Eric T. Reynolds
The wind gusts around the outside walls of the one-room cabin. Gaps where rotted boards have separated, allowing mist to spray into the room where I sit, propped against the wall where a human unknown to me dumped me all those years ago. Outside, a loose object clangs against a decaying wall. Fog sprays in sheets against the window, rattling the panes within a frame about to lose its hold.
Where is Kara? As my neural pathways work to re-establish themselves, forming links between cognition and memory, I am aware once again she is gone.
The wind whistles through a gap in the roof where the mist collects in the rafters into droplets that seep through the ceiling and tap-tap-tap onto a heap of metal and plastic scattered beneath the window across from me. I glimpse that pile of android parts just beyond my reach, rusted and corroded nearly beyond recognition. I struggle to keep my eyes focused. Only the small window and the gap around the door allow in any light and it takes several minutes of effort to bring the small room into view. Over time, the cabin has kept the wind out, but contaminants have still worked their way into my joints.
Kara is gone. What purpose could be served by my having conscious thought?
I still sit sprawled across the warped wood floor with my back against a corner – like the last time I was awake. Nothing has changed except the continual decay of the cabin, my only protection from the outside. Visibility through the window is only several meters out due to the blowing fog with only an occasional glimpse of decayed tree stumps tangled around rock outcroppings. The cabin is on a once-forested hillside. No sign, yet again, that anyone has opened the door to come and haul me to a shop for repairs. I find a new layer of corrosion covering most of my body.
I have no one to serve. Being awake only reminds me of the torment that I am no longer of value. With each waking period I watch my body degrade a bit more. I am lucky to be inside, for outside I would have crumbled into a pile of rusty debris a century ago. Memories buried deep within my distressed circuitry, memories of better times, begin to surface. Times when I performed a service, when I was useful. Memories of Kara.
For all those times I have drifted into consciousness I have stared at that pile of decaying components across from me, searching for a way to sift through them. Perhaps there are extra energy cells within that pile, maybe some working knee joints. If only I could have reached the pile in time, before those components decayed, before my own decayed. Maybe those parts were meant for me and I was supposed to wait here for a technician to make me mobile again so I could resume service. Maybe I could have repaired myself, if only I could have reached those spare components. When I last reached for the pile I heard the sound of metal scraping against metal, of grit grinding its way into my frozen joints.
Only the howling wind is constant. I would only like to be of service again, to help better the human condition in a small way. I realize there is one more task I can perform that will benefit humanity.
I have exceeded my usual span of conscious time during this period. By now I should have started the next suspend period, which would last at least a decade. Environmental readings show the temperature has risen since my last awakening, perhaps triggering this one. It is still too cold to function properly, but if this is a trend, then perhaps I should remain optimistic.
It is coming back to me now. There is no longer anyone to serve, but the task I’m planning will serve in a sense.
No human could have survived the impact. Those who were left were not prepared to survive, for humanity’s expanding shell of technology was hollow: they forgot the basics, how to survive on their own, how to survive without us.
But it is not my place to judge them. Kara did not judge me. I was created to serve her, and I did so gladly. In a small way, I was part of humanity and contributed to its evolution, and perhaps, then its extinction.
I lost her to the disaster; she died in the flash of heat. I survived. Marauding humans ransacked the house. They had no use for me; they dumped me here, a few kilometers away, though I am not sure of my exact location. They, no doubt, perished soon after from the global winter that followed. But I still held onto the hope that someone in need of an android might survive and come searching for me. I was easily salvageable. If anyone was still alive, perhaps I could help in their survival effort.
I have thought that I would welcome another android, one whose brain is at least in good working order. Though I cannot serve another android, we could exchange information, discuss strategies to sustain whatever was left of humanity. But there is no one. And there are no other androids. I remember the abrupt silence when the last android signed off the network.
So my desire for repair is irrelevant. Human culture, science and art, all the technological achievements, that which created me, is gone. Little else about them has survived, save for the ruins and a few probes sent into space. The labors of human civilization have been in vain with no one to pass along the benefits of their achievements, and no one to receive them. And Kara – she will be forgotten, too, her memories lost to the background chaos of the Universe.
Perhaps I am the only repository for memories of human culture, music, technology, and of Kara. Perhaps there is value to retaining this knowledge.
