The Survivor stood before the front doors of the University. He cautiously reached a hand forward, and silently opened the door. As he stepped through, broken glass crunching under his feet, he remembered.
Greeter Callus paced on his stage, looking out across the mass of students. Some sat tall, attentively listening to his speech. Some slept. It was the same every year, and Callus no longer cared about his audience. The students would define themselves through their work in the coming years, regardless of his opinions now.
As he paced, he spoke about the famous University at which he worked. The studies which these young adults would partake in over the next several years, the activities to be found around campus, and how honored they should be at their acceptance to this legendary school. He felt some passion leak into his voice as he described the work done by the great men and women who had passed through these halls. Many of them had made history, and one of these students may well be the next to push forward the science of the mind.
He ended his speech as the bell rang, watching the sea of students rise and flow out the door. As the auditorium emptied, he pondered his own place at the University. Where would he be in four years?
The Survivor opened his eyes. The main lobby of Alexylva University lay around him in ruin, the once great halls now silent. The glass skylight had shattered, and broken glass littered the room. Years of weather had ruined the beautiful wooden reception desk, any papers that might have been there long washed away.
Teacher Callus sat in his classroom, helping a student through an assignment. As he marked through an equation he paused, feeling something click into place in the back of his mind. He turned to his chalkboard and erased a paragraph of notes, scribbling numbers in their place. As he wrote, his thoughts coalesced. For years this idea had been out of his reach. But now, now it was not only possible, but easy. How had this not been seen before?
An extra pulse here, a block here…
They had destroyed everything. It had taken him a while to realize exactly what was happening, but he was much better equipped to recognize the threat than anyone else. While he was hidden away within his lab, the University had been sacked. He had fled as soon as the screeching stopped.
Researcher Callus watched a bird flit through the gardens of the university. He felt a glorious sense of accomplishment, and a terrible sense of dread. He had done what had never been attempted before. He would be remembered as one of the great men of history for his accomplishments. But what would this be used for? What would be done with this research?
Callus whistled softly, and the bird flew to his hand. He held it gingerly, feeling the tiny feet shift on his fingers as the little avian stared questioningly at him. He held the bird by his cheek for a moment, and then threw it into the air. He whistled the release command. This bird would be free now, no different from any other. It was a prototype, and more advanced methods of control would be needed before the technology would be practicable on a large scale.
As the bird winged off into the distance, Callus pondered his next step. This must be carefully regulated, or terrible things could be done.
He walked through the halls of the University where he had once worked, wandering towards that place where it had all begun so many years ago. As he walked through the desolate hallways, the years of abuse the University had suffered made themselves apparent. He was no longer the scholar he had been, but he was still able to see the mold growing from abandoned binders, the broken windows, the doors that had been wrenched from their frames by an army of beasts looking for any uninfected human.
Magnate Callus held his head in his hands, a sense of defeat flooding him. Their very first mass shipment of birds had been infected with a rare avian flu, and only a few had survived to their destination. An entire crate, filled with little technological marvels, dropped dead. He could not afford a mistake of this scale, and he knew he would be unable to continue operating.
Callus sighed and stood. He whistled, and a small monkey leaped from the floor to his shoulder in a few short bounds. There it stayed, perfectly balanced, as Callus left his office. He pondered his situation, staring up at the night sky.
He would have to sell his technology to the University, and hope that the price would be enough to pay off that shipment. He felt a crushing sense of failure as he realized that he would never profit from his discovery. He closed his eyes, his head still pointed towards the sky, and felt the beginnings of a tear beneath his eyelids. His chance at fame, destroyed by one terrible mistake. He would be forever remembered as the brilliant inventor who failed.
He had blamed himself. When there had been others, he never shared his name. He knew what it would mean for them to know that the man who had doomed their race was sitting only feet away. There had been days when he had stopped running, when he had simply sat down and waited for death to find him. But he had something to do.
Handler Callus stood before a class for the second time in his life, a small cat perched on a table beside him. The tail ticked back and forth rhythmically as Callus spoke to the class, teaching them the proper tones and patterns for commanding the Controlled. He demonstrated with a quick, low whistle, and the cat leaped from the desk and towards Callus. He caught it in the crook of his elbow, holding the animal close to his chest.
As Callus held the small cat, he heard a sound from outside. A very faint whistle, something that sounded almost like-
Callus felt the ticking tail slow, then stop. The cat in his arms blinked and turned, staring at him wide-eyed, the confusion Callus felt mirrored in the cats green pupils. Another faint whistle, and Callus yelled as the cat bit sharply into his gloved hand. He dropped the cat, the thick glove still in its teeth, and ran.
Survivor Callus entered the auditorium and stopped, standing straight. The rows of chairs were the same as they had been, undisturbed for years. He walked slowly, absorbing the feel of the room. Not even the death of humanity could take the majesty from this place.
As Callus arrived at the stage, he assumed his old place. Never again would the freshman class of the University be greeted here. He felt the old pain in his chest flare up, and he leaned against the podium. Years of fear and guilt and running had wrecked his body, but he had still managed to survive. At least he had survived.
Callus raised his eyes from the podium on which he leaned, taking in the empty room. As he looked, his eyes fell on a flash of color. There, standing atop a seat, was a bird.
Callus sighed. Everything. He had lost everything. And now, this.
He felt the slight pressure as the bird landed on his shoulder. He had always preferred them to land on his shoulder. Callus barely felt the nip as the bird gently bit his neck, holding in that position. Callus knew what was happening, what would happen. But he had been running for so long. Why keep going?
Several minutes later, the bird released the pressure on his neck. It leaped from his shoulder and flew swiftly out the front door, gone almost before he noticed it had left him. He knew what would happen to him now. He sighed, and decided that he would lose his humanity with dignity.
Pushing himself as straight as he could behind the podium, the last man on earth prepared to die.