(content warning: contains references to suicide)
The Last Billionaire
Three weeks after killing himself, Austin Lang’s life had pretty much returned to normal, save for the hundreds of cameras in his apartment that watched his every move. There wasn’t a single inch of his flat, bathroom included, that wasn’t covered by at least two of them. Nestled between books, taped to the ceiling and even two or three under the bed for good measure, these cameras pried into every nook and cranny of Austin’s life.
Behind each camera were people. Thousands of them, all transfixed by the man on the screen who was currently feeding the birds in one of his many, many cages. How was he alive again? Was this all a hoax? A PR stunt? Theories filled the internet as all over the world people watched the dead man who silently live-streamed his life, never leaving his flat, never acknowledging the cameras. Occasionally a food parcel would come through the letterbox, dropped off by an unknown person or persons. The only place the cameras didn’t point was beyond the front door. Austin didn’t want to be found.
That didn’t stop people trying – this was the internet after all. A small crack in one of the planks of wood used to board up the windows let in a thin strip of sunlight. This was enough to work out his time zone, GMT, and then his rough area based on clouds softening the light: London. Then, with a slight bit of computer modelling, the exact layout of his flat was created and cross-referenced against all available planning blueprints until a match was found. A small block of flats, right at the arse end of the Isle of Dogs.
Less than two hours later, a group of fans were outside Austin’s apartment block, holding up banners and live-streaming the gathering to thousands. One of the particularly popular and floppy-haired live-streamers got cocky and snuck inside, right up to Austin’s door. After being egged on by their live chat, the influencer knocked on the door, tripping the explosives hidden in the basement, and died along with dozens of innocent families as the entire block of flats was razed.
Far away, in an exact replica of a small block of flats from right at the arse end of the Isle of Dogs, Austin Lang’s phone lit up. He picked it up, read the notification, looked directly into the camera with the most viewers and smiled, the thin strip of light from the fake sunlight system he’d built illuminating his face.
The block of flats wasn’t the only thing to explode that day. Austin’s viewership shot from the thousands into the millions as the news spread. One of the websites he was streaming to, after quite a bit of pressure from several government agencies, decided to cut his feed off. There were no survivors when their building collapsed seventeen minutes later.
Austin’s face became inescapable. For months he was all anyone could talk about. Evil, live! Come watch as a back-from-the-dead terrorist showers, sleeps, and feeds birds. The twenty-first century freak show, accessible anywhere in the world.
One day, Austin started to cover his bird cages with whatever fabric he had lying around, speaking to each bird as he did so. The stream was silent, but lip-readers could make out the only word he was saying.
As he lifted the cover over the last cage, he suddenly doubled over in pain, dropping the curtain to the ground. He recovered quickly, but a rage had replaced the pain. He ripped several cameras down, screaming as he did so. After he’d destroyed his fifth camera, he pressed a button on his computer, and a countdown began on every one of his streams. Thirty seconds.
As people all across the globe panicked about what was about to happen, Austin was the figure of calm. He reached into his drawer, pulled out a gun, and held it to his head. Twenty seconds left.
His front door opened. A young man entered. Austin turned to him, a look of confusion on his face. Neither seemed to recognise each other. Ten seconds left.
The man held out his hands, showing he was unarmed. He begged Austin to put the gun down. Austin, tears in his eyes, turned his back on the man, and blew his brains out live, in front of millions of people.
The feed died with him.
Several months later, an urban explorer broke into an abandoned, creaking manor house just outside of Chippenham, Wiltshire. Inside, she found that the floors, ceilings, and walls had been removed and in their place was an exact replica of a small block of flats from right at the arse end of the Isle of Dogs. She recognised Austin’s apartment and fled, calling in an anonymous tip as she ran. Moments later, the front of the manor lit up with flashing blue lights, as hundreds of Wiltshire’s finest stormed one of the most recognisable crime scenes of the twenty-first century.
They found nothing. No blood, no body. Austin Lang fell into the pages of history, and a few hundred years later, vanished even from them.
However, moments after his suicide, an alarm started to ring on a very old piece of hardware, far, far away from Chippenham. Hearing this alarm, the only on-duty employee pelted from the lounge to the main observation room, creating a whirlwind of dust and papers as he dug out the ancient keyboard. A few quick prods revealed the cause of the alarm.
A signal from outside the solar system.
Feeling slightly faint, the employee watched as the computer narrowed down the signal’s location. With a small ding, it finished the process.
The signal wasn’t just from a different world, it was from a different galaxy. The employee fell backwards into his chair, and was briefly enveloped in a cloud of dust. This could be it. The first sign of other life in the universe.
Then, he noticed that the signal was being converted. It wasn’t just noise. It was an audio file.
Shaking, the employee pressed play with one of his dark brown tentacles.
‘Hello? Hello, is this working? I don’t have much time. I think he’s coming. Please. If you’re listening and you have the ability, if you have any means of doing so, I beg you, please. Kill Austin Lang before he kills us all. I repeat. Kill Austin La...’
The recording stopped.
After a moment of silence, the gelatinous cube wiggled out of his chair and squelched over to the window where he gazed in awe at the origin of this message, the single faint light that his people would one day come to know as the Milky Way. For this one brief moment, he was the only one out of the billions that made up his species who knew for certain that there was alien life out there in the universe, and, had he the ability to translate the message at all, he might have chosen to keep it that way.
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