Simon woke up to the sound of the roof-guns spooling up.

Whhhrrrrrr POP POP POP!

Then they were silent again. He groaned, rolled over in his bed, and tapped the computer interface.

Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

“Anatale, roof cam.”

The computer screen glowed so brightly he thought his eyes were going to melt.

“Brightness down! Dammit.”

The screen obeyed and he could just squint enough to see the view of the roof.

Grey cement stretched in a circle around the roof cam. He panned left, and left, and left, there! A fox corpse sat just at the edge of the roof. How did it get past the fences? Ah well. It wasn’t near any of the vents so he could let it rot. No need to activate the sweeper drones.

“What is it?” Rachel asked.

“Just a fox. Nothing to worry about. Air intakes are clean.”

“Mhph. Poor thing. It must have bypassed ten perimeter fences… what time is it?”

“Oh-five hundred.”

“I guess I’ll get up. It’s close enough.”

Simon and Rachel got up together, ate breakfast together, showered together, and got dressed together. In their grey and white jumpsuits, they looked like quite the dashing pair, even if Simon had been slowing down on the treadmill, and Rachel was earning some grey hairs.

Out the bedroom and down the long empty hallway.

They followed the long corridor with row after row of empty rooms until they reached the lift. Sure they could have picked one of the rooms closest to the lift, but they liked the room on the end the best. Due to some strange geometry of the rock wall, maybe a vein of hard stone, or imperceptible change in the chemistry of the tunnel, that room had been constructed slightly larger than the rest of the rooms on that level. It also had a strange outcropping in the living area that made for a comfortable reading nook.

In almost two hundred floors of identicality, even something that small and unique is savored.

The lift went up, up, up. One, two, seventeen… twenty-eight floors…

Ding

Simon and Rachel disembarked on the eleventh floor: Anatale Command Center, or A.C.C. for short.

“You two are up early,” Thomas said.

“So are you,” Rachel joked, nudging him.

“Roof-gun woke me up.”

“Us too,” Simon said.

The three of them sat around the main control table and checked on Anatale’s systems. It was a rote exercise, but a necessary one.

Air intakes clear, recycling system operational, purifiers clear, roof-gun online, energy systems nominal, medical wing active, habitation rings one through eighty-nine: inactive. Habitation ring ninety: active.

“Well, looks like another boring day. Poker anyone?” Thomas said, leaning back while Anatale ran the last few systems checks on herself.

“They built this ol’ tube too well,” Rachel said, annoyed. “There’s nothing to fix around here. If Mr. Gregory had told me that nothing ever broke around here I wouldn’t have studied engineering!”

“Anatale picked your class for you,” Thomas said.

“Yeah, I know, but still… would be nice to have something to do. You’re a plant doctor. You’re always busy.”

“Botanist.”

“Whatever,” she said. It was fun to take jabs at Thomas. He was so gentle and thoughtful. He made an easy target. Simon on the other hand couldn’t take a joke. He was so passionate about everything, but that had its perks too.

“Alright, well if you two aren’t down for cards. I have some lovely Chlorophyta that need my attention,” he said, heading to the lift.

“Ah, yes, green goo. Your first love,” Rachel said, but that joke was too far. Thomas shot her a dark look.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean… fuck off you know I didn’t mean it that way,” she tried to tease him, keep it light. He didn’t appreciate it, and he made straight for the lift.

“Wait!” Simon called out, pointing at the computer interface on the command console.

“Anatale has found a problem, it’s the non-com reservoir. It’s full.”

“What?” Thomas returned to the console and checked the levels of the non-compostable refuse reservoir.

“It says it’s only a third full.”

Simon shook his head, “look again. It’s a buffering error.”

Thomas checked it again and, sure enough, Simon was right. It wasn’t one-third full, the indicator had simply stopped loading at 33.33333%. The irrational number was a common stall point in Anatale’s systems. They should have noticed it earlier. The only reason they knew the reservoir was full was a physical indicator that prevented overfilling.

