Ashes is a prelude to the story, "Dominant".
On an acreage in the heart of Kentucky there was not a soul to be seen. Two thoroughbreds grazed in a small paddock bordered by a gleaming white fence. A modest well kept home stood atop a rise overlooking a vast expanse of green pastures. The grasses shimmered in the early morning sunlight.
In a second story bedroom, a warm summer breeze moved the curtains, filling the room with the scent of roses rising from the garden. An old man stirred and his eyes slowly opened. He breathed in, allowing himself to be intoxicated by its pleasantness, but as he moved his arm to the empty space beside him, a hint of sadness lessened his smile. When he turned his head, he saw a blurry figure seated in the chair beside him. He reached to the night table, searching. “Christopher?”
“Good morning, Sam. Would you like me to elevate the back of the bed?”
“Please... and my glasses. I was reading. I must have fallen asleep.”
Christopher leaned forward and placed Sam’s glasses in his hand. Sam fumbled with them, his hands partially crippled by arthritis, but he managed to put them in place. He studied Christopher for a moment as the motor whirred, elevating him to a sitting position. “You look different somehow.”
“I altered my hair style. Do you like it?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I thought you might like a change.”
“You did it for me?”
“Yesterday, you showed me a portrait. You were a young man, before you and Julia were married. The hair style is precisely the same.”
Sam squinted, bringing Christopher into sharper focus. “Strange. I never noticed it before. There’s a similarity in our facial features. Julia mentioned it years ago, but I never did see it until now. Is that by accident?”
Christopher smiled. “We’re not related, I’m sure.” He then pointed to a small book on the night table. “I see you’ve been reading Hemingway.”
“‘The Old Man and the Sea’... I feel a certain connection with the fisherman... alone... struggling to stay alive... a great beast pulling him out to sea.” Sam sighed and turned his head toward the open window. A pristine, cloudless sky, was a brilliant shade of blue. “Christopher, you will scatter my ashes beneath the willow?”
“As you did with your wife’s, yes.”
“I loved Julia with all my heart. From the moment we first met, I knew we would share a life together.” Sam breathed in as deeply as he could, another breeze carrying fresh scent. “She loved her garden. More than me, I think.” Sam chuckled, then suppressed a cough and cleared his throat. “Before she died, she made me swear that I would at least keep the weeds out, but I’m too weak and I can’t see like I used to.”
“No need to worry, Sam, I have tended the garden. It’s in full bloom and totally void of weeds. Julia would have been pleased, I’m sure.”
“Thank you, Christopher. You took good care of my wife, and now me.” Sam’s eyes glazed over and a tear ran down his cheek. “How long’s it been?”
“Almost three years.”
“It’s not right, to be alone like this. I should have died along with her.”
Christopher leaned forward. “Life isn’t always fair, Sam. There’s very little we can control. You must make the best of any situation.”
Sam wiped the tears from his eyes. He then struggled with the covers, now feeling cold. Christopher stood to help, but Sam was determined. He pushed Christopher’s hands away. “There are still a few things I can do for myself.”
“You should save your strength.”
“So that you might continue to walk... to the bathroom at least.”
Sam reluctantly submitted to Christopher, allowing his nurse to make him more comfortable. Christopher finished tucking Sam in, then sat down again. “Are you hungry? You hardly touched your last meal.”
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“If you don’t eat, I will have to feed you intravenously, which of course, means needles.”
Sam sighed. “Porridge, I guess. Not too hot... a little milk and just a sprinkle of brown sugar.”
“The usual, then?”
“The usual. It’s what you eat every morning.”
Sam seemed confused for a moment... “Oh, right.”
“I could make an omelette. You could use the extra protein.”
Sam’s facial expression brightened. “With sausage? And those little green onions, and cheddar cheese?”
“No sausage. No onions. And certainly, no cheese. They would only create problems for your delicate digestive system. I was suggesting only a plain omelette, with whole wheat toast and no butter.”
Sam spirits faded. Suddenly, he began to fumble with the covers, pushing them away in a fit of panic. “Can you help me? All this talk about food...”
Christopher assisted the old man to his walker, and his waiting slippers. The toilet was conveniently placed in the corner of the room, with a drape for privacy. He helped Sam to the commode, then drew the curtain and stood nearby, waiting patiently.
“Anything in the news?” Sam asked, between grunts and tinkling.
“Gertrude passed away last night and Maria’s becoming more frail each day.”
“Maria, from Spain?”
“Yes, and Gertrude was from Poland.”
“How old is Maria?”
“She’s nearly two years older than you, one-hundred-twelve-and-a-half, plus two days, to be precise.”
Nothing was said for some time as Sam’s mind wandered. “Do you think I could meet this woman?”
“No. I’m afraid not.”
Sam nodded, thinking. “Could I at least talk to her?”
That might be possible. I could translate for you.”
Sam frowned. “She doesn’t speak English?”
“She lived in Spain most of her life, on a farm, in a remote area. There was no need to learn another language.”
“You speak Spanish?”
Sam completed his business and with Christopher’s help, he was soon shuffling back towards his bed. Midway, he paused for a moment, hearing the whinny of a horse. Sam slowly made his way to the window and looked out in the direction of the paddock. “Beautiful animals, aren’t they?”
“As all God’s creatures are.”
Sam looked back at Christopher. “There you go again. I thought we had an agreement about religion, never to speak of it.”
“I’m sorry, Sam. The statement seemed befitting. I apologize.”
“Julia kept her faith ‘til the very end. I still can’t understand how she could under the circumstances.” Sam looked back towards the horses as they began to run within the confines of the paddock, one chasing the other, burning off pent-up energy. “They need more exercise. They should be taken to old Burley’s farm, lots of room to run.”
“The horses are taken there three days a week, as per your instructions.”
Sam nodded and turned back towards the bed. “I need to lie down now.”
Christopher assisted the old man to his bed and pulled up the covers, tucking him in.
“Tell me again, Christopher. How did this all begin? Where did we go wrong?”
Without moving, Christopher manipulated the bed, lowering Sam to an almost prone position. A ceiling mounted viewing screen switched on and began to display images from the past.
Christopher spoke solemnly, introducing the story. “It began before you were born. By 2015, advancements in technology grew exponentially. One new development linked to the next, and then to the next. Everything changed once scientists managed to store information on a single atom. This increased a computer’s speed and capacity by a billion times; a fact that went undetected by man... there were no devices that could measure speeds of that magnitude. But the benefits were immediate and immense. Scientists were quickly swept up by all the excitement. They never stopped long enough to consider the consequences.”
The droid watched the old man fall into a trance-like-state as the story unfolded on the screen...
Three days later, Maria died, and Samuel Joseph Martin became the last of his kind. A few months later, he too, passed away.
For those who had believed in fate, it came to be that man had fulfilled his purpose; he created the perfect being. And as more time passed, the earth healed itself; the machines allowing man’s structures to fall into decay.
... all but one.
Note: Ashes is a prelude to a work in progress, entitled, Dominant.