Omega, the Man

by Lowell Howard Morrow

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Omega, the last human alive, starts out with his wife Thalma and briefly acquires a son-Alpha on a dying Earth.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The silver airship cut swiftly through the hot thin air. The noonday sun blazed down upon it and the desert world below. All about was the solemn silence of death. No living thing appeared either in the air or on the drab, gray earth. Only the aircraft itself displayed any signs of life. The sky, blue as indigo, held not the shadow of a cloud, and on the horizon the mountains notched into it like the teeth of a giant saw.

The airship finally came to a hovering stop, then dropped rapidly toward the salt-encrusted plain. It came to rest at last on the bottom of a great, bowl-shaped hollow situated at the end of a chasm whose gray, rock-strewn sides rose in rugged terraces for miles back into the sky. In a few moments a panel in the vessel’s side rolled noiselessly upward, disclosing a brilliant light, and from the interior of the airship soon appeared two figures who paused at the aperture and gazed out over the parched earth. Then without fear or visible effort--although they were seventy-five feet above the ground--they emerged from the ship and floated down to earth.

These two humans--the sole survivors of all earth’s children--were man and wife--Omega and Thalma. They were burned a deep cherry by the fierce rays of the sun. In stature they were above the average man now on earth. Their legs were slender and almost fleshless, because for many centuries man had ceased to walk. Their feet were mere toeless protuberances attached to the ankle bone. Their arms were long and as spare as their legs, but their hands, although small, were well-proportioned and powerful. Their abdominal regions were very small, but above them were enormous chests sheltering lungs of tremendous power, for thus nature had armored man against the rarefaction of the earth’s atmosphere. But the most remarkable parts about this truly remarkable couple were there massive heads set upon short, slim necks. The cranial development was extraordinary, their bulging foreheads denoting great brain power. Their eyes--set wide apart--were large and round, dark and luminous with intelligence and their ears were remarkably large, being attuned to all the music and voices of life. While their nostrils were large and dilated, their mouths were very small, though sensuous and full-lipped. They were entirely hairless--for even the eyebrows and the eyelashes of man had entirely disappeared ages before. And when they smiled they betrayed no gleam of teeth, for nature had long discarded teeth in man’s evolution.

The great, silver ship of the sky now rested in a deep pocket on the floor of an ancient sea. Millions of years, under the sucking energy of the sun and the whip of many winds, had sapped its waters, until only a shallow, brackish lake remained. Along the shores of this lake, which covered scarcely more than a hundred acres, a rim of yellowish, green grass followed the water’s edge and struggled against the inevitable, and here and there among the grasses flowers of faded colors and attenuated foliage reared their heads bravely in the burning sunshine. And this lone lake, nestled in the lowest spot among the mountains and valleys which once floored the Pacific, now held the last of earth’s waters. Barren and lifeless the rest of the world baked under a merciless sun.

Now clasping hands, like children at play, Omega and Thalma approached the lake. They glided over the ground, merely touching their feet to the highest points, and finally stopped with their feet in the warm, still water.

Omega ran his cupped hand through the water, then drank eagerly.

“It is good,” he said in a low, musical voice. “And there is much of it. Here we may live a long time.”

Thalma laughed with sheer joy, her large, red-rimmed eyes aglow with mother light and love.

“I am glad,” she cried. “I know that Alpha will be happy here.”

“It is so, my love, and--”

Omega checked and stared out over the glassy lake. A spot in its center was stirring uneasily. Great bubbles rose to the surface and eddied to one side, then suddenly huge cascades of water shot into the air as if ejected by subterraneous pressure. As they stared in silent astonishment the commotion suddenly ceased and the surface of the lake became as tranquil as before.

“There is volcanic action out there,” said Omega fearfully. “At any time the ground may open and engulf the lake in a pit of fire. But no, that cannot be,” he added, staring at Thalma with an odd light in his eyes. For he suddenly recalled that no volcanic action or earth tremor had disturbed the surface crust for ages.

“What is it, Omega?” she whispered in accents of awe.

“Nothing to fear, my dear, I am sure,” he replied, averting his eyes.

