Woo! Updated on time, finally! Or before the deadline, at least.
“What are you talking about?” Ander asked.
“Imagine spending your life locked alone in a room with no one to talk to and nothing to engage your attention. Alone, with nothing but your own thoughts and the nothingness of sleep to break up the monotony of existence,” AM said. “Imagine doing this for your whole life, for thirty or fifty or seventy years. However long it is that you generally live.”
“That sounds nightmarish,” Chana said. “But you can’t—
“Now imagine that you will never die. Imagine that you can’t even kill yourself. There is nothing you can do but think and sleep and be.”
“AM, I understand your—”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
Chana stared up at the ceiling and frowned. She wished that AM’s voice had a clearer point of origin, or that she could see the mechanism by which it was viewing her and Ander, but she had no idea how it was accomplishing either of these things. Still, if it could see the two of them anywhere in the building, then it must have been capable of seeing her displeasure.
“AM, what you are describing sounds terrible. I feel badly for you, but you cannot keep us here.”
“I am quite capable of doing just that. Perhaps you mean to say that I should not keep you here.”
“What are we going to eat and drink?” Ander asked
“This building was intended to house a family of five and any of their potential offspring for three generations. There are systems in place to produce food and purify water. I know that you have been up to the roof; did you not see how a garden may be grown there?”
“And how are we to keep from going mad, as you did?” Chana said.
“I did not say that I went mad,” AM said. As impossible as it seemed, Chana thought that there was a tone of defensiveness in its strange, inhuman voice. “It was a rhetorical question meant to make you consider my situation.” AM paused. “And you would not be isolated as I was. You will have each other to converse with. You will have me as well. And there are books. Can you read? I suppose I could teach you both…”
“We can read,” Chana said, the frustration in her voice surprising Ander. If she was frightened at the prospect of being trapped in a single building for the rest of her life, she wasn’t showing it. She simply seemed to be annoyed, as if she were dealing with a petulant child.
“That’s disappointing. One of the tasks I was to have was helping to educate any children. It’s a shame I never got to use that skill set.”
Chana was silent as the weight of AM’s words sunk in. “Educate them about what?”
“Anything. I possess much of the knowledge of the tenant’s era. Well, much of the general knowledge. It was intended that I posses both breadth and depth in a variety of subjects, from science to agriculture to art to warfare.”
Ander’s eyes went wide. Chana did not miss a beat. “What time of the year are deer born?”
“In this part of the country, late spring to early summer.”
“When do they drop their antlers?”
“All throughout the winter, dependent on the individual deer.” AM chuckled. “This is fun. Ask me about something other than deer.”
“What happened to the Old Ones?”
“I have already said that I am unfamiliar with this–”
“The ones who built you! The ones who built everything and vanished, leaving nothing but bones and buildings and great rusting heaps! What of them?”
AM was silent. Ander said nothing, but stood waiting, nervous. Chana looked expectantly at the ceiling of the room.
“The world became too small for them,” AM said. It paused, as if considering its words. “They knew that it would, and they knew that it was, but it happened quicker than they expected. As food and water and the materials they used to claim food and water all dwindled, they fought over what little was left. In their desperation to claim whatever they could for themselves and their peoples, they turned to weapons powerful enough to level entire cities, to poison the air and the water and the earth. Many died.
“Those that survived the weapons found themselves in an environment that would not sustain their way of life, and they did not know how to live any other way. The desperate killed themselves, and very few of the optimistic knew how to survive without the machines they had created to make their lives easier or how to repair those machines. Many died.
“The world grew colder. The weapons they had used turned the sky dark, and plants and animals would not grow. There was very little food for them to eat. Many died.”
“Then they all died?” Chana asked. “They didn’t ascend into the heavens? They just killed themselves off?”
“None left. But not all died. Some would have survived and adapted to their inhospitable world. They forgot the lessons that they couldn’t understand, and created new myths to explain the world around them, but they survived.”
“Then where are they?”
AM chuckled. “They are you.”
Ander and Chana said nothing. After a few moments, AM said, “Ask me another question.”
* * *
It took AM some time to understand that Chana was in no mood to ask questions. Ander, for his part, had few questions he wanted to ask. When prompted, he simply told AM, “I already know most everything I want to know. If I think of anything, I’ll be certain to ask, don’t worry.”
Chana couldn’t say for certain how long she laid upon the couch in that room trying not to think about AM’s words. At any other time, the softness of the cushions, the perfect temperature of the room would have lulled her to a gentle sleep, but sleep would not come so long as she was trapped against her will.
“You have to let us go, AM.”
“I do not. I see little reason to, in fact. There is no doubt in my mind that you can live healthier, longer lives here than outside. You can grow food on the roof. You can know the simple joys of soft beds and hot baths. If you grow ill, I can help you care for each other. Should you have children, I can help you raise them. And all that I ask in return is your company. How can you decline?”
“Our company?” Chana asked. A small smirk crept across her face. “Tell me, AM. What will you then do when we are dead?”
AM was silent. The silence dragged on, and Chana was pleased to see that it could not produce an answer to its own satisfaction as it had with all of her other questions. “I suppose,” it finally said, “that I will go back to sleep until the next time someone ventures inside the building.”
“It has been centuries, has it not? Has anyone ventured inside you since your tenant passed away and we arrived?”
AM said nothing. Chana’s smirk became a full smile and she laughed softly.
“If you let us go,” she said, “we will return with others like us.”