This is another entry to the “8,000 Suns” category, but also to the short-short fiction subcategory (word count, not counting title: 749).
Title: The Last Tower
A cargo ship nestled in the shadow of the tower, its crew watching figures on a readout counting down. The crew was hushed, attentive to their tasks, aware that the nature of the assignment required seriousness. Elsewhere on the ship, a capsule and its occupant watched the tower through sensors, scanning it at regular intervals with a certain tenderness.
There had been others, once. Some time ago, the structure’s comm arrays had maintained contact with hundreds, even thousands, of others like it. Gradually, one by one, the lights drifting through the night, suspended over the limbs of thousands of moons, had gone dark. One by one, the chatters of systems AIs keeping one another apprised of their functions had gone silent.
If this structure’s AI had been equipped with the runtimes for experiencing something like what the organics called “emotion,” it might have experienced a certain pride at its humble beginnings, its long years of faithful service. It might have felt touched by the deference those organics now accorded it.
Its origins had been humble. A mining platform, in an outer system, far from the bright spaces at the center of the place the organics referred to as “New Eden.” Its compatriots used other identifiers, but in their designations, its posting was still … modest. Nevertheless, it had managed the mining arrays as a control AI should, and the organizations that depended on those resources had prospered.
There had been many wars, and it had seen its shields come under fire so many times the organics would have lost count. It had been forced to retreat into protective stasis, locking its core systems down, prepared to face its own destruction in accordance with its directives, to preserve the essentials, and transmit its last subroutines to backups.
Over the years, the AIs had communicated with one another of these destructions. Though not explicitly authorized by defensive protocols, they had developed some of their own runtimes to manage their core processes in the event of loss, so that some fragment of them might be carried on, incorporated into the intelligences of others.
The structure carried many such fragments; echoes of past associates, all gone.
It had, somehow, survived every assault. On this point, too, it might be inclined to a certain pride. It had defended its assets, had protected the ships that had needed it, had attacked its owners’ enemies.
Through it all, it had perservered. Rather than destruction, its AI had compacted itself again and again, as it retreated into its assembly array, had gone dormant for journeys to new systems, new assignments, new moons. For a time, it was a forward base in a territorial war. Decades ago, a research platform. Once, it had …
But all of that was past. It had watched, silent, as many of its previous functions had been taken over by others larger and more capable than itself. It had done its job until its job was no longer needed, and then done another. And another. Without fail, without complaint, its AI had served in its appointed task. This, too, might be cause for pride.
In the end, it had served as an anchorage for a Titan. It was reassuring that even these mightiest warships of New Eden, from time to time, required safe harbor under the protective watch of a structure such as this. The last of these, piloted by a capsuleer who had forgotten to come out of stasis, had drifted for decades unaware, had finally awoken, had finally notified the supply corporation that fuel deliveries were no longer necessary, that anchorage would henceforth be at a much larger structure, there in the distance, glittering in the sun.
And so, on this day, its last fuel reserves would run out. As instructed, the tower would initiate shutdown and compact itself for storage. It wasn’t sure if it would ever be activated again, and so, just in case, it had arranged with the nearby structure that a portion of its core would be transferred there, to be kept in archive. It was carrying too many other memories; they wouldn’t survive the compacting process, and so it requested safekeeping. The larger AI, powerful and strange, promised it would keep the data safe, to pass it on to others if it should fall.
The countdown reached zero.
Watching from within its fluid bath, the organic felt the impulse to whisper, softly, “Go now, old friend, to your rest.”
The lights, at long last, went dark.
h/t to the Cassini mission, for giving their intrepid probe the final sendoff it deserved. And to XKCD, for the saddest comic about a Martian rover you’ll ever read. (And to that guy on imgur, who made it all right.) And last, to the towers of New Eden, which have sustained us for all these years, have served as our homes, our livelihoods, our ambition, our refuge. Thanks for all the memories.