Thursday, September 3, 2009

Progress - Friday Flash.

When the solar collector had reached seven per cent capacity a signal tickled his brain awake and he commenced system check. With so many of his external functions having failed, and long since been patched out of the feedback web, this didn't take long.

His left 'arm' was almost dead, but the right was holding up, as were the rarely-used, pincer-like helper limbs on his torso. The tracked lower chassis he'd salvaged from a construction site almost a century and a half earlier, and substituted for his legs, was growing temperamental. He would need to find parts soon or it would all be over.

Blind since his natural eyes had died, nonetheless he scanned the area in all directions at once using low powered radar to check for... what? There was never anything bigger than a monkey within his scanning range. Either there was nothing else out there, or it was keeping just ahead of his ability to detect. Switching to his crude, but necessary, visual sensors, he began searching for the clearly identifiable colours which would indicate fruit.

Marking a likely spread of patterns that suggested a fruit tree, he pulled up an infra-red overlay, and, as expected, found it to be heaving with bright, warm life-signs. The frantic contortions, the twining, twisting bumps and bumbles of more than a handful of the heat traces suggested that not a few of the little devils were fornicating. As usual. If he could only grab one of these gormless, little monkeys it would feed his digestion reactor for a month, but it had been years since he had been able to trap game, and in any event, he was now all but resigned to a vegan lifestyle. Even as his systems failed, he grew more resigned to his inevitable death, and more compassionate towards the life around him.

With a lurch he trundled towards the fruit tree, picking up speed at a painfully slow pace until he hit the tree with his reinforced lower front. Heat traces scattered, leaping to neighbouring branches in the canopy, those interrupted in flagrante delicto, no doubt cursing him with their chattering nonsense, but he had no energy to waste right now on his aural circuits. The scoop he'd adapted around his chassis caught the falling fruit, and he set one of his helper claws the task of collecting and feeding these into the bio-reactor.

When all the fallen fruit had been collected, he backed up a dozen yards and took another run at the tree, repeating the harvesting process. But now when he tried to reverse, all he got in return was a grinding clunk, and the slow fade of dying signals from his tracked sub-assembly. He was crippled.

He took an entire minute to let this sink in. An eternity for a dying man. It was over. It might take weeks, months, or even years but he knew his death was as certain as if he had been struck by a meteorite.

Something struck him. Then there was another impact on his armoured shell. Seeing him trapped there, the monkeys had returned to their tree and, emboldened by his stillness, were pelting him with fruit. The beautiful little monsters were unwittingly doing him an enormous favour, buying him time to come up with a solution. And if there was a way out of this, a way to keep on living, then he, the last civilized being on this forsaken planet, would find it.


Long-Leap Scholar plucked another gawak fruit from the branch and, after a brief moral wrestling match, took a bite from it, as he mounted his lover, Tail-Sheen Joker, for the third time that morning. He dropped the rest of the morsel to the organic-metal hybrid below, as he slipped a thought into his paramour's mind. "I feel so sorry for it. Its people took the wrong road so very long ago."


  1. I actually liked the last paragraph. The "monkeys" are more civilized and advanced than the dying cyborg. I think there needs to be more of a tie in or hidden clue or something though.

    I really liked your writing style! The idea behind this story is great, and I like that you had the twist at the end.

    Well done!

  2. I thought the link between the two parts of this story were clear enough. No additions necessary. Thought-provoking stuff, a clever bit of speculative fiction.

  3. Well, Dan is definitely winning the comments thread so far, with Ganymeder in hot pursuit.

    Kat, drink your juice and let the grown-ups talk... :-p

  4. Very interesting, Anton. Touch of Space Odyssey there. Keep on writing I look forward to reading more.

  5. I really liked it. I didn't have any problem with the ending and I liked the telepathic communication between the more evolved beings.
    Nice visuals. I felt sorry for the cyborg, but somehow hopeful that he'll go on......

  6. I loved the ending...and it's probably going to go that way too. :) We took the wrong turn a long time ago. Great stuff!

