“Are you telling me there’s no cure? That this is the end.”
I am saying if there is a cure, it remains beyond my reach. The virus is adaptive, there are too many permutations to combat too quickly. Any intervention on my part merely makes it spread faster, kill with more ruthless effectiveness.”
“So… what now? We can’t give up, we’ve come too far. I, we all have suffered for so long. Failing now is… what do I do?”
The only thing you can. What you have done for millennia... die and die and live and live so that mankind may persist.
“And will you do what you must?”
Yes. I will keep looking. Roan, no matter what it takes. I will keep looking. After all, you are my creator and my ward. To guard the guardian of man is the sole purpose of my life.
“What do you need from me?”
Trust, and time to work. The first only you can provide. As for the second, I have an idea…
Roan stands in the dark at the base of an ill-lit pyramidic sepulcher that is his home. Balanced on its axis, obsidian walls stretch out and away from the narrow floor he paces, out towards the broad ceiling that disappears in the night above. He checks the displays relaying the status of the collections of bassinets to ensure that the bodies slumbering within—the remnants of the human race, his charges—remain in homeostasis for their journey through the stars. He envies them, these thousands of men and women and children frozen in the past, conveyed into the future and towards a new home. One he would not live to see.
His only home is this darkness, this silent mausoleum perched precariously on a lie, this imitation planet drifting ever faster to its latest destination: A new exo-planet on which he, and the Roans who preceded him, and the dreaming world they steward, once again place all their hopes. His only succor are memories, of a dying planet fled millennia ago, the constant challenge of survival. Memories are also his curse, those of wars, petty bickering in the face of obliteration, or failing drives, of one trial after another. Hanging over him still is the greatest challenge yet, the one still before him, the sickness that turned Motherlode, man’s last refuge, into a pandemic breeding ground. A sickness threatening to claim the entire human race.
And so, four hundred years ago, desperate measures were taken.
He calls it The Tomb, names himself Mortician. A black structure jutting from the ground like a stone. Its high walls shadow against an archon sky. Within Roan moves through the pitch with confidence and grace. To his preternaturally glowing eyes, augmented with photographic-lenses hypersensitive to light, its interior was as bright as Motherlode’s artificial day. Closing his eyes, he feels the hum of machinery around him, so automated as to almost make his presence unnecessary.
He can feel gentle wind—air disturbed by the perpetually rotating bassinets—generating energy by this movement vital to keeping The Tomb as self-sufficient as possible, so as to prevent overtaxing Motherlode’s resources, stretch to the limit as they are after thousands of years of wear.
He can hear sleeping hearts beating, and imagines they are unformed souls crying out to him. Vouchsafing their lives is his calling, and, by each passing generation, Roan is inches closer to failure.
With each new Roan that answers the call, bit by bit more lives are lost to the black, to degrading machinery, to illness slowed—but never stopped—by the desperate measure, to their own bleak nightmares as they cry out in the night to be returned to a world that no longer is, one that they never knew, as they beg to be ushered to a home that may never forthcome. Still they are light-years from their destination and he must sit, helplessly skirting through the cosmos, and watch his kind slip away into nothing.
The other Roan sits in a small, well-lit chamber, immersed in memory.
Father takes me by the hand, smiling sadly as I hesitantly lick a chocolate flavored tart. Made from soy and artificially flavored.
“It’s not like the real thing, is it?”
I don’t have to answer his question, my disappointment is palpable. But I respond with a question of my own, its eloquence belied by the high pitch of my three year-old voice.
“Which do you mean? This treat, or this world?”
He doesn’t answer my question. No father or mother ever does. For my child, my Roan unto whom I will force my gruesome heritage. I too will have nothing. Our lives are duty. Our lives are the crushing hopelessness of eternity. I feel… I feel thin. I remember my father. Remember his remembering. And I know he feels the same thinness.
Wait… this didn’t happen to me, did it? Roan isn’t my name. These aren’t my burderns! Who am I? Where am I? Why do I feel, like, like-
Her eyes open with a start. And she shakes herself quickly back to self-awareness, mentally noting in her log:
“Seepage now approaches 7%, an estimated 697 minds corrupted. Estimated time to total Roan unification, ~4,600 years.”
She sets this aside in her head, along with the countless other notes made by her and the librarians before her. She removes her hands from the steel grips, and rips electric nodes from her shaved head, still blinking back into herself.
She is Roan, and this room her Library. The house of a small but powerful CPU, her life devoted to its custody. This computer contains multitudes. The memories, and identities, of the bodies kept in stasis in the Tomb. And she too watches, as her mission burns slowly to ash.
The end is coming, though her current body and self will not live to know it. And she knows its name—Seepage, the slow blending of her memories and self into that of all the men and women whose bodies are frozen in time, in the hope they one day can cure the epidemic still ravaging within them.
She briefly wonders whose job it was to cure said disease. As far as she knows, she is one of two creatures still awake aboard Motherlode. But the thought shunts quickly from her mind. All that is important is her duty, and her rendezvous with her other half. The time for which quickly approaches.
The two Roans, guardians of a slumbering race, tangle together, one mind in two bodies, and see through each other’s eyes their own hands grasping. Their own heads thrown back in ecstasy. They know pleasure only mortal souls forced into the diaspora of an unnaturally sustained existence, on a ship growing ever more distant from the memory of a long-dead Earth, can know. He penetrates her and in that moment is penetrated, she envelopes him and feels that warmth wrapped around her tumescence, they thrust and are impaled. They give and feel the pleasure given. In these short, nightly liaisons, they are happy. In the consumption and exploitation of dual awarenesses, of these moments when they exist as one flesh, instead of as two apart halves, they forget the doom looming outside their fragile node that ambles through the stars.
She watches him sleep after they have taken their full, strokes his hair, still feeling the echo of her gentle caress as their connection fades. In these moments, they share everything, hope, duty and despair, pleasure and pain. She knows that if she closes her eyes, she would share his dreams, of the dead planet they fled, of a green home that awaits their descendants. And despite herself, despite her fears and her worries, she too lapses towards sleep.
In those final moments, dancing in the twilight between wakefulness and rest, she feels another connection, another mind whose voice reverberates as if booming off in the distance. One of raw despair and hopelessness, chilling to her soul. One that echoes.
I HAVE FAILED. I HAVE FAILED. I HAVE FAILED.