The light from a waxing gibbous moon pours through the window, making jewelry and laptop and pale skin and cell phone shine. A teenage girl stands with knees pressed against the side of a bed. The bed has shimmery blue satin sheets. The girl stands perfectly still but for her long black hair, which drifts softly up and down, as if she were floating in a clear lake. Her eyes never close. They are pale grey and stay focused on a point just outside the window.
The Starlita May Home has it’s opening ceremony. It is the first of many such homes for the Afflicted, named for the first of many people to succumb to the strange ailment. They need no special care, having no discernible metabolism. The home is more a storage facility and source of respite for families frayed by the daily sight of their loved ones, apparently alive but forever unreachable. Here it is first noted that when many are gathered close together the lazy drifting of their hair synchronizes, an effect eerily suggestive of breathing.
Over the years the pace has accelerated. Whole cities are entirely populated with people who only stand and stare, hair drifting up and down in perfect unison, abandoned by everyone capable of leaving. Those who remain mobile tend to gather together, so no more than two or three cities on any continent remain populated with the wakeful. Every effort to understand, prevent, or cure has failed utterly. No virus or prion or toxin or vector has been identified. In desperation plans are made to somehow save humanity from the incomprehensible doom which so rapidly befalls it.
The end came even faster than expected, so the ones who built the great ship find themselves alone in boarding it. Barely two thousand people, all that remain of the billions who moved about on Earth just sixteen years ago, live in the vast belly of the ship. The great ship speeds away from Earth toward a far distant planet, to be reached in two hundred thirteen years, if at all. Already they call it New Earth, imagine it, discuss everything except the possibility that the Affliction might follow them there. The ship’s first marriage occurred two weeks after the start of the voyage. Pregnancies and births have been announced, and hopes run high for humanity’s survival. Far from those areas frequented by passengers, on the ship’s lonely bridge, the captain stands attentive, eyes fixed on that distant point of light to which they fly, buzzcut faintly drifting in some unseen current.
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