Chapter 6:

A Lost Child, Part 6


Caleb and Ella continued walking through the city ruins, passing by another incredibly large building. Ella took a look at the size of the building, then glanced at the large glass doors that served as its entrance.

“This probably used to be a mall,” Ella remarked. “If there's going to be anything of value here, it'll probably be in this building.”

Ella gingerly pushed open the glass doors, and they parted without resisting or falling apart. Ella walked into the building, scanned the area, then motioned for Caleb to follow her in. Caleb gingerly stepped into the mall and was surprised by the size of the building. It was the biggest building he had seen aside from the tower, but while the tower was largely empty and unadorned, this place still had furniture and decorations strewn about, though time had certainly caused them to decompose.

As Caleb marveled at the sight of the destroyed mall, Ella's attention was drawn by a large staircase leading down. “That's interesting. This mall had an underground level. Come on, Caleb. Watch your step.”

Caleb followed Ella down the stairs to a long and dark underground hallway only a few feet below the surface. Ella took out her flashlight and illuminated the area, revealing a long row of shops and stalls left abandoned and neglected. Ella slowly examined each stall with the light and inspected them closely.

“A lucky find! This place looks fairly well-protected from the sun and heat. It's cool here even though it's the middle of the day. It hardly rains out here too, so there's little water damage. If we're lucky, we might be able to find something really good here.”

Caleb nodded, even though he hardly understood half of what Ella was talking about. At the very least, he could tell that there was a possible treasure trove here, so he kept his eyes peeled for anything that might be worth taking along.

Despite this assertion, Ella and Caleb found little worth scavenging even from the myriad of shops contained on this underground level. Many of the shops were either clothing outlets (of which most of their clothes had already half-decomposed) or hobby shops containing curiosities that didn't contain anything worth looking at. Though Ella had hardly said a word, Caleb could tell that she was starting to get a little irritated at having not found anything of value.

As the two rounded a corner, Caleb caught sight of a particularly large shop that nearly took up the entire length of the hall. “What kind of store is that?” Caleb asked as he pointed it out to Ella.

“That looks like a music store,” Ella replied, some slight surprise in her voice. “I didn't think there would be a store like this down here.”

“Let's take a look,” Caleb suggested. He was curious himself, and he could tell that the store had triggered some sense of nostalgia in Ella.

“We probably shouldn't,” Ella replied, trying to put on a stern exterior. “We're only looking for absolute necessities, after all.”

“It'll only be for a bit.”

Ella looked hesitant, then sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “Only for a bit, okay?”

Ella followed Caleb as he stepped into the music store. Shelves upon shelves of jewel cases and colorful covers were placed all over the store, with occasional standees featuring musicians Caleb could not recognize even if he had remembered them.

“This place looks like a shop for enthusiasts,” Ella remarked as she scanned the shelves. “Kind of surprising to see a place like this in a mall of all places.”

As the two continued to look around the store, Caleb noticed a large array of shelves against the back wall of the store. Unlike the shelves, which held cases made of plastic, the shelves here held larger, thinner cases. Caleb pulled one out and glanced at the cover. It was a colorful array of colors featuring a surreal collage of faces and animals. Caleb noticed an opening and pulled out a large black disk from within the sleeve.

“What is this?” Caleb asked.

“That's a vinyl record,” Ella replied as she looked at the disk with eyes that were brimming with nostalgia. “They were old even when I was still human, but some people still liked to collect them. This one's in pretty good condition; I'm surprised that it managed to avoid decomposing even in a dark place like this.”

Ella shined her light on the vinyl cover. “I know this band. They used to be really popular back then. I didn't know they put out vinyls.”

“What kind of music did they play?”

Ella opened her mouth to answer, but found herself unable to. “You know, I don't remember anymore. It's been centuries, after all.”

“Should we take it with us? If you can listen to it, then–”

“No, we shouldn't,” Ella said as she shook her head. “Remember what I said about non-essential items? Besides, I don't even have a record player, so there's no way I could play it anyhow.”

