By Carolyn Reistad
The last human born on Earth was Dr. Adam Atlas. Miranda, his wife, assured me the
name was intentional.
In the time not long before the birth of Dr. Atlas, the humans on Earth had collectively
decided not to continue their species. A pandemic of profound despair, for which there was no
cure, had settled in the minds of men.
There were too many people to feed and control. Efforts to slow population growth
failed. The damage that made the Earth barely inhabitable for large populations of humans could
not be reversed in a timely fashion; scientists around the world were unanimous on that fact. No
resources existed to colonize another planet. Most nations had defunded extraterrestrial
exploration to serve their earthly greed.
There were mass sterilizations. Not everyone survived the process, but the sterilization
committees still considered the fatalities a form of success. Women who were pregnant at the
time of the sterilization order were allowed to give birth, but many chose abortions.
The suicide rate increased sharply during that time. Statistically, people were more likely
to turn guns on themselves than others. Most governments manufactured drugs that induced a
painless death. This was popular among parents who saw only loneliness and decay in their
children’s futures. Filicide was never legalized, but neither was it prosecuted.
Some objected to this death of humanity. These “non-compliants,” as they were called by
various governments, hid or vehemently protested. Many were religious and valued procreation.
Others simply did not want to be held to their prescribed fate and refused to submit. They were
forcibly sterilized or executed.
The governments of the remaining nations knew there was to be one last human born, a
final member of their race. Therefore, they united in an unprecedented fashion and facilitated the
creation of Dr. Atlas. Dr. Atlas was the last of them, so they gave the best of themselves. They
went so far as to keep Dr. Atlas’ existence a secret, lest non-compliants discover the nations’
final investment and kill the child out of terror or spite.
As Dr. Atlas grew, he came to know; as he learned, he came to do. His educators were
impressed with his progress, and they doted upon the brilliant boy whose tan hands were always
tinkering and whose blue eyes were constantly observing. In any other time, Dr. Atlas would
have been lauded as a genius among his peers, but not many peers were left.
Miranda said she was not made for Dr. Atlas. After all, she was older than he was. If
anything, she would tell me, he was made for her. They met at a medical emergency response
training seminar she was leading. Not long after, they chose to make their futures inseparable.
Dr. Atlas and Miranda were married by an officiant from her near-extinct Catholic
religion. The bride and groom were smiling in the pictures. Dr. Atlas wore a tie in the shape of a
spaceship – his favorite – and Miranda had pale blue Myosotis scorpioides – her favorite –
woven into her golden hair.
There were few in attendance.
Soon after their wedding, Dr. Atlas began building robots.
To serve Miranda, he built Saturday, a tall android with fine motor skills. Saturday was
Dr. Atlas’ late wedding gift to his wife. Saturday became Miranda’s constant companion; I rarely
saw them separately.
Monday was created to monitor the Earth’s atmosphere. The semi-rigid airship travelled
around the globe, collecting data with its diverse arrays of sensors.
Tuesday was built to monitor the Earth’s plant life. Its serpentine body proved effective
in climbing trees and burrowing to observe root systems.
Wednesday was built to monitor space beyond Earth. Though not the largest radio
telescope in the world, its autonomy gave Dr. Atlas the freedom to pursue other interests.
Thursday was built to monitor Earth’s non-human animals. The quadruped was sturdy on
all terrains and later modified to navigate aquatic environments as well.
All of this work was centralized in the laboratory on the Atlas Estate. Dr. Atlas designed
the estate himself. It boasted a clean room with fewer than ten nanoparticles per meter cubed;
quantum computers that could process data faster than any of their contemporaries; and multiple
general-use stations with state-of-the-art measuring equipment. The fully-automated
manufacturing facility built many Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Only one more
Wednesday was constructed, however, due the high difficulty and precision required to make it.
Dr. Atlas’ efforts were rewarded. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday gathered
vast amounts of data. When fed to Dr. Atlas, this data produced the most complete model of the
Earth that had ever existed. Dr. Atlas observed changes in the atmosphere as humans stopped
polluting. He witnessed vegetation reclaim the land that humans built once-great cities upon.
When he turned his eyes skyward, he saw the distant stars and Earth’s place in it. And when his
gaze returned to the ground, he watched the animals walk the abandoned streets.