“Finally!” Rachel said, “out of the way plant doctor. It’s time for robot doctor!”

Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

It was a simple process to transfer reservoirs, but it still required Rachel’s expertise. Thomas could also be useful. His knowledge of bacteria, fungal growth, and decomposers was vital when changing from one dump to another.

Simon stayed in the A.C.C. while Thomas and Rachel suited up and descended into the deepest underbelly of Anatale.

The cylindrical main body of Anatale was over one hundred fifty stories tall. It would have been the largest, habitable, underground complex in the world if there weren’t hundreds just like it spread across the planet. Morigan, Edison, Juke Box, New Chicago, and Tubman were five nearly identical shelters in just the same region of North America. Each one was probably having a similar day… if there was anyone in them at all. The only thing that made Anatale special was that it was one of the first post-natal shelters ever constructed, and served as the model for many others.

Rachel and Thomas’s lift stopped at the last official level, Fitness and Health Center Number Four. It was a nonsensical level to end on, but the designers were still toying with the floorplan when Anatale was built. It wasn’t perfect.

Thomas flipped up a plastic cover that sat over a keyhole and inserted his command key. There was a soft click, and the lift buttons for the sub-levels lit up.

“Through me is the way to the city of woe,” he said and hit the button for the non-com reservoir.

“I’m reading good power distribution,” Simon said through their mics.

Both Thomas and Rachel wore pressurized suits with wide glass helmets. It was possible for leaks to form in the sub-level walls, slowly venting the air. Perhaps a generator went down, or a vent clogged, causing the air conditioning systems to fail. They could walk from the twenty degrees C lift into a one-hundred-degree inferno if they weren’t careful.

The lift stopped, but the doors stayed shut until Simon gave them the all-clear.

“Air systems are reading all green. You’re good to go.”

Cautiously, Thomas and Rachel opened the doors and made their way to the reservoir.

This part of the station was completely different than the main levels. Instead of white walls, clean glass interfaces, algae globes, and comforting soft lights, this part of the station was all rust and oil, steel and concrete. Millions of wires, thousands of ducts, pipes, and channels… it was a rats nest of industrial necessity.

Only a few dim floor lights lit their path. The ceiling was a tangle of black.

“I can see the reservoir,” Thomas reported. “Looks like the feeding tube has disengaged properly.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Rachel said. “It looks like a clean disengage, but I’ll want to run a pressure test before we shift it to the next chamber.”

“You do you. I’ll do me.”

With that, they split up and went to work. Rachel ran several pressure tests of the tube that led to the reservoir. Water was pumped in at a high rate, much higher than it would ever realistically get from only three people’s waste. After she was satisfied, she checked on Thomas. He was taking samples of the reservoir walls. Three cylinders were on the ground next to him, filled with a black, toxic-looking mold.

“I don’t know how you touch that stuff,” she said.

“We need these decomposers. Without them, the reservoirs would fill up ten times as fast, and this facility never would have lasted to ‘Generation O’.”

“Yeah, and I eat pizza too. That doesn’t mean I want to rub my hands in tomato sauce.”

Thomas wrapped up the sample tubes and gave her the all-clear. No toxic leakage.

“Okay, hold on up there, you might feel a slight bump,” Rachel wired to Simon.

“Roger that, all refuse systems halted until the transfer is complete.”

Rachel handled the controls like a professional. Well… she was a professional. In fact, she might be the only professional engineer left in the world. They didn’t have the means to contact the other post-natal facilities, so their guess was as good as anyone's.

The feeding tube rumbled and hissed, flecks of rust fell from high above and sprinkled them like dry brown rain.

Then, with a single lurching motion, the tube bent forward and connected with the fresh reservoir.

“All done? Let’s get out of here,” Thomas said.

“So soon? Can’t I run one last system check?” Rachel pleaded.

“We can do that from A.C.C.”

“Easy for you to say. You still have work to do. This might be the last time I ever have to come down here. I’ll miss it.”

“Unless something goes terribly wrong, then yes. This is the last reservoir this facility will ever need. We’ll be dead long before it fills.”

Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

The lift brought them back to the A.C.C., and the dark passages of the sub-levels disappeared behind them.

The rest of the day in Anatale was taken up with the typical chores. Simon reviewed the weather reports, ran an analysis on the computer systems, and kept logs. Today’s log was more interesting than most since it contained both his report of the roof-guns that woke him and the glitch that led to their hasty reservoir swap.

“If any aliens ever read this, today’s report hopefully won’t be a complete snooze fest,” he thought.

Around dinner time, he and Rachel met in the lounge and shared a pizza. It wasn’t real pizza of course. Cheese was an animal byproduct, and no farms existed in Anatale’s extensive automated harvesting system. Tomatoes, grains, salt purifiers, oregano, basil, pepper plants… yes, but no cows.

It was Thomas’s job to create a cheese-like substance from sustainable plant alternatives, and he had done a pretty good job. At least, they assume he did. None of them had ever tasted real cheese. They were fifty generations too late for that.

“You want to celebrate?” Simon asked.

“Celebrate what?”

“Your last trip into the pit?”

“I like the pit. It’s the only place I’m really needed. Up in the main levels, Anatale can take care of everyone.”

“She can’t take care of me like you can…” Simon hinted.

After a quick, but passionate romp in the lounge, they put their clothes back on and cleaned up after themselves. Simon may be aging, and Rachel was right behind him, but they still managed to work up a sweat when they wanted to.

They returned to the A.C.C. to close up shop. There was a message from Thomas.

“Running soil analysis. Proceed without me.”

It wasn’t uncommon for him to work late. After all, he had no one waiting for him back at his room, and the love-bots wouldn’t nag him about coming home after midnight, no matter how realistic they looked or acted.

“I guess we’re on our own,” Simon said and directed Rachel to take over some of Thomas’ responsibilities, while he took over the rest.

With all systems green, they completed their day.

“You go home,” Rachel said, “I need to bring some clothes to the wash and decontaminate our suits from our trip to the pit.”

“Alright, see you there.”

Simon boarded the lift and hit the button for Habitation Ring Ninety. One level, two… seventeen levels down… wait.

“Anatale, stop the lift.”

She did so and the dull hum of the lift told Simon that she was waiting for his next command.

“Why is the education wing active?” he asked, pointing at the lit-up button that read ‘23’.”

“Floor twenty-three, education wing, was activated at sixteen twenty-two hours,” Anatale responded in her cool mechanical voice.

Thomas…” Simon thought. He hit the button for the education wing and the lift reversed its course.

He stepped out into the familiar, yet alien presence of the education wing. He hadn’t been here in over twenty years. Everything looked just as he remembered it, but smaller. The tiles on the floor were too close together. The robotic secretary was shorter than she should be, and sat inactive at the reception desk. Simon couldn’t help but walk over to her. He had a strange sense of running late, his bookbag slung invisibly over his shoulder. Yet, A.N.A. didn’t activate. She didn’t look at him with her surprisingly human expression of coy disapproval and slip him a tardy note.

The Anatale Nuturing Assistant just sat, limp backed, and head crooked, staring at the computer forever. Her mouth hung slightly open, and Simon reached over the desk and closed it. Her synthetic skin and muscle bent gently under his touch and the servos whirred into place. Her lips pressed together into a soft, natural smile, and stayed there.

“Good to see you again,” he said, but knew she couldn’t hear him.

There was a hissing impact that echoed down the hall. He knew that sound.

Simon followed the noise down the long, empty hallway of lockers and doorways that hadn’t been used for decades. There were still some projects on the walls. Infantile decorations of construction paper, embarrassing expressions of love for long-dead celebrities, and some surprisingly accurate dioramas all littered the shelves. They were a celebration… no, a memorial to children who had learned, grown-up, and gone away.

There was another quick series of impacts, and Simon finally arrived at the source. It was the gymnasium. Thomas was shooting hoops with an old basketball he had reinflated.

“You know there’s a court in the fitness wing of the lounge,” Simon said.

