Last, by Gerry Huntman

Gothica, by Leo Lin/GaiaGear
(Illustration by Leo Lin/GaiaGear)

He didn’t remember his name, but he was sure he once had one. It disturbed him that his memory was faulty and his thinking was so unclear. He could smell burning wire, which indicated internal damage — this caused him to react quickly, as his life depended on swift action.

He picked himself up from the twisted metal and churned earth that he lay in and stumbled up a small mound — the motors that assisted his movement were laboring, which was a bad sign. He wasn’t well coordinated, and he felt as if his nervous system had been damaged in some way; an uneasy feeling crept through his being — it was starting to look like he may have suffered brain damage.

At the top of the mound he attempted to stand up straight and looked about the terrain of the world that he was in. The servo-mechanisms that supported the telescopic vision in his helmet whined and strained, but it eventually succeeded in allowing him a wide field of vision. Utter devastation. A landscape cracked with spewing magma and mountains that had spilled over plains. A large metal city in the distance was ruined, broken and steaming as if it had ancient fires that had never been extinguished. The atmosphere was devoid of breathable air, and he was glad that his armored suit was still feeding him oxygen and protecting him from the extreme heat.

His vision blurred for a few disorienting seconds, and his right leg twitched, nearly causing him to fall. He heard electricity arcing in his chest and noticed a readout from his HUD that indicated his backup systems were mounting. He was gravely concerned that if he didn’t find technicians and medics soon, he would die.

The thought of finding a rescuer was an excellent lead — he needed to contact others; anyone. He opened all communication channels and sent a distress signal. In the meantime he opened all receiver channels and got nothing… not a single intelligible radio signal, no digital data at all. His communication systems were sophisticated enough to determine that not one mechanism was transmitting on the entire planet. The lack of response to his distress comms worried him. It appeared that an entire planet’s civilization had been destroyed. It was likely the planet was lifeless. Except for him.

I am the last?

He wanted to cry but couldn’t. It seemed strange, but he guessed that the brain damage was more extensive than what he first thought. There was a numbness in his thinking, and the world had a haziness about it that he had not experienced before; almost as if it were unreal. He wondered what he could do next, but the problem was that as long as his memory and senses were so impaired, he had very little information to work with. He looked to the ruined city again and tried one more time to use all of his equipment to find some possibility of life — infrared broad-spectrum filters, motion-pattern sensing beams, nano-level organo-chemical sensors, and another attempt at end-to-end communication frequencies.

To no avail.

I am the last.

He realized that there was little point continuing his search for life or refuge unless he could find out more about his own situation. He shut down external-based systems and turned on internal diagnostics. There was damage in the relay circuitry and it took a long time to redirect the digital path for information to return to him. Wires arced and he nearly lost his footing again.

First-layer reporting finally appeared on his console indicating that most of his superstructure had been damaged in one form or another — his armor was riddled with holes and rents, and eighteen reinforcement struts were snapped. He was utterly confused. How can this be, and yet I am still alive?
Second-layer reporting provided metrics that indicated a quarter of the armor’s electronic systems and sensors were impaired. That makes sense.

Third-layer reporting validated that all memory storage was intact, as were channels in the I/O. Again, something didn’t make sense to him. Why can’t I remember anything?

Fourth-layer reporting established that the human within the armored suit was lifeless, and had been deceased for three years, four months, twenty-seven days, eight hours, and seventeen minutes… He paused. He was more baffled than ever.

He couldn’t work out why he was thinking, searching, suffering, and yet his system was saying that he was dead. He wanted to panic, to scream out to the deaf world that he was alive — but again, his numbness, his damaged condition left him subdued.

The fifth and final layer report dribbled in its findings. It stated that the augmented AI system, which supported human tactical decision-making, control systems, and servo-mechanisms, was seriously impaired, yet functional, but was at risk due to fuel-cell leakage.

He was concerned about this last report, but hoped that he could contact the AI so that they could work together to repair his life-support system. He tried every trick in the book to find digital paths to the other “brain” in the armored suit, but at every turn there was nothing. Nothing.

I am the last.

He concluded that the diagnostics system must be faulty, which was the only logical reason that he was still alive, but he reluctantly accepted the fact that the AI was not contactable to provide him with assistance. He was still in the dark; confused.

He heard more arcing in his electronics and his left leg gave way, causing him to crash to the ground. He switched back to external functionality. His thinking started to blur again and… he saw a large tear in his titanium alloy arm and a human radius and ulna poking out, shrink-wrapped in dried flesh and skin.

As the fuel cell finally died, he realized his fundamental error…  and he wondered if dying would be the same for him as it was for a human.

I am the last…. *

About the author: Gerry is a father, husband, writer, editor, publisher, and during most days, an IT Managing Consultant. This means he is also a good juggler. His recent published work includes two short stories in anthology Page Dancers (IFWG Publishing).
Email: ghuntman@computer.org
Web: gerryhuntman.livejournal.com
Story copyright 2010 Gerry Huntman

About the Artist: Leo Lin/GaiaGear is a free-roaming atom and a freelance graphic/web designer from Toronto, Canada. Aside from the usual interest of reading and scale modeling, his other passion is customizing 1:6 action figures, particularly in scifi and femm subjects. It has been more than a decade since picking up this hobby, and the passion never really stopped. It slowed down from time to time, but usually the pace picked up again soon afterward.

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