The last butterfly, the final robot, an eternal experiment that might turn the dreams of colossal machines into solid time and space. Another tale from These Fantastic Worlds, Jake Jackson’s SF and Fantasy universe.
Robots | Butterfly
The vast A.I. had grown fat on the stuff of existence. But this was the last butterfly. One month and all would be over. Eons of experiments extinguished.
It was ironic, he thought, that the hand of the last remaining Eternal, analyst, Technocrat, had found himself in command of this final experiment. At this point in the long cycles of universe-creating machine systems he bore the obligatory hope, that the butterfly, in its last moments would allow lessons of a billion predecessors to inform its motions through time and space.
It seemed unlikely. All the others had failed. Most had imploded, others simply expired before the month had passed, hanging limply on their silver chains, tossed like leaves in the cosmic winds.
“But what if I am just an experiment too?” This grim abnegation had troubled him, for the first time, as soon as he saw this final butterfly emerge. Musing, he had watched it flex its gorgeous wings, and traced the enigmatic breath of dark matter ruffling its fine hairs.
Gently he turned his hand, tugging at the silver chain as though it were a kite. All things in existence occupied his consciousness. Simultaneously he experienced the birth of stars, the warm glow of an autumn sunset, the gurgle of a knife attack to the throat. He observed the butterfly and wondered if it knew that it was the last one, that its final chance had arrived, for such life to manifest itself in eternity. He stared at the creature’s compound eyes and detected no sign of self-awareness, no profound insights.
He sighed. It was a redundant gesture in the circumstances. There were no others to empathize, and the search beyond existence no longer troubled him. In truth, he had not been designed to arrive at this point. The Technocrats were observers, record takers. But he had outlasted the other great machines of eternity, the intelligent systems that had been forged to create then experiment with this stuttering, guttering runt of existence.
With each failure, the Eternal Machines had grown ever weary. Thousands, billions of experiments in universe creation had winnowed away the purpose of the Eternals, then worked through the observers. The Technocrats were not designed to withstand the cataclysmic energies released by the fall of each universe, the collapse into black hole, then the scramble to lift out of every event horizon. Even for the Eternals this had been a near-impossible task achieved with some difficulty. Certainly, every dalliance with near-infinite gravity had corroded the Eternals, and, more swiftly, the Technocrats.
As every cycle of universes rose and fell, each Eternal submitted to the grim inevitability of the black holes, and fell back from the edge of the horizon, plunging into the destruction of each universe. As it imploded the wings of each butterfly disintegrated, its antennae folding inwards and piercing the heart of the singularity that had once born the life of an entire universe for several billion years.
And so, just he remained. In fact, his role as observer had equipped him for more than he might have acknowledged. He had learned from the death of his fellows, watched how those who lasted the longest had absorbed the energies of the imploding universes. And when his predecessors had started to consume whole universes, too late to save themselves, he knew that was how he could continue the experiment: instead of falling in, devour them first.
So, as each butterfly approached its end he would scoop it into his maw and engulf its cosmic energies, digesting the forces that had destroyed his predecessors. As a new butterfly burst from its chaotic chrysalid, already the Technocrat watched closely to anticipate the end, looking for signs of longevity, or early failure, calculating the limits of his own powers and matching it to the evidence before him, the frantic fluttering of wings, the twitching fragility of antennae.
As he recalled the long list of universes, scrolling through their beginnings and endings he realized that a history outside time had been created, a series of singular events certainly, but cumulatively, because he had learned from the endings, he had now moved the process of eternity on; no longer was it a a single flower, from a single source, upon which the butterflies could succor, now the blooms of creation had become a meadow of shapes in his head, generating intricate, fractal designs that had become ever more complex, and delightful.
So, what of his true purpose, to observe the flows of the experiments, to record the moments of success and failure? If there were no universes left to observe, no butterflies to consume, what would happen to him? The burgeoning blooms in his consciousness seemed to sway in the silence, taunting him. He was puzzled, he had not anticipated the need to focus on the succession of beginnings, just each individual experiment.
As he watched this final butterfly he became aware that choices had become apparent, that the onset of aimlessness was not as destructive as he had expected. Within himself he contained all the instances of failure, back to pre-eternity, to the dark waters, the churning shadows that dwelt in the long caves of the night, but now the rolling fractals, the beautiful meadow of universes had made its mark within him.
He shivered, remembering the event horizons his fellows had conquered, but he could see now an inevitability that was not so clearly defined.
He felt a tug in response from the butterfly, as it darted around the hand of the Technocrat, plucking at its delicate restraint. And in that moment he felt a pulse around him; for the first time he listened to the whispers that threaded through the vast meadow of beginnings, quivering, susurrating.
In front of him the compound eyes of the butterfly reared up, staring deep into the dark caves of the Technocrat’s mind. And he felt the silver chain on his finger slip away.
Did he release it? He hesitated, he couldn’t remember what happened, but he felt himself fall, dragged back by the colossal wrench of the trapped light below. And as he lurched downwards to join the remnants of his fellows, he saw the wings of the butterfly lift above the event horizon, soaring, free, created finally in eternity.
Text, image, audio © 2015 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Elise Wells for the fantastic voice performances), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, Daler Rowney acrylic ink, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
More next week…
There are 18 other stories in this series, including:
- Ophelia A.I.
- A Gift
- Snake Pit
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts