AFTER EDEN: chapter three

p(#post-body). Dealing with the cat and mouse was relatively easy: I caught the mouse, first, and then returned to the cat, still angrily dangling just a meter or so from where it lost its grip. I placated it with the mouse, which it eagerly accepted, and then I gently took hold of the cat and placed it on a branch of a nearby apple tree. There it dined happily on the mouse while I considered the business of cleaning the intake.

p(#post-body). Eve has explained to me repeatedly that Eden's intakes serve two purposes: Firstly, they pull air out of circulation and make the adjustments to its breathability that the living occupants of Eden manage insufficiently on their own. Currently, the plants are generating more respiratory waste than the animals are, so the intakes extract excess oxygen from the air and even out the carbon-dioxide levels. This keeps the plants from asphyxiating and the animals from being overwhelmed by too much oxygen.

p(#post-body). The intakes also serve to filter out small particles of airborne waste - "seeds and piss and squirrel shit," my father used to joke. I carry a small waste net with me wherever I go to collect waste that floats near me and I wear a mask over my nose and mouth while I sleep to avoid inhaling these unsavory airborne particles, and the one task I perform more regularly than any other is collecting from the atmosphere floating waste particles too large to slip through the grates and into the intakes.

p(#post-body). The intakes are self-cleaning for the most part - I'm only required to remove their solid and liquid waste reservoirs every few days so that they can be emptied into a compost and then reinstalled for continued collection. The intakes' interior surfaces are coated with a thin layer of lubricant, which everything but blood slides off from. The creators, apparently, did not foresee the intakes as ever having the potential to collect animal blood. Unfortunately, animals do suffer injury often, and airborne blood is frequently a result.

p(#post-body). Once the intakes' inner surfaces are bloodied and that blood has started to dry, the waste they continue to collect gets trapped on the sticky blood rather than ending up in the reservoirs after sliding down the lubricated surfaces. If this goes on for too long, the intake gets clogged with accumulated seeds and piss and squirrel shit.

p(#post-body). As I return from the tool shed with the intake disassembly kit, the cat gracefully glides down from the apple tree and lands in the grass nearby. It slinks away purring, and I try not to take the stench of fresh cat shit and the disembodied mouse head that has just emerged from the foliage too personally. I wedge the tool kit into a nearby shrub and take my waste collection net in hand to address these small matters before I deal with the intake.

p(#post-body). Climbing into the apple tree, I encounter the cat's waste first: a string of fetid cat urine drops floats near a few boluses of still-steaming excrement.

p(micah). We live in an imperfect world, Eve.

p(#post-body). I remark wryly. Of course she takes me literally.

p(eve). "Perfection" was frequently debated by the Creators and was rarely attained by them.

p(#post-body). I scoop the excrement up with the net, first, then go for the piss.

p(micah). But wasn't Eden supposed to be a "perfect world" for us to live in?

p(eve). The Creators felt they had been successful, yes.

p(micah). Eve, don't you think that it seems... Well, fundamentally _imperfect_ that we live in a world where I have to constantly scoop shit out of the air so we don't choke on it, where I have to constantly clean the windows to ensure that sunlight reaches the plants, and where I too often have to save animals from their own clumsiness?

p(eve). They felt they had been successful.

p(micah). But don't you agree with me?

p(eve). Cross-referencing it against what is recorded about the Creators' world, humans were required to commit comparatively less time out of their days to environmental maintenance. In that, our world is less desirable and therefore less perfect.

p(#post-body). The mouse head falls into the net last, and I launch myself gently toward the nearest compost.

p(micah). Eve?

p(#post-body). I open the compost lid and I wretch in response to the fetid breath that billows out. I place the net over the compost port. A quick puff of air clears it and draws the waste into the compost chamber. I seal the compost shut and return to the Orchard.

