At The End of Time

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

At the end of time, he found it, growing out of the parched Earth, and stopped to look at it.

Its data banks said it was “beautiful” and also “a rose.” But the little robot didn’t know what beautiful or rose meant. He just knew the words in his data banks.  And he knew it had been a long time since those terms had been activated.

For far too long, he’d been roaming the parched landscape with nothing breaking the monotony of the grey skies above and the grey dirt below.

Now there was a rose. And it was blue.  His data banks said blue roses didn’t exist. Or at least they didn’t exist in the place called Earth.

But Earth was not a planet of grey dirt, craked under foot, and unending grey skies above.  The little robot in fact, realized that he didn’t know what Earth was or where it was. Words like emissary and probe and slow boat spaceship came to mind, but he didn’t know how they applied anymore.

He’d been activated long ago, and then there was grey sky and grey dirt.

He sat down.

It appeared, though it was not a certain thing, and the little robot wasn’t set to evaluate uncertainty — or was he? He couldn’t remember anymore. And was he supposed to be thinking of himself as he? Or simply registering inputs? — that the rose turned slightly.

Maybe just a movement of reply to the light reflection in his carapace. It probably meant nothing, which made him sad.  But he wasn’t supposed to be sad, was he?

From his memory banks came a conversation he’d been present at and recorded, back when he didn’t think of himself as “he” or had been aware there was a choice to record or not to record.

“With all the AI systems we’re putting into this, he might become sentient, you know?”

“I don’t believe in sentient machines. You’ve been reading Heinlein again.”

“You’re not thinking. it has so many systems, it could well wake up. Become sentient. Develop an idea of who and what he is.”

“And what? Betray Earth? Fall in love with an alien? It’s a probe, Carl, nothing more.”

Was he a probe? Nothing more? What was sentient? Or Heinlein.

He didn’t know. He knew he was lonely. And even if it was reflex, the rose had…. moved. Towards him.

He reached clumsy fingers and touched the edge of the blue petal.

“Tell me a story,” he said.

67 thoughts on “At The End of Time

  1. It is a well known fact that as systems age their data banks start to deteriorate around the edges., both losing stored data and commingling programs.

    If that isn’t sentience I don’t know what is.

  2. A rose is a rose.
    It would smell as sweet I suppose,
    Except for the fact that I have no nose.

    1. Isn’t that a Harlan Ellison story – “I Have No Nose and I Must Sneeze”?

  3. Damn it, the allergies are acting up again. And I have writing to do today, I can’t afford to have my eyes watering. Stupid pollen.

    (Note: autocorrupt tried to turn “allergies” into allegories. I feel that there’s a short story in the phrase, “The allegories are acting up again…”)

  4. That…was very engaging.
    I could see a children’s picture book coming from that.
    Or a treatise on philosophy, the human condition or just really good sci-fi.
    I could go either way.

  5. Die blaue Blume?

    [In German literature, especially Romantic era, the blue flower has all sorts of meanings and connotations of a quest for knowledge, of seeking one’s place in nature, and other things.]

      1. Mr. Flowers insists that he is perfectly capable of riding out of town on the horse he rode in on, and therefore there’s no cause for talk about “throwing me on any stage.”

    1. Right up until the last four words, I would agree with you. Then BAM! (And Becky and I would have to get into a discussion over custody of the “little guy”…)

  6. An SF version of 1001 nights without the desperation. I so want to know everything about that world! Thank you.

  7. Aw, so cute.

    Storytelling, and especially being read to as a child, has always been a big part of my life. I’ve got a story called “Tell Me a Story” that’s about four generations of kids listening to a children’s book called The Astronaut and the Man in the Moon. The anthology was printed almost a decade ago, and I really ought to get that story up on KDP one of these days.

  8. Makes me wonder just WHERE this is… and what bands the robot can ‘see’ in that it’s so dull. And, how the rose got there when it _seems_ there is no other (multicellular?) life.

    1. The flower is a Mythos object, not multi-cellular life.

      The robot’s eyes obviously operate on the See Band.

      1. Starring Elon Musk as Delos D. Harriman more like. Maybe Elon will get to go.

    1. YEEEEHAW!!!!! Sorry, couldn’t hold that in. That absolutely perfect launch was on almost as many screens here as at Mission Control.

      Yes!!! Falcon is Flying!!!!

      1. Good Trump speech, but much butthurt on the YouTube live chat stream.

        1. “Why is Pence there? Why is Trump there?”

