I am alone.
For almost two years I have been searching for those who were put into hibernation alongside me. On the night we were frozen, emotionless droids helped us into our pods in the stasis sanctuary at Genesis II. What felt like a heartbeat later, I revived, my pod buried deep in a jungle.
For one month, I walked a foreign landscape, retracing my steps four times before I arrived at what I hoped were the remains of Alpha VII. I wandered the city's ruins, most of it an arid waste of worn concrete foundations and jagged steel twisted by forces I couldn't even contemplate. Constantly lost, I gave up after a week spent trying to find the subterranean entrance to Genesis II. After six more days of wandering I climbed a slope to find an enormous crater spreading into the distance below me. I stared at the broken bits of structures and in a sudden moment of despair realised I had found my last home—the entire underground facility built solely for the purpose of the preservation of the human race.
I found only a handful of the thousand pods still standing. The rest had melted into macabre shapes. I forced myself not to think of the possibility those trapped within had woken up before being incinerated. When I touched the faint outlines of the project's engraved logo on one of the remaining pods, the metal disintegrated to dust. Everything else was gone, the entire facility in ruins, its integral parts ripped out long ago for some unimaginable purpose.
I couldn't even begin to comprehend what kind of powerful forces could bring the sanctuary to the surface and lay it bare to the sky, so I didn't try. Instead, I scrabbled down into the crater to find myself lost in the empty shell of what had once been the pinnacle of all our efforts—the Genesis II Project or the 'Paradise Project' as it had been named by those less supportive of its agenda.
I searched for any signs of habitation, or even graves, but found nothing. We were supposed to leave an innocuous but otherwise useless marker by our pods when we departed, so others would know we had survived the trip. But there were no markers in the remains of the hibernation lab, though I searched, dogged with desperation through the debris all through that long, hopeless day. It was as if those who had hibernated in the intact pods had vanished without a trace.
I have spent long hours wondering what happened to the others, creating elaborate stories to give myself hope. I cannot be alone. I can't be. Genesis II was planned to give the human race a second chance by sending five hundred pairs of individuals one thousand years into the future with the blueprints and necessary technology to begin human civilisation once more. A fresh start, that's what they'd said. But this wasn't what I had expected. This was a nightmare.
Seven hundred nights ago—according to my primitive timekeeping system of tying knots in a length of vine—I woke up so dehydrated I couldn't peel my tongue from the roof of my mouth. Two and a half hours before that, on a Saturday in January, close to midnight, I was in my quarters, unable to sleep, playing solitaire when the alarm to proceed to the cryogenic facility sounded. A mere seventy-four minutes later, one thousand of us were frozen in time, buried in our re-enforced and self-sustained world 2.4km below Greenland's ice-free surface.
Above us, the citizens of Alpha VII faced a catastrophe we knew would leave the planet too devastated and unstable to support human life. Only two months before, we had been covertly collected from Global Command's Alpha and Omega cities, to be trained and conditioned for the future chosen for us. We didn't have the option to decline, we were told it was our duty and a requirement to comply.
I believed it would not come to it—I believed man would survive the impossible odds against him as he had always done before. I continued to hope even as the odds escalated against us. But those months passed without improvement. I watched in silence as the viewscreens broadcast the developments unfolding in the world above us and my hopes faded. 'Saved' as we were from the destinies of the billions of others left to perish, we closed our eyes and were simultaneously frozen in time. The ground-shaking tremors and explosions ripping through Alpha VII the last thing we were aware of as we stumbled into our pods, dazed by the chemicals being dumped into our veins faster than they could cope.
We were told each pod would run independently on its own miniature nuclear fusion reactor, and survival packs had been stowed in a special compartment to be frozen with us. The materials the pods were made from was supposed to be indestructible, a combination of metals used for deep space missions, prohibitively expensive. We would be kept barely alive, ageing perhaps one day in the thousand years that we would hibernate in complete darkness. Frozen, unconscious, alive but unaware. It wasn't that bad. Like turning off a light and then waking up the next moment with the worst hangover imaginable.
Only nothing happened the way they said it would. When I woke up I was alone, and my pod wasn't in the facility. It was somewhere far from the remains of the city, deep in a tropical forest along with a few dozen other shattered pods. I couldn't find any markers, and when I checked I found the pods still had their survival packs. When I touched the packs, they dissolved to powder in my hands. I wondered if the atmosphere had become corrosive in the intervening years. I didn't want to think of the alternative, that perhaps thousands of years had passed instead of just one millennium.
Although I didn't want to admit it, far too much had changed. In all the various scenarios we had studied to prepare for our new beginning, none described this: a world without the mark of any intelligent life. A place where ancient, unrecognisable ruins had weathered to their foundations, and vast unfamiliar seas stretched as far as the eye could see.
At the beginning, I wondered if I had been deceived and had been taken to another planet. There had been rumours Genesis I had been reactivated, that ambitious project of relocating a select few to Mars to begin colonisation of the planet, but no, it was impossible. I had to be on Earth. I was breathing air.