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). Didn't you tell me that the Creators' world suffered an environmental collapse?

p(eve). Yes, I did. The environment of the Earth was rendered completely toxic to life by rapid climatological shifts caused by the accumulation of solar energy trapped by pollutants from unchecked industry.

p(micah). So they made Eden to survive them, right? And they put us all here to carry on specific genetic strains?

p(eve). Yes, they did. It was their hope that the Earth could be made inhabitable again after some time had passed. Life in Eden exists in the hopes that it can eventually be used to replenish life on Earth.

p(#post-body). I untangle the repair kit from the bush and steady myself for the jump to the intake above.

p(micah). Eve, could you switch off the power to the intake please?

p(eve). I have done it.

p(micah). Thank you.

p(#post-body). I gauge the distance and kick off gently, my body gliding slowly toward the intake. As I land, I cable lock the tool kit to the the grate.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah.

p(micah). Doesn't it seem stupid to you that they would repeat the mistake that killed them in the very biosphere that's supposed to eventually repopulate the world? I mean, it wasn't explained to us that we had to pluck animal shit out of the air when they put us up here, right?

p(eve). You are correct. The Creators did not foresee the regular need to manually clean animal excrement and other airborne waste from Eden's atmosphere when they put it into orbit. In that regard, they were very short-sighted.

p(#post-body). I chuckle, somewhat self-satisfied, as I remove the primary maintenance cover from the intake and survey the damage. A great deal of the assembly is coated with snake and mouse blood, and a few chunks of snake flesh are stuck to the stickier surfaces, but for the most part cleanup will be minor. I caught it in time.

p(#post-body). I unlock and dislodge the solid and liquid waste receptacles and set them carefully into the air beside me - hoping they won't float too far out while I use the solvent rags to mop up blood and bits of snake.

p(micah). How long has it been again, Eve?

p(eve). Since?

p(micah). Since they died? Since Eden was placed into orbit? Since all of this started?

p(eve). Eden was placed into orbit four hundred and twenty-three years ago. By the time Eden was orbited, the degeneration of Earth's atmosphere had progressed beyond the point of recovery. It was rendered completely uninhabitable by progressive accumulation of solar energy due to industrial greenhouse emissions twenty-eight years later. All plant and animal life has since perished, and all evidence suggestes that all bacterium have perished as well.

p(micah). So sad...

p(#post-body). After I have cleaned the assembly thoroughly of blood and removed flesh fragments from it, I use a different solvent cloth to remove the old lubricant layer. I then re-coat the entire assembly with lubricant, replace the waste receptacles, reattach the cover, collect my tool kit, and return to the surface.

p(micah). Eve? I'm clear. Could you power the intake back up again and do whatever it is you do diagnostically?

p(eve). Yes.

p(#post-body). A sharp grumble from the intake as its turbines spin again startles the songbirds nesting high in the trees and they take to the air as one, swirling about, chatterling urgently as they look for safe cover.

p(#post-body). As I walk from the orchard to the tool shed, toes holding me firmly to home ground by thoughtlessly grasping into clump after clump of moist grass, I catch a pair of squirrels chasing after one another around the trunk of a nearby oak. I pause and allow myself the pleasure of being in the male's senses: He is aroused, excited, eager to mate. It is a comfort, but a passing one. In a moment, she will hide in her nest and he will join her there. She will surrender herself to him, they will mate furiously for less than a minute, and then they will settle into calm comfort with one another. They are not the only mating pair in the terrarium tonight. If I allow myself, I can sense them all - the squirrels, the songbirds, the cats, the mice, and more...

p(#post-body). It's not the mating, though, I envy. It's the companionship of like-kind. At the end of the day, a pair of mated squirrels or songbirds can surrender to the the secure comfort they find in each other. They can enjoy each other's quiet, steady companionship.

p(#post-body). I have no companions. A virus that had been quietly evolving for generations swept through Eden's human population eighteen years ago, and I, blessed with immunity to it, am its only survivor.

