Where Fires Begin

And the years passed, and they were happy. Happy was the feeling of a job well-done. It meant never wanting anything else. Being a human word, it had a great deal many more connotations than that, but being robotic, they did not care. There was no room for the petty jealousies and waning attentions of mortal creatures inside those metal hearts, no fickle, capricious whims. They loved. That was the new directive. Nothing more was needed.

The trees came back, and the grasses and flowers she loved so well. Mankind fixed what it had broken in childish carelessness, then returned to the stars, its wanderlust weakened, but still there as it had been since the beginning. Always, though, there were a few left behind to tend and care for home. Generations of them lived and died and hoped and feared and loved, and the two who had been there at the rebirth watched in fascination, seeing traits of old in the new. They were revered and respected. People came to them for help, and what advice could be given.

Memories over millennial spans grew faded and dim, even as the sun grew hotter and redder in the sky. The remainder followed their fellows to the heavens, leaving behind a healed planet. They placed it in the hands of the stewards, the mechanical ones who did not die. For a time there was peace, nothing to do but enjoy one another's company. Then, one morning, he did not wake up.

It was to be expected, really. Robots did not last forever, even if the humans thought them to be immortal. There were only so many parts left from his ancient makers for repairs. On that day, both those finite supplies and their time together ran out. She searched in vain, as she had done eons ago. Nothing was left to use.

And so she waited beside him, hoping it a glitch, an anomaly in his program. The star that had once given life hung bloated above them. The replenished seas boiled with creatures that had never before existed, and the earth's surface changed in ways the humans, somewhere out there in the void, could have scarcely dreamed of. He did not wake. His shell rusted and corroded into nothingness, and she could not understand how it had happened. There was a part of them that would not be snuffed out by the elements. The fire, the animating flame – it had to exist still, somewhere. The humans had talked of a returning place, a kindling point where all souls were forged. She determined to find it, to trace its coordinates. When she finally did, he would be there waiting. He would take her hand, as he had always done, and the hollow space inside would be filled again.

Still, she was a steward. The wanderers had left their mother in her hands, and she was loathe to leave it, even as her beloved vegetation withered and died under the ever-expanding sun. The seas dried again. Strange skeletal shapes were revealed with the water and grasses receded, the bones of the earth laid bare. When it became too harsh even for her continued existence, she knew it was time to go.

She left an etching on the rock, a crude rendering of two creatures with interlocked hands. If anyone came to that place to see it before the sun devoured all, there is no record of it.

They say she searches the stars still, looking for the place where fires begin.