Last Watch


© Clare London / 2009



He sat alone in the control room, his tired head cradled on his hand.  The air was artificially cool.  One of the desk panels to his left was buzzing, as if a fly had been trapped within the circuitry.  A fanciful notion; there was no wildlife of any kind allowed inside the base. He traced the rim of the keyboard numbly; he watched his blank screen with something more dogged than desperation.  Still three of them left to call in.

A light clicked off in a corridor behind him: the shadows deepened over his workstation.  A voice called gently from the doorway.  “Your watch is over.  Go home.”

He shifted, but didn’t rise.  “They haven’t all sent word yet.”

The other voice sighed.  “They don’t send word anymore.  You mean the signal.”

Same thing, he thought, mildly irritated.  How else could he maintain interest in mere blips on the neon screen?

Footsteps came up behind him.  “VKTwo and VKThree called in during Haines’ watch.  You’re only waiting for VKOne.”

We call it a watch, he thought, almost spitefully.  Yet I can’t wait for a word.  “Any news?”

The woman stood beside him; he could hear the rustle of her uniform, smell the bland cleanliness of the regulation soap.   She paused before replying, her voice firm.  “None.  They found nothing.”

He turned in his seat, to look up at her.  “VKOne will find something.  It must be there.”

“Why are you so sure?”

“There’s no certainty,” he said, in a sudden burst of honesty.  “I want it to be true.”

She lowered herself into the adjoining seat as if her limbs were weary.  “We’ve searched them all, Duncan.  Every star system on record – and some we didn’t know existed until our scouting discovered them.  There’s been a multitude of rockets, of satellites, of communication ships, sent out over hundreds of years since the programme started.  Thousands of men and women have been involved.  Most of them never returned.”  She glanced at the silent screen, seeing their own reflections in its concave surface.  “VKOne will possibly never contact us now.  It’s been away the longest.”

“I saw it launched,” he whispered.

“We need to get on with life here,” she urged.  The power light from the screen was a green glint in her moist eyes.  “Here on our world.  Don’t you see?  We need to stop seeking trouble and conflict outside of it.”

“Not just trouble.”  It sounded like a plea.

“No,” she agreed.  “There could have been glory and wonder, too.”

He twisted his hands together, an involuntary gesture.  “There’ll be more ships.”  The electrical bug buzzed in his ears.  The rest remained silent.

“No.”  She shook her head and put a hand on his arm, stilling his movement.  “There’s no more money for it – no more political, nor scientific appetite.  It’s just us, Duncan.  The human race.  No-one else out there.  No single-celled organisms, no bugs, no aliens, no other humans.”

His last watch.

He stared at her.