He was going to give rebirth to the world, and all they needed was one lousy little memory.
Years, long and tortuous, was what it took to find him. He’d hid himself well from their sensors and drones and radar sweeps. He was incredibly old, older than almost anyone alive, but he was still spry. He had faced the desolation of the modern world and laughed.
Going unseen was an art. His was the way of no grid and no fixed location. He’d hidden himself in the wilderness, walking amongst the manshonyaggers and cripple-beasts and all the other hunters of men, and they’d never once harmed him.
But now, inevitably, the modern world had caught up. The men from the government had come and read him his rites – reminded him of his place, his commitment to humanity. The memory he carried was worth more than gold, more than life, more than time, and they would take it from his head, whether he liked it or not. He was the one man alive who could revert the Apocalypse and bring the blue back in.
He remembered the water.
Oh, not truly remembered. He’d never actually seen water. No human being had, not for three centuries, and he wasn’t quite that old.
His was a childhood memory, of a mantel and a framed photo of a wharf. Ships bobbed on the icy lake, and this was the last known photo of water in the world, before the Earth ran dry.
But no longer. With their mind-machines, the men from the government would rebuild the water. They would reverse-dreamgineer it from his treasured memory, molecule by molecule, and all they needed to do was tear a little piece off his mind. So he lost his only recollection of a childhood long dried up and gone.
He would give rebirth to the Earth. He would be a hero.
But when he thought of that photo on the mantle (or rather, when he didn’t), of those centuries-old ships bobbing calmly on the last true body of water on Earth – somehow, it seemed a hollow victory.