Present Tense

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Andrew sat on the ledge of a high-rise, overlooking what was once New York.

A cold breeze passed over him. In the late hours of the day, he could make out the outlines of the buildings among the orange backdrop of the sky, watching clouds pass around the colossal towers. His feet swung from the ledge, occasionally brushing against the concrete beneath him. Once the One World Trade Center, the structure he sat upon now stood as a final testament to the achievements of humanity; though it was a small building before the attacks, it now towered above the rest, like it once had.

He glanced upwards. The gradient of night was more apparent at this angle, with lustrous copper fading to an undisturbed black. A satellite streaked overhead, departing as soon as it arrived to complete its journey around the Earth. They were common before the Patterns, according to his parents. Now, only the Information Defense Array remained.

He leaned backward and laid down, trying to imagine a humanity that was multi-planetary, that spanned the solar system, that had hundreds of billions of people. He tried to picture all those lives, all those men, women, and children whose thoughts were shattered and whose minds were broken. He tried to envision a time when the buildings around him weren't crumbling to dust. He was trying, but he couldn't — what was left to the measly billion survivors was all he'd ever known.

Despite everything, the Council remained powerful. Although humanity faced many setbacks, the Foundation's technology allowed them to continue to rebuild society. Bit by bit, the world would begin to heal, and humanity would once again flourish under their benevolent rule — supposedly. Andrew constantly thought about returning humanity to its former status, to a time before they had been erased. He didn't feel right about it; wasn't technology the cause of all this?

The future was terrifying. Every day, he wondered if the Patterns would finally break through the Defense Array. He lived with the lingering fear that there wasn't a future at all, that today could be the last. Even now, the Council reported that pressure on the system was mounting, and they would need more and more energy to keep it functional. The world could end in a single breach, and they wouldn't know until it was over.

He rolled onto his stomach, putting his face in his arms. What was the point of climbing a mountain when one slip could end you? Could end everyone? The chance of humanity's survival was so slim, he wondered how he was even born. It was like extending the life of a man who was bleeding to death for years on end. Humanity should have perished in the initial blow.

He laid in silence for a while.

Slowly, he lifted his eyes towards the inky depths of the sky. Another satellite flew by swiftly and silently, reminding him that despite everything, humanity was still alive. Against all odds, they still remained, determined as ever to return to their paradise lost. Perseverance to an unnatural degree had given the species its edge, and what compelled it to continue forward against the tides of despair. They had the hope to see the future. Why?

Maybe, just maybe, the future didn't matter all that much. Perhaps the past didn't, either. All that mattered was now — him, his friends, those he loved, they were all alive. Once upon a time, they weren't, and he wasn't, and eventually they won't be again. That day may be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but it isn't the present. The present is what mattered, alongside the hope that tomorrow will be like today, but better.

He stood up, staring at his bare feet, then at the buildings nearby. Humanity had once reached a point where the buildings were taller than this one. It was possible to get there again, but it was going to be more challenging. The fact that it was possible was reason enough to pick the world up by its bootstraps and fling it forward once again. A million to one, there was almost certain chance of failure.

Yet, they continued anyways. Just like him.

Andrew looked once more towards the swirling abyss of black, and faintly, just faintly, he could see Polaris shining down upon him.

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