out, and could tell you which ones were close to it. He could even point out where the planet his parents were born used to be. The sun in that system had gone out 20 years ago, but the light from that star was still visible.
“Toy... Toyvo,” shouted Toyvo’s grandmother from the front door of the bunker they called home. “Dinner’s ready.”
Toyvo’s grandmother watched her grandson stand up and brush the white ash off of his clothes. Watching him walk through the ash back to the bunker she could not help but think about the past. It has been 6 years since her daughter and son in law had disappeared, leaving her to raise their son. She couldn’t blame them for this. She knew it was a possibility when she agreed to follow them to this desolate planet. If she had not come with them she would most likely be dead now and Toyvo would have no one. The emotions welling up inside. She had a difficult time keeping them from showing on her face.
“Is everything alright, Gamma?” Toyvo asked his grandmother. When he was young he had a difficult time pronouncing grandma and the mispronounced name stuck.
“We’ll talk about it over dinner, Toy. Now, go wash up, you’re covered in soot,” she responded without breaking her half hearted smile. She listened as Toyvo clamoured down the metal stairs down to the main level of the bunker. She took a moment to take a long look at the stars, at her home. She had lived out there. The star that her home orbited was still visible though the star had gone supernova years ago and destroyed the planet she had grown up on. Everything was dying every world was going out. That is why she was here. The bunker they called home was built as a research facility to study ways humanity could survive the heat death of the universe. This really was the end of all things and as far as she knew Toyvo would be the last living person in the end. Toyvo’s parents were the foremost researchers into alternate realities and multiverse theory. Few people believed them when they said they could travel between realities, but they got enough support to build this facility. Now it was just a home for an old woman and her grandson. Gamma turned away from the sky and closed the door behind her as she entered the bunker.
The dim orange glow of the electric lights in the bunker gave a warm feeling to the otherwise cold barren walls. Even the collected art and artifacts his parents had collected were not enough to make it an inviting place. The narrow metal halls seemed to stretch on forever, only ending with stairs that go ever downward. The upper most level was the most homely and decorated. This was where Toyvo had spent most of his life surrounded by images of things he had never seen and probably never would see.
After Toyvo had washed up he sat at the dinner table next to a tapestry containing one such image. It was an image of a green field of grass, Toyvo had always thought it was some weird green ash, populated by two men and two women, riding on the backs of four large animals, Gamma had always called them horses. The men and women in the image appeared to be following a creature with similar features to the horse, but this strange creatures, Gamma called a deer, was solid white with a large set of antlers protruding from its head. This was Toyvo’s favorite image of all the art on the walls. The white deer seemed to have some sort of connection with him that he could never quite pin down.
“How were the stars today?” Gamma interrupted as she placed a bowl of potato and cabbage stew in front of Toyvo. Toyvo look down at his soup and poked around in it for a bit with a spoon. This was their staple. They had other crops down in the garden but cabbage and potato were the most plentiful.
“The stars were beautiful as usual,” he replied as cheerfully as he could. Toyvo could tell that something was wrong just by the way Gamma asked the question. He was old enough to realize that she wasn’t feeling well and understood that meant she probably wouldn’t be around much longer. She had explained it to him on many occasions, and he had a feeling this was another such occasions. “I was watching for the star you came from. Could you tell me about my parents when they lived there?”
“You want to hear about our time on Yevna,” Gamma said with a laugh that was the first to pass her lips in weeks. “I think I can indulge you with a story.” Gamma put her spoon down. “Well, let’s see. Your parents were very intelligent. When your mother was your age she would always ask questions all the time. A lot like you Toyvo. I only wish I knew as much as she did so I could answer more of your questions. She always wanted to know how everything worked. Always taking things apart and putting back together.”
Bang, a loud noise came booming down the hall. Gamma stopped talking to listen for a moment. Toyvo immediately thought it was some kind of rock or debris crashing against the side of the bunker. It was silent for a moment.
Bang. Bang. Bang. There it was again this time with more regularity than before. This wasn’t just debris.
“Toy, go to your room and hide.” Gamma demanded.
“Why Gamma?” replied Toyvo.
“There is someone at the door. Now Go!” Gamma yelled insistantly.
Toyvo did as he was told and ran to his room. The only people Toyvo had ever known was his parents and Gamma. The only people left on this planet after his parents disappeared were Toyvo and Gamma. There was no one else. Who is knocking?
