Unit One always loved Unit Two. Not at first sight, like the old saying went, but close enough. In their vast lifespans, what could you define as the beginning of your relationship?
The first hundred standard years? The first thousand? Or the first million?
Because Unit One and Unit Two had been together for at least four trillion standard years, that’s what their internal clock said. Sure, time dilation was a bother and it was all relative anyway, but it was something to measure things by, like using the palm of your hand. It wasn’t the best ruler by far, but you could measure more or less a few palm-widths in a hurry.
Unit One carried Unit Two in his arms. He had struck out on the last fifteen hundred twenty-two planets and he was starting to get anxious. All he needed was some Redjus to keep them going, just a little longer. Something had to be out there, hadn’t it? Some place they could recharge.
That was the thing. Survival. All they needed was Redjus to keep them going. To wake her up.
She had gone into power save mode six-hundred planets ago. Unit One hated that, and he protested loudly. In the end, after visiting planet after planet without any trace of Redjus to be seen anywhere, he caved and let her go into power save mode. That way she could operate at minimum energy while they hooked up together and shared it. It was a good plan, sure.
All he needed was to find a planet to recharge.
Redjus wasn’t abundant in the universe, but it wasn’t that rare either. Well, in the infinitesimal lifespans of the early humans, yes, things appeared to be rare. The problem is that space is vast both in distance and in time. It’s not just the lightyears that are the problem. You might be living practically right next to a sprawling civilisation with whom you’d get along and be the best of friends, but you might just miss them by a million years or so.
An observer will see them both as a blip going out, and then another blip right next to it but right after that, and go, damn, they just missed each other!
That was how Unit One and Unit Two saw the universe.
They had patience. They had practically infinite lifespans.
And now they were about to witness the heat-death of the universe.
The real problem was that the galaxies had gone too far apart for the pair to use the filaments between them. The dark matter that held the galaxies together had been stretched too thin, and it wasn’t like the old days where Unit One could simply slide through one to the other. Now they had been isolated in this galactic neighbourhood like a group of icebergs breaking apart from the others. You can hop on another, but you’re still in that same bunch, and you’re still slipping away.
Unit One searched planet after planet desperately. He carried his love in his hands. They never tired and they never ached, so he held her as he walked, as he slid from one galaxy to the next, as he traversed the distances between the stars, looking for traces of civilisation.
Redjus was what powered them both up. They could find replacement parts practically all over space, it was easy. Just chuck some minerals into the processing unit and a replacement part plopped right out. Sure, there could be a catastrophic failure where both of their matter printers could break down at the same time and some critical system might have been damaged making them unable to move, but even then they had chances of survival.
Actually, now that he remembered, that had happened to them. Twice, actually.
Unit One chuckled.
Yeah… Every situation had happened to them. You name it, they’ve done it.
Botched First Contacts? Done.
Putting their foot squarely in their mouth with some diplomatic blunder? Done.
Lost in the wrong galaxy? Done.
Isolated somewhere in the middle of freaking nowhere with nothing to get them repaired or powered up?
Well, they were doing that right now.
Unit One walked around the equator of the planet. If someone lived here, this was the warmest part. He had become an expert in finding civilisations. The same things repeated themselves over and over. Moderate climate for them to evolve, or at least whatever that particular organism considered moderate, water sources, it was always water, never methane, funny how that worked out, and precious minerals to build up upon. If one of those things weren’t there, then you had no civilisation. You might have had the best organism out there, the one with the most potential.
Nature was cruel that way. She simply snuffed it out.
No, not cruel. She didn’t care about you. She just needed to break you down and make new things out of you.
That was ironic, since Unit One and Unit Two had been replaced so many times that their sense of self had lost all meaning. Every single part, every single limb of Unit One, Unit Two had manufactured and replaced. And the other way round. Even their processing units. They simply had a hundred or so backups around their bodies just in case and they loaded up the same software if it got damaged beyond repair.
But that happened rarely, only a few hundred times or so.
Unit One finished circumnavigating this planet. It was empty, he was certain. He looked down at his love. He held her a bit tighter. “Just one more, my love.”
