In Which Many Wishes and a Friend Are Made

The old town square of New Wickham was empty save for a single cat listening to old songs on the radio. Having spent the past week bringing buckets of water from the South Branch Potomac River, she finally sat beside the old fountain with a bucket full of quarters and dimes. The coins held no direct value without anyone else to buy things from, the town’s few vending machines having been cannibalized for parts after power was lost.

Although she had never directly met humans before, they had taught her English and basic letters and numbers before they left. She’d learned to read their books, watched a few of their movies, and enjoyed listening to their music. The people in the books helped her not feel so lonely. But they also made her long for the human contact she’d been denied her whole life.

As she looked at her reflection in the still water, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of superstition about her appearance. While she’d always loved her silky black fur, she knew that human stories often portrayed black cats as ‘unlucky.’ Even though she was more of a dark gray, that was why she’d taken every opportunity to collect lucky charms. She’d hung every horseshoe she found in the town square, as well as small mirrors, crosses, four-leaf clover ornaments, garlands of garlic, and at least five hundred rabbit’s feet she’d caught and cured over the years. Just maybe, that would be enough to bring her good luck despite being a black cat.

While waiting for the light show to begin, she scanned over the human faces in all the family portraits she’d brought out for the event. She had carefully arranged the pictures on risers she found at the old community school as if this were a major celebration and everyone in town was there to see it.

Technically true, since she was everyone in town. As far as she knew, she was everyone in the world. Maybe everyone in the universe? The humans had never found intelligent life anywhere else before the ‘end of the world.’ That was probably why they’d made her.

Despite her advanced intelligence, she still struggled to comprehend the research papers that explained her creation, and the facility’s backup generators had failed long before she learned to read. All she knew for sure was that she wouldn’t have to grow old.

She’d selected a night the farmer’s almanac said would have a lot of shooting stars. Tonight, she would make her wishes.

As streaks formed in the sky she would recite her wish, kiss the coin, touch it to her forehead, and toss it into the still water of the ‘fountain.’ One after another, with each streak she could, she made her wishes and cast them to the sky and water for whatever would listen.

Shortly after the meteor shower ended, her bucket almost half empty, she heard a voice on one of her battery-powered radios. She’d repaired and charged several but was only using four of them tonight, all tuned to the music.

“Hello? Is anyone still on this planet?” The voice cutting through her music sounded like one from a movie she’d watched on a tablet before it had broken. A confident hero type.

Shaking herself from the reverie she jumped over to the table and picked up the microphone on an old HAM radio set. “Yes. I’m here!”

“OK, looks like you’re using a duplex signal. Didn’t get what you said. I’ve adjusted my equipment. Please repeat.”

“Yes, I’m here. Hello?”

“Nice ta meet ya young lady. What’s yer name?”

“I don’t have one. I’ve never had need of one. Once I figured out what names were, I didn’t think I should give myself one. That’s for parents or friends to do.”

“Alrighty, well, I’m Cutter. I’m heading to your planet now. You are the only signal giving an intelligent response. I’ve been reading up on my ship’s summary of what happened, and I’m surprised anyone is left.”

She nodded, not that he could see her. “I, I think I’m immune to the disease, and the facility I was made in shielded me from the radiation at its worst. I’ve always wondered if any humans survived, or if there were other Lifted like me. But you are the first person I’m getting to talk to that isn’t a recording. Um, did you come to grant my wishes?”

“Wishes? Sorry ma’am, I came to contact humanity, the only sapient species we knew of in the Sol system, invite your system to join the intergalactic community. Couple decades ago some of your neighbors started deciphering your planet’s transmissions and sharing it with the rest of us. I’m a big fan of the Andy Griffith Show, myself. My ship arrived in your system a couple days ago. I came in to find only a few transmissions still going, all automated. But you, well, you were playing music, music I like, and ya responded.”

She thought for a moment about the signal requirements to reach out into space. “Right, the school radio tower. I used the diesel generator so I could have my radios play some music by the fountain.”

“Lucky ya did, or I might of missed ya. Scans indicate yours is the only power signature with any large mammals near. So if anyone else survived, they don’t have any power. Or, maybe they just aren’t mammals. Definitely no humans left, that’s for sure, I’d be able to detect them even three kilometers deep. Near as I can tell, it’s just you.”

“Then, can you take me to other people?”

“So, yes, in a way, but, formal technicality, I need authorization from you.” He shifted into a formal tone as if reading from a script and adapting it to her needs. “Uh, as the sole identified occupant and de facto ruler of the planet Earth, and thus the Sol system, do you authorize the deployment of an Administrator Network access gate? This will connect your planet to the local community of star systems, and from there, to the broader galactic and intergalactic communities.” He paused a moment, “I should probably make it clear, my ship can’t land and will be staying in orbit indefinitely, so if you want off this planet without building a ship to get up to me, the answer is ‘yes.'”

“Then, yes.”

He instructed her to take her radio out to an open area so he could target the gate drop. She decided that it would fit where her radio already was and pulled the white plastic table over to the risers once he had the coordinates locked.

“Dropping. The gate should arrive in 22 of your minutes. It will then unfold and activate. Once it is active you can walk through to your local gate hub. A welcoming committee will be waiting for you.”

She was so excited. Her wish was coming true. She was finally going to meet people. Even if they weren’t humans, they were still people, like her.

She decided that if they were expecting humans, she should at least dress as one. Returning to her nest in the attic of the old bookstore, she found the mannequin wearing the blue sundress she’d picked out years ago.

Remembering she’d just been declared the ruler of Earth, she biked over to the school’s drama department to find a tiara that would fit lying on her head between her ears. She used a little sticky tack to keep it from falling off and decorated the mane that flowed down behind her head with star and heart-shaped pins and clips. After turning off the generator she biked back to the town square.

Next to the risers was a shallow crater breaking the brickwork with a bit of metal debris, mostly made of what she assumed was the landing assist equipment much like she’d read the Mars rovers used. At the center, a two-story tall ring with a shimmering blue liquid. The surface was like a sideways pond constantly rippling as if under a breeze. It conducted an eerie light from an unknown source.

She checked her satchel, took a few deep breaths to steady herself, and stepped up to the platform deployed in front of the gate. Birds were starting their early morning songs as the deep blue sky slowly brightened. Pressing a hand to the liquid, she felt no wetness, only a chilly tingling sensation. Pulling it back, the tips of her fur hairs were slightly frosted by the chill.

She stepped forward to meet the future she’d wished for.

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