D. Paul Angel
"Andrew! So good to see you again! And this must be Richard?"
"Hi Dad," Andrew replied through his father's tight embrace, "And yes, this, is Richard."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Freehold," Richard said, offering his hand.
"Now let's get one thing straight Richard, you marry my son, you're family. None of that handshaking or 'Mister' crap. It's either Dad, or Bill, if you must; and only hugs from here on out."
Laughing, Bill embraced his new son-in-law and ushered the two into his Dome. Dusk was coming, and Sirius XIV dominated Rexhaven's sky. There was so much light reflected from the gas giant that Rehaven's night's only rarely knew full darkness.
"Where's Rex dad?" Andrew asked, suddenly missing the venerable Border Collie's usual quick appearance. He turned at his dad's silence and felt a chill. "Am I too late?"
"Well son, I really don't know. He hasn’t come back from his morning outing yet. I was heading out to The Grove when you guys came in. He seems to like it there more than anywhere else. Not that I can blame him! Hey you’re welcome to come, but it is a long hop from Gliese..."
"It’s Rex, Dad! Of course we’ll come."
"Great. He's been moving slower and slower these days, so I'll be glad for the company and help."
"So how old is Rex, anyways?" asked Richard as Bill handed him a flashlight and they headed out into the crisp night air.
Bill stopped and looked over at Andrew who shrugged at his gaze, "It never really came up, Dad, and it's not the easiest thing to explain, either. He knew I had a dog named Rex, but other than that he was a cool dog getting on in years, no. Never a number."
"Put it this way, Richard," Bill began slowly, "Rex isn't named after the Colony, so much as the Colony is named after him."
Exactly. The Colony's over fifteen hundred years old now, and back then geneticists thought they could bestow us with immortality by creating so-called, 'empty clones.'"
"I always thought those were just stories," Richard said, shivering a bit at the images the phrase conjured.
"It is, admittedly, a bit ghastly, but it also turns out that it simply does not work on humans. But, it does on dogs.
"So, William Jefferson Freehold, IV, who was wealthy enough to afford it, and who really loved his dog, 'Rex,' saw it done on his own Colony before it was outlawed."
"So Rex is..."
"In his current, and last body I might add, he's 14," chimed in Andrew, "But all told his consciousness has lived 1,542 years."
They continued on in silence until the simple path they were following curved around a small hillock and Richard saw The Grove for the first time. Bill and Andrew grinned as they watched him take in the view. The trees reached higher even than the Redwoods of ancient myth. Their thick, solid trunks supporting innumerable bushy branches all the way up until they appeared to be tickle Sirius XIV. The tallest branches were even still catching dim twinklings of Sirius' light.
"It's... It's stunning," he finally said. They turned on their flashlights as they entered The Grove and Richard was awed to see that even the flashlight's piercingly bright beam couldn't illuminate the entire trunk by itself.
"Believe it or not, Andrew," Bill said with a sigh, "This is the full Grove's last night."
"Is it finally time?" Andrew asked with surprise.
"Remember the noob...," Richard said with faux severity. Andrew chuckled and took Richard's free hand in his own before explaining as they walked.
"The Grove is made up of special trees planted here when Rexhaven was first founded. The air didn't have enough oxygen, so these trees were engineered to produce it at an accelerated rate. They're coming out because the atmosphere's oxygen level has reached its tipping point. If they didn't take them out they'd be too much oxygen and the Colony would have to go back to the Dome living days.
"They knew this day would come, Hell, we all expected it in our lifetimes; just not right now."
"They're so large and there are so many of them, it'll take two full years to pull them all out," Bill added with more than a touch of nostalgic reflection.
Everything has its time, a voice whispered in all their heads simultaneously, this is merely ours.
Even Richard knew in an instant it was Rex. Instead of surprise though, they all felt chagrined that they'd so easily underestimated the mentallics that came with 1,500 years of consciousness. They saw him sitting in the path, benevolently regarding them. They soon noticed that his tail and the trees were swaying in an almost symbiotic rhythm to some unseen Brownian Motionesque force beyond them.
You, and your family, have been good to me, Rex intoned. His mild panting looked like a happy, peaceful grin, But The Grove and I must leave tonight. We grew up together and now, simply, it is our time to move beyond this Universe's limitations.
The planet is yours now. I know you will steward it well, he continued as he walked up to them. They each instinctively knelt as he gave each a gentle kiss and he accepted their hugs and scritches with shared, graceful love.
"There are so many questions though..." Bill began, speaking through the muddled tears they all shared.
Of course. But, Rex answered mildly, could you comprehend my answers?
They knew the answer even before Rex's words finished and resigned themselves to a fate beyond their understanding. Rex turned from them and walked under their flashlight beams to the base of The Grove's first tree. He curled up, closed his eyes, and they watched as his tail's gentle wags slowly came to a rest.
Then, one by one, each of the trees in The Grove stopped swaying.