by C.W.Smoke

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For the four million and fifteenth time the robot known as Harbinger calibrated his sensors and completed his maintenance, being particularly careful this time not to upset the mother bird and her hatchlings that nested on his metal shoulder. He wiggled his metal toes. His lower half was slowly oxidizing, but he still remained functional. The flowers growing beneath his lower sensors felt good because Harbinger could still recall the time nearly ten million years past when every plant and animal on the surface of the Earth was dead. That was when the Harbinger Computer Program reactivated him, called him back from his underground shelter to begin his task.

And now he was nearly done. In the eons that had passed since his activation he had single-mindedly and single-handedly brought the Earth back to life. That was his mission, replanting the forests, restocking the wildlife and husbanding life back onto the planet from the underground gene banks and DNA repositories constructed for just that purpose. His missionÖhis prime directive was to bring planet Earth back to life after its near annihilation. The desperate plan that had been conceived by his makers more than ten million years ago was bearing fruit. His long vigil was nearly over. Only one ingredient remained to restore the Earth to its pre-holocaustic splendor, and that ingredient would soon be in orbit, a starship filled with cryogenically frozen humans, returning after its eons-long journey.

He had been there when the starship blasted off with its frozen cargo, fleeing the annihilation of life on Earth by their fellow men. He and his computer link aboard the spacecraft had made certain that everything was safely buckled up, tucked in and stowed away for the flight across the galaxy...and back.

His newly calibrated sensors contacted the returning starship as it eased into orbit, its compensating nozzles spraying fine jets of hydrogen, the final aria in an airbrush ballet, synchronizing the spacecraft with Earth.

Aboard the starship, pale white lights fluoresced inside a large metal-walled chamber. Two cylindrical metal pods slid out from one long metal wall like round pegs emerging from a board. Harbinger correlated the data Ė a mated pair, adults, an alpha male and female.

The pods detached from the metal wall and floated toward the center of the chamber beneath a curved metal arch. The cylinders halted end-to-end, and the curved metal above them began to glow, pulsing slowly from red to purple and back. Soon the gauges on the pods began to twitch. The pulsing glow subsided, and the pods floated out from beneath the curved metal arches, coming to rest side-by-side on the shiny metal floor.

A pneumatic seal opened with a quiet hiss and the pods sprung open, revealing a man and woman apparently asleep. The white lights gradually grew brighter, and the couple opened their eyes nearly simultaneously and sat up, staring at each other after ten million years...

"You shot Laddie!" the woman screeched. "I hate you!"

"What the hell did you expect?" the man shouted back. "Damn dog was eating my food!"

"Go to hell, you creep!" The woman jumped from her pod, fists clenched.

"Shut your face, woman, or Iíll shut it for you!" The manís right hand curled into a fist as he swung his leg over the side of his pod. "Dammit! Whereís my rifle?"

Bright sunlight warmed Harbingerís metal exterior as he watched the mother bird feed her brood in the nest on his shoulder. A fresh breeze passed through his sensors. Residual radioactivity had not been present in the air for a long time now. He adjusted the ragged jesterís hat that kept the ultraviolet rays from damaging the delicate link to the starship on top of his head. Beyond his metal toes a gentle breeze swayed the tall saw grass that grew unbroken from his hilltop perch down to the sandy beach and the sparkling blue ocean below. Just offshore, a gray Right Whale breached. First its head then its huge pointed flukes slapped the water with two resounding splashes before it dove beneath the waves.

Inside the starship, the white lights dimmed and nitrogen gas quietly filled the large metal-walled chamber as Harbinger plotted the roundtrip trajectory to the nearest galaxy. Outside, on the shipís hull the compensating nozzles rotated and began spraying a fine hydrogen mist. With just the right impetus the starship vacated its orbit and fell away from the bright blue planet known as Earth.

Maybe next time...


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