The door closed behind Toyvo as he entered his bedroom. The bedroom was very simple, just a bed, a couple of bookshelves and a dresser. The only real place he could hide in this room was under the bed. The cold metal floor of the bunker chilled his hands as he crawled under his bed. The bed wasn’t much more than a simple cot with a lattice of metal wires holding up a worn out mattress. Toyvo peered out from under his bed looking around the room where he had spent most of his life up till this point. An oppressive sense that this would be the last time he would see this place washed over him.
Bang. Bang. The sound of the banging was muffled by the door. There was no way for Toyvo to know exactly what was going on out in the hallway. What was going on out there?
Gamma stood up from the dining room table, as Toyvo dashed to his bedroom, and made her way to the monitor room down the hall. The monitor room was originally for quick access to monitor the experiments throughout the facility but when the only scientists in the facility disappeared it was mainly used by gamma to check up on Toyvo while he watches the stars. This was the first time it had ever been used to check who is at the door. On the monitor that Gamma usually used to watch Toyvo were four people dressed in blue flight suits. There was no sign of any kind of craft on any of the other exterior monitors and none of the people appeared to be armed. The man banging on the door was a large bearded man. Behind him stood two other men and a woman. Nothing about these people seemed like this was going to a friendly interaction.
Nothing good was going to come from these strange visitors. This was part of the reason this base was built on an uninhabited planet to avoid pirates and raiders. Something was off about this whole thing. Gamma took her time making her way to the front door.
Gamma opened the door. The big bearded man pushed his way into the hall, nearly trampling Gamma and forcing her to the wall. The other three rushed in past them immediately checking each room for more people.
“We’re all clear,” announced the woman.
“Good,” responded the bearded man. “Now search this place. It has to be here somewhere.” The bearded man turned towards Gamma and sly smile. “Maybe you can help us find what we’re looking for.”
“And what might that be?” replied Gamma.
“We’re looking for the results of the research that was being done here.” The bearded man replied.
“What research?” Gamma lied. She knew full well what kind of research her daughter was doing here. “I’m just an old woman, and I’m waiting for the end of everything just like everyone else.”
“Then you have nothing to lose, old woman,” the bearded man responded. “You don’t have anything to worry about... Wait, how rude of me. I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Captain Tarn and my friends you met earlier are crew. Now, let’s start over, and this time how about telling me the truth. Who are you, and what is the purpose of this facility?”
“I was telling the truth,” Gamma replied. “I’m just an old woman waiting for the end of everything, and literally that’s why this place exists.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Captain Tarn asked as he began pushing her back towards the dining rooms off the main corridor. “I guess you could say we’re not from around here. So a little bit of explanation would help me understand.” He gestured for Gamma to take a seat at the dining room table. Gamma sat down. “Now that you’re a bit more comfortable, explain to me...” Tarn noticed the second bowl of soup setting on the table. He grabbed a communicator from his belt and spoke into it. “There’s someone else here. Be on the lookout, and if you find them bring them to me.”
“Don’t hurt him,” Gamma cried. “He’s my grandson. He’s just a child.”
“Did you guys hear that, we’re looking for a child,” Tarn spoke into the communicator.
“Copy, sir,” The voice of the others buzzed over the small device.
Toyvo listened carefully trying to make out what was happening in the hallway outside his room. With his ear to the floor the most he could make out was footsteps coming closer to his room. Some of the footstep were really close, almost right outside of his room. A buzzing sound came from the other side of his door, it almost sounded like a voice. It was difficult to make out what was being said.
“Copy, sir,” that voice was much clearer and was obviously responding to the electronic buzz.
The footsteps outside his room had stopped. The door to Toyvos room opened suddenly and a woman walked in. She began to intensively scour the room. Toyvo watched her feet as she went through all his things. Taking every one of his books off of their shelves and dropping them on the floor. The thought crossed his mind that eventually she would have to check under the bed and he would be discovered.
The tone in Gammas voice when she had told Toyvo to hide in his room told him that this was a dangerous situation. The only time Toyvo had felt any fear greater than in this moment was when he watched his parents disappear in their laboratory. That event was burned into his memory, though the memories of that day were jumbled and confusing. Gamma never talked about what happened or what kind of research his parents were doing when they disappeared.
