She looked down at the offering, held by such tiny hands. It had been decades, decades, she realized since she had seen the hands of a child. And now one stood before her, displaying crooked teeth that had only partially grown in.
She knelt down to the boy’s eye level. She returned the toothy grin with one of her own. Where this boy had an absence of wrinkles, she had an abundance. She doubted that her laugh lines had gotten this much exercise in recent years.
“Want some?” he asked, holding the slice closer to her face as if he suspected she couldn’t see it closely enough before. The scent of apples found its way to her and suddenly her mother was presenting a pie to her in a similar fashion after she blew out the candles on top. She had always preferred pie to cake.
She blinked away the memory, assessing the boy. His shoulder stuck out of the collar of a t-shirt advertising a deceased band, his shorts were cinched at the waist with rope.
“That looks delicious. Who’d you bake it with?” The boy didn’t answer as they heard a woman shuffling across the runway as fast as someone with untreated arthritis in both knees could run.
“Brendan! I told you to stay inside,” she called, slightly out of breath.
She felt pity for this woman. Having never wanted children herself, she found it easier to cope with the human extinction law than others. It was logical. Hurricanes battering the shore, the mass exodus of coastal towns, and poisoned air showed the planet dangerously close to its tipping point. Humanity was going to end one way or another. Our last dying gift to the world was to kill ourselves before we forced it to die with us.
Suddenly, the pity was replaced with anger. How dare this woman think she deserved children when the rest had none. She looked down at her watch. It was old but without younger workers, technological growth had stagnated.10:43. Her boss would be expecting a report.
“Brendan, come here.” The other woman grabbed the boy and held him on her hip.
“My name is Olivia.” The other woman remained silent. Olivia inspected her. They must be close in age though this woman looked a decade older.
“I suppose you want me to beg for my life. For the life of my family.”
“I’m not interested in begging.”
“Neither am I.”
“Glad we’re on the same page,” Olivia smiled dryly. “I’m interested in why you did this. What made you so important that you thought to carry on the human race? That’s what I’d like to know.”
The woman shifted and looked at Olivia’s plane, specifically at the government insignia on the side. “The Environmental Protection Agency has really evolved since we were kids.”
“For the better. They’re—we’re committed to protecting the planet and making sure it’s livable for future inhabitants. I make sure people like you aren’t sabotaging that goal.”
Her barking laugh carried no amusement. “Yes, the actions of the common folk are to blame. Will you slaughter us all? How many have you killed?”
Olivia glanced at her watch again. 10:48. It buzzed with a message. She replied, “You’re the first I’ve encountered. But the standard protocol for breaking this law is the death penalty. Simply undoing an action that never should have been done.”
The woman whispered something to Brendan and set him down. Olivia watched him walk away, pie still in hand, noting his direction. It was true. People on the job longer had found settlements, but her first six months had been uneventful in that respect. She saw it as the perfect opportunity to travel.
“Simply undoing an action? There’s no doubt the rich have secret societies with children. Have you investigated them?” The woman’s face was reddening and her voice beginning to strain. It appeared the reality of her next twenty-four hours was sinking in. The team sent out by Olivia would scour the area to find whoever lived here and make sure that was no longer true.
Pity again. Her mother had a similar reaction when the law was first enacted. What about the value of human life? she had argued. What about the value of the rest of life on Earth? Olivia always countered. It was simple to her. Any doubts squashed by the latest record-breaking heatwave or next extinct species. She looked at the woman. Really seeing her this time.
Her skin was also wrinkled and worn; her clothes in no better shape. She was hunched slightly, no doubt due to the nature of her way of life. Her eyes stayed locked with Olivia’s. There was something familiar about her eyes. She thought about her mother again.
“I want to see your family.” The woman didn’t move. Olivia softened her voice. “Maybe you’re right. Besides, I already know where you are.” The woman sighed and seemed to be appraising Olivia. Whatever she found was enough to turn and guide Olivia to her home.
11:02. The buzzing felt impatient but still she ignored it. Olivia was surprised when the woman led her into the airport. There was no way to tell from the outside it was occupied.
Inside, however, the airport was bursting with life. She guessed only fifteen people lived there but she could feel the energy radiating from the makeshift art projects, mismatched decor, and scent of baked goods.
She walked over to a card pinned on the wall. Written in crayon, I love you mama, inside of a lopsided heart. She smiled in spite of herself. Home, she thought.
Three buzzes, one right after another. She was breaking protocol and tapped the screen to reply.
The woman walked up behind her. “We aren’t hurting anyone here. Please. Please let us stay.”
“I thought neither of us was interested in begging.”
“Desperate times, Olivia.” How she sounded so much like her own mother.Another buzz. Confirmed, it read.