Buildings as tall as the sky stretched up on either side of me, their surfaces unbroken grids of windows and alloy. I walked the center of the road while I sensed automatons speed by; I felt the wind of their passing rather than seeing them leave or approach. Who can trace a bullet?

This sprawling labyrinth of glass and metal was the only place I knew. This was where I was conceived. I wanted to go somewhere else, somewhere not barren and devoid of life. I hoped such places still existed. I had seen fictions of them. Vast forests with fauna and flowers. Savannas with more grass than hairs on a head. Oceans, jungles, and arctics. I wished to see them all, but I prayed to see just one.

I sat down on the crete and rummaged through my pack. I took out water and edibles and savored them in the unwavering shade of the buildings. Lukewarm liquid dribbled from the corner of my mouth and left a dark spot on my jacket. The edibles were tasteless but they still kept me filled.

I stood and slung the pack over my shoulder. I had been walking in this same direction for six years. I spent my first nine inside Paradise. I don't know that we're supposed to be able to disconnect, but I did, and since my first sight of the true world I've never wanted to go back.

That wasn't entirely true. I have had my moments of longing for the comforts of Paradise. For the neverending youth and the unbridled pleasures and the unlimited power. But it's still not something I would choose to return to, no matter the temptation. It's empty; I can find no satisfaction in building something that doesn't exist. In touching a person who isn't there.

Surely this wasn't what God meant for us. This hopeless, lifeless, pointless existence. Four hundred billion people on the planet and virtually every one of them living their lives inside a lie. People don't touch each other any more. My mother and father weren't people. I was manufactured by the machines that run what people aren't willing to do themselves because it isn't inside Paradise.

Dusk fell and the lights in the roads cast towering shadows onto the buildings. I wouldn't rest except when I found a lobby, so I kept walking for another hour until I saw one. I never felt safe to lay so close to those automatons, screaming on a side. The lobbies, I assumed, must have been an artifact of a time when people still lived outside of Paradise. They were proper living spaces with beds that were hard yet still better than laying on crete, and the rooms had water and edible dispensers in them.

Stale air splashed onto me when the doors opened in response to my approach. There was another scent, too, but I couldn't place what it was. I refilled my pack from the dispensers and I dissolved into one of the beds.

I woke, and I thought it must still be the middle of the night; I felt that I hadn't slept long. I noticed a girl standing over me, probably only a little older than I was. I didn't know how to react so I screamed. I jumped out of the bed and grabbed my pack and ran from the room. I watched her from the doorway.

We looked at each other for a minute. I could hear nothing but my heartbeat and the racket of my breath. I watched a bead of sweat drop from her forehead and down the bridge of her nose.

The automatons must have sent her to put me back in Paradise. Why else could she be here? She stared at me and I followed her eyes to my pack. I saw the lust of a thief on her face. I bolted for the door and ran along the crete until the lobby was out of sight.

The sky bled dawn. I stopped and watched the way I'd come for several minutes, then I sat down with my back against cool alloy and let myself relax. I wouldn't go back to Paradise. I couldn't. I should be more careful from now on else they catch me by surprise again.

I broke my fast and lifted myself up. I continued to walk in the same direction I had for the past six years. One day I would find life. The buildings couldn't stretch on forever.

Written by Sophie Kirschner