2022 minus 16: The last human, the last story, the final lie

Posted: 16 December 2021 in 2022 minus, 2022 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

This week, a story about another last human on earth…, sparked by the following image.


The last human, the last story, the final lie

“Are you ready?” She asked, and waited, patiently, for the answer.

“I don’t think so, not quite yet” replied the man, who was sitting, his feet dangled over a cliff, staring out towards the horizon, enjoying for the final time the sea breeze and the merging of brilliant and subdued colours as the sun slowly set.

“It’s ok,” she said from behind him, “we have a little time yet.” She moved so he could see her and stretched her arms up towards the sky, hands linked. It was entirely performative and both of them knew it. But it was a kindness that he appreciated nonetheless; as the last human alive, he was grateful that she’d taken the form she had. It felt less… cruel somehow, this way.

“When…” he started, then paused, gathering his thoughts. He hadn’t thought it would end this way, after all.

She tilted her head slightly at him, and he was reminded that she was not truly human. Had she been, there’d have been an eyebrow raised as well. Come to think of it, he realised, there’d have been an eyebrow to raise. An odd absence but one he’d not previously noticed.

He started again. “When… it happens, will it hurt?”

“Only briefly and you won’t remember it, so…”

“Oh,” he said, then, “But what will I remember?”

“Nothing,” she replied and then held up a hand to forestall interruption. “Nothing unimportant, that is.”

He grinned at her “…and just who decides what’s unimportant, or otherwise?” His smile faded, not completely but just a little . “Yeah, ok, silly question.”

“You will be transformed. You will be healthy. You will continue. You will be… you.” She was programmed to be kind, and she was.

He didn’t understand her words fully. But he was dying and in pain, and no longer cared to know more than that.

He stood, suppressing a groan as he did so; the pain of an old injury that had never quite fully healed merging with a new pain, that of hunger and deprivation. He stared down at her.

He closed his eyes. Took a deep breath, then another, tasting the air, really tasting the flavours and strange scents and thickness of the atmosphere. Then he opened his eyes.

“OK.” He said, the firmness of his voice surprising him. He’d expected to be nervous. He’d expected to be scared. He was wrong. He was neither. “I’m ready.”

He’d expected to have died a long time ago. The last human. He’d suspected it of course, but she had confirmed it after she appeared, all shining metal at first before she took on the appearance of a woman he’d once known. Of course it was an idealised version; she couldn’t replicate the sores and the blood and the desperation in her eyes when she’d died, hungry and so, so tired. The offer was too good to be true; to continue, out there in the stars.

“I’m ready,” repeated the last human alive on the planet. It was the last thing he ever said.

She was programmed to be kind, not honest.

She had lied of course; he wouldn’t remember anything because he’d no longer exist. And she had lied about the pain, for experience had taught that they expected some. But there was no pain; it happened too fast for that. One moment there was a broken, shell of a man, attempting to stand straight, then there there was the briefest of bright flashes, and then there was ash briefly floating on the air before it spiraled away on the radioactive laden winds.

She reverted to default settings: humanoid, but all shining metals. She scanned for a moment, then levitated and aimed herself approximately two dozen kilometres southwest. there was another last human on the planet to remove.

She had been at the task for, as the last humans measured time, three years, eight months and six days. She had removed a little over twenty thousand ‘last humans on the planet’ thus far and had — she consulted her internal scanners’ — approximately forty seven thousand last humans on the planet to go.

And then there would be peace in this sector.

Ground passed beneath her, what used to be roads, buildings, homes.

They would be again, once the place was made fit for habitation by her masters. Until then, she flew on.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 less slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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