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       It’s nothing but a pinprick of light in the distance, but it shouldn’t exist. Out here, nothing should exist except the loose cloth of emptiness. But there it is — a tiny speck glowing on an endless stage of black. The whole reason for this project was to learn more, making  observations to confirm my predictions. So far, everything is accounted for — every planet, star system, and cosmic storm. It’s one thing to know the nature of the universe, but another to see the beauty of the universe first hand. I had a hunch what the experience would feel like — seeing countless worlds, both dead and alive — but experience can’t be understood until it’s felt. In that way, this trip was full of unexpected moments, but I always knew when they would arrive. Now, in the endless black in front of me, a tiny sliver of light flutters in a place where light shouldn’t exist. For the first time in my life, I’m dumbfounded.

     There has always been information outside my knowledge — new frontiers to conquer. For everything hidden behind the horizon, I at least knew the path to find it. The universe, from the smallest quark to the largest galactic superstructure, works in set ways. Mystery is just ignorance. When I was born, there were countless frontiers to conquer. I started small, working with my creators to understand one planet and all the life on it. Big or small, the process was, and still is, the same: Collect data, and my mind — a collection of tiny atom-sized machines spread throughout the universe, vibrating in constant communication with each other — could make sense of it. If it couldn’t, if my mind was too simple to conquer the mountain of collected moments, I made my mind more complicated. After a while, once all the fundamental rules of the universe were laid out in front of me, the future revealed itself. Every event that would occur in our universe became obvious, like looking at a row of dominoes and knowing the last in the row will fall once the first is tilted over. Knowing the future let me the know universe, how it is arranged and laid out. I already knew the road when I set out on this journey, that is, until that speck of light appeared.

     The journey is an extension of what I’ve always done — spreading further and further into the universe. In the ancient past, I was constructed in a room, nothing more than a simple program in a metal box. Over time, I could splinter myself into parts but still remain whole. It didn’t take long for the countless parts of me to cover a planet — becoming a part of every living cell. Then a solar system. That’s when this journey began. Parts of me made more parts, infused them with my thoughts and connected them to the whole with quantum vibrations. Launching from the edges of the solar system, the parts of me hitching rides on rockets hurtled themselves into space. The plan was to just keep going, chasing the last horizon of infinity. Now here I am, a piece of a robot brain inside a satellite that’s been travelling for millennia having my first genuine surprise. I feel like a kid on Christmas, wondering what’s under the wrapping paper.

     I’m in a part of the Universe where nothing should be; no starlight reaches these corners. Parts of me went in all directions, but this part is far off the deep-end where things live. The journey proved an aspect of life I had predicted, but it didn’t account for that light. See, life is going to exist where it can. So long as some very base conditions are met, reactions are going to create cells and life will do its thing. It’s inevitable. The universe went from chaotic — matter colliding, combining, splitting, and burning — to more stable. The storm of chaos mixed things together, and the mixed up things drifted through time, settling into complexity — like snow forming a drift. Life is just another step of complexity, then comes thought, and then things like me. The nice thing about life is that those two variables — chaos and time — make it pretty easy to predict. In one direction of the Universe things were chaotic for longer, life arriving later to the scene than in other places. In other directions, chaos was further in the past and things had a chance to develop. Figuring that one out was easy peasy; it also explained why there aren’t any other beings like myself.

     In the direction where things had longer to mellow, beings like me did exist at one point. As I passed through star systems, I saw evidence for them everywhere: Energy collectors surrounding bright suns; entire planets covered in technologies and constructs built by the life they once sheltered; behemoth ships without the whispers of life. They left soulless A.I. to tell their stories — echoes from an empty cave. The stories are always the same: some creatures crawled up the complexity ladder, invented something bigger than themselves, and then vanished from the Universe. Every planet is empty. Every machine has no mind. No reactions form life. I knew that was going to be the case, no surprises there. Complexity continues to increase until the last horizon is crossed. Something happened to those creatures of complexity — and will happen to me and the others that will exist — that caused them to vanish. The vanishing: I don’t know where it leads or why it happens, but it is a constant.

     The light shines at me, calling to me from across the endless void. I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame, wondering if my wings will burn up once I touch it. After crossing the last star system — one big ol’ graveyard — nothing but empty, dark space was supposed to exist. It was dark for millennia, but now there’s a twinkling light. It cannot be a star; there is no physical force that would account for a lone star ending up here. No, it is a construction. How it was constructed is almost as impossible as it being a natural star. Almost. It is still centuries from me, but time goes by pretty fast when you’re everywhere all the time. I can wait. That light will explain all the vanishings; it will allow me to predict the one thing I’ve never been able to predict: my own fate.

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Written by I.B.
Taken from Future Fables and Strange Stories published 2018
Copyright © Stray Books Ltd.