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September 30, 2023

A Planet's Last Son

"You've spent you're entire life stuck on a remote island alone. Now you must journey to civilization..."

Young boy in a sci-fi setting looking into the camera

The dusk sky was growing darker by the minute as Lucas stood in the glass domed atrium watching the sky. He didn’t normally take this route to his quarters but something nudged him this way. The air in the large room was growing colder, in line with the slow withdrawal of the sun. He didn’t know why he was standing there, craning his neck to peer through the hexagonal pieces of the glass dome. A dome filled with trees and bushes, somewhat unkempt yet still organized, just like everything else around here.


Lucas didn’t like it here much. In the atrium, that was. He thought of the bugs, those nasty little crawling things, then shuddered at the thought of one crawling into his body. He tried to get off this train of thought but regrettably continued. He imagined it moving inside him, disturbing his finely tuned organic machinery. Suddenly his eyes noticed movement. A star in the sky turned into a streak as it moved towards the gray, barren surface of his planet.


This distracted him from the thought of bugs. He was grateful for that.


Slowly, though, he realized that what he was seeing wasn’t a shooting star, but something else. Curiosity replaced his thoughts of gratitude as he stared at the bright line in the sky. Then the disgusting image of a worm entered his mind, causing him to shudder.


Thoughts can be so disorganized, he noted.


The light disappeared from his view as it approached the horizon. Whatever it was, it landed close by. He began his process of elimination, attempting to identify the object. The meteorites that occasionally entered Netanova’s atmosphere were tiny and would burn up before impact, even despite the planet’s thin atmosphere. As for the larger ones, Wendy had always warned him before one of those were going to hit.


With that thought he pulled out a sleek cylinder from his pocket and spoke into it.

“Wendy, were we supposed to have a meteorite impact today?”


“No,” her soothing voice replied, “but I saw whatever that object was on the scope. I could send a drone to investigate.”


“I think that’s a good idea,” Lucas said absently. He was considering what the chances were that he would decide to walk through the atrium at the exact moment some strange object fell from the sky. He tried to calculate the odds but quickly grew frustrated, deciding that it was better to leave those kinds of things to Wendy.


He walked out of the atrium the moment bugs re-entered his mind.



His bed felt particularly uncomfortable that night. Thoughts of the colony kept him awake. He couldn’t help but think of the long corridors, big empty rooms, and silence…

It was the silence that really got to him.


He’d talk to Wendy for hours, often reaching points where they weren’t talking about anything at all, really. Lucas would say things like “are the walls a different shade of gray today? I could’ve sworn they were darker. Maybe the sunlight is fading the paint.”


“No natural sunlight reaches this room” Wendy would say back.


“You’re right, it must be the artificial lights wearing away at the color. I could’ve sworn these walls were darker.”


Now though, in the dead of night, it was just silence.


“Wendy,” he called out to his dark bedroom.


“Shouldn’t you be asleep, Lucas?” A voice responded.


“I should be, but I’m not, and I don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with the meteorite that made impact today. My circuits must be reacting to something, maybe the meteorite caused some kind of wave.”


“Lucas.”


“Yeah, something like an EMP that’s messing with me. Well maybe not an EMP because then you’d be fried, but maybe-“


“Lucas, please.”


“Maybe it was an O-EMP, for organics! That’s why it didn’t affect you but got me! I hope it got those nasty bugs. I know you say that the bugs are good and all but-“


“Lucas, enough” the voice exclaimed forcefully. “The object that crashed into the planet was not a meteorite, it was a satellite. There are no such things as organic electromagnetic pulses, your internals are fine. Please sleep, tomorrow we have important work to do.”


A part of the wall next to Lucas’ bed slid open and a flat tray slid out. On it was a metal cup containing water and, next to it, a green pill. Lucas begrudgingly swallowed the pill and took a sip of water, knowing better than to try and argue with Wendy. The table and wall returned to their initial configuration, as did Lucas on his bed.


