“I used to collect these little robot action figures when I was a child. They were only a couple inches tall, and usually came in packs of three. All of them were brightly colored and were aligned with one side or another of an eternal conflict. I would play for hours with them, waging war across the floor of the living room and beneath the dining room table. Then one day, I stopped. I took my basket of robot toys downstairs and stared at them. There was no desire to play, no affinity for the little figures that I had collected and brought to life on so many occasions. I felt only a hole where the joy once was. I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but I remember the feeling. I’ll never forget that feeling. I bet you’ve felt like that before.”
The man in the metal and glass container proffered no response. None was expected. He was sleeping, had been sleeping for several years now. Soul transference took a long time, and the length varied depending on the person. The important thing was to let the process work and to never wake them up. Data corruption was worse than death. John’s job was to keep the machines running. That was his only job.
John finished his check of all the sleepers and decided to head back to his living quarters on the other side of the compound. The noon-day sun stung his eyes when he left the main server building. He pulled down his shaded goggles and walked over to the fence that secured the small group of buildings. Solar panels stretched to the horizon, each reflecting the star above them. It was like a sea of blinding light. Even with his goggles on he could only look for a few moments. John turned back from the fence and walked to the small square building that was his home.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the comparative darkness of the interior. Eventually he could make out the wall of screens, the few pieces of furniture, and the small stove and refrigerator that were the only things decorating his living space. He turned on two of the monitors. One displayed the vital signs of those in his ward, the other an episode from a criminal show made long before. In this particular episode the protagonist tells a lie to his girlfriend in order to go to a sporting event. She ends up at the sporting event too, unbeknownst to him, resulting in hi-jinks. It was all very amusing. The show ended and John sat in silence with his eyes closed listening to the desert wind blowing sand against the walls. Then, he slept.
John wasn’t sure why they had left him a car, but he was glad they did. It ran on solar power like everything else, and it gave him something to do. There was no place worth driving to except for the great salt plains not far from his compound. He drove fast along the dusty road: 180 mph, 200 mph, 220 mph. The stars in the night sky blurred past as he sped along, frost collecting on his windshield. The nights were cold and the days were hot.
He was the only one awake in a world asleep. He had read records of deviants that lived far away out beyond civilization. They had rejected the future and had even opposed (sometimes violently) the great migration. Fences were built around the compound for a reason. That was long ago, though. John had never seen a deviant, doubted they even existed. Fences were a relic of the past, just like his car. The great salt plains appeared on the horizon, an endless expanse of white glowing in the moonlight. He brought his car to a stop and stepped out into the night.
The frosty ground crunched beneath his feet as he walked to where the dusty ground bordered the salt plains. Long before he was born, this had been a great body of water filled with life. Now it was salt and dust, merely reflecting the life of the stars that danced above it. John looked up at the sky. He could see the blinking lights of the ships that orbited the Earth, each one carrying countless souls and the servers that housed them. He picked up a rock and threw it out into what was an ocean. It skidded to a stop a few hundred feet away, one more rock in a sea of rocks. He got up to leave when a light flashed on the horizon.
The light was brief and very far away, but he had seen it. He was sure. Then the light flashed again. John felt his chest tighten as fear gripped him. He ran back to the car, stumbling over his panicked clumsy feet, and took off in the direction opposite from the dead ocean. The salt plains were a speck in the rear view mirror before he regained his senses. He brought the car to a stop and sat there in the dark listening to the gentle electric hum of the engine and the pounding of his heart.