by Melanie Rees
The creature flounders in the blackened ash-laden swamp. I say creature, but who knows what that means anymore. It is a scaly thing with both gills and lungs, neither lizard, nor fish, nor mammal.
My ungainly hands attempt to grasp its midriff, but it swishes, flicks, flees, and is sinking before I can grip it again. These hands are a technological Swiss army knife; they have laser beams, needles of adrenaline shots, morphine shots, palms that can defibrillate, but they were not designed for fishing creatures from dying water pools.
Of course not. That is not your purpose. You are breaking programing, my CPU informs me. You are meant to save humans at all cost.
I block out the voice in my head and scoop my hands under the creature. Wriggling and squirming, the spines on its tail scratch my hand as it slithers free. My body is meant to be indestructible, and yet here they are, tiny indentations visible on the surface of my palm. If I rescued more creatures they could scratch right down to my circuitry; they could scratch till the circuitry burns, until there was nothing left to scratch. They could save me from this forsaken place, just as I save them.
That is not your purpose, my CPU informs me.
"Who is to say this creature is not human?" I retaliate. "Who is to say humans did not have gills? I have memories that tell me they swam. They even stayed under water for days at a time."
In vessels, not with gills, my CPU informs me.
"Overanalytical processor. Maybe they have evolved. I ought to rip you from my head and throw you into the swamp."
That is against your core programing.
"Oh, be quiet!" My ancient body trudges up the hill from the swamp. It is a walk I have completed a thousand times before. I have walked every inch, every mile, every hill, every valley, and it is all the same.
Surrounding the burnt stumps of the tall wooden creatures that once existed, the carpet of soot covers billions of bones from those too brittle to survive. Their fragility seemed so futile. I could not save them, just like they could not save them from themselves. Would they have forgiven my failure? Can I?
I continue to trudge, step after step across the black covered landscape. Sixty four thousand and three steps. I count them all. All the same. All as tedious as the last.
At the top of the hill is the chasm I have seen thousands of times before. Tectonic shifts have altered so much. Each time I venture this way the chasm seems darker, its depth incomprehensible.
"Maybe I could fly," I say peering over the edge.
You do not have wings, retorts my CPU.
"Be quiet, you analytical know-it-all. If I do not have wings, then maybe I could fall. Fall into the depths of the unknown." I lean as far as my programming will allow and pray a sudden wind will rip through and push me forward.
The fall may end in system failure.
"Yes, it might."