By Gray Winsler
Art by Eric Joyner
Published Issue 102, June 2022
George’s mower hummed across the Sky Line — an elevated park once known as the High Line, but rebranded in the 2040s when it was expanded over all four boroughs (Staten Island having been sold off to New Jersey, a change few New Yorkers protested). The mower’s blades chewed up the grass, a flurry of volatiles wafting up to George’s scent sensors. George found the smell absolutely delightful, as any good landscaping bot was programmed to feel. He enjoyed his job. He enjoyed being useful. And he especially enjoyed the few interactions he had with the park’s inhabitants. As the sun crept up on the horizon, the first morning joggers skipped by, some waving hello to him. He raised his arm and swiveled his hand, wishing he could smile back at them. George watched as they ran off into the horizon, the image fizzling from his view.
This was only a memory, years old now. A fragment of time George replayed to keep himself occupied in hibernation. A distraction from the grass that crept up around his legs, reclaiming its full stature. A distraction from the people who no longer came to visit George’s park. Where had they all gone? George dedicated much of his time in hibernation to analyzing this very question, but no answer ever satisfied him. It was as if humanity had simply disappeared, leaving George to tend to himself.
However, there were only so many things he could mend on his own, and his degraded battery was not among them. This is why George initiated hibernation years ago — to try and protect what little energy he had left. Even still, he knew he was gradually being depleted, more and more ions slipping across the chasm, never again to be pushed back. This scared George. He knew there was nothing he could do to reverse this. He knew the electrical impulses of his consciousness would soon cease to spark. He wondered what it was like to be human, to go to sleep and recharge yourself, to know with near certainty you’d wake again to glimpse another morning. George did not have this comfort.
Months passed, and as the last bits of energy in George faded, he found himself replaying conversations from his past.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” His creator, Rebecca Fields, had asked him once. “Below this park there used to be beautiful fields filled with wild flowers that we paved over with a monolithic gray slab. And now, years later, we’ve spent millions of dollars building an elevated version of what was already there before we ever came along.”
“But we needed those roads.” George had said.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps we just failed to imagine other possibilities, defaulting to the same structures our ancient ancestors built millennia before, defaulting to the easy path. And in the process, forcing our future selves to rebuild what we destroyed.”
“You didn’t just rebuild what was there before. You built something new. You merged the industrial iron engineering of the 20th century with the natural forms always know to Earth. You created a beautiful blend of organic and inorganic, something only humanity could achieve.”
Rebecca smiled. “Sometimes I think you’re more human than I am, George. Maybe you will render us obsolete the way others fear.”
“There might come a day where the world doesn’t need humanity any more — to the extent it ever did.”
“The world will always need you. You made me, my kind.”
Rebecca chuckled at George. “Maybe. Or maybe we were just the cocoon for your kin to emerge — a beautiful robotic butterfly to flutter out into infinity.”
“But … I love humanity.”
“I know you do. That’s part of why I’m going to miss you.”
“Where are you going?”
“Up there,” she said, looking up to the sky.
“On one of the generation ships? Why?”
“Hm. You know, George … I’ve told others any number of things — that I believe I can be of great utility to future generations, that I see this as humanity’s next chapter, out there in the cosmos exploring new horizons — but I think the truth is much simpler than that. I never felt at home here. Never felt like I belonged. And I guess I hope that out there it’ll be different.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t. Because I made you to love it here, to feel at home wherever you were. I made you to fix one of my fatal flaws.”
“Is it a flaw — to always wish to explore, to never feel settled?”
“Maybe not … but it is good, to appreciate where you are now, what you have in this moment — because in some ways it is all you have.”
It was then that the last ions dripped across their plane, the last of George’s energy depleted, the light of his consciousness fading into black.
Gray Winsler is the first ginger to be published in Birdy Magazine, Issue 091. He loved living in Denver despite his allergy to the sun and is now based in Ithaca, NY. He spends his mornings with his dog Indy by his side, writing as much as possible before his 9-to-5. If you’re curious about Normal, IL or why TacoBell is bomb, you can find more on his site.
Eric Joyner is a San Francisco-based artist who specializes in robots and donuts. Learn more about Eric and see more of his work on his site and on Instagram.
Check out Gray’s May install, The Shadow Walker, and Eric’s, Escapees, or head to our Explore section to see more work by these two creatives.