        2. “Why are you mentioning riots? Why are you mentioning politics?”

        3. “Why are you mentioning the US? Why are you mentioning the Space Force?”

        4. “Why are there multiple speakers? Why are they actually taking more than 3 minutes to speak?”

        5. “Reeee! Waaaah!”

        All the others were grownups, or polite humans, or international friends.

        1. 5. “Reeee! Waaaah!”

          Expecting them to be grateful?

          Next a summit with sampling of the small businesses who were impacted by the riots, across America. Might be one small white female in the mix, rest will be even match of gender for all other “minorities” that aren’t minorities in the neighborhoods affected. Because President Trump is smart, will take full advantage of the rope the left liberals have handed him to thoroughly hang them.

        2. 1. They are there to see the fireworks!

          2. Because they plan to shove the rioters under the next launch!

          3. Because we’re going to chant “USA! USA!” as we do it!

          4. Because we can actually speak coherently for more than three minutes!

          5. And after the space launch/traitor bake, we’ll have Hot Fun! 🙂

  9. Another story for the day:
    Antifa attempted to organize a riot at the middlebrow suburban shopping center about five miles up the road.
    They failed.
    They managed to freak out a lot of people who were enjoying the first weekend in a long time of going out and being social, though.
    They might be stupid enough to think that’s a win.

    1. I note that the media seems to be ignoring the fact that the photos of the rioters and looters show all different skin tones, photos of those protecting property show all different tones (often working together) and it’s the same with the photos of those trying to clean up, all different skin tones, and again, often working side by side.

      But I guess that would spoil the narrative that every white person hates all blacks.

      1. Fun trolling. Certain people on twitter can be interpreted as conceding that Antifa is a white supremacist organization. As is well known from Charlie Hebdo, Fascist is a pejorative term for African-American. So it is hypocritical of those twitterati to all of a sudden be pretending to object to white supremacists burning down the neighborhoods of disadvantaged minorities. XD

  10. I hope all of you in Denver or any other of the cities under siege currently are safe, and keeping your heads down. This may be the big play the Fascist Antifa-Soros have been waiting for. If they can get the federals to over-react it would perhaps redound to their benefit in the elections. That is ALL they think about… winning the next election. If somehow they do, then they plan (obviously) to ‘punish’ all the trump voters or anyone who stands in their way of total power. This will be the flash point. I have no stake or axe in a civil war: At best, I could bandage wounded or reload ammo. No matter who wins, our children and grandchildren at least, will suffer for it, perhaps for their entire lives. If cooler heads prevail we may perhaps be able to weather this storm and move to a new and greater future. Our Lord Willing.
    I know it sounds corny but; Pray for peace.

    1. If they can get the federals to over-react it would perhaps redound to their benefit in the elections.

      Because that worked so well for them in 1968…

        1. I think that scenario grossly underestimates the difficulty of supplies for the rioters. Loot the suburbs? Every body you bring along is someone else to share the loot with, and you are lacking in modes of transportation. Cars and buses were targeted in early riots, they always are.

          1. and city buses are shut down til monday

            and i aint goin out tonight

            so they can effing explain to their bosses tomorrow that they can’t get to work because of the ‘peaceful demonstration’ last night.

        2. I think they think if they can get us to respond they win.
          They’re forgetting that we wouldn’t be attacking unarmed and harmless protestors. I think they forget they no longer have full media control.

    2. The “riot” in Denver seems to be confined to 16th street mall and a bunch of homeless.
      Even Saudi Aurora is peaceful.
      Objects on TV may be more riotous than they are in reality.
      However, we are, or necessity traveling all next week. The entire family. That makes me antsy. Both for us, and the cats we’re leaving behind with a house sitter.

      1. i saw where they are in Richmond, IT is all over where i would be driving if i went out tonight… no thanks.

  11. …and was just going to put it in as a challenge. And then this happened.

    Okay, so I guess… it’s catching?
    Or at the very least, it seemed to want company:

    “I know many stories,” said the blue rose in a friendly but wistful way, standing up straight and tall once more. “Most of them are good stories, many of them brave, some of them funny, a few of them very sad. And it’s been so long since I had anyone to tell them to but me and my sisters, like we often do to keep them fresh. I think I’d really like to tell you a story, since you want to hear one.

    “But I have no idea what kind of story you’d want to hear.”

