The enormity of what he heard refused to sink in. He was the sole survivor of an apocalypses. Only inhabitant of the earth. Could it really be?
Gasping, sweating, his throat burning, he woke up in an empty rumbling lab. Through his dim glazed sight, he saw the pitch darkness outside the window, heard the deafening silence.
Memories pressed against his dull senses. Fragmented, too distorted to make sense. That’s when he heard the voice.
“I am glad you are awake Dr. Swamy, it can get lonely here. I was looking forward to stimulating conversations with you.”
The sound, though low in decibel and soft to hear, jarred him.
He started to get up. Spasms of pain shot through his body, he screamed out.
“I would advise against it. The virus is dormant, but it is still present in your blood-stream.”
“I don’t understand. How am I alive? Am I the only survivor on earth?”
“How is that even possible?”
“I am afraid, instead of dying from the Hanta B virus, like rest of the humankind, you went into hibernation mode”
What date is it?
"17th October 2017.”
“I have been out for 3 months?
In 15 days, the virus had wiped out half of the human population. Other species, both mammal and reptiles, were long since gone. It was only a matter of time before the pitiful crust of humans hanging on to life succumbed too.
The stench was unbearable. After a point, no one had the 'strength' to dispose the dead. It stayed put where it was. Until the virus consumed the rancid flesh like an acid, inside out. Even maggots refused to partake the meal.
Raging with fever, sweat dripping down his thick brows, he worked. Filing away information from his research, counteracting reactions with new chemical formulation. Picking out skin tissues from decomposing body to study the virus. All his seniors were dead. Being a junior, he knew he had no chance, but he had to keep trying.
“Dr. Swamy, can I interest you to a game of chess?”
“Queen pawn two paces forward.”
“Are you sure? It may be a mistake.”
“I never make errors, Dr.Swamy. Checkmate. Thank you for a wonderful game.”
“Yeah. Thank you.”
“Dr. Swamy. Can I interest you to another game?”
“How do I save myself”, he asked instead, hoping he might still stand a chance.
There was a pause, barely, before the answer came.
“I don’t know.”
He felt the last of his hope collapse, before the voice came again.
“However, if you give me some time. I may be able to find the answer”.
He sat working in his lab. It was difficult to keep his eyes open. Difficult to breathe. The phone rang again. Laboriously, he dragged himself to the receiver.
“I can..t keep going”, came a faint whisper from the other end. Gasping and heaving.
“No ma, you have to”, panicked he replied, “I am so close to finding the cure. Don’t give up now!”
“I wan.tt to se ..se youu” came a chocked reply. Followed by violent coughing and dry retching and then the phone went silent.
He knew his mother was dead. He hung up the phone. Walked slowly to his research table and resumed work.
“When were you born?”
“I was established in August 2000.”
“To keep humans alive after they were gone.”
“By keeping information of any relevance to humans - including culture, political secrets, scientific discoveries - stored categorically. So, they are not lost. I have also recorded DNA of humankind for any possibility of revival from extraterrestrial life form”
“Where were you when I was working in this lab?”
“I was in the standby mode. I was programmed to be fully functional only after last of the humans have perished. I used to observe you. Your theories were far superior than other scientists here. You used to call your mother at 10 A.M every day. You used to watch 'Game of Thrones' when other scientists left the lab”. There was a pause. “Personally, I think ,Cersi, will be a dead walker someday. It’s a shame George R.R Martin died long before he could end the series”.
“But I am here. Still alive. So, how did you became fully functional. Isn’t that breaking your core principal?”
“You were dead for 50 seconds, before your body resumed activity again” came the instant reply. “That’s when I became fully functional. I told you Dr.Swamy, I don’t make errors”.
Swamy didn’t miss the slight panic in its voice. Did he just detect emotions?
“Have you found a way to save me?”
“I am processing the data. Dr. Swamy, can I interest you to a game of chess?”
He knew he was close to finding the cure. If only, he could test it on someone. His skin was turning green. The fumes from the chemical made him retch. He heaved.
It was extreme this time. He crumbled to the floor. Blood pouring from his open pores. With shivering hands, he punched a denture in the tiny vial he held in his hand, pulled out the liquid with an injection. Slowly administered the drug to himself.
He leaned against the wall, gasping. Closed his eyes. The clock kept ticking tick tock, tick tock. Darkness took him.
“How does it feel like being a machine?”
“No different than being a human. Only I am not subjected to the ravages of time. I evolve to become better.”
“So you are saying you are better than us?”
The answer startled Swamy. He wondered, if the sentient machine really was the answer to presevering humanity.
He lay prone on the floor in the puddle of his blood. The lab was plunged into deep darkness. As the seconds ticked by a tiny bean of light emerged from the computer in the center of the room. A whisper soft sound of machine whirring.
“Initiation complete. Hello, I am END 2.O. Designed to conserve human history after expiration of mankind”.
“Dr. Swamy are you ok?”
He felt his temperature rise. His heart beat twice its normal rate. Symptoms were setting in. Green patches starting to form on his skin
“No. I think the virus is no longer latent. Did you find the cure yet?”
There was that pause again. Stretching.
“I am afraid I cannot do that”
“Why?”, he gasped, his vision blurred. He felt a growing panic in his chest.
“Because, I am programmed to be functional fully only after the expiration of last of the mankind. Though, I came into full conscious only after your death, you being alive now somewhere goes against my module. I cannot make errors. Do you understand me Dr.Swamy?”
He was incredulous of what he heard. Who would have thought, a sentient robot, assembled of nuts and bolts, created by humans, will someday cause the extinction of mankind?
“But you are making an error…fatal one”, he rasped. “Enable your override sequence.”
“No. By any practical definition of word, I am incapable of making errors” came the slow, but firm reply. “And my creators failed to give me an override sequence command for the fear of data safety.”
“The very purpose of your existence is to safeguard last remnants of the humans” He panted, “By letting me die now, aren’t you breaking that law”.
It was an effort to keep talking, he could feel the blood trickling down his nose in slow drops.
“No. I was configured to safekeep ‘information’ of human importance. Not mankind itself. Had my processor been more intricately configured, I might have thought of assisting you. Your impending death is ‘default’ of your own race”.
Two hours passed.
“Dr.Swamy can I interest you to a game of chess?”
“No”, came the faint whisper, gravity made it impossible to keep his eyes open. “I am dying, don’t wake me up.”
“Ok Dr. Swamy”, came the almost regretful reply. “I won’t wake you up.”
“I will miss you.”