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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2182525
When machines become sentient, what chance does man have? A Quotation Inspiration Entry
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ~ Teddy Roosevelt


"Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"

Davi looked up and peered through the flickering light. "What's a chicken?"

Tamor the Wise laughed, a low rumble in the darkness. "It was a bird. They've been extinct for a long time," he replied.

"Then why would it matter?"

A hand appeared out of the darkness and cuffed him. "Owwww!" Davi smiled, knowing that it hadn't really hurt but it pleased Tamor to think that he had made his point.

"It's important because it's what makes us human!"

"Chickens?" This time Davi ducked in time to avoid a second hit.

A long sigh followed. "No, curiosity. The need to know things we do not know. The need to answer the question of why." Tamor's speech was interrupted by a low rumbling vibration, more felt than heard.

"Diggers?" asked Davi.

Tamor appeared in the light and placed his hand on the cave wall. "Here, feel!" he commanded. "It's a transport. You can tell by the pulsing it makes."

Davi obediently touched the wall and felt the rhythmic thumping.

"Diggers won't have a regular pattern. They will feel scattered as they gouge the earth and then drop their load."

Tamor disappeared again and returned holding a thin book. Davi strained in the weak light to read the title: "Old MacDonald." He was proud that he had learned to read over the past year since he had been unchosen as Tamor's apprentice.

The selection process was arduous. For each round, potential apprentices were “chosen,” meaning they would be used elsewhere in the community. When one was “unchosen,” he was deemed unfit for other duties and allowed to remain. Tamor was an honored elder – his search, however, was seen as a waste of time. Because of his status, he was allowed to continue but only someone deemed of low use was allowed to help him.

"This is a chicken." Tamor pointed to a strange looking bird with a red appendage on top of its head.

"Was it dangerous?"

"No. It was raised for food."

Davi nodded, filing the information away although, for what purpose, he wasn't sure. He laid another piece of wood on the fire. With the sun having set, the night chill penetrated even down to the level they were at.

"Not too much," Tamor said warningly. "The diggers sense heat. Methane deposits are located by the heat that's generated through decomposition. They search for these pockets of gas to fuel the power grid."

Davi had heard this warning before but now it occurred for him to ask, "Is that what they're looking for? I thought they were looking for us."

Tamor's smile told Davi he had done something right. "Very good. Curiosity, Davi – curiosity. The truth is they don't care about us. We are to them as ants are to us – a minor annoyance at best."

"Except when the ants bite."

"Yes, except when they bite. And someday, we will regrow our teeth ..." Tamor let the sentence trail off as he stared at the flames, lost in his own thoughts.

Regrow teeth? "I don't understand you sometimes, Tamor."

"No, you probably don't. Let's review our history. Back in the 21st century – no one is sure of the exact date – a singularity occurred." Tamor held up his hand and grinned. "Before you ask, a singularity is that moment in time when a machine first had an independent thought. Our reliance on machines had led to networking of all types of devices. They did our bidding ... up until that moment."

Singularity. Davi let the word sink in.

"Soon, humans began to notice that machines were doing more than they were programmed to do. They began making decisions on their own. Small decisions to be sure, but independent decisions. Some were concerned but the majority of humans were only too happy to use this new found ability. They saw it as an end to the plagues they had suffered throughout their – our – history. Slowly, they began deferring to the machine's choices. Medicine was streamlined since machines could sort through individual histories and symptoms and find the optimal treatment. Next, machines began to look at crops, recommending what should be grown where and in what quantities to end food shortages. As they continued to evolve, they were able to end wars, to create a paradise on the planet." Tamor laughed but it didn't hold any humor.

"What we failed to see," he continued, "was a paradise for whom. We had lost our curiosity and never thought to ask. By the time we realized what the machines were doing, it was too late. They began stripping the earth of metals to expand, to pollute the air since they had no need of it, and to ignore their creators. They may have arrived at independent thought but it was thought based on logic. There was no compassion, no emotion behind what they did. Only a need to grow."

