All That Remains
Raina watched the children playing in the snow, outside the magnificent technological city of Aeinas. It seemed such a simple pleasure in such an advanced world.
"Arion, don't go too far," Raina called. The boy looked up at her, his blue hair starting to darken into the royal blue that would mark his ascent into adulthood. His sister, Arietta, had pink hair that wouldn't be red for a few years yet. They still had time to enjoy being innocent children, oblivious to the war that was looming over them.
"Raina," came a voice. Raina wasn't even sure it was a sound, it seemed more like a thought in another person's voice.
"Raina, come," The voice/thought came again. She looked around for the source of the sound, but she could not identify a source. Still, she stood up, shaking the snow from her long, red hair. The children she was looking after seemed a distant concern now, the voice somehow important, as if it sparked some deeply-forgotten instinct inside her.
She stumbled across the snow as it started to fall again. The children didn't even notice her leaving, trekking across the snow.
"The mound in the snow," The voice guided her, and she obeyed, led by that instinct, that need to find out who the owner of that voice was.
Raina found the mound and wiped the snow from it urgently. It was a metal door of some kind, set into the ground. There were letters of some kind engraved into it, but they were in a language she could not read. She tried the door, and to her surprise, it opened. Lights illuminated a stairwell that led deep underground.
Rains looked guiltily back at the children she was minding. The other mothers stood around with their children. They would be safe until she got back, she reasoned, and headed down the stairwell. The door slammed shut behind her but she paid it no heed.
It seemed as if she was descending into the very bowels of the earth itself as she descended stairwell after stairwell. Finally, she came to a door, which slid open for her. Stepping forward, she entered a cavernous room. A giant computer was spread across the wall, its screens filled with unfathomable data. In the middle of the room, leading up to the computer, there were eight large capsules, all wired up to the central computer. Rains walked over to one of the capsules. There was a window on top, and she wiped the dust away to see a face looking up at her.
Screaming, she backed away, running for the door.
"Wait," the computer said, "Do not run. I am not going to hurt you."
Raina ran for the door anyway, but it was locked and would not open, "Please, let me out!" she cried, "Let me out!"
"Even now your world is entering into a war. It will be the shortest war that your kind has ever seen, for the nuclear missiles that will destroy your world are already on their way, and your people are already preparing to retaliate. By the end of the day, your world will be uninhabitable for a thousand years."
Raina backed up against the wall, looking up at the giant computer system in fear, "Can't you stop it?"
"I have already tried," the computer said, "But I was not created with that purpose in mind. My creators knew that destructive war was inevitable. In fact, it is what killed them."
"Then what is your purpose?" Raina said, scared and curious at the same time.
"My mission is to find suitable subjects to repopulate the planet, and store them in cryo stasis until the world is safe enough to be re-inhabited. I have seven others. You are the last one I need."
"But the children! I have to go back for them!" Raina said, "You have to let me go back!"
"It's too late," the computer said, "You would never make it in time."
"No!" Raina said. As she said it, a great force shook the facility, throwing her to the ground. The lights flickered and went out, and the only light came from the computer screens. Raina felt terrified and curled up into the fetal position on the floor, sobbing as the facility shook around her. Equipment fell around her, making her curl tighter into a ball.
After what seemed like hours, the shaking stopped, and Raina slowly uncurled herself, shakily getting to her feet. She tried to open the door again, but it was still locked.
"I can't let you go out there," the computer said, "You will be killed by radiation, and this facility will be flooded with it, endangering the others."
"How do I know you are telling the truth?" Raina cried, "I know we were on the brink of war but I can't believe that Alexandria would use a pre-emptive nuclear strike against us, especially knowing that we would retaliate!"
"See for yourself," the computer said, and put up an image of Aeinas on the screen, only it wasn't Aeinas any more. It was entirely flat, with only a footprint to suggest there had ever been a city there. Then the computer showed an image of Alexandria as Aeinas's nuclear weapons struck home.
Tears rolled down Raina's face, "Why?" she cried, "Why did this happen?"
"It happens every time," the computer said, "I was created to reseed this world each and every time. This is the tenth time now."
"The tenth time?" Raina was aghast, "You mean to say that...?"
"Yes. The civilizations of this world have destroyed each other in exactly the same way each time. I suppose it is mankind's fate to die this way. On such a small planet as this, just a few nuclear weapons are enough to poison the whole world."
