- A small, blinking green light tried desperately to break through the darkness, to light up the room, but failed. It just continued blinking, sadly, desperately. A hand reached for a switch and found it, quickly flicking it on. The room lit up, fluorescent lights flickering silently on the sides of the greenhouse. Glass stretched across the roof, making the world outside visible. Large plants stood still, no wind to shake their leaves. A bird twittered and flew away, deep into the greenhouse.
- Clunk. A metal foot landed on the floor, the metallic thud echoing throughout his empty home. Stretching, he re-calibrated his system. Pale green digits lit up a screen next to his hibernation pod, displaying the cheerful words, “Happy 61st birthday, Robot #26!” He ignored it and pressed a small button on the side, opening a menu. Scrolling through the menu of all the plants and their conditions with one hand, he used his other hand to oil his creaky joints. Stretching again, he checked the other conditions of the greenhouse. Structurally sound... No intruders... Sprinkler systems on line... Electronics on line...
- The robot froze and looked over the screen again, his lenses coming to rest on one variable, blinking a washed-out red. “No.” He said in a flat voice that made a pitiful attempt to sound warm and human. The screen said three words, laid out simply. “Atmospheric Shields: Low.” Robot #26 shook his head. In a few more months, the shields would drop completely, leaving the vulnerable greenhouse open to both bombardment from the meteors above and the marauders below.
- He walked away from the screen, looking at the plants and animals. Would they all die? He heaved his best impression of a sigh. He couldn't let them die. It was his duty to protect this greenhouse. Carefully, he stumbled up the stairs to an overhead landing. He looked out the window at the pale outline of the sun, no light getting through the thick dust clouds that covered the city. Or what was left of it. Where once there was a bustling city, full of unique people doing unique things, all that now remained was a pile of strewn buildings, like the remnants of a child with building blocks gone on a rampage. Occasionally, he would see flashes of light. Muzzle flashes from guns. The humans now fought over one thing: food.
- The people who populated the city were once intelligent, but now they had devolved into simple beasts, fighting mindlessly, taking whatever they could, all to survive. This reminded the robot: His mission. His duty. Protect the greenhouse until it reaches the final stage. He glanced back at a monitor hanging over the greenhouse. The atmospheric shields would drop in seven months. And it would be a full year before the greenhouse would finally reach the final stage. At this rate, a meteor would destroy the greenhouse before it could complete its mission. The robot shook its head. Nothing to do now but wait. He thought before walking back to the hibernation pod and activating hibernation until next month, when the plants would need their routine checkup.
- ~ ~ ~
- Slowly, almost grimly, the robot rose out of his pod, walking over to the screen. He looked at the blinking meter showing the atmospheric shields. Six months. He glanced over the diagnostics, everything else was normal. Just as it had been for the last seven-hundred and thirty-three months. Robot #26 mounted the steps to the top floor, glancing out at the world draped in dusty clouds. The grey-brown fog stopped him from seeing more than a few miles. The only clear space of the atmosphere was right above his greenhouse- clouds swirled around a hole in the atmosphere which let sun in to power the solar panels that in turn powered the greenhouse.
- This gap in the sky was the result of the Atmo-spear, an advanced technological system that warped the atmosphere, creating a hole devoid of clouds. A thin shield kept out radiation from the sun, keeping the greenhouse safe. The Atmo-spear was one of the many advanced pieces of technology the greenhouse was fitted with- all to protect some plants. The robot shook its head and was about to return to its pod when it took one last look back outside.
- Something caught his eye. A small rip appeared in the dust clouds, expanding to a hole that must've been a mile long. Suddenly, a meteor ripped through it, heading quickly towards the ground. The robot ran down the steps two at a time and ran to the equipment room, grabbing a grappling hook, a tracking beacon and a gun for self-defense. Slinging the grappling hook over his shoulder and placing the gun in a hip compartment, he let out a robotic whistle, flat with only one tone.
- Quickly, a small squirrel-like creature ran to him, standing at his side. Wings lay flat on its shoulders, and its large cat-ears twitched. “Come on, Ray.” Robot #26 said, motioning to the creature. Ray scampered out of the door, following the robot as he lumbered towards the meteor crash site. The meteor lay in its crater, the thick black smoke billowing upwards and mixing with the brown fog that engulfed the city. The robot put a hand on his holster and prepared to search the meteor for useful materials and signs of origin, when he suddenly saw something out of the corner of his eye.
