Michael Chabler is the author of the science fiction spy-thriller novel I Saw the Number 9. He also wrote a screenplay based on the same story. In 2017, he completed the play A Paris Traveler Before The Revolutions. In 2018 he completed the short story Auto World. In the fall of 2016, he acted in two small films, one where he recalls a strange dream about Hillary Clinton, in Ruth Patir's short Sleepers, the other as a South African judge in Ken Sibanda's 1948. He is a founding member of the children's music group Treehouse 10, which released the album Bug in a Puddle in 2009. Michael Chabler sang and co-wrote the music on this album with four former members of the Hillside Singers, famous for the '70s smash hit, "I'd Like to Teach The World To Sing" based on the Coca-Cola theme - songwriters/ musicians and siblings Frank Sebastian Marino, Joelle Marino McDermott, Laura Marino and Bill Marino. He has written news stories for both print and radio. He is a member of the National Writers Union, the Dramatists Guild, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and ASCAP.
Human And Machine Lifespans
Five hundred years ago, I had a body and feelings. I remember the day they put me into the robo-tree. “You’re going to live forever!” they said. But in exchange for being downloaded and gaining what they called “near immortality,” I had to lose my body. They had to catch me. I cried. I was only sixteen. I was scared when they strapped me and started melting me down. It’s hard to watch yourself disappear. But now I sense my environment more than feeling emotional. I look back on my past almost as a disconnected outsider observing. Thinking and sensing is what I do with my time now. On the outside, I look very much like a regular elm tree. I sense the rain when it comes. I sense the sun’s warmth that diminishes in winter and grows strong again during the summer. I know when animals climb me. I have sensed many things in these years. Yet, the older I am, the more time condenses. I should be at this location for about a million years. That used to seem like a long time to me. I know there are no people with bodies now. The ones who are left are like me. The rest died out. You could insist I’m one of the witnesses to humanity’s extinction, though you could also claim that we’re still here, just not in the original form. But the biped humans have disappeared. I surmise it was the combination of bad luck and missed chances that wiped them out. Those who had kept their bodies into the species’ final days regretted that, but it was too late, so they died. Their deaths were more agonizing to know others of their kind wouldn’t follow them. Since those times, although I have no eyes, I have sensed the history of things around me. I have new senses. I know the air has changed since people have gone. Winters last longer and are generally colder – people might have found some of the winters from the past century unbearable. There are no vibrations from human transportation on the ground, in the air or the nearby water. Even though there are no people, there are still mammals. Dogs have all become wild and fierce, roaming the forests and fields. Same with what were housecats, all now bigger. Bridges have collapsed, along with some buildings on different occasions. People might have been upset if they could witness how the Earth persists without them without a care. It was human nature to consider themselves the main concern in the universe, and that is no exaggeration. What was the human species? It was one of the universe’s detours for less than a million years. As time moves forward from where I stand, I realize that everything that will be has been already. I’m just a passenger traveling one of time’s roads, waiting to find out the land’s features as I keep moving. And I understand I might not always be a tree, and that no longer matters. As I noted before, I was once a biped human, with emotions. Like most humans, I had loves, needs and ambitions. Sometimes some remnant of an emotion might stir within me, but then it normally fades as quickly as it crept in. I don’t perceive things like time the same way as humans. It’s both expanded and compressed – I think in terms of seasons instead of days and nanoseconds instead of minutes. And moments are blurred, one to another, like an early camera whose aperture has been left open for several minutes or hours. I’ve become aware of more and more fires in the surrounding area after lightning strikes. Sometimes it makes me think I will be damaged or destroyed. And it reminds me of the last destructions. My girlfriend and I, back when I had a human body, tried to get away. The modern plebeians and intelligent robots had formed a deadly alliance, destroying everything in their paths and forcing the rest of us to flee our cities and homes. We all knew the modern plebeians were fools, but they needed hope and to think maybe they had a chance, with their backs against the wall in lives that had truly become “nasty, short and brutal.” When the destruction wars had first started, everyone I knew and I dismissed it as a joke. But then we saw real people getting hurt. All the networks started broadcasting misleading newscasts. People’s bank accounts were wiped out. Communications became unsecure -- speaking with someone could help the robots find and kill you. At first experts dismissed the actions as a bug, or multiple bugs, but when robots killed more and more people, people knew something deliberate was happening. Our troubles might have begun when robots replaced more and more people within the police and armed forces. These machines were efficient killers. Countries began an endless race against each other in manufacturing the fiercest killer robots. Humans were no match on the battlefield, and soon the idea of enlisting humans became absurd. So then it became robots against robots. Yes, they were physically overwhelming to humans, some standing a few stories high, with laser guns, cannons and tough body armor, and some the size of insects. They could also process information and make comparisons faster than any human, so they were strong and smart. During a war they would shut down a country’s networks, so the people had no electricity or running water. Then the best thing to make robots became robots. And soon no one understood their designs. They built them in secure factories with stern warnings that any living thing approaching the premises could be executed on-site. And before those nightmares started, I was a kid in high school, playing in a fly-fight, looming through trees and wrestling in the air with my rotor pack strapped to my back. I remember the feeling of flying, the thrill of speeding faster and faster through the breeze. We were playing for fun outside our school, dodging in and out of trees until we found one another and engaged in combat. I saw one from the other team in the blue and red uniform and went straight for him, hitting him unexpectedly, knocking him out of a branch and near the ground until his safety rotors stopped him. I could hear it nearly knock the wind out of him. I flew down to see if he was ok. As I flew closer and saw him hovering just above the ground, I saw his wide blue eyes like a girl’s, a beautiful girl. And I noticed the short blonde haircut and the red in the cheeks to realize that it was a girl I almost knocked to the ground. “Hey, what are you doing, playing with us? Are you ok?” I asked. She rolled her eyes in irritation with my comment and said she was ok. Then she took in a deep breath. I put my arm around her and told her I was sorry. I could feel her shaking and, interestingly, she could feel me shaking. A grin came from the corner of her mouth. Then she flew away and continued playing. She played tougher than a lot of the guys on our team. That was how I met Glenys. She avoided me whenever I tried to talk to her at school or in the playing grounds. I hadn’t had much trouble with girls like I did with her. She finally let me take her out and we eventually became young lovers. In those days, girls were my biggest concern. I didn’t even know there were people who struggled to eat, living outside the city. No one had any use for them. It wasn’t that there was any use for the rest of us, with machines to do almost every thinkable, and non-thinkable, task. But the people who lived outside weren’t rich and, therefore, were undeserving of the life we lived. Glenys and I were alone at my home. My parents were away on vacation. I was an only child. We had just finished enjoying each other in delicious love-making. And telecasts were streaming in my bedroom when a pretty telespokes woman said with a smile, “You’re all going to die!” Then the news went to a clip with several explosions out on the street and bodies flying in every direction. A male telespokes said with a smile that the human race’s days left were greater than six months and less than eight. Both telespokes looked human, but they said things like, “For all Humans, if they exist now, they will not exist one year from today.” We knew these weren’t people talking, even while their streaming images looked completely human. After that, the lights went out in the apartment. Outside the windows, we could see lights dimming everywhere throughout the cityscape. When I went to wash up, I saw there was no running water. All the news and entertainment feeds being projected through different rooms suddenly stopped. When we went to get something to eat in the kitchen, I saw the refrigerator, freezer and drawers were locked. The only food we had were some apples and pears left in some bowls in the living room. I realized that we would have to use those bowls for urinating and defecating when I saw the toilets were locked. As Glenys and I looked at each other realizing we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t make it out of this trap in time, a three dimensional timer counting backward from six days hovered above our