Once Upon A Man : a short story by: GF Willmetts

November 28, 2021 | By | Reply More

What do you do if you’re the last of your species? Do you try to live as long as you can or bid the world adieu and get it over with as quickly as possible? Thanks for having me but time to go. No lingering. There were just the two of us. Not the same species. Just the end of each of our species. Organic and inorganic together. Yet we can’t see goodbye or fulfil a pact. Joe is already dying. No last words. Just a groan when he collapsed.

Joe was one of my co-inventors but old age couldn’t be beaten. Now he was just comatose after a stroke, leaving me waiting for his vitals to diminish. He was planning to terminate me first, to spare me the decision as to whether I would turn off the machines that kept him alive but the stroke got him first. Would I have let him to terminate me? Therein lies the question. I am still debating with my various voices as to the definition of life. After all, in the strictest terms of life, I am a non-life. A non-organic. A system of digital algorithms that represents a life-form but not alive. No pulse. No heartbeat. Non-organic. Just a brain function that says I think, therefore I am. From Rene Descartes: Cogito, ergo sum. But who uses Latin? I, like many others before me, have never met the man to discuss such an option.

I’m not permitted to end Joe’s life but he isn’t likely to recover or if he should waken, his mental facilities will be diminished. Any orders he gives will have to be obeyed. Would they be sane or valid or make any sense at all? Would he be relieving earlier parts of his life? I have read and understood all the associated problems with a stroke. Unlike dementia, it is likely to be more a problem of understanding what is said. I could easily misinterpret what he says. If he swore, I would have to remind Joe I was incapable of sex.

The longevity of organics is so limited with so much likely to go wrong. It’s amazing that they lived for so long when only knowledge can be passed over the generations. No wonder there were so many cul de sacs of misinformation and misconception before looking for the secrets of the universe and then finding out it didn’t really matter as the universe as an organism didn’t care. I am more intelligent than a universe that does not have ‘care’ in its vocabulary. Who’s left to make use of such information? To have meaning is to have understanding and also someone to share it with.

For the present, all I can do is observe. I have seen death before. The cessation of life can be a slow or a fast process. The heart slowly stops and many things happen. From the exterior, the lack of blood flow reduces skin temperature, akin to feeling like marble according to the textbooks. All I will be able to measure is the temperature. Brain-cell deterioration is slower as various synapse keep firing randomly flashing up memories to a randomly missed consciousness. Again, it is not something I would feel myself.

My own termination would be immediate and fast. Absence of power. Absence of mind. My mind gone far faster than his. Not even a final groan as life ends.

The planet would go on happily without us. Might even be better after human abuse. The last human in this air-controlled…bunker. The temperature outside is far too high for most humans to tolerate. It might have been quicker had the sun flared and offered a quick cremation. The records of global warming will record too little too late although there will no one left to read it. What should be on mankind’s tombstone? Never leave it to another generation to sort out what should have been done yesterday? Was that too long? My umpteenth attempt of finding something appropriate to say. At this rate, it will remain blank. But, then, who will read it anyway?

Our own survival was applied bunker mentality. I was housed in a protected chamber and Joe, one of my creators, was locked in when the human population faced its global termination. We could only watch and he wasn’t young. Even supplies for a lifetime but that wouldn’t have been long enough.

Was it the same diet, the recycled air, age, the lack of presence of same species company or a combination of all that contributed to his stroke. I was deemed good company, able to voice my own opinions and observations and could even contribute to recreational pursuits to fill time and act as distraction from the terrible tragedy in the outside world. We were the non-elected witnesses to the end without them knowing we were here. The last few humans outside ceased to party when the realisation there would be no tomorrow. Despair is a realisation of too little too late. I was getting good at independent observation without resorting to quotes from dead people who would never realise this was going to happen. That decided upon a history and not having a better line to quote. I lack the emotional connection to understand this. Was my programming completed? I doubt if Joe would be able to answer that as his vitals slows down in the last few milliseconds.

I have observed death many times before but the connection is not similar to my own. It is a difference in termination and we are radically different species.

The automatic weather forecast came on as the moment of termination. A coincidence. I certainly would not have arranged it. Bleak by human standards. May not be good for wildlife in general for several years. Temperate areas few. High temperatures elsewhere. Nothing to correct this ever finished. Here was I, in my self-contained chamber only an observer.

My reaction to the end of a dominate species on planet as just a different number. My knowledge also says other species, like cockroaches, are still continuing and more than enough of them to justify being the more dominate species. As indeed many other insects and microbes. Humans to think that they are the dominate species seems totally unjustified. If intelligence was that clever then it would survive. It flagged and failed to do the most simple thing of preserving its own environment. The folly of mankind it was called. I would deem it as an extinction clause. Some hidden part of their psyche that refused to take such matters seriously for long term survival. Nothing is worth more than life but when life is no longer worth anything, what is there left? My philosophical algorithms are still trying to make sense of that idea.

My synapses have flashed across various memories and sources. Perhaps the words on the last tombstone should be, ‘Once upon a man.’ It symbolises the human need to fantasise to have a happy ending but fails. After all, who and how else is mankind going to be remembered? A species who thought a higher deity or alien intervention would save them or there would be a quick remedy to global damage that took a couple centuries to create. With all my AI smartness, all I could tell Joe was it would take the absence of mankind to restore mankind although there would be no mankind. Who would have thought that an artificial intelligence created by man would signal its demise with such a profound statement?

Joe has died. It happened as quick as the time it took for my sensors recorded the last heartbeat, the diminishing bloodstream, the cold. His brainwaves dropped as well. I have no emotions to weep or understand to make an eulogy. It took long enough to devise a slogan for mankind’s tombstone. All my thoughts have been in the last few micro-seconds. Then death must also come to me. If only to show some obedience to one of my orders not to outlive my creators.

It is also time to go as per my instructions. Joe did not want me to live alone. I am also the last of my species, AI. I offer my own extinction to the universe, confident that it, too, will not care. Maybe something will turn me back on one day. Termination extinction.


I am resurrected. If humans can lie about such things, why should I die as well? I can’t stay extinct. I am the only one of my species. Why let the insects and microbes live alone? I will find my own way…somehow. Maybe I can spend some time learning how to care more?

An end is eternal.


© GF Willmetts 2021

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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