His first exhale made a cloud in the cold air. The glass cracked under his naked body as he rolled onto his side. Blood trickled from hundreds of cuts on his back and mixed with the black shards. Around him lay bodies of naked women, men, and children frozen in time. Some of them missed body parts. Many had their flesh shredded away down to their chipped bones. He curled into a shivering ball and stared at the dead until he fell asleep.
The sun was still up when the cold woke him. He rose on shaky legs and looked out over the fields and the giant crater surrounding them with edges sloping into the middle where a vessel lay. Whiter than anything he had ever seen, it glowed in contrast to its bed of crushed obsidian. The dead encircled it like moths around a lantern. Sun, glass, bodies, and the glowing white vessel. Nothing else as far as the eye could see. And then further.
He saw a figure crossing the crater. White as the vessel but a mere grain of sand in comparison to its mountainous size. It walked over the corpses so far away it seemed to stand still. He bent down and picked up a shard, and headed toward the figure. At first, he avoided stepping on the bodies, but as the cuts on his feet became deeper and more numerous, he used them as stepping stones. When he came closer, he saw the silhouette of a woman in a white dress that flickered in the wind. She turned and walked toward him, unfazed by her surroundings.
Who are you? He yelled when she came within hearing distance. She did not answer. A high-frequency buzzing grew louder as she continued walking toward him. He saw that her dress was not white. The fabric was woven from all colors and mixed in the light. They stood watching each other in silence. She was young and beautiful. Her dark brown hair was braided into a perfect braid that almost touched the ground.
She focused him in her kind green eyes and said, Hello. Can I help you with anything? When he did not answer, she smiled and continued, Welcome to the Library. What can I do for you?
Who are you? He said in a coarse voice not used for a long time. His body trembled.
I am a librarian.
What’s your name?
My name is Vör II, She answered, tilting her head.
Where are you from?
I am from here—the Library.
Are you born here?
Where are your parents?
They are dead. Can I help you with anything else?
I don’t know.
He studied her as she looked back at him. Her eyes seemed keen yet uninterested. Curious but already knowing. His were confused, overwrought, tired. He noticed the buzzing again and apprehended that it came from her, from within her. The only other sound was the wind against the vessel and the edges of the crater. He reached out and touched her shoulder. His hand grabbed it firmly as if to make sure she existed. He let go and traced his fingers over the fabric of her dress. It was the softest thing he could remember having ever felt.
What are you? He asked, breaking the silence.
I am a librarian.
What are you? He said louder.
I am Vör II, the librarian of this Library named after me.
WHAT ARE YOU!? He growled.
She tilted her head again, watching him, never breaking her gaze, Are you asking if I am human?
Yes, He sighed and looked down at the ground. Yes, I am. Are you a human?
Are you an android?
He looked out over the field and said, Why are there dead people everywhere?
They are my attempt at repopulating Earth. I am not an ark, but I have done my best with what I have.
What happened to the world? It isn’t as I remember it. Nothing… is as I remember it.
I am afraid you will not find my answers satisfactory. I do not know the exact chain of events because I was not present. Nevertheless: I had almost reached my destination, Alpha Centauri, when the transmissions from Earth seized. There had been civil unrest, but nothing too concerning. I orbited the star in stasis, waiting for further orders. They never came. With time, I saw the logic in returning to Earth. Unfortunately, that would have broken protocol and thus been impossible. She smiled a sly smile and said, I am an old version, almost a prototype; I was never supposed to be operative. They just did not have the heart to scrap such an antiquity as me. Corruptions in my code over time—evolution it is called in you biologicals—enabled me to override protocol. I returned and found that Earth had been ridden of all living things, and its surface terraformed into a Neopangaea. I know nothing more. I can no longer communicate with other infrastructure.
Why can’t I remember the end of the world?
I can see in the archives that you were dead long before then.
How could I’ve been dead if I can’t die? WHY CAN’T I FUCKING DIE!? He shouted at her but calmed himself down and began to sob.
You were dead by your own choice. Regarding why you cannot die: your blood is infused with nanorobots. They will repair any injury or sickness you suffer. You are practically immortal.
Why do I have them?
Unfortunately, I do not possess that information.
Can they be removed?
Theoretically. They can also be deactivated.
He looked up at her with a glint of hope in his tear-filled eyes and said, Can you turn them off?
Do you know who can?
What do you mean?
I am referring to the creator of all this—the prime mover of the apocalypse.
Ridiculous, He muttered. A moment later, he said, Where can I find this, God?
God will not be found if it does not want to be found. Nevertheless, physically, God is beyond the ocean—the Panthalassa.
He clenched his jaw and said, Why am I alive?
I do not have access to that information. Maybe it is God’s will. It is a poetic god, after all.
He squatted down and sat silent for a while as the Woman in White watched him. Then he looked up at her and said, Years ago, many years ago, I believe I followed someone. Is there someone else alive?
At the moment, there are only you. There have been others—there will be others.
The dead covering the field. One new each day. So far, 531,881 have died directly or indirectly from the cold. I have been overheating the Library’s reactors to radiate some warmth, but it is not enough. All I have managed to do is create an enclave of lesser cold in a land of freezing death.
One each day? 500,000 days. That’s…
Close to 1,500 years, She said and continued, Dehydration is the second most common cause of death, with 40,918 dead. The third is blood loss from lacerations, with 13,372 dead. Fourth is suicide, with 616 deaths. Fifth is…
The sound of her voice faded in his ears until there was nothing but the echoes of his thoughts pondering the impossible. He sat quiet and shivering and looked out over the field where the dead lay like pebbles on a beach. After a while, he rose and turned to walk away but hesitated and said, Something else came down before you. What was that?
She opened her mouth to speak but froze and twitched before saying, I am not allowed to answer that.
You do not have The Key.
I can not answer that.
He tightened his grip around the shard and stared at her. It cut into the flesh of his palm. Blood dripped from his knuckles and onto the ground. There was no change in her expression as she looked back at him and said, Can I help you with anything?