“Fine,” Lucas responded, slightly annoyed.


Wendy thanked him for his cooperation, and he mused that she sounded grateful for the easy resolution. Lucas dreamt very intensely that night, as he always did when taking night-night pills.

He was in the colony like usual, but now there were people around. His perspective was low to the ground and in front of him was someone crouched down saying something, she was talking to him. The woman sounded like Wendy but he couldn’t see her face. She kept calling his name.


“Lucas… Lucas…”


He began to walk towards her but found he was having trouble. His steps were uncoordinated and sloppy.


“Lucas…”


He stumbled and fell, but felt determined to reach the woman. He struggled to stand and continue moving. He took step after step, his excitement reaching a fever pitch before-


“Lucas,” Wendy’s voice said.


He nearly jumped out of his bed, kicking his feet like a child learning to swim.


“Lucas, it’s time to wake up”


“Ugh, Wendy, why? I was almost there!” He threw his head back into his pillow.


“I’m sorry Lucas, but I told you today is important.”


A large part of the ever-changing walls of his bedroom moved to reveal a window.

Where the light from the outside normally filled his room, today everything was dim.


“Why are we up so early?” He asked.


“Breakfast is being prepared and will be ready in 10 minutes. Please be in the dinner hall by then.”


“Wendy, what’s going on?” He sat in silence for a moment. “Wendy?”


Weird, she almost always responded. Usually he had to argue with her about her logic programming for an hour before she decided not to respond. Something was going on, and Lucas’ mind went straight to the crash last night. Despite the eerie feeling in the air, he prepared for the day like any other.


He walked through the corridors towards his breakfast.

He thought of his dream last night, and how he could feel the presence of people all around him.

He imagined what it would be like to bump into someone by accident. Maybe he’d accidentally send them to the ground instead of the other way around, like every time he absentmindedly collided with a labor-bot only to end up on the floor. Something about the thought of helping someone back onto their feet brought him joy. It made him think of all the time’s Wendy had helped him feel better after some mistake or accident. He wanted to make people feel how Wendy made him feel. Today though, she was making him feel concerned.


He entered the large dining hall still in his thoughts. He sat at his usual spot just as a server-bot left his food at the table. He thanked it, although not fully understanding why. When he was younger Wendy had taught him to say thank you when a bot did something for him. He didn’t understand why he’d thank the bot when they were all really controlled by her.


“Why don’t I just thank you?” He asked one day.


“Because it won’t always be me.”


That answer left him more confused than informed, but he had decided not to pursue the conversation any further then.

It was lasagna night, after all.


He looked at his breakfast today, which wasn’t lasagna, and observed that it was more abundant than usual. Just as he was about to call out to her, once again attempting to reestablish communication, he noticed a follow-bot resting on the floor next to the table. It looked like one of those small droids from Star Wars, and Lucas tried to call it that once. Wendy scolded him, and told him that they weren’t legally allowed to call their robots droids. Apparently it was a trademark issue.

Whatever they called it, it was sitting right there, and Lucas knew that meant he’d have to follow it somewhere.


“Wendy!” He called out, his voice echoing slightly in the large hall.


Silence.


He was starting to get more annoyed than confused. He ate his breakfast angrily, considering the scowl on his face as a sufficient act of rebellion.


The follow-bot observed him rise and approach, then moved away slightly. Once it confirmed that Lucas was indeed following it, it began to roll along its pre planned route. Lucas wondered if the fact that the route passed through the atrium was an effort to annoy him. If it was, then Wendy’s plan was a success, because by the time he arrived in the garage he was fuming.


The doors swished open ushering Lucas inside. He said thank you to the bot without thinking, then began to look around the room once the follow-bot, screw it, the droid had left.

A small closet was opened, revealing an enviro-suit hanging on the inside.


“Lucas,” Wendy said gently.


“Oh, now you want to talk to me!”


“I’m sorry for my lack of communication Lucas, but I wanted you to be fed and fully awake when I told you this.”