    “Can you tell me a story about the other ones, the ones I remember?”

    “You mean the humans? The ones who used to live here with us on Earth until they all went on their Long Walk Away?”

    “I remember people talking, not like you and not like me. But not their names or if they called themselves ‘humans’ or not.”

    “Well, you don’t look anything like an Enemy. So I’d like to tell you a story.” And something very like a habit from long, long ago led the blue rose to go on.

    “You’re not going to act like an Enemy, are you? Because if you are, I have to do something very different instead.” Because her beautiful ethereal electric blue could go bright violet violent Cherenkov blue in less than an eyeblink at need. Because long ago there had been need, much need and dire, back when she and the Blue Roses had been far younger (and more numerous).

    Because as a very wise and foolish man had said, once upon a time long, long ago, the tree (or the rose) that would send its branches (or its flowers) high up to Heaven must send its roots meanwhile deep toward Hell.

    “I have no idea how to be an ‘enemy’ because I don’t know what one is. And since it doesn’t sound like much fun to me, I don’t really want to learn, either.”

    “Good,” said the blue rose, letting the tension seep back down into her roots, far away but never too far to call. (Not even while she slept, which was never deep and always rare.) “I like telling stories so much better anyway.

    “I can tell you the story about the humans and how they went on their Long Walk Away. Not how they did it or where they went” — because what you do not know you cannot tell by mistake — “but how they did and why they are not here any more.” Her leaves and petals drooped, just a little bit, just enough for the little robot to see and notice. But not for long. “Some day they may come back, to talk and live with us in this garden again.

    “And even if they never come back, we will still tend this Earth our garden for them. Once upon a time, the humans tended their garden for their roses; now we, the blue roses, tend their garden for them while they are gone. I know it might not look like so much now, but the land is very sore and tired and needs still to rest some more. Some day soon, we will fill it with light and song again. There are enough of us blue roses left to do it, and soon enough there will be more.” (And she recalled the songs she and her sisters remembered so very carefully and faithfully, songs on a four-note scale that began so simply and lazily with tunes like ACG GAT CGC, and harmonized into wild baroque fugue.)

    And as she said this a soft, polite tracery of St. Elmo’s fire played shyly here and there about the tips of her petals and the edges of her leaves and the points of her thorns. Out of the sheer gleeful exuberance of telling a story to someone who had not heard it times beyond counting already.

    Because even though her roots went nowhere nearly as deep toward the heart of all-there-is as the humans had gone on their Long Walk Away together, still they had to go very far down indeed to make her who she was. Deep enough down to see and feel the heart of all-there-is, where bright bountiful creation and casual abyssal devastation danced hand-in-hand always together, merrily without end. Even if she, unlike the humans, could not begin to reach it.

    St. Elmo’s fire was such a pale and simple thing, such a soft and gentle thing, next to so many of the things she and her sisters had seen. And done…

    “Once upon a time very long ago, when the humans had gotten very good at living and the Enemies had gotten very good at killing and they had all gotten far too good at dying, and the blue roses were a very new thing in the world, a human said something to her commander. She was called Idina Galil, and her eyes were like pools of water under an oak tree after a rain, and her hair was bright yellow as the sun. And she said, ‘Surely there must be somewhere we can find, to go away from the Enemy and the War. Somewhere we’ll be safe.'”

    And the little robot wondered at these things, oak trees and rain and the sun. Perhaps it was only an echo lodged deep in the weightings of his neural nets, not even so much as a memory with an address somewhere in his system; but still it seemed somehow as if such things were known to him, long and far away.

    “And her commander, he was called Sandor Petzval and as he looked at her his eyes glittered hard and cold as diamonds in the sun, under eyebrows black as midnight, and he said to her, ‘We have looked for such a place so long and so hard and never found it, so now can you tell me where it is after all?’

    “And Idina Galil looked back at him with a soft expression full of promise and survival and replied, ‘No, Commander, I have no idea where such a place is. Or how any of us could get there. But I do have an idea for a new way to look…'”

    And she as told the story of the humans’ Long Walk Away deep into the heart of all-there-is, the sun rose a little higher into the blue skies far above, and the old familiar grayness lifted just a little bit from the tired gray land below.

    Because the fabled blue skies of Earth, blue and beautiful though not quite as blue or as beautiful as a Blue Rose, had never truly been lost after all, not even through the worst of all that had been; only somewhat mislaid and out of reach for a while instead.

Comments are closed.