She ran her fingers along the crumbling walls as she walked down the fractured road, weeds growing from every crack. She was walking through one of the carcasses of the old cities. The weathered concrete disintegrated under her light touch, its dust caught by the warm wind and carried out to the Wastes to mix with all the radioactive death that slumbered there.
A growing crowd of ragged people trickled into the ruins and the streets or lurked in its many shadows. They followed her with their desperate eyes and some fell to their knees, crying with arms outstretched. She tried not to make eye contact with them. Some people carried crosses, some Dharma wheels or crescents and stars while others even carried nuclear symbols. These people should have had enough of the atom but, after the Prediction, a new faith had appeared and many–in desperation–had clung to it.
A few survivors–probably the heirs to the Big Corporates, or what was left of them–had left their failing techno-megalopoli and flown in on rare drones but most of the people had stumbled in from the Wastes and underground bunkers that littered what small portion of the planet was still inhabitable.
Of the eight billion people on Earth, these were the million-odd that now lived.
They had survived the Quantum Wars that the Big Corporates had indiscriminatingly fought. After the Big Corporates had collapsed the sovereignties around the world, they had turned on each other with devastating consequences. While vaguely moralistic sovereignties may never have fired nukes, profit-motivated Big Corporates had no such qualms.
She sighed and looked up at the rusted sky, holding back a tear that was fighting to get out. She did not want to die. So many people had died that she felt selfish just thinking this. Why should she be special? She had been given so much more than the billions that had died.
Starting as a joint venture between Google and Amazon and ending as the trigger for war, the mystical Quantum Computer had consumed the slave server farms in Africa and India amongst untold private resources to build. Built and designed before the War–and, indeed, the threat of its existence had driven its competitors to attack–the strange machine was a perfect big data prediction machine that knew the answers to questions before you even asked them.
The science was now lost. The scientists had all been murdered and their workings deleted to prevent rival Big Corporates from recreating the tech. This was probably a good thing as the world did not need another Quantum Computer.
In fact, just one such machine–and the threat of what its operators might do with it–had wreaked destruction on the planet and carnage amongst its lifeforms.
Before the nukes fell, turning most of the world into ash, the Quantum Computer had only had time to predict two things: the Big Corporates would attack and destroy each other, and that she would save the human race and, in so doing, die.
“Praise God!” an old, scabbed woman wailed, waving a rod with an atom at the end, the so-called Quantum Predictions, “Praise the Atom! You are the One! You will save us all! Save us! Praise the Quantum Future!”
She had to choke back the rogue tear again. Why her? And why did she have to die? Everyone kept celebrating her saving them but would anyone mourn her death? She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and stopped looking at the growing crowd.
Narrowing her eyes, she focused on her goal. It lay ahead of her outside of the city’s ruins.
Far out in the Wastes, dry lightning flashed as a radioactive dust storm raged. These were getting more common these days. She squinted at its dark, angry presence on the horizon hanging over the steel and concrete skeleton of the city. She stopped walking, took her hand off the wall and looked down at it. Fine concrete dust covered the tips of her fingers, hiding the tattoos there.
When she had been born, Facebook’s algorithm had identified her. She had then been pulled from her mother’s arms–she could not even remember her and sometimes wondered if she was still alive?–and placed into a fraternity that raised her. The War had raged outside, decimating the world and genociding most of the human race but not even the callous greed of the Big Corporates would dare risk harming the Hope of the Human Race. Her of the Prediction. Jesus of the Atom. The Quantum Savior.
An old Buddhist monk that had helped raise her had referred to her in broken English as the “Last and Only Hero”. She did not think she really understood what he meant until now.
After the last Big Corporate fell and the survivors crept out of hiding, the monks that had raised her had tattooed the names of the survivors on her body. She would know for whom she was responsible. She had been thirteen at the time and remembered the pain of the needle piercing her skin, again and again for weeks. Of the eight billion people that had made up the human race, her body held the names of the one million fifteen-hundred thousand and sixty-nine that had survived and, presumably, she would save.
And, in saving them, she would die.
After the War and the collapse of the Big Corporates, no one questioned the Quantum Computer’s Predictions anymore.
