Byron is looking in a mirror, dragging a comb across the few hairs he has left. He is thinking about how much shallower he looks than he did when he started on this trip. More lines. Sagging. 83? 84? Who knows?
There is a knocking on the hull of his space ship. Then hundreds of knocks, a cacophony. They’re excited to meet the inhabitant of this tin can that has landed on their planet. What is it doing here? Why didn’t it park in the shade?
Byron is adjusting his tie. Carol gave it to him for his first day in Congress. God, Byron thinks. Congress. So long ago! The tie has a small duck pattern on it, an inside joke between husband and wife.
There is a chittering outside the door of the space ship. They’re excited to meet the first Human Being that has ever landed on their planet, although they don’t know Byron is a Human Being; they’re just hoping whatever is in the tin can is nicer than those jack asses from Alpha Centauri.
Byron tucks The Encyclopedia under his arm ceremoniously. All of Earth’s history. The whole kit and kaboodle. All of it. And Byron, the last of them all. Delivering the memory of the Human Race to the universe. Preserving our place in history before the Earth was turned into a giant fungus by bad people, rendered quite unlivable. All the memories. All the stories, lost. A pinprick in such a large place like the universe. All your memories, gone.
There is a gasping silence as the door hisses open, the gangplank groans down, and Byron wobbles out. Two suns: how about that? Byron squints. There is a loud cheer as he raises his raisined hand to say hello.
Byron is delivering the greatest speech in human history, The Encyclopedia recording it for inclusion. As old and crazy as he’s become from twenty years in space, he has not forgotten the forty years of speech writing. It’s a doozy: epic, personal, touching. There is a loud chittering cheer, although it is for the melody of his voice, since they don’t speak English. Byron remembers his acceptance speech, his run for the Presidency, cut short because of his son’s death.
There is a giant crowd around him for his last days. They are much shorter than he is, and call him “Byrud.” He is having children all over again, showing them pictures on The Encyclopedia, smoking from his pipe. He starts talking about his wife. Carol, Carol, Carol.
Byron is trying to hold on to the many hands clasping his. There in the shade of a giant, alien plant, is a crowd as far as he can see, smiling at him. Then his fingers die, forgetting how they wiped the sweaty strands of hair off his wife’s forehead after giving birth to David. Then his arm dies, forgetting how it held Carol on the boardwalk during their first night in Capital Metropolis. He asks for her, and there is a comforting chittering. The sun fades. His eyes die, his brain dies. His memories are gone.
Like this one: Byron and his wife, finally cleaning out David’s room. The books he read, the drawings he made. They were just objects, they realized: the stories that made them important died long before.