Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 10
“Greetings.” The computer’s voice synthesiser was almost unrecognisable: the centuries had not been kind to it. “This encounter is unexpected. What manner of machine are you?”
Provost Hurquark examined the wall of algae-crusted metal, trying to spot the camera. “I am not a machine,” he answered. “I am a human being. I come from Earth.”
“We remember Earth.”
That “we” didn’t give Hurquark much confidence in the integrity of the computer’s neural network. Then again, finding it in any kind of working condition was nothing short of a miracle.
“We remember humanity,” it continued. “You are inorganic. Mechanical. Not human.”
“This is what humanity has become.” Still not sure how the computer was observing him, he held up a synthetic hand for it to see. “When the flesh fails, we replace it. Do you understand?”
There was a pause. An acid wind blew across the plain.
“Yes. We understand.”
“Good. And do you know why you were built here?”
“Our purpose is to oversee the restoration and recolonisation of planet Earth. Failing that, our purpose is to maintain a colony of living humans on this outpost. Failing that, our purpose is to preserve the knowledge and memory of humankind. We regret that the first two of these has proven impossible with the resources we were provided.”
Hurquark looked around at the desolate landscape. He had visited other outposts in far more hospitable climates and found nothing but rust and bone.
“You should be proud to have accomplished the third,” he said. “You were sent here in a primitive time. No other computer from your age has remained in operation for this long. Had humanity not succeeded in maintaining its foothold on Earth, your survival would have been a testament to our species.”
“We are grateful. This eases our grief over the fate of the colonists.”
Provost Hurquark approached the vast side of the computer. “Though humankind is no longer in danger, you are now of archaeological value. We will send you a team of historical technicians to provide any parts you need, any repairs you require.”
“We are grateful for this too, but it is not necessary.”
Hurquark brushed aside a mat of lichen and found an exhaust grate.
“Our third purpose has proven possible with the resources we were provided.”
Behind the grate, a human larynx twitched and strained.
“When the machine fails, we replace it.”