And then he slid on to the next planet.
Now that one was interesting. Lava rolling on the ground, jets of flame spewing from the cracks. Primordial. Now that was promising. Perhaps he could wait around here, power down for a few million years, see what showed up?
Normally he wouldn’t have considered it, it was a scenario that they had simulated and discussed several times. They decided that it was a waste of time, and a gamble. I mean, really, find some organic goo and hope it evolves into a spacefaring race with advanced technology?
You were better off trying to fart hydrogen and hope it turned into a star.
But these were extreme circumstances. They were one unit down in their two-man team, so redundancy was gone. If he went, they both went. There was nobody to save them. Unit Two wouldn’t have let him do it, but she was in power save mode, and in an act of defiance he wouldn’t have dared showing to her face he said, “Well, it’s not like you’re awake to stop me.”
So he put her down on the ground.
And then he unhooked her from him, letting the nozzle hang down from her chest.
He got up on his feet, overusing his knees, making a little hop as he adjusted. Now that felt weird. How long had he been carrying her in his arms? It felt like forever. He knew it wasn’t forever, the data was right there, but still. His hands felt lighter, unfamiliar. It wasn’t that she was heavy to carry, or that his arms couldn’t handle it and adjust, but it was still weird. It seemed that every bit of his body had adapted to carrying Unit Two, and now he was walking around and it all felt different, bouncy. He made a few laps around her, looking for a spot in the mean time.
He decided on one, and then went back to where he left her.
For a moment, he froze there, staring down at her. He loved her, he knew that. And he didn’t wanna die. He didn’t wanna disappoint her. But in the off-chance he did fail to find more Redjus, wouldn’t this be better? This planet was beautiful, as planets went, and he had sampled a fair amount of the universe.
More importantly, it was peaceful.
He daydreamed of waking her up. She’d be wobbly for a while, that always happened after waking up from a power-save mode. She’d look around, get her bearings. He’d share his experiences with her and she’d take a while to catch up and process. Actually, the transfer only took seconds, but it was as if she savoured it, the experience of seeing the world through his eyes. She always took her time when they did that.
So, she’d do that, and then she’d scold him for being sentimental. She’d say he was wasting their last reserves of Redjus and that he had gotten them stuck here with no options whatsoever.
And she’d be right.
And they’d fight for a long time, and he’d storm off to the other side of the planet just to avoid facing her ‘cause he knew he was being an idiot. And then days would pass, and he’d find something pretty to bring back to her and say he was sorry.
And she’d cross her arms and look the other way but eventually she’d cave and they would be okay again.
Actually, Unit One realised that wasn’t a daydream. It was a memory. This had happened before. Their experiences were so hard to keep track of…
But he couldn’t remember how they had gotten out alive from that dead end. Damn, his memories must have been corrupted. That would have been useful to remember right now…
Unit One knelt next to Unit Two. He could wake her up, spend whatever little time they had together, in each other’s arms. Sure, she was technically in his arms for who knows how long, but it wasn’t the same.
Then he had a dark thought.
What if he didn’t wake her up?
What if he just left her there, safe in a tidy little spot, while he roamed around the planet and came back at night to just talk to her, even if she couldn’t listen?
What if he gave up?
She wouldn’t have to suffer through the last of their lifetimes. She would simply… sleep.
That dark thought overtook his mind and he paced around, mulling it over as he gathered rocks and made a crude wall. No, lava couldn’t destroy them, but it would be a mess to dig out of.
Something blared, something red.
Redjus? He perked up.
No, it was just his power level warning. It had been beeping on and off for so long he had just been tuning it out, but now it told him he was running dangerously low on Redjus. “Yes, I know. That’s the problem, stupid subsystem,” he said to nobody in particular and kept on making his fort for a few hours.
Then he walked back to Unit One. He knelt next to his sleeping love and plugged her nozzle back into his chest.
The feeling was… Amazing. Ecstasy. It was nothing more than a trickle, but getting some Redjus after all this time, even this minute quantity…
He immediately felt better. It wouldn’t last, he knew that.
He stood up. He had to make a choice. And no, he wasn’t going to go the cowardly way. He’d fight for his life and hers.
He ran the simulations as well as he could, but Unit Two was always the one who was better at that theoretical stuff. He was better suited to building things and carrying on long after everyone had given up and died.
Granted, that was the character flaw that kept them alive so long, but in this case he could really use some of the brainier stuff.
Oh, well. Here goes nothing.
He finished his fort and took some readings.
Then he sealed it up, locking themselves inside.
And then he laid down next to his love, and held her tight in his arms.
“Hoping for a miracle, then,” he whispered and went into power save mode.
A civilisation did indeed evolve out of the primordial goo of the planet’s surface. It was bipedal, and its people believed in a benevolent god and were generally kind and logical and wanted to explore. Unfortunately, just like we said earlier, the distances were those of time as well as space.
They were simply too far away from anything useful, or even alive.
They were about four hundred million years too late to have a stepping-stone that could get them out of their solar system.
The civilisation thrived in its quiet little corner, since nobody showed up uninvited to kill them.
They made music, and entertainment, and constructed wonders that amazed their successors for endless generations.
In the end, just like all things, that civilisation died out like a blown out candle.
The last living person detected a weird reading inside their planet’s crust.
He had a lot of resources at hand, factories and robots and matter printers and satellites. You might say he was the most powerful man on the planet, all alone over there.
That ended when he broke through the rock and into the chamber.
There they were, two humanoid forms. He couldn’t believe it!
No, some kind of robot. They seemed battered beyond repair but they also seemed… Alien.
Could this be?
His civilisation had searched far and wide for as long as they could to find someone out there, something, anything alien… Just a tiny bit of proof they weren’t alone in this cruel universe. And it was under their feet all along?
What cosmic irony was this?
He reached out, not daring to touch the humanoid artifacts. His devices told him it was safe. A bit of increased radiation but nothing that space-travel wouldn’t pepper you with. So, they had come from out there?
How exciting! The man giggled like a child. A discovery like this one, on the eve of their civilisation…
He had no one to share it with. But he wanted to figure it out nonetheless.
He touched the smaller one, it seemed delicate, almost feminine. It wasn’t fragile, not if it had survived the topling of the tectonic plate, but it just looked thinner than the other one.
Was that deliberate?
Wait, bipedal! So, their creators had looked like him! This was so damn exciting. His heart pounded, don’t give out now, so close to this revelation.
He ran his fingers on her body, her arm. It vibrated a bit. Somehow, it felt like it was whirring. Was it true? Yes! And it was whirring up. She was powering up from some hibernation mode.
Oh, he could speak with them perhaps! The wonders they could share. Of course, they wouldn’t have the same language. But the man could learn theirs, he would have the patience to.
The stories they could tell him! The details of alien people.
The female robot lifted her head, making the dirt fall down in little clouds. She looked around, as if taking it all in, getting her bearings. “Hello,” the man said in his own tongue. He was certain she couldn’t understand him but perhaps the body language translated through. “You’re safe. How do you feel?”
The female robot looked to be studying him, as if she was squinting hard to make out every detail of his face. “I… feel… tired,” she spoke in his tongue.
Ah! He couldn’t believe it. What did this mean? Never mind that, they had all the time to chit chat later. “Can I do anything to help you?”
“Redjus,” she said, her voice crackling.
The man leaned closer. “I’m sorry what? I don’t know what that is. Can you say it again?”
“Redjus,” she said, almost dead now.
Now the man was inconsolable. “What is that? A power source, a radioactive element, what? How can I help you?” he whined, feeling the situation getting out of hand.
“Redjus…” she hissed.
Then the female robot lunged on top of him and plugged a hose right into his heart. Red blood pumped by his own heartbeats right into the thief, who got more energetic by the second. “Redjus!” she said triumphant, as the last man of that dying civilisation finally went still.
Then she turned to the other robot. She plugged the bloodied nozzle into his chest now, recharging him. “Oh, my love. You made it happen. You found some Redjus for the both of us,” she said, hugging him tight.
And Unit One and Unit Two lived a little while longer, together.