There were the young and there were the poor. There were the short and the beautiful and the tall and the ugly and the rich and the old. Ten million souls stacked and stored with prudent efficiency.
The man moved among the piles paying little attention to the sleeping faces. Surrounded by more people than he could ever know, the man was alone.
Had he walked down this avenue before? Maybe he had, a long time ago. He couldn’t remember and the people were strangers to him.
The only thing he gave credence to were the green lights at the bottom of each pod. Thousands of pods stretched before him and thousands stretched behind, the soft green glow giving off just enough light to illuminate the path. He couldn’t afford to turn the lights on proper and it didn’t matter. Years of walking in the dark had given him catlike vision. He realized he hadn’t seen a cat, or any animal, in centuries.
Up ahead a bright red glow at the bottom of one pod burned into the dark like a bonfire in the wilderness. He approached it slowly.
It didn’t matter how many red lights he found each night, every one came with the weight of failure and loss.
This one had been red for some time. The electricity and other life support had automatically cut off and the glass was cold as he wiped the frost off the pod’s viewport so he could see the face.
It was a boy of no more than twelve. One of the oldest boys who had ever lived. Both twelve and one thousand years old at the same time. He checked the name. He didn’t recognize it and would forget it as soon as he’d done his job, but he still paused, taking time to look upon the dead, to somehow give the boy a semblance of a funeral and respect and a sendoff. He couldn’t give much, there were other dead to tend to tonight and he had a long walk ahead.
“Forgive me,” he said as he pressed his palm to the control panel and typed a code he loathed. When given the job as the new caretaker, the old caretaker had asked him to make up a PIN that he could remember. A PIN he would have to use only on the rarest of occasions. A PIN of death. He chose the date of that terrible thing that happened when he was only seven.
He lifted a safety cover and pressed a small red button, recessed enough so it couldn’t be accidentally pressed. The sound of a motor, deep in the pod, whirred as it got up to speed. When the speed sounded like a scream far away and underwater, he took his key, put it in its place and turned it three times. The blades engaged and even though he wasn’t looking, he had seen it enough to know what happened next. The liquid suspension that had given life to the boy for thousands of years would start churning like an old washing machine and the liquid would change from clear to blood red and he wouldn’t be able to see the face or anything resembling a human if he were to try. After enough time had passed he took the key out and pressed a button and the liquid and the human compost were evacuated from the pod with a loud sucking sound.
It would not go to waste. The boy would be recycled for the greater good and the ones left over, the ones still sleeping, would collectively have a few seconds added to their sleeping lives.
The man walked on.