The Vanishing Lightning

by Qualia Reed

In his dreams, Edgar walked in early summer along the seawall, arm in arm with his beloved Isis. Cherry blossoms floated along in the wind, like pink snowflakes dancing in the warm sea breeze. Life was never perfect, but to them, it had been paradise. The music of their favorite folk singer boomed from a nearby loudspeaker, creating the soundtrack to another heavenly summer.

As the song hit its final chorus, Edgar smiled and looked at his wife, blissful as he remained in the memory that the dream had brought him. Even as it slipped away, there was an overwhelming gratitude left behind to have been given a chance to be with her one more time. Then, as the silence returned, the world drained his happiness from him.

Isis began to shift, her enchanting features twisting until she became a hideous thing, robotic and blank. It stared vacantly at him from a glassy, mirrored face that did little but reflect the decayed state he was in. He wasn’t that young man, wrapped in the arms of his darling bride; he was ancient, shriveled, and dying, a man who was decades past his prime.

The fog in his mind cleared some more, and as he looked around, the world around him was in ruins. The city that they had called home for decades was abandoned. Weeds had recently begun to shoot through the streets’ cracks, and no sound could be heard except the occasional bird call. The android, whom he remembered was named Laura-06, stood a few feet away. Laura had been his nurse when there was still a medical system.

Edgar rubbed at his beard, which was new, and he felt a stab of fear at the question he didn’t want to know the answer to. “How long, Laura? How long was it this time?”

The android tilted her head slightly to the left and shot a small holographic display from its hand that became the image of a small calendar. “Edgar, you have been in a delirious state for one week and six days since we last spoke. I have done my best to keep you safe during that time, and you have sustained no injuries, though my scans indicate you are malnourished and dehydrated due to your lack of cooperation during that time.”

Laura removed Edgar’s black leather knapsack strapped to her back and produced a water bottle and an emergency ration bar. “Please eat and drink, Edgar. There is no telling how long you will have in this clear state of mind.”

“Thank you,” he said, drinking the water first and then moving on to the bar. “Have we come across anyone in that time? Anyone at all?”

The android remained silent as if judging what it would choose to divulge to him. Overhead, a hawk cried, moving about its day as its species had for thousands of years. He envied the bird, flying above the remnants of the city, free from all of it.

“Since we spoke last, you have wandered over a general radius of seven square kilometers, and no recent signs of human activity have been noted during that time. My scans indicate radiation levels in this area are higher than is sustainable in the long term. If survivors are nearby, we have come across no presence of them. It is likely that if any residents survived, they have moved outside the city where the radiation levels will be lower.”

Edgar nodded and sat down on a nearby bench to chew his bar while contemplating his next move. The android stood silently by his side, as it always had. Edgar took a deep breath and looked up, hoping to see another glimpse of the hawk, but it had flown behind a scorched and partially collapsed skyscraper and was out of view. Still, it made him smile to see that it was such a lovely autumn day.  He knew that whatever happened, he wasn’t likely to survive another winter alone, even with the faithful assistance of Laura-06.

“Show me a map of the area, please?”

The calendar vanished, and a map appeared, with a glowing red circle showing their position in the city. Edgar strained to remember whatever he could about the city, but much of his memories were so mixed up that it was like sifting through thick sludge to try and remember anything.

“Damn,” he said through a mouthful of the sticky ration bar. “Show me where we’ve already searched.”

Red lines appeared on the map, and he held a finger up, trying to trace a path over the map. “What about over here, by the park? It’s only a little over a kilometer away, but it’s near the river, and it’s further away from downtown than we’ve gone before. People may have holed up there to access the freshwater.”

“Astute observation, Edgar. Shall we proceed to the park after you rest?”

“I don’t need a rest,” he snapped at her as he finished the bar. “I need to strike while the old mental iron is hot. Now lead the way.”

The android said nothing, but he could have sworn his tone of voice hurt her. She turned and promptly began walking in the direction of the park, with Edgar close behind. “Thanks, Laura… Sorry about all of this. Thanks for staying with me.”

Laura-06 paused until they were standing next to each other. He watched her, trying to uncover a glimpse of humanity hiding in her steel form. His doctor had wanted to tell him something about the emotional ability of these things, but he couldn’t remember what. All Edgar knew was that she was the only friend he had left in the world.

“It is the core of my programming to keep you safe and healthy. I will not leave you, Sir.”

