Greetings. My name is Jebuiz Y’har. If my calculations are correct, you should be receiving this transmission in the year 2014 AD. We calculate our years differently where I’m from, but to make things simple, I am writing from the year 49,170 AD.
There is so much I need to tell you. But I must be wary because any manipulation of time could have unforeseen consequences. What has happened to us, the few humans that remain on Earth, must be told, but I have no exact goals for this transmission; rather, I hope merely to inform you of a possible outcome for civilization, and perhaps this little foresight could allow. . . maybe we did make the right choices, but just in case.
There are laws—even though we have fallen apart, there are still laws. But I keep asking myself what the laws mean. Those of us who survived—we were lucky, but what sort of future could we hope to rebuild? I lost Niko. . . we lost so many people. That was three days ago, and I can still see her face, the last time I ever saw it.
It had been a perfect evening on the INS Ammavaru: dinner in the large ballroom, where Master Akirabe gave a lecture on the singularity of mind. Afterwards I retired to my cabin with Niko, and we discussed ways to erase the void between minds. This was our entertainment, sitting in armchairs that faced each other from across the room. As she spoke, Niko gestured empathically, a fierce light in her deep brown eyes, severe lines in the bronzed skin of her face, her satin shirt billowing with each motion.
“You know,” Niko said, “all we have to do is to wire our brain into a computer and then connect to a router, and through this portal we are able to see into another’s mind.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It is possible to erase the void using our technology. You remember when we all tried that?”
“It wasn’t all that bad,” Niko said.
“It started with good intentions, but we went too far. The technology allowed us to connect with the collective consciousness, but we severely underestimated the pride of the individual. The original plans for the unification of mankind were forgotten so long ago I feel like I am the only person who remembers them.”
“I think you’re looking at it from too large of a scale,” Niko countered. “The whole of the collective consciousness would have turned me into a single drop of water. But when I was there—it was our house. You were there and our friends were there. We had such good times, and so much possibility was open to us.”
“Infinite possibility.” I laughed, but the expression never changed on Niko’s face. “Our house was nice, but I feel like we started to grow away from it.”
“What do you mean?” Niko asked.
“You became obsessed with your infinite possibilities.”
“If I remember, you were just as obsessed as I was.”
“Right,” I said. “But I knew there was an entire world you were creating that I could never see.”
“All you had to do was look.”
“Don’t you think I tried that? By that point I had grown too far away from the house. I had become obsessed with this program that let me create my own universe. I had watched the evolution of an entire civilization from a single cell. They were my children. So when I tried to look back, to find you, I knew the technology had been corrupted because I found myself adrift in the midst of the void.”
“But with infinite possibilities…” Niko said.
“You don’t need to say that anymore,” I interrupted. “I was just trying to be. . . ironic.”
Niko rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever you believe, whatever you did—you were able to do everything you wanted and you still were there for me.”
“But don’t you see?” I said. “I was too distracted to be able to see the part of me that you saw.”
“Is that why you unplugged yourself?”
“It must have been my fault, but I couldn’t see any other way. Completely surrounded by my own artificial constructs, I knew the house we shared was in there somewhere, but I was lost. I felt nostalgic for the old world.”
“Right,” I said. “A long time had passed since then, but I could remember the last thing I saw before closing my eyes.”
“What the last thing you remembered?” Niko asked, resting her chin on her entwined fingers.
“First I could hear the drone of the machine. I like to think of that sound as the sound of creation, like om. A week before we plugged in, I had been so excited. I had ordered the most expensive mattress I could find. I figured if I was going to be lying in it for the rest of. . . it felt like I was preparing for eternity.”
“I’m glad you bought that mattress,” Niko said, a soft smile on her lips.
“I remembered the mattress, but I couldn’t remember how it felt. I wanted to remember that feeling so badly, so I taught myself how to open my eyes again.”
“Sometimes. . .” Niko began. “Sometimes I wish I was back in that bed.”
“You think that other life was better than this one?” I asked.
