He looked out of his window with eyes that had witnessed the fall and birth of empires and breathed. The window fogged briefly and then cleared. Then he inhaled and exhaled once more. It had been thus, for such a long time. Oh, so long – longer than he could ever possibly now measure. Like innumerable days behind him, he had no plans for today, and none for the tomorrow, nor for the morning after.
Nothing met his gaze; no person returned his regard; no bird flew, no animal rustled in the undergrowth.
No growth of any kind.
Even the machines had long since rusted into nothingness.
After aeons of use.
The bare, solid, hard, unforgiving rock stared back at him, a cold, naked, denuded, flat aspect. And so it would go on.
He thought back to the ages he’d lived through and the experiences he’d had. They were a mixture – some instructive, fun, edifying activities, which had brought him great joy, others melancholic, distressing, difficult, which had brought him deep sadness and pain. But he wouldn’t have swapped them for anything.
Indeed , they were the only link he had to the past.
To its life.
To its soul.
To its people.
To its heart.
So what now, he asked himself? As he had done every morning since he’d become aware that he could not die. He’d not realised he was immortal in the early days, and, surprisingly, still found it difficult to accept.
‘Oh, you are so lucky!’ ‘What great fortune!’ ‘I so wish I could be like you!’ were some of the original comments he’d been presented with. And he’d smiled, genuinely pleased, and, if truth be told, a little smug. Once his story had got out though, it was somewhat different. Feted by the media, interviewed on talk shows, discussed, observed, celebrated; then taken, forced into clandestine experiments by desperate governments. Nothing had yielded any results. No-one could say why he didn’t die. He didn’t even age. He still looked mid-thirties, and he was… well, God knew what age now; he’d long since lost count. He’d managed it until he’d outlived everything, and everyone, and then it had hardly seemed to matter.
He’d seen the Second World War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, the Red Sea War, the China Sea Skirmish, the Space Race, the Moon Race, the Inner Planets Race, the Outer Planets Race, the dawn and twilight of the colonies off world and the total collapse of world civilisations twice. He’d then lived through the Second and Third Stone Ages, Bronze Ages, Iron Ages, more Mediaeval times, at least one more Dark Age, Ages of Enlightenment, Renaissance, Peace, Tranquillity, Adventure and Settlement. There’d been more, but he seemed to forget the more recent ones; they had less impact upon him, and seemed often a rehash of previous eras. He had, in short, seen it all before, and it had become somewhat tiresome.
And death linked them all. He had spent the first few hundred years being the patriarch of his family, but it soon grew so large that his heirs spread across the whole of the planet; by then he’d pulled away from so much physical contact with family. The pain of seeing your wife die, then your children, and then your grandchildren, was too much to bear. Seeing loved ones in their dotage, illness wrecking their bodies, or disease ravaging their immune systems, well, that was hard. In the end, in was easier to withdraw. To see their lack of comprehension, their inability to understand, on their deathbed, why their great uncle, grandfather, whatever, looked just as he did the day they came into the world, was distressing. Vision clouding with demise, the injustice was nevertheless written all over their gaze, just before it blanked out forever.
His frustration, his resentment, his anger, led him to seek solace in religion. He’d read the Bible, the Torah, the Qu’ran and they’d given him much to ponder. He had turned to all the major religions for guidance: Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, and some of the less well-known ones: Taoism, Confucianism, 7th Day Adventism, even Scientology. But he’d grown up a Christian boy in a small village in the heart of England. With a village green, a quaint pub, two cricketing XIs, chocolate box cottages, a ford, and a picturesque C of E church. Born in 1921, he’d been of age when WWII had broken out. He’d helped his father out on the farm, but he’d been more than a farmer in his life: he’d been a soldier, an accountant, a lawyer, a property developer, a banker, an author, an administrator, a teacher, a gym instructor, a chef (in the military and in civvy street). He’d been a butcher, an engineer, a racing driver, a conservationist, a drop out, a deserter, a tramp, a hermit, a space pirate and an explorer. Looking back, he liked space pirate best. The space galleon he owned had put the wind up travellers and merchants in the space lanes. That had been so much fun. Oh, he had to admit it was fundamentally wrong, piracy. He’d gone the whole hog though – eye patch, tricorn hat, ruff, pirate coat, cutlass strapped to his waist. Even in that time, when all clothing styles had been acceptable, his crew had looked at him rather oddly, but then he had decided to go a little bonkers for a while.
It had all been a joke to him; he couldn’t die. It had been frightening to others, but there were centuries that went by when he didn’t care. He didn’t know what to put it down to, why he couldn’t die, and why he healed so well. He’d been wounded in the Second World War, and should’ve died then and there. But he hadn’t; he’d recovered, quite easily as it turned out, once they’d dug the bullets and shrapnel out of his body.
