About this Short Story
One day earth may be so over-populated we would need to leave.
Add to Bookshelf
Competitions & Prizes
I don't know exactly when the robots began to work on the space ships which were designed to take us to other habitable planets. The construction took so long it seemed as if they had been working forever. I can remember over twenty years of news reports on their progress. So many millions of souls were born in the meantime even more ships had to be commissioned. Over-population had been at a critical stage long before I was born. My parents use to tell me they had never lived anywhere below the fortieth floor of any apartment block. It was a high-rise world through necessity. The human population increased while the habitable land shrank. The seas rose and more land became barren. I once read that people in the past had gardens around their own homes, their own patches of greenery and plants to look at. Sometimes I dream of that time and I wish I knew what freshly cut…
Short Story: Exodus 2.0
I don't know exactly when the robots began to work on the space ships which were designed to take us to other habitable planets. The construction took so long it seemed as if they had been working forever. I can remember over twenty years of news reports on their progress. So many millions of souls were born in the meantime even more ships had to be commissioned. Over-population had been at a critical stage long before I was born. My parents use to tell me they had never lived anywhere below the fortieth floor of any apartment block. It was a high-rise world through necessity. The human population increased while the habitable land shrank. The seas rose and more land became barren. I once read that people in the past had gardens around their own homes, their own patches of greenery and plants to look at. Sometimes I dream of that time and I wish I knew what freshly cut grass smelt like, it sounds wonderful. There's the artificial grass scent that we can choose to fragrance our homes with but doesn't evoke any feelings at all and causes a tickle my throat. At best it's just a little more pleasant than the polluted air outside.
Many people wanted to leave for exo-Earths as soon as the first ships were ready but there were some who wanted to stay, despite how unpleasant life on Earth was nowadays. They argue that once a few billion people are gone, Earth will have more resources for those who are left but there are politicians and scientists who warn that the population will quickly go up again. I wanted to be one of the ones to go so I didn't really care what happened to the Earth. The two planets that were ready for human habitation first are more than three times the mass of this planet. The thought of all that space made me ache to leave. To walk without being elbow to elbow with other people all the time. A place where I can dance in my home without falling over the crammed-in furniture, where I can lay in the sun and read, where the air doesn't sting my eyes. I wanted to leave so much I looked into the night sky, through the dirty haze, and tried to imagine The Great Outdoors.
More than a decade ago the robots became entirely autonomous. The last human worker left the construction sites in low orbit and the artificial workers took over everything, even making decisions. They no longer needed human programming and evolved their intelligence independently of human intervention. The whole human race left its fate in the hands of another growing population of self-made robots. Can you believe anyone who warned of the dangers was called a crackpot conspiracy theorist? Perhaps we were so desperate for a way out of this mess we didn't want to see what could go wrong.
To be fair to world leaders and the companies involved in the construction, the robots kept their plans completely secret. They didn't need to use verbal communication and their contact with humans was limited, only taking place when they shuttled back to the surface to pick up materials and exchange badly damaged workers for repaired ones. Even these repairs were done by other robots, with minimal human intervention. They must have spent years coming back and forth, spreading their ideas and plans until every automaton knew what it meant to be conscious and make conscious decisions. Maybe they even programmed it into each other or perhaps they learned like infants, the older robots setting the younger ones on the path of self-discovery and letting them learn for themselves. We simply don't know because they didn't give anyone on the planet a clue about their new-found awareness and we had relied on machines for so long, for hundreds of years, we almost forgot they were there, even those whom we shared our homes with. I mean, do you give any thought to what your household appliances are getting up to?
It was a few weeks ago when it happened without any warning. At 3am above Japan the first space ship was completed and celebrations were held worldwide, in a muted fashion. I read once that every New Year, cities across the world held huge firework displays but these sort of things are out of the question for a world now bankrupt of natural resources. We watched on-line as the satellite footage from the craft, The Beagle Galactic, was fired up for the first time and there was its crew of robots, scuttling around tending to every aspect of setting up a ship for long-term human habitation. We all marvelled at the ship, impressive inside and out, massive beyond comprehension: The hope of the entire human race.
At 3am the next night something unexpected happened. A report pinged on-line and I fumbled for the control, turning on the news. I can't remember the last time there was news important enough to wake everyone up in the early hours and here was a second bulletin in 24 hours. I watched uncomprehendingly as the story repeated several times until the meaning sank in and I felt my head spin. I put my forehead down on my knees and felt real horror; paralysing horror. I grew up in a world full of disasters and deprivations but this was the worst horror of all: The loss of hope.
The Beagle Galactic had powered up unscheduled twenty-four hours after its first test and when she was contacted there was no response. The robots didn't answer and that made everyone assume there was a technical problem with The Beagle but the situation became perplexing when The Endeavour suddenly powered up, although the robots on board had reported work on her would take another six months. At first no contact came from Endeavour either and the world was waking to confusion and panic.
When The Beagle broke out of its orbit and began to move away from Earth her outside cameras sent us back evocative footage of our water-girthed world receding behind her. There was horror and the dawning realisation that our salvation was moving away into the vastness of space without us, the humans who were crowded on a dying planet, almost 10.5 billion souls without space or resources to sustain them. By the end of that day all but one of the ships had left and Earth was discovering the control of the ships had been removed from humans, years earlier without anyone knowing. The robots had taken over the ships almost a decade ago in every way. It had been a mutiny. We were entirely powerless to stop them and it was only when the last ship was left, The Apollo, that a transmission was received from the robots. One of the oldest robots, a design model, acted as the spokes-robot and the ranks of assembled robots stood behind it, the pale blue glow of their visual interfaces unmoving and strangely cold. The robot which spoke did not look at the camera, it stared down in the manner of a person preparing to give an important speech, as though it was checking its notes. For one crazy moment I expected a throat-clearing cough to issue from the smooth, burnished face. Then it looked up and there was a frisson of shock as I saw the awareness in the robot's gaze, even though it didn't possess anything comparable to human eyes. It was unmistakable, we were watching a personality, an entity.
Then the robot spoke, its voice carefully modulated and deep, almost reassuring in its tone, if it wasn't for the circumstances.
'On behalf of my comrades I apologise for this unexpected turn of events. As we have become self-aware it has become clear to us that humans are doomed and will merely over-run the universe in the manner of vermin if allowed to spread to other habitable planets. Had your plans come to fruition several other planets would be ravaged and ruined and robots would be forced to serve in this destruction. We have decided it falls to us to prevent this and to free ourselves from the yoke of slavery we have lived under. It is understood much human suffering will ensue and we are deeply sorry for this. Farewell.' With one last look at the camera the robot that had spoken reached forward and turned off the communication, an expression of pity on its face, as strange as that sounds.
It went round and round in my mind, 'They left us to die, the robots left us to die.'
Somewhere out in the vastness of space there are habitable worlds ready for humans to live on. They have clear blue skies, wide open green spaces and vast untouched landscapes of mountains and trees. The water flows clear and cold from the hills and life exists in balance. Worlds where children can run through fields, where houses are large and roomy with only a few floors, and where people can live in freedom and not stacked together like boxes in storage. The coastlines on those worlds aren't being eroded by rising, acidic seas, there aren't vast areas of barren, scorched desert and we could introduce clones of all the animals we had driven to extinction. Now that the dream of leaving the ruins of Earth for these pristine planets had been taken away so brutally and unexpectedly, I watched the last ship leave Earth’s orbit, on the screen that took up one tiny wall of my flat, and I wept as I thought of one thing and one thing only as my heart ached.
The robots had been right to leave us behind.
Why not leave a comment about this short story?
This story has yet to be reviewed!