“I was in control there. I don’t know if any of it was real, but that’s how it felt. What are we even doing back in this world?”
“Well,” I started to say.
“We built ourselves a ship so we could avoid the world.”
“Without the technological capacities aboard this ship we would have been stuck in one place.”
“And what’s wrong with being stuck in one place?”
“There weren’t many of us. I thought it was our duty to try to convince others to come back.”
“That’s your problem!” Niko said. “You got bored so you had to go bother other people.”
“I still think what I did was right,” I said. “You are with me, and the others are under the impression that this reality allows for more fullness of experience. Doesn’t it thrill you that, together, we are all creating a new civilization out of the ashes of the old?”
Niko stared out of the porthole for a minute before replying. “It feels like a storm’s coming.”
“We should take our rest so we’ll miss it,” I suggested.
“May the morning be calm,” Niko said, and she began to disrobe.
I pulled on my night clothes and climbed into my hammock. Niko’s hammock was hung along the opposite wall of the cabin, and I can clearly remember how she looked climbing into it, a ray of moonlight illuminating her ankle for an instant.
“Good night!” I said.
“Sleep well,” Niko whispered.
Did she really mean it when she said she missed the digital world? She always talked about how I had been the perfect husband, but she never would acknowledge my version of events. I still believed in the mystical potential of technology to bring people together—the possibility of a singularity of mind where all consciousness is permeable, but most people seemed to have chosen fantasy.
When I had first opened my eyes after all those years, I looked to my right and Niko was right there, a faint blush on her cheeks, fast asleep—peaceful. But when I touched her arm, she did not stir. No amount of shaking would bring her back, so I had to plug myself back into the system. She was somewhere in there, and I had to find her.
It is hard to describe the journey I took. Once hooked back into the system, I was accosted with all the distractions I had built for myself. My universe was finally starting to get somewhere, and it seemed no less real than the one in which I was sleeping in my bed. It took all my willpower to look away from it.
Every few days I would open my eyes and catalogue all that I knew to be real, and with patience I managed to retrace my steps to the house Niko and I had built when we first migrated to the digital realm. I slipped back into the space that Niko considered to be me, but it took months for her to be able to see me again. During this time, it felt like there was always someone else in the room who Niko was speaking to even though only I would respond.
Once our consciousnesses were recalibrated, I was finally able to talk to Niko about the existence of another world. I told her that all she had to do was open her eyes, but she was hesitant at first. I could not understand what she had become, but I persisted with my argument, and she finally opened her eyes.
That night I fell asleep at 10:30 PM. At 12:37 AM, the dark matter reactor in engine block three experienced a meltdown. The tremor lasted about thirty seconds; the sound of pictures falling off the wall woke me up.
“Jebuiz!” Niko screamed.
I leaned to my left and rolled out of the hammock. Falling to my knees, Ilooked around the cabin: Niko was holding onto her hammock as it rocked back and forth, her head sticking over the edges, her eyes wider than I had ever seen them. Several more books toppled off their shelves, and then silence gratefully returned.
“What was that?” Niko whispered. Her whisper sounded like a shout.
“I’ll have to go check…” I said. “I think you should go up on deck after you get dressed. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Where will you go?” Niko asked as she rolled out of her hammock, landing on her feet.
“It sounded like something happened below deck. I’m sure the others are heading down there too.”
After pulling a shirt and pants over my nightclothes, I opened the door and let Niko pass into the hall, then I stepped out of the room and faced her.
“Be careful!” she said, her hands clasped over her chest.
“I will,” I promised. “I’ll see you on deck in just a couple minutes.”
Niko turned and walked down the hall. I watched until she turned the corner, then I turned the other way. As I walked down the hall, I saw several doors hanging open, men and women gazing down the hall, hurriedly whispering to each other.
“You should proceed to the deck to await further instructions,” I told them as I passed.
I took the stairs down a level, and as I emerged into the hall I ran into my old friend, the engineer Calixo Lorriat.
“Jebuiz!” Calixo said. “Do you know what happened?”
