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Prometheus, Mk. 2

We reached another city after weeks of travel. Granite monoliths of the ruined outskirts waited at the end of the highway, tombstones for nameless giants. Midday sun shone through a cluster of clouds and shimmered on a field of glass ahead.

Only Lazarus and I were left. I had drawn him eyes, as well as I could. They were a lady's eyes, like we'd seen in a painting once. He didn't seem to mind. I thought they looked pretty, and were the kind of eyes I'd have wanted had my face not been of steel.

He refused a mouth and had wiped it away when I'd drawn one. Lazarus was a good listener, but ours never was a loquacious sort. I suppose you knew that better than anyone.

We crossed concrete reefs, made sure the cars thrown on their roofs were empty. Not all were, of course. We helped the bodies out so Lazarus could work, fulfill his task with quiet grace. I didn't care to look. A flash and a wave of heat against my back—that's how I knew he was done. Lazarus collected the ashes of the forlorn within him, squeezed their memories into his solid-state mind. I'm sure you meant the preservation as a kind gesture, but it disgusted me. If Lazarus ever had thoughts like mine, the ghosts he carried within must've driven him mad by now.

We gathered many more before we made it to the city centre. Those out in the open weren't as preserved as others in cover. There was hardly anything for us to do. A touch broke the persevering bonds of charred skeletons. Had wind still roamed the earth, we might've not been needed at all.

The sun had set by the time Lazarus saved the last ashes. We didn't wash away the marks burnt skin had left on asphalt.

I motioned for him to follow. Later, I would let him lead and light the way, but for now, by your blessing, I could still see. Your light blazed at its zenith, the moon a pale remembrance beside it.

Once, I thought the world wouldn't end in fire and tribulations, but the way it ends every day. The sun would set but not rise again, nor would anyone stir in the dark. When I learned to know you, I feared not even fire would be enough, that you would bring ruin with endless light.

When true night fell, I never cursed my blindness, but was grateful for it. Work was easier when I didn't have to see the bodies.

We left the road and followed the river coursing through the city. We found more memories amidst charred trunks of fallen trees.

People reacted in many ways to your leaving. Some locked themselves in cellars and wished for the best, others congregated to extol or execrate. A few went on living, uncaring of what would happen. They were the happiest, I think. The end was sudden and painless. I presumed they feared as much as everyone, but refused to yield to terror.

I had been like them, dismissive of fear. Not because I was brave or because I'd given up hope, but because I thought you'd take me with you. I thought I had earned my place. I held you when the light ate your body. I stood beside you at your rebirth. I followed you when you stole the sun's gold and left it cold and pale. When nations rose against you, I was your proud defender. I protected you when you chose the most deserving for a new dawn of humanity and bathed them in your splendour.

You left me under a dying sun, and still I missed you. It had taken time to get used to the thought of being alone with faithful Lazarus. If I ever tried to coax him into telling why we were forgotten, he stared back with coal-drawn eyes, mouthless and hushed.

Maybe I could have changed your mind if I had limbs of flesh to hold your hand, a voice to tell you I was different from Lazarus and your other children. I was like you, reborn, but without a mouth with which to cry I loved you.

Lazarus paused to wait when dawn broke. We stood by the river's bank, watching your light rising from behind skyscrapers' carcasses. It had grown vast on celestial prey. Maybe it would swallow us in time.

I don't know what made that place meaningful. Perhaps it was the passage of time, or perhaps you programmed me this way. Standing there, the first cold breeze in months picking up against us, I finally understood my place in your story, why Lazarus and I were spared from the light that washed over Earth when you left.

I thought you would come back for us once we finished our given task, but you didn't think of us at all anymore, did you? We were never your chosen children, but an epilogue in your tale of transcendence.

Lazarus waited, unblinking eyes turned to the sky, while I bitterly watched lily pads floating down the stream. The deadlands were coming back to life, little by little, refusing to give up resistance even when sunlight grew colder each day. Saplings wouldn't yield until the stalks froze and cracked.

The pads vanished around the bend. The sun would slumber for hours, but I could see again, observe my friend watching the clouds. I drew him eyes, but didn't need them for myself. I saw when I walked in the light, and in the dark I could follow. First you, now faithful Lazarus, for whom I was grateful despite his flaws.

I wonder if you gave me a companion to show you cared for me, no matter how our story ended.

I gestured for Lazarus to follow. We had memories to gather.

About the Author
Ville Meriläinen is a university student from Joensuu, Finland. He is a Writers of the Future winner (Volume 33), and his short stories have appeared in various anthologies and online journals. His fantasy novel, "Ghost Notes," is available on Amazon.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @InMyColdCountry.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link