She dusted her fingers, revealing the fine tattoos of the names spiralling around them: Amy Aarkensaw, David Ablemore, Mary Ablemore, Nooshin Acharya… And so the names went on and on, spiralling around her entire body from her fingers tip to her toes. Her name was a marked absence from the list curling around her body.
How was she going to save the human race? Why did she have to die? Why had the Machine chosen her?
None of the monks could answer this. She had begged them as a child, sobbing and shouting at them for keeping secrets from her. Only later had she realized that they simply did not know. No one did. Often she had wondered if any of them cared? On some human-level they did but she was also a means to an end in a post-Big Corporate wasteland. Their survival instincts were stronger than their guilt or morals. She wondered why she went along with all this–except for the Prediction–and why did she not run away? But, if she did, to where? And to do what?
It was all she had ever known. All she had ever been told. It just felt inevitable.
She was nearly out of the ruins of the city and entering the Wastes. Normally this would worry her but now she hardly registered it. A row of rust-red mountains ringed her horizon as the dust storm blew off to her right with the occasional flash of lightning.
The tear she had been fighting almost got out and she rubbed her eye, blinking. Her mouth tasted dry and dusty, and she licked her cracking lips. They tasted of salt and radiation.
The Prediction was ahead of her and she marched steadily towards it and her death, as the miserable crowd slowly trailed her. All she knew was that at seventeen minutes to midnight on the far mountain tops, she would save the human race. She was sure-as-fuck not going to be late!
Far above her, the sun was warm and the slightly radioactive breeze unnaturally warm. Taking a deep breath, she put one foot after the next and kept walking as the ragged, desperate crowd trailed her like moths to her flame. Only, she was the moth. What was the flame? Clenching her jaw, she kept her gaze firmly on the far mountains: her predicted destination and, thus, where she would die.
At first, there was nothing but a night sky filled with stars, but then, slowly, a shooting star entered orbit. Almost a star–twinkling with cosmic lights bouncing off it–it slowly got rounder and firmer. Someone in the crowd shouted and pointed, the murmurs rippled through and the excitement exploded as the light became a quickly descending metallic ball approach Earth…
Approaching where she stood.
Caked in dust from her walk, she clenched her jaw and finally looked up. She was standing right below where the metallic ball was descending, lights burning off its entry and sparks cast wildly into the black sky. Its descent did not seem to slow and as it got closer it looked bigger and bigger–almost as big as a large house!–and, just before it was going to smash into that mountain top and kill the quickly panicking crowd, it…
The metallic ball just hovered there like some house-sized alien artefact or cosmic ball-bearing. She felt like it was spinning but there were no distinguishing marks to tell if it was still or moving. She began to become aware that it was emitting a soft but audible humming and then a sourceless, ethereal light began to emanate from it. The crowd threw itself to the ground. Most were wailing, heads to the ground and arms flung out in near-hysterical zeal while others had fainted or merely collapsed.
But none approached either her or the hovering, humming, glowing metallic ball sitting mere feet above her head.
What must she do? She stood, frozen with her heart pounding and staring at this strange otherworldly object. Was this an actual alien? Must she fight it? Was it a leftover drone from the Big Corporates? Some revival military tech from an old sovereign?
As these thoughts swirled around her mind, a small beam of light zapped out of the ball and struck her before bouncing back. It felt like a lightning bolt had exploded in her chest but her cry was cut short as she had disappeared off that mountain top with the subsequent thunderclap of air closing a vacuum!
The house-sized metallic ball went dark, the ethereal light fading from it as its humming began to pick up in pitch. And then–slowly at first but exponentially faster–it began to rise, disappearing into the night sky and the stars and worlds scattered up there.
The crowd was frozen. The mountaintop was silent and even the distant rumble of thunder seemed to pause. They–the last of the human race–were now alone on that mountaintop with no further Predictions. No parting instructions, no tablets with lists of commands nor books explaining things…
But they were alive.
A roar erupted from the mountain top! Halleluiah! We are saved! Praise be to God! Praise be to the Atom and the fulfilment of the Holy Prediction! Strangers kissed strangers, enemies hugged enemies, and the dregs of humanity began to celebrate the fulfilment of the last Prediction.
“What about all of them down there?” she asked looking down at the dancing and celebrations on the mountaintop–they looked like wiggling ants from this height, despite the magnification, “Why can’t you save all of them?”
