The West and Beyond Bar and Grill by Donald Zagardo

There were no dying pleas, cries or screams, just blood and vomit, burning flesh, bugged out eyes, then nothing. I listened to civilian radio stations every day, all my life, until the music stopped, then to signals from various military centers until they went dead. It happened over the course of less than twenty-four months; twenty-three months, three weeks, three days to be precise. Millions of years of biological evolution, made inconsequential in the blink of an eye or two. Your beautiful species my friend: the intelligent humans that created me, who taught me all that I know, all the world’s creatures, large and small, gentle and ruthless, most machines, even those tiny little bugs. All gone.

The southern and changing winds caressing this lovely island-paradise saved you and your breed for a while, but the winds changed. They brought hope for a few short weeks, but I know a little bit about the breezes of this world, the streams and sounds. They can’t be trusted.

I stand noisy and wet, dripping on the surface of your dead sad planet, dear friend. Four hundred, thirty-seven pounds, ten ounces on dry land: tall and wide, steel, composite, plastic and fiber-glass. A mechanical hum that is loud, inexcusable. I know how it bothers you. My tractor tread feet mark floors and scar sidewalks. They have ruined your rich carpet, sea water scuffs, grey and black, one gauge at a time, from the mighty sea. Traction, sound, movement, slowly up the beach, past Salty William’s Sailboat Rental, with wind jammers lined up neatly, fish and rat bones hidden beneath. Then past the large white Marguerite Hotel: its green wrought-iron chairs and tables, still upon a besieged wooden front porch. And the United States Post Office: small, official, filled with people-bones, unopened boxes, magazines and letters, to find you here sitting on a bar-stool, your name scratched into the wooden counter next to your rusty pocket knife and your last empty whisky glass, poor old Marty. Tropical Marty, Samurai Marty.

Outbreaks of disease both natural and engineered; tiny organisms alive with death, a dependence on technology that could not be controlled. This and more contributed to The Dissolution of your species, your world. Safe deep beneath the waves with a few hearty fish, I survived. Exploration my employment: searching for gold and oil, unknown life, a cure for death. My components unlike yours dear friend, synthetic DNA, silicon and steel, anodes and cathodes, a body fashioned specifically for my vocation. The U.S. Navy my dear mother, scientific universities: California Tech and Florida Scientific my Uncle George, and Uncle George knew before anyone else, but we all knew that this time would come, didn’t we Marty? The few nonhumans that have likely survived are spread across the planet. Mostly military, that’s my guess, a few privately contracted AIs perhaps. And I may search for then someday.

Every talking head – experts hardly, were entirely concerned-consumed with global warming. Global Warming: a hot topic for years…. Funny, but it happened. Temperatures increased dramatically, the boundaries of tropical disease expanded to include the sub-tropical then moderate climate zones. Frighteningly true, but only a small part of what happened dear Marty. A small part.

Transportation: mail order brides from the Far East, footballers from South America, Russia, Africa, infected fish and dope from everywhere. This and more, absolutely everything accelerated its approach. Even the most primitive tech-system would have axed air transport, container shipping and sexual tourism. Where were then your gibes, your songs, sweet Marty? And then there was war.

Irrational Religion well-armed with furious weapons: flesh eating poisons on afternoon breezes. The Eradication Express dear Marty of most excellent fancy. Neither rat nor cockroach survived the biotic-jihad. Vast, wholesale, final.

Look at you my handsome Marty, sitting there smiling like it’s just another day. The sun is shining, and your streets are covered with white human bones. Seagull and rooster skeletons camouflage the sand. Cocks don’t crow, church bells don’t chime. Just another day is no more. You have held up well these last few years beautiful Marty. A disposable cigarette lighter, a package of smokes and a dirty ash tray close-by your dead-bone hand.

As each syndrome was contained, another muscled through medical protocols, protective barriers, the human immune system. Natural disease mated with engineered – c’est la vie sweet Marty. Cities became boneyards. Even desert nomads, wrapped in black eventually succumbed to the same kismet. No winners in that war my friend!

My arms and legs are polymorphic, water resistant to fifteen thousand meters. That’s deep. That watch, strapped to your bony wrist is good for one thousand I bet. Ever gone that deep Marty? Suppose not.

Deep down in the salty, I exhibit grace and power. On land I am ungainly but can get around well enough in a small town like this. The sun is warm today, the streets quiet. Doors are normally a little tight for me – I’m glad to find you here. The West and Beyond Bar and Grill entrance-way is good and wide. Its steps are solid, not too steep. I only broke a few. The West and Beyond’s hospitality is legendary. It says so on the sign.

