Rafil had never been a leader. He was only a soldier.
He was only a man.
And he was now the last. Of that, he was fairly sure.
It was a heavy burden to bear; he was not quite twenty-four.
Thirty-eight years ago, the war began. A faceless, voiceless, bodiless force of a hundred million billion against a few thousand who wanted to remain men. The conclusion was never in doubt, but for thirty-eight years they fought.
It was all Rafil had ever known.
Yet even now, caught and facing death — or worse than death — Rafil couldn’t help but marvel. For a moment, he could pretend he was here three hundred years ago. He thought he could hear the echoes of their proud voices.
The walls were paneled and the carpet lush beneath his feet. Those in the room were beneath his gaze; it was the pictures hanging on the wall which drew his eye: the dozens of men and women who had held the proud title of Secretary-General. Their eyes seemed to follow him as he walked towards the five men sitting against the far-most wall.
Uploading an entire consciousness became practical for all mankind thirty-nine years ago. Over eight billion chose it; it promised a life free from want and desperation in a world that loved mankind no longer. None had realized the five strongest-willed could dominate; could usurp the global consciousness and use the others as no more than pawns whose minds could be downloaded into pre-grown bodies at their whim.
He had seen the factories from which the bodies came; endless assembly lines with bodies hanging from hooks like in a butchers’. Feet lolling, heads bowed against their chests. Bodies made not from human flesh, but a cool, soft plastic. It had been his pleasure to burn those factories. The plastic melted like wax.
And he had seen what they became. The rooms where they became human — filling stations. Bodies — blanks, the resistance called them — on hands and knees with the plug in the base of their bald skulls. Their slack faces and eyes rolled so far back into their heads that only the whites were visible had given him nightmares for weeks. It meant nothing to kill a blank. He lost count before his fourteenth birthday.
The wear-stains on the carpet indicated there had been a table across the center of the room, but he walked across them. The only table now was the one the five sat behind. His eyes were on the floor. He didn’t want to look into their dead eyes; the eyes of eight billion lost souls.
One of them spoke, but the words washed over him in a wave; a dull monotone of white noise. He turned away from them. A hand on his shoulder — one of the blanks which had brought him here — threw him to the ground with strength he knew he could never possess.
This close to the floor, he could see the age of the carpet, wearing thin. It would never be replaced. After this, they would never use this building again. It was only members of the resistance who came here to die, to the building that was once the UN. Now it was more like a tomb. It was only thinking men who had any concept of history.
History would end today.
Once, men had stood straight here and so he rose, standing as tall as he could. They wore clean clothes, and so he tried to brush the dirt from his, smoothing out years of wrinkles. There was nothing he could do about the mess of stubble on his face, but some of the men in the pictures wore beards, so he was not ashamed. The shoes he wore were scuffed and much-repaired, but none of these pictures showed the men and women shod, either.
If this was the end of history, the end of thinking, feeling, bleeding, loving man, then he could not let this last act – an act which would never be spoken, written, or heard of – be simply his forced uploading.
They hadn’t searched him well; the blanks were just bodies. They made sure he didn’t have a bomb or a gun, to kill the five men that mattered, but that was it.
It was only after he slid the knife out from under the sleeve of his shirt that he looked at the five men. Really looked. He saw the emptiness behind their eyes and the slackness of their skin, the carelessly bad fitting of their clothes and the lank greasiness of their oiled hair. They were pathetic pretenses of men.
He kept his eyes on them as he raised the knife. His heart beat staccato in his throat.
A human heart. Not their cold mechanical pumps.
When the blood — red human blood, not the blanks’ black — came rushing out, it stained the pale carpet. Some of it soaked through to the wood beneath.
They burned the body, of course.