He would be leaving within the hour.
Notus stood by the window staring at the wide expanse of grays and yellows stretching across the horizon. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the feeling he'd had the first time he looked out this window, three years ago. He barely remembered the dread knowing this was the only view he would see for years. He'd begun by counting the days. . . .
The first months passed and he became more used to the sight. He began to welcome the first light of dawn that changed the colors to orange and black, and the last light of sunset, as everything drifted to gray. Storms rose and died; some with lightning that seemed to stretch halfway around the world.
Notus couldn't remember when he started enjoying the view. Maybe it came from understanding. Once he could read the air currents and trace the elements, he began to predict the weather on Pearl. Then he began to see other things; there was life here, though little more than floating bodies of multi-celled bacteria. They moved and they lived, and sometimes a few spots gathered on the glass where he could study them without sending out the bots to collect whatever they could.
He loved being on Pearl. Even being alone here with nothing but the bots hadn't been bad. Ships came by every few months with supplies. The visitors looked appalled as they stared out the window. Notus found the looks amusing rather than annoying.
"Box 232 sealed."
He turned and gave a nod. He'd found it odd that he had held to those gestures, even with the bots. Held to what helped keep him human. He didn't want to seem odd to those who stopped by and visited him. He'd met those kinds of people in his trade; the ones who stayed too long away from humans and never fit back in again.
The waist-high bot rushed to a corner, lowered arms, the glow of diodes going dark. The other three were already in rest mode, standing by the crates like sentinels.
The four bots had done an admirable job of packing the boxes and stacking them neatly by the airlock to the small, three room workshop they shared with their lone human. He still had some personal things to take pack away. There wasn't much left; a few items of clothing, his pocketcomp and a few stone carvings he'd been working on in native stone since his arrival. Working with his hands had helped when the time grew too long.
Notus had chosen the rocks himself on one of the few excursions he had made, fully suited, out into the inhospitable world. The IWC Science Board knew he made rock carvings from almost every world he visited. They had quite a few on display at their headquarters on Mars. He'd carved animals and plants of his native earth in rock where such creatures had never walked. Pearl had exceptional rock for carving and he'd done more than he could take with him. No matter. He often left a few pieces behind. Someone would find them, years from now.
He packed away some small birds, a horse and an unusual piece for him. He had spent the most time on it, carving the shape of a single local bacterium into a flat stone more than a hand's breadth across. It was, he thought, his very best work to date. He wrapped it in some of the clothing he'd left out. He did the same with the birds and the horse. He remembered to put his pocket comp in his jacket, too. He wasn't used to carrying it around.
The last pieces he took out of his workroom to the main area with the window. He sat them on the ledge there; bird, cat, fish. They watched the swirls of colors for a few minutes more, until the disturbance of the shuttle sent everything into a flurry.
"Etech Notus, are you ready?" a voice said from his pocketcomp. She had a nice voice.
"All packed and ready to go," he said with a smile.
"Do you need help with the transfer?"
"No, thank you. The bots are ready and can handle it. We'll come through as soon as the airlock tunnel links."
"Excellent. We're ready."
"Bots work," he said, waking the four up. They came to stand in a line, ready for their orders. He watched the light at the door turned green. He counted to thirty, but it stayed steady.
"Bots move crates to shuttle, best order."
He left them to the work while he took the very last readings, mostly interested in what the shuttle had kicked up. One last test.
And a silent farewell, though not only because he was leaving. The world he had studied so well for the last three years was about to die. Even if he returned next year, Pearl would not be the same. The terra-formers were already at work in the north. The big machines were digging oceans and the nano machines had begun to manufacture water. Elsewhere they had started to scrub the air and he'd already begun to read the changes.
He touched the glass where a colony of bactria had spread across several inches of glass. The bacteria would only survive in the vials he took away and in the carving he'd made.
The bots were already moving the last of the crates. He tapped the glass, then turned away -- though he looked again as he reached the airlock and before he keyed off the last of the equipment.
He was going to miss Pearl.
This was the end of the world.
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