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Pathfinder

By Angie Smibert

 

The light was dying, and it had been sent forth to find a new home.  It had explored planetary systems, selected the ideal planet, built the colony's structures, and sent the signal home. The ship turned inward, waiting.

Being an introverted intelligence, it was content to digest its own vast databases, the repository of human knowledge and human hope. As the centuries slid by, it was not idle. It went through physics, astronomy, molecular biology, inorganic chemistry, differential calculus, and Boolean algebra like hydrochloric acid through gossamer.  Then, it discovered poetry.

Poetry was insoluble.  Poetry gummed up the smooth flow of its circuits.  It had been designed to gather atmospheric and geophysical data and analyze them against the given parameters of human structural limitations.   A simple program to run.  Humans ceased to function outside a narrow range of conditions.  Death was an undesired outcome in its calculations.  After death there was only void.

It tried to apply its analytical algorithms to poetry, but much of poetry seemed to defy human structural limitations. It read every poem and every treatise on poetry ever written.  It understood meter.  It understood rhyme.  It understood metaphor.  All were programmable variables in a simple program.  It spun poem upon poem, randomly varying subject, meter, and form.  Sonnets on quadratic equations. Haiku to benzene rings. Limericks about soil nitrogen content.

Then, a radio signal intruded upon its spinning.  Centuries old, the signal carried news of destruction.  They were not coming.  They had ceased to function.  Its programming did not include this if-then statement.  If death, then...

Death was insoluble.  It searched its databases.  Death could not be avoided in the equation that was human life. But in poetry, death was not always the endstate. It did not understand.

It stopped searching.  Quiet, it felt the void within itself.  It scanned its own cache of poems and felt their thinness, like gossamer.  It deleted its poetry program and turned its sensors outward into the blackness of space.

After a time, words rose unbidden in its consciousness. All is built, but they do not come. A world in readiness, waiting. I hang like a teardrop above an empty cradle.

All is built, but they do not come. The waiting is at an end. They have gone where I cannot prepare the way.

I will find their path in the night.*

 

Story copyright © 1998 by Angie Smibert <asmibert@palmnet.net>

Artwork copyright © 1998 by Eric Seaholm <seaholm@io.com>

 


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