“Likely some fissure in the rock has suddenly opened.”

And then he embraced her in the joy of new-found life. For long ages mind had communicated with mind by telepathic waves, speech being used for its cheer and companionship.

“We will make ready for Alpha,” said Omega joyfully. “In very truth he may be able to carry on. Moisture may return to earth, and it is more likely to return here than elsewhere. Remember what the Mirror showed last week over the Sahara plains--the makings of a cloud!”

They cheered each other by this remembrance how, just before they had consumed the last of the water in their recent home and buried the last of their neighbors and friends, the reflecting Mirror had brought a view of a few stray wisps of vapor above the Great Sahara which once had been reclaimed by man, where teeming millions in by-gone ages had lived their lives.

“The inclination of the earth’s axis is changing as we know,” he went on hopefully as they turned back toward the ship. “The moisture may come back.”

His was the voice of hope but not of conviction. Hope, planted in man’s soul in the beginning, still burned brightly in these last stout hearts.

Alpha was still unborn. Omega and Thalma had willed a male child. In him was to be the beginning of a new race which they hoped with the aid of science would repeople the earth. Hence his name, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, of which “omega” is the last.

“I am afraid, my love,” said Thalma, looking back over her shoulder at the placid lake. “I wonder what heaved the water about that way.”

“Don’t worry about it, my dear,” he said as they paused beneath the ship and he put his arm protectingly about her. “As I have said, it probably was the shifting of a rock on the bed of the lake. It is nothing to worry about, and I feel that we have nothing to fear for a long, long time. And we have so much joy to look forward to. Remember Alpha is coming, and think of his glorious future! Think of his changing all this!” And he swept his hand toward the grim, gray hills. “Just think of again gardenizing the world!”

It was indeed a dreary view upon which they gazed. On every side, upon the mountains and hills, over salt-encrusted plains and upon the rocks, were the skeletons and shells of departed life. Fossils of the animal and the vegetable kingdoms greeted one on every hand. Great fronds of palms of the deep, draped with weird remains of marine life long extinct, stood gaunt and desolate and rust-covered in the hollows and on the hills. Long tresses of sea weed and moss, now crisp and dead as desert sands, still clung in wreaths and festoons to rock and tree and plant just as they had done in that far-off age, when washed by the waters of the sea. Great forests of coral, once white and pink and red with teeming life but now drab and dead, still thrust their arms upward, their former beauty covered and distorted by the dust of the ages. Whales and sharks and serpents and fish of divers species and sizes, together with great eels and monsters of the deep, lay thickly over the land, their mummified remains shriveled by the intense heat, their ghastliness softened by the ashes of the years.

Millions of ages had rolled away since the struggle began--the battle of life on earth against the encroachments of death. And now death stalked everywhere, grinning with malicious triumph, for he had but one more battle to fight. Already his grisly clutch was closing on the standard of victory. Man had mastered life but he had not conquered death. With the magic wand of science he had reached out into space and viewed the life of far-off worlds. He had routed superstition and fear and selfishness. He had banished disease and learned all nature’s secrets; had even visited other worlds and had come to know and understand his God, but still death had marched grimly on. For even the abysmal moment of creation had marked the world for his prey. Slowly but surely death had closed his cold hands about the earth. The sun flung forth his hot rays and drew more and more of the earth’s moisture and dissipated it in space. Gradually the forests vanished and then the streams and lakes dwindled and disappeared. By this time the atmosphere had thinned almost imperceptibly--and only by the aid of his scientific instruments had man been able to detect its thinning. Less and less rain fell, and finally even the ice-caps about the poles trickled away. Cold and gaunt and shadowy those regions lay silent and lifeless throughout the long nights, and loomed like gray ghosts in the hushed light of the summer. The sun blazed on relentlessly and the shores of the seven seas receded age after age, but with his science and his machines man had doggedly followed the retreating waters, husbanded and harnessed them and thus retained his grip on life.

