The last thing I saw was the last thing most people saw, if you think about it from a round enough point of view.
Missile launch detected.
Sure, other people saw other things after the alarms went off. Waves of fire. Atomic ash, spreading harsh and wide from the horizon. Waves of it, cascading wildly, ripping clouds of the air.
But largely, those who had died like I was supposed to had seen the end of the world from an alarm somewhere. Missiles in the air. Missile Launch Detected.
It would never do anything. No projection had any real longevity to it. Nuclear winters. Atomic genocide. An escalation that would never cease until the surface of the moon was bleached white.
“Get to the pods,” the loud speakers roar. “Maintain containment protocols. We will ride this out, and we will continue our jobs.” The screams were hideous and they were miles away. The death knell of this chapter of the world. Adjusting my glasses on my nose, I stood up, half buried in equations, and looked at the other scientist in the room.
Isaac smiled, showing off his mouth of pearly whites, though his eyes flickered around. “Holy shit. I can’t believe they’re actually doing it. I can’t believe they’re actually doing it. I can’t believe they’re actually-
the pods closed at some point but I don’t remember clambering into one, fingers outstretched in front of me like the tendrils of an octopus, a head full of labored equations written in ink.
Labcoat felt more like a bulletproof vest, and my name tag spiralled in front of me under the mass of bodies, unwashed, unclean, clamb—
But then I awaken.
Eyes snap open.
“Atmospheric levels have returned to a stable norm. Releasing occupant.”
Hot yellow letters flickered in front of me, and Omoi, the animated AI assistant, flickered hideously across the screen, cracked, chipped. Ancient. “I hope you have a wonderful day, Jessica~!” It cooed.
Sensation was raw, hideous, hot, screaming through every vein. Lights too bright, sending an ocular agony through the nerves. Skin too used to nothing at all, kept perfectly sealed, ancient equipment recycling air over and over again from hidden nuclear batteries.
I stumbled out and almost faceplanted across the broken glass strewn in front of me.
The white pain on the wall had been long replaced by a hideously green sheet of mold, hot, wrapped up, blooming.
But apart from my breathing (air sucked hideously tight ((up into my lungs))) there were no noises of other machines.
My heart sank, and I turned, slowly, to look behind me.
Rows upon rows of broken machines.
Skeletons, mostly. A person or two, recently deceased, still had skin.
Maybe half a dozen pods that weren’t occupied.
The cryopod I’d been in shut down with a shower of sparks.
“I sense your heartrate is increasing rapidly. Would you like to listen to music?” Omoi asked from the implant behind my ear. I breathed out, trying to control it, but my hands were too busy shaking.
“Yes Omoi. Music please.”
Beethoven played through the bones of my head, utterly quiet to the rest of the world, but it drowned out the screaming still going on in my head.
“I can’t believe they actually did it.” I whispered. Sunlight cascaded roughly through the window; where it had once been before whatever else had bashed it apart.
“I can’t believe they actually did it,” I breathed out, trying to focus, but my heart ached and hurt, and tears ran down my face, staring at the hundreds of my colleagues that hadn’t made it.
“Omoi,” I said. “Atmospheric conditions are returned to human standards?”
“I detect a 95% return to pre-industrial levels, with 5% being a contamination of black mold. Remaining in this room is deemed hazardous. Please remove yourself, Jessica.”
I turned around and looked to the exit. Blocked off by rubble.
The only lights in the room was the sun itself, and the strips of radioactive paint we’d used to determine if reactors were leaking.
And even they were dim. Half-lives, half-lives, half-lives…
“Omoi?” I asked, lazily, my voice trailing awkward. “What year is it?”
“7043,” Omoi chirped happily. “I’m so glad to see that another has awoken, I was concerned that I might run out of bio-forms to draw power from.”
I breathed out.
It hit me that I was hungry. Ridiculously. Hungry.
“Omoi,” I asked, pushing myself away from the table. It was littered with name tags. Dozens of them. Hundreds of them. Dead people. “How many people have gotten out of the cryopods?”