So, he carried on. He was no deity, nor was he a demon; his reading of all the major texts made him convinced of it. In the early days he was desperate to find out why, and couldn’t understand it. He’d seen people petrified of death, others sanguine. Some welcomed the release; some were dragged kicking and screaming. Some had peace, some had fear. Some had uncertainty, some had faith. To him it became an irrelevance. He might have been nervous about death in the first century, but that had passed such a long time ago. That was the only mystery left though. He’d learned or experienced all the others. And he’d been around long enough to find out that the human race had been alone in the universe. It had seemed so unlikely, somehow, but there it was. They’d gone in search of the stars, and had returned empty-handed. He’d even been involved in some of it, but to no avail.
And now he was here, at the end of all time. The sun had long since grown cold, a vaguely dim blue ball in the “day” time. The sky had turned dark, a sombre and cold place where the stars were pinpricks perpetually punctuating the purple veil. It had burned itself out long ago. But before it had gone, it had expanded and nearly consumed the earth. The oceans had long since dried up, and all life had been consumed by heat. He’d left at that point, moved off-world, but he’d come back when he was able to. He’d rebuilt his house, with help from robots he’d scavenged from derelict worlds. And then he’d maintained it. So his house was warm, and he’d got an atmosphere, harnessed from the power generated in sub-space – he needed both warmth and air to function. Without them he’d go into a type of stupor, a hibernatitive state.
But he wouldn’t die without them.
A fact he’d tested.
Again and again.
Well, he’d been particularly fed up one decade after the first millennium. He tried testing the supposition that he couldn’t be killed. All he’d worked out was that suicide bloody hurt! And then it hurt some more as he was healed.
He’d got through all that immature nonsense long ago. And now didn’t feel tormented, but nor did he feel blessed. He didn’t really feel anything at all. The vast majority of his extraordinarily long life he’d felt boredom. He had mused on the nature of the universe – he’d spent years in libraries, monasteries, temples, caves on islands, off-world sanctuaries, and nothing had yielded a result, well nothing tangible anyway.
In the end he felt abandoned. Every one he’d ever known had left, passed on, he even wondered idly once if God had come to claim his faithful, and he’d slept in and missed it. Had he missed the final curtain? Was this it then? What to do with Eternity? That was the question he’d spent aeons trying to answer.
He heaved another sigh as he gazed out onto the dead landscape – he often tried amusing himself by reliving his memories, listening to favourite music, watching films, programmes, experiencing interactive holo-battles, or sailing on the finest ocean liners in lifebooks which you could enter and experience the story as if you were there. He’d been Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Frodo to Gandalf and the rest of the Nine Walkers. He’d lived life as Allan Quatermain, the lama to Kim on his quest; he’d been both Ernest Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennett (although that had been at an uncertain time!) Countless others, but they had long since lost their appeal.
No-one could say he’d not lived his life though. Both because he’d experienced everything he could possibly experience, and because there wasn’t anybody left who could say anything at all. He’d gone mad several times he’d believed; there had been plenty of times he’d lost the plot completely, or when his mind seemed to need a holiday. But there was always the sanity afterwards, returning like a lodger who’d been out too late at night, slipping back apologetically. Still, it was better than keeping the bright blue heebie-jeebies at the forefront of his neo-cortex.
It was then a thought struck him. It was not a particularly new thought in some respects, but it was the first time it had seemed to make sense. He knelt down and began to pray. The years seemed to melt away, and he could see the walls of his childhood bedroom; it was as if he was there. He’d been brought up C of E, so, for the first time in hundreds of millennia, he began, falteringly, the Lord’s Prayer. It was surprising that he still knew the words, but, he supposed, some things never leave you.
‘Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name…’
Nothing moved, not even the beating of his heart or the flow of his blood as he finished the prayer.
From beyond sight and sound, he could hear a voice. The words were iron and gold, solid and fluid, exquisite pain and indefinable joy, softer than anything he’d ever known, and louder than he could have ever imagined. ‘Are you ready? Finally?’
He spoke out loud, with fading strength. ‘Then I haven’t been left behind? It’s not too late?’
‘No my son, for I have been with you always. No-one gets left behind. Some come too soon, some at the right time, some when they are ready, some before their time. That’s freedom, my covenant to you. But when the time finally comes, it comes for all – even you. Your life has been your blessing, and your curse. As a child you will be among us, if you are at last prepared. For you will be the last to arrive.’
Having been alone for so long, and having outlived everyone and everything, having been as old as worlds, outlasting entire races and their descendants, feeling as old as the universe itself, he was confronted with a very strange proposition, and sensation was one he welcomed. ‘I think I’d like that…’ he murmured as the breath left his body.
For the final time, his eyes closed, opening one last time to spill tears from them, down his cheeks to his wistful smile.
He finally understood; he finally accepted it all.
The words billowed in the mists of his mind, thundering with quiet power. ‘Now it is time to come home; we are waiting for you.’
The mists in his mind cleared and then golden light spread achingly, searingly, through him, lighting from within all of his limbs, his skin, his face, his eyes.
Still on his knees, his vision finally clouded; he toppled forwards gently…and he was gone.
And his spirit soared.