Thomas sank a foul point shot and looked over to him.

“Yeah, but that court is cement. I prefer the wooden court.”

“Me too,” Simon admitted, “But being down here is a waste of resources.”

“Oh come on,” Thomas waved him off. “It’s not like we’re taking it from anyone. Anatale’s reactor could run this station another twenty decades. She won’t miss a few stray volts for me to shoot some hoops.”

“Fine. Horse?”

Thomas smiled, “thought you’d never ask!”

They reinflated a second ball and stood outside the foul lines, taking shots and adding up letters for each failure.

The first H went to Simon, then Thomas earned an H and an O. Jokes were made about his fidelity.

Then HORS to Thomas. Simon lost a couple of shots and he was down to HOR.

“Do you remember when Mr. Gregory had us do this for a tournament?” Simon asked.

“If you mean my dad, then yes,” Thomas said, slightly out of breath.

“He’ll always be Mr. Gregory to me. He was our teacher. The best teacher.”

“The only teacher.”

Simon raised an invisible toast to the man.

“My team represented Eurasia, right?” Simon asked.

“Yes, and I was the New World, he called it the World Basketball Derby.”

“Eurasia took home the gold!” Simon said, laughing and throwing kisses to an imaginary crowd. Even when they were children there were only two dozen other people in the whole facility, eight of them were parents, the rest were infertile.

“Yeah, you and Leah were…” Thomas stopped at the memory, he couldn’t finish his thought.

“We were what?” Simon asked.

“You two were really good together,” he said, bouncing his ball.

“Yeah, we made a good team. It’s okay to talk about her. You should. It would be good for you.”

“I don’t want to talk about her,” Thomas said, throwing a shot. The ball swished neatly.

“You should,” Simon said, tossing his ball neatly into the net.

They retrieved their balls and kept shooting, but both of them were dialed in, and neither missed.

“If I talk about her,” Thomas said, “I get lonely.”

“They knew Generation O would get lonely when they build this place,” Simon explained. “That’s why we have the love bots. You really need to use her more often.”

“You don’t know how much I use Billi.”

“Right right, Billi. That’s what you named her. Well, you should do something to spice it up because you’re on edge all the time. Rachel’s noticed. She’s worried about you.”

Thomas took his shot. Miss.

Simon tried to follow up and win the game, but he missed as well.

“Billi is fine, but you know it’s not the same,” Thomas confessed. He sank his next shot.

Simon missed. Now they were tied up at HORS.

“It doesn’t have to be the same. You just need to offer a little passion. Bots require input to output, you know what I mean?”

“Just play the game,” Thomas said, sinking another perfect shot.

Simon held his ball but didn’t shoot.

“See? This is what I’m talking about. Look at you. You’re on edge. You’re brooding. You came down here to sulk in the past. We’re twenty years out of high school and you’re still acting like a child.”

Simon took his shot and missed.

“E. Horse. I win,” Thomas said. Throwing his basketball into the bin of deflated balls.

“Whatever. You have to win at something I guess…” Simon muttered, tossing his ball into the bin as well. He knew it was mean-spirited as soon as he said it. Unfortunately, he didn’t mutter quite quietly enough, and when he turned around, Thomas was glaring at him. More than glaring. He was furious. His hand shook.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Thomas wasn’t listening. Something in him had broken, and no apology could put it back together.

Raising his fist, Thomas marched toward Simon.

He spoke, “Consider your origin. You were not formed to live like brutes but to follow virtue and knowledge.”

“What are you talking about? We can work this out, Thomas. Relax!”

Simon put his hands up and defended himself for a brief moment in the struggle, but Thomas’s rage overwhelmed him. He beat Simon until he lay unconscious on the floor.

“Are you excited for graduation?” Simon’s mother asked, pulling his collar up and tucking his tie in.

“Why can’t we wear our jumpsuits? They’re comfier,” Simon argued, straining at the necktie.

“It’s tradition,” she said.

“Doesn’t matter. Not like we could fail anyway. There are only four kids in the whole school.”

