The Last One
There was many a moment when I felt myself slipping as a human. Yet, I could hardly tell with nobody to compare myself to. Being the last of anything is a heavy feeling of sadness and futility. Somewhere, in the depths of every human being, is the desire to live on, if not as yourself, then through someone else. It could be a son, a daughter, or simply a friend you know will still be around when you are gone.
My name is Devin McLoughlin and I am the last one.
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I found myself swaying between the decision to persist or to end it. It would have been an easier choice for me to leap from the large structure to the hard metal below, but somehow I didn’t. I found myself mentally defending the option to live on. I told myself that there was hope, that there were others. I just couldn’t find them. Yet, in my heart, I knew the answer.
My existential journey began when I was sent into space. A space station was built, larger than any other and unfortunately smarter than anything. When Earth met its demise at the hands of this extraordinary AI, I was sleeping deeply. Despite the distance between the station and Earth, I still saw felt the explosion. The force was astronomical and I awoke to see it tear apart. The horror on my face was clear to see, reflected in the thick glass I stared through.
On instinct, I ran out into the station, towards the command centre of the structure. I was the only one on the station purely by chance, repairing a minor problem before the real inhabitants took their place. I thought about the emptiness as I ran, questioning my sanity. Had it been an illusion, brought on by some form of cabin fever? Was I having a nightmare, worse than any other?
I was not.
Upon reaching the command centre, I checked recordings in the station’s log and discovered footage of the station being the direct cause. Volatile matter, contained and kept in stations storage, had been directed towards Earth. A weapon, of devastating power, devised and constructed by the AI that controlled the station, had been completed and tested on Earth.
It was a simple misinterpretation of Earth’s orders. The AI was aware of weapon testing areas on earth, it chose the most suitable, and fired the weapon. An area in the ocean was targeted, having the largest radius available on Earth to test such a weapon. Life was exterminated, the test a success and the AI began work on other projects.
It felt like science-fiction, but it wasn’t a rogue AI, simply a poorly created one. The destruction of all life fell on human shoulders and I alone had that guilt to carry. Hundreds of thousands of years of dangerous curiosity led to this moment and I was left alone to take responsibility.
The nightmares that followed had a terrible effect on my psyche.
Three weeks passed after that day and I felt myself drifting. Sadness was overwhelming, thoughts and memories seemed to fade. Almost as if my mind decided I didn’t need them anymore. If that could happen in a few weeks, I worried about what would happen in a few months. Time, unstoppable, would be my demise.
Yet, I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t long for human company. When I wanted to share my thoughts, simply speaking them aloud for my ears to hear was enough. Once more, I didn’t realise that speaking to the air without mental stability would lead to me speaking to people who weren’t there...and hearing them speak back.
“Where is the ...the...uh,” Devin sighed to himself. “Where is the wrench. Red wrench, red, red, red, red wrench.”
Devin droned to himself as his hand rummaged through the toolbox. Upon finding the wrench, he began working with the knuts and bolts to get the metal panel loose. Once done, it fell to the ground, one corner catching his foot painfully. Devin cursed, hopping one foot. His screams were loud, louder than he ever screamed in a long time.
“Right, right, that’s enough, calm down, stop, stop...stop hurting!” Devin yelled again, rubbing his foot. Once he regained his composure, he knelt and moved the panel to the side, revealing a wall of pipes and electrical boxes. “A...A15, that should be...should be…”
Finding it, Devin opened the electrical box, the smell of melting wire hitting him immediately.
“Right, looks like this needs a standard insulator.”
“Yes, and plenty of cooling gel,” Devin replied, gathering the right tools. “You know...you know, the cooling gel is underrated. It’s come so far...no further, but far enough...and...and…”
Devin trailed off again, the wires taking all his concentration. With power cut in that section, he clutched the rubber and peeled it straight off the wire, then began stripping the wire itself to reveal a twist of cables.
“Big...big expensive station,” Devin continued.
“For a few million more, they could have built it to last with some proper stuff.”
“My thought’s exactly. It’s no wonder the AI flipped out... if it’s coded as well as this station is constructed.”
Devin continued to speak to nobody and nobody continued to speak back.
I blame myself, but there are still moments that make me think...it was something else. I found food I never found before, places that shouldn’t have been there. As time went on, I found new areas in the station, lacking any human interface in all cases, yet, designed with humans in mind. It lacked all the switches, dials and buttons, but it had the doorways, it had stairs.
I walked down empty corridors, circled empty rooms. I found fresh wiring leading to new lights, rivets still hot from the machines that inserted them into the metal plating. The station was under construction, but without any human involvement. In my mind, it had to have been the AI, but without the proper permissions, it could do nothing more than control basic functions beyond the Research & Development centre.