- He quietly pulled the gun out of its holster, smooth metal fingers wrapping around the trigger. Carefully drawing a bead on the movement, he was about to squeeze the trigger when he heard something that made him stop. It was a human voice, uttering four words: “Please don't shoot me.” The robot slowly let the gun fall to his side and walked towards the human, looking cautiously at it. “State your purpose.” He said simply, eyes cold.
- “I'm just investigating this meteor!” The human said, waving his hands which were put up in the air. He stopped. “Wait... Aren't you one of the Project Regen robots?” Robot #26 was slightly taken aback. “Yes. Now answer this:” He said, firmly and authoritatively, “Who are you, and why aren't you an unintelligent beast like the rest of the 'humans'?”
- The man didn't answer for a little while. He seemed to be remembering something; there was a sad look in his eyes. “I was one of the few who tried not to become like them.” He said sadly. “When I noticed how everyone was slowly becoming more and more obsessed with survival rather than their humanity, I broke away from society. I retreated to a home in the mountains with a few other colleagues, and there we waited for some sanity to return to the world. It never did. When we realised that there was no hope for what remained of humanity, we decided to let them fall, and repopulate the world for the good of animal-kind.”
- “We set up a lab in our home and began running experiments, creating intelligent robots. Your design is the culmination of that research: A robot who can feel, and care for the plants we need. The greenhouse, the Atmo-spear- all results of our research.” He looked at the robot carefully.
- “You know the purpose of why all those plants and animals are growing, correct? It's to repopulate the earth. Once the final stage is reached, then the greenhouses- of which there are many, identical to yours- will explode into life. The plants will spread across the earth, covering it and turning it into a jungle planet. The pure oxygen created by them will feed the atmosphere, hopefully helping with the rebuilding of the atmosphere and our safety from meteors.”
- “The greenhouse itself will complete the final stages of the atmosphere rebuilding, shielding the planet from meteors and allowing it to regenerate. The animals will be allowed to roam freely, helping the creation of a new ecosystem to support the precarious balance of this world. In the end, the humans will die out if they cannot regain their humanity. The animals will rule, and a new order will eventually evolve. But we humans will not be alive to see the culmination of our work.”
- “No, that will be your job. You will continue to help the many animals and plants, doing your best to keep the world in balance. The other robots will join you, and together you will all help salvage what remains of this world.” The man explained, repeating what Robot #26 already knew.
- The robot nodded. “I know. The time is drawing near- eleven months until the final stage. But we've encountered a problem, professor-” He said, addressing the man by his title. “In six months, the atmospheric shields will drop completely, leaving the greenhouse open to bombardment from meteors.” The robot said grimly.
- The professor nodded. “Ah. There's no way to bring the atmospheric shields back on-line- but there is another way to salvage this project. As you know, Project Regen will not work if even one greenhouse is off-line. Your only choice will be to push the greenhouse manually into its final stage- it will be ready for this final push in six months. By then, you should be ready. I will teach you how to save this seed of new life for earth.”
- Robot #26 would've smiled if he could've. “Thank you, professor.” He said politely, more meaning in those words than in words any other robot had ever uttered. He genuinely cared for the many plants and animals living in the greenhouse, and did not want any of them to die. He looked affectionately down at Ray, he looked back up at him, one ear twitching.
- The robot took the grappling hook off his shoulder before throwing the hook up on top of the large meteor, securing it before rappelling upwards to the top. Carefully, he got out his gun again. The handle opened into two struts, which were clamped onto either side of the barrel, in the middle to create a kind of see saw. With a click, the barrel swung around, exposing the other side. A small drill-bit protruded from the barrel, and it span slowly as the robot began to lower it to a glowing spot of the meteor.
- Light swirled around the drill bit, pulverizing rock within a meter of it. The drill dug deeply into the rock before breaking into the center of the meteor, which contained a liquid which glowed a dull green. Ray walked up to the robot's side carrying a thick hose, and he fed it down into the hole, as it began sucking up the liquid.
- The robot slid down the side, walking back towards the greenhouse with the professor following him. “Harvesting Ether?” The man asked, looking back at the meteor. “I'm going to need it when the Atmo-spear breaks down, which it will when the atmospheric shields do the same. I'll need a different way of harvesting energy.” He replied, looking up at the swirling gap in the sky. “Ah.” The professor responded, remaining silent on the rest of the trip back.