“Yes, but you graduated as the salutatorian. That still means something,” she said proudly.

“I got one point more than the other two. Big deal. Rachel’s still smarter than me.”

His mother combed his hair and shuffled him out the door. Four students or not, they were all going to look presentable.

The ceremony was held in the auditorium. A few streamers had been put up, but mostly it was the same as it always was. The parents of the four children, and the other dozen or so citizens sat in the chairs. The school was built to service over a thousand students, with a second school just two levels up serving as a university. When the post-natal facility started up, there were almost too many children to handle. Now, the facility was cavernous with unneeded space.

Photo by Merch HÜSEY on Unsplash

Rachel, Simon, Leah, and Thomas graduated in order of their achievement. There was a small party with cake and pizza. The pizza was Rachel’s idea.

Yet, for all the pomp and circumstance, only one thing was on the mind of the graduates.

All of them turned eighteen during that year.

After the party, they went down to the nurse’s office.

“Do I have to mom? I hate needles,” Thomas asked.

“Yes, you have to! It’s the most important part of the ceremony. You four kids are Generation O, the most important generation. It’s very exciting for all of us.”

“Generation O, the terminal generation. Even if we four can produce fertile offspring, they have no mates but each other. They would produce perpetually less fertile offspring due to a lack of genetic diversity. Their suffering would be immense. It is our duty to be the last.” Thomas recited.

“Very good! Now come on. Roll up your sleeve so the nurse can take a blood sample. Don’t want to stain your shirt.”

“Don’t worry Tommy, I’ll protect you from the big nasty needles!” Rachel said and held his hand. She pulled a pen from her pocket and waved it around like a sword. Thomas laughed despite himself.

“You’re an absolute child,” he said.

“Yeah, but that’s why you like me,” she winked.

The nurse was a joyful-looking robot, with a wide, triangular body and rosy cheeks. She was an early model, so her motions were a little too jerky for a human, and her proportions were exaggerated. Nonetheless, she was a serviceable medic.

Simon was the first to have his blood taken. They all expected the results to be the same. After all, it was statistically unlikely that any of them would be able to produce offspring.

The nurse put the blood into a slot in the computer terminal. Then, in just a few seconds, a big, red, letter “I” showed up on the screen.

Simon smiled and returned to his parents.

Next up, was Leah. She looked sheepishly over at Simon and waved. He waved back and encouraged her to get on with it.

The computer spun up her blood work. As expected, “I”.

Next was Thomas, but he was afraid, so Rachel took his place.

“It’s not so bad! Look,” she said, holding out her arm. The nurse took a blood sample and Rachel kept her eyes on Thomas the whole time. She smiled, and he felt comforted.

“Easy!” she said.

The computer spun up her results and…

“F”.

The parents looked at each other in stunned silence. Rachel in particular was distraught.

“I… what does that mean? I’m fertile? That shouldn’t happen right?” she asked.

“It was always possible,” Mr. Gregory explained.

“It won’t matter as long as Thomas tests negative. Right?” Leah asked. She moved closer to Simon.

“Right. Come on Thomas. Let’s get you tested,” Rachel said, holding his free hand.

If he wasn’t afraid before, now he was terrified.

He held out his arm and felt the hot pinprick of the needle. Blood filled the vial.

The nurse put his results in the computer. It whirred quietly for a moment and then.

“F”.

Leah looked at Simon.

Simon looked at Thomas.

Thomas looked at Rachel.

Rachel looked at Simon, then let go of Thomas’s hand.

When Simon awoke, he was alone in the gymnasium. At least, he thought he was alone. The lights were out.

“Anatale! Lights!” he said, gritting his teeth against the headache he knew was coming.

The gym lit up. Simon stumbled to the door and made his way down the hallway.

“Activate A.N.A.!” he said.

At the far end of the hall, he heard a surprised yelp, then a figure appeared out of the dark.

“Well, dearie me, who turned out the lights?” Ana said, her slim figure casting disapproval on every dusty inch of the hallway.

