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The Last Hum

by John W. Howell 7 months ago in Short Story · updated 7 months ago

Before the end

The Last Hum - Before the end

By John W. Howell

The hum is very familiar, and Wes Andrews is sure he has experienced it before. It is one of those mechanical things that lets you know something’s working. It’s not annoying, and even though it is off in the distance, he can feel it in his bones. It might be like the time he was on that large freighter crossing the ocean. Lying in the bunk back then, he could feel the engine churning those propellers taking him back home.

Although entirely in the dark, he reaches for his locket, which should be on a chain around his neck. In a moment of concern, he can’t find it. His hand touches everywhere on his chest and confirms he has no clothes on as well. He brushes the chain as it rests beside his neck. Following the chain, with his fingers, he finally feels the smooth, heart-shaped silver that is warm to the touch. Just touching it causes him to release the tension building up. He brings his beloved locket back to the center of his chest and clutches it in his hand.

“No one has taken your precious locket, Andrews.”

Andrews twists in the direction of the voice. “Who’s there?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

Andrews tries to raise his head. “Where am I?”

“You don’t remember being rescued from the hordes attacking your precious city.”

“City? What city.”

“Oh my. You are in bad shape indeed.”

“Why can’t I see you?”

“You are covered with bandages. You came in here quite unconscious.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“Oh, my heavens no.”

“Who then?”

“You don’t recognize my voice.”

Andrews pauses and tries to think of where he has heard that voice before. He does not recognize it. “Did we know each other from work?”

“Okay, enough of the guessing game. You have no idea. My name is Stewart, and I served on the Constellation under your command.”

Andrews sighs. “Oh yes, Stewart. How have you been?”

Stewart scoffs. “You want to go in that direction, Andrews?”

“Why. What’s the problem?”

Stewart's voice grows tight. “You had me court-martialed. I was busted and spent thirty-six months in the brig and then dishonorably discharged.”

“Wow, that doesn’t sound like a way to make friends, does it?”

“You trying to be smart with me, Andrews?”

Andrews's voice cracks. “No, I . . . I mean, I don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t remember a court-martial or any of that. So, I’m pretty confused.”

Stewart speaks slowly. “Let me fill you in, Mr. President.”

“Mr. President? What are you talking about?”

Stewart sighs. “Now you are playing with me.”

Desperation enters Andrew's voice. “Seriously, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Give me the year.”

“The year?”

“Yes, tell me what year this is.”

“2083.”

The silence in the room says a lot about the fact that Andrews may not have gotten the year right. “Stewart? You still here?”

* * *

Stewart slumps in the leather chair in front of his Boss's desk. He waits patiently until his presence is acknowledged. “So, Stewart, what is Andrew’s condition?”

“Aside from the physical, he appears to be suffering from amnesia.”

“Amnesia? You sure?”

“It will take a thorough examination, but I’m pretty sure. Andrews thinks it is 2080.”

The Boss puts his hand on his forehead. “Before he started the revolution?”

Stewart nods. “Must be some kind of block. He’s still clutching that damned locket, though.”

The Boss's hand falls to the desk. “The one that held the launch codes?”

“The very same.”

The Boss caps his pen. “He used those ten years ago to start the war.”

“I know, and you know, He doesn’t seem to recall.”

The Boss picks up a paper, glances at it, and sets it back down. “He was still fighting when captured. He must have been lucid then.”

Stewart leans forward. “I can’t explain it, sir. You could order a complete mental exam, and then if found competent, we could go ahead and start the prosecution proceedings.”

The Boss looks off across the room. “He's been the cause of the loss of more lives than all the wars combined.” He looks back at Stewart. “If he's unfit for trial, where does that leave us?”

Stewart avoids the gaze. “With a very dissatisfied population, sir.”

“And one that could have our necks.” The Boss slaps the desk.

Stewart jumps. “That too, sir.”

“Any chance he will snap out of it?”

Stewart shakes his head, “I’ve been watching him for three weeks. I have the same conversation with him over and over. I don’t think so. He doesn’t seem to remember being the head of this nation and then destroying it systematically.”

The Boss gets up from his desk and looks down at Stewart. “We need to do something.”

* * *

“Andrews, wake up.”

Andrews jumps. “What is it?”

“Time to get out of here. The medical team is going to move you.”

Andrews touches his eye bandage. “Where we going?”

Stewart waves his hand. “To a better hospital. You are strong enough to move.”

Andrews rises to one elbow and falls back. “Why do I feel so weak?”

Stewart waves at the attendant. “They gave you something to relax.”

Andrews sighs. “The year is 2093.”

Stewart looks at Andrews. “You remember the question?”

“Yes. I remember. My God, it’s been ten years since I began to save our world. From the invaders What is that hum?”

Stewart pauses and listens. “That is the air handling system. After your little uprising and radiation rampage, we have no pure air anymore. It all has to be made in-house, so to speak.”

Andrews laughs. “That’s here. In my part of the country, the air is clean and pure.”

Stewart scoffs. “Spoken like a true liberator. You must be so proud.”

Andrews's voice shakes. “You say that like one of them. I knew when I brought up those charges there was something funny with you. How did you ever get back in the service?”

“Who says I’m in the service? Too bad you are so lucid.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You received an irreversible termination shot. We all thought you were out of your mind and couldn’t let you remain unpunished for your crimes. I would have so enjoyed testifying at your trial. But right now, it is goodbye, Andrews. Sleep well.”

Andrews lays back. “I wish I had more lives to give.”

“I’ll bet you do. I, for one, think you have had enough. Goodbye, Mr. President.”

“I’ll see you in hell, Stewart.”

Stewart nods to the attendants, and they start to move Andrews. “Yeah, save me a seat.”

Short Story

John W. Howell

John is an award-winning author who, after an extensive business career, began writing full-time in 2012. His specialty is thriller fiction novels. He has written six books that are on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Read next: Chasing the Light

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