Keepsake [flash fiction] – #12MoW
ToBe shuffled down the corridor, passing from the 22nd Century to the 21st. Soft harp music played over the loudspeakers, a tune of his own devising. It was a mathematically brilliant piece… but he wasn’t sure if it was actually any good. It had been a long time since there’d been someone he could talk to about these things. Such a very long time.
He reached the first exhibit and stopped to greet it.
“Good morning,” he said.
The stuffed animal had been a mystery, at first. Why would anyone want to stuff a dead creature? It had taken him years to discover the knowledge of taxonomy. The scruffy brown animal wasn’t very appealing, but somebody must have loved it greatly, once upon a time. The tiny plaque screwed to the plinth said, “Our Beloved Companion, Patches.” This creature, ToBe had discovered, was called ‘dog.’ Dogs had been one of the first to go extinct after the Incident.
Life followed death as ToBe moved on. He’d learnt that these green-and-yellow things were called Dandelions, and they’d been considered weeds. Unwanted. No matter; they were the only plants ToBe had been able to grow beneath the feeble UV light, and he’d been trying for a long time. Such a very long time. But he liked their fluffy puff-ball seeds. The flowers could keep their colours, and he would keep the weeds.
He spent a little time with the Dandelions, watering them from a drip filter which brought down moisture from the surface and purified it for use. The soil drank the water greedily, and ToBe fancied if the weeds had voices, they’d be singing a thank you to accompany the beautiful harpsong.
When he finally moved on, it was to a display of smaller items. A gold medallion, the wording on it faded away, had pride of place in the centre. To its left was an unopened jar of strange green vegetables; pickles, he thought. He was sure Sally had called them pickles. She’d died before he could ask her what they tasted like. So many had died, that month. ToBe had offered them food, but they couldn’t bring themselves to eat. He’d preserved some of the leftovers, sealing them in a vacuum pack, so that they could sit forever to the right of the medallion; a bag of biscuit crumbs and colourful fruits he had no names for.
The thought of food brought a melancholy sadness from deep within his chest, so he pulled out a rag and moved on to the next display. It would need cleaning. It always needed cleaning. He had no idea how the glass bottle managed to collect so much dust when there was nobody but ToBe around to kick it up. Gently, he picked the bottle up and wiped away every speck of dust he could find. Inside the bottle, a paper message sat preserved for all time, just like the pickles. A time capsule, Daniel had called it. Sealing the message into the bottle was the last thing the boy did before he passed away. Said it was a letter to the next people to come along. A warning to do better than humans had. Made ToBe promise to pass it along if aliens showed up.
No aliens had shown up.
The glass finally clean, ToBe set it down on its plinth. He left behind no fingerprints, because he had no prints to leave. His synthetic skin released no oil, and yet he knew the glass would need cleaning again tomorrow. It was a troublemaker, that glass bottle.
He’d tried his hand at making better, cleaner glass bottles, but discovered he wasn’t very good at glassblowing. His creators had given him an approximation of lungs, but they didn’t produce enough air to blow glass. They hadn’t even been able to produce enough air to force into Kimberley’s lungs, when she stopped breathing. Here he was, the world’s most sophisticated machine, and he hadn’t even been able to give the kiss of life to the woman who’d loved him.
There were other things in the exhibit: useful things, like the three-wheeled, solar-powered trike which had been much in demand when the Earth’s supply of fossil fuels ran out; useless things, like the giant piece of marble in the shape of a toe, the only part left of some statue long-gone like the coal and gas and oil; curious things, like the still-life waxwork of a floppy-haired man named M. Perry. ToBe didn’t know who M. Perry was, but given the scowl on his face, he didn’t seem a pleasant man. Not like Arthur. Arthur, who’d been the last to go.
ToBe finished his daily ritual of dusting just as the harpsong finished. He’d timed his routine well, and had it down to the nanosecond.
Before leaving, he reached up to tug on the string which activated the overhead lights. The room was plunged into darkness, except for the life-giving UV bulb above the weed.
“Good night,” he said.
ToBe shuffled down the corridor, passing from the 21st Century to the 20th.
It’s week four of 12 Months of Writing – and we’ve finally come full circle, all the way from haiku to flash fiction, using the prompt of “wealth”.
I have an admission to make. This story is something I was working on before my absence – I found it partially writting in my Drafts dection of my blog and couldn’t for the life of me remember why or what I started writing it for. So, I decided to make some tweaks and finish it.
If you’ve enjoyed this story (or even if you haven’t) why not write your own using the subject prompt, and drop a link in the comments below so I can check it out.
March will have a BRAND NEW EXCITING SUBJECT, which I’ll post about over the weekend or early next week.
UV would not be appropriate to grow anything… Purple or Red LED grow lights maybe.
Story is reminiscent of AI or that robot one played by Robin Williams (also, Mother). Another SF I read Terraforming Earth – a Moon base backup of life and a robot that raised clone children who would then be sent down to Earth to repopulate it, century after century, after each batch would fail for some reason or other. Was a good story.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks for the feedback! 🙂 I haven’t heard of those things you mentioned (except Mother – I saw that on Netflix) but I’ll keep an eye/ear out for them. I’m always open to good SF reccies. On dandelions, I do have a spare few hundred words so could theoretically elaborate more in-story on “the Incident” and how it resulted in some fairly extreme mutations of most life on Earth (except the cockroach… the cockroach always comes out on top…) and as a result certain plants are able to grow in conditions which a couple of thousand years ago would’ve been entirely unsuitable…. but that feels oversplainey and immersion-breaking, so I’ll just ask that you suspend belief instead 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
You could mention that these dandelions have black leaves or some obvious mutation… UV + standard chlorophyll != valid.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hmm, good point! I was trying to be frugal with my word count but I guess something like that could work in the right context. I’ll keep it in mind for next time! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person