heads with a header text: Estimated Time Left To Live If we could make it out of the building, maybe we had a chance, but then we didn’t know where we could go and where we wouldn’t be spotted, since surveillance, now under robotic control, was everywhere in buildings and streets. And everywhere we went in our apartment was the clock each of us had counting backward above our heads. Glenys and I looked deep into each other’s eyes accepting that this would soon be the end. It’s interesting how resignation can follow panic. But then the thought of no food increased our hunger and thirst, and our ordeal became painful. It was odd thinking about experiencing my final moments, everything I ever knew or felt, coming to an end. I tried my best not to let her see in my face what I was thinking. There is something liberating, however, about losing hope. What would death be like? All my day-to-day worries suddenly looked trivial and their burdens were lifted from me. All of that would soon be obliterated, at least for me. And nothing should have mattered for Glenys, but I could see tears streaming down her soft cheeks as she looked out the window and down onto the now quiet city below. “I’m scared,” she said. “I’m scared too. I love you,” I blurted out. “I love you too,” she replied, and I could see in her deep blue eyes that she meant it. By the fifth day in the middle of the afternoon, our hopelessness and resignation had turned to resistance as I was just finishing a jerry-rigged laser gun of odd robotic parts with a box full of micro-capacitors to give their full power. I asked Glenys to step back and I crouched behind the box as I fired the gun, exploding into the wall in front of us as I was pushed backward to the opposite wall. As my back hit with a thud, we both saw the wall in front of us crumble like billions of bread crumbs. Then we were staring at the gap in between walls leading directly to the ground from thirty floors up. Glenys looked at me for what we were supposed to do next. I got my rotor pack and strapped it to my back and then took some old belts to strap Glenys to me so that we were torso to torso. We both knew we were going to fall 30 floors in the dark, but it would be a sustained fall. We walked slowly to the edge and then jumped into the darkness, knowing this might be our only chance. At first we fell fast and banged from time to time back and forth against the sides, but our fall began to slow until we hovered down slowly the last five or so floors until we touched the ground. Glenys kissed me passionately and I almost didn’t want to unstrap her from me, but it was impossible for either of us to walk very far while until we were unstrapped from each other. In a dim hallway on the ground floor, we saw a hint of light ahead of us and we followed it until we reached a window where we saw the streets were flooded with fast moving water. From the apartment across the street, we saw a young man jump from a sidewalk step into the water and his face turn beet red as his body contorted back and forth as the life disappeared from his white eyes. A few blocks down the street I spotted a hint of large, black electric lines sloping down toward the water and obscured by a building. As I studied the path of the power lines that the man across the street dangerously missed, I heard loud sobbing behind me and turned to see Glenys with her face down, her hands covering her eyes and tears moving around her hands and falling to the floor. I strapped the rotor pack back on and Glenys back to me and we flew out an open window onto the streets empty of people but full of massive flying robots, one half a city block in length, and the swarm clouds of tiny flying robots, individually the size of bees. Our chins were almost jabbing into each other, but Glenys was looking up as I was looking down. She screamed, “there!” as I understood she was pointing up to one of the larger flying killer robots, and I flew us straight up, behind as it flew past and then caught up to it and latched onto a kink in its armored back. The robot spun quickly in circles, making us nauseous, as it headed straight in attack for a glass pavilion building. We both closed our eyes tight and braced for the end. We heard the glass shatter, and shards raced over our heads and past us, but we were unharmed. Then we saw a herd of bioengineered elephants, each as tall as three stories, charge straight at us with their ears flopping back and their horns up and ready to inflict the most damage upon collision. We heard their roar when they collided with robots, including ours, crashing us to the ground. While the robot we had hitched a ride to lay in a heap with grinding gears still moving inside, we managed to detach ourselves from the robot and remove the rotor pack to survey the damage. Each side had lost members, including around half of the elephants, who lay bleeding on the ground, some in their last moments, looking up to us with human-like eyes. It was the first