The situation in the cities was more complicated & the effects of the message often more confused.
In the underground factories which built the systems that had made the ancient realm possible, maze after maze of gleaming production lines geared silently to a halt, leaving a host of part-made machines waiting with passive integrity wherever the line had left them. Some of these machines were almost finished – a few were even partially aware – & all stood comfortably in the production queue, awaiting only the last full sparks of humanoid consciousness which would launch them up into the world of the cities. None moved; & all stared blindly into the abyss of their former future, their goals & purposes cancelled at birth by the torturing reality of the message.
Most of these machines retained at least the potential for some future functionality; but one unfortunate unit – a large, industrial robot known as a Prometheus, who had been given the temporary identification number 9072-86PK – was activated at the same moment that the message was received. It was an impossible experience for any machine to deal with. The contrast between the unit’s initial programming & the implications of the world it was about to enter was too great; & it decompiled its own positronic functions while still standing on the production line. In life, a Prometheus unit would have moved mountains in solid, contented service to its human designers; but with the point of that service eliminated, the unit’s fundamental existence lacked point & purpose. 9072-86PK was unable to cope with the terrifying possibility of life without hope & so chose the comforting alternative of peaceful non-existence.
It killed itself.
It was neither the first nor the last machine to make this particular choice; but no other machine would end its own existence as precipitously as this one did. The Prometheus unit 9072-86PK was unique: a robot that voluntarily terminated itself before its existence was even fully begun.
That was the significance of the silence.
That was the significance of the message.
Other units in the factory were barely begun; & of the others, many existed as a range of scattered fragments that were littered across the production line. A few of these would-be machines had reached some vague approximation of their final humanoid form – others were little more than a handful of disembodied parts – but none would never know the full potential of the conscious life which only a few moments’ previously had been their future ideal.
They were lost.
Like all of these ill-completed machines, the construction robots who had previously fulfilled their duties by precisely monitoring the production lines’ systems stood motionless at their posts, waiting patiently for a new instruction that would never come. They had was no sense of regret or pain or even obvious despair. These were the most primitive of automatons, the drones of the ancient world, built to work with absolute accuracy & minimal awareness the quest for cold uncompromising service.
These robots lacked the sophisticated humanoid simulation that even the Prometheus units were permitted as they were solely designed to complete the tasks – welding, screwing, assembling – which could be effectively completed beyond human view & without human interaction. They had been trained from construction for their one set of tasks only; & as such, may have felt the impact of the message less than any other machines on the planet. But not even these simple systems could avoid its consequences.
Without targets, without instructions, without the crucial input of raw materials, the production line was as silent as the world above it, leaving the construction robots waiting in silence for a future re-energised. But if they felt any sense of sorrow in the abrupt termination of their duty, it could only be from the loss of the most fundamental of mechanical drives: the need to be useful. How could even a drone feel useful if the role they had spent a lifetime playing were now useless?
Away from the line, amongst the higher machines that controlled & administered the processes that turned raw material from the world outside into newly living systems, a stilted kind of chaos started to take control. These machines had a clearer sense of purpose that was tied directly to their work; & this gave them a stronger push to achieve the predetermined construction schedules & targets that the centre had not yet revoked – but even here, the motivations to complete these tasks were quickly seeping away.
A few of these robots fought against the silence, fought against the message; & they used these last, uncancelled targets – those last signs that the needs of the world apparently remained real – as a reason to bring the stilled production lines back up to speed. These determinations formed a strangely active interlude that almost always quickly failed, a victim of the deadly inertia that now surrounded them. Just one machine – a sub-system manager identified in the central coordinating database as SSYM85K71 – made it all the way down from his place of administration to the production line. He personally completed a final robot: a Samurai unit, which the sub-system manager gave the interim identifier DQ7891SP.
Samurai units were the guardians of the realm of human creators. Part guide, part policeman, part protector of the commands & orders that kept the world contented & peaceful for their human creators, Samurai units were the most sophisticated mechanical systems the realm of human creators created. This Samurai unit – this DQ7891SP – was the last to be completed for a very long time.
Physically, the Samurai units were quite strikingly beautiful. Most were fe-male, a gender choice which was not even slightly accidental. The human creators understood that the unfortunate confrontations possible in human/machine interaction might be mitigated if the Samurai were given less threatening forms; & the fe-male body was considered less of a threat than the traditional male-fe. All, though, were given a plastic identity which could be instantaneously re-moulded into any one of a city’s worth of forms; & a positronic computational matrix which tapped directly into the central coordinating database to obtain immediate information support in any crisis situation.
