It was working up to be a blizzard, the warnings nothing but an invitation. Beautiful.
The snow, the extreme cold, the lack of air. He loved it all. As near to oblivion as it was possible to get and still feel alive. For here, trudging on ever higher, everything could fade into insignificance. That was his hope. Time after time.
Plenty of time.
Keep pushing on, he told himself. Take it beyond sensation to where there is no limit, no pain threshold. Just a numbness. The disappearance of the self into the swirling white mass.
Almost but never completely. Today, he assured himself, would be different. The fear had gone now. He hadn’t truly acknowledged the fear before, it stopped him making that final push. And they had known that.
Usually it only all becomes clear near the end, someone had once written, a name he couldn’t now remember. All those lessons learnt, all that wisdom accumulated … and so much forgotten. He’d hoped to figure it out before that point. After all, those wise words applied to a standard lifespan. His was anything but.
What had become clear: no longer was death the worse thing of all. Not the faint prospect of his or the certainty of others’. Being left alone was the natural consequence, knowing they all had to go in the end (if he hadn’t had to leave them first). And the ones that don’t die, they just age.
Keep moving on. He had no choice. To the next career, the next project. The next One.
Always another chance?
Until the decline, Toramin felt he had endless chances. No end of existence to look forward to, not by any natural process, only by some extreme act of self destruction. To think you had reached the end only to have it denied.
Life’s a marathon not a sprint – he’d maybe read on a t-shirt. Except that meant a sense of a destination. No matter it was too distant to see. Better, he thought, for the end to be beyond the horizon but to know it was there, somewhere.
He felt them still working. Those things inside him hadn’t entirely given up, performing diligent operations to restore him to proper working order. Saved from the ravages of old age. For something.
But that time had surely passed. The machines were failing him. Finally.
He pressed on.
The snow denser now, swirling, obscuring his vision. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see, he knew the terrain already, knew it well. Kept moving higher, rarely getting beyond this point. The one time he had, it was … beautiful. Not a rational word it seemed now to describe the slipping away into oblivion. But that was entirely the point: all this rational, analytical – if subjective – thinking faded to pure experience. He could still just enumerate the process of his mind shutting down.
Higher. Above the cloud layer. An eerily silence. The sun dazzled and gave maybe only the illusion of warmth. Cold was setting into motion his defence nano-machines, mindlessly restoring his body to homeostasis, boosting blood-flow, repairing damaged flesh. Eventually they would require an external energy source to recharge. In this desolate environment it hardly seemed possible there’d be anything they could extract. But even here there were molecules rich enough in energy from which to siphon.
Yet he knew there would come a point when the cold, lack of nourishment, lack of oxygen would finally take him. Theoretically.
He could only hope that this time his benefactors would understand.
Hours passed, he ambled on. Stumbled but refused to rest, refused to let those things do their job, extract their energy. They were intelligent enough to know not to extract it from him while he was on reserves. And so, in abeyance, the damage accumulated.
He fell finally. Lay there. Felt it all fading. Thought, in his hazy mind, he’d be allowed to die. And hoped when he saw the white clad figure before him – like a man made from snow – that it was merely a hallucination. He even tried to dismiss those accent-less words. ‘Toramin. You thought we’d leave you here? Is that really what you want?’
‘Yes,’ he thought he managed to reply. But knew he would not get his wish. Not even after eight hundred and twenty-seven years.