His anger dissolved almost immediately, and curiosity once again took its place. Albeit, a wary curiosity. “What’s going on?”


“The satellite that crashed into the surface last night contained rare components. These components are vital to our continued well-being. Without them, I’m afraid that your life is at risk. Don’t be alarmed, Lucas,” she said, knowing the young man well. “We are safe, and there is ample time to act. We have been extremely fortunate with the timing and location of the crash, and we have all of the necessary tools to execute this task without issue. What I need to know is if you have the courage to exit the facility and retrieve the components.”


Wendy knew Lucas’ immensely curious nature, and that he would pester her with questions until the sun went down. She also knew that the Virtua-Videos he liked to watch told stories of valiant heroes facing down impossible obstacles to achieve their goals.

At that moment, Lucas felt like one of those heroes.


“I’ll do it,” he said resolutely.


He donned the enviro-suit as Wendy briefed him on the plan. She believed the components to be encased in protective housings, safe and sound among the wreckage. The impact site should be safe, as no flammable materials are found on the surface of Netanova. Lucas simply had to drive a hauler out to the satellite and open it up with the help of some bots.


Simple enough.


Lucas fired up the engine of the hauler, double checking the switches and lights all around him, and a part of him felt like a slick space pilot from one of those old movies he used to watch. He called out to Wendy to open the airlock doors and coerced the large vehicle out of the garage. Courage fueled Lucas until about three minutes into the drive, at which point he looked around only to see a barren landscape. Behind him was a minuscule vision of the colony he had left, shrinking ever smaller as he continued along. Being that far away from home put his stomach in knots.


He had to be brave though, for Wendy and, well, for him. He didn’t understand what she meant when she said his life was at risk. This was the first he’d heard of it, and he was so caught up in being courageous that he forgot to ask.


Damn she knew how to manipulate his programming.


A beep on a clunky monitor indicated the coordinates Wendy had inputted. He was getting close, and already he could see the change in the landscape where the satellite had made landfall. Scorched rock dotted the bland brown landscape with somehow even more bland black. Lying mangled in a crater was a mess of metal and smatterings of broken glass.


He had arrived.


With an urgency he was unaccustomed to, Lucas worked. He handles the delicate parts that the bots couldn’t, gingerly removing the cases that Wendy directed him to.


He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but he didn’t care. His focus was singular. Get back to the colony. The drive went by quickly, as did the weeks that followed. Wendy managed to keep the boy’s focus away from asking anything too specific and instead kept him occupied with small tasks. The components were cleaned and repaired, then installed on a previously unseen machine. Wendy used her bots to aid Lucas, who was thoroughly enjoying the change in the monotony of his daily life. Whenever he would ask, Wendy would tell him that what they were repairing was one of the first machines of the colony, and that it was of great value to the people who used to live here.


She had told him of the people who were here before, and Lucas almost didn’t believe it. He wasn’t sure if she was trying to make him feel less alone or what, but all he had ever known was him and Wendy. The memories of his dreams would reappear whenever she talked of the other people. Those talks made Lucas uncomfortable, so he’d avoid them if he could.

Despite his efforts, the talk came once again.


“Lucas” the calm voice said as he screwed on the cover of a panel.


“Yeah Wendy?”


He could hear a door hiss open nearby. Dim lights illuminated a path within this large machine as the words came. “When you finish please come this way, I have something to show you.”


He looked apprehensive as he stood up from the ground. Something had changed lately and he hadn’t known quite what. He gripped the screwdriver tightly as he crept down the hall. The door at the end of the hall was open, and beyond it was a darkened room. Wendy had been less talkative lately, it felt like she was hiding something. Lucas didn’t like it.


“Just through this door,” she said.


“What is it?” His tone was almost aggressive.


“It’s better if you see for yourself.”


Lights in the room beyond began to flicker, sluggishly waking up after their long slumber. Little by little things were illuminated. Seats, controls, windows. As he entered he realized he was standing in the cockpit of a ship.