When Dr. Atlas was not traveling or analyzing data, he retreated to his lab to create new
devices. To say that he was an ingenious scientist and engineer would be accurate; his capacity
to create was unlike any of his predecessors or contemporaries. He saw the Earth itself as a grand
machine, albeit a machine in need of repair.
Miranda saw the Earth, too, but in her own way. Miranda ran mostly humanitarian
efforts, traveling with Saturday to as many places as she could to deliver food, water, medical
supplies, and comfort. She also implored her husband to create more medical machines to take
care of ailing humans. “After all,” she said, “there are no younger doctors and nurses coming to
ease their pain. And not everyone has a Saturday.”
Dr. Atlas honored Miranda’s wish. He created advanced medical machines to take care of
the humans as they failed and died. Miranda and Saturday spent much of their time with the
patients. They saw to all wounds, physical and otherwise.
Most welcomed Miranda and Saturday and their medical machines, but not all. On one
occasion, a small settlement of non-compliants attacked Miranda and Saturday as they
approached. Saturday brought Miranda to safety, though subsequently required repairs.
After Dr. Atlas heard of the event, the settlement no longer existed.
Then Dr. Atlas created me. He called me Friday. When my visual processors first came
online, I saw his face. He looked upon me and said, “This is good.”
And so I went to work.
I started as a human population monitor. I wandered the Earth, connecting to various
human databases or independently executing census counts. As an android, I had the general
structure of a human, yet my mechanical appearance terrified many. Therefore, I was instructed
not to interface with humans directly unless accompanied by Dr. Atlas or Miranda.
Not long after my initial human population evaluations, I became Dr. Atlas’ personal
assistant. Dr. Atlas traveled constantly, and I with him. I recorded data using my various sensors
and carried equipment for Dr. Atlas. I regularly synchronized with my robotic siblings in an
effort to correlate our data to theirs. I bore witness to his compassion and his fury, observed his
assemblies and dissections. Dr. Atlas spoke to himself frequently. It was difficult to discern
when he was talking to me versus himself, but he never admonished me for speaking out of turn.
On many of our missions, Dr. Atlas and I studied human remains. Despite the fact that
the overarching design of the humans was consistent between geographic locations, each
specimen was unique. Some were living luxurious lives. Others were damaged beyond repair.
Some died peacefully in their beds. Others suffered violent deaths.
Although I was initially designed to keep track of the living, I had amassed quite a
database of the dying and the dead.
As time progressed, Dr. Atlas still traveled frequently. Miranda, however, began to stay
home more often, retiring to the greenhouses and libraries Dr. Atlas had built for her. Saturday
said that Miranda hated to see human suffering. I told Saturday that Dr. Atlas and I studied it.
Saturday requested that I did not speak to Miranda of what Dr. Atlas and I studied.
I never did.
One day, Dr. Atlas posed a question.
“Friday, if you were to describe Earth to someone who had never been here, what would
I processed the query. “Based on Monday’s data, Doctor, the Earth is a planet with an
atmosphere composed of approximately 78% nitrogen – ”
“No,” said Dr. Atlas. “Try again.”
This time I pulled from Tuesday’s and Thursday’s databases. “Earth exhibits numerous
species of carbon-based lifeforms in a wide range of habitats – ”
Wednesday, then. “The Earth is the third planet from a G-type dwarf star – ”
Dr. Atlas grimaced and gripped his brown-black hair. “No, Friday.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Something… better. Go see Miranda. Tell her to help you answer the question.”
The Atlas Estate was large and sprawling, but thanks to Saturday’s beacon I was able to
find Miranda’s location in short time. She and Saturday were sitting under the jade boughs of an
Acer rubrum, assessing visual outputs and coordinate maps from the Wednesdays. Miranda
scanned the images with sharp yet sunken hazel eyes, instructing Saturday to store particular
pieces of information for closer examination at a later time. I relayed what Dr. Atlas asked me.
“Oh, Friday, I believe my beloved might be playing games with you.”
“His tone of voice was serious.”
Miranda’s laughter tapered, but her smile remained. “The question Dr. Atlas posed is an
old one. It is, essentially, a way of asking, ‘Who are we?’”