The woman’s feet were now right in front him. The blankets from the bed were tossed on the floor next to Toyvo as the woman searched the bed. Then the mattress was thrown off of the frame exposing Toyvo through the wire mesh. Toyvo looked up at the woman. Toyvo had never seen anyone that looked so different from him or his family outside of pictures in books. Her fair skin and golden hair were so different she almost looked alien.
“Captain, I’ve found him,” she spoke into a small communicator she took from her belt.
“Good, bring him to me,” The electronic voice buzzed from the device. “I’m in the dining room near the main entrance.” She pulled Toyvo out from under the bed. Barely able to maintain his footing, Toyvo was nearly dragged down the corridor to the dining room where his grandmother was waiting with the captain.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” The captain laughed as Toyvo was thrown into a chair next to his grandmother. “If it isn’t a little boy. Your grandma was just telling about how you lost your parents. It sounds like they were trying to save themselves and they left you behind on this desolate planet.”
“They are coming back,” shouted Toyvo. “Right Gamma?”
The captain looked at Gamma and asked, “Right Gamma?” He laughed. “No, kid. They’re not coming back. That’s why we’re here. We need to find out where they went and how they got there. Your good ol’ grandmother here is refusing to help us. Maybe you can help us out here and then we can leave your quaint little family in peace.”
Toyvo looked over at his grandmother. She looked back at him. Neither of them knew what they were going to do or what was going to happen now.
“If I knew where they were or how to get there I would have followed them,” Toyvo responded with tears welling up in his eyes and deep emotion in his voice. “I wouldn’t be here now! So I guess neither of us can help you.”
Captain Tarn looked at the woman that had found Toyvo. “I’ve had enough of this. Chloe, get the boy out of here and take him to the stag,” The frustration was thick in Tarns voice, “We may need him as leverage when we find the others. I’ll take care of this lady here.”
“Yes, sir,” Chloe responded. She once again grabbed Toyvo by the arm and lifted him from the chair.
“Gamma!” Toyvo shouted as he struggled to free himself from Chloe’s grip on him. “Let go of me.” Chloe struggled to keep a grip on Toyvo’s arm and by the time they had reached the door Toyvo was free. He ran up to his grandmother and put his arms around her. “I love you Gamma.” The loving embrace was cut short as Captain Tarn lifted Toyvo off the ground and away from his grandmother. Toyvo was thrown to the floor in front of Chloe who helped him back to his feet.
“Take him away and get some restraints on him,” Captain Tarn shouted with frustration.
“I love you to, Toyvo,” Gamma yelled. “Everything will be alright.” That was the last thing he ever heard from his grandmother. She watched as her grandson was dragged from the room.
The restraints were zipped snuggly around Toyvo’s arms nearly cutting off circulation to his hands. So many things were going through Toyvo’s mind at that moment that he barely noticed the restraints at all. His parents could still be alive, and these pirates seemed to have some idea about how to find them. The thought crossed his mind that he might want to help these people. As bad as they seemed they may be able to reunite him with his parents. At the same moment he didn’t want to betray his grandmother. She seemed to be hiding something from them, and bringing himself to betray her was not something he would allow himself to do. Being restrained as he was prevented him from doing anything about it in that moment.
Chloe opened the front door of the bunker and pushed Toyvo out on to the surface of the planet. The sky was filled with dark clouds obscuring any visible stars. The volcanic activity was ramping up and in a only a couple of hours the air on the surface would become deadly. The erupting volcanos gave the smoke clouds a deep red orange glow near the horizon.
After trudging through the ankle deep ash covering the surface for what seemed like hours, Toyvo was expecting to be brought to a space ship like the ones from some of the books he had read about pirates, but there was no ship. It was more like a camp. Not even a protective habitat or even a tent. Just a table and what looked like some small computer equipment. The strangest thing about the whole setup was that they had a stag, just like the one in the tapestry, tied to a stake that they must have driven into the ground. The stag was pure white, or it would have been if its coat was not soiled with dirt and filth. The poor creature looked severely undernourished. That did not appear to be worst of the abuses unfortunately. His antlers had been cut short in places and large patches of fur were missing from his side where there were many surgical wounds. There was even a circular brand burned onto its hind quarters.
After being tied to the same stake as the stag Toyvo finally had a moment to take in his surroundings. These people were definitely pirates. The equipment there seemed to be assembled from pieces from many different cultures. This whole camp had everything you expect to find on a starship used by pirates, minus the ship. He could see inside a couple of containers where they had stores of weapons, food and medical supplies.