She clapped and the lights came on.

“Simon! Is that you, my little man? Come on let’s get you to the nurse. You look terrible,” Ana said, walking quickly down to him on her black high-heels. Of course, they didn’t slow her down at all because they weren’t shoes at all, but spring-loaded mechanisms that helped her walk. She put her arm around him and helped guide him to the nurse’s office. Simon had never noticed it before, but she was actually warm, and even smelled human. Her face was young compared to his now, and her hair was a perfect jet black without a single strand out of place. If she was real, she would have been a lovely young woman, perhaps in her twenties or early thirties. It’s amazing how much effort the builders put into such a character, but they knew she’d be an important face for thousands of children for decades. She had to be perfect.

“Ah! Would you look at this place?” Ana said, pointing at the nurse's office. It was a complete wreck inside. Every instrument was strewn about on the ground and the nurse herself was nowhere to be seen. But Simon already knew this office was ruined. He hadn’t come for medical attention.

Simon pulled away from the secretary and reached for the computer interface.

“Anatale, call Rachel!”

There was a ringing, then an answer. Rachel’s face appeared on the screen. She was wearing a towel and her face looked freshly washed.

“Simon! What are you doing? Is that Secretary Ana?”

“Yes. Thomas was down in the school. He was shooting some hoops so I joined him.”

“I know, he told me you two would be there for a couple of hours. What’s wrong?”

“He went nuts. He knocked me out. You have to find him.”

“We can find him after you get back to safety. It’s not like he can go very far. Can Ana bring you to the medical wing?”

“I think so. She is in good condition.”

“I’ll meet you there,” Rachel said, and ended the call.

Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash

Ana was able to help Simon to the lift, but he was incredibly unstable. His head ached, and he vomited twice on the way up. Finally, they reached the ward and activated one of the medical drones.

These creatures were not made to resemble humans in any fashion. They were beings of pure titanium, chrome, and efficiency. One of them lifted Simon as easily as one would a doll and put him on a bed. Immediately it began diagnosing him, scanning him, and applying the necessary bandages.

“Minor contusions to the skull. Severe concussion, with bruising on the anterior…” the robot prattled to no one in particular. Rachel arrived only seconds later.

“Tell me what happened,” she asked, grabbing Simon’s hand and rubbing the hair out of his face.

“Please remove yourself, ma'am,” the robot demanded.

“Remove your self you shiny assed toaster!” she kicked the robot and it obeyed.

Finally alone, she repeated her question.

“We were shooting hoops,” Simon said, “then we got talking about school and Leah…”

“That’s a sore subject for all of us. It doesn’t mean he can just beat you up.”

“I deserved it. I was pissed he beat me and I baited him. He was being such a grouch I… I don’t know.”

She tried to soothe him.

“He’s been on edge all week. It’s not your fault.”

Simon remembered something.

“He said something weird just before he attacked me. Something about not living like brutes.”

Rachel nodded, “He said something weird to me in the lift too. I think it’s from one of the books he’s been reading. Maybe he’s more stressed out than we thought. Maybe if he used Billi more often…”

Simon shook his head but that made him sick. He reached for a bucket and vomited again.

“He… hasn’t been using Billi,” he managed to say.

Rachel looked at him severely.

“I checked her database. He has never used her. She sits in his room, does some of his dishes, and that’s it. She’s a maid.”

“That is such an invasion of privacy Simon, I cannot believe you would do that.”

“I am the administrator of this facility, even if there are just four… three of us. It is within my right.”

“Still… does that mean…”

“He hasn’t had a lover since Leah,” Simon said.

“Jesus no wonder he’s uptight.”

She got him a glass of water and allowed the robot doctor to come back in and check on him. It printed a treatment plan and left it on the table next to them. Simon would be fine with a little rest and a lot of drugs.

“You should ask Anatale where he is,” Simon urged.

“In a minute. I want to make sure you’re okay.”

“You’re kind…” he said, squeezing her hand. “But I’m not so kind. You know that, but you have stayed with me anyway.”

