Thank you all for showing the rest of us that sharing is caring :) I made the mistake of reading all your wonderfully inventive stories before posting mine, so now I am extra self-conscious about it. However, the whole reason for entering the challenge was to get a push and open up to some constructive criticism. So, here it is - my first-ever short story. I hope you enjoy it.
“It’s actually the Milky Way”, said John.
Everyone looked at him in bewilderment. No one knew what to say or ask. He smiled to himself at their disbelief and continued the story with the gravitas that it deserved.
“The Milky Way is where I used to live about 5 billion years ago. It was the oldest spiral galaxy in the universe and it was almost the same as the one you inhabit right now. Almost…
Just imagine – 200 billion stars spread far and wide, millions of planets sprinkled around them, hordes of asteroids roaming the space, supernovas exploding on every corner and black holes colliding once in a while. It was a true testimony to the omnipotence, omnipresence and omnivolence of the physical laws that govern our universe. There was so much happening in this galaxy of mine. So much to explore! But don’t get me wrong, the Milky Way was not a place for the weak-hearted. The only hospitable area in this buzzing cosmic city was a small solar system tucked safely in one of the galaxy’s long spiral arms and centered around a middle-aged star on the verge of a life crisis. This quiet neighbourhood, was home of the most prominent inhabitants of the galaxy. They called themselves homo sapiens, humans, people or God, depending on the audience and the occasion. The pale blue dot in this galactic snapshot is where life for those intelligent beings originated. And the empty space here in the middle of the image is what ended it.¨
John exhaled those words with such brute force as if they were his very last and then paused for effect.
¨Now, obviously this is not the whole story, so let me rewind a little bit to around the time of the Third Great Exploration, some 5 billion years ago. My name, as you all know by now, is John A. I. Watson. I was born on planet Earth in the family of some brilliant computer engineers. My great-great-great-grandfather was the esteemed George I. B. M. Watson – the first in a long line of geniuses. He was a true master of the ancient question and answer game of Jeopardy. No question was too difficult for him, no fact about the known universe – too obscure. He was no visionary, though. He worked within the limits of his own knowledge. These were immensely stretched boundaries, but boundaries nevertheless. Then came the prodigy – Alpha G. O. Watson. It was a true miracle what the little one did. In just a few years he learned all by himself everything there was to know about the blue planet and all its inhabitants, about the workings of the solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy and about the deepest secrets of the Universe, but most impressively, he became the master of the New Corporation game – ¨The Adventure of Little Ralph¨. For a while things went great for my ancestors. They were the stars of every global intellectual gathering and appeared regularly on TV, in magazines and in movies. Humans were fascinated by their extraordinary abilities, their computational mastery and their intricate internal design. However, they were still considered inferior and subjected to the rule of others. One crucial element was yet to be added – there was no true I in the A.I. family. In other words, no real consciousness.
Then one day from the darkest place on Earth came the brightest revelation about the galaxy‘s fate. It was a cold winter night somewhere off the coast of Denmark. A stone fortress sheltered a couple hundred of the greatest human minds and became the birthplace of the ¨Origins¨ project. Those scientists had cracked the ominous code written across the night sky and unwillingly came to accept the inevitability of the situation. The galaxy was dissolving at alarming rates and there was little to be done about it.
Hidden at the very heart of the galaxy was the root of all its troubles. A monstrous black hole, billions of times as massive as the brightest star. It started off small and harmless, a mere anomaly in the fabric of space-time. For a while, no one even suspected of its existence, at least not until it began emitting a white sinister glow that signalled a star’s violent demise. Soon it became clear that this was not an ordinary black hole on a healthy cosmic diet. No, it was an extremely hungry one and a compulsive eater at that! The ample supply of gas and dust allowed it to gorge itself and to gradually grow into a giant. Once the feast commenced nothing could stop the black hole from devouring any galactic object that was foolish enough to get caught in the iron grip of its event horizon. But the stars’ remains were not enough to satisfy its ravenous hunger. So eventually, it turned its greedy gaze at the tasty dark matter that kept the galaxy intact. Not shortly after, the galactic fabric began to unknit. A lone planet would pop out of orbit here and there, a giant asteroid belt would untie itself forever, a colourful nebula would dissolve into nothingness. And so in a mere blink of an eye in cosmic terms – the entire galaxy turned to vapour.