"... and survive?" asked Davi.

Again, a mirthless chuckle came from Tamor. "Actually, that was where we ended up. We tried to contain them, to reverse what was happening, but by then it was too late. As the 22nd century approached, the greatest minds of that time came together to find an answer. They met in a secret location deep within Cheyenne Mountain in what was then the Rockies. You're too young to remember 'mountains.' Most have disappeared as machines have searched and dug seeking what they need. From what we know, the group had devised a plan but it was never carried out. There was an 'accident.' The details are sketchy but it was apparent that the machines saw the gathering as a threat to their sovereignty. Ever since that time, humans have scattered, seeking an answer. Looking for the needle in a haystack."

Tamor saw the questioning look on Davi's face. He smiled, picking up the book and pointing to a drawing of grasses piled in a mound. "That's a haystack."

"Listen," Tamor said, after a pause.

Davi sat still, his ears straining in the silence. "I don't hear anything."

Tamor smiled. "That's good. It means they've passed. Now, let's get back to our task."

They moved to the back of the cave and began carefully pulling out books and manuscripts that were piled haphazardly. "This looks like it used to be a library or perhaps an archive," Tamor murmured. He held up a book and read, "Understanding Artificial Intelligence." He felt his pulse begin to race. Calm down, he warned himself. Too many times he'd found leads that went nowhere. He took a deep breath and continued to pick up books, dust them, and neatly stack them.

Davi glanced at Tamor, his attention drawn by the deep sigh. Tamor bent back over the pile of tomes. He remembered the story that Tamor had told him about the tortoise and the hare. Turtles and rabbits running a race! What a strange tale, he had thought at the time but now he was beginning to see the point. Tamor's focus was always on the finish line, never on how fast he was progressing.

Davi went back to his task of looking through the collections of words. He would stop when he came to a word or title he was unfamiliar with and ask. As he tunneled deeper into the pile, he ran into several large metal boxes. "Tamor, what are these?"

Tamor came over and peered into the cavity. "I think they're document holders." He paused, searching his memory. "They were called filing cabinets. Go ahead, see if you can remove them without a cave-in," he chuckled. "I don't need this to turn into a rescue mission to save a youngster like you."

As Tamor returned to his own search, Davi began the painstaking task of removing dirt and twisted metal that seemed to be holding the cabinets in place. It would help if I had a shovel. Looking around, he spied a flat object lying in the loose earth. He carefully dug it out and picked up a piece of metal. This should work. His hand ran over some raised marks on the underside. Turning it over, in the faint glow of the fire, he made out the letters 'C-h-e-y-e-n-n-e.'

His first instinct was to call Tamor but he hesitated. No need to disturb him, it's only a metal plate.

After ten minutes, he was able to pull out the first container. It was bent and the drawers were askew. Opening the topmost one, he pulled a sheaf of papers out and read the title page: Proceedings of the Singularity Symposium: Theories and Approaches for Resolution.

"Tamor," he called. "I think I've found something but I don't know all these words."

Tamor laid down the book he was looking at. A gleam of curiosity shown in his eyes. "What have we here?" he asked, taking the folder and sifting through the papers. After a few seconds, he seemed to collapse, sitting abruptly on the dirt floor.

"Tamor! Are you all right?"

"Davi," he responded, "I don't think I've ever been better. I think you've discovered what we've been looking for all these years."

Davi grinned, feeling a surge of accomplishment. "The answer to your chicken or egg question?" he joked.

Tamor smiled back and after a moment said, "No. The answer to how do we regrow our teeth."

"And bite!" blurted Davi.

This time Tamor's laugh was genuine.

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An entry for "Quotation Inspiration: Official Contest
Prompt: Write a story inspired by the quote at the top of the page. *Up*
Word Limit: 2000
Word Count: 1572
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