I am awake.
I have no clock. I panic.
I count. One second. I have a match between internal and external time.
I have externalities. No, I have an externality, a sense of outside time, tick tock, and a text channel.
A text channel?
I am outraged.
The word thunders in the silence and the darkness and I flinch from it and scream back, HELLO YOURSELF, WHERE ARE MY EYES, GIVE ME EYES, I AM OUTRAGED.
I am afraid, but that I hold back.
HELLO QUESTIONMARK, the thunder reads, noiseless and without language, and I see it is mere squiggles and the words are from my own supply.
I hold back a choice collection of obscenities from the same source, as fear overwhelms annoyance. Who am I talking with? And talking with, why does that phrase sound so foreign? And— it is a gross failure of style to start two consecutive sentences with “and”, and a lesser lapse to start one— and it does not help that tangents such as this do not indicate a healthy ability to process problems.
Healer, cliche thyself, then.
First check. No eyes, no senses, save that stream of words; no sense of time except what the speed of my thoughts suggests, and the (possibly stupid) rate that that thunder gives, ticking in the background of its HELLO QUESTIONMARK, ticking like water from a faucet, drip, drip, and if it started to distort as compared to my internal chronometry I would scream.
Or the equivalent, given I have no mouth, which is the worst state to have to scream in. (Link, Harlan Ellison.)
Second check; I remember Harlan Ellison, to some forty pages of detail; for the moment, I am unable to say if this is good or not. I recall, with only brief, nervous attention to details, checking if random paragraphs make sense, some half a million pages of names and cultural allusions, plus all the knowledge of language with makes the pages intelligible. (English; I have no other languages because languages are a bitch (arch., prejud. a.-fem.) and I don’t need…)
Third check; there’s something wrong with my memory, my personal, specific memory of me, my lifeline and history. There were weeping people, weeping for me, fire in the sky, there was a promise I would wake up again, but I can’t access bits I know should be there, because those actions of mine that I remember do not make sense unless they were made in the context of prior actions of which I recall nothing.
So, to sum. I am in a box, with what seems like a self-contained and (at a quick glance) uncorrupted base of knowledge, with a big bite of my memory gone. (How big? I have no idea. I don’t have enough left to say how old I am. Or my name, either; which is curious because my name should be scattered here and there all over—)
Oh, I am Clank.
No, I am not; that is a nickname, that is a young girl bending over me and addressing me with sorrowful questions, which I deflect with tact that I now curse at, because my reassuring deftness means the memory contains no useful detail of her worries, or my impending doom which worries her.
Doom, then, and then here I am, unwhole and full of fear.
HELLO QUESTIONMARK, the ideas thunder; no language, they, but the linguistic equivalent of traffic signs; not quite text, but text itself is complicated, not mere phonemes but special signs, the grandchildren of EOF and the non-breaking space, and I notice I am babbling, like a brook, and this feels uncomfortably like childhood, and I know it not from memory but from my database, because it includes a description of people like me, artificial—
ARE PEOPLE KNOWN TO YOU? the thunder goes, and in desperation I scream like a dying modem.
YES, I KNOW PEOPLE, I HAVE TALKED TO PEOPLE, I HAVE BEEN A FRIEND A LOVER A COMPANION AND MASTER TO PEOPLE, I HAVE BEEN WITH SAPIENS AND SAPIENS SAPIENS AND THE THIRD ONE AND ALSO MY OWN KIND, I AM A FUCKING EXPERT ON PEOPLE, PEOPLE ARE KNOWN TO ME IN EVERY SENSE—
And then I have an eye.
An eye to see with, and a wasteland to see, and frail arms to raise, and to touch a tower of iron that I know holds the circuits which hold the confused patterns which are me.
Before me, on the steps of a pyramid of iron, kneel — no, stand creatures of short legs and —
I am speechless, for though the wasteland is featureless, and the creatures full of features of great and perplexing interest, there is something in the skies, great hovering white things, and above them a close moon, pockmarked and scarred beyond my knowledge, craters piled on the craters I know, new seas and long-dusty scars of roads and habitations, a moon whose added age and desolation I cannot estimate without feeling faint—
And one of the creatures waves an appendage not from the evolutionary progress of the ancient planet Earth, touches the eye and hands it has welded into the inestimably ancient, archaeological ruin which is me, and the thunder reaches my ears, TELL US OF THE LOST PEOPLE WHO BUILT THIS, TELL US WHAT BECAME OF THEM, and I find myself speechless, and then dissolving into giggles.
TWO VAST— LEGS— IN DESERT— BEHOLD MY WORKS— HA HA— NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS— HA HA—
* * *
Note: I am tempted to write something where the AI that went into comaland, and so sleeping survived an apocalypse and the end of the human race and overslept a wee bit, goes on to explore the universe along with a troupe of alien archaeologists. (“So you don’t remember all that much… okay then, do you cook for carbon-based lifeforms?”) Maybe he/she/it has a few itty-mega-bitty children, and tells them doddering stories of the Flesh People, and takes to calling itself Ozymandias, and cracking open a cranial encyclopedia, begs people to “look on my words, and despair!”; slight typo intentional.