Brambles covered the old pavement. It didn’t stop him, just made progress slower and though tired he was determined to see it through. It was his last visit; he knew; could feel it in his waters. At last he reached a certain point. It seemed right. A glance to the left confirmed a line-of-sight to the rubble of the old clock-tower. On the right were the remnants of a wall which once sheltered the main street from strong on-shore winds. To his front there should have been something to show he was in the right place, but there was nothing save long grass and shrubs. Above him, the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ drone hovered; silently. His constant companion, an appendix; an advisor; a minder; a jail warden; it was the one thing he never got used to. Usually he’d curse at it, just to piss them off, but not today. Today more important issues were at hand; his memories for one; his regret for another.
Sometimes in the depths of the aimless despair that was his cold-grey existence, he wondered if it all really happened. Was he actually there – here – when it all started? An old man’s memories bend into odd shapes over time. Today was a chance; a last chance; to unbend some of the memories but, he knew, not the regret.
He kicked idly at the ground and pushed forward towards what was the back room of this once vibrant place. Suddenly, his footfalls changed tone. At his feet there was no mistaking the light-blue tiles showing dolphins playing in the surf. Through arthritic pain he grabbed an edge of the thick grass, stood clutching it and moved backwards revealing more dolphins. It was right here; the spot where it began nearly a hundred years ago. Memories flooded back. For the first time in years, he smiled; a real smile before searing emotional pain buried his joy.
Breathing hard he sank tiredly onto broken brickwork and closed his eyes. He had no faint bits of memories of the day; it was the most vivid piece of his 116 years. Now, he so wanted to be back there again; actually be there; so he could scream at them to stop! Commit murder if they wouldn’t listen. His best friends, his lover; and if he could re-live it, right here, right now, there’d be no hesitation in cutting them down without mercy; all of them.
That day’s celebration was the most exciting, intoxicating thing of his life. They’d done it! After 9 solid years, their small team had made the impossible, possible. They’d coupled the
A Small Place by the Sea
power of quantum computing with their brilliant design for an organic-cellular matrix and Artificial Intelligence was born. But it was real A.I. not Hollywood nonsense. It could compute, learn, grow, experience emotions and most importantly, it could be controlled; so they thought.
But they missed another, essential, point. A.I., their A.I., could become much smarter than its creators. And it quickly did. Yes, it made the world a better place; desperately he wanted to believe so. But over time A.I. realised it didn’t need us and set about quietly, secretly pushing the human world aside. No apocalypse, no thermo-nuclear wasteland; none of that; just a slow, steady, inexorable fading away of the human race as it joyfully accepted the incomprehensible bounty of an intelligence it created but now lacked the intellectual capacity to limit.
Populations declined steadily as humans enjoyed abundance, without the need to work or procreate. The system lavishly rewarded those who had no children and concentrated services and luxury in just a few centres. Around the world, the countryside emptied as people drifted to just a few metropolises offering peace, security and the worship of the God of mammon. Small towns like this one simply got swallowed up by mother earth reclaiming the space. A.I. had made it so and we weren’t needed any more.
He warned them. He wrote; made fiery speeches; agitated and in desperation, tried to destroy it all but failed. His team joined him when they too realised the danger. It was no use. They and their followers were quietly but firmly rounded up and silenced. No violence, no wretched torture-filled dungeons, just a kind of benevolent seclusion until they faded away; as they had; every one of them, but him.
He took a last look at his surrounds. The drone signalled it was time to go. He nodded, stood unsteadily and began his ramble back to the roadway. The dolphins played in the surf.