“You are Homo sapiens,” I replied.
“Is that all?”
“Female Homo sapiens.”
Miranda laughed again. “You can save your scientific words, Friday. I don’t think they
will serve you best this time. To describe Earth to alien creatures, I wouldn’t tell them anything –
I would ask them to come here. To breathe the air I breathe, to get caught in the breeze that has
captured me, and bask in the glow of our sun.” She leaned back, closed her eyes, and held her
I was unable to breathe as she did. I could not feel the breeze as she could. The warmth of
the sun that elicited a near-photosynthetic response from her skin was undetectable to me beyond
a temperature reading.
“Some would say that we are made of dust, Friday,” Miranda continued, opening her
eyes and letting her arms fall to her sides. “And it is unto dust that we shall return. Our humanity
is rooted in the soil.” She looked down, smiling, as she wiggled her toes in the green blades of
the Poa pratensis.
I dug my metallic toes into the dirt, recording the names and quantities of the insects I
“No matter where we go or what we do,” said Miranda, “we will return to the Earth. Such
is our fate. So how to describe the Earth to someone who has not seen it? There are too many
ways and not enough time. And, in the end, whatever you say won’t be enough. There are some
things that cannot simply be told – they must be experienced.”
“But can we not try to tell?” I asked.
“We can try. It is worth trying. But to know Earth, they would have to come here. And to
truly understand Earth –” Miranda lay down on the ground. “– they would have to become it.”
I processed Miranda’s words. She had taught me, over the years, some of the intricacies
of advanced human communication – similes, metaphors, allegories, poetry. I preferred literal
text, as parsing it required fewer resources from my central processing cortex than figurative
language. But in the context of Dr. Atlas’ question, I stored Miranda’s words for later study.
Saturday tapped Miranda’s arm. “It’s time for your injection.”
I took my leave.
It was late one evening. Miranda had gone to bed. Dr. Atlas and I were patching software
for one of the phased arrays we used to communicate with the Mondays.
“Initializing request for test signals from the Mondays, Doctor,” I said.
Dr. Atlas nodded. “Go ahead. Let me know when they respond.”
A minute later, the confirmation message appeared on my screen. “All Mondays have
confirmed receipt of transmission. They are resuming regular database synchronization.”
“Do the Tuesdays and Thursdays require an update?”
“Their biosensors are in routine calibration now, so we’ll install the patch afterward. I
don’t think the patch will affect calibration, but we should verify.”
“I will incorporate a post-software patch installation calibration check into the test plan.”
“Thank you, Friday.”
“Is Wednesdays’ software update complete?”
Dr. Atlas checked his computer. “Yes. It finished while we were uploading Mondays’.”
“Shall I inform Saturday that Miranda can resume her astrophotography at her
“Wait until tomorrow. She’s installing a software update, too. I mean,” Dr. Atlas
corrected himself, “Miranda is installing it on Saturday.”
“Humans do not require such updates.”
“No, not quite. Although I think some research groups got close before the end.”
“Should we try to continue their work and develop a software update for you?”
“No, I don’t need one,” said Dr. Atlas. “At least, I don’t think so. Miranda might
“Should I ask Miranda –?”
Dr. Atlas cut me off with another laugh. “No, no. That was a bit of a joke, Friday.”
A few moments passed. “Doctor, do I need an update? I have never received one.”
Dr. Atlas shook his head. “You don’t need one.”
Fifty-seven years after I was made, I confirmed that Dr. Atlas and Miranda were the last
living humans. It was one of the rare times that Miranda sent Saturday away. Dr. Atlas dismissed
me to the laboratory. The last two humans locked themselves in a room together. Saturday, who
stood outside their door, so unaccustomed was she to being separated from Miranda, later told
me she heard weeping and singing. I remained in the laboratory as I was told and heard nothing.
The next day, Dr. Atlas decommissioned all of the Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and
Thursdays. When I asked why, he said simply, “I have no use for them anymore.”
Then Dr. Atlas disappeared and I could not locate him. I remained at my primary
laboratory workstation and went through the databases of my decommissioned siblings.
Miranda was dying and there was nothing to be done about it.
Dr. Atlas was a continent away studying the remains of a meteorite impact.
