Wednesday story day. Hi everyone! Back again with another short story. Though this is less a story and more the unfolding of an event. It’s a shorter story (about 4100 words) but I think it turned out well. It’s something I wanted to do for a while, but it took me a bit to work out and reach a point that I was happy with the idea. But that’s enough waffling from me, so let’s begin!
“Conner, come on we only have ten minutes.” Silas says from within the safety of his viewing platform which itself is enveloped by a Rosenbaum Distortion Bubble, or RDB for short. The RDB will not only aid in the protection of Silas and the viewing platform, upon which he is settled, as it sits out beyond the limits of the star system, but will also allow for the time between events to be greatly truncated down to mere minutes. Without the presence of the RDB the event would last for millions of years and though Silas would be able to survive that without any real issue, he would rather not sit idly by trying to fill countless eons until the next phase of the helium flash occurs.
“I know full well how long we have Silas. Perhaps even better than you do, seeing as my internal timer is allowing me to keep track of the time down to the most precise of decimal places.” Conner, an AI, says from inside Silas’ head. The two have known one another for an almost inconceivably long period of time. One which Silas, though completely able to comprehend, has to admit is far greater than those of the generation before his own, who would have found it unfathomable to think about. But that had been a very different time and in that very different time people had been born, grown old and eventually died. Death had been as sure as birth. That now, however, was no longer the case. Humanity had grown far beyond the frail and temporary forms from which they had been born into. Many had been terrified by the prospect of leaving their bodies, their birth forms, behind when the transition had first been conceived into being. Silas can’t remember the names of those responsible for the construct network universe of digitally manufactured bliss that is now known as Elysium. Nevertheless, he still thinks about those men and women every day that he rises, as without their daring plunges into science humanity would almost have certainly died out several billion years ago. Not in as wondrous fashion as what he and Conner will experience here, though he doubts his species would have been willing to admit that back in the days when he had still been flesh and bone.
“How I share this head with you I will never know.” Silas retorts with a chuckle as he fidgets trying to get a more comfortable position in preparation of what he will witness. His remark is in jest and that is exactly how Conner will take it, of that he can be sure.
He is one of a few million others doing the same as he, watching this event occur in real, if not heavily truncated, time. The rest of the three septillion members of the human race will simply watch it as and when they please, if they please at all. Many of the newer generations, from the last several hundred million years, aren’t particularly interested in the fate of this system, as they have no connection to it. But for men and women like Silas this system is where it all began. Without it humanity would not be the immortal universe spanning civilization that they are today. For this is the system that was once known as Sol. And Silas can still remember when it held that name, but now it is generally referred to as the cradle system. Silas has never been sure whether he likes the name or not. It’s original moniker while basic and lacking any real imagination still seems to suit it best. But he’s long since concluded that cradle is a fitting enough title for it to be given as well.
“Usually you don’t. When we are in Elysium we both…” Conner begins sounding far more artificial than is the norm for the hyper advanced and incredibly old AI that he is.
“I was joking Conner.” Silas replies, having cut the AI off from his ramblings, before erupting into a hearty laugh.
Anyone else might think that Conner is malfunctioning or that some corruption due to his age is occurring. But Silas knows better. Conner is simply busily checking the platform systems as well as those of the RDB that will permit them to be a witness for this most grand of occasions.
The AI always sounds far less real when he is deep in calculation checks and diagnosis scrubbings. Silas understands why and is thankful that the AI is here with him. Not just so that the AI can almost assure that no harm or error can occur that might annihilate this form that is not the one he was born with, but also for the company. Being an old human, by the standards of those from generations where Elysium and later developments were present from birth, he still feels a need to witness the world beyond the limitless confines of Elysium. Many would think that because Elysium is limitless then to say that it has confines would be a contradiction, but for Silas sometimes things have to be limited for them to be experienced. This, the death of the cradle system, is one of those times. Though, the whole system will not be consumed by the helium flash of the star that humanity still refers to as the sun. Today, as viewed from the perspective of those within the RDB like Silas and Conner, will only see the loss of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, in that order. The latter had not originally been expected to be consumed by the transition of the sun into a red giant but according to calculations that seems an almost guaranteed prospect now.