“You stay right here,” Chloe commanded as she tied Toyvo to the same stake as the Stag. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?” Toyvo refused to answer. “Well, I’ll bring you something anyway incase you change your mind.” Toyvo sat against the stake silently watching as Chloe disappeared into one of the containers full of food supplies. The volcanoes rumbling in the distance were not enough to break the eerie quiet. Chloe and the stag were the only other living things in the camp. A loneliness and fear as great as when he lost his parents was creeping into Toyvo’s mind.
The stag brought its nose down to Toyvo’s shoulder and nudged him gently. Through the stress of the situation Toyvo had not realised that the stag was the first animal he had ever seen. Toyvo turned to look at the creature. The fear disappeared for that moment of discovery. The tapestry and pictures he had seen in his many books did very little to prepare him for looking eye to eye at a creature that size. The great deer stared at Toyvo, and Toyvo stared back. Neither of them made a noise in that moment. They didn’t need to. At that moment Toyvo understood everything the large creature wanted to say. Without words they were communicating.
The deep concentration of the boy and the stag was interrupted by the clang of a metal door closing on one of the containers. Chloe had grabbed a small brown sack from inside one of the large containers and was headed back towards Toyvo and the stag. The stag turned away and went back to grazing from what was left in a trough nearby. Chloe was rummaging through the contents of the sack as she approached Toyvo.
“It looked like we may have barged in just as you were sitting down for dinner,” Chloe’s said as she looked up from the sack. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?” Toyvo sat there maintaining his silence. Chloe sat in front of Toyvo and set the small sack and a canteen on the ground between them. “I’m not going to hurt you... Captain Tarn probably won’t hurt you...”
Toyvo remained silent as Chloe look up from the food. Chloe was only seventeen, and she could remember what it was like when she joined Captain Tarn’s band of pirates after they had sacked her village. A scared ten year old girl with no other option before her, who had just watched everything she had ever known destroyed, agreed to join those men who had destroyed it. She had an idea what was going through this young boys mind right now.
“Listen,” Chloe said in a much softer tone than she had been using. “I know this is frightening right now, and I can’t promise it will get better anytime soon. We’re trying to find your parents. That’s why we came here. They invented something that we need. That’s why we need you. It may not exactly seem like it at the moment but we’re trying to get you back to your parents.”
“How do you know about my parents?” Toyvo asked solemnly as he lowered his head.
“I’ve met them,” Chloe responded. “As pirates we travel a lot, and we meet lots of people...”
“Chloe!” Captain Tarns voice buzzed over the communicator. “I think we’ve found what we’re looking for, and we need you over here.”
“Copy sir,” Chloe responded into the communicator as she stood up.
Toyvo looked up at her. “I think I’ll have some of that food.”
“Ok kid, here you go,” Chloe knelt down and cut the bond tying his hands together. “But stay put. I’m trusting you not to get me in trouble.” She began to walk away but turned for a moment. “I’ll get you out of this, but please don’t make it difficult for me.” She smiled. Toyvo smiled back and took a drink from the canteen. The stag was again showing an interest in Toyvo. He had walked up to Toyvo and began nudging the boy with his nose. Toyvo turned and with his freshly freed hands began petting the stags soft white fur.
“Oh. Hi there. Now, what do you want?” Toyvo said in a friendly tone. The stag moved forward a enough so that his neck was close enough for Toyvo to pet. Toyvo saw that where the rope that tethered the stag to the steak the skin was raw and the fur was worn away. It was as if the rope had not been removed for years at least. “It doesn’t look like these people have been treating you very nicely. Why are they keeping you here?” Toyvo began untying the rope around the stag’s neck. “Let’s see if we can’t get you out of this.” The knot was proving difficult to untie. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to see if I can find a knife or something to cut you free.”
Toyvo wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do once he set the stag free. He knew the pirates would come back and they would see that the stag was gone. Was he just going to go with the deer? He just knew that he should help this creature, and he had the feeling that he needed to go with the him. Toyvo was going to need to find more than just a knife, he needed supplies, and something to carry them in. Luckily Toyvo found a backpack already filled with many of the supplies he thought he might need including a pocketknife, which he immediately removed and placed in his pocket. Toyvo then rain to the container where Chloe had gotten the food and proceeded to fill the rest of the pack with whatever rations he could find.
