AFTER EDEN: chapter five

p(micah). Okay, Eve. That's it.

p(#post-body). The Control Room hatch seals behind me, and the Control Room goes dark behind it. In a few moments, the atmosphere in the Control Room will begin to cool and what moisture I brought in with me from Eden will turn to frost in the darkness. It's been years since I've set foot in the Control Room, and I've never been in the Lab. My father was the last to die, and Eve led me to him, let me to him floating in the Control Room, where my five-year-old self struggled to wake my father, forever sleeping. After much coaxing by Eve, I took my father to the large compost at the other end of the terrarium - where I watched my father intern all those who died before him - and put his body there, sealed the hatch, and said good-bye.

p(#post-body). He's somewhere here, in everything, my father. The composts render biological materials down to their base components and then recycle them into new soil, which is fed through conduits into the main soil beds throughout Eden. My father and all of the people who died before him are in Eden now - the molecules that once comprised their bodies have found their ways into the soil, and from the soil they have found their ways into us all. The grasses, the blossoms, the oak branches and birch barks. The squirrels and cats and songbirds, the dung beetles and slugs. Me. And Eve.

p(#post-body). When I eat from the garden, I like to think that I'm gaining their strength, their wisdom, their hope, and that, through me, they live a little longer. I cannot see them, but in this strange way I can touch what once had been them. I try to make myself feel their closeness in this way.

p(#post-body). There will be no one to put me into a compost when I die. I will never be one with this rich garden. It will never feed off my strength and I will never live on through it. I will float free. My body will be scavenged and will rot, and its pestilence will spread into the air. The animals near it will grow sick from its poisons. Without my stewardship, Eden will fail. My body's rot will be the beginning of Eden's collapse.

p(#post-body). I find myself wondering: If I _could_ find my way into a compost as I neared my death, would Eden gain my strength, would it somehow survive me after all? Would I live on with it?

p(micah). Of course not.

p(eve). What was that, Micah?

p(#post-body). None of them could survive me for long. Eve is right, tragic though that may be. I need only look to the last three days' clean-up, to the near-disaster caused by my depression and its petty inaction. Wastes filled our air and coated everything - the windows, the trees, the grasses, our hides. The intakes went down, clogged. It was stunning how rapidly things declined without my intervention. Every animal living in Eden was troubled, on-edge. I could sense their broad irritation, and I was relieved that none save the cats directed theirs at me.

p(eve). You've done an excellent job, Micah. The atmosphere is beginning to be restored to its correct temperature and humidity and the intakes are all running optimally.

p(#post-body). I worked day and night through the crisis and now I am exhausted.

p(micah). Thank you, Eve. I'm only sorry I let things get so badly out of hand.

p(eve). Your stewardship is vital, Micah.

p(micah). I hate that it took so much for me to figure that out.

p(#post-body). The mammals and birds haven't reentered their territories, yet, haven't discovered the bounties of slugs and beetles and flies waiting for them in the grasses below, on the bark, on the leaves, feeding on the wastes still there. My predecessors thought of these as "pests," but I am so relieved by their presences now, by their mindless labors, their enthusiastic feastings. A little climatological stimulation brought them out of their hiding spaces, caused their predators to run into hiding, and so their unfettered feeding on shit has saved us all.

p(eve). It was very good plan, Micah.

p(micah). Thank you, Eve. I never would've thought to do it if you hadn't spent so many years demanding that I respect our environment's components and their interconnections.

p(eve). You have an excellent grasp of its functionings, Micah.

p(#post-body). The plan was fairly simple:

p(#post-body). There was simply too much waste and too much work for me to do to restore the environment before the damage became insurmountable. Fixing the intakes alone took a day, and then I would spend the next two days constantly emptying their reservoirs just to get the air clean again. I wouldn't have time to even contemplate cleaning the plants of the wastes sticking to them, and Eve and I worried that they might suffocate or that grazing animals might grow sick feeding on too many waste-coated grasses and leaves. Or that before I could clean it all disease-causing bacteria might flourish and bring down much of the animal population.

p(#post-body). I recalled that a great network of sleeping bodies resided in the soils, and that these nocturnal animals could feed on our wastes if conditions were right. They could clean the grasses and leaves while I managed the intakes and the composts. I asked Eve how to make this happen, and she reminded me that our climate was governed by regular patterns set forth by computers she was not connected to in the Control Room. She taught me how to open the hatch to the Control Room, gave me instructions to establish an alternate climate control sequence into its atmospheric computer, and then helped me manage the intakes while Eden suffered a series of simulated thunderstorms.

p(#post-body). I instructed the computer to cycle heavy moisture bursts into the soils and heavy mists into the air every thirty minutes while I activated a series of alarm klaxons and lights on another terminal. The klaxons and lights, set on a random sequence, frightened the animals - and frightened me - so they stayed in their nests during the inclimate "weather" Eve and I had simulated. The biosphere's humidity increased, and the soils became saturated. There was so much water in the air it became hard to breathe - and I worried for a rash of drownings. Soon, the pests emerged and found a feast waiting for them. Shiny black slippery bodies sliding through the grasses, along the trees. I shuddered at the touch of them, and was glad my work kept me high above home ground, away from their busy hungers.

