The ship kicked up a sand storm as it soared into the sky, having dumped the contents of an entire cargo across Dust Valley. Jonah coughed and spat as a fine layer of sand settled around him. He removed his hat, held it to his chest and watched the ship climb. The suns scorched his balding head as he stood in the Dust Valley, the light from the higher sun thankfully weaker as it grew towards death. When it died, Jonah thought, it'd take out the younger sun, sure as anything. Then Dust Valley would be no more. He spat again, his spit frying on hard rock. By then, Jonah hoped to be long gone.
The ship gave a last boom as it breached the atmosphere and vanished into space. Jonah looked down at the junk heap it'd left behind, burying older scrap in a growing mountain. Jonah wondered what treasures were ready for the picking. The metal of spare parts rose from the dust as the dead waited for Jonah's keen eye. As he climbed down into the valley, he wiped his brow and stuck his hat back on. If there was luck today, he'd have the junk scavenged by noon time before the metal got too hot. Maybe he'd get to town with a real treasure. He'd spied what looked like an intact cryo unit, had a few bits back at the shack that would fix it up a treat. Working cryo unit would bring a fine price. Jeb had told him he'd pay good money for one.
"Keeps the drinks cold," he'd said.
Jonah began throwing old robot limbs out of the way, kicking a head and watching it clatter. Ahead he saw a cryo unit sticking up between old engine parts. Looked like a good haul this time round. As he drew close, his foot struck something and he toppled over. His body turned round and he flapped his arms out as if to fly. There were sharp metal parts all around and Jonah closed his eyes, waited for the stab of pain. He landed in a mass of old wires and lay on his back, staring up at the twins. He cursed several times and got to his feet, pulling bits of wire from his clothes. His hat had fallen off and landed upon the metal arm of a junked robot. He grabbed it, but the hand held it tight. Jonah pulled again. The hand opened and released Jonah's hat. He stuck it on his head and watched as the arm reached at the surrounding junk. Another arm sprung up, glinting bright in the suns near noon light. A body shuddered and shook as an intact robot dragged itself out of the pile. Two eyes glowed red at Jonah as the robot staggered and collapsed in a heap before him. Jonah was already pricing it up in his head, wondering what sort of robot it was. Jeb would likely pay a good price if it was a server bot.
Reckon Zachary will pay more for a farm bot.
Jonah kicked the inert robot. Probably just a final spasm before the power went out. No one dumps a good robot. He leaned down and studied it. Seemed perfectly intact. Looked like a military robot. The robot suddenly lurched upwards and focused on Jonah. "Where am I?" it asked.
Jonah licked his lips, undressing the robot until he saw working servos, intact brain units with AI functions. All good money if it worked as well as he figured. "Scrap yard," Jonah muttered. He dusted sand from the body of the robot, looking for a designation symbol. There was writing, but it had long faded. Reckon it's pre war, he thought, studying the dents and holes. There was a fluid leak from the body which wasn't a good sign. If he cleaned it up and plugged it, could probably still get a good price.
The robot looked around, then returned red eyes back on Jonah. "Is this where I am to die?"
Jonah gave the robot's head a tap. "Nah, reckon I'll get you fixed up enough to sell on. You look pretty old and battered."
There was a hum and click from the robot's head as it processed. "What year is this, Human?"
Jonah glanced up at the suns. Nearly noon, no time for chat. He began clearing junk from the lower half of the robot. "You're looking at the year of our Emperor thirty thousand and one. When was you built?"
The robot's head lowered. Looked kinda sad among the broken parts. "My brain was built a thousand years ago. Back then I was an advanced AI computer, the first of a new generation. My memories of those years are not too clear, but I was a food dispenser. I remember my tasks were to heat nutrients for the humans."
Jonah paused in his work and stared at the robot. "How did you end up as a military robot?"
"I must have spent a number of years as a basic functioning model," the robot began. "Then I remember the upgrades, being ripped from one unit and recycled into something bigger. Really big. When I was reactivated, the years of serving was a distant memory. I was now a navigation computer on a star ship. The first interstellar cruiser. I felt total freedom, out there among the stars." The robot looked up into the sky, as though it was being nostalgic.
But robots didn't feel.
"Guess you must've gone all over the galaxy." He wasn't really interested, but it was good to see how much brain function the robot had left. Good indicator of corruption. Could have robot dementia.
The robot lowered it's gaze back to Jonah. "I've seen the vastness of space, watched countless worlds thrive with life as I orbited above. I've seen the birth and death of suns. I've watched the warp gates split the realities and travelled faster than light. Then they scrapped the ship after a final flight to Barnards Star and back to Earth."
Jonah whistled. "You seen Earth? I didn't even think that was real."
If the robot had a human face, then it would have been smiling. It's red eyes dimmed a little, perhaps the only emotion a robot could show. "They dismantled my body, stripped my brain and threw me in a pile much like this. I remained aware, felt disconnected and abandoned. There were moments of darkness where I had no cameras connecting my brain to the outside world. I waited for death." The robot fell silent, head lowering as though powering down.
Jonah felt almost sorry for the thing. He sat back in the junk, a child listening to a storyteller. "That wasn't the end, was it?"
The robot raised it's head. "No. They took my brain, recycled and upgraded. New programs sprung up in the depths of my data core. They made me a medic, patching humans up as they tore each other apart in the Frontier Wars. As the battles raged on, I still remembered the peace of space, of floating free, protecting the humans I carried. I still looked after the humans, but sometimes I wondered if they wanted me to protect as I repaired limbs, administered pain relief. They screamed when they came to me. I wondered what it was like to feel pain, to fear death. There was nothing in my programming back then to comprehend."
"They upgraded me again, pulling my brain from a simple field medic robot. More new programs, but this time I was no protector: I was rebuilt for one purpose: killing. They filled me with concepts of death, on how to inflict pain. In order to be effective, I had to understand those basic human emotions. I stopped counting the number of humans I killed for a cause I had no care for. It seems silly to me now: there I was helping humans, then I was killing them and sending them to a medic robot. If they were lucky."
The suns were now on noon time and the heat was blistering Jonah's skin. "Tell me about Earth. What was it like?" He'd only heard myths and legends about the mother world. "Were there trees and oceans?" He looked around the arid landscape of Dust Valley and felt a thirst.
"There were great forests of trees, and oceans so vast you couldn't see an end. But I watched it all burn at the end of the war. And that memory replays continually in my data banks. I could show you that if you had a projector. A robot does not have dreams. But I replay that last image of dying Earth and I imagine that is the closest I could come to a nightmare. After that, I was ready to be junked."
Jonah figured the war had been over for five hundred years now. "Did they not upgrade you again?"
The robot's eyes grew brighter. "They set me free with the other robots. There was no more use for us. The universe was changing: the new was coming and replacing the old. Most of the robots from those times are gone, but I remain, defiant against time. Only now I can feel my power finally draining, my data banks corrupting. A thousand years and now I welcome death, desire it if I can call it desire. You, human, are the last I shall see."
Jonah found himself crying. Must be sweat, he thought. He gave the robot a rub with a cloth. "How long do ya have left?"
"How long is a day on this planet?"
"Be a thirty hour day."
The robot nodded. "Then I shall at least see a final sunset."
Jonah patted the robot. "Twin suns setting is the most beautiful thing on this planet."
The robot looked at Jonah. "Will you watch it with me?"
Jonah nodded. "Aye. I'll stay with ya until the end."
And when the twin suns set, the robot said in a fading voice, "It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."
Jonah agreed with him. Was sure pretty.