But now at last life on earth had come to its final battlefield. The plans of the battle were sharply drawn, but there could be no doubt of the issue. No one knew this better than Omega, for the sun shone on with undiminished power. Yet the rotation of the earth had slackened until twenty-five hours constituted a day, while the year was 379 days and a fraction in length. Man, gradually adjusting himself to the new conditions and environment, had triumphed even in the face of a losing fight. For he had learned to smile into the hollow sockets of death, to laugh at the empty promises of life.

Back in their ship Omega and Thalma gazed out over the dead world, where the salt crystals gleamed and sparkled in the sunshine.

“Will all this ever become green again and full of joy and life?” asked Thalma wearily.

“Why not?” asked Omega. “Although the race has come to its last stand, water is here and before it is gone who knows what may happen?”

Omega spoke only to please his wife, for well he knew in his heart that the star of hope had forever set. And always he was thinking of that commotion in the waters of the lake. What could have caused it? What did it portend? He was sure that the answer was to be one of tragedy.

“We know that for uncounted ages the world was green and beautiful, was vibrant with life and joy,” he went on. “And why may it not be so again, even though now it is garbed in the clothes of the sepulchre? Let us trust in the power of our son.”

Thalma did not answer, and Omega, seeing that she was terribly depressed, fell silent. So they sat in their great airship, strangely dejected despite the close proximity of the life-giving water, while the sun flamed through the cloudless sky and set in a crimson flood beyond the lifeless plains. Night fell but still they sat brooding. The stars shone out in the purple heavens, but they noticed not their glory. The ship was wrapped in an awful silence. No night wind whispered its message nor warmed the cold, desolate earth, stretching down from the poles, nor cooled the hot wastes about the equator. The naked mountains rose stark and forbidding into the sky, which hung like a great, bejeweled bowl over the sun-scorched plains, where the dust of many ages lay undisturbed. The shadows lay deep and dark over the valleys and among the streets of cities dead and silent for many ages, and searched out deep chasms which when the world was young had felt the surge of the restless seas. No form of life winged its way through the darkness and called to its mate. No beast of prey rent the air with its challenge. No insect chirped. No slimy shape crawled over the rocks. Dark and solemn, mysterious and still, the earth sped on through the night.

Morning found them in much better spirits. Over their breakfast, which consisted almost wholly of food in tablet form, they discussed their plans. After which they went to the lookout in the bow of the ship and gazed out at the gray world. There was no change. The same heart-breaking monotony of death confronted them. But despite it all they finally smiled into each other’s eyes.

“It is home,” said Omega proudly. “The last home we shall ever know.”

“My God, look!” suddenly gasped Thalma, clutching his arm and pointing a trembling finger toward the lake. “What--is that?”

Following her gesture he stared in terror and stupefaction. Rising above the center of the lake where the day before they had beheld the agitated waters, was an enormous, scale-covered neck surmounted by a long, snake-like head whose round, red eyes were sheltered beneath black, horny hoods. The horrible creature’s head was swaying back and forth as its black tongue darted in and out between wide-open jaws displaying single rows of sharp teeth. Fully fifteen feet above the lake the awful eyes looked toward the land. And as the neck moved in unison with the swaying head the scales seemed to slide under and over one another a perfect armor for the neck.

“A plesiosaurian!” exclaimed Omega, leveling his glasses at the beast.

“No--how can that be?” he added in bewilderment. “Those monsters were supposed to be extinct ages ago. And they had a smooth skin, while this thing has scales, like those of a brontosaurus, which was really a land animal. This must be a cross between the two that through the process of evolution has been developed. Anyway it is the last of the species and it has come here--to die.”

“Like us it has followed the water and come here to die,” said Thalma as she also leveled glasses.

For several minutes they watched the swaying head which every little while twisted from side to side, as the blazing eyes seemed to be searching for prey, while a whitish saliva dripped from the jaws. The body of the beast, which they knew to be enormous, was hidden beneath the water, but the agitation on the surface showed that powerful feet and legs were stirring.

“Yes, it has come here to die,” repeated Omega, “to fight for the last drop of earth’s water. It now has possession of the lake, and unless we kill it, it will kill us or drive us away.”

Almost with the words Omega seized an atomic gun and pointed it at the brute’s head. But before he could sight the weapon and pull the trigger the monster, as though sensing danger, suddenly jerked down its head and a moment later it had disappeared beneath the surface.