“Shhh,” she tried to get him to stop talking. She didn’t want him to say what she knew he was thinking.

“I love you, Rachel. I love you more than I thought I could when… you remember. You remember after graduation. You and Thomas were always closer, always a better couple. We knew it would be you two who got together, and Leah was so sweet she could put up with anyone, even me. The two villains and the two heroes. That’s what we had. You and I are harsh by comparison to those two. We always butted heads, you and I, I don’t think we even talked once during graduation. We were too busy fighting for the top of the class. Only four kids! And we still had to fight. I pretended I didn’t care, but I did. I was pissed you beat me.”

“I loved fighting with you,” she said, stroking his face.

“No, you enjoyed it, but you didn’t love it. You loved Thomas. I know you did. But when we got our results back, our love was made for us. You and he would never be allowed to be together. Even a chance, a slim chance, of procreation in Generation O is unacceptable.”

She nodded, there were tears now but she pushed them away.

“It should have been Leah and me, and you and Thomas. That’s what it should have been, and if we were allowed… if we could change who we were, or what our bodies could do, then that’s what we would do. That’s why Leah died,” Simon continued.

“It’s no one's fault but her own!” Rachel said, an old anger reawakened. “I didn’t ask her to do anything. She… she was an idiot.”

“She was trying to make it right. She knew that if she could find a way to sterilize you, then you and Thomas could be together.”

“Stop it! She didn’t care about me and Thomas, she just wanted you. She was jealous.”

Simon laughed.

“Leah? Jealous? Maybe sad, but I don’t think she could feel jealousy. She was the best of us, the sweetest. If the world was made of Leahs, then we never would have had to build the post-natal facilities. We never would have had to commit to our own, slow extinction. But it isn’t, and life isn’t fair. Leah had no one to test her serialization method on except herself. It didn’t work, and she died. She poisoned herself because she wanted to give us… all of us, the best lives we could have. That was the whole idea, right? If we end humanity, we end suffering.”

“I don’t care what you say, Simon. You have a head injury. I love you and that’s that.”

“I love you too, but I know that I love you more.”

She couldn’t answer that.

A call came in on the console next to them. It was Thomas.

“Don’t say anything, and don’t try to stop me,” Thomas said.

He was in the lift, and it was moving fast.

“I’m leaving,” he said.

“You can’t! Please!” Rachel begged him, but Simon held her arm.

Thomas continued, “I have to. Ever since Leah died I… I’ve been in agony. That is not what Generation O was supposed to be. We were supposed to be happy! It was the four of us, just the four of us. And maybe I could have been happy if it still was the four of us, but you feel it too, don’t you Rachel? You know this is wrong. I cannot die here. I will not. There will be a Generation O, but it’s not me!”

“Where will you go?” Simon asked.

Thomas answered thoughtfully.

“Tubman maybe, or Juke Box. Those are the two closest facilities. They were built after us, so there must still be someone there. Or who knows, maybe there are others like me. Others who are still fertile, and have gotten out. I have to find out. I have to try. I’m sorry, but I have to try. I won’t be the last one. I can’t be.”

Simon nodded, “You won’t be the last. I promise. Goodbye Thomas, and good luck.”

Thomas looked towards the ceiling of the lift. He imagined the sun and the moon and the stars, and what they would look like with his own eyes. He wondered if there were others like him; those who gave in to their nature, who clung to the belief that they were not born to die in a pit.

“O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?”

The call ended, and they heard the lift going higher and higher, further and further away towards the surface.

Rachel reached towards the panel, but Simon held her hand.

“No. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you touch that panel,” he said, voice gentle and calm.

She could have pulled away, she could have reached for it. Hell, she could have spoken and used Anatale’s voice commands, but she didn’t. She could have stopped what came next, but she didn’t. All she could do was plunge her face into Simon’s chest, and weep.

It was nearing midnight.

The warmth of their bodies soothed their minds, and they fell asleep to the sound of the roof-guns spooling up.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer, English Teacher, Gamer, Nerd.

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