p(#post-body). I find it difficult to work at the moment. I know that the windows over the Prairie need cleaning. I know that oak-12 in the Forest needs two of its branches pruned. I know that the solid waste receptacle in the Pasture's intake is also extremely full. I just feel... heavy all of the sudden, heavy and sick as I sometimes do when the reality of my circumstance confronts me so baldly. Sadness overwhelms me. It is very hard to move forward.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). Are there any others like me? Did everyone really die?

p(eve). There are no other humans in Eden, Micah. They all died. As you are a male, you cannot be artificially inseminated by the genetic material in cryogenic storage, nor can you carry one of the pre-fertilized eggs to term. The human line in Eden will not continue beyond your death.

p(#post-body). I don't know how many times she's answered this question for me through the years. I don't know why it feels like I've had the air sucked out of me every time she does.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). If I die, there will be no more humans to administer Eden?

p(eve). That is correct.

p(micah). No one to maintain its atmosphere, to clean its intakes and windows, to put decomposing animal bodies and plant matter into the compost?

p(eve). That is also correct.

p(micah). And there won't be anyone to transport life back to Earth if it ever becomes habitable again?

p(eve). Yes, Micah. You are correct.

p(#post-body). It's very hard. To think about what I have to do. To do what I have to do. Just to get through my day. Right now. Everything seems so pointless when the future is so certain.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). When I have no future.

p(micah). What will happen to you, to Eden, after I die?

p(eve). Eden's biological systems will eventually fail. Waste materials will clog the intakes and air quality will not be maintained. The windows will become soiled and block adequate transmission of sunlight. It is most likely that plant life will suffer en masse first. As plant life is rendered inert, I will cease functioning. Shortly after the cessation of plant life, animal life will cease. Eden will fail.

p(micah). How long, do you think, will that take?

p(eve). Life in Eden will not persist one month beyond your death.

p(#post-body). I think of the animals - so many little lives - whom I care continually for. They are a burden I carry alone and, so, frequently resent, but I can't help but feel extraordinary pity for them now. For us all. Helpless before certain, eventual, quietly withering doom.

p(micah). Do the animals have any idea at all?

p(eve). No, they do not.

p(micah). Is there any hope for us at all?

p(eve). No.

p(#post-body). My every action is rended utlimately meaningless, yet everything living depends on me. Is it good for my living peers that I will live and work until I die a natural death and that they shall die helplessly after me, or is it cruel of Eve and me to conspire in this way - to further a lie of hope? Is it, in some way, better for us all to die now, and spare my charges of prolonged suffering in the face of false hope?

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(#post-body). My death. It looms before me always, sometimes loudly and others a quiet murmur. So much significance on my doings, on my eventual expiration. A fate I face alone, yet a fate that all I care for must follow.

p(micah). Are you frightened?

p(eve). I do not experience fear.

p(micah). Oh.

p(eve). Are you frightened, Micah?

p(micah). Sometimes, yes, very much.

p(eve). Would it provide you comfort if, in those moments, I was also frightened?

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). Are you very frightened now?

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). It is a troubling prospect we all face, Micah.

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). You are twenty-three years of age, Micah. Based on human life expectancy, we have many more years ahead of us to live.

p(micah). I know. I'm just... If something were to happen to me tomorrow? What about all of you? I mean... I guess I'm just a little scared right now.

p(eve). Then I am frightened, too.

p(#post-body). I know she isn't really frightened, that she can never _be frightened_. I know that she can't experience emotions of any kind, that she regards our predicament with a simple evenness, and that when the end comes for her she will regard it unblinkingly as an obvious, logical inevitability for her. I know that her _understanding_ and _concern_ and _compassion_ are all part of a programmed simulation - stiff, predictable modulations in tone of voice, really - to ease my regular interactions with her, and that the intention of that program was never to provide me solace and comfort in moments of despair. Logically, I know I shouldn't have reason at all to draw comfort from her.

p(#post-body). But she's all that I have.