Ella took the record from Caleb, placed it back into its sleeve, then put it back into the shelf. “Come on. We've spent a lot of time here. We should go back and check on Kyle.”

Caleb was hesitant, but in the end, he could only obediently follow Ella back out of the store. After exploring the rest of the underground level, the two ended up leaving the mall with nothing. By that point, the sun was now low in the sky, and night was soon to come.

As Ella and Caleb approached the city center where the large pool of water was, Kyle noticed them coming and waved them over.

“There you guys are. I was going to get worried if you didn't show up soon.”

“Sorry. I guess we lost track of time.”

“Are you done with your job?” Kyle noted Ella's clearly empty bag. “Looks like you didn't find anything useful.”

“Unfortunately. What about you? Do you think this place could become a natural habitat?”

“I do. I'll probably report to Computer that deconstructing the city should be strongly considered.”

“Huh? But that means...” Caleb stopped and glanced at Ella.

“Is something wrong, Caleb?” Kyle asked. Ella, who understood exactly what Caleb was concerned about, put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him.

“It's fine, Caleb,” Ella said resolutely. “You don't need to worry unnecessarily, okay? I'm the adult here.”

Caleb was still reluctant, but ultimately he bit his tongue. Now done with their work, the trio made plans to return, but decided to camp out in the city since night was coming out soon. They found shelter in an abandored storefront that looked sturdy enough to survive the night.

After eating a dinner of fish Kyle found swimming in the large pool, Caleb lay down as he tried to fall asleep for the night. Before he could, however, he noticed Kyle lay down next to him.

“Thank you, Caleb.”

“Thanks for what?” Caleb asked, somewhat confused. “I didn't really do anything today.”

“I'm not sure what it was, but you were thinking of Ella today, right?” Kyle explained. “Whatever it was, even though it didn't seem to pan out, I'm sure she appreciated it.”

Caleb was doubtful, but he could tell that Kyle was just trying to cheer him up. Kyle continued to speak as he stared up at the starry night sky.

“You know, Ella and I, we kind of think of each other as siblings. We've been working together for a long time now, and because of that we know each other pretty well. Still, for that same reason there are things that she won't open up to me about. I'm glad that you were there for her instead.”

Caleb nodded. He sort of understood what Kyle was trying to get at.

“You know, I'm sure most people would think of your situation as tragic: a small child left alone on a destroyed Earth to survive all on his own, with no chance of ever meeting another human again. However, I think that you should look at this as a unique opportunity.”

“An opportunity?” Caleb wasn't sure where Kyle was going with this train of thought.

Kyle smirked. “You're the only human left on Earth. That means you have nothing tying you down. You can go wherever you want and live as you please, something we'll never do as we're bound to Computer's orders. Most importantly, you'll be the only one to see Earth like this as it is now. Assuming humanity ever makes it back, it'll look completely different than it does now by the time they return.”

“Is that something to be happy about, though?” Caleb asked doubtfully. “I mean, it's all been just a bunch of dusty ruins and wasteland so far.”

“There's a lot more than just that,” Kyle chuckled. “But I'll leave that for you to find later. The point is, I don't want you to fall into despair. You only have one life, after all. We can't send you back in time, or somehow get the expeditionary ship to come pick you up. The only thing we can do for you is help you live out the life you have now.”

Kyle fell silent, giving Caleb some time to sort out what he had told him. While Caleb had been putting on a strong front, inside he couldn't deny that he was feeling a little sad and lonely. Sure, he had no memories of his family or his life before, but their absence still gave him a feeling of loneliness he couldn't easily push away.

But maybe that was the wrong way to look at it. If he no longer had any connections to the past, then he had no connections to humanity at all. That meant he could live as he liked, just as Kyle had said. Computer would probably still try to limit his actions in some way, but unlike the remainers, Caleb was free to ignore him if he wished. Right now, he was a one-of-a-kind existence on Earth, the last natural human. It would be a shame to waste that experience.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon