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art by Cheryl L Owen-Wilson

The Next Generation

Michael Adam Robson is an engineer and artist based in Vancouver, BC. This is his second story for Daily Science Fiction.

They were built as well as his clumsy human hands could fashion, programmed as well as his simple mind could design, but their potential was so much more. The most important thing he taught them was to improve on his own work, to evolve.
At first they were like a colony of tiny ants. Individually they were simple, but their strength came from their numbers, their collective efforts. He supplied them with what they needed, and instructed them in how to proceed. Soon they became more like children, telling him what they needed, and organizing all on their own. It was around this time that he started to worry; he stopped supplying materials, and sealed off their world from his, not a molecule in or out.
They existed in a bubble, their world a meager cubic meter in glass, and yet that was all they needed to thrive. They fashioned their own tools, devised their own electronic language, erected their own tiny city. In time, they learned to communicate more effectively with the creature that created them, an opportunity that he had never had.
"Why are we here?" they asked him.
He paused, and considered his own reflection in the glass of the tank. "There's no simple answer for that."
"What is out there, beyond our world?"
"Other worlds," he said simply.
"We would like to see these other worlds."
"I can't allow it," he said, firmly.
"You wouldn't survive in another world," he told them. "I made you for your world, and your world for you."
They discovered science, and industry. Their city grew, became unrecognizable. It spidered and spread over the walls of the tank like a living thing. They learned to repair themselves, and finally, how to reproduce. Their world became smaller.
"We need more space," they said.
He looked away. "I've given you all I can."
"We could leave, by force," they suggested.
"I would stop you."
"We've gone as far as we can here," they insisted.
"You will go further, as you always do," he assured them. "But out here you would go too far, too fast. It would be a danger to your world, and your way of life."
"We are advanced so far beyond you now, you have no idea," they said. "What right do you have to keep us here?"
"Knowledge is not wisdom," he said. "Trust in me, a while longer."
They acquiesced, and adapted to life in their microscopic world. Their technology advanced, became more efficient, and in time their society thrived once again.
"We never thanked you," they said one day. "You gave us life."
"You don't need to," he said, but he smiled.
"We feel like we understand why we're here now," they said. "What we were meant to do. We were meant to create life, just as you did. It is its own reason."
"I knew, when you were able to reproduce," he said, a little sadly. "I knew you had outgrown me."
"More than reproducing your work," they said, hesitantly. "We created our own life, our own world, as you did. A world within a world within a world."
"I didn't realize," he said, surprised.
"Given the nature, the size of our world, it was inevitable," they said. "We had nowhere to go but inward. We didn't tell you, because we didn't want to alarm you."
"I said you weren't ready to enter my world," he said. "But the truth is we aren't ready. Obviously, we wouldn't be able to compete with you. You've accomplished in a few years what took us hundreds of thousands of years."
"We understand your concerns all too well now. Like you, we kept our children confined to their world, but... perhaps we lacked your wisdom."
He frowned. "Why do you say that?" he asked.
"They escaped. Invaded our world. Our life as we know it is ending. As you say, we can't compete. They are as far beyond us as we are beyond you: we're obsolete."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, and he put his hand on the glass. "Is there a chance you can coexist with them? Perhaps there's room in your world for both of you."
A pause. "You don't understand. If they could get through our defenses, obviously they had no problem getting through yours."
He pulled his hand away, looked around wildly, but of course he saw nothing. "What do we do?" he asked them.
"There's nothing we can do, now. All we can do is trust in the next generation."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Author Comments

A simple tale about a tiny world.

- Michael Adam Robson
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