“No,” I answered. “I’m going to find out.”
“We should hurry. I didn’t like the sound—it sounded like an explosion.”
“That’s what I fear.” I gritted my teeth and picked up my pace. As I went down the stairs to the cargo level I jumped the last five steps, landing with a thud that vibrated through my knees.
The cargo level was a wide open space filled with all the supplies we needed—along one wall dozens of spare hyperbolic tubes were stacked to the ceiling. A refrigerated container stood in the center of the level—three meters tall, twenty meters wide and fifty meters long—with enough food inside to last us a year. Close to a hundred cages were stacked along the far wall, where we kept the animals we mostly used for scientific experiments. A cacophony of roaring, snorting, screeching and cawing was being played out over there. The entire level was filled with smoke and a sulfuric odor that conjured forth the image of hell.
“It’s coming up from engineering level!” I said.
“Shit!” Calixo yelled, and he sprinted across the room, disappearing around the side of the refrigerated container. I jogged behind him; when I passed in front of the container I saw a group of people standing around the staircase to the engineering level. Calixo was talking to them as he waved his arms around. As I approached them I could hear snippets of conversation, and shivers started going down my spine. My legs started shaking so badly I could barely make it, and when I did I leaned against the railing. It felt like the skin on my hand had caught on fire; when I pulled it back, blisters had already bloomed across my palm.
“So…” Calixo said.
“McLaughlin was down there,” Captain Remar said. “About ten seconds before the explosion he had sent me a message over the radio.”
“What did he say?” Calixo asked. I clutched my hand, unable to think.
“He said, ‘Something’s wrong with the reactor… what does “coolant flush” mean?’ But then the radio went silent, and. . . I think the dark matter reactor experienced a meltdown.”
Calixo and the others started shouting over each other, but I started backing away. I knew the nearest restroom was up one floor; I had to get to the cold water. Running as fast as I could, I couldn’t bring myself to look at my hand, fearing that the skin was beginning to melt off.
I shouted as I sprinted up the stairs and down the hall. The bathroom was at the very end, and I shouted the whole way. When I burst through the door, I twisted the faucet to full power with my and stuck my burnt hand under the flow.
The pain didn’t lessen, so I kicked open the nearest stall’s door, knelt on the white porcelain tiles and dunked my hand in the toilet bowl. The pain gradually dispersed; I sighed as I remembered that the dark matter reactor had exploded.
I took my hand out of the toilet bowl, but it started burning in the air. When I submerged my hand again, a second explosion echoed up from engineering level. The floor shuddered for ten seconds, the stall door banging against the wall. Faint yelling echoed down from above as the floor tilted off its axis, and I had to hold onto the toilet to keep from slamming into the wall. I tried to focus on something pleasant—a giant bowl of ice cream. I would have loved to stick my hand in that bowl, to feel the squish as it melted.
I jumped to my feet, bracing myself against the wall. The pain—no, I had to get to the main deck. As I climbed out of the bathroom I had to hold onto the wall with my left hand so I would not fall and slide deeper into the bathroom. Climbing past the row of mirrors, I saw my reflection in the mirror—my cropped black hair was sticking up in the back, my eyes were boggling in their sockets, and my copper skin was covered in a thin layer of ash; I was the perfect picture of madness. Clawing my way through the door and into the hall, I leaned against the wall and dragged myself towards the stairs. I climbed up, and when I emerged onto the main residential level, people were running all around—men looking for their wives, women looking for their husbands. Everyone was carrying whatever valuables they could hold in their arms. None of them noticed me as I stumbled past, and soon I was climbing the stairs to the main deck. When I emerged into the cool night air, I felt a raindrop splash right between my eyes, and I had to blink several times for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. I could hear people wailing all around me—dim figures that seemed a dream to my pain-wracked mind. Above the wailing I could hear someone shouting orders.
“Help me with the lifeboats!”