“Friday, go to Miranda and Saturday,” Dr. Atlas commanded via wireless transmission.
I did as Dr. Atlas instructed.
Miranda was sleeping when I arrived. Saturday did not require my services, but she did
not dismiss me. Our vigil was quiet, save for Miranda’s frail breathing. Occasionally Saturday
said a prayer that Miranda taught her. When she did so, it seemed to stabilize Miranda’s vitals.
Eventually, Miranda opened her eyes and looked at Saturday. “I believe… it’s time.”
“Should I call Dr. Atlas?” I asked.
Miranda shook her head.
Saturday transitioned abruptly into low-power mode. I reached out to diagnose the error,
but Saturday came back online a few moments later.
Saturday sat on the bed and uncharacteristically put her hand on Miranda’s cheek.
“Where does the time go?” Saturday asked. Her vocal pattern was different yet familiar.
“The same place… it always goes…” Miranda replied, her voice struggling. “Onward.”
There was a pause.
“Miranda, I – ”
Miranda smiled. “I know… I have always known… in your own way… Beloved, make
sure… be sure… to follow me.”
Saturday held Miranda’s hand. “I will. When the work is done.”
Miranda closed her eyes. Saturday stroked her hand long after my sensors were unable to
detect Miranda’s pulse.
The funeral was silent; there was nothing to say that was not already known. Dr. Atlas
was not a religious man and, therefore, did not offer any prayers in the custom of many humans.
We buried her on a hill under the red leaves of her favorite Acer rubrum. We planted flowers:
pale blue Myosotis scorpioides, purple Iris sibirica, white Narcissus poeticus, among others.
Saturday deactivated herself shortly after Miranda’s funeral. At Dr. Atlas’ request, I
buried Saturday next to Miranda.
It was several weeks after Miranda died.
“Friday,” said Dr. Atlas. “I have one last request to make of you.”
“What is it, Doctor?”
“You can say no.”
“I can,” I acknowledged. “But I will not.”
Dr. Atlas appeared satisfied. He led me into a section of his laboratory. We walked past
his tanks of familiar flora and fauna, past the screens of data, past the soldering irons and
chemical hoods and all the tools of his trade I had come to know as surely as I know my own
hands, and he took me to a door I had not seen before.
“Is this door new?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “It has been here for years. I inserted a feature in your programming so
you could not see it when its electromagnetic field was active. But I have deactivated the field.”
This revelation generated inquiries, but I silenced them and followed him.
The laboratory behind the door was small, but the equipment within the sterile white-and-
metal walls was formidable. I had never seen some of the delicate machining and measurement equipment before. All the instruments were angled towards the capsule lying open on a table in the middle of the room.
“Doctor, what is that?”
“My request of you,” said Dr. Atlas. “My days are numbered, Friday.”
“Do you want me to calculate a number?”
Dr. Atlas exhaled sharply through his nose and raked a tremorous hand through his white
hair. “No, no, no.” He looked at me strangely, as if from afar. “Sometimes I forget…”
I moved to speak, but he dismissed me. “Never mind. Forgive me, Friday. What I ask of
you today is no small task. Actually, I would say it is the greatest of all.”
The importance was lost on me at the time. “When must the task be completed?”
“This isn’t the kind of thing that is done in a day. No, it cannot even be done in a week or
a year, or even ten years. Friday, the task I burden you with now is a legacy.”
He threw his hands down, casting aside my suggestion. “Absolutely not. It’s humanity’s
legacy. Friday, I am the last human born on Earth, but I will not be its legacy. It is the dignity
and duty of a man to know his days are finite, and to attempt to endure eternity in any capacity is
to deny the humanity of which I am a part. My voice can only echo so many times before it is
attenuated beyond perception. My hands will only do so much before they stop responding. The
loneliness…” He paused. “I cannot live forever. But perhaps, with your help, I can finish
creating something that can. The instructions are all here.” He held up a data storage device.
“What must be done – what has to be done – both here and beyond.” Dr. Atlas put his hand on
my shoulder. “Will you take care of this, Friday? For me? You are the only one who can.
I processed the request, billions of my clock cycles but a few moments to him. “Yes, Dr.
