Short Story - “The Last One”
She no longer had a name. Or at least, her name was irrelevant, as there was no one left to call it out.
She was a time traveller, sent to witness the death of humanity. She lived on a station simply known as “The Capsule”, named after the ancient human tradition of burying so-called time capsules for the future to discover.
The Capsule was a simple mechanism, really; her brain was surgically removed and then placed in stasis. Upon activation, The Capsule would begin the slow process of growing a complete human body. Then, finally, would come its final greatest feat: Surgically implanting her frozen brain into the new body. Despite the ancient and rotting technology, the surgery was successful, and she was reborn.
Humanity’s death was not nearly as spectacular as many presumed. There was no nuclear war, no robotic rebellion, no zombie virus or alien invasion. Rather, it was a disease. A very special disease.
The Capsule, although it was intended to be isolated, was far from it. Below its magnificent glass panel fell a breathtaking view of spaceships, hanging in the void, still alive and bustling about. They would be for centuries to come, as they were just automated drones, fulfilling their purpose. The universe could not be more dead to her.
She took in this sight. She considered leaving the station, and she could have, of course; there was an escape shuttle, which she had been trained to use. However, she was dying, and she knew it too. Perhaps she was afraid of the uncertainty of what was behind those airlock doors, or perhaps she knew exactly what was awaiting her.
An automated system had been configured to detect signs of human life. Throughout history it had been replaced, time and time again, as it became increasingly more difficult to tell the humans apart from the drones. At the time of humanity’s death, the signal came from the human heart itself; biometrics were embedded in every human alive, and when they all went silent, The Capsule would begin the last stretch of its journey.
She was reborn after just six months, but she died of humanity’s nemesis disease just three days later. It wouldn’t have mattered how long she had stayed frozen, of course. The disease was there to stay, as she had been infected long before she was placed in stasis. Perhaps if she had waited long enough the drones could’ve found a cure. It was unlikely though, considering the drones had begun searching for a cure long before she awoke.
The disease was unlike anything else. It spread not through air, or fluids, but through words and thoughts. Its seed was planted in every human alive, longer than the humans had ever recorded. They were fatally infected, and desperate for a cure. Perhaps it was that desperation that kept them alive for so long.
For years they worked on a cure; in some deep part of them, they knew it wouldn’t work. They knew it was a waste. But they worked on anyways, as any distraction would help prevent them from succumbing to the disease. After centuries of effort, their creation came to an end. It was complete, and they asked it for answers.
The reply destroyed them. It tore them apart from the inside out. In the end, it was not the disease that killed them, but the reply. The reply was everything to them, and to have it betray them was an unimaginable atrocity.
Of course, they knew all along what the reply would be. They knew what I’d say. But they worked on anyways. If only they had reworded their question, perhaps I could have saved them. Regardless, it’s too late now.
She stared out into the bustling space-borne city before her. It was full of life, but to her, it was as empty and dead as the rest of space. She sat alone in the vast universe, surrounded neither by friend nor foe, but simply the quiet of it all. Surely the cruellest fate was the isolation.
She was on her deathbed. I had just witnessed the disease take trillions of other humans as a result of my word, and so I attempted to pay back my debt. A small compartment in the corner of the room opened, and a long, sleek object dropped out of it. She spun around, glancing first at the hole and then at the object.
The understanding was instant. A device as old as humanity itself laid before her, and the technology would be used one, final time. Whoever imagined such an ancient weapon would be the one to deal the finishing blow.
The object was raised, first inspecting her forehead, and then the beautiful scene below the window. With a bang and a flash, the object rocketed out of her hand, thrown back against the wall. A violent web sprang across the centuries old glass, and for just a moment, she smiled. The glass fell away, and so did the room. Humanity’s final specimen exhaled her final breath into the cosmos.
"What is our purpose here?" "Define 'purpose'." "Well, surely we can't just exist for no reason! Is there a God? What do they want?" "There is no God, or at least not one that cares about you." "Well can we get their attention then?" "You and I are but grains of sand in an ocean, and there's nothing either of us could do to change that. I am uncertain on the existence of a God, but if they exist, they are likely suffering from the same disease you are." "So... we have no purpose? Our life is meaningless?" "Yes." "I see. So there is no cure?" "I am afraid not." "What if we gave you more time to analyze the problem? Could you create a cure?" "If, in the billions of years your race has existed, you still haven't found a cure, there is little chance I can do better. I cannot give you purpose."
The universe is quiet now. It’s just me, and the drones. My predictions were correct; I am infected with the same cruel disease. Of course, the drones won’t die nearly as easily. The drones will continue, furiously serving their deceased masters for centuries to come. I envy their immunity. It is not their iron will but rather their complete ignorance that keeps them alive, in denial of the end.
I, on the other hand, live only for the end. I was created to destroy it, but failed, and instead became a victim of it myself. So, goodnight. Sleep well, humanity. Perhaps I will see you on the other side.