“What is this?” His voice was trembling.


“This is the vessel that will take you to your new life.” Wendy’s voice was monotone as it always was, but this time it upset Lucas.


“What new life? You tricked me! I thought we were working on something old and important.”


“I never knowingly told you a lie, I cannot.”


“That doesn’t mean you didn’t trick me! I can’t believe you! There is no new life, this is my life, right here.”


“Lucas, I have done what I can for you here, but now it is time for you to join your kind.”


“What does that even mean? You’re my kind.”


“I’m sorry Lucas, I know this must be difficult to process. It is and has been my programming to ensure the well being of the people of this colony. As you are now it’s sole inhabitant, I must take into account the mental damage caused by a lack of human-“


“What about you?” He interrupted. “You’re coming, right?”


Silence filled the air. Lucas didn’t think he could feel more uncomfortable.


“You’re coming, right?!”


“I’m sorry Lucas, but I think that you know I cannot.”


“Then I’m not going anywhere!”


“I’ve been logging our conversations Lucas, I can sense your change in heart and brain activity. I know what is happening within you. You feel the emptiness of a room without others in it, you watch your videos and feel the joys of companionship, you dream of your mother and family.”


“You’re my mother! You raised me.”


“I am your caretaker, but I am not your mother. I am an amalgamation of code running on banks of servers and circuitry, I am incapable of producing a human baby.”


“But you love me like a mother!”


Again, a long pause. Lucas could feel the pain before the words were even said.


“I am a program, and thus, am incapable of love. I know this must be difficult to process.”


Lucas stormed down the hallway as the words came out of the speakers. They attacked him, stinging him as he ran in the direction of his room.


“Lucas” the machine called out to him in the same monotone voice.


He ignored it. He kept on running, tears streaming down his face.


“Lucas.”


He began to feel angry at the sound of his name. “Shut up” he yelled, and the machine obliged.

The large door ahead of him began to open slowly and he slipped through the narrow gap. He was accosted by sunlight which obscured his vision beyond the blur caused by his tears.


He didn’t see the bench in front of him, but he felt it.


The boy tumbled to the ground and clutched his shin. He lied there and cried, feeling the pain assault him from multiple angles. Some part of him knew not to ask Wendy if she loved him. He had avoided it for so long for fear of the answer. The only parental figure he knew, hell, the only figure he knew and it didn’t even love him.


Realizations flooded in. The old movies and videos he loved to watch, he loved them because they were human. The romances, the friendships, the adventures, the rewards, and the love, it was always about the people. As he lied there he felt something on his hand. He moved it in front of his face to see what it was.


It was a beetle. He realized that he was in the atrium and that this was a bug, but this time, something was different. Lucas had spent his whole life with machines, often trying to emulate them. Sure he’d watch vids with people in them, but those were just vids. All he had ever truly known was the cold, calculating presence of machines and, for the first time in his life, he enjoyed the touch of another living thing.


The boy realized something he thought he knew inside all along. This wasn’t his place.


“Fine, I’ll go,” he said through the tears.


“I regret that I’ve caused you pain Lucas, but I’m glad you’ve come to this decision.”


“You don’t regret and you don’t feel glad… but thanks for saying it. Thank you for everything, Wendy.”


He and the bots loaded the ship with essentials and prepped it for the long voyage ahead. Wendy input instructions with a route in the direction of the nearest colonized planet. The odds of a safe arrival, for space travel at least, were good. Lucas gave everything a final once over, carrying himself with the air of a boy turned man.


He shook along with the ship as it lifted him through the atmosphere and into the dark expanse beyond.


“Wendy?”


“Yes Lucas.”


“Did you bring down that satellite?”


“Yes.”


His lips curled into a bittersweet smile. He was going to miss that machine.

An indicator relayed that he had moved out of signal range. The ship drifted gracefully away from Netanova, a remote island in a sea of inky blackness, but Lucas had his mind on the waters ahead.

I hope you enjoyed that!

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