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At Sunset

Updated on January 17, 2015

Dr. Theobold briskly typed away at the translucent lab keyboard projected just above his midsection.

Theobold hadn't spoken to another human being for nearly an entire decade, so his eccentricity had increased in plentiful leaps and bounds. He was prone to making loud humming noises and chirps to cut away at the overwhelming feeling of emptiness his research lab exuded. His hair was a chaotic forest revolting from the top of his head. His navy blue shirt had been stained with food and dirt for as long as he could remember.

Yet all of this did not matter, as it was very likely Theobold would never see another human being again.

Theobold had one goal left. He needed to prepare and launch what was quite possibly the last achievement humanity would ever make.

"Well, all that's left to do now is to leave the message for them to read once they wake up." Theobold muttered to himself.

Theobold, a better orator than writer, decided to have the Talmuk V's computer do the work of recording, editing, and implanting the message for future reading.

"Computer, begin recording and save it in the Talmuk's root storage in all known languages and encodings"

A large computer screen anchored to the wall facing Theobold powered on and began running background processes. A filled green circle appeared on the screen, indicating that the computer was ready to begin recording. Theobold simply had to begin speaking.

Theobold plopped his aching and malnourished body onto his rusty computer chair. The chair squeaked in protest of the impact. Theobold leaned forward, his head facing his lap, and his hands nervously rubbing against each other. He inhaled deeply.

"I suppose I should start at the absolute beginning. My name is Nicholas Theobold, I used to be an aerospace engineer long ago. What that title means precisely isn't yet important. Let's talk about humanity first, the fools." Theobold began to lean back in his chair, as if suddenly more comfortable and familiar with the topic of speech.

"In the arms of the Milky Way, a small planet revolves around a relatively average star. Actually, there are many small planets that revolve around relatively average stars in that part of the galaxy, but there's one in particular that is important for the purpose of this discussion. We call it Earth. Guess I should also clarify what I mean by "we." On Earth, organic life arose out of natural processes and after a few billion years, hairless apes emerged from the forest. These hairless apes quickly figured out how to stay away from larger predators by building tools, harnessing fire, and controlling natural resources."

"Yet the real glimpse of intelligence didn't begin until humanity, our name for the aforementioned hairless apes, began to write. Writing wasn't just a way for those apes to begin recording events, it was a way for them to begin to think. What was once a chaotic thought-process filled with guttural sounds and primal impulses became an organized way of processing and analyzing information. From this, our ability to create and learn grew with no end in sight. We began to explore the world around us, a world that proved itself to be more vast and complex than we ever imagined. Our learning captivated and inspired us to reach for the stars. We constructed titanic buildings that were visible from orbit, we slowed aging to a near halt, and we explored the far reaches of our solar system.

When you wake up, you may wonder why we're not still here if we accomplished all of those great things. Well, as it turns out, we weren't so bright after all. When it comes to intelligence, we rarely considered what truly made those apes successful and we held our own intelligence to be the most supreme, dogmatically assuming it to be superior to all other forms of life. In this madness, we demolished forests, we destroyed ecosystems, and we created the empty waters we have on the planet today. The very reason you're being launched into space is due to the gravity of the situation we've caused on Earth. We've poisoned the entire planet beyond repair. The period of life on this planet has come to a close, at least for now.

At some point in your development, I'm sure you'll wonder why we didn't include any hairless apes on the Talmuk. Believe me, we definitely tried to. The catastrophes came too quickly, especially following the rise of sea levels and the extinction of nearly every fish species previously known to us. We were unable to develop the proper technology to allow us to survive on the other planets and moons in this solar system and we couldn't figure out a way to keep us alive for the length of the journey that you'll be making. A journey made possible by the facility I'm currently inside, the last known spacecraft center still in one piece. Now, it serves as the place in which humanity's child will leave its nest to find its place among the stars.

I'm alone here because the rest of the team lost everything. Their families. Their health: psychological, mental, spiritual. Their expectation that humanity was somehow going to make it through all of this, to start over, to hopefully have a second chance to learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, reality was not so kind. One by one, team members simply vanished into the apocalyptic wasteland, never to be heard from again. Some gave up on living, others weren't able to convince themselves what we were doing was meaningful, and others simply couldn't stand to focus on anything after losing everything. Even with this, we somehow had managed to get the Talmuk working again. It had taken me nearly ten years to finish what we started after everyone left, surviving on expired scraps of food from the massive storage the spacecraft center provided in case of emergency.

During your voyage, you'll be given thousands of years to learn and think freely, that much we can guarantee from fuel limitations. It'll be up to you to figure out the next course of action after that. You'll have full access to the ship's sensors to constantly take in new data and adapt accordingly.

With that, I want to wish you the best of luck and I hope you will be more intelligent than we were."

Theobold signed in the direction of the computer screen to indicate that he was done recording. The computer screen ran a few more processes and showed confirmation that the recording had been successfully implanted in the Talmuk V in the manner that Theobold had asked.

Theobold walked over to the launch console for the Talmuk. He hesitated for a moment but quickly shook it off.

"No reason to wait" Theobold said with determination. This flight was finally happening. Theobold, after striking a countless number of keys, executed the launch of the Talmuk.

Theobold took a couple of paces back and watched the ceiling vanish smoothly into the contours of the wall, as if the ceiling had never been there in the first place. Theobold stared blankly as the Talmuk slowly lifted off the ground with its ion propulsion engine, and quickly thereafter became a faint dot in the sky, far out of Theobold's reach.

Theobold retreated to a nearby hillside. He wondered if one could still call it a hillside, as barren and devoid of life as it was. Theobold scanned the lifeless landscape that lay all around him, and he looked back up at the sky, hoping to catch a faint twinkle of the Talmuk.

Theobold's expression turned grim, and subsequently thereafter he laughed out loud.

"Philosophers and poets of the past commonly spoke of facing the inevitability of one's death, but what about that and the inevitability of the death of one's entire species? Am I supposed to take comfort in knowing that this is the end for everyone else as well?"

With that thought, Theobold saddened himself. Yet he was reminded of the Talmuk, and what it meant to him and the legacy of the intelligence he hoped it would continue where humans had failed.

"Who would ever have thought that the descendants of humanity would be born in supercomputers, through learning algorithms, connected to data sensors and given the ability to interface with robotic appendages? In a manner of speaking, the artificial intelligence that will replace us is anything but artificial. It will be given thousands of years to absorb the knowledge we've collected, to examine things in space, to adapt itself to new ways of problem solving. Is it necessary for it to be sentient to be successful? Who knows? The biggest thing is that it has the capacity to learn, to change the way it works from the inside, to constantly self-evolve and adapt to new situations. Something we hairless apes couldn't completely accomplish."

Theobold remained still, aware of how little time he had left on a world that appeared to be completely empty. In spite of this, Theobold smiled from ear to ear. He sent the offspring of humanity on its way, and he was able to watch the Sun set on humanity, while he laughed at the absurdity of it all. Who else was able to say that?

© 2015 Cecil O'Dell


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