The Hospitale Old Crater
by Brian Aldiss
“So we’ve arrived at last,” said Morry Lumley.
Daisy, his sister, laughed as if Morry had made a joke. They ran to splash at the edge of the lake. Their parents looked about with pleasure, checking in at Hotel Samosir, warmly praised by friends in their offices in Hong Kong, where Roger and Dail worked.
Their two rooms upstairs were, as Roger said, ‘bog standard,’ but they went cheerfully to sit on the verandah and gaze at the prospect while sipping large glasses of orange juice. Dail had vodka in her glass; Roger thought she drank too much.
The children could be seen, larking about on the fringes of the lake, Lake Toba.
“So, the true tropics at last,” said Dail, stretching out her elegant legs.
“And not as hot as we might have expected,” her husband responded. He was excited to be with her.
They had flown from Hong Kong to Bangkok, and from Bangkok down to Medan, where a bus brought them to Toba. They stood on the cliffs which fell away sheer, grass-covered to lake and pleasure gardens far below. Roger took photos on his i-pad.
Now having emptied his tall glass, he rose and looked down smiling at his wife.
“Just going to have a walk round. Want to come?”
“Good god, no!”she said. “I’m not going to move till the supper gong sounds. You go, Rog! I’llpretend to watch the kids.” This last sentence she delivered in Danish, her native tongue, her custom when saying something not entirely likely.
Roger strolled on his own. A good few people were about, although he saw no Europeans. He stooped to feel the temperature of the lake water: warm, but cooler than he had expected. Trees were grown in groups, their shadows lengthening with early evening. The place, he thought, was fairly neatly kept. He came to a wooden bridge; lake water flowed quietly beneath it. Crossing it, he could not decide if he now stood on a smaller island. He reflected that there was no sign of destruction, only old familiar nature, serene, all-embracing.
In a clearing stood a three-story house, crumbling weeds growing against its walls as if lending support.
On a balcony attached to the upper floor, two men were lying flat on blankets. From where Roger stood, they appeared to be naked. As he was staring, one of the figures heaved itself on an elbow.
“You from Oz, mate?” he called down.
“I’m a Brit. Are you on holiday?”
The pair laughed. “You could say. We’re drop-outs.”
Roger stood there. “Do you know that all this place – Toba – is the remains of a vast volcanic explosion?”
He listened to their chuckles. “Gut must be a bloody scientist...”
He moved on. But what people didn’t know...amazing! He lingered by a cluster of ferns. The wealth of knowledge... The pleasures even of sorrow...
...To comprehend what had happened here... That 70,000 or so years ago – nothing on a cosmic scale – the volcano in this slice of Sumatra had blown its top! Blown it in what seismologists claimed to be the biggest eruption in the last 25 million years.
And that eruption brought with it a vast lowering of global temperatures. A great majority of life forms – including humanity – had perished under palls of ash. And people didn’t know about that? Or care?
Passing the old house again, he called out, “You sods are living in the bones of a gigantic dead volcano.”
“We call it capitalism,” they yelled in response.
Roger stalked back to his wife and children.
“Suppertime,”she said and rose to kiss him. They summoned their children and went in to dine. Over his poached salmon he began, “But most of humanity-”
“Have another drink, dear,” Dail said. “I’ll have one with you.”
Read the review of Brian Aldiss’ final science fiction novel ‘Finches of Mars’ here.
Read the author interview here.