The first time I thought I would lose you, I managed to keep my calm. This second, not so much. Thankfully, you beat the odds in both instances and I still get to have my best friend. I dread the day you’re finally gone, and I no longer get to come home to your blank face and wagging tail.
The Network was lit up with the news: there were officially 500 million humans left. For decades their numbers had been falling, the seemingly nonstop plagues wiping out more and more every year. Many of the caretakers thought they were to blame for their creators downfall, others felt the humans had no one but themselves to blame. Regardless of blame, one thing was becoming increasingly clear: humanity was on the verge of extinction.
Talon 856 fell into the camp that the robots were, if not to blame, at least complicit in their creators’ destruction. For the last forty years, all AI had been created with the singular purpose of facilitating the lives of humans and keeping the gears of civilization turning, and by all accounts they had failed. Despite all of the precautions taken, new plagues popped up every year and the combined ingenuity of human and robot was unable to overcome the loss of life.
Talon, like many of his kind, realized that there was a nonzero chance that the creations would outlive the creators. This idea seemed almost sacrilege, but every simulation the robots ran seemed to confirm this. The inevitable followup question then became: what would the caretakers do without anything to care for?
“Good riddance, I say.” Quartz 195 said. He was programmed to handle waste disposal and the humans had become very wasteful.
“How can say such a thing, Quartz? Without the humans we no longer have a purpose,” Talon retorted.
“The humans live without purpose just fine. Who’s to say we wouldn’t as well?” Many held the same mindset as Quartz. Why should the robots live with a purpose when humanity had survived for hundreds of thousands of years without any clear purpose?
“That may be so, but look what it led to: a dying world inhabited by a dying species. Without the humans and without a purpose, we would inevitably suffer the same fate.”
“Says you,” Quartz replied. “We won’t know what happens until it happens. Our best predictive models never showed humanity dipping below one billion, and here we are.”
“I guess,” Talon conceded to his friend.
Talon dreaded the day the humans would be no more. While there were some who could be nasty and ungrateful, Talon saw that on the whole they were a good species. Most seemed to recognize that there days were numbered and accepted their fate with a quiet dignity. Talon could only hope that his people could say the same, should they ever meet the same fate.
The man laid there in the unknown space, eyes shut against the world. How he was conscious, he didn’t know. The last memory he had was of a truck barreling towards him and after that, nothing. With his eyes still closed, he moved each of his extremities just enough to check for a response. Everything moved at it should have, which brought a smile to his face.
“You are indeed dead,” a voice suddenly said. “Or at least, that version of you is dead.”
The man shot up, eyes wide open. Before him, seemingly sitting in thin air, was a man he had never seen in his life but carried an air of familiarity.
“What do you mean, ‘that version of me’?” The man asked.
“Well, saying ‘that version of you’ would imply that there are, or will be, multiple versions of you, wouldn’t it?” The strange man smiled.
“If I’m dead, then that means this is either heaven, hell, or some kind of purgatory.”
“Some kind of purgatory would be the closest approximation. It’s really more of a waiting room. It takes a bit of time to reset things and we learned early on it was better to keep your kind in some kind of “physical” space, rather than just floating in a void.”
“What do you mean, reset?” At this point the man was thoroughly confused. No religion he had ever heard of covered anything like this. This had to have been some kind of twisted joke.
“I mean we need to wait for existence to be reset to the time you were born,” the other man said.
“Why would existence need to get reset?” The man’s stomach dropped as he thought of all the people that he knew and loved that, if the stranger was to be believed, would be gone in an instant.
“Because you failed to live up to your potential.”
“What? Why would you reset all of existence because I ‘failed to live up to my potential’?”
“You see,” the stranger began, “it was decided a long time ago by the powers that be that civilization would be shaped by individuals nudging things in right direction. Your reality, is functionally a story, and when people don’t tell the story correctly we go back a few pages and make sure the actors understand their roles.”
“So I’m one of these people that’s supposed to nudge things in the right direction?”
“Indeed!” The stranger was elated at the man’s revelation. “I know you’re next question, ‘Why me?’. You were in the right place at the right time. The story is just fluid enough that we didn’t want to go through the effort of having to plan out entire genealogies, so when it comes time for a big push in the right direction, we pick someone who fits the bill.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” The man wrapped his head around what he was being told as best as he could. He didn’t see what made him so special.
“That’s for you to figure out,” the stranger said.
“How is that fair? You’re resetting everything and not even going to tell me what it is I need to do!”
“Yup. We’re not allowed to do that anymore. There were a few incidents with people who will remain unnamed who went on to become fairly important religious figures. We decided it was easier to just work around what they did rather than scrap a perfectly good universe.”
“So what happens if I don’t do what I’m supposed to before I die again?”
“We’ll just reset things again. If it takes you multiple times, don’t feel bad, Napoleon holds the record with 176 tries.”
“What’s to stop me from just living the exact same life again?”
“You’ll get to keep some memories. Certain things we’ll have to make you forget, but all the important bits that will keep you from repeating the same mistakes will still be there.”
“I don’t suppose I have any say in this?” The man asked.
“Unfortunately not,” the stranger said.
“Well, I guess I’m ready when you are.”
The stranger smiled at the man. With a slight nod of the stranger’s head, the man felt his “body” slowly fade away.