So, I searched this strange, new world with its odd vegetation, warm temperatures, sudden tropical rains, and unfamiliar constellations. I marvelled at the tame beasts and birds who exhibited no fear of me, only curiosity. On the day of my five hundred and twenty second knot I found a small, rusted safe sticking out of the ground. I couldn't open it, so I carried it with me for the better part of a month trying to figure out a way to break it apart.
That safe gave me purpose. Apart from the intact pods in the ruins of the sanctuary, nothing of the world I had left remained, its ruins so worn they resembled the remains of an ancient civilisation. Only the unrecognisable outlines of the largest and most durable structures still cut across the horizon, the rest overgrown by vegetation or worse, swallowed by desert sands.
I would sit by my campfire at night, the safe resting on the ground across from me and I would wonder what it contained, becoming more pessimistic each day I failed to open it. I expected to be disappointed. Likely some useless, unfamiliar items were contained within, making a mockery of my faint hope of connection, to something, anything from my past. A past which contained a life I was beginning to believe had been nothing more than a dream. But those potentially useless items gave me hope, even the sight of a jewelled trinket nestled in its box would reassure me I was not losing my mind. I might recognise the name of the jeweller, it wouldn't be much, but it would be a constant.
I clung to that safe as I struggled to ford rivers, climb rocky hillsides and batter my way through dense forests. Once I dropped it when I stumbled at the top of a steep ravine, crying out in despair as it bounced to the bottom, its metallic clanking harsh against the bleak silence. I scrabbled down to it, my breathing coming in short, ragged gasps, cutting my legs and arms as clambered over the sharp rocks, my mind reeling in terror I had destroyed my chances of ever opening it at all.
It had come to rest in a little gulley, badly dented, the door misaligned and bent into itself. I allowed myself a shout of frustration. I stared at the thing, panting in fury. It was all I had to connect me to my previous life, and now it was destroyed by my own carelessness. Without thinking, I hefted a rock and slammed it against it until the rock shattered. Driven by anguish, I carried on until I had smashed two more rocks, my pent-up frustration and fear fuelling the violence I dealt to that little safe. A year and a half of loneliness, confusion, uncertainty and disappointment avenged themselves against the rotting metal casing of that ancient box.
When I was spent, I looked at my hands, slippery with blood. The madness left me, and I came to my senses, still kneeling in a rocky ravine, panting and filled with hopelessness. I forced myself to look again at the object of my desolation. A tear slipped down my face, followed by another, then another. I had never cried in my life. Before all of this, I was a professional military man, a hero of the elite corps, chosen to be taken forward for my combined expertise in structural engineering and diligent military career.
Once, my unit had been given an order to shoot and incinerate all those infected by a devastating Ebola outbreak decimating the city of Omega IV. The children obeyed, as quiet as lambs when I asked them to close their eyes before I shot them in their beds. They believed Colonel Ezenwa was going to save them, some even smiled in their weakened state, hope blossoming on their faces when I walked in. I wouldn't make my men do it. I did it because I did what was necessary. I did not speak for several days afterwards, but I did not cry. They were going to die anyway, in pain and alone, the orders were correct and just. I was a good soldier and followed orders. Afterwards I was decorated for my unit's work: we had saved the city, and stopped the spread of Ebola by euthanising three thousand civilians in three days.
The little box, smeared with my blood, huddled, wrecked, buried halfway into ground. I looked at what I had done. I had destroyed it, my only friend. I wanted to cradle it in my arms, to apologise to it, to take it all back. I had killed it, my last connection to home. I cried. Over a box.
It was pointless to go on. There was no objective left to accomplish, there was no one alive. I didn't even know for certain where I was. There were too many unknowns. It was time to sleep. For good. I opened my survival pack and fished out the flare gun, the only weapon I really had. I loaded it and pointed the barrel in my mouth. I glanced one last time at the safe in an awkward moment of farewell when I noticed a small crack in the seal around the door. I pulled it gently out of the ground, my throat constricting with hope, realising if it were not for the misshapenness of the box from my brutal assault, the door could be opened with a little effort.
I put the safe on my lap and carefully cleaned it with my shirt sleeve, determination blossoming anew. I would open it, I would find a way. I had to know what was in it. All I needed was a lever. I wiped away my tears, my resolve strengthening. I had found purpose, an objective. I climbed back up the ravine, holding the battered thing tight against me. I sniffed at the broken seal, seeking the scent of the air within, air from who knew how long ago, and breathed it in. The air was stale, ancient. A thrill ran up my spine. I fancied I was breathing in air from the world I had left. Inside this box I would find a remnant of home. I just had to find a lever.
Before me lay a vast unbroken scrubland spreading in every direction. I needed to find a city. It was my best chance to find something strong enough to pry the door open. Positioning my survival pack across my chest I strode down the edge of the ravine and began to journey once more, the safe held close against me, my only friend and companion, my salvation, my future.