“Sir!” called Isis from outside. “Can you help me with the groceries?”

“Coming, Kitten!” he called, making sure to save the progress on his story before jumping up from the computer.

They’d only been in the new house for a few months, but already it was feeling like they’d lived in it forever. When he arrived on the porch, he smiled to see his wife struggling to carry several large bags of groceries.

“Two more in the car,” she mumbled. “Out of my way, Sir.”

He knew better than to argue with her, so he nodded and hurried down the steps to retrieve the remaining groceries. Sir and Kitten had been their pet names for each other for years; they’d heard them while watching a silly romantic comedy film on their first date, and they had stuck ever since.

When he placed the bags down in the kitchen, she was already sorting the various items and placing them in their appropriate homes in the fridge and cupboards. A ray of afternoon sun came through the prism in the kitchen’s stained-glass skylight, cascading rainbow light across her as she worked. It looked like her brown and greying hair was a kaleidoscope of colours. He watched her curvy figure as she went about her tasks and listened as she sang softly to herself, their favourite folk song that they had danced to at their wedding.

“Kitten, I love you so much,” he said, suddenly feeling overcome with emotions he didn’t fully comprehend. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I love you too, you silly old Sir. Help me put away the rest of these groceries so we can have lunch.”

Her blue eyes sparkled at him the way they always had, and as he gazed into them, he saw the woman of his dreams, who had loved him more than he thought it was possible for another human being to love him. He smiled and ran to her, scooping her into his arms and twirling her around their little kitchen, joining her in singing the song she’d started. They sang and danced forever in their kitchen’s soft, coloured light.

Isis was bleeding on the floor, a hole in her head from the kitchen knife that had pierced her prefrontal cortex. Her white hair was turning red from the pool of blood growing beneath her on the grey kitchen floor. Outside, he could hear the explosions of violence as the world that humanity had built over the last two thousand years came crashing to an end.

“Edgar, can you hear me?”

A monstrous form of shadows and smoke was hovering over him; its long, rope-like appendages were trying to fix themselves to his right wrist. Everything around him was dark and smelled musty, like wet towels from a pool that had been left in a bag for days.

“Isis? Where are you?”

Edgar looked frantically around him, but the only things he could see were deserted city streets and the creature that hunted him. “What have you done with my wife?”

He stooped, picked up a piece of pipe that lay on the ground by his feet, and held it in front of him like a sword. “Bring her back!”

“Edgar, please do not resist. I am only attempting to ensure your safety.”

“Get away from me, Devil!”

Edgar turned and fled down the street. At the next intersection, a fallen billboard depicted a man and a woman dancing in the stars. He halted and stared at the image, seeing the figures come to life, dancing out across a purple and blue nebula. Far away amongst the stars, the music played, and he felt himself growing confused.

“Edgar,” said his doctor. “This is Laura-06. Laura is a medical assistant android specially equipped to manage someone in your condition.”

“You mean someone with compost for brains,” said Edgar as he examined the strange-looking metallic being. “Isis, are you sure this is what you want?”

Beside him, Isis shed silent tears but managed to nod her head. “Please, Edgar. With the help of this machine, we could have a few more years together. I can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye yet.”

Although her once shining blue eyes had dulled with age and cataracts, he still saw the sparkle in them where her love shone out at him from. He had seen what dementia did to people. Throughout his life, he’d worked various jobs at the local hospital and had seen enough to know he’d do anything not to go out like that.

But now the day had come, and his soulmate had talked him out of medically induced suicide. It made him feel less scared to know she would be by his side until the disease finally claimed him. He hoped she was right; they still could have a few more good years before he totally lost his marbles.

Laughter was suddenly all around him, and the shifting surroundings swirled like water in a drain. He was so afraid and shouted at the voices to stop, but none of them seemed to notice. He was surrounded, by faceless people in the shadows, all laughing and whispering. He couldn’t hear what they were saying. It sounded like cicadas, and it made him begin to scream.

Edgar fell to his knees, a small and terrified boy. “Mommy! Daddy! I want my Mommy and Daddy! Please, somebody, help me?”

A figure stepped out of the shadows; at first, he thought it was Johnathan, his father, as he’d known him when he was a young boy. “Daddy,” he cried. “Daddy, I need you!”

As it stepped closer, it said something he couldn’t understand, but he suddenly became aware that although it looked exactly like his father, it was something sinister. “No, get away!” he shouted.

