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.