Sci-Fi short story
|Mothers Caw--Babies Hatch
A grid--woven with uneven blotches, covers earth. A distorted block of this grid is on some of eastern Europe and some of Asia. There is a bone-chilling fog rolling over block F743. Within the walls, the fog rests on squeaky-clean metal like a whisper on soft lips. One reaches it's more human-like hand to the outside of it's face. Feeling the icy layer snap off the eyes, a clear opening is made in a vast and ever-changing civilization of robots. A handprint from the inside leaves transparency--the empty space where a puzzle piece used to be, hatching out of the edges as human. The robot looks as the dewdrops fall on the sidewalk between it's legs and gives not another thought before walking down the sidewalk again. Down the sidewalks are old shops, warehouses, and office buildings, none of which--in this block at least, had been changed since humans had been wiped out. They became useful for every kind of robot. There were variations just as there were in humans, who made distinct groups of robots based from their specific way of life. Despite the groups being different and from all around the planet, they were all united in each other's destruction. Centuries ago, the extensions of civilizations formed communication systems with robots from outside their block and it wasn't long before it was down to one person. Dark wings flutter down to a thin wire in front of Dr. Novak's window. A crow cuts a jagged silhouette in the eye of the doctor, who sees a steadily flickering fluorescent light behind the sharp outline on the wire. Crows were one of the few forms of natural life that remained besides humans and some plants. Dr. Novak reaches from the window of his laboratory in block F743. With his left hand he grabs the crow; it flails and caws but is powerless in the doctors grasp. After a minute or so when he had brought the crow inside and put it in a makeshift cage, it had become somewhat calm, making no sound--never a good sign after birth. In desperate plan to survive, Dr. Novak turns on the power to his consciousness-transferring system. He had been working on it for the past few years but had only been able to transfer I.Q. from one person to another, leaving the original transferor mentally numb and unable to perform any basic task. There were robots patrolling the streets outside and many were inspecting buildings for any last remnants of human life.
"This must be the perfect way to hide in plain sight." Dr. Novak thinks to himself. "It's my last chance at life anyway."
He starts the machine with the crow under one section of the receiving side of the machine and then sits under the output section. He looks to the left side of the room, noticing the picture on his desk of him and his wife, "I'll see you again my love.", the doctor says before clicking start on the panel in front of him. His vision blacks out completely. Under the transferring machine is a mind--in it's core it pictures an ancient structure hovering in the sky, modeled as a creature with two rigid wings sticking out to each side of its body. There are two piercing eyes on the top side of each wing, glowing sheer white. It has a long, rounded beak and part of an an egg shell covers it's head.
There is still another mind underneath the machine--it hears the sound of two happy daughters playing pretend in the next room and pictures a beautiful wife sitting next to him at the dining table. The crow, appearing dead in the cage, gathers itself and limps to the cage door. It stares at the door, then twitches it's head around to get a good look at the room. Climbing the inside of the door, it uses it's right leg to reach through a square of the fence-like cage and slowly rotate the latch. It pulls out the pin and watches the room as he swings out on the loose door, which makes a rusty squeak as it opens. After a few minutes of inspecting the room, the crow lands on the edge of the desk, casting a long shadow on the wooden floor behind him. The crow looks at the photograph of the two people with their arms embracing one another, disregards it, then continues trotting down Dr. Novak's desk. Indefinitely immobilized, Dr. Novak slumps in the seat where he had blacked out. His eyes--half open and showing little sign of life, look around the room in a smearing motion and stop at the crow, who is now outside on the wire, counting the robots banging open the door of the laboratory's building. In unison the robots deliver a final push near the hinges of the door. The door bursts open, slamming against the inside wall. The four robots--having modified themselves with different weapons, enter the building.
The crow becomes startled by this and flies off with a folder in it's claws. Now centuries old, the folder lays on the floor in a room within block F743, the contents of each page had been memorized like numbers on a clock. Dr. Novak's life work had been is his lab, and a significant portion was written in that folder. Walking the streets are an even more varied group of robots, some of which may as well be crows. Using both their heightened intellect and natural understanding of communication systems, the new generations of crows had Novak's intellect passed down just as easily as all life inherently knows to sustain itself. The crows had learned to distinguish natural from artificial life and found that they could replace the software within a robot. They memorized the habits and programming of certain robot groups derived from cultures around earth. One group in particular, originally located in central Asia, had built massive backup hardware storages. These inactive units made perfect nests for the crows to overtake similar to the way a cuckoo parasite will hatch in a host nest and throw out the mother bird's eggs--mothers will return soon, only to find crows in the cradle. Being able to read scrips in various media, the crows were able to write computer software and use it in the robot storage units. Now with hundreds of semi-independent robots spread throughout block F743, the crows had learned to hatch that which they knew was other than--natural life. In an old hospital on the north side of F743, the crows held nests in their beaks. These host nests had gathered old research from around the earth grid and retrieved the gift of knowledge of life. Before robots overtook earth centuries ago, human scientists had fully realized human reproduction by fragmentation. This was gathered and resides now in Zacopane hospital. On the third floor, the wall forms dark towers lined in the empty halls. In one of the openings is a green tower, formed from the handprint of life. It stands tall beside a metal plaque with the name "patient 309" written on it. In the room there is no bed, crows stand in a circle facing inward, and human-image robots with crows perched on their cold shells stand also. In the center of the crowd--completely still, are two egg incubators in use. They are filled with a brothy looking fluid surrounding translucent eggs that softly glow from the warm light beneath them. Small human fetuses with arms tucked close to their forming heads float in the eggs. In one egg is a human male who was fragmented from preserved humans from North America that the robots had gathered after the crows had found them. The same was true for the human female in the second incubator, but her fragment was from southern Europe. Soon to hatch, they leave clear prints on cold metal, and the sound of cawing can be heard in the hospital hallways.