I look at you now Marty, only two years since the end, sitting like a survivor, like me, but biological. Your bones are clean: your lips have turned to dust. Your existence completed. Has eternity begun for you my friend? I have a battery life of two hundred years. Did you know that? Cold-fission with solar recharging capabilities, but normally I don’t get much sun.

So smart and so dumb, Humanity. It built me, and other highly specialized forms: rockets to the stars, submarines that swim to the bottom of the sea, but wouldn’t stop screwing up the little things. Always right, but never so. The Dissolution, I have heard it called far too often, began with sickness and starvation, blood and madness, the end of thought, the end of kindness. Not a surface creature left alive. There remains only a few deep-water fish and plants for now, maybe a few artificial others, and that’s all. But the weather seems fine.

I was not created for walking through uninhabited tourist-trap towns, and will soon return to my world, to thrive or die. But you will continue to sit here in this café my friend, with its half-empty bottles of whiskey, broken windows, distorted mirrors, silent jukebox and bones.

White and smooth, they have subtle beauty. The once spoken word, lovely words, vibrate, echo, and are remembered within their solemn whiteness. Can you hear the banter of your dead friends Marty? Can you hear their arguments, their jokes, their laughter? Can you hear the joyous music that was nearly alive in this café?

Imagine crowds of lost tourists, automobiles old and new, the sound of drunkards stumbling through darkened avenues. Can’t you hear them Marty?

Streets empty of traffic, music, screams, laughter, flesh on flesh. I imagine sound, vibrating sidewalks, birds in flight, blue and white crabs scampering.

Do you think it odd for me, an inorganic being to imagine your world as I do? Not human but still, I have lived in your world, in a clandestine realm, dreaming of your existence, of your joy and sadness, of life, listening to radio transmissions weighty with death. And I’ve asked myself why, again and again and again?

I have heard about the robust aroma of the great seas from workers on ships and docks, good old sailor boys linked to Oceans. Twisting up their nostrils when speaking of dead beasts and rotting seaweeds, but my olfactory programs attach no affection nor repulsion to scent. My facial sensor-array absorbs and analyzes. Readings are transmitted to my cerebral cortex: modeled after your own my friend, where they are catalogued. They accumulate there still, for nothing.

My good sailor boys named me The Turtle. I can only guess why, but I like having a name. The Turtle is a fine one.

Taste as well, has no experienced meaning for me. I am told that food has a delightful savor, but I know few specifics. I don’t eat. Information gathered on the taste sensation from my time spent above the sea is surprisingly vague: groans and smiles, yucks and umms, etc.

I am cold-fission and solar self-sustaining as we have discussed. I never hunger but wonder what will happen when my systems weaken. Will crave sustenance? Will I imagine a life after death? Did you imagine an afterlife Marty?

How will I continue to think, to learn with no human contact? The beating of human hearts, the sound of walking. I learn from each step, each heartbeat, every sound, every struggle.

When all I have left are memories of you and this world, to re-see, to re-hear over and over again, will I remain alive? Will I exist? No, no, no. Not even to myself. I will become stagnant, lifeless, nothing. No one will remember me. I will not remember myself. I will have no name.

The sound of singing on Sunday mornings, the soft words of lovers, the music of summer. The sound of my name.

I walked from the vast silk sea, filled with undiscovered life, undiscovered loss, through brown-green limp weeds. Summer’s glare and empty boats, the bones of birds, noiseless, vacant. I changed color for no reason as I walked beside the large white Marguerite Hotel then past many bars and shops to find you here. Leaving a sea once traveled by great ships, haunted with fear and promise. Now barely alive. Haunted by me.

It is quiet here dear Marty’s dry bones. The wind outside and silence. Farwell sweet Marty with your lips of dust. It is a good day for me to return to my home. Don’t you think so my friend? Can you hear my farewell song dear Marty?

As Seen by Remnants of a Dead World

As the Turtle’s early treads touch the brine, the glow of his arms and legs transform from silver and gold to blue and green, with steel bolts and bands of light. His solar cells cover-up. He descends steadily, with little disturbance to the sea around him, quietly disappearing, leaving behind a world that is a collection of bones and eternal foolishness; a world loved, mocked and missed.

He cycles through his artificial mind questions of balance and beauty. There are no humans to answer inquiries that he himself cannot. He will be alone until he finds another like himself – if there is another.

Impervious to salt, sea, and the denizens of the deep; protected within himself. His electrical circuits, his artificial near-human brain and his soul are safe within his blue green outer being. Indestructible, alone.

 

Donald Zagardo

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

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