I can retrieve those memories at will, for the energy to access them is negligible. If I shut down visual and hearing functions, and if the air continues to warm I could last for eons – perhaps long enough. . . I can send out a periodic beacon, one that gives my positioning in the chance a survivor detects it. As long as I attempt no movement, the light from the window will be enough to feed my recharging system and keep my brain going. My body will degrade, no doubt, and my joints will clog with soot and rust beyond repair. My appendages will crumble and fall to the floor; I will decay into a heap of components like the pile across from me. But my brain and my memories are well-protected and will endure. Even after the cabin finally gives in to the gray wind, my mind will continue to function. Maybe that was what the other androids failed to do.
I must retrieve those memories of better times, keep them fresh, duplicate them into my backup memory area. I will set a start time and play the memories forward in time. I will re-route the playback to my sensory inputs. My eyes will see the memories, my ears hear the sounds. I will sense the warmth of those days. I will leave the reality of the gray wind for it is no longer relevant. The memories which I must preserve will become my new reality. Perhaps this is how an android dreams. Kara will continue to live through my memories of her.
The transfer is complete. My fractal processing fills in the gaps. The howling winds have faded. I feel the warmth now.
I stand on the area rug in Kara’s study. It is as real as it was all those years ago. The room is adorned with woodwork. The shelves are filled with old-fashioned manufactured books.
Kara stands next to the floor-to-ceiling window behind her desk. It is late morning. Sunbeams stream in through the window onto her face; she wears her hair up, the soft skin of her chin and neck glow in the light. She looks out onto the lawn and flower gardens, gazes upon the trees and landscaping – my own handiwork. She wants something. I attend.
“I’m getting ready to go out,” she says. “Please finish buttoning my blouse in the back.”
“Open the window a little to let in some fresh air,” she says.
I attend. The breeze is pleasant to her.
She thanks me and leaves the study.
A gust blows against the house, and in through the open window sending the curtains sailing inward. It is too windy; I move to the window to close it. It is stuck. I am afraid to force it fearing I will break the window frame. Another wave of wind slaps against the house. It begins to howl.
The other reality, has crept into my audio input. The gray wind is blowing around the cabin and the tapping of water droplets across from me persists. I must eliminate that reality, for that is the wrong reality now. I run a diagnostic and repair program.
I manage to close the window and shut out the winds.
One afternoon, months later, Kara steps into the study. She is worried about the newscasts. She wants to leave, to find a place to take cover, but she knows that is futile.
“Do not worry,” I say, projecting my voice to her in that reality. “This will not happen.”
I reset the memories to my first day of service and play it forward. When we reach the bad times, I reset time back to the beginning and replay. And again. I will keep her memory alive: Kara will not die.
She is smiling now. She walks over to the window. “Starting to rain,” she says. “Sometimes the wind and rain sets a nice mood, doesn’t it?”
“Yes it does,” I said. “Sometimes.”
She stares out the window, motionless, with no expression on her face. Minutes later, she still stands motionless. I walk over and peer out the window. Someone, something, stands in the garden, in the light rain. It is light blue, mostly spherical, slightly flattened, but smooth and nearly featureless. The raindrops splatter on its topside, roll down its sides, and drip onto the grass. I open the window.
“Hello,” it says.
Kara does not reply.
“Hello,” I say. “How may I serve you?”
“The question is,” it says, “how may we serve you?”
I bring my vision and hearing on-line. The sphere sits before me in the cabin. My body is gone–all that is left is the decaying shell that protects my neural components. The rest of me looks like the pile of components next to the window.
“You detected my beacon,” I say.
“Yes,” it says, extending a probe toward me. If you will allow me, I will take a copy of your knowledge and add it to the galactic network.”
My service to Kara is now complete.
Food for Thought
What if all of humanity was gone and a surviving android struggles with how to preserve humanity’s legacy, all of humanity’s accomplishments over the millennia.
About the Author
Eric T. Reynolds’s short fiction has appeared in various publications, including Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. He founded the press, Hadley Rille Books, in 2005, and has edited about 50 highly-acclaimed anthologies, collections, and novels. He has also had published several non-fiction articles about space exploration and history of technology. Eric is a member of SFWA and Broad Universe.
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