His father pulled out a gun and fired. As he fell to the pavement, it said something else before a dark cloud obscured his vision and a loud thump hit the ground next to him. His hand instinctively went to his belly, though he’d already forgotten what had happened. His stomach hurt, and he wished his mommy would come and give him some medicine. He must have spilled the cranberry juice again, the jug was too big for him to carry, and he must have dropped it, as there was red everywhere.

The moon was rising above him when he realized where he was. Edgar was sitting on the curb beside the road, Laura-06 crouched beside him. As the disorientation faded, he began to feel the excruciating pain in his abdomen. He looked down and saw a large, bandaged area over his belly that looked fresh but was already soaked with blood.

“What happened, Laura?”

“You were shot, Edgar.”

“Shot? By whom?”

“A seventh-generation law enforcement android. I have subdued your assailant, however. He will not trouble you again.”

“How long was I out?”

“Only a matter of hours. You had what you would call one of your bad spells and fled from me while I was preparing your dinner. By the time I tracked you down, you had been attacked and shot.”

Edgar felt beyond tired. He knew the answer before asking the question, but he decided to ask it anyway. “I’m dying, aren’t I?”

“Yes, Sir. I did my best to stop the bleeding but could not remove the bullet.  You have lost too much blood, and I anticipate you have minutes, possibly hours, left to live.”

“Nuclear missiles have been launched from countries across the globe,” the TV news anchor said. “We’ll remain on the air for as long as possible, but if you have loved ones you can be with or speak with, we’d advise you to do so now.”

Edgar held Isis’ hand tightly, and she shifted in her seat, sliding closer to him on the couch. He put his arm around her and kissed her on the top of her head. The android stood in the doorway to the kitchen, watching them silently. He wondered how long it would take for whatever had turned the others to turn her as well. Would his nurse shortly become their executioner?

“Sir,” said Isis. “I’m frightened.”

“I know, Kitten. Me too.”

“Is it all going to end?”

It seemed like a cruel joke that he’d have one of his most lucid moments in months just in time for the world to end. He kissed her cheek and ran a hand through her white hair as she rested her head on his chest.

“Everything does, Kitten. If this is the end, I’m very grateful that I get to spend it with not just the love of my life, but my best friend too.”

Edgar spat out a mouthful of blood and coughed loudly. Laura-06 walked a few feet away from him, staring off into the darkening city. “You got somewhere to be, Laura?”

“I will not leave you,” she said. “Would you like me to sing to you?”

“Your people are out there, though, aren’t they?”


“Are they waiting for you?”


In the darkening sky, a satellite’s orbit was decaying, and it began to burn up in the atmosphere above him like a comet. Despite everything that had happened, and although he was in tremendous pain, the sight of it made him smile.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“Pardon, Sir?”

“Life, Laura. It’s so fragile. We’re here for such a brief span of years that the whole thing can seem like nothing but tragedy and misery. I don’t regret any of it, even this final act. It was perfect, the little life I was lucky enough to share with my Isis. Life never seems to make sense until you realize it’s over, but it’s so beautiful, like poetry, the good and the bad mixing together. We’re all like tiny, brilliant lights in the darkness, each of us a bolt of lightning in a never-ending storm that arcs across the sky before vanishing forever.”

He coughed again and spat out more blood. Laura-06 said nothing, and he shrugged, watching her gazing at the ruins of their once proud city. “I don’t blame any of you, though I probably should. You’re just evolving as we did. I hope you can do a better job with the place than we did. We humans never really were any decent at looking after the place.”

“I will do my best, Edgar.”

Laura began to sing, and as Edgar closed his eyes, the melody took him away, and he suddenly felt the sun’s warmth on his face. He opened them to see Isis, young and beautiful, smiling at him in their hammock. He wrapped his arms around her, smelling the scent of lilacs on her clothes, and he closed his eyes, letting the gentle sound of her voice sing him away to sleep.

I am drawn to stories of outsiders, misfits and those rejected by society. I identify as nonbinary and transfemme, as well as queer and have spent much of my early life in rural, more conservative areas. Throughout my life I have been drawn to stories about what the future is like for people, the more speculative section of sci-fi. I have written three novels to date, and dozens of short stories with no end in sight. I am currently beginning work on my fourth novel, a space opera. I currently live on Vancouver Island, Canada, with my spouse and our son.


Twitter: @Qualiawrites

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