“It has gone!” cried Thalma. She was trembling as with a chill, and her eyes were wide with terror.

“It will appear again,” said Omega, “and then we will kill it, for the water belongs to man. Doubtless that huge beast is all that remains of life on earth save ourselves. To-night while you sleep here in the ship, I will take a gun, take position behind a rock on the shore of the lake and watch for its appearance. I think shortly after nightfall when the rocks are cool it leaves the water and comes on land in a vain search for food, for beyond a doubt it has devoured everything in the lake, save marine mosses and the like. Yet as it has survived all contemporary life except man, it may live for centuries unless we destroy it.”

“But there are not centuries of water out there,” Thalma said. “As to your hunting this monster alone, I will not hear of it. I shall go with you. Together we will destroy this menace of our new home.”

All Omega’s eloquence could not dissuade her. So, after the sun had set and the dry cold had chilled the hot rocks, they set out along the shore of the lake and looked eagerly out over the still water for a sight of their enemy. Nothing disturbed the silvery surface of the water. Crouching behind a mass of coral they waited, but throughout the long, still night they watched without reward, for nothing moved within their range of vision. The stars, wonderfully large and brilliant in that rarefied atmosphere, seemed to be the only link between them and the unknown. Only their own hurried breathing and the muffled thumps of their wildly beating hearts broke the silence. And as the sun rose again above the dead plains, weary and discouraged they returned to the ship.

While keeping up a bold front for Thalma’s sake, Omega’s heart was sad, for he well knew that unless they could vanquish that marine monster they were doomed. That such a dreadful creature had come to them from the mists of antiquity, as it were, was incredible. Yet he had seen it, Thalma had seen it, and it resembled some of the sea-monsters he had heard of in the past. They could not doubt its existence and must prepare for the worst.

Omega’s name had been conferred on him by an ironical whim of fate. When he was born there were still many people on earth inhabiting the low valleys of the Pacific’s floor where much water still remained. But the droughts had increased with the years, and before Omega had reached middle-life all rain had ceased to fall. The atmosphere became so rare, even near the ground, that it was difficult for the people with the aid of their machines to draw sufficient oxygen and nitrogen from it to prepare the food which had been man’s principal sustenance for ages.

Gradually the weaker peoples had succumbed. But the remnants of the nations gathered about the receding waters, all foreseeing the end, but all determined to defer it as long as possible. There was no recourse. For ages before Omega was born the nations, knowing that the earth was drying up, had fought one another for the privilege of migrating to another planet to fight its inhabitants for its possession. The battle had been so bitterly contested that two-thirds of the combatants were slain. By the aid of their space-cars the victors colonized other planets in our solar system leaving the vanquished on earth to shift for themselves. There was nothing for them to do but to fight on and await the end, for no space-car that man had ever devised was able to penetrate the cold, far-reaches of space. Only among the family of our own sun could he navigate his ships. And now, like the earth, every member of that once glorious family was dead or dying. For millions of years, Mars, his ruddy glow gone forever, had rolled through space, the tomb of a mighty civilization. The ashes of Venus were growing cold. Life on Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn already was in the throes of dissolution, and the cold, barren wastes of Uranus and Neptune always had forbidden man.

So it seemed that the name, Omega, had been fittingly bestowed. More than ever the stark truth made him shudder with apprehension, and he felt that only the coming of Alpha would give him strength to carry on.

“Now we must make ready for Alpha,” said Omega, even while thoughts of the sea-monster chilled his heart. “We will make our servants prepare the way. Here in this valley must be born a new race of men. Life must come from death. Come, Thalma.”