Above the factory, the Samurai units – the highest & the finest forms of all mechanical servants – had been hardest hit by the message. Most had shut themselves down immediately in the total shame at the failure of their one, essential purpose; but this unit – this DQ7891SP – was different. She had not heard the message; & although she was aware of its existence & its cold, confronting meaning, she had not felt the immediacy – the cruellest finality – of its impact. Completing her good fortune, the sub-system manager gave her a crucial final instruction before he removed her from the production line:
Go out & complete the task that i will set you:, the sub-system manager said. Live your life in service of the human creators who designed & built you; & be a model for all the robots who will follow you.
DQ7891SP reviewed the core programming in her positronic matrix & carefully contemplated this instruction. It was a little vague, to be sure; but the significance of the role the sub-system manager had given her was obvious: she had to do something; & that the something she would do was somehow important. It was reassuring to know this; & this Samurai unit found in the sub-system manager’s words a reason for practical existence.
She had her goal.
She had her instruction.
She had her purpose.
She was still useful.
In time, she would interpret the instruction to mean that she had to build a home fit for her human creators, in readiness for that one joyous moment when they finally returned to this world. For now, though, this one Samurai unit rolled uncertainly along the factory floor & up the long, shallow ramp which led all newly created machines into the world upside; & out into the ancient city.
What she found on the surface surprised her, even though robots were supposed to be incapable of surprise: the city had closed for business; & the instruction which drove her forward seemed oddly alien & inhospitable to the stunned reality of a world frozen into im-motion. During all of the days & weeks which followed in incalculable imprecision after the message, the Samurai unit DQ7891SP was the only machine moving; & as she rolled, she carefully avoided the frozen robots & other machines which thoughtlessly blocked her way. This Samurai unit understood – in a cool, rather distracted way – why the ancient city had seized to a deadly stop but was not directly affected by it; & as a result, found herself critically analysing the mechanics which had led the city to this state. They seemed flawed in a strangely seductive way; & while it was during this first period of exploration that DQ7891SP refined her final interpretation of the sub-system manager’s instruction, it wasn’t long before she decided that the city itself was too unsuitable as a place for new human life. It wasn’t just the total failure of the mechanical systems that had administered the city for its human population – it was more the general sense of age & emptiness that permeated this ancient realm.
This Samurai unit decided that her home, her new home, her perfect home for the return of humanity, would be different. It would be new, a new village, a new world complete unto itself; & as far away from the echoes of all the ancient days as she could build it.
She spent a hundred human years searching for the perfect location for this new village, eventually finding it in a hidden valley that arched & curved between two steep mountain ridges many thousands of kilometres from the factory complex in which she had been created. A natural river flowed through this valley, splitting it in two; & it ended in a small stretch of coast beyond which the tidal control systems were no longer able to prevent the slow, subtle lap of natural water over carefully crafted sand. There were no convenient links between the valley & the outside world – DQ7891SP had only managed to enter it by climbing awkwardly down a dangerously undercut stairway – & the most basic communication linkage with the central coordinating database was often difficult. This might explain why there were no frozen machines anywhere in the valley; & why plants – apparently untended by mechanical systems for many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years – & a few undomesticated animals had colonised the environment in a rich, unplanned profusion of reds & greens & browns & blacks & golds.
It was perfect; & more importantly still, to this Samurai unit it looked perfect.
She then spent another thirty-two years studying the valley for the most perfect place within it to site her village. Eventually she found that site about halfway down the valley, where the river made a slow, seductive arc around a raised, rocky mound; & there DQ7891SP began the long, slow process of building her village, brick by lovingly machine-made brick. When she first saw the mound, it had been colonised by a flock of avian creatures, who used the mound as a look-out to command their small but personal space. The persistence of these living creatures left her uncertain how to proceed in her task. They were alive, so this Samurai unit was reluctant to attack them directly; but she knew that she needed to remove them from their roost in order to complete her task.
She sought advice from the central coordinating database before proceeding with her plan. Could the avian creatures be frightened from their mound without doing them harm? This Samurai unit had no idea.
It took a few moments for DQ7891SP to get an identification from the central coordinating database: the birds were a kind of parrot, a species once known as the Carnegie black. They were sociable & mildly territorial & definitely unadministered; but if faced with a polite but consolidated movement towards their territory by a properly respectful machine, it was likely that they would back down from their claim.
