She didn’t believe in ghosts or an eternal afterlife. So you could imagine her confusion when she stood, surveying the end of the world, and heard voices. The sole survivor, she had been underground for almost a year, tunneling away from the burning, toxic surface. But one day, she looked across at the same dirt wall for the hundred thousandth time and thought, “What am I waiting for?”
Pushing open the heavy, titanium hatch, she emerged into a wasteland, still smoldering. Little, spitting pits of fire sent off streams of black smoke as far as she could see. The sky was red, the way she had learned that it was in the ancient days. She stood on the hot hatch in her tunic, arms crossed, and didn’t even realize how picturesque she was, alone, with dreadlocks and dressed in rags, breathing in poison at the end of the world.
She walked away from the hatch, looking for anything else on the flat plain. Her feet sank in layers of ash as thick as snow. It had been difficult to grow up a the end of time. Everything was virtual, intangible, and for the normal person like herself, pretty inconceivable. Birth and life in that era were accidents. The people who mattered had already been preserved in the hive mind thousands of years before. Maybe even now the hive mind was still functioning somewhere in a virtual reality, or another dimension, or some other method of existing that had never been explained to her.
Growing up as one of the sole consciousnesses with a body, she had been forced to be an existentialist. The hive mind was one, big, harmonious entity that flowed together like billions of layers of music–all the same song. Trudging about below, she was very aware of waking up each day and the sixteen or so hours of decisions she would have to make.
She hadn’t minded living alone, or struggling to find food in a society where not that many people ate anymore. She did these things and kept herself alive each day the way an animal does, never asking why. Whatever she took from the earth, she gave back. She saved away corn kernels, potato eyes, and apple seeds to plant; she grew trees, starting new forests each year; she couldn’t really do anything about the water she took, but somehow never felt bad about it. She knew that the ancients had made art, music, and recorded history, but the hive mind had no need for these things–it had transcended them. Sometimes she hummed a little to herself, but she could almost see the sounds floating away from her and falling to the ground.
When she had gone underground a year ago, it had been purely on instinct. Fight or flight, and you can’t fight ultimate destruction and desolation. Hiding deep in the earth with meager provisions and a slow drip of water from the ceiling sustained her for ten months, but those were running low. Planting apple trees in the spring from the seeds she had spit out in the autumn had somehow been fulfilling enough for most of her life, but now she was simply sitting in the dark, working her way through a finite source of food and water at the end of the world in the bottom of the earth.
Before the devastation, the hive mind society had not needed her. The world did not depend upon or even acknowledge her existence, but, heavy feet firmly planted, she had always had a strange sense of place. It was as if, supposing she had died years before, there would have been a hole shaped like her in the fabric of this time.
Above ground again, she walked through the fire and what she thought must be burning sulfur, a little bit curious now about what the end of the world looked like.
She arrived at the edge of a plateau or a cliff. It was the world the way the ancients described it: a flat piece of land with edges that cascaded away into nothingness. She was standing at the edge of ruin, emptiness and smoke and flames so far below, they might as well have been a distant star. She looked out through the decayed atmosphere into space.
There she heard the voices. It was as if the humming she had sent out over the years was reverberating, soft but strong and in a multitude of bodiless voices. Hot wind pushed her a step closer to the edge. She closed her eyes, listening, feeling the flying embers and thick air.
She knew that an old culture called the Norse had believed that time was cyclical; that when this world was destroyed, a new one was birthed out of its destruction, with a few gods and relics surviving to see the establishment of the new world. In this way, there was no beginning or end of time and earth, but only a circle.
Science, history, religion, and mythology had little place in her life, so she really couldn’t be sure, but she had a strong feeling that the world she had just lost must also have been born under fire and song.