p(#post-body). Eve helped me manage the intakes - to know which ones filled first - which ones had clogged. I carried the intake disassembly kit with me everywhere I went. The humidity in the air made the intakes fill even faster. One after the other. I would finish emptying and repairing a clogged intake when the next would go down. The Pasture. The Orchard. The Forest. The Jungle. I was responsible for all of it, running from place to place, from one clogged intake to a compost, then back to an intake and then on to the next - for hours and hours on-end. Utterly exhausted by my labors, no break for the first two days even for eating. Eventually, the workload lessened, and the intakes required my intervention less and less often.

p(eve). It's almost night, now, Micah. Are you going to sleep?

p(#post-body). Strange that I am so energized. I have been awake three full days and had only four small meals during that time. A few apples. A banana. Some nuts and seeds. I should be famished and exhausted, but my mind is racing, thrilled

p(#post-body). We succeeded, after all. It _had_ been a good plan.

p(#post-body). One I'm not excited to repeat anytime soon.

p(micah). No, I'm not tired yet. I thought maybe I'd clean the windows over the Pasture.

p(#post-body). If it hadn't succeeded - if the bugs hadn't come out to feed, if the alarms hadn't kept the birds and squirrels from feeding on the bugs, if the saturated soil had started to pull free from its moorings and fall into the air, if just one of the intakes had broken down completely, it's a good bet all would've been lost.

p(#post-body). Eve has explained that this was a gamble - that we took a risk in the face of unknown odds, that the outcome of our endeavor was uncertain, that our loss if our gamble had failed would've been more immediately catastrophic than if we had not made the gamble at all.

p(#post-body). She has footage stored of my ancestors dressed extravagantly and crowded in brightly colored, noisy rooms. They are interacting together with machines and slips of paper, exchanging objects and rejoicing when marbles fall onto spinning numbers and certain slips of paper are turned over. Eve tells me that they're beating the odds, that the nature of these games is that their players are bound to lose. They know it, my ancestors, but they risk everything anyway. _Why?_ I always wondered.

p(eve). The terrarium windows are very dirty Micah, but they can wait until the sun is up tomorrow. You have worked very hard and eaten very little. You must be exhausted. You must rest.

p(#post-body). I think I have some insight, now. It is thrilling to triumph over inevitable disaster, to pit your intellect and cunning against a dispassionate and seemingly irrefutable natural will, and with them defeat it.

p(micah). I guess you're right, Eve. I'm just not that tired or hungry.

p(#post-body). The climate control system is now drying out the soils, the intakes are back on-line and processing normally, I can breathe without a mask, and as it is night the bugs will have just a little more time to feast before the squirrels and songbirds awake tomorrow and glut themselves on them. I worry a little for the bug population - the animals are bound to make a significant dent in it, but... Bugs breed fast, and during periods of heavy feeding, Eve tells me, they lay lots of eggs. We might not see them for a while, but their species are resilient, and will most certainly replenish their numbers.

p(#post-body). The terrarium grows dark as the sun slips at last from sight. I could return to the Control Room and activate the overhead lights. I could enjoy my day in Eden a little while longer - savor the sight of my victory: the black things crawling and feeding everywhere, see through the eyes of the animals as they peek with interest and hope out of from the safety of their nests. It grows so very dark here when the sun is gone, and it cools quickly. But the darkness is comforting, and I don't need to see my victory to know that I've won. And so I scale my oak, slip past my bed, and jump lightly to the terrarium glass. There I press myself into a window ledge, wedge myself in place between the bars of the frame, and look out over Eden.

p(#post-body). What are these labors of mine that never end? I weed, I collect leaves, I protect the food stuffs in the Orchard and the Pasture from occasional pests. I net wastes and seeds from the sky and clean out intakes. I collect fallen bodies of animals, and I kill sick and dying animals so that their diseases don't spread. I cut dying limbs from trees. I wash the terrarium windows with solvent-soaked rags. I keep the ecosystems in each sector of Eden distinct and keep species from one from invading into the others. Everything I remove from Eden ends up in a compost and the composts work strangely without fail. And I pray that the Control Room computers manage what our plants and animals can't do themselves - atmospheric control, hydro-purification, compost cycling.

p(#post-body). There are days I wish - desperately - that I would never remember my father again, that Eve was somehow prohibited from showing me images of all of those humans who came before him. I don't care that I'm the last - I've scoured Eden enough to know that there are no others like me hiding in the jungle or in the tall grasses, or even in the Control Room. There is something cruel about the nature of my individual consciousness - that I am concerned more for my own eternity than for my species's - and that cruel self-absorption abstracts all thought of the failing of my species greatest and last endeavor. Moreover, I feel little guilt: It's not my fault that I survived the virus that wiped out the last of us - I was just a child in the womb when my mother first contracted it.