  7. I really liked this story. And down the road, Charleston Heston comes along and...

    Tail-Sheen Joker? Awesome name for a parmour, heh!

  8. Laura - nobody is watching the degus..

    They're just waiting to take over.

    Marisa - thanks, we all need a Tail-Sheen joker in our lives.

  9. Thanks for the link *looks at Anton drolly, one eyebrow raised* Now I have to watch for them too...

  10. The ending was great and not the least bit confusing. Also if evolution means we get to fornicate three or more times before noon while eating fresh fruit then I'm in.

  11. I enjoyed this, and must agree that your ending was great. Admire how that single last paragraph wrapped up so much commentary on the sad state of our dying human race ... we keep pursuing technology relentlessly, and I betcha those monkeys never sent a tweet, digg or stumble.

  12. Also if evolution means we get to fornicate three or more times before noon while eating fresh fruit then I'm in.

    Chris, I like you too, but I think you're taking things a little too fast for me.

    Rosa - Exactly! But if they did tweet, digg or stumble, I'm pretty sure they'd do a better job of it than I've ever managed.

  13. I really liked this! Funny, even as there is almost nothing left of his humanity physically, he still considers himself human and he still retained the human characteristic of valuing life more at the end.

    I also really liked the idea of the chimps (sorry, I can only imagine this kind of behavior coming from bonobos, not monkeys :-)
    anyway...I love that they evolved with a conscience and telepathy. We sometimes concentrate so much on where our evolution is taking us, we forget the creatures we share this rock with are evolving, too.

    Looking foward to reading more of you!

  14. What a miserable life. Why would he fight to live? I'd spend the rest of my days trying to trick a monkey into killing me :)

  15. Interesting. Good twist at the end. I felt rather sorry for the robot/man. I would have thought monkeys would be more evolved by the time of this story. They already communicate by ESP, don't they?

    Straight From Hel

  16. AHA! You've fallen into the trap that thinking evolved = more things, Helen.

    Honestly, I wrote it assuming parallel evolution, with one branch of humanity embracing technology and the other eschewing it. Despite my horribly techie background, I think you can tell which I favour....

  17. This is a very clever piece. You made me really feel for our mechanical friend.

  18. Very nice - the split branches of the tree of life was well done.

  19. I agree with most of the other comments. The final paragraph makes an interesting statement on evolution and who is really civilized and evolved. Great story!

  20. What a fantastic story. I love the idea behind it and the way you've written it. The blind optimism of the cyborg is particularly touching. And the monkeys make me think of Kom in 'A Monkey's Tale'.

  21. Enjoyed the story, Anton. As others have mentioned, the ending was top-notch.

    Had visions of the movie 'Silent Running' while reading this...remember Bruce Dern?

  22. I love that movie. Even the hippy music!

  23. You've said so much about our current civilization in this story. It has a real "Planet of the Apes" feel to it -- and you trick the reader into empathizing with the cyborg. Thought-provoking and provocative, this is an excellent piece.

    Count me in for the three before noon and fruit.

  24. Ray Kurzweil says the singularity will arrive by 2050, when man and machine will meld into immortal beings. Your story makes me think that might not be such a good thing.

    I have to admit that the transition to the end paragraph jarred me just a bit, but I think it was just because the name was so unusual I wasn't sure I was still in the same piece. But that feeling evaporated almost instantly, replaced by a deep sense of satisfaction.

    "And if there was a way out of this, a way to keep on living, then he, the last civilized being on this forsaken planet, would find it."

    Kind of ironic that he was developing more of an appreciation for the life around him as his own days are winding down, but still retains the arrogance of the species centric mindset that we are the only intelligent beings around.

    Good thought provoking read.

  25. "Count me in for the three before noon and fruit."

    Okay, Netta, let me check my diary...

    Cheers JMS! I'm sceptical about the singularity, certainly within that time-frame. I was reading stuff in the 80s that suggested we'd all be immortal by now thank to nanotechnology. Godhood is always a few decades in the future.