The deck was lopsided by about thirty degrees to starboard, and another forty degrees to aft. Someone recognized me as I looked for Niko, coming up behind me and touching my shoulder. “What’s happening?” he whispered in my ear.
“Explosion…” I said without turning around. “Meltdown. Get to the lifeboats!”
The bridge stuck up fifty feet in the center of the deck, and a floodlight cast an island of light in front of the bridge. I walked in this direction purely through instinct. When I passed from the darkness into the light, I heard a familiar yelp.
“”Jebuiz!” Niko cried as she wrapped me in an embrace. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come back.”
I did my best to stifle a cry. “Please,” I said. “Not so hard.”
“What’s the matter?”
Niko grabbed my wrist and I howled at the sky.
“Oh my god,” she gasped. “What happened?”
“Stupid. Explosion—fire, engineering level.” I gritted my teeth. “We need…”
“Is the ship sinking?”
I leaned against Niko, and she supported me as we walked towards the lifeboats. The slope was so much that we slid half the way to the railing. The first lifeboat had already filled up—maximum capacity was forty, but it looked like sixty people had crammed themselves in it. The water was less than ten feet beneath the lifeboat, so when it was lowered, it hit the water while forty feet of extra rope started spilling into it.
Another lifeboat was being latched onto the pulley system, but someone—an old friend of mine, Daniel Smith—yelled out, “The deck’s about to go under so what’s the point of using the fucking pulleys?”
The crowd that was lifting the lifeboat up pushed it further beyond the railing and let it slide overboard. It hit the water and immediately was propelled away from the ship by the turbulence of the ship’s sinking. Daniel Smith, a good man, climbed over the railing and jumped for the lifeboat. He smacked into its side and slid into the frothing sea. The others who had been helping were quick to follow suit, launching through the air but coming up shorter and shorter. Soon they were all clawing at the side of the lifeboat trying to climb into it.
The water was starting to seep over the edges of the deck, and those of us left—Ankara, Sanjay, Alberto, Joshua, Simi, Falak… twenty of thirty of us in total—stared with grim eyes at our fate, anticipating the moment when the ocean would take us. A couple rushed over to another lifeboat and began tugging at it, trying to turn it over, but it was too late.
I held Niko to me and kissed her forehead.
“What do we do?” she asked.
“The ship will soon slip beneath the surface,” I said.
“So we swim.”
The seawater crawled up over the edge and started inching its way up the deck. My slippers got wet, so I took a step backwards.
“I think we should jump,” Niko said.
“Okay.” I let go of her waist, grabbing ahold of her hand. Niko looked me in the eyes—her face was set in stone. She did not look scared, and her voice did not quiver when she said, “Okay… on three, two, one…”
We ran towards the railing—just the top rail was above water. I aimed for this rail, taking a step and launching myself into the ocean. I held onto Niko’s hand until we hit the water, then the turbulence tore us apart. I could not tell in which direction I was being pulled, tumbling head over heels. Salt water went up my nostrils as I clawed at the sea. My eyes flashed open and I could see the ship sinking even lower, the bridge halfway submerged. The floodlight still illuminated the deck—all the bubbles kicked up by people fighting for their lives
I saw all of this in an instant, and my lungs started to burn. Up—I had to go up. Kicking my legs, I reached for the air. My head broke the surface, and I gasped for breath. I treaded water until my breathing slowed, and then I looked to my right where I expected Niko to be floating. I looked to my left then I swam in a circle. The antenna atop the bridge was sliding underwater, and I could see over a dozen people floating in the ocean. As I scanned the area, five more people broke to the surface. Everyone was looking for their partner.
“Niko!” I shouted.
I could hear other shouts float over the waves. I saw a woman with brunette hair floating twenty meters from me, but as a wave crested I lost sight of her. But that was too far away—it couldn’t have been Niko. I swam in another circle. A few meters to my right I saw someone break above the surface before being sucked down again. I swam in that direction and grabbed her in my arms, treading water to keep us both afloat. It was Simi. She started gasping like she was having a panic attack.
“Did you see Niko?” I shouted, despite our close proximity.
