The worst part wasn’t the destruction of the universe. It was the destruction of… myself?
The stars had been blinking out for days by the time the wave got to Earth, yet nobody seemed perturbed about it but me. Try as I might, I couldn’t make a single person see that this was a potentially catastrophic event. And when I woke up one morning and heard on the news that Australia had mysteriously vanished, I somehow knew even before I spoke to anyone about it that nobody would think anything was out of the ordinary.
As I arrived at work, the car’s radio cut out unexpectedly, but previous to that nobody on it had mentioned the disappearance of a continent as anything especially distressing. And now they never would. I switched from channel to channel, but the other stations were out too.
I waited a few minutes, to see if the stations would eventually come back. None of them did. Eventually, I had to get to work…
Everybody at the office was doing their job as though it were just another day, though as the day progressed I noticed more and more of my coworkers seemed to be absenting themselves. By the time lunch rolled around, only a handful of people were left.
By the time I returned from lunch, still hungry as the diner across the street was no longer there, I was seemingly the only one left in the building. Something, clearly, had to be done, but I had no idea specifically what.
When I went into my office to consider my options, letting the door swing shut behind me was an admittedly bad idea. Although, it could be that finding it impossible to open again was less emotionally taxing an option than seeing whatever was coming for me. By the time I had a plan I was trapped. Should have known I would be.
Though it wasn’t a very good plan, it likely wouldn’t have mattered even if I had been able to implement it.
I didn’t actually see anything in the room vanish, it seemed to happen only when I was looking the other way, but it didn’t take long before I found myself in an empty room, staring at bare walls. I closed my eyes, tightly, and when I opened them again even those were gone.
I was floating, in emptiness, nothing pulling me in any direction. No idea how I’d gotten there, or what had happened to the universe. No reference point of any kind, just… me.
Which made it that much more distressing when I started to go too.
I didn’t notice it at first, but by the time my legs were gone up to my knees I was fascinated as, bit by bit, my tissue and bone unraveled under me, more and more of me vanishing into the ether. I suppose I should have done something, tried to pull myself away, but I was too fascinated by the process to think of it. My torso unraveled up to my neck, and the last thing I saw before my eyes fell from my vanishing skull was my arms, unconnected and rapidly diminishing, spiraling away from where I used to be.
From where I still was.
Not in any corporeal way, not one atom was left from what used to be my body, but there was some thinking thing still left in what once was the universe. I knew, because I was it.
Though not for long.
The destruction of my body, oddly enough, didn’t hurt at all. The destruction of my mind, however, was excruciating. Every memory, every desire or ambition or drive, every stray thought I’d ever had in my life I felt die, and each one seemed to know it was dying. Me as a child, gone, my first day of work, gone. The face of my beloved, no longer waiting for me in a home that no longer existed, now no longer even a memory. Before long, all that was left of what I’d considered “self” was mindless animal terror, and pain.
And then, having stripped me to nothingness, the pain stopped.
Moments later, so did the fear.
Yet there I was.
I’m not sure what I was, my mind and body were long since gone, but some fundamental me-ness remained, unthinking, unfeeling in the nothingness for I don’t know how long. With no point of reference it could have been an eternity or an instant, but each moment was first brand new, and then instantly forgotten. These moments seemed to stretch out infinitely before me, not that I would notice infinity if it’d happened.
Finally, that sliver of consciousness too began to go dark, and the last light in the universe, meager though it was, winked out, shutting the door on all that was or would forever be.
And then I woke up.
I was in a lab of some kind, naked but for a hospital gown, with electrodes hooked to my shaved scalp. Soft music played in the background, a tune I thought I might recognize if I’d given it a moment’s thought. I didn’t bother, I couldn’t see how it was relevant.
I didn’t know how I’d gotten there, or who’d hooked me up, there was a lot I couldn’t remember, but that too seemed irrelevant. I couldn’t even bring myself to be angry about what had been done to me. Nothing mattered except in that it applied to the task at hand. And, with no task currently at hand, logically speaking nothing mattered. So I removed the electrodes, sat up on what appeared to be a surgical table, and waited, paying no attention to anything in the room until a nondescript man in a dark blue suit came in, holding a clipboard.
“Congratulations Mr. Robertson,” he said to me briskly, “you’ve survived the program. Many testees don’t. So, now that you’ve had time in the chamber to consider our offer, will you join our… organization?”
…and when I searched what was left of my consciousness, I couldn’t find anything within it capable of saying no.