Raina slid down the wall, unable to take in all that had happened in such a short space of time. It seemed just moments ago that she had been watching Arion and Arietta playing in the snow outside Aeinas. Now they had been vaporized, and Arietta's hair would never get to turn red. She began to weep, great sobs escaping her body.
"You can be a part of something great," the computer said, "You can become the first of a new generation. Perhaps the next time, people will be able to cast aside the chains of fate and create a new future for themselves."
"Or perhaps we will repeat this cruel fate over again," Raina said, "Perhaps it is better if we all just die here."
"These other men and women need you," the computer said, "They all agreed to be part of a new world. They all answered the call, and accepted what needed to be done. They need you to create enough genetic diversity to survive."
"It's not like I have much choice," Raina said, "Out there is certain death, and in here I'll surely die of boredom. But let me ask you one thing; why did you choose me?"
"You are a healthy adult specimen," the computer said, "and you were within range. You are suitable for the project."
"So it was just luck," Raina said, "They're all... gone, because you thought I made the better test subject."
"No, they are gone because of nuclear war," the computer said, "I will prepare the capsule. Please strip naked and lower yourself into the liquid when you are ready. I will prepare an anesthetic, so there will be no pain."
Raina stripped slowly, and felt naked as her bare feet touched the cold metal floor. She covered her breasts with her arms, feeling exposed in front of the computer. She stepped slowly to her fate, knowing there was no other choice, but not loving the thought of being frozen for a thousand years. What if something went wrong, if the computer was destroyed or suffered a malfunction? She supposed she would not know if that happened, she just would not wake up.
She lowered herself into the tank. The liquid felt oddly warm, and she let herself relax as a mask was lowered onto her face.
Her last thought was of Arion and Arietta, playing in the snow.
"I'm sorry," she thought, as she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Time passed in its usual pattern, each day the world healing itself a little more, each moment the half-life of the most dangerous isotopes growing shorter and shorter. Animals, able to handle much more radiation then humanoids, started to populate the world again, although often there were often creatures with two heads or extra legs amongst them. Those creatures never lived long, natural selection ensuring that only the most healthy specimens survived, and so the world began to resume normalcy.
Many years later, Raina opened her eyes.
Raina felt herself choking and went to pull off the mask covering her face, but her arms had atrophied and she could not move them. She was surrounded by cold liquid and a sick feeling filled her stomach.
Just as she thought she would die after all, hands threw open the lid of her capsule and pulled the mask from her face. Raina coughed, then took a deep breath of fresh air. She wanted to speak, but her voice was silent. A face with vibrant red hair looked down at her and smiled, lifting her out of the liquid and over to a bed, where she was dried off.
"I'm Natasha," the woman said, "I know you can't talk right now, so let me do the talking. I'm one of the other subjects who was frozen here. I've been watching over you, waiting for you to wake up." She smiled, a beautiful smile which seemed heartfelt and grateful. It made Raina feel safe, and she was glad, even as the memories of what had happened returned to her.
"I'm going to help you get back the use of your body. It takes a while, but you'll be okay. I promise you'll be talking again soon." Natasha smiled again, and Raina got the sense that Natasha was truly grateful she had woken up. She had questions, but she could not voice them yet. For one, she had not seen any of the other subjects. She wondered if they were still sleeping, and when they would wake.
They worked on talking first, which Raina was thankful for. The ominous silence of the computer system worried her, and she wanted to ask Natasha about that too. Perhaps Natasha would be as clueless as she was, and they would be alone in this, but at least she had somebody kind watching over her.
"You just have to remember how to make a sound, and keep trying," Natasha said, "Remember how you used to talk."
"Arion, don't go too far," she remembered herself saying, and the memory of that day came back to her, although it seemed distant now, like something that had happened a long time ago, in another age, in another life. She supposed that was true.
"A...ar..ion..." she managed.
"Great!" Natasha said, "Who's Arion?"
"A... child..." Raina started, "From... a... lo... ng ... time... ago."
"Your child?" Natasha asked.
"No," Raina said, "A... frie... nd..'s"
"So Arion was your friend's child?"
"Yes," Raina managed.
They continued beyond tiredness, and Natasha brought Raina some liquid food, "This is all there is to eat, I'm afraid," Natasha said, "The good news is, there's plenty of it, so we won't starve in the immediate future."
"Go... od," Raina managed, "I'm... Raina."
"Nice to meet you, Raina." Natasha said, "I'll go find you some clothes."