- ~ ~ ~
- Robot #26 opened the door to the shelter, letting the professor walk in before closing it. “What's your name?” The robot asked curiously. The professor turned back to the robot, arching an eyebrow. “My name is Macha. And you are?” The robot nodded. “Robot #26.”
- Macha laughed. “I'm not going to call you 26. You're getting a name.” He said, smiling. “A... name?” Asked the robot, tilting his head as his neck squeaked slightly. “What's wrong with my service tag?” Macha shook his head. “It makes you seem... inhuman.” He said, ignoring the irony of his comment. “Your new name is Espresso.” Macha said, plucking the idea out of thin air.
- “... Espresso is a kind of coffee.” The robot said coldly, with slight irritation. “Too bad.” Macha replied. “I like coffee. It's the only hope for me after a rough night.” He said, quickly taking a thermos of said beverage and drinking from it. “And you're the only hope for earth after a rough century.” The newly-named Espresso sighed. “That's a weird way of putting it.” Macha shrugged and took another sip of coffee.
- “Say, Espresso.” Macha suddenly said, glancing at the robot. Espresso groaned. “What is it?” He asked reluctantly, not wanting to respond to his new name. “I'm actually working on something. A small band of humans, which is now growing, wants to regain their humanity. I'm teaching them, and hopefully they'll be able to teach others. Perhaps in time they'll be humans again.” He said, taking another sip of his scalding black coffee.
- “I don't care about those beasts.” Espresso replied, looking at the plants surrounding them. “They can just die for all I care.” “Don't say that.” Macha said, slightly angry. “They're not that different from you and I, they just need a helping hand.” “Very well. Teach them if you like, but I will NOT help you.” The robot said. “Fine. C'mon, I'll teach you about the forced final stage.” Macha said, walking up the stairs to a console. Espresso followed him, and they lived there, talking and learning, Macha sometimes teaching the humans, for the next few months.
- ~ ~ ~
- No matter the fact that he knew it was coming, Espresso was shocked when he looked at the console one day to find the atmospheric shields had shut down completely. He looked up, noticing that the hole in the sky had closed up, and the solar panels had shut down. The station was now running on Ether power, which could be a very unstable source of energy.
- The group of humans who were now intelligent lived in the greenhouse, helping the robot when they could. The robot considered them a plague, but ignored them, except for Professor Macha. This morning, he walked to the professor and reported the grim news. “Macha, the atmospheric shields have shut down.” He said flatly. “Already?” Macha asked. “Well, bad news. I just spotted a meteor. It appears to be headed straight towards us. In fact, it will arrive within hours.” “What?!” Espresso yelled, rushing to the console.
- Quickly, he began the initiation of the final stage. He turned to the professor, his face a grim mask. “Macha. I need you to get the humans out of here.” He said, his voice flat. “But, Espresso!” The professor hesitated. “Go!” Robot #26 yelled. Macha rushed out of the greenhouse, taking the others with him. The humans looked back at the greenhouse before running a safe distance, watching the meteor fall from afar.
- Within a few hours, Espresso had finished the initial stages. The meteor was seconds away, and even if it wasn't, Espresso knew that this was how it was meant to end. He was going to die here- it was destined. Finally, he brought one metallic finger down on the 'Run' button.
- The greenhouse opened up and the plants sprung outwards, seeds splashing across the landscape and sprouting into trees and flowers. The animals all ran, except one. Ray sat by Espresso, looking up at him sadly. “No! Ray, run!” The robot yelled, pushing the animal with his foot. The squirrel-like creature didn't budge. It was intent on sitting here, dying with its master.
- Espresso just smiled and sighed, accepting their fate. He looked up at the meteor, which loomed large above him. He then typed one command and pressed 'Run' once again. The command 'live()' did nothing to save him, or Ray. But they died to save the others.
- ~ ~ ~
- A few months later
- Macha sat on a chair, surrounded by young children. The clear blue sky watched over them as he told a story. An old story, about one robot who saved the world. The green plants rustled gently in the clean wind, burdened with fruit as the animals walked happily throughout the small human settlement.
- “And if there's one thing I miss from that time,” Macha said, wrapping up the story, “It's Espresso.” He said fondly, fingering an old thermos that now held nothing but memories.
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