Simi looked up at me, pushing herself away. “No, I haven’t. Have you seen Josh?”
“No,” I said, spinning around in a circle. “Niko!” I called.
Raindrops began spattering upon my forehead as the ocean raged all around me. I had to battle to keep my head above the surface. I saw someone floating close by as a wave lifted me up, so I swam over to him, the physician Alfons Komachi.
“Have you seen my wife, Niko?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “But I can see the lifeboat over there—” he pointed behind me. “I think someone has gotten in it and is lifting others up.”
Alfons swam on, and I swam to the next person I saw—Kara, a scholar.
“Have you seen Niko?” I asked.
“Everything is ruined!” she cried. A wave pushed her under the surface and she spit out a mouthful of water when she came back up. “I’m going to drown!”
“Have you seen my wife?”
“Niko?” she asked. “I can’t find my husband! We were mid deck when the ship went under.”
The pain throbbing from my hand returned full force as if conjured from memory. Salt in the wound—but I had to find Niko. Kara swam in the direction of the lifeboat, but I just treaded water, surveying the waves. Everyone was swimming towards the boat. Ten people were already in it, and they were all reaching overboard to pull others up. A woman started yelling as it tilted to the side, and several of the people went to the other side of the lifeboat to keep it level.
I followed the stragglers towards the boat. Reaching up for the edge, someone grabbed my hands and pulled me up. I screamed as I rolled into the lifeboat, falling on the person who had rescued me. It was Erikur, a sailor of massive proportions. He held me up until I found my balance.
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
The lifeboat was ten feet wide and twenty five feet long. Rows of benches filled it—over half the seats were taken, everyone talking about who was still in the water.
“Niko!” I yelled, stepping over a bench, my feet splashing in water. I felt exhausted and my clothes were dragging me down, so I slumped down on the bench.
“Jebuiz? Is that you?” someone shouted.
“Daniel?” I replied.
“I was worried about you for a second,” Daniel said.
“Have any of you found Niko?”
“Has anyone pulled Niko out of the water yet?” Daniel asked.
Nobody said anything.
“Has anyone seen Nigel?” Kara asked.
I felt the lifeboat rock and I looked to my left in time to see Erikur pull a woman out of the water. She clung to Erikur as he tried to put her down.
“Jeanette!” A dark-skinned man named Dante called out, stumbling over benches in his haste. The woman let go of Erikur and jumped into Dante’s arms, and they both sat on my bench with a thud.
“How many people are still missing?” Daniel asked.
Several of us shouted in unison: Niko, Nigel, Darshana, Raj, Olga, Andrei, Brad, Rohanna. . .
“I need some of you to grab the oars,” Daniel said. “Let’s find everyone!”
I sank into my weariness as the others rowed the lifeboat around the area where the ship had gone under. The rain picked up and the wind turned the ocean violent. It felt like I was riding a bucking horse as the lifeboat crested each wave.
“Olga!” someone called out. “Darshana! Nigel!” Someone different called out each name. Although I stayed silent, I heard Daniel call out, “Niko!”
They rowed the boat one hundred yard in one direction, fifty yards to the left, a hundred yards back and so on. On the second sweep I heard someone yell “Help!”
It was a woman’s voice, and I held my breath as I watched Erikur bend over the edge. He pulled up the plump Rohanna, her brown skin dripping water. In that moment I hated her.
We searched for survivors for hours, but as the moon began to go down, grim feelings clutched my heart, making me sick. My nerves screamed in agony as they had been doing for as long as I could remember. The others decided it was too dark to continue the search.
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said as he slid onto the bench next to me. I couldn’t even look up. He studied my face as I tried to will myself into unconsciousness. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he dug his fingers into my skin.
The lifeboat drifted where the waves pushed it, water spilling over the edges with each dip. I was drenched to the soul, shivering violently in the breeze. Far beneath us—ten thousand feet deep—the ship we had called home for over a century, the INS Ammavaru was coming to a rest on the seabed.