“My time is almost up”
I looked to the clock again. The numbers burned bottle green in the dark of my city cubicle.
“Two minutes left.”
Two minutes of life. Two minutes of breath. Two minutes of me. What to do with the time?
I’ve known it was coming for a while now. My body was slowing, I missed the output quotas more often than not. They wouldn’t let me keep going like this, slowing down the entire system.
“Mhm” came the staticky response from the other end of the line. I didn’t know what they looked like. I didn’t know what anyone looked like. Life in the generator was like that. But, I knew them. I would miss them more than anything else. If I could miss anything when it happened. If there was anything left.
“Will you stay with me? Until it's over I mean?”
“As long as I can”
I nodded, the lump of icy fear in my stomach softened a bit.
“Do you think it will hurt?” I asked.
“No. You’ll fall asleep first. It will be like every other day. Like logging off. You just won’t… restart.”
“I wish I’d done more. Achieved something greater. You know?”
“We all do.”
“I guess you’re right. I just wish— “
The clock changed. The console crackled, the line went dead. Alone now.
My breath came out in a white puff. The temperature was dropping already, gooseflesh peppered my arms.
I took solace in the fact that everything I could see would be recycled, every part repurposed. The console would be stripped bare, thermoplastic coating peeled away to reveal shining copper. Gears and chips would be plucked out. Metal casing would be melted and reformed.
My body would be treated just the same. The cold would preserve the still functioning parts, cut from me and presented to the surface dwellers who needed something new. I hoped it would give them what I would never have; something more.
I looked at my hands. Thin and trembling, but strong. I wondered who these pieces of me would become. Maybe a leader, someone whose speeches require grand gesticulation, someone who brings peace and justice to the masses. Maybe a mother, whose soft embrace warms the heart like melted chocolate. Or an artist whose creation lights up the world— god knows, we need it.
I sucked in a ragged, bracing breath. A keening sound echoed in the small space as cold tightened the structure of my cubicle, my home. The only place I’d ever known. The only place I would ever know.
I placed my palm against my chest, holding the final vestiges of warmth like thin strands of smoke that leaked through my fingers. Would this heart remember? Would they know that I often drew pictures of the sunset I’d never seen, and that I dreamed of the ocean? That I had loved another fiercely without ever seeing them, without even knowing their name? No.
The only thing that would not be recycled was me.
This cog would be replaced, the industry wouldn’t slow for even a beat. But, I would be gone.
The air tightened around me. White crept across the console now. I’d never seen anything like it. Beautiful, crystalline fractals spidered out from the corners.
I named it— frost, rime. They had once described it to me and I had seen it so clearly then. They had told me many things here in the dark, and in this way, I had lived a rich life.
They told me about the ocean. The way the sun danced across the whipped waves, sparkling and roaring in places, glassy and cool in others. The way it teemed with rainbows of living creatures, all working in harmony and balance. I liked to think I was the same, part of something bigger, something more important than this.
They told me about the sunset. When the world burned orange and pink, no heat, just the light extending its goodbye for the day by painting every surface gold, sweet, and shimmering. I pictured my goodbye as warm and lovely, a final burst of the joy I had known, had found despite the dark corners that housed me.
I thought I would feel light, and float away like cottonwood seeds on the breeze. I’d never seen those either, but they had whispered of them to me one night.
Instead, I grew heavier with every precious breath. My legs stopped first, stuck and stiff as the chrome of the cubicle.
Less than a minute now.
My fingers were next. They stopped their shaking, and lay pale against my chest.
My neck sunk into immobility as I lay my head back.
I closed my eyes, they wouldn’t open again. I didn’t want to see anything but the ocean now, and the sunset.
By the time the cold found my heart, the beats taking on the same weight as my limbs, I wasn’t there. I would never be there again.
The lamplight popped into the bulbs as the sun melted against the waves. A small girl, bundled in a thick scarf like a messy ball of yarn, ran through the fallen leaves towards the pier. Her mother called after her, an indulgent smile turned her lips.
Duck yellow wellies squeaked as she skid to a halt against the wet surface, craning against the railing to watch the gurgling surf below. The wind pulled tickling strands from her swinging braids, and the light spray pasted them against her ruddy cheeks. Jubilant laughter bubbled up as her mother scooped her into her arms.
In the very corner of the pier, closest to the ocean and in full view of the sunset, one lamp sputtered. It was only a flicker, nothing unusual or concerning about it. The girl looked up, frightened by the brief darkness.
With soothing caresses and tender whispers, her mother smoothed the moment away like a divet in the tide.
As they walked back up the pier together, the girl looked back at the verdigris-stained plaque at the base of the lamp.
City Power Grid: bringing renewable energy to your home and streets for generations.