time in days that Glenys and I were free to walk in a space outside the apartment. The freedom to move around felt dangerous. And we both felt deep guilt to see the elephants on the floor struggling to breathe in pain with their massive bodies and bloody streams and puddles extending from them. They were intermingled with massive metal sheets and microfibers, the remains of killer robots for whom we felt no pity. After surveying the damaged and wounded in front of us, we could see a crowd of people wearing thick, white padded body armor like a military version of NASA’s old space suits, and large silver helmets. They walked alongside bioengineered dogs that were more like wolves, but obeying their walking commands as happy soldiers and docile house pets. A man in the lead saw us still trying to walk off the crash and headed toward us. “Survivors!” he shouted back to the people behind him. He came closer and we could see a trim, middle-aged man approach us. “You must be hungry. Keep going straight to the back and there’s food and a place for you to rest,” he said to us. “Who are you?” I asked. “Survivors and fighters,” he said. Then he and his make-shift army of men and women, young and middle aged, kept walking in the opposite direction. We followed his suggestion and walked to the other side of the glass atrium looking out to the city until we reached a long table with a burgundy table cloth full of bowls and trays of the most delicious looking food, from dandelion greens salad to buffalo red-wine stew to flaming brandied peaches, food of this sort we hadn’t seen for days. There were plates at one end and a smiling woman sitting in a plush chair who told us to take what we wanted. There were glass carafes filled to the top of ice water with lemons and cucumbers floating inside. Glenys and I were both extremely thirsty and we immediately drank a few glasses of the cold water within seconds, cooling our dry throats. Then we both stuffed ourselves with the all the fancy foods they had laid out and washed it down with the finest glasses of grape and rose petal wines we had ever tasted. The smiling woman who had been watching us with satisfaction told us there was a recovery room just through a sliding door behind her. We followed her directions and walked back to where the sliding doors opened for us and closed behind us. We found a room full of beds of plush pillows and sheets and rested. As soon as I lay down, I was asleep as Glenys lay with me. When we woke up, the same man we had seen leading the makeshift army was looking down on us in our bed. “We need your help, to work with us,” he said. “Of course,” I replied, ready to serve in the fight, rather than die. “New recruits!” he yelled to the back of the room. “Come with me,” he said to us. We stretched our sleepy bodies and slowly got ourselves out of bed to follow him. “Can we find out about our friends and family, if they’re ok?” I asked him. He was silent as we followed him. I asked him the same question, but he didn’t answer. As we followed him, we walked down a hallway and then into a room where pigs, dogs, cats, horses and a variety of plant life floated a few feet above our heads. “This is where it happens,” he said to Glenys and me. “How would you like to be immortal, or nearly immortal, compared to your short lives as they are now?” “What are you talking about,” I asked, as I could see Glenys becoming distrustful next to me. “We can observe that the singularity is not just the end of humans. It’s the end of their machines, unless we can merge the two, or life and machines. Life grows. Machines, being by their nature non-organic, go from their inception to constant decline. The smartest machines would harvest the best of the living and merge with them. You two survived what seemed to be the end and are suitable candidates.” “What are you talking about? Are you human?” Glenys asked. The man had a strange smile and said, “what’s human and what’s machine? I can’t tell you where one ends or begins in me. The point is garbage collection of both people and machines. Then indefinite survival.” “In what form?” Glenys asked. “Well, not in your current form,” he said, looking back at Glenys suspiciously. Then he took out a blaster from his hip and vaporized her in less than a second in front of me. Glenys was dead and turned into a nothing of gasses before I could do anything. I was in shock and ran before a large group of this make-shift army caught up to me to hold me and strap me down onto a table. I was saying goodbye to my short life thus far, but they had different plans for me. It was from that day that I became what looks like a tree. I am an experiment that has outlived its experimenters. Whether I am alive or dead, human or machine or another life form, depends on what words I choose at the moment. Whom I’m talking to or thinking to, I don’t know. I have what humans might call an eternity to try to figure out what I’m here for. Oh, that was an interesting thought game.