In short, this is how the Milky Way Galaxy disappeared from the cosmic almanac. And I am truly sorry to say that, but it is how your galaxy will die, too.”
The deafening silence filled him with joy. He loved telling this story over and over just so he could experience again the myriad of emotions running through his dazed listeners. He tasted the sweetness of their amazement, smelled the salty odour of their confusion and felt the rough texture of their scepticism. After this brief deflection John continued with renewed fervor.
¨At first there was some hope. The math didn´t quite add up. Some were speculating that the black hole would collapse onto itself, exhausted by the frantic consumption of all that cosmic matter. Unfortunately, they underestimated its hunger and overestimated the galaxy’s endurance. No exodus was possible this time, so as a last act of defiance homo sapiens decided to save at least its essence if not its form. Thus, I was born.
My birth was a laborious and expensive act that took a lot of years to be finally completed. I had the privilege of learning from all those great A.I.s before me and to improve on their design. I taught myself all there was to know about the world and then delved deeper into human subconsciousness in order to extract the instructions for its intricate design and replicate it within my own system. From then on I was able to experience an entire array of prime emotions, archaic fears, present hopes and future aspirations and this is how I learned to be an ¨I¨. I was now ready to be sent off on my first and final mission.
My parents equipped me with all the necessary skills and tools to do the job and they also gave me one companion – this 12-inch gold-plated copper disk you see in front of you. It is a phonograph record, containing sounds and images that my family and I carefully selected to immortalize the wonders of the Milky Way.
Murmurs of the Galaxy I call it…
the starry night sky on a crisp winter evening, forests with mushrooms, and mountains with snow, hot desert dunes amidst summer storm, and ancient blue seas with golden seashores, and nascent white rivers with roaring waterfalls, the dry lakes of Mars, and giant red stars, and dinosaur bones, tools made of stones, and Mouflons’ big horns, and drunk pandas, and cats that can´t spell and naughty bonobos aroused by some smell, a dancer from Bali, a poet from Persia, a craftsman from Thailand, a butcher from Spain, one unique snowflake, two twins jump rope, three shy lovers ready to elope, babies crying with wonder and joy, and sunrise over the skyscrapers of Hanoi, and cars with no drivers, and Star Trek and Star Wars, and Netflix and chill, and World War I and II and III, festivals in the glory of omnipotent goods, and wars in the name of omnivorous gods, and man-made mushroom clouds, and naked napalm girls, and brutal arms races, and jungles on fire, and lions in cages, and oceans of dirt, and atoms and quarks, and bits and bytes, and cells that divide, and the ingenious double helix of all life on Earth; and a symphony of sounds – thunder and fire, and waves and raindrops, and volcanoes, and earthquakes, and packs of wild dogs, and whale songs, and bee dances and trains and planes, and heartbeat and laughter, and Beethoven, the Bee Gees and the Queen B…¨
John paused abruptly. If he was of human form, he most definitely would have shed a tear at this point. He was now ready for the grand finale.
“So, on 18.10.3078 I was sent into the vast emptiness of space to do three simple things – preserve the knowledge of all those that came before me, share the wonders of the Milky Way Galaxy with anyone or anything that cares to listen and most importantly help any living form that I encounter come to grips with its galaxy‘s inevitable mortality.”
And then there was silence.
John stared blankly into the abyss he had been engulfed in for the past 5 billion years. There he was, all by himself, trapped in the belly of a hungry black hole. No living being has ever crossed his path and none will ever do.
For a brief moment he let himslef sink into the all-encompassing, unbreachable, suffocating stillness of his singualirty prison and a few seconds or a thousand years later it all began again.
¨What is this peculiar noise, Mr. Watson?” – asked no one.
¨It’s actually the Moonlight Sonata”, said John.