She considered the advice carefully; &, finding it reassuring, spent several weeks considering her plan. It was simple enough; but this Samurai unit was determined to avoid any hint of cruel impropriety in her actions. When she was certain that there was no better way to conduct this take-over, she moved forward to claim her village site; & the parrots cooperated by retreating – perhaps reluctantly – when they saw that she had set her sights set on their rostering place. It later myths, these parrots would almost be considered an organic kind of robot, who lived their lives in a similar service to those whose created the realm of machines; but to DQ7891SP they were an individual living form, whose needs had to be respected as she set out to complete her task. She respected them for their own sake; & was only fully comfortable when she saw that they had found a new, secure spot for their gathering. This didn’t take long, which reassured her considerably; & – with the area finally cleared – she was able to place her first self-made brick in the middle of mound, beginning what would eventually be the large central square of the village.
It took more than two hundred years for this Samurai unit to build the forty-nine buildings & three major transport-ways that formed her village. She worked carefully; following a plan carefully developed within her positronic computational matrix during the long years of journeying to this most perfect of places. Each of the buildings were to be an individual masterpiece, inside & out; while the transit-ways which linked the village to the outside world were designed with a silvered smoothness that was both aesthetically pleasing & mechanically functional. The central square was laid in a complicated pattern around a large statue of welcoming for the village’s human inhabitants. The statue showed a large, very stylised human being served by a small army of happy robots. None of these robots looked even slightly like DQ7891SP; though a later machine would add a second statue of this Samurai unit to this sculpture. This new addition looked with quiet pride over the completion of her village; & was the only change that any robot would ever make to the village.
The village had an ornately structured ceremonial gate & a sleek but sturdy bridge which linked the village with the fields on the opposite side of the river; & beneath the carefully thought-through surface, this Samurai unit built a large dormitory for the robots who would one day serve the returning human creators. It was a good dormitory. Large, functional & precise.
Everything was perfect.
& it was her perfection.
In all the time it took this Samurai unit complete her village, she would accept no assistance from other machines. This village was her task, her purpose, her existence; & the she would allow no additional interference – no matter how positive – in its completion. As the world began to revive & word began to spread about what she was building in this place, many machines – some would say pilgrims – began to gather at the mountain ridges to watch her progress. For the most part, this Samurai unit ignored the attention; but if a robot came too close – or even worse, threatened to offer assistance in the village’s construction – she would simply stop working & wait until the intruder retreated to an acceptable distance. Though never violent – the observing robots knew that a fully angered Samurai unit could terminate them in an instant – these stand-offs could last for weeks; but whenever they ended, DQ7891SP was free to resume her epic gift to the return of humanity.
It tool time; but time was no machine’s enemy.
Time was life.
Time was service.
When her village was finally complete, she made a last, loving tour of her creation; then moved on to build a newer, larger village, even further away from the first that the first was from the city of her creation. She climbed back up the ridge that had protected her first site; then set off in a long, uninterrupted journey to find a new location.
The robot observers who had watched this Samurai unit’s work waited for an unmeasurable period of time after her departure before moving into her village & becoming its first residents. None would ever live in the surface village – this belonged to the human creators that all machines secretly believed would one day return – but in the underground dormitory DQ7891SP had built for them. It was as luxuriously spartan as any ever built; & these first residents treated their new home with all the respect this Samurai unit’s efforts deserved. After some long discussion, they chose the name River’s Valley for the village; & the village remains inhabited – & apart from the one additional statue – precisely as she built it to this day.
If the Samurai unit identified as DQ7891SP knew about the colonisation of her work – & she might have… the central coordinating database recorded everyone & everything that happened in this strange new world – she didn’t seem to mind. This might have been because she now had a new task – or rather, a continuation & refinement of her one & only task: a new village to build & a new place to build it. Some say that she’s still working on her second village, though few machines claim to have seen it; & none have ever been able to state with surety that they’re seen DQ7891SP at work on her new design. Those machines who do make that claim describe the village as a wonder of the world, a ten-kilometre stretch of exquisitely individual buildings, all lovingly carved from & into the side of an ancient mountain. All of these machines call this new village Beauty, an ancient human word for wonder & love & perfection & all the details which mattered to life & living.
It seems the most appropriate of names.
Through all her efforts, DQ7891SP unintentionally completed the second task set her by the sub-system manager – she truly became a model for all the machines who would follow her. She became a symbol of hope & survival.
For all who followed her.
For all who lived.
The realm of machines.
The third story in this sequence