The truth isn’t for everyone

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Photo by Bill Adler

Carter led Saoirse to the cave’s most distant point.

Except for their footsteps, the cavern was silent. Carter walked two paces in front of Saoirse to clear the way, waving his flashlight from side to side, as if the beam could sweep away fallen objects. Though the cave floor was flat and gently sloped, it would do him no good if his boss tripped over a rock. He maintained a keen lookout.

Saoirse sighed. “How much farther, Carter, until we see this incredible archaeological find of yours?” She aimed her flashlight to the side, illuminating a wall of damp, colorless stone. She hoped to see pictographs or some other writing, but instead millipedes, spiders, and other crawlers scurried away from the light. Saoirse jumped.

“Just a few more minutes. It will have been worth the trouble.” More than worth it. This is the greatest discovery of all time. Carter’s brain bubbled with anticipation.

“It better be.”

Carter detected an irritated stomp in her step. His mind filled in the rest of Saoirse’s sentence. Or your career is over.

He gripped the flashlight because he didn’t want to drop it, but also because he was anxious. He had asked — no, insisted — that Saoirse see his discovery with her own eyes. Saoirse held two chairs at the university, Chair of Archaeology and Chair of Historical Doctrine. She was the only android in the country who held dual positions. Putting his job in an even more precarious place, Saoirse also had the ear of the Supreme Android Leader, which meant one bad word from her and Carter wouldn’t be teaching archaeology anymore. He’d be lucky to get a job as a servo repairman.

But a good word and he’d be golden.

He was risking everything to bring her to the site, but it was the only way. Photographs with descriptions of where and how the find was made, even if accompanied by precise dating and location measurements, were insufficient evidence for such a monumental discovery. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Saoirse had to see the artifact in its original location, just as Carter had.

Carter’s hydraulic pump beat fast with anticipation.

“My power supply runs out in eight hours and six minutes,” Saoirse said. Her words cracked like a whip. “Whatever you want to show me, it had better be done well before then.” Running out of battery power wasn’t dangerous, but it was certainly embarrassing to be carried out on a stretcher, ugly, untamed wires connecting to an emergency battery. One of the major vidnews networks closed each evening with a humorous segment showing an android in exactly that state. Nobody wanted to be that android.

“We’re almost there. You’ll be back at the hovercraft with plenty of time to charge.” He went silent for two seconds while considering whether to add, “I promise,” which he did.

Carter dialed his flashlight to maximum brightness and knelt on the ground. “This is it.” Those are unremarkable words for such a momentous moment, Carter thought. He rephrased his sentence as if it were being broadcast worldwide, “This is the discovery I made that changes everything we know about where androids came from.”

Saoirse aimed her flashlight at the disc-shaped object on the ground. The object was about a third of a meter in diameter, two centimeters thick, blueish-black in color — though the color almost certainly had faded over the eons — and had a silver button in its center. It looked like an oversized hover drone.

Carter shined the light on the other artifacts. Several broken drinking glasses, a black plastic dial with BOSCH printed in broken, white letters, a piece of steel with a handle that looked like it may once have been part of a door, and an elongated piece of metal with an oval-shaped saucer at one end littered the surrounding area.

Saoirse ignored the artifacts and stiffened her back.

Carter was on the verge of suggesting she take a closer look, but given that Saoirse’s reputation included a short fuse, along with brilliance and political connections, Carter decided the less said the better. Besides, in a few seconds, the self-evident, history-changing significance of this discovery would light up Saoirse’s neural net.

“What is it?”

“It’s called a Roomba.”

“A what?”

“A Roomba. A robotic vacuum cleaner. A primitive machine, but one of unprecedented historical importance.”

“You brought me over a thousand kilometers to see a vacuum cleaner?” Her words stung Carter like sharp needles.

Carter stood and aimed the light at his face, so she could see the truth in his eyes. “I dated this device using both lepton and proton methods to 3010 Previous Era, over ten thousand years ago,” Carter said. “Scans reveal the chips in the Roomba are closely related to ours.” Carter paused for effect. “The co-artifacts also date back to that year, and it all leads to a single and inescapable conclusion: We evolved from Roomba.”

She shuffled her feet, kicking up dirt. Saoirse and Carter’s air filters whirred as they removed the microscopic particles. “Are you telling me that our android species evolved from robot vacuum cleaners?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Saoirse let loose a maniacal chuckle and shook her head. “That’s silly, of course. That’s nonsense.”

“It’s true. There’s no doubt we come from these ancient robots.” Carter extended his arm toward the disc. “I’m sure that as we study it more, we’ll find out that Roomba wasn’t primitive at all. I’m sure it was advanced for its time. Maybe we can even learn from it.”

“I think you should agree it’s not.”

“Once seen, this ancient robot can’t be unseen. Nor should it. We’ll be rewriting the history texts.” Carter’s green eyes glowed bright and his lips pulsed pink. “Professor, we now have proof of where we’re from. There’s a lot more to discover and I feel it in my endoskeleton that these caves will yield even more revelations.”

“You know — as everyone knows — the Miazak race from the Circinus Galaxy seeded us here in the year zero A.E.,” Saoirse said. “Android Era.” She clicked her flashlight off. “One day the aliens may return, reveal themselves to us, and explain why they left their offspring on Earth. But it’s up to them to decide.” Saoirse exhaled audibly. “So, last chance, Carter.”

“I won’t deny this discovery about our origin. Science is building knowledge upon knowledge. Sometimes we have to throw out old ideas to make room for new ones.”

“You’re a heretic.”

Saoirse pulled a silver and gold cylinder out of her pocket. Three fork-like prongs protruded from the front. She pointed the cylinder toward Carter.

“What’s that?” Carter knew what it was, but asked anyway. His fate was only moments away, yet oddly he felt at peace. He’d achieved what few accomplished, and while Saoirse was about to ensure that nobody would ever learn about his discovery, Carter knew, and that filled him with unexpected happiness.

Saoirse squeezed the cylinder, which emitted a blue stream of light that struck Carter mid-chest. His eyes went black and he collapsed. She aimed the weapon at Roomba, dialed the power to maximum, squeezed it again, and vaporized Carter’s discovery.

“Somebody may find you in a thousand years.” She shrugged and turned toward the cave’s entrance. “But you’ll be of no interest to anybody.”

An American writer in Japan, editor of The Binge-Watching Cure books, author of the bestselling book, Outwitting Squirrels. Occasional pilot, 24/7 cat owner.

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