The gray, lifeless steel sky loomed above the metropolis, acid rain and oil descending upon the inhabitants below. Extravagant advertisement displays bathed the city in neon light. Kyrie sheltered beneath an overhang which extruded from the mangled face of the building.
Cold bodies pressed against his sides as the crowd huddled in the dark. Many draped blankets over their backs, shoulders, and bodies, pulling them closer to preserve warmth. The never-ending echo of coughing filled the air, with an occasional groan or wail joining the elegy. The disease was spreading. And spreading fast.
Impatiently, Kyrie repeatedly mashed the buzzer for the secretary with his fourth arm, the other three fending off the sea of bodies from crushing him. Head and shoulders above the masses, he made an intimidating figure. His mechanical arachnoid body with twelve spiked metal legs set him apart from the members of the post-human race, identifying him as a Factory employee.
Eventually, the doctor’s secretary shuffled to the kiosk. Her shoulders drooped. There were bags under her eyes, and she was puffing smoke from a long cylinder. “What do you want?”
“I have an appointment with Dr. Niet for today,” he rasped.
“Uh-huh. Sure. I’ll take a look and see what we can find.”
Dragging a strand of white hair aside and biting her lip, she swiped through the records on her holographic display. A sudden series of coughs wracked his body. The secretary continued her work completely unfazed.
“Here we go. Guess you weren’t lying, and it seems you were moved to the front of the line too. High-priority patient. Wonder how that happened,” she said, her voice dripping with venom.
Kyrie ignored her and skittered inside, metal clanking echoing down the hallway. Piles of junk and filth cluttered the hall. Dark shadows danced across the walls, as the lights inlaid in them were either damaged or long dead. He passed a shattered mirror that once decorated a door.
His albino skin contrasted harshly with his jet-black automated limbs. He looked like a ghost, half dead already. Streaks of red under the skin marked where the wires and nanotech were consuming his flesh bit by bit, eating him alive. He didn’t have long. So he pressed onward.
The doctor’s door stood open when Kyrie approached it, welcoming him inside. The room itself was as grimy as the hall outside, far from the ideal clean environment that was expected.
“Ah. You must be Kyrie. Sit,” the doctor replied with his low, gravelly voice.
The chair, not being made for a being of his size, would not hold Kyrie. Instead, he lay down in the middle of the room, folding his legs beneath him while trying to stay at eye-level. Though that remained a challenge as he loomed a good two heads higher than the doctor.
“Doctor, I heard rumors that the Captain’s Council found a cure and is planning on dispersing it to the masses.”
“I’m afraid there is nothing any of us doctors can do about the techno-organic virus ransacking the ship,” Dr. Niet stated. “The only way to counteract the disease is with modifications to the human genome. But most of the population lacks the necessary DNA sequences to combat it.”
“What about me?”
“Well, that is why you are here. To test and see if the procedure can be attempted on you.”
The doctor pulled out a large device with a tube on the end to draw blood and began the process, allowing Kyrie’s thoughts to wander. He thought primarily about the disease, mulling it over in his head until something he had heard several years prior popped into his head.
“Say, Doctor Niet. What about the human scavengers supposedly scurrying around under the Factory?” Kyrie asked.
“A rumor, nothing more. The Council investigated the matter, turned up a load of dead ends and false urban legends. I assure you, if such a group of genuine humans existed, we would have discovered them long ago. Besides, humanity died out during the exodus right after man and machine merged into one; there is no need to speculate further.”
Kyrie nodded, accepting the explanation. The doctor finished drawing his blood and ran it through the supercomputer, which proceeded to analyze the sample. With nothing to do, the two sat in silence. Eventually, the doctor broke the calm.
“Who would have thought that eight thousand years after departing the Sol System in the Singularity and abandoning our humanity that we would come to need the very thing left behind? Ironic, isn’t it?” the doctor noted as he cleaned his glasses, rubbing the dust and grime from the lens. “For all our advancements in science, engineering, genetics, and biology, we are powerless. We successfully merged the former human race with technology but cannot stop it from killing us,” he mused aloud, mostly to himself as Kyrie was only half listening.
