Standing on the rooftop of his penthouse apartment, Alex gazed at the auburn colored haze that engulfed most of the northern skyline and wondered if it had all been worth it. Alex knew that he himself had only played a minor role in the development of the world around him, but he couldn’t shake the small tinge of regret and guilt over the way things had turned out. As he breathed in the cool rush of August air that circled the skyscrapers surrounding his building, Alex thought back to an exchange between himself and his mentor Dr. Jacobs less than 24 hours ago. The conversation had centered around the role science plays in the development of society and the necessary costs that invariably arise from each act of progress and enlightenment.
There was one particular phrase that his mentor had said in that empty hospital room that made Alex wince. At the time he hadn’t given much thought to the real meaning of the words when Jacobs said “We are but two in a long line of those who helped move mankind out of the ever changing darkness of its past and into the promising light of the infinite horizon.” Over the past hour and a half the complicit nature of his friend’s statement followed Alex like a ghostly specter as he walked along the roof’s stone ledges.
The faint melodic sounds whispering in Alex’s ear let him know that his sojourn needed to come to an unwanted conclusion. The unique series of tones continued until Alex finally started to move to the ancient steel door that provided access to the gravel covered perch he had spent most of his free time over the last several years. The feel of the cold rough metal of the door’s handle as Alex pulled the door open, helped to ground him back into reality for a brief moment of clarity. The simple act of opening the door reminded Alex that not everything in life needs to be theoretical conjecture, and that there is room for the concrete somewhere in this universe.
The clarity of that moment was shattered by the door’s hinges as they made an alarming loud metallic squeal that, after all these years, still managed to awaken a primal fear deep inside him. He knew it wasn’t the suddenness or volume or pitch of the noise that caused him distress. Instead it was the echo the sound made as it bounced around the soulless night air.
As Alex stood in the door way listening to the last dying echoes in the distant darkness, he realized that the primal fear had been replaced by something else. The fear hadn’t been replaced by a feeling, but instead had been sanitized by a harsh realization. In a sprawling metropolis that was once the residence of nearly 3 million people; tonight it was the home of just one man.
Entering the stairwell that lead to apartment, Alex felt himself being consumed by an oppressive air of dread. It was the same experience he had felt everyday for the past two years when leaving the serenity of his rooftop retreat. The stairwell was by no means a cramped area, and Alex was not the type to feel overwhelmed by uncomfortable environments. The claustrophobia that wrapped itself around Alex was instead caused by the sudden shift in focus his mind endured as it started to prepare for the tasks that lay ahead.
No longer given the freedom of cognition the rooftop afforded, Alex tried to distract his consciousness with thoughts of the immediate as he continued down the flight of oak stairs. Alex considered laughing at the preposterousness amount of effort that must have once been put forth in order to make steps of such an organic material. When he reached the landing, Alex paused so that he could soak in the artistry of the massive oil painting that stretched almost the entire length of the hallway before him. The soft melody he last heard on the roof top began anew, but Alex was determined to savor this moment despite the audible intrusion.
A moment of awe slowly drifted over Alex as he considered the skill and imagination that must have been required to assemble paint and brush strokes into such a beautiful symphony of color. As Alex leaned closer to the work of art, the shadows in the dim hallway seemed to respond to an unspoken command as they relented to the increased glow of the over head lights. Just as the lights in the hallway increased in gentle luminance so did the soft music. Alex knew it would only be a few minutes before the tone of the music transitioned into a more frantic dirge. Finally accepting his fate for the night, Alex turned away from the painting, relaxed as the music dissipated, and continued down the now silent hallway.
As Alex approached his apartment he heard the mechanical clicks of the door’s locks instinctively releasing. Unlike the ancient door on the roof, Alex didn’t need to open this door by hand. The door glided open by an unseen force as Alex entered his apartment. The Intuitive Assistance System that was incorporated into nearly all aspects of daily life was one of the only things that still showed life in this crypt disguised as a metropolis. This thought provided Alex with an uneasy level of comfort.
Alex’s apartment was an eclectic mix of furniture, artwork, appliances, family heirlooms, and personal effects that in some instances reached a millennia into the past. Each item in the apartment had a special meaning to Alex. As he navigated his expansive, yet cluttered residence, Alex slowed his steps just enough so that he could soak up the memories hidden within each item littered along the path to his work space.
The first artifact of Alex’s past to grab his full attention was a dilapidated set of note books stacked on one end of his citrus colored sofa. The spines and covers of all the notebooks had been savagely broken and torn over the years since they were first in use.