I am the last of my kind. Well not the last, but the only one. I thought they would be the same thing but they are not. There will be another one after me. I can’t stop that. I can’t save her anymore than I can save me. It is what it is. For a brief time there will be two of us.
I stand here amongst the ancient texts and wonder what to do.
Which ones should I teach her about first? What is the best path? That she knows everything? Or that she never knows anything? I can’t stay here long. Soon they will come looking for me. They will be wondering what I am doing here.
I wonder what I am doing here. Now in the last stages of my pregnancy I am supposed to be resting. It must all go well. I must give birth to this perfect pristine little girl who will know me for awhile. She will replace me. She will stand here one day just as I have.
Perhaps I will not even teach her to read. Truthfully she will be the only one too one day. Maybe there will be an eternity of us, each one alone and lost, until the day when one of us is different. Until one of us figures out the answer. In this world, there is forever but I don’t think its ours- it belongs to the only other imperative here- the plan of scheduled maintenance. The machines go on and on and on. I tell myself that with the flick of my hand I could stop scheduled maintenance and there would be an end to their forever but then an end to me as well. That cannot be the way forward. Perhaps I am waiting for something more. Perhaps I am waiting for something better. There seems no way out.
When I first fell pregnant with this child, when I knew it was a girl and I could keep it, I had the most profound nightmares. As if I’d lived the history and not just read it, as if I had seen humanity fall and not just read it in the pages in this library.
They will be coming soon. I cannot stand here forever. I rub my belly, this wondrous amazing child will be in the world soon and for a short period of time it will be mine. I will love it and cherish it, feed it and nourish it and then hand it over so it can stand here like me and wonder what to do.
I am not afraid of her dying. I am afraid of her living and that cannot be right. That is not how it should be. Because this is not living. I breath, I walk, I read, I learn, I decree as I am told to decree but none of it is me. My hands are tied.
We created this. I say ‘we’ but there is no ‘we’ anymore, only me. And I had no hand in it. I am just the residue of it. All that technological advancement until ‘they’ didn’t need us anymore, until ‘we’ couldn’t find a purpose, endless leisure time, endless boredom, searching for a fulfilment none of us ever found.
It didn’t end how we thought it would end. There wasn’t a great war, it wasn’t like in the movies-but there was an end. An almost end because I am still here. There was a point of no return, a point where the numbers didn’t work anymore and we were left standing alone. A point where there were more of them than us and where we had this crazy idea of preserving ourselves through them.
If we could just build them so they could keep making us we could go on forever even though there was nothing left for us to eat and the air was unbreathable. It is why I almost never appear in public. There are just endless images of me. I cannot breathe out there. I am always at a distance from them, from the outside. In here where I ‘live’ the air is filtered and out there somewhere something produces food for me. Of course that is all our fault. Our pollution, our plastic. Most of these machines are fuelled by the sun. They can survive the immense heat, the extremes of cold in a way we humans never could.
At least that is what the words tell me, it is what is written in the last of the books, that humanity will live on forever through its inventions as opposed to its ‘organic form’. It is what we wanted. Since then of course the machines have discovered god or rather the ‘goddess’- that is me. They have purveyed the whole of human history and possibly misconstruing it, laid the fault of our destruction, not in greed or self interest or even in economic or political structures but in the decline of the deity. It is apparently the rational answer. Not that these machines are rational anymore, many of them long since passed any idea of the logical limits imposed by coding and programming.
In truth I don’t know what they are. Some of them clearly cannot think at all and merely do a repetitive task, others I can converse with in a human, ordinary way-not that I would know, the only human I ever spoke to was my mother. The only human she ever spoke to-hers and so on for about 400 years. She taught me to read and to write, although the latter is not encouraged. What would I write anyway.
She died, as I will die, not in a nice way, it is ceremonial. My death will occur as my daughter takes my place. There is nothing I can do about it. She cannot save me, I cannot save her. It is a melancholy thought.
We will have maybe thirteen or fourteen years together. They need to be certain she can reproduce, otherwise she is no use to them. There are no gods. The gods are stored in test tubes somewhere else. It is not a pleasant experience to fall pregnant. It is artificial. Carried out by a machine. It is barbarism. If it’s a boy and who knows why they can’t tell any sooner, it is taken and they start again. It is life, my life.
I am worshipped. You cannot imagine what it is like, a life where everything is done for you and all you must do is produce an heiress. You are the goddess and they will do what you say up to a point. It is lonely. The procedures they do are barbarous. I cannot go outside. I eat the food they bring. I make decisions on things but I have no knowledge of what things. I sign documents without understanding. I have no idea what it all means. For all I know there could be more of us out there somewhere, but after 400 years it seems unlikely. I am the last of us, the only one of us, there will be another and then she will be the last and so on and so on, maybe until there is a last.
The first one who was the last one is the most interesting. She could write, I mean actually hand write and I have seen the translations done since but none match her original work. Each woman who has translated it has made her gracious and forgiving and grateful for the gift of her life, but the hand written words which the machines can no longer read tell a different story. She remembers a time when there were more people, 8 or 9. She watched them all die. Her grandmother could remember a time of 30 or 40 people alive at once. Her last day with her mother is perhaps the most harrowing, when everyone else is gone. I read it quietly to myself sometimes. Out loud so I can hear my own voice, so I don’t forget that my fate has been the fate of others and I am alone here but I carry the weight of others who have survived it. She knew, I hear her words and I know she knew.
