The Last Human

They say she lives in the Undercity. They say it reminds her of home. She is the last human. I went looking for her. It is not an easy path. Not many people travel to the Undercity anymore, just plunderers and scavengers. Not company I often associate with. An old friend, Nate, heard I was looking for a way into the Undercity. He took me to a bar on the street level. I rarely visited the lower levels. My work was in an office building. My home was in another skyscraper. All my friends lived in the high rises of the Overcity.

Nate introduced me to a man. The man was bald and in his mid-fifties, well, that was the face he wore at least. None of us aged anymore; we’re all made of synthetic parts. The only thing connecting us to our human heritage being our consciousness, though philosophers still debate whether the consciousness our bodies inherited was the same that belonged to our historic humanity.

I handed over fifteen thousand credits to the man. Physical money was harder to track, he claimed. I could have used that money for a holiday, but this was more important. A quest to find the last human. The bald man led Nate and I out a back entrance. He crossed the alley to a garage door, swiped a card, and input a code. The door opened to reveal an old hover-ute. The bald man placed the suitcase of credits on a workbench in the garage. Then, he entered the driver’s side and indicated for me to hop in the passenger side. I did so. Nate stepped out of the garage. Then the garage door closed, and the floor disappeared.

We fell for a good minute before emerging in the Undercity. In my head, I had pictured crumbling skyscrapers of antiquity against the blue sky of the past. Instead, the world was pitch black, with hovering yellow globes illuminating the space.

‘Took me years to dig that tunnel through the Overcity’s foundations,’ the bald man proclaimed. ‘I’m Cassius, by the way. Sorry for my stoicism in the Overcity. Can never be too careful in the Overcity.’

I nodded. We travelled through the skyscrapers in their failing form. The yellow was interrupted suddenly by the flashing of blue and red lights. Then the sound of a siren squashed the silence. Cassius looked in the rear mirror and slowed to a stop. A police officer wearing hover-boots emerged from the police cruiser that had appeared. He sauntered up to the window of our hover-ute.

‘What’s your business in the Undercity?’ the officer asked.

‘Resource mining. I collect ruins to see if they can be reused in Overcity construction,’ he told the officer.

‘Papers?’ the officer asked matter-of-factually.

Cassius provided three documents. Two smaller notebooks for ID papers and one large leather-clad pile of forms. The officer examined the ID papers by the yellow torchlight.

‘Your son?’ the officer asked, indicating me.

‘Nephew. His father wants him to get some life experience,’ Cassius answered.

‘Ok. I’m satisfied,’ the officer decreed, handing back the papers. ‘Happy hunting, Cassius’

The officer hopped back into the police cruiser and sped off. Cassius began to move the car again. He drove down the ruined streets again. Cassius seemed to know where he was going.

‘Don’t you want to know where I’m headed?’ I asked.

‘You’re off to see the old lady, yes? You want to see the last human?’ Cassius asked.

I nodded. He drove down the street towards a building that was unlike the others. On either side were skyscrapers of glass and metal. This building that they were headed to was seemingly built of stone, with a rod of metal at its top pointing to the sky. The sky that was now covered by the streets of the Overcity. Cassius slowed as he approached the building. He landed the hover-ute on one of the upper balconies. Ivy seemed to cover aspects of the structure, like some ancient temple.

Cassius stepped out of the ute. I followed. Cassius grabbed a rucksack from the back of the ute and threw it over his shoulder.

‘What’s that for?’ I asked.

‘Someone’s got to feed her. She’s only human after all.’ Cassius answered.

Cassius chuckled and led me through the massive archway into the building beyond. We came to an iron door, painted blue but flaking to reveal the rust underneath. Cassius knocked on the door. Its sound reverberating across the desolate rooftop. An eyehole opened in the doorway. I beheld shrewd eyes examining the both of us. Then the door swung outward and a frail figure bid us to move further inside the darkness.

As we headed inside, a light was switched on and the abode of the last human was revealed. An elegant penthouse, with ornate wooden bookshelves covering the walls. The furniture was European and fancy. Cassius placed the rucksack on the table and removed an identical one from a nearby chair.

‘Thank you, Cassius,’ the old woman said gently.

The old woman turned her attention to me.

‘I have to rely on people like Cassius here for food nowadays. Used to be that there were relief efforts to try and care for those who refused to leave. Government cut those programs a couple years back though. Starve us out so they could plunder the Undercity. I was the only one left by that point. History will remember others as the last humans. I am merely a legend now,’ she told me sincerely.

She cackled dryly. Cassius joined her in the laughter.

‘Of course, I could tell you anything. This could be a long con by two old con artists. How would you know?’ she asked. ‘Now, tell me, boy. Why did you come here? To gawk? To hear fables? To see the end of history?’

‘I’m a writer. I came to hear stories,’ I told her.

‘Stories, eh? I can tell you stories. I will require something in return though,’ she told him.

‘I could tell the authorities about your little operation,’ I threatened.

She looked at me sternly.

‘Cassius, cut his throat,’ she commanded.

As she said that, I felt cold metal at my throat.

‘Do you fear death, boy?’ the old woman asked. ‘Why would you? You would simply be reborn in a vat. But is it you? How can you be certain? You live a synthetic life. How can you be sure anything is real?’

‘How can you?’ I retorted.

She nodded to Cassius and the knife was no longer at my throat.

‘I’ll make you a deal, boy. One of my stories, for one of yours,’ she proposed. ‘An exchange. Life for fiction. I will give you my life, you give me your fiction. Is that not how the artist has always functioned?’

I agreed and the old woman sat, indicating for me to do the same. And so, the last human told me her stories, and I told her mine. Life for fiction. That was the deal.

 

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