Silas wonders how the scientists of Earth, abandoned nearly five billion years ago due to the advancing years of the sun and it’s increased luminosity, would perceive being told they were wrong by an AI. Some would likely scoff and dismiss it, many would have countless questions for the AI, a few would call it heretic and even fewer would revere it like a god. All of those prospects bring a smile to Silas’ face, the face that isn’t really his. He doesn’t remember his birth face or how he had looked before he joined Elysium. When he’d had his consciousness uploaded to the enormous network, but he knows it was very different to the face he has right now. His current face and body were sculpted and manufactured to his specifications in preparation for this very moment. The realisation makes him chuckle as he settles. Finally having found comfort on the wide black silicate chair that has been formed from the platform by the wishes of his mind. He would explain how but truth be told he does not really know. Conner would but he sees little point in asking as any explanation the AI would give would almost certainly leave him confused after the first few sentences. The AI excels at many things but breaking them down into a form that Silas can understand is not one of them.
“Systems and diagnostics are showing well within acceptable tolerances.” Conner than declares putting an emphasis on well before returning to join Silas in a sharing of the ‘mans’ senses.
Silas has no qualms about the act seeing as Conner is as alive as he. But that had not always been the opinion of humanity. AI had come long before Elysium and wars had been fought over the dominion and control of the intelligences that mankind had pioneered. It had been one of the bloodiest periods of human history and that was saying a lot, Silas knew. But that was all in the past. Humanity had survived as had the AI and together both had thrived. Humanity even reached the point that made it barely distinguishable from the very constructed intelligences that it had forged so many thousands of lifetimes before and warred with. If not for the losses it would have been humorous, but not funny. War can never be funny. It can only be tragic, barbaric and stem from a lack of understanding or perspective. However, perspective is something humanity no longer struggles with, which it shouldn’t after the billions of years that it has had to grow, learn and evolve.
Still none of that could prepare Silas or Conner for the beauty of what they were gazing at beyond the platforms viewshield, the Sun. It burns brighter now than it has ever done so before in all its long and illustrious life. A life that will soon, from the perspective of Silas and Conner at least, see the star transition from the star it was into something quite different, a red giant. Still, its luminosity is enough right now to blind even from the distance that the pair, within a single form, are viewing it as they sit well past the historically defined edge of the cradle system.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Conner asks within Silas’ head.
The man simply nods the head of the body his consciousness is currently occupying. Though, Silas has to admit that the body is not comfortable for him, at least not yet. He has only occupied its mass for hours and has not yet got used to the idea of not being to conjure what he wishes as he wishes it. A strange sensation to be missing if considered that he was once skin and bone, but one he feels, nonetheless, as he stares out ready for the event to soon begin. He, like Conner, knows how long is left before the show will start, as there is a countdown timer in the top left of his vision that keeps him readily informed.
Right now however, Silas can’t help but consider how alien he looks, or at least would to a human of the third millennia according to the old Anno Domini calendar, from which he is descended. His eyes are yellow with flecks of grey that dance and circle like search lights on a sulphur lake. His ‘skin’, which is in fact a silicate compound, is tinted blue and is as smooth like porcelain and that helps to add to the definition of his chiselled cheek bones, wide sculpted jaw, proud jutting chin and thin delicate nose. Many of the aspects of the face hide whether its owner is male or female, but certain characteristics hint toward the former Silas himself thinks. Though his lips are pale and his teeth are an ivory white colour that are a clear and stark contrast to his thick black as night hair, which is swept back across his scalp. The sides of his head are shaved short enough that the stubble is still black, though the blue tint of the skin of his body can be glimpsed through it.
“If only there were more grandiose words, but yes. Yes it is Conner.” Silas remarks as he blinks the thin eyelids of this body which is of his design. It’s a lithe muscular body that is wrapped in a simple suit, black in colour, with a grey shirt beneath the fastened buttons of the blazer and a thin red tie. It isn’t the fashion of this era of mankind, but Silas believed it appropriate attire for today. For this event, this spectacle, and at that moment he flicks his vision to the timer and sees that the expansion is about to begin. He banishes the timer, deciding that he is comfortable enough in the silicate chair that he willed into being as he fixes these eyes, unblinking now, on the view of the inner half of the cradle system.
As if by thought alone, however he knows it is being done by Conner in reality, the view through the viewshield magnifies a few hundred times until Mercury looms large. Silas thinks it so close that it is almost as though he could reach out and touch it. He can’t and he knows that, but still that is how it seems to him as the helium flash begins. Huge coils, almost like tendrils, lance forth and seemingly caress Mercury whose surface boils and incinerates under the immense temperatures that scorch it and turn it molten. The planet’s surface suddenly appears exactly like the metal which also possesses its name, a metal that was used in barometers of the twentieth century. But in the blink of an eye the sphere of grey is swallowed as the ballooning sun expands outward claiming it.