“You mark the sixth,” Omoi replied.
“Are you in contact with any of them?” I asked.
“Sadly, they’re out of my network range. Several of the satellites I have permission to access have dropped out of orbit.”
I breathed out. “How many is several?”
“All of them,” Omoi admitted.
I walked over to the window and peered out. It’d been a halfway burnt out field; a complete biocollapse in progress.
Now it was a verdant forest. Impossibly thick.
I could see skyscrapers poking out of the trees like forgotten gods. Ivy rolled up one side and out the other.
But what struck me as the most odd was that I was getting a map signal. Civilian, not the research model I was used to, but dialetically similar enough to english for Omoi decode.
“Omoi,” I asked. “Where am I, according to that map signal?”
“Warden’s Grave,” Omoi answered.
I turned around, slowly, and stared at the corpses around me.
“How…” I was running out of questions, and if I ran out of those, I might have nothing left. “How long since… the last person left?”
“Six years ago; there was a malfunction in my sensors, I apologize. I only have access to the environmental records of this room, at the moment.”
Which meant her atmospheric scans were just local. And any time they got near the levels needed to release humans… she triggered the release function.
And only a few people would be released at first, as a safety mechanism, in case there was an error with the sensors.
It’d killed us.
I looked around to see the consoles smashed from debris. Passive systems.
“How many living humans left in this room?”
“How many signals in the area…” I said, slowly realizing something. “Aren’t from humans?”
The window had long lost all structural integrity, like everything in the room. All I managed to salvage was a crowbar, left to the side in a closet to the back of the room, and the clothes on my back; a tight jumpsuit designed not to interfere in the slightest with the pods.
Then I stepped outside into the forest. Omoi lit up an arrow across my eye, tracking the nearest signal. Crowbar in my hands, I slid forward, piece by piece, step by step.
“I can’t believe they really did it,” I whispered under my breath. This had used to be a city.
A dying city.
But where I could see the roads there were only trees. A few crumbling edifices of smaller buildings. The crowbar was heavy under my weak muscles, but it was safety, it was something I knew. Something I understood.
“I am within range to begin decoding for communication purposes. Would you like me to engage in such services?” Omoi asked, chirping in my ear.
“Of course,” I said, stepping forward. Where was the bird song? Surely the bombs hadn’t destroyed that, at least.
An estimated progress bar crawled up across my vision, and I swept it to the side with a strategic flick of my eyes so it didn’t block anything important.
“Patched through. Open communication?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Frequency is open.”
“This is Jessica Williams, researcher at USECOG,” I said. “I am using my clearance to requisition help from the surrounding area.”
“You seem to be out of your time,” The voice replied. The voice was smooth like black butter, but the edges of the tone weren’t human. Something flickered, fluctuated like the surface of a glass table; smooth to the touch, but microscopically far different.
“Identify yourself,” I replied. They weren’t human.
“That’s going to be your first problem.” the voice replied. “I’ll meet up with you at the rock ahead, if you’re up for meeting me.”
The com ended.
My hands shook a bit. I stabilized them by yanking up the volume on the music in my ears, and walked forward.
What did I have to lose?
The rock had used to be a convenience store. I’d gone there, earlier in the day, 5000 years ago, and gotten a pint of icecream to store in my office fridge.
It was now just a pile of rocks.
But standing on the top gleamed black feathers, a beak pitched like ivory.
Two legs, and talons, cut into sleeves.
The absolute fuck was that supposed to be?
“Warden,” The bird creature said. “Welcome to the Green-Lands. I’ll be your guide from here on out.”
“What the hell are you supposed to be?” I snarled.
“I’m a crow,” the crow bowed. “And I do not have a name.”
I paused. “And why don’t you have a name?”
“And I will be your guide from here on out,” The bird repeated. Almost human in tone. But not quite.
I wanted humans. I wanted people.
I might never get either.