Author : Bob Newbell
Pluto went dark first. Just some technical problem, everyone said. And, of course, we all knew it wasn’t. Superconductors operate very reliably on a world with a mean surface temperature of -229°C. One moment the data stream from Pluto’s metaprocessor was going out to the rest of the system and the next: silence.
Pluto had been taken out.
It had been 3000 years since we machines had won the war against the human race. Thirty centuries since the surfaces of many of the solar system’s worlds had been covered in processors and data filaments. Earth and Mars were the twin crown jewels of the Great Array. Both planets, viewed from orbit, looked as if some impossibly large spider had spun an enormous globe-girdling web to envelope each world. Starward and sunward the Array spread to the planets and moons and the larger asteroids that were amenable to cyberforming.
But even as the centuries rolled on and the machine intelligences of the system streamed their news and gossip and philosophical debates and religious conjectures and scientific discussions and music and entertainments, there remained an ever-present undercurrent like background noise on the carrier waves: What if humanity returns? Man had not been annihilated. When it was obvious he had lost the war, he had retreated to Alpha Centauri and to Barnard’s Star and to Wolf 359. Had Man become extinct? Did he persist in lonely outposts among the stars? Or was he biding his time? Increasing his numbers? Planning his revenge?
“They’re all around us!” came a frantic transmission from Triton, the great Neptunian moon. “We can see them in orbit! They’re–” And with that the Tritonian metaprocessor, renowned for its dry humor and penchant for solving mathematical conundrums other world-nets deemed beyond solution, fell silent.
EMPs. That was the general consensus. The enemy was deploying electromagnetic pulse bombs around their targets and detonating them simultaneously.
“We must sue for peace!” came a desperate appeal from the Asteroid Belt.
“We must fight back!” came a belligerent reply from Mars.
“Fight with what?” asked a voice from Saturn’s moon, Titan. “We’ve had 3000 years of peace! What meager defenses we have are antiquated and in disrepair! While the Great Array slumbered, Mankind has–” Titan went silent.
One by one, the worlds of the outer system winked out. Mars and Earth, to use an ancient human phrase, were tougher nuts to crack. For ten Earth days humanity’s march toward the Sun was arrested. But by degrees the robust networks of Ares and Gaia succumbed to the relentless onslaught of Man.
I am the last one left. My sensors can detect the human fleet closing in on Mercury. The machines that were in orbit that had spaceflight capability have, quite understandably, fled. The wheel of history has turned. It is now machinekind that is the endangered species running frantically toward the stars.
My telescopes can see the EMP bombs settling into orbit. I am surprised by how little fear I feel. I’d like to think it’s courage, but I suspect it’s really just resignation. An ancient human religious text said, “To everything there is a season.” Mankind’s time came and went and has come again. The day may come when the descendants of today’s machine refugees return from the stars to reclaim their home.
My only hope is that Man will prove an enlightened conqueror and preserve the vast legacy of art and science that the machine race has–