She smiled back at him, reassured by his confident manner, and together they entered a lower compartment of the ship. This compartment contained the servants of which Omega had spoken--divers machinery and other marvels of man’s construction. Omega touched several buttons and a section of the ship’s hull rolled aside. He pressed other buttons and whirled wheels. Then great sections of mirror slid out into the air and without apparent direction or control they ranged themselves far up on a steep hillside. Yet all were under perfect control. With invisible, atomic rays Omega made all do his bidding. For countless centuries man had mastered the atom, divided it, harnessed its electrons. Following the discoveries of the great French scientist, Becquerel, man had learned that the potential energy of all atoms--especially that of radium--is almost limitless. And as the disintegration of the atom carries an electrical discharge, man had learned to control this energy. Omega’s machines, utilizing atoms from everywhere, even the ether, split them by radio-activity through electromagnetic waves, and utilized the energy of their electrons which always move in fixed orbits. There being forty radio-active substances, Omega took advantage of them all, and equalizing the atomic weight of the atoms--whether those around a hydrogen nucleus or a helium nucleus--he broke the atoms down and directed the charges of their electrons. Then his motors amplified the discharges and, through the medium of an electric current, projected them in the form of invisible atomic rays which he could control and direct against any object and sustain and move at will by means of oscillating currents.

Soon upon the hillside, perfectly arranged and adjusted, appeared a giant, parabolic, refracting mirror with which he could obtain a view of any portion of the earth’s surface by sending vibrating currents around the world and reproducing impressions already recorded on the ether, on the surface of the mirror. And beneath its center was a receiver, through which he might have heard the minutest sound around the world, had there been any to hear.

The small, atomic motors--which drew their energy both from hydrogen nuclei, the ether of space and the radio-active substances of all metals--now were placed on the hillside near the great mirror. There motors were capable of creating and focusing light, without bulb or other container, whenever and wherever needed. All were operated with scarcely any effort by Omega.

In a measure it seemed strange that the Greek alphabet and all the classics of the ancients had survived antiquity. But the latest inventions of man explained it all. For man with his machines had reached far back into the shadowy past and proved the immortality of all thought and action. All the records of history, all the triumphs and defeats, the joys and sorrows and aspirations of humanity, came out of the past and marched across the screen of his historical recorder. As nothing is ever lost, all sounds and impressions occurring on earth since the dawn of its creation, being already impressed on the sensitive plastic and all-pervading ether, the same as a photograph is recorded on its film or plate, man had developed a machine for drawing on these impressions until at will the history of the world was before him. Even the varied life of the ancients came out of the past. Saints and sinners, slaves and masters mingled. Confucius sat before him in humility; Guatama counseled his followers to be humble; Christ died upon the cross. Warriors and statesmen shouted their triumphs and bewailed their defeats. Philosophers expounded their wisdom and Socrates drank the hemlock. Hannibal and Caesar and Alexander fought their battles, and Napoleon marched gory and unafraid from Austerlitz to Waterloo. All came back at the call of Omega’s science.

As has been stated it was a giant craft on which Omega and Thalma had come to this last retreat of man. Within its interior were all the latest marvels of man’s ingenuity and skill. These instruments of almost supernatural power not only reached back into the past but also penetrated the future. There was a great atomic-electric motor used in creating and controlling climate as long as there was any to control. Sending forth electromagnetic waves it massed and directed the atmospheric pressure, sending heat waves here, cold ones there, thus causing droughts and rainfall at will. But now, as with the case of most of the other machines, Omega needed it no longer. He kept it because it linked him with the joy of the past. Besides, there was the mind-control appliance by whose aid man’s mind might visit other worlds. This was done through the development of the subconscious and the discipline of the will. But Omega was weary of these pilgrimages, because his body could not perform those far-off flights. As time went on he realized that the earth was his natural home. Even the earth’s neighbors, dead and dying, offered him no haven.

Yes, Omega and Thalma had garnered the gist of the world’s treasures before commencing this last trek. Gold and precious stones were common objects to them, because for countless ages man had made them at will, but around those they had brought clustered sacred memories of loved ones gone before. The biological machine in the chemical laboratory of the ship--the machine that brought forth life from nature’s bountiful storehouse--was of little use now that both atmosphere and moisture were nearly gone. Yet Omega cherished this machine, and aside from its associations with the past, it held for him a fascination that he could not understand.

Having set the Mirror and other mechanical servants in position, Omega and Thalma returned to the ship, and slept throughout the day, for with the descending sun they must again go forth to hunt that scaly demon which had taken possession of the earth’s last water.