“Do you think we strayed too far?” Kyrie asked.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Have we wandered too far from who we were? Have we lost what made us ourselves? We live under a metal sky without a sun, far from our ancestral home. We’ve lost the spirit of humanity.”
“That’s ridiculous. Insanity, even. What are you—”
The computer blared an alarm, its analysis complete. Dr. Niet examined the results, a frown crossing his face.
“Sibo!” Dr. Niet called.
The secretary with white hair opened the door and stepped in, a trail of smoke following behind. She answered in a disinterred tone, “Yes?”
“Show him out. He doesn’t have what we are looking for. There’s nothing we can do for him.”
“What a shame,” Sibo said, glaring daggers at Kyrie and leading him back outside.
Exiting the building, Kyrie stepped outside and gazed up at the steel sky, oil splashing on his face. He wondered what the sun might have looked like.
The following week, Kyrie traveled to the Factory for work, laboring under every breath. The streets were quiet, the city desolate. Vast parks stood vacant, and the transportation network, running like blood vessels through the city, lay empty. Occasionally, a ghostly figure would wander about the streets, a stranger in a strange land. The remaining survivors looked out of place. A rare official patrolled the street, preaching a message from the Council.
“The Council offers a reward for anyone with a significant strand of the human genome. If found, the ship and all its inhabitants might be saved from this calamity!” he exclaimed.
His cries fell on deaf ears. Crowds continued to huddle beneath the shadows of the city, though they no longer stirred, lying deathly still. They once thought they would live forever; that delusion had been shattered. The city’s lifeless streets and the piles of still, unmoving bodies stood in monument of their race’s vast achievements.
Eventually, he arrived at the entrance to the Factory, which towered above him ominously, three hours late—not that there was anyone left to chastise his tardiness. He was the only one left now. As always, the automated security system checked him in, scanning his biosignature. It took six minutes this time, which was even longer than the day before. He grew less and less recognizable with every passing day.
Silently, he sat down at his station and booted up his control systems. The Factory manufactured the fuel to keep the power convertors running. Without them the Singularity would lose its near perfect energy efficiency, having to forego its intended voyage and turn back toward the Milky Way. Eventually, his stomach growled at him. Glancing at the clock, he decided to take a break. It was well before his shift ended, but he took the lunch break anyway. Sitting down, Kyrie pulled out his lunch. It was the same basic food as always (most people couldn’t afford the good stuff), but he kept this meal heated in an airtight container and sprinkled on every seasoning and topping in the district. No expense was spared; he indulged himself with whatever he wanted at this point.
Leaning forward to take a bite, a noise rang out throughout the factory, which drew his attention. Silence lingered for several seconds after the echo had faded. His eyes drifted around the room, looking for the disturbance’s source, before they finally landed on a waste chute across from him. Its screws were discarded on the floor, and the grate hung ajar.
Out poked two pairs of eyes. Human eyes. The pair emerged from the chute; they had not noticed him, mistaking him for a corpse or piece of machinery. The lack of noise and movement must have drawn their attention. They were curious; it was probably why they risked coming to the surface.
Kyrie thought back to the official’s message back in the deserted streets. All he had to do was grab one of them and bring them in. With that, he could be saved and live out his original expected lifespan of fifty thousand years.
However, he knew, deep down, that this would never come to pass. The Council dissecting them for the cure before wiping out the other human scavengers was far more likely. Civilization would continue unchanged, the sick inversion of society it was. Could he justify the existence of such a world?
Breaking his meal into pieces, Kyrie scattered the chunks toward the two children. “Here. Take this.”
They jolted and leapt backward, watching him with fervent intensity. But he made no further movements. He watched as they scooped the food off the ground, shoveling what they couldn’t carry into their mouths before climbing back into the chute. They descended back down into the guts of the Factory, vanishing into the thick, inky darkness.
Kyrie leaned back and propped himself up with his many legs. His mind wandered, clouded with fog. Couldn’t the world be a kinder and gentler place? Couldn’t people make the world a better place? Somewhere warm and welcoming?
It just might not be the post-human race making it. They already had their chance. Their world was cold and dark. Now, it was humanity’s time again. Time to restore humanity to its rightful place. His silence all but guaranteed it. No one would disturb this place for years, allowing them to grow. He shut his eyes, dreaming of the sun.