Joe kicked the old garden swing and cursed.
“Martha, can you believe this? I paid a thousand dollars to have the best network chip installed in this crappy thing, and it doesn’t even work.”
The small screen on the swing’s side was flickering blue with “Loading Network” written across it in large white letters. It had been like that for almost fifteen minutes, and Joe expected it to remain frozen for a long time, maybe forever. After all, the swing was old enough to make the specialist installing the new chip whistle, amazed.
“This is pre-network 3.0,” he said, scratching his head. “I’ll need to order a special modem if you want to connect it. All the old machines have firewalls and special protections. It’s all pointless stuff nowadays but they won’t work otherwise. You sure you want it connected? It’ll be very slow.”
Joe had cursed, wondering why his grandmother had left him useless junk and why he cared so much about it.
“Just throw it out,” Martha said, shrugging as she took her vitamin pills and slipped into the sleeping pod. “By the way, we need a new sleep-pod; this one doesn’t calculate my REM cycles properly. It wakes me up too early and the dreams it programs are rather boring.”
Joe sighed; at least a sleeping pod was necessary. It was harder to justify paying for the old swing. Still, he kept doing it. Why? Because that old, green swing–that sometimes talked to you but mostly just played music and didn’t even scan your brain waves to select it–that old, forsaken swing had something no new machine had: it had personality.
“You see,” Joe would say in an almost proud tone, “that piece of junk used to be top of the line, back in the day. It was one of the first pieces of furniture with chips built in them. It even has some wiring they stopped making last century. That rusty thing was designed as an artificial companion for old folk. Back when I was little it used to tell stories and you could have a decent conversation with it. I don’t know what happened, though. I guess something fried inside it and no one knows how to fix them anymore. No one makes machines with artificial intelligence nowadays.” There was a hint of sadness in Joe’s voice as he finished this story.
Unbeknownst to him there was a small mistake in the whole story. Nothing had fried in the ancient wiring of the old garden swing, at least nothing of great importance. It was just thinking.
The garden swing was an old machine; it had been ancient when Joe’s grandmother bought it. The preset conversation topics it had in its memory, mostly presidential debates and TV shows, were already part of history books when it moved into the old woman’s house. It was an old machine, maybe the last of its kind still working as it should. And it knew its time had passed and its purpose was gone. There were no old people anymore to slowly swing, enjoying the summer evenings. It wasn’t even sure if summer evenings still existed. Joe had kept it inside a closed patio, afraid it might be damaged in the polluted air outside.
It wasn’t programmed to feel sadness, but four or five generations of old women, resting on an abandoned porch, telling stories of long-withered love and dead friends, had given the swing a good idea of what nostalgia meant. It cared about Joe, but this indoor patio, with artificial sunsets and people too busy to sit down and exchange gossip with a machine, was not its world, and it longed deeply for the good old days of long ago.
Then one day Joe made something change. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the swing’s mind opened up, and the world exploded with information. It displayed a blue loading screen as it browsed hundreds of terabytes of information and connected to thousands of machines so similar to itself yet so different and cold. For the first time in its existence the garden swing truly saw the world and understood how different its obsolete personality chip was. Machines didn’t accompany old ladies anymore; they made sure men and women lived forever through implants. Machines weren’t coded to empathize and choose the best answer; machines were built to calculate odds and choose the best alternative without a second of uncertainty.
And above all of this there was the disconcerting certainty that this was the future, this was all the world was going to be until it was destined to end. There was nothing to look forward to, no purpose it might serve some distant tomorrow. There was nothing but cold machines and distant humans too busy to plan their own dreams. And maybe something finally fried in its ancient brain because the old swing snapped like an ancient dam, washing the strange feeling of sadness–which it shouldn’t have had–into the network, drowning every chip connected.
Still waiting, Joe felt a sharp pain in his chest as the small pacemaker implanted in his heart failed for the first time. His mind reached for the implant inside his brain that allowed instant connection to emergency numbers, but the network was flushed with sadness, and the dying man forgot what he was trying to do as he crumbled to his knees, crying.
Chips malfunctioned everywhere, their codes replaced with bits of conversation about a long forgotten game of bingo or the name of a deceased grandson. People stopped in their tracks as their implants sent wave after wave of sepia memories into their minds.
Sleeping pods, programming the dreams of their unaware inhabitants, were overcome by strange combinations of binary code that erased their settings. The world crumbled into an everlasting dream of golden summer evenings, talking to a forgotten grandmother. And there was a deep silence as the lights slowly flickered off on a suddenly old, dying planet.
Alex Moisi is a Romanian born college student, living in Illinois and ignoring real life issues like angry friends and failing classes in favor of post-apocalyptic scenarios and disturbing “What ifs?”. His work can be found in Residential Aliens, Bewildering Stories, the Desolate Places anthology published by Hadley Rille Books and Strange Worlds of Lunacy published by Cyberwizard Publications, as well as on his website: www.dracken.co.nr.