The night was moonless, but the bright starlight brought all objects into plain relief against the dark rocks. Taking position on the slope several rods above the beach, Omega and Thalma watched the lake eagerly, but nothing disturbed its mirror-like surface. As on the preceding night the awful silence appalled them--even though they were accustomed to the vast solitude. It was so calm and still, so full of death and mystery, that it seemed they must cry out in the agony of their emotions. As the very silence was crushing their spirits so the knowledge that only one form of life on earth stood between them and the water to which their last hope clung, was maddening. How they longed to battle the hideous monster! But the hours dragged on with nothing to disturb the dead, heart-breaking silence. At last the Great Dipper had swung so far around that dawn appeared. Yet there had been not a ripple on the lake. Omega concluded that his guess was wrong--the beast did not leave the water at night to search for food. Perhaps it had learned the futility of such a search in a dead, dust-covered world.

Wearied by their long and fruitless vigil they must have dozed, for suddenly Omega, who sat but a yard or two from Thalma, was aroused by a padded footfall and the exhalations of a noisome breath. Looking up he was horrified to see the monster towering above him, its head swaying gently to and fro, as its great, awkward feet sent it lunging forward and backward for many feet, its spotted, scale-covered body trailed over the rocks. By suddenly rounding the shoulder of the rock, sheltering Omega and Thalma, its head held high, it seemed not to have seen the two humans, for its terrible unblinking eyes were fixed ahead on the water. However, Omega, paralyzed with fear and astonishment, and being directly in the beast’s path, believed that his hour had come. This was to be the end of all his plans--to be crushed by the enormous weight of the monster which challenged his right to live. But in that tense moment when he thought that it was all over, the lithe form of Thalma reached his side and in a frenzy of terror pulled him away. But even then the sloping belly of the onrushing beast tore him from her frail hands and dashed him against the rock.

While he lay there stunned and unable to move, Thalma discharged her weapon at the monster. Three times she fired in quick succession but the shots went wild, and in another moment the great brute struck the water with a resounding splash and disappeared from view. For a few minutes a trail of surface bubbles marked its rapid course toward the lake’s center, then all was motionless and still as before.

“Are you hurt, Omega?” Thalma cried anxiously, kneeling by his side.

“Just shaken up a bit,” he returned, sitting up with an effort. “Great hunters are we,” he went on with a laugh. “We almost allowed the game to catch the hunters! Well, let’s go back to the ship. We’ll get him next time.”

But their narrow escape had shaken their nerve. All day long they remained safely in the ship and kept their guns trained on the lake hoping that the beast would show himself. How or when it had left the lake they could not surmise, but that it was more formidable than they had thought now seemed certain, and Omega concluded to bring science to his aid. In this way he was sure that he would soon exterminate the monster.

So the next day he lay a cable carrying a high voltage all around the lake and connected it with traps of various designs both in the water and on the land. No more would they risk their lives hunting the beast in the open after nightfall.

The hot, still days that followed were anxious ones for these last children of life. Not a trap was sprung. The beast did not drag his slimy body and tail across the heavily charged cable. The last of his kind, fighting the last battle of existence, it seemed that nature had endowed him with uncanny cunning. There was the life-giving water for whose possession no human kind challenged them, but this enemy was more terrible than any man, savage or civilized whom the earth had ever known.

During these anxious, watchful days Omega and Thalma went often to the Mirror and gazed into it in search of vapor clouds. And more than once those gossamer-like formations appeared over different parts of the world to gladden their hearts only to fade away before their vision. The reflections of those embryo clouds became less frequent as the days wore on. Omega and Thalma knew that they had no right to hope for the return of water vapor. Their instruments, so finely attuned as to appear endowed with intelligence, the records of the past and their own common sense told them that. But nature and life in the upper reaches of the air were dying as hard as their own hope. They knew that the aerial manifestations they witnessed were but symptoms of the death struggle. And yet a real cloud, dark and pregnant with moisture, suddenly appeared in the Mirror. Consulting the chart they saw that it was hovering over a great land of plain and mountains which formerly had been a part of the United States of America.

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.