The basin was alive with motion discernible in long, unblinking stares. The heat shimmer was once dull but now it boiled. David watched, and he saw. The last group rode in a small peloton swaying gently, the frames all carbon molded into chemical matrices. He was on the office's tenth floor and there he considered the names of distant places. He suffered a loss and asked himself, if despair was not profound then what was the point?
He saw the crews for the first time, the excavation two miles to the east. Bulldozers cleared a density of trees and spread sand over the void. David watched each night as the clearing expanded and new plants were carted in, desert natives unseen in this place. Mesquites with massive roots were buried so that only the highest branches remained visible. Ocotillo was placed along two edges of the habitat to form natural fencing, the broader borders yet undetermined.
The path ran from the city's core to its borders at the foothills. His bicycle was steel, old and high-tensile — what they called a gas-pipe frame. First he rode short distances, cutting into a space with neither head nor tailwind. If he developed enough stamina he might leave the city.
He rode alongside a ditch bottomed forty feet down with dust and silt traces. There had been less water and then there was no water. A lone egret treaded in stabbing motions, picking at the sprawl as David looked on.
From immense speakers along the path came the sounds of children playing, parents calling to them, all the human noise of sunlit weekends. The world entire a small park or the late hours of a Sunday. A woman's voice occasionally interrupted.
"The laughter of children is the global indicator that life goes on, it will continue. Listen. We will beam it across space through relayed transmissions."
David pedaled home drenched in sweat.
The building cleared. The habitat grew and he circled unclaimed parcels of the city on his window. Each night the shapes on the glass were filled with new desert. Offices disappeared, housing complexes were demolished. The sun reeled in poses David had not seen before.
He rode westward along the north edge of the city. Looking back he could see dunes piling and the rare saguaro lowered by a crane. His mobility was newfound but at some point he realized it could not outpace the movement beyond him, all the visible registers of geologic time.
The speakers shuddered off sounds of songbirds and the impact of jogger's feet on pavement. Children still laughed. He rode on and came upon the cyclist for the first time — an older man with a graying beard. Aviator sunglasses and enormous headphones. He rode in the drops but due to his immense size and long arms looked nearly upright. As David passed this last other the cyclist nodded deeply, in slow motion. The woman spoke.
"In loneliness there is a lack of stimulation. The mental faculties are dulled. A solitary man will demonstrate a dementia far beyond his age."
His apartment was gone, replaced by an arid flatland dotted with creosote. Minerals shone dully and lizards skirred across the sand. He slept at the office and hauled his steel up and down the stairs, the last occupant. The geometric tracings now covered his window and the crews continued their work.
He would see the cyclist again, as motion in abstract, and invented histories for him. His child had surely died, a daughter with a name ending in a vowel. It had to end in a vowel, to lend terminal life a sense of the infinite.
The path coursed through the habitat. The speakers seemed to have run out of sounds, playing a beach recording heard before. Gulls and hordes of people. He left the building and it disappeared behind him, swallowed by the portions of the habitat resembling high desert.
The woman, mid-speech: "...the absolute distillation of the content of your life. Things are as they were."
He struggled up an incline and looked out. No evidence of the city that once was. At a distance the lone figure of the cyclist rolled steadily onward. David went off, in his direction, as the sun rose higher overhead.
Paul Kasmai was born in Houston and now resides in Southern California.