p(#post-body). I wish not to know my species's past not because I feel some guilt for our failed purpose, but because I feel alone and knowing that there were once many, many more of us makes my loneliness less bearable, and because I can conceive of a world in which I might be doing something vastly more interesting to me than cleaning the shit from the air so that we might live another day without thoughtlessly poisoning ourselves.

p(#post-body). I could hate these poor animals for their stupidity, and sometimes - as with the snake - I certainly do. But I forgive them always. They're all just making it through their days engaging in little tasks that seem most important to them at the time - feeding, fucking, nesting, nursing, hunting and foraging. I know this for certain because I can be in all of them, I can see what they see and smell and taste and touch what they smell and taste and touch, and, in the end, I can glean from their senses and responses to each other and to me what they think and feel. I know without a doubt that I - human - am the only animal in Eden capable of foresight that extends beyond my lifetime, or simply beyond the next breeding cycle. My charges lack the capacity to build a future for themselves - so they fail to see the significance of shit in the air and the dead lingering in their decomposition nearby. Perhaps if they did, they'd act to move waste to the composts themselves, but...

p(#post-body). It is my nature to do so, and it is not theirs.

p(#post-body). My nature. My _human_ nature.

p(#post-body). When I think of my predicament, my loneliness, my endless toil, I don't blame the animals and the plants in Eden who need me, and, as easy a target as she can be, I don't blame Eve, either. We're all part of the same system, and we all need each other if we're to survive. It's frustrating - deeply, deeply frustrating - that I, easily the most intelligent of the living things in this vast room, must clean up after the swarms of less intelligent species, but... But we're all serving our purposes in this great system, and, to my boredom and fatigue, stewardship without gratitude is mine.

p(#post-body). When I think of my predicament, I think of those faces in my memory: My father's face, the faces of those who died shortly before he did, the people of Earth Eve has footage of stored in her databanks. I think of all of those human beings who lived in Eden and worked together to stem the tide of shit from the air, to manage the ecosystem, and to keep each other entertained with art and education and scientific study and performance and discourse. There were hundreds of us before my father died, hundreds of us keeping each other company and easing the load of our shared burden, hundreds of us comforting each other, hundreds of us fucking and driving our species onward, hundreds of us keeping each other excited about our shared futures. I think of those faces and I miss them so much, and I am so angry that they left me behind. What is compassionate about leaving me to live and die alone when all hope was already lost?

p(#post-body). But I think of all of those human beings before Eden: Billions at the height of their extraordinary civilization. Those who were wealthiest and most powerful pursued their wills mightily to the ends of the Earth, and those who were poor and meek struggled to keep the mechanisms of the wealthy functioning while they could barely see another day for themselves, let alone grasp a greater sense of what their efforts' contributions to the whole could really mean. Yet they all lived with marvels I will never know - books and music and television and networked computers and money and travel over great distances in extraordinary machines that defy gravity. I see those faces - rich and poor - and I hate them. Resolutely and unflinchingly, I hate them all. I hate my Earthly human ancestors because in their avarice and gluttony, they bled their world dry, and in their cowardice, they refused to challenge that avarice and gluttony, and in their arrogance they never deigned to clean the shit from their air, from their waters, from their lands, and so everything died with them - poisoned by their shit. My Earthly ancestors utterly failed in _their_ stewardship, yet pridefully thought that their race deserved to survive. And so they put themselves here, in Eden, in _us_, and they assumed that we would correct what failures they had made for themselves, that we would see fit to survive them - without ever having any regard for what future we might have made for ourselves. Without ever having any regard for _me_.

p(#post-body). When I think of my father and those last people in Eden, I think of myself as one of them - as human like they were. But I don't think of myself as human like my Earthly ancestors. I refuse to see myself as an inheritor of their self-serving and short-sighted traditions, and I refuse to honor them and their lazy, arrogant assertions that they were too good to steward their world. Perhaps their system was simply too large for them to ever comprehend the importance of their stewardship? Perhaps my foul work is a regular reminder that would've saved them all if they had only done the same? I'm past the point of caring about what might've saved them, though. In the end, those people - those self-absorbed, gluttonous, lazy cowards - are responsible for me. I am the last of my kind, yes, and the last of our world does die with me. But I could care less for that.

p(#post-body). They are responsible for me and I am without companionship and hope. I live alone and I will die alone. And I miss my own kind - my father and his people - desperately with an ache that seems to grow worse every day. The only thing that keeps me going, ultimately, is pity for the animals in Eden, and for Eve herself, none of whom could survive if I weren't here to care for them, to care for the imperfect system that those miserable Earthly humans set into motion more than four hundred years ago. Another Earthly human failure: Our biosphere was only self-sustaining at first glance, a poor simulation of the truly self-sustaining miracle their appetites destroyed.

p(#post-body). Whatever they were, my father and his people, they weren't human - not like our ancestors. They lived and prospered together by their own hands, and they not only managed the basic functioning of this crowded little world we lived in - despite their differences of opinion and the hardship of the basic labors that this place required of them - but they planned actively how best to manage renewed life on Earth and hoped that they could live long enough to see their plans through. These were men and women of great foresight and principal and I can hardly call this life without them "survival."