Silas has no idea what is happening the diminutive planet within the mass of helium and energy but he can imagine that it is literally being torn asunder. Huge cracks ripping across its surface as the pressure the ball of rock is put under becomes unbearable for its now softened shell to withstand until finally it shatters like glass. The shreds of what had once been a planet ripped apart atom by atom removing any hint that it ever existed. It is both depressing and exhilarating at once, he feels.
“Marvellous.” Conner exclaims with wonder in his tone. Its wonder that Silas shares as the ballooning sun quickly accelerates toward Venus forcing Conner to pull back the zoom magnification so that he and Silas will miss nothing of this event. It isn’t an event that can be called once in a lifetime, as the limit to both Silas and Conner’s lives are infinite, and this is not the first or the last time something on this scale or magnitude will occur. Though, it is the only system that holds a lasting interest and historical significance for both the AI and human species.
Conner doesn’t know if he should consider either a species anymore as the changes both have undergone have taken them far beyond the limits of what once would have been perceived to be possible. Still, he knows of no other fitting description for he and Silas as they reside within the same form. In truth, both are more similar than they are different. Neither possess physical forms as a norm, both are devoid of disease and have no requirements for sustenance or air. So perhaps they should be perceived as a single race, but they are not. It does not bother Conner. He came after the human-AI wars. However, he knows that Silas predates them. He also knows that the human once had a very different name, but not one he is privy too. He wonders if Silas still knows the name he was bestowed at birth, or whether that was one of many things lost to time. Maybe it was best that way but Conner would never be able to be sure. Something told him it was and he, unlike humans when they had been able to decay, took comfort in that feeling.
“I can feel goose bumps all over this body.” Silas says as ‘his’ eyes go wider. If he were still biological it would cause him discomfort, but thankfully he is not. Then the expanding star reaches for Venus. Its atmosphere predominantly made up of carbon dioxide flashes into fire before the tendrils of searing heat reach it. In an instant the whole atmosphere is a brilliant blaze of red and orange that burns brightly, almost brighter than that of the sun itself. Then the brilliant blaze diminishes as the expanding sun grabs hold of the side nearest the star. Venus seems to physically buckle and contort as though the pull of it is morphing the planet into a cone shape. Then the atmosphere bursts with what Silas could imagine would be an enormous pop. The concussive waves caused by the pop rippling outward from its origin point, caught by the viewshield, as well as the scanners and sensors that are recording and broadcasting the data simultaneously. But Venus’ time has come as the sun engulfs the remains of the planet, its actual rocky surface, which appears as though it tries to fight back as it re-emerges from the consuming ‘fire’ of the transitioning star. However, its apparent defiance lasts only mere seconds as it is enveloped once more and never seen again. Silas again imagines the true death of the planet and envisions it to be much like that of Mercury’s, except perhaps with a little more resilience.
Silas goes to speak, to say something, but he can’t. He is simply lost for words. The death of Venus, like Mercury, had been beautiful, though at the same time it served as a reminder that his own world would be next. It was the world he was born on. The one he still called home. Few of the seemingly endless number of the human race could say that. Not that being able to put Silas at an advantage in Elysium, as it didn’t. There were no advantages now. Everyone was equal whether they be human or AI, born on Earth or one of its countless, and now long since abandoned, colony worlds. It had been a proud moment when Silas realised he could honestly say that, as that had been the moment that money, war, disease and suffering all became a thing of the past.
Regret hangs in Silas’ stomach, or at least the feeling does, in the moments before he swallows hard and waits for Earth to be next. He is sure his homeworld will be the most spectacular of all the planet deaths, though Earth has been dead for a very very long while. The increased luminosity of the sun had brought an end to much of the life on Earth billions of years ago. That had saddened him to learn as he had been too lost in his creations in Elysium to have viewed it with his own eyes. But at least he would get to see the end to Earth, the real and final end and then just like that Earth’s atmosphere ignites. A rainbow of coloured fire fills him with terror and wonder all at once. It is already the single most beautiful moment that he has ever witnessed in his life.
