by Erik Koht

Was anyone out there still fighting? I don't think so, dead people don't. From what we could determine from our stretch of African beach, civilisation as we knew it was at an end. No ships appeared on the horizon, no planes passed by overhead, even the beach itself was cleaner as no new litter came drifting in. But at night we still spotted the satellites - weather satellites, sandstrand-1communications satellites moving slowly or not at all, and spy satellites in their low orbits, getting lower, moving swiftly among the stars. Now blind and out of control, those low fliers would be the first to go.

The children were sitting in a wide circle on the warm sand. They were playing a game, one by one they'd take centre stage, make some gesture or say something. Then he or she would twirl a stick, talk some more and sit down. Then the next child would rise. All the while they were laughing and taunting each other, just normal kid stuff.

At first we had been alone, just Eve and I. The wreck of our sailboat lay submerged now. We were lucky to be on shore when the typhoon hit. That little ship had served us well, bringing us here, but we would sail no more.

I looked at the tanned bodies of the children. The scene enacted before me was timeless and placeless. They could have been playing that game a thousand years ago in the snows of Siberia or in some school yard in South America last year just as the gas clouds overwhelmed their village. Their game did not require civilisation, just organisation. The youngest ones were completely naked, those a bit older had decorated their bodies with sticks and strings of sea shells. The eldest, she could be about twelve, had finger-painted her thighs with a pattern resembling sea weeds. None of the other children dared emulate that pattern.

They were not our children, most I barely knew. They didn't seem to be related, though we surmised they had to be from this general area. They just started arriving, at first appearing at the edge of the jungle, in pairs or in groups, never more than five at a time. Each newcomer was quickly integrated into the flock on the beach. In hours you couldn't tell which were the newcomers. No adults ever came looking for these kids. That weed girl was the eldest we ever saw. There was enough to eat for all. Sea shells, crustacea, fruit and nuts, mostly food that needed little or no cooking. Just crack or peel, then stick it in your mouth and chew.

They needed no help from us. They were survivors. Those that had been in need of help had succumbed long before they reached this beach sanctuary. There wasn't much we could teach them. In this world there were no cars to watch out for, no spoon and fork to be held just so, nor did reading and writing seem useful since few shared a common language. In time a new language would emerge from bits and pieces of old languages and they'd make up new words when they needed them.

I wanted to tell them about life on earth the way it had been, but there was no common ground. I had some photographs, but they were never meant to have educational value. They were just meaningless fragments, a reminder to us of the people we once were.

They loved watching the night sky. The stars were an amazing sight when the sea haze dispersed. The moon's changing faces were a wonder to them and already they had discovered the planets and those strange objects that didn't move at all, satellites in geostationary orbit. Did they realise there were man-made objects out there? They were relics now, like me and Eve, soon they would be gone.

At night the children danced. All kinds of objects were banged together to create a terrific din, from this racket and their leaps and jumps a rhythm would arise, fall apart, and rise again, subtly changed, as if they were searching for a special beat. This night was special, they found that beat and held on to it. The weed girl entered centre stage, she danced and gyrated. She was throwing something aloft, caught it, and threw it skyward again... and again. Now I glimpsed what she was throwing. It was a human skull. Again it soared and whirled, catching the light of the moon. It was itself a moon, white and full, tumbling among the stars.

She danced, she danced, the skull soared. Each time she caught it as it fell. Then suddenly she stepped aside, let the skull fall past her outstretched arms, rejecting it. The moon had fallen. Above, on the firmament of heaven, a spy satellite fell out of orbit and streaked like a meteor across the night sky, burning brightly. A sonic wave reverberated, it all lasted no more than a few seconds, then darkness returned.

There was silence. Then rose a great shout, a great shout of joy. And they made a circle around the weed girl, dancing their joy and stamping their feet. This night a priestess was born, the weed girl was their priestess and their queen. Praise be to you, priestess, they seemed to be chanting. In the years to come she would lead them, rule them. Even I praise you weed girl for the power that rests within you. Use that power well, protect your people, gather wisdom and pass that wisdom on to those that are yet to be born.

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