My name is Dar. I am a mechanic. I am on the surface of Arc-World 7. They arc-worlds had been made to remake humanity in the event of extinction-class events. I’ve lived through five on the arc-worlds, seen humanity shift and change. Make war against the alien hingari who closed most of hyperspace to us. Be destroyed. Repeat. Humanity is gone now. There were six other arc-worlds. They’re gone to, ripped apart like every other star and planet to litter a two galaxies with the debris of a species.
I’d like to say it’s not my fault. But I tried to help. They found me, the last version of humanity. I talked to some of them, to their powerful psychics, offered stories. Told them that the arc-worlds were far older than I, that humanity had been doing this dance with the hingari for a very long time. They knew I spoke truth but they didn’t trust me. I am a cylinder on treads; my human body died when I was just eight and I was tranferred into this body. I’ve changed it a lot over the years, but I am still me.
I never got around to making the human projection I can put up over my chassis able to cry. I think that says a lot of things about me now. I don’t know. I don’t even know how arc-world 7 survived; I helped the other arc-worlds desgin it, added data I knew, things I’d guessed and inferred from working on the arc-worlds for so long. But humanity is gone, and somehow I survived.
I pace when I am nervous, rolling about on treads over surfaces. I haven’t moved in some time.
It snows, finally. It always snows when someone tries to breach the defences.
I let them in. It’s not as if I have anything else to do.
The shape that appears – hurts. I shut off every detection system I can save for visual stimuli through my viewscreen and what I see still makes no sense. It has angles it shouldn’t, has depth and width and other things beside.
“Hingari.” My voice is scratchy even to my ears.
“We were.” And I feel it inside me, in my mind, my self, past every defense and block I have. “You know, then.”
It sounds surprised. I’m not sure what I should make of that. I speak anyway, spilling out words: “I didn’t know. I figured the hingari had to be humanity from long ago, who found a way to become something other. That’s the only thing that could explain humanity giving you the same name so many times. Why you let the arc-worlds remain. Because you needed us: because eventually another manifestation of humanity would find a way to meet you, become part of you.
“Free us, yes. You called us jailers every time you came to our prison with weapons and death and freedom on your minds. The irony was never lost on us.”
“And these humans – the ones who were here: Shino, Mulih, all of them – they have become part of you?”
“We have – changed, yes. Moved on. This part of the universe is no longer closed to anyone. Others will come in time. Humans may even return. Some did find a way past us without joining, without a becoming.” The hingari is silent for a long moment. “You could join us. We are enough to let that pass, to allow it to happen. If you desire.”
I don’t shut down. It’s a near thing. I am silent a good while. Finally: “I am fucking terrified.”
“You have been Dar a long time,” the hingari says, almost gently. “And a transfer for longer, I think, in your head.”
“Yes. I can remember being Dar. I can’t remember not being me.” I rock on my treads and then begin to pace along the world’s surface. The hingari waits. “Do I have to do this now?”
“No. Not ever. It is a choice, an offer: we do not mean for it to be a trap.”
“But you can’t undo it, if I wanted to become me again.”
“No. No, we cannot.”
I turn back, stop in front of the hingari. “If I became whatever the hingari – whatever you are all now – could I still meet the humans and aliens who come here?”
“We don’t know. Some of them may not be able to perceive us. Others might be harmed. It is – difficult to be here. Painful.”
“Oh.” I think about all that I could learn, all I could become. All I would lose. “I’d like to stay. If – if I change my mind, will you come?”
“We will. You helped humanity become us, free us: you will become us, once your body is lost to you. That is our promise and our gift.”
“Can I say no to it?”
“You may not.”
A giggle slips out of me that, unable not to. “I’m not sure a gift you can’t refuse is actually a gift?”
The hingari smiles at that, or does something close to that. “We do not care. Be well, mechanic.”
“Thank you?” I say, but find myself speaking to the empty air. I consider options, then head down toward the centre of Arc-World 7. A new Earth is one option; I begin designing a Docking Station instead. A place for people to visit, to learn from, altering the arc-world itself into this, preparing signals to broadcast. People will come, and I will tell stories, and listen to their own. And perhaps someone will take over when I am gone, or turn it back into an arc-world.
Perhaps not. For now, I am building. And I am content.