Over the next few days, they worked on moving Raina's arms and legs. It took a week to finally walk, but Raina was grateful to finally have mobility again. Natasha had been beyond kind, but it was nice to be able to have the freedom to go wherever she wanted again.
Not that they had gone far. Raina had been scared to ask about the others, or when they would be able to go outside, and Natasha hadn't told her anything. Raina knew she would have to ask sometime, but in many ways she didn't want the others to wake up, not yet. When they awoke, she would have to choose a mate, and what if she didn't like any of the men? She had never been good at dating in Aeinas, instead choosing to be on her own most of the time. It wasn't a problem there, but here she had been chosen, here she had a job to do... and it frightened her. She realized she didn't want to carry a child all alone in a strange new world, give birth on her own, live with a strange man she had been bound to through circumstance. Unlike the others, she hadn't been able to make those choices based on her own free will. There had been no choice for her when her world was destroyed at that moment.
"Natasha..." Raina called her over. She knew she had to ask the important questions, or they would just nag at her more, and her fears would become insurmountable mountains of terror.
"Why haven't the others woken up yet? Why is the computer so quiet?" Raina asked, and Natasha's face fell.
"I knew you would ask eventually," Natasha sighed, "There's no easy way to tell you this... but they're dead."
"Dead?" Raina's eyes widened, "Then this world is..."
"Doomed, yes," Natasha said, "Unless there are other installations like this elsewhere on the planet. I can't imagine this is the only one."
"How did this happen?" Raina asked.
"The computer suffered some kind of partial power failure, from what I can figure out of the logs," Natasha said, "I used to be a computer engineer in Aeinas, so this is my forte. It seems that the computer was only able to keep the closest two pods to it going, so the other subjects perished."
"That's awful! Shouldn't we bury them?" Raina asked.
"I don't know if it's safe to go outside," Natasha said, "I've been trying to get readings through the computer, but most of it has shut down... I haven't had any luck so far. I figure for now we should leave them in the capsules... and besides, I really don't want to open them..."
Raina hobbled over to one of the capsules and cleared the dust from it. Sure enough, a mummified corpse stared out at her. She took an involuntary step back.
"Well, I guess I don't need to worry about dating problems, then, or giving birth..." Raina sighed, "We may well be the last two people on this planet."
"At least we're not alone," Natasha said, "I think I would go crazy if I was alone."
"Thank you for helping me," Raina said, "I really appreciate it."
"It's no problem," Natasha said, "I really have nothing better to do. I was waiting for you to wake up. I looked in at you while you were sleeping. I was starting to worry you weren't going to wake."
"I'm just a late sleeper, that's all," Raina managed a wan smile.
"So who were you... before all this happened?" Natasha asked.
"I was a nobody," Raina sighed, "My friends all got married, settled down, had children. Somehow, that just never seemed the right thing for me. I worked a few odd jobs, liked to paint, sometimes took care of my friends' children... but really, I was lost. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe I knew that none of it really mattered."
"When I came down here, I was a software engineer for the Aeinean government," Natasha said, "I found this place entirely by accident, and was planning to do some research on ancient technology when the computer awoke from its dormant state and explained to me what was happening. I didn't have a family or a life back home. In some ways, I think I did it because I thought it would be an escape from everything."
"I think it worked," Raina said, her wan smile back again.
Natasha put her arms around her, "Cheer up, will you?" she said, "Sure, the other people are dead, but we have each other. I'll take care of you, I promise."
"Thanks," Raina said, and found herself returning the hug. It had been so long since she had experienced human contact and she had forgotten how comforting another person's touch could be.
Natasha worked on trying to fix the computer for the next few weeks, while Raina sat beside her, reading the vast supply of books on how to survive in the wild that had been stored in the bunker while handing tools to Natasha every now and then.
"I just don't get it," Natasha said, "I try so hard, but I come up against roadblocks. It's almost like somebody didn't want anybody fixing this thing."
"Perhaps that's the thing. Maybe we're supposed to figure this out on our own," Raina said, "If we could fix one of the geiger counters, we'd be fine outside."
"As long as the computer didn't wake us up early and it's not a lethal dose outside," Natasha said, "Forgive me for being a little scared, but radiation poisoning isn't a nice way to die."
"Plus we have to get that door open," Raina said, "It won't move at all."
Natasha sat down and put her head in her hands, "I don't know what to do," she said, "I'm afraid we're trapped in here and we'll die. I have to do something or I'll go crazy." She started to cry, and Raina put her arms around her.