The soft white ash was falling from the sky after Toyvo left the container with his pack filled almost to the point he couldn’t close it. Toyvo covered his mouth to prevent himself from inhaling the ash. His Gamma had described it as small pieces of glass that would rip up his insides if he were to inhale it. Toyvo ran back over to the stag, pulled out the pocketknife, and began to cut away at the rope tethering the stag to this spot.
“There we go Big Guy. Now we’ve got that nasty rope off of your neck,” Toyvo said with his voice muffled by the shirt covering his mouth. “I think we need to get out of here. Those Pirates will probably be coming back soon.” Both the stag and the boy began walking away from the camp side by side through the softly falling volcanic ash.
Chloe stepped through the front door of the bunker. “I’m here, Sir. Where do you need me?” She said after bring the communicator up to her mouth.
“I need you to relieve Tompkin. He’s in the dining room guarding the old woman,” Captain Tarns voice buzzed through the communicator.
“Aye, Sir,” Chloe responded. She was already through the dining room door before she finished. “Tompkin, you heard what Captain said. Get down stairs and help him out.”
“Yes, I heard him. I don’t even know why he want us to watch her, but he’s the boss,” Tompkin replied. “Have fun, Chloe,” he said as he left the room.
“I’m sure I will,” Chloe responded as she sat down at the opposite end of the table from the old woman. The old woman sat there nervously but without showing any sign of real fear in this situation.
“What have you done with my Toyvo?” The old woman asked timidly after a moment of exchanging uncomfortable glances.
“You’re grandson? He’s fine,” Chloe responded. “I left him back at our camp with some food and water. I’ll tell what I told him. We’re trying to find his parents, your daughter. If everything goes as planned we’ll get what we want and he will be reunited with his parents.”
“Can I ask you one request?” The old woman said with a tear rolling down her cheek.
“Maybe,” Chloe said. “Depends what it is.”
“When you find Toyvo’s parents could you give them something for me,” The old woman said. “Could I go get it? I wouldn’t have to leave this room.”
“Tell me where it is and I’ll get it for you,” Chloe didn’t distrust the old woman but she didn’t want the others to come back and see her up and about. The old woman point over at one of the ornate china cabinets up against the wall. Inside the cabinet was a small box with a lock on it. Chloe carried the box back over to the table and set it in front of the old lady. “Is this it.”
“Yeah, this is it,” the woman said as she produced a key from one of the pockets in her jumpsuit. Chloe stopped her from unlocking the box herself.
“Here let me do that,” Chloe had no idea what this woman was planning and didn’t want any surprises. Inside the box was a small piece of rolled up paper in a glass tube and a broach. The only words visible on the paper in the tube read, Last Will And Testament, and the broach was a lustrous pearl set in a silver setting cast into geometric shapes. “That’s a beautiful broach.”
“My husband gave it to me years ago, in another world and another time,” The old woman said. “I wanted my daughter to have it. If you can’t find her make sure Toyvo get’s it.”
“I’ll make sure they get,” Chloe respond a little choked up herself. “I’m sorry all this had to happen to you.”
“Chloe,” The communicator buzzed. “I just got an unauthorize container access warning from basecamp. Forget about the old woman go find out what’s going on.”
“Aye sir,” Chloe responded.
“Sounds like my Toyvo is going to get you into trouble,” The old woman said with a slight laugh.
“I hope not,” Chloe replied. “I’ll make sure these get delivered. I promise.” Chloe picked up the items and put them in her pocket. Then she dashed out of the room hoping to stop the boy from getting her into anymore trouble.
Toyvo and the stag had been trudging for what seemed like hours through nearly knee high ash with more falling from the red glowing clouds. Toyvo was getting very tired at this point. Toyvo had never had to walk more than about fifty meters in a single stretch and the deep ash was taking its toll on his legs. Toyvo began to stumble and fell face first into the ash.
The stag stopped when he noticed that the boy had fallen. He walked back to where the boy lay and began to nudge him with his nose. Toyvo lifted his face up to look at the stag, who had knelt down on his front legs. The stag move his head in a motion beckoning the boy to climb up on his back. With barely the energy to stand Toyvo mounted the large creature, laid down flat and held on to the thick white fur of the creature. Finally, Toyvo could rest.
“Thank you, buddy,” Toyvo gasped as he coughed out some more of the ash that had gotten into his mouth when he fell. He laid there limp finally able to rest his legs. He closed his eyes and fell immediately asleep.