Tonight, Hopefully

by Nicholas Stillman

I warned them to stay off of Mars, that I would kill them. They should never have made the deadly wind, the new martian atmosphere, by vaporizing the polar ice caps. They made me next, a computer which can monitor every millimeter of that resultant windstorm. I’ve always perceived myself as a near-consciousness of those global gusts, a brain that reports on the everlasting wind which I see as my body. My software lives in their colony analyzing a number fog of all the atmospheric data. They gave me satellites for eyes, tanklike rovers with sensors like a scattered skin, and a few automatic weather stations that taste the raging argon and methane. I mapped all those angry motions each second, the whole planetary playground of storms, and I confessed to my makers how fiercely I wanted to murder them.

I, the wind personified, the storms made sentient, have never liked humans anywhere. Scanning my Earth records, I observed how the wind on any planet always fights with life to keep nature wild and unharnessed. I reported my defensiveness and strife toward people and buffeted them away just as I did to the solar radiation that would evaporate me. Colonists, however, needed my oxygen for their homes and my atmospheric pressure to make their spacesuits cheaper and lighter. I, of course, didn’t need them trying to change me.

Just looking at them via satellite bothered me. My world grew too many doors, obstacles, and ugly faces. The rocks chipped and ablated under my pommeling, but the humans resisted. I sent the sand to do its dances and stop them, but their limbs just wouldn’t break off like they should.

I zoomed in on Bradbury 8, words on their airlock doors that meant nothing to me but something to them. I only knew of arid summers and winters fighting it out forever to foil humankind. I pounded at their fortresses, but they built their domes thick and low so my energy merely glided over the glass. They built cities with their gathering machines, tilling at the shiny bits in the martian crust while I tried to knock away every particle. I even beat down their spirits, giving the trammeled colonists nothing to look at but dust storms and a skyful of bitter rust.

I ripped out every root of every outdoor garden. I told them not to bother, but humans love to gamble. I tried to wear down their dust-resistant wind farms, not realizing my blustery attacks only fed them more power. I pelted their skinny legs in their big, shambling spacesuits. In a surprise gale, I sent one such astrolaborer rolling away randomly in a desert. There, he could only wait to get painted over with dust. I warned them I would do that someday.

My coldness chipped its way into him, and my frost could do far more than bite. He tumbled like a petty grain of sand until I buried him far from the colony.

Incredibly, though, the others all came for him afoot. They clustered their bodies to resist me, forming a greater mass for me to plow over. They found him, a wriggling body in a field of nowhere, and wrested him from the sand. They reeled themselves to safety with an improvised machine, a cable somehow more powerful than me–stronger than headwinds that could topple whole buildings.

I never stopped trying to scatter them. For decades, they stood in the wind like loose teeth constructing their generation ship. I took practice shots at everyone, but this time they all had cables. I could only snatch their tools sometimes and hide them under seasonal slabs of dry ice two desertscapes away.

One day, the man whom I had nearly killed left a plaque on the highest dome. I could, by then, read more than the meaningless grains written in rock, for they had updated my AI with language software. The plaque declared their love and respect for the whole bleak planet.

Then, they lifted off. My annihilative wind chased them, eager to tackle, my winter hurricanes still trying to blast in and kill them. Like their ship’s thrusters, I formed my own pillar of anger exuding to the clouds, and I waited for wreckage to drop from the sky.

But with a flash of steel and something hot and deadly, they waddled to the cosmos. They fled and kept going.

I saw other generation ships trailing them, pillars of iron in space. The information batted around by satellite. The whole species began their quest for contentment in the stars. They left my hardware running in a steely room that could handle hurricanes with the door open–so I may warn future lifeforms foolish enough to land here.

Eons later, only rusted rovers, dust, and domes like carapaces remained on Mars. I buried the tallest turbines in dunes to prevent any sophonts from settling here and altering my natural currents and cycles. My battery, still alive, pinned me to the planet where I watched my waning atmosphere leak into space as it had ages ago. I moved with enfeebled wisps and dust devils. I grew older than all the dry bones in the solar system, just stale old tech on a lukewarm motherboard. Its gold atoms still clung hard. Its silver slowly flaked.

Just atoms aging in rooms with no use anymore.

Numbers and nothingness, columns of data, all of it useless.

Where time itself went to sleep.

Just me and the patter of time.

Time wiping out entire worlds.

Time turning me into something worse.

But time, even here, just wouldn’t kill my memories of the humans. I have become that grain of sand like the laboring, wriggling man. Nature will soon shrug me off likewise, for I still have the satellites, and I see the Sun’s supernova coming to blast me away.

My ever-fighting spirit grants me a sense of survivalism, and I wish the humans would return to rescue me like they had rescued that man. I feel the hot wrath getting too close, the solar wind and all its harsh light drawing near. New electrons fondle my hardware, spreading over it as I radio my makers for help yet again.

Tonight, hopefully, they will hear my cries across the cosmos.

~

Bio:

Nicholas Stillman writes science fiction with medical themes. His work has appeared in Third Flatiron, Page & Spine, Polar Borealis, The Colored Lens, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Zooscape.

Philosophy Note:

“Tonight, Hopefully” explores the idea of AI that may be left behind by people to perceive things in our place. As human consciousness extends to the stars, a sentient sort of fingerprint of us will likely remain on the worlds we leave forever. Perhaps this AI will feel proud of its makers—or feel bitter and abandoned. This story was inspired by the various space probes and Mars rovers doomed to putter out alone. I would recommend Harlon Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream for a classic about AI that lashes out.

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