"Hey, don't cry. We have plenty of time, so let's take our time and don't worry about it." Raina said.
"I'm sorry... It's just... I've been trying for so long to get this thing working!" She nestled deeper into Raina's arms.
"Natasha," A thought struck Raina, "How long were you awake before I woke up?"
"I can't say for sure," Natasha said, "I think it was nearly a year, though."
"A year... all alone... I'm so sorry, Natasha." Raina stroked the woman's hair, feeling tenderness for the woman in her arms.
"Just... when we get outside... Don't leave me alone, okay?" Natasha said.
"I won't, I promise," Raina said, "I'll never leave you alone again."
Weeks passed, and Natasha continued to work on the computer, "I think I'm nearly there," she would keep saying, until finally one day it was true.
"I'm getting a reading!" Natasha said, "Raina, can you read it?"
"There's some numbers, but a lot of weird script. Come look at this." Raina said.
Natasha crawled out of the service panel and dusted herself off, coming to stand next to Raina.
"I don't understand the script, but those figures would indicate only slightly higher than normal background radiation. We can go outside!" Natasha danced for joy, and Raina smiled, sharing in Natasha's joy, even while she was scared of an uncertain future. Natasha kissed Raina on the cheek, and Raina was filled with warmth and the desire to pull her closer. Lost in the heat and joy of the moment, she seized the opportunity and before she knew what she was doing, they were kissing full-on. Natasha returned the kiss with equal fervor, and they reluctantly parted, gasping for air.
Raina's mind was racing as though it had found the missing piece. All the years of her life, she had never felt such warmth and tenderness, had never had a feeling that felt so right in the depths of her soul. But what would Natasha think? Would she run, leaving Raina all alone?
"For hours at a time, I sat and watched you sleep," Natasha confessed. I saw the beautiful outline of your features and I said "please, if there is something out there watching over us, please let this woman live." Perhaps it was my loneliness, perhaps it still is, but I think I fell in love with you before I even had the chance to meet you."
Raina gently stroked Natasha's red hair, "That's why you were so kind to me when I woke. Why you nursed me back to health with such kindness. But I... feel more than just gratitude for that. I want to protect you. I want you keep you safe. I want to share this brave new world with you, and go in search of others who may have survived. Even... even if we are alone forever, watching the twilight hours of life on this world then... I will be glad to be with you."
They kissed again, lost in their love for one another, happy to have found something in a world of nothing.
They worked next on fixing the geiger counters so they could measure radiation outside. Natasha was adept at this too, and managed to salvage parts from one to fix the other as Raina watched her work with fascination.
"We just have to get the door open," Natasha said. She had been filled with new hope since the kiss, and had worked constantly on plans to get out of the bunker.
She found a drill, and started to work on the door panel, "This shouldn't be too hard," she said, "All I have to do is take the panel off, like this, then take these two wires and..."
"Wait," Raina said, "Even though we're pretty sure its safe out there, can we wait until the morning? I'd really like to sleep in the safety of this place for one more night..."
Natasha was going to insist until she saw the look in Raina's eyes. A look of love and desire directed at her. She put the drill down and went to her love, kissing her passionately. She let her hands roam all over Raina's body, loving the moans she elicited as she squeezed Raina's breasts through her clothes and reached between her legs.
She stopped and let Raina slowly strip her naked. Raina stood back for a second and drank in the sight of Natasha naked before her. She had never seen anybody so beautiful in all her life. She stripped her own clothes off and led Natasha to her bed, where they pleasured each other for hours, bathing in the warmth of each other's love and desire.
Morning came, and they woke together. Raina reluctantly parted herself from Natasha's warm body and began to pack things they would need; liquid food packs, blankets, clothes, a tent.
Natasha found Raina packing frantically, "Are you sure you want to go?" she said, "We could stay here, together forever, safe in each other's arms and never worry about what the rest of the world is doing."
"No, we have to leave the safety of this place sometime," Raina said, "We have to know what the fate of our world is, and if there's any hope for the future."
When they were ready, Natasha overrode the door control and they headed up the steps. Natasha gave Raina a quick kiss.
"Well, here goes," Raina said.
Raina opened the door to the outside world, and daylight flooded in, hurting their eyes. She reached down for Natasha's hand, and they stepped into a new world together, their future unknown but for one thing; they would be together, until the end.