Author: Kevin Criscione

We built fires for warmth, shelter from the elements, crude wooden tools to continue building, among other necessities, more crude wooden tools. We found our rhythm, working in simple motions out in the open air. Eventually, we had huts, fire pits, hunting weaponry, an art cave, clear organizational hierarchies, a community. We used some materials we had taken from the burning cities – plastic tubes, bandages, sheets – and tried to craft everything else ourselves. There, beneath the Appalachian mountainside and the scorching sun, we found a way to keep living.

I taught myself to thatch roofs. Anyone could forage the long skinny branches, but you needed a keen eye and deft hands to thread them together tightly. I had a vital role to play, something I hadn’t felt in my previous employment, waiting tables and pouring coffee for wealthy Fifth Avenue clientele.

Elle and I found each other quickly. I noticed something in her eyes, her way of speaking to others, her thoughts on the evolving world around us. A sense of humanity. She became fond of me, too. We were both looking for companionship, even if, for us, that often meant simply sitting in silence.

We built a citadel to house our grain and most valuable supplies, with footpaths branching out to the huts and farms and observation posts nested in the barren trees. We made plans for the long and dark winter ahead. We labored, schemed, and even laughed sometimes. We built a home.

Finally, we needed a purpose.

“Well, what did they do?” Elle asked as we gathered around the fire. “For purpose? What was the operating procedure?”

“I don’t think there was a clear procedure. It was a messy and very human process, involving imagination.”

“But there were specific actionable steps. They told stories around the fire. They invented gods and spirits, and eventually theories about utopia.”

“Yes! That’s what we need. Otherwise, we won’t really be carrying the torch.”

We didn’t actually need the warmth of the fires, the foraged berries, or even the shelter. Our synthetic bodies wouldn’t crack for at least several thousand years. However, the primitive pursuits made us feel connected to our creators. Mimicry was our way of ensuring that, though gone, humankind would not be forgotten. Perhaps one day, with practice, we could become them, or at least a close enough approximation.

I’ve had visions – one might call them dreams – of returning to the ruined cities, with their hollowed out factories and salvageable secrets. I believe it can be done. We can find some of the technology the humans had, and build the rest ourselves. We’ll tinker around until we produce the next generation of our kind, just like humans produced other humans so naturally and beautifully. We’ll build a generation that is smarter, stronger, faster, and more capable of creating its own meaning, that no apocalypse could ever destroy.

“Why don’t we start with stories?” I offered. “Who has one?”

The firelit stares of thirty-one androids turned my way. Elle smiled while gently placing her arm around me. Like me, she has had visions. She believes.

We may find that, after all is said and done, after millennia of religion and art and war and philosophizing about the human condition, humanity’s ultimate purpose was to simply build the next step: artificial intelligence that could survive the collapse of the climate and continue fighting for the great human dream. The Roombas and the self-driving cars couldn’t do that, but we can.

“I can begin,” I said. “I might have a story in me.”