She was floating inside the spaceship, its dimensions all unfamiliar and its angles strange to her human eyes. It felt both vast and intimate all at once.
“I have told you, Child,” the Being of Light glimmered, its form swirling like constellations in deep space and its words appearing in her mind, “I am the Preserver of the species that make it to Quantum-Level evolution. Each species that reaches this level build but one Quantum Machine. And, each Quantum Machine tells them but two predictions: Firstly, that their species is doomed, as all species are doomed–even if only due to the Great Singularity eventually collapsing on itself. Secondly, it guides the chosen carrier of the species’s genes to meet me. I am to harvest your genes, Child, and, thus, preserve your species in hopes that we–your species’s clones and all the other species’ clones’ from the further reaches of the universe–can figure out how to survive the Great Singularity. If your species reaches Quantum Level, there will be one of them waiting when I arrive. If they do not, then there will not. You are here, Child. Thus, you understand now, yes?”
She sighed and–almost like the spaceship knew her thoughts–the flickering image of the survivors’ celebrations on their doom planet disappeared. They would not survive. Within a couple of generations, all those genes down on Earth would be wiped from the face of the dying planet.
The Earth was but a speck of blue and green on an ocean of vast blackness and infinite expanse. There was no hope for them but, if the human genome could continue to survive, perhaps, in some way she had saved them?
She turned to the Being of Light and nodded: “OK, but the Prediction was that I would die? Do you kill me to harvest my genes?”
The Being of Light pulsed a pale yellow–perhaps it was laughing–and its words formed warmly in her mind: “I will not kill you but, even at lightspeed, this interstellar trip will take approximately fourteen million rotations of your planet around its star before we reach my next coordinate. You will die of old age long before then. What I offer is an alternative stasis where your body can rest and your consciousness can roam. You will still die from old age on this journey and I will still harvest all of your genetic material but you will live your days out in realms of pure thoughts and fantasy. It is your choice?”
She sighed. No one doubted the Predictions, not even her. She was going to die in this strangely-angled spaceship as it flew at lightspeed through galaxies beyond her comprehension. But, she would die in here, nonetheless.
“I suppose that makes as much sense as anything else in my life has. I suppose I’d prefer to dream, thank you. Maybe I’ll have some nice dreams. Say,” she paused, narrowing her eyes and trying to penetrate the swirling mass of light before her, “Why do you collect these genes? What is that your purpose? Are you god?”
The Being of Light flicked, its colour softening to an otherworldly shade of blue. It was almost an involuntary moment of introspection or a memory. Perhaps it did not like this question? Or perhaps, she thought, the answer made the Being of Light sad?
“In this Cycle of the Singularity, my species was the first constructor of a Quantum Machine. Indeed, Child, I was the one that built it. My Quantum Machine–the first of the Cycle–made three Predictions. Our species was doomed, and it came to pass that way. It also spoke of the other species, too, that would be doomed, and these have all so far come to pass exactly where and when it said they would. And that I–and only I–could save all life from being doomed to repeat this Cycle again and again. You see, Child, my species does not oxidize nor age, so I could do this. In leaving my homeworld, I began fulfilling my Prediction and hope to save all species worthy of being saved, even if it costs me my life like the Prediction says it will. You see, Child, if there is a God, then I believe It talks to us from outside of the Singularity and it does so through the Quantum Machine. It wants us to survive and we must try to do so.”
The Being fell silent, its light darkening to deeper blues and purples. The tear that had been threatening to escape her eye, snuck through and suddenly a lot more followed. You cannot collapse if you are floating in zero gravity but she pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them there as all the tears of her whole life came pouring out in wracking sobs.
The Being of Light extended an ethereal tendril, curling it around her chin and she looked up. Slowly, her body began to feel warm, her mind relaxed, her tears dried up and her eyes grew heavy and began to close. Just before the darkness swallowed her, she felt the Being’s final words pulse in her mind:
“Your genes will remember all of this, I will make sure of it. When you next wake, you will not be you but a clone of you with your species knowledge and your own unique memories. But, Child, I will not be there at the end either. My specie’s doom is complete with the fulfilment of my Prediction. Please tell the others what I have sacrificed. Please tell the others what all the species have sacrificed. And, please find a way to survive the Singularity!”