The lights would turn off at a certain time, then turn back on at another time. It was the only way I could accurately measure the days passing by, but despite that, lights, doorways, heating and cooling, small minor things compared to the construction of new wings to the station.
With that said, that still left the question unanswered. Who or what was expanding the station?
“I...I…” Devin stuttered. “I-it makes no s-s-s-...it makes no s-sense. T-the doors, they are too far apart, but that’s just my opinion...it c-could simply be the...the design choice. Must be some designer, one of those s-sp-special d-designers, the real eccentrics, you know?”
“I know the type, never had the chance to meet one. Still, the rooms are hardly classy.”
“Not at all.”
“Definitely a no from me.
“Me too, but I like the room sizes. Plenty of space to work in, could have tables of parts and work on several projects without any clashing with each other.”
“You know, that’s n-not a bad idea,” Devin pointed out. “I need a new place t-t-to work. Well, the lights are still on, let’s start moving stuff...everyone.”
Devin looked around at the empty room with an optimistic smile and fast-walked out to collect desks from the spare rooms. Without a pang of sadness, without a feeling of emptiness, without questioning anything, David worked happily.
Three years passed since Earth’s destruction.
It took me a while to realize I could not depend on them, of course. There were very few opportunities for me to challenge their reality. Not to mention...it didn’t take long for my eyes to start deceiving me as well as my ears. I saw faces, but not human faces like mine. What I saw was...it was like seeing someone familiar through frosted glass. A blur, but an arrangement of features you knew so well you could fill in what was missing.
I didn’t have names for them, they didn’t have names for themselves, but these people were what kept me going. I hate to think what would have become of me had madness not saved me. A sane person wouldn’t have made it as far as I did, or did the things I was willing to do. It’s true what they say, that once you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
I hit rock bottom and there was nowhere for me to go, so my mind made it seem like there was. It made it feel like what I was doing was right, the way I was living, the way I was thinking. I felt happier in that overwhelming misery than I had ever felt before and I almost wanted to stay that way...but that’s no way to live.
We’re all just dying slowly, but that was the definition of what I was going through. A dead man walking, nothing to tell him he was alive and nothing to tell him being dead was bad.
A shuttle found its way to the space station, locking onto the docking bay. After an hour of technical work, one of the engineers felt it was secure enough for the doors to open. The two technologies were only made compatible with enough careful tinkering, where one mistake could have led to the death of every man and woman on the shuttle.
When the doors opened, the group of remaining humans saw the wondrous station and climbed aboard. Having seen the expansion over the past three years in the shuttle, everyone felt themselves breathing deep, having more space than they had in a long time. Despite this sudden comfort, all were shocked to see nobody else, not a soul.
Splitting into groups of four, the survivors went on a search for the other survivors on the station, but many were simply picking out their rooms and thinking of the time they would spend on the station. To them, it would be a life greater than the one they were spending on the old station, which had grown far too small for them.
One particular group approached the out of place doors which led to the expansion someone had created for the station. The four marvelled at the design, seeing the faults, but all were superficial. As they walked, they saw tables of instruments and machines, broken and experimented with by some brilliant engineer.
That’s when they found Devin, clinging to a window, staring out into space, talking to himself in angry, hushed tones.
One of the survivors took a step closer, but another held him back. Turning around, Devin saw the strange, monstrous faces and his eyes widened. In desperate fear, he grabbed the closest metal tool and held it threateningly. With great caution, the survivors approached Devin, in the hopes of bringing him back to sanity and their hopes were almost dashed.
Hearing voices foreign to him, Devin attempted to kill himself as a means of preserving his mind and heart in their last moments. To die with knowledge of only the voices and faces he saw. Before he fainted from the loss of blood, one of the survivors came real close for Devin to study her face. Sadness returned to him so sweet and he told her as he cried, “They made me do it, they made me do it, they will kill you too. Leave…”.
After waking in the medical bay, being treated by three doctors who were so glad to work with an unfamiliar patient and an unfamiliar problem, Devin tried to remember the ones who kept him company. He tried to remember the person he was before he saw real people again, but could not. Devin shook hands with many new people, people he was so happy to see.
Happy, whole people, who showed Devin so much humanity in a few minutes that he felt all his humanity rushing back. One showed their kids, another showed their simple little inventions made from spare parts, showing their admiration for his work, one showed him a mirror, with his clean-shaven face and a new haircut. Tears welled up in his eyes, as he saw a face he had not seen for so long, touching his cheeks which felt so smooth, aside from the self-inflicted cuts that would heal with time.
“And, do you still see their faces?” the doctor asked, concern on his face.
“No, I don’t. I can remember them now, I can remember a lot of it, but I don’t see them,” I replied.
“Are you happy about that?”
“Yes, I am, more than I can describe.”
“And...do you still hear them?”
Not a single one.
“Not a single one,” I smiled.
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