“My…” Is all Conner manages mirroring Silas’ own amazement as the expanding sun proper actually lances three spears of angled ‘fire’, like a swipe of claws. The incendiary ‘claws’ rip through the blazing multi-coloured atmosphere which pops. Silas is sure he hears the booming sound of the atmosphere being broken, but he can’t imagine how that can be possible from this distance and with the RDB shielding the flat eight by eleven metres plate which he is residing upon. Still, he sees no reason to sully the moment as the deep gashes in the Earth’s crust continue to run across the side furthest from the sun’s rays. Silas able to make out what had once been the Far East in the moments before the sun appears to take another swipe at the Earth. This swipe sees the planet explode into a hail of shrapnel. Much of the shrapnel flung wide and with colourful trails as it is sent out toward the edges of the solar system, and beyond. However, the bulk of the rock that had been Earth is engulfed by the Sun, exploding violently for a while before it ultimately succumbs to the fatal wounds that it has been dealt and finally dies as it is de-atomised.
Silas feels a great well of pain inside him but also at the same time more pride than he ever thought possible. And it all stems from seeing Earth vanquished. The planet had endured countless thousands of wars, some of which should have spelt disaster, as well as climate and pollution issues. Somehow though, it had weathered it all and survived until the end it was always supposed to meet came for it. And the planet, the birth world of the human race, had faced its demise like only it ever could have, with defiance and bravery.
Silas is sure that is why he feels pride and why he is nodding silently, not really to himself as Conner also occupies the same space, but as close as that possibly is for him right now. He knows he will review the vid-runs of this moment a thousand times a ‘day’ for the rest of his existence without ever getting sick of it. In fact, he may even construct a dioramic replica of this entire affair in celebration and remembrance so as to never forget. Not that he would ever be able to forget this, even if it were possible, which it is not.
Still, it strikes Silas that the loss of Mars, the second world colonised by humanity, will never be able to meet the gravitas of the Earth’s conclusion. That in turn makes him wonder whether he should simply end his viewing of this transition now, but quickly decides that doing so would be like leaving before the encore is over and he would not abide that. Silas will stay until the end, the very end. The point at which the inner half of the planets of the solar system are gone, which will mark the Sun having achieved its destiny of becoming a red giant. That is why he came here, so that is what he will do and as if on cue the expanding sun lurches for Mars. It’s like the star knows that it is at the finish line, a finish line that has been appointed to it by the universe itself. And so it plans on making the final moments the best they can be.
The converted atmosphere of Mars flares, not as brilliantly as Earth’s as it lacks many of the colours that burn across its surface, but still the sight is second only to the origin of humanity. However, its atmosphere burst is far more violent and actually results in deep gashes tearing across its surface seconds before huge chunks of the planet begin to drift away. If Silas didn’t know better he’d assume that the planet is a collection of living beings trying to make a break for safety, too late. But they aren’t. Mars is simply rock, thick rock that is rapidly wrenched back toward the annihilating energy that is the transitioning sun. Each piece yanked deep below the expanding horizon of the star, a few columns of flare belching outward as though Mars has physically been eaten by the Sun. And in some respects that is exactly what has happened.
And then it is over. The sun stops. It expands no more and instead simply sits there blazing brilliantly and defiantly staking claim and victory over the solar system which it birthed long before anything still living dared to raise its head in curiosity. And Silas, along with Conner, both feel drained. Neither expected the viewing of this event would leave them feeling so drained, emotionally, but it has and the body they both occupy has slumped, eyes still unblinking, as they watch the sun in its new red giant form.
“Will we stay for its white dwarf transformation?” Conner asks after a while and with more than an ounce of hope in his voice. In fact, the AI sounds a little like an excited child eager to witness a new and fascinating sight.
“We will. But first we should stretch our legs.” Silas replies.
“You know that isn’t necessary, right?” Conner queries in response.
“I do. But some old habits die hard.”
“Very well.” Conner utters after a pause before adding, “It will give us a window for thought. And there is a great amount to ponder during that window.”
With that the body shared that is Silas’ current form, which also has Conner within it, rises to first stretch its muscles and then begins to pace around the edge of the rectangular platform drinking in the view of the solar system around them. A smile sits plastered across the face of the figure that stands seven feet in all, its black leather replicated shoes clacking softly as each step is taken. While inside Conner runs through the mountains of data like a child might frolic in the sun. But Silas simply replays the sights he has seen in his mind and wonders what will be next for Elysium and those that occupy it.
An enormously long life is assured but where will the future take them. Before long he decides that it doesn’t matter, he will be there to see it. Everyone will. For that is how existence works for humanity and the AI, that are equals.