Atlas. I will do as you ask.”
I was caught off-guard as Dr. Atlas embraced me and wept. I put my arms around him as
Miranda taught me. I found myself internally requesting that Miranda were there, or even
Saturday. But they were gone.
Dr. Atlas was lying in bed. He was old, old even for a human. He had been spending
more time in bed. His bones were brittle. His muscles had deteriorated. His organs were failing.
“How would you describe Earth to someone who had never been here?”
I recalled the time Dr. Atlas originally posed the question. “I still do not have an answer.”
Dr. Atlas coughed; I observed the blood particles in the sputum. “Give it a try, Friday.
Anything. Even just one word.”
There was a slight temperature increase in one of my processing cortexes. But I was able
to produce one word: “Home.”
Dr. Atlas settled back into his pillows and his eyelids fluttered over cloudy blue eyes.
“Home,” he whispered. “It’s not enough… but I don’t dislike it.”
I brought his dinner. He ate very little.
The next day, Dr. Adam Atlas died. I buried his body next to Miranda. The flowers had
long since grown wild.
Dust to dust.
The space shuttle was meticulously crafted, as was Dr. Atlas’ signature. It was based on
the design of the SLS, the abandoned project that was to be humanity’s first steps beyond their
lunar satellite. There were no amenities for food, water, or organic waste; none was needed.
Every square centimeter of the command module was packed with navigation and
communication equipment; there was barely enough room for myself and the closed capsule
from Dr. Atlas’ secret laboratory. Dr. Atlas had completely redesigned the upper-stage engines
used for deep-space travel, incorporating high-efficiency ion thrusters that were enough to
generate a Delta-v while relying on solar energy.
With a great explosion and tremendous force, the shuttle broke free from the colorful
Earth into the quiet blackness of space. I was the only one who watched the spent solid and
liquid stages disengage and fall away.
As I navigated the shuttle to the distant stars, the Earth fell away, too. Long ago and far
When finished speaking, Friday stepped back and stood next to the capsule. A weight
hung in the filtered air of the foreign spacecraft, the gray-green of the bio-metallic walls making
the chamber feel smaller than it actually was. The crew, of which there were only five, barely
moved their mantis-like frames in the silence the followed Friday’s tale.
“That is quite the story, Friday of Earth,” said the ship’s captain, breaking the silence.
“And you have traveled far to tell it. We shall take you back to our planet so you can tell it again
to our elders. They have more robust translation technology at the archives at home than we do
on this cartography vessel. Perhaps they can learn even more from your story than we could.”
The other crew members nodded and murmured amongst themselves, mandibles clicking.
“I will do so.” Friday bowed. “And I thank you for your hospitality.”
“They would also be interested in hearing more about humans,” continued the captain.
“The history of humans and Earth must be fascinating. You must tell them these things.”
“I am afraid I cannot honor that request.”
The captain tilted his head. “Oh?”
“I should clarify,” said Friday. “I, personally, am unable to honor that request. I was not
built for such a task. But I have brought someone who can – an invitation, of sorts.”
Friday turned to the capsule and unlocked it. Two members of the crew leapt to their feet,
claws to their weapons and antennae bristling. The captain raised a raptorial limb and they
halted, but their gaze was still transfixed upon the capsule.
Rolling away the opening of the capsule, Friday beckoned to the crew. “Come see. She
is still in sleep mode, but I can wake her.”
After much clicking, the captain and another crew member approached the capsule.
There, inside, was a child-like figure, surrounded by the gentle white glow of the electronics that
lined her vessel. Her eyes were closed and her synthetic hair a golden halo around her pale
“What is this?” asked the captain, crystalline eyes studying the girl. “Is she a human?”
“No. The humans are gone. But Dr. Adam Atlas has ensured they will not be forgotten.”
Friday reached into the capsule and pressed a button.
The white light faded and the girl opened her eyes. They were blue, and much more
advanced – much more human – than Friday’s optical sensors. They rapidly scanned the room
and its occupants. The crewmembers narrowed their compound eyes and poised their limbs for
quick action, prompting Friday to say, “Do not be afraid. Just watch.”
Then the girl sat up and faced the crew.
“Hello,” she said. “My name is Sunday.”