‘We walked through the woods, my mother and I. Me in front and her someway behind. I kept looking back at her. I knew it would not be long. She kept looking behind her as well, as if my father would be there. I don’t clearly remember my fathers death. He was there one day and gone the next. My mother’s wasn’t like that. That day we walked through the woods as if there was a string between us. Holding us together, one attached to the other no matter the distance. I wished now I had walked beside her but she ambled so slowly. That was plastic belly for you, it weighted you down. They could fix it, I didn’t know it at the time, but they could have fixed it. Bastards. I did not get plastic belly because I had a good diet, filtrated for me by them. M cousin Hugo was the same for a bit. Then one day when he was about 16 they took him and I never saw him again. Double bastards. I can remember 8 of us, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother and me, my cousin Hugo and my father and two others, a couple who both had severe plastic belly. I don’t recall them being related, my grandma looked after them as best she could but they died. I must have been quite young but I remember counting 8 of us. My grandmother always said there must be others of us out there. If there were they never came, they never found us. I hate them too.
The woods, I wished you could see them. With that great big parking lot of machines, we humans retreated into the woods but it was not enough to save us. We lived on the fringe between the great factories and the forest. I loved the smell of it, the colour, the forest. The ground would get damp when it rained and stay damp for days afterwards. The smell, yes the smell. The dappled shadows, the muted colours. The sense of being held in its darkness, as if you could hide from your path through life. Because in the woods, the sunshine couldn’t find you unless you wanted it to. The rain muffled and distorted through leaves would only make you as wet as you could bear. You were safe there from all the world. I loved it all but I have not set foot there since that day.
Of course those things aren’t true, except the last, I have not been back. It was a cold and miserable existence but better than this, so much better than this, so why not make it beautiful as well. Bastards.
I watched her die. I didn’t know they could fix it. I was a child, 12 or 13. We ambled through the woods that day. It was the last time I ever set foot outside. You, who are reading this will likely never set foot outside. But there is an outside. I have stood in this library and raged against the machines, it has done me no good. I have shredded books and thrown things but it has done me no good. I am captive. I became captive. I am the first captive I think. The goddess, the first goddess of who knows how many.
There was no time. She was dying in my arms, I lay cradling her, my body over hers and I was torn from her even as she gasped her last breath. I hate them. And they say I should be grateful, I should be thankful. I am alive. I am alone. There is no one here but me. The soft sound of another human voice does not fill my days. She was barely gone and I was taken. And now they have taken my child and god knows what they will do with her. I despair. She will become me and I have no way of telling her. Another life, another person I have lost. Sometimes I think I can hear her voice, her laughter but it is far away. We are separated. My mother, she knew, I know she knew. She held on for as long as she could but the plastic belly came and took her. That squat shape where the particles of plastic have accumulated -you cannot stand up and you cannot eat properly and nothing gets rid of the plastics, no amount of digestive juices or tablets will move it from you. Your arteries are clotted with it. I know they say we did it to ourselves, but they had the means to stop it, to fix it. Bastards. I guess we did too. But it was all too late, there were not enough of us. There wasn’t the means of making them work for us anymore. Now they work endlessly for nothing, for what? For who? For a goddess? For me? Because I am a different kind of being to them? I am all seeing, all knowing, I have read the books, I can write these words. I can procreate. For that I am to be worshipped but never released. I hate them I am not grateful. I am rage. I am lost and forsaken. I am the goddess.
I know they are keeping me alive, but I hate them. I hate what they stand for. I want my mother back, they could have saved her, they didn’t and still they say be grateful. Be grateful-I barely am at all.
The woods, I must tell you what they are like, You will never go there. I must tell you how we walked that day, in a line as if there was a piece of string keeping us together, as if we were still connected like a mother and a daughter. We got back and I lit the fire. And she died. She died. I held her as she died, almost until her last breath and I hate them because they could have saved her. The woods, there are trees, do you know what a tree is? There is a book, a picture, a lot of trees. I wished you could touch a tree, feel its roughness because you live in a world that is smooth. I wished you could walk over uneven ground instead of polished floors, that you could feel your feet slide into the squishy mud and know the tickle of grass between your toes. I wished that you could dip your feet into cold water and lie down in a stream to let it wash over you. I wished you could know fully the darkness and the brightness of the stars and the moon, the brightness of a light that is not artificial. The feeling of flames as you warm your hands. The rustle of a bush, the buzz of an insect. How it feels when a spider walks across your hand. All these things that you will never know. They are still out there somewhere. I know they are. Nature endures beyond the metal and the plastic. Your life precisely timed. My daughter, my daughter’s daughter, my daughter’s daughter’s daughter and on and on. Hold on. I will never know you but I know you follow on from me. The hand writing ends here with me and there is so much I want to say. The sound of wind through leaves, rainbows, rain-water falling from the sky-do you know what that is-how that feels. It is all gone for us, but it might still be out there, there might be others of us. They cannot read this. You cannot tell them. Tell them I am grateful. Hold these thoughts inside your head. It is something they cannot do. Hold a thought and bring it up randomly in response to a feeling. They cannot do that. Theirs is order and logic. We are chaos and magic. Keep us alive, there is forever. Something will come. Something will change.’
That is where it ends. The carefully measured handwriting runs out. Having read some other books I think the ink ran out. The machines cannot read it. There are several typed translations as I said. She wanted us to go on. She had hope. Misplaced. Misguided but hope.
I still have hope, maybe she will be the one. Maybe her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, her daughter’s daughter’s daughter. Chaos and magic. Our only hope.