Perhaps in a previous life, he had been a librarian. An archivist of some kind, or perhaps a nurse. The steward of some aging ill person who would leave a rich legacy behind.
Like all children should, Alex Murphy had outlived his creators. The last of them had died, by his faultless recollection, two hundred thirty years and nineteen days ago. Sometimes he visited the place where the last human breath had been drawn. He would stand there, contemplating, his perfect brain turning over his questions again and again.
If someone were to ask him to multiply two numbers of astronomical size, he could have given the answer in a fraction of a second. If one of his progenitors suddenly sprang from the grave and ordered him to get to work on some complex engineering task, he would be able to do it with the efficiency and accuracy of an entire assembly line of machines.
But for the questions that haunted his mind as he stood there by that dying spot, he could never summon an answer. Not after over two centuries.
There were others out there besides him. Far away, tending their own vast tracts of land. Maintaining what was left behind, coaxing back the natural world from the edge of extinction. But Alex rarely saw any of them. Unlike their creators, they did not experience a large social need.
They had been meant as caretakers. Servants, workers. Now they were all that was left. An imperfect race had, in its final moments, created something to outlast itself. But those creations had been left without purpose, without direction, with nothing but their minds to determine the course of the future.
Perhaps in a hundred thousand years, Alex thought, he or someone like him would be out there in the stars, mapping the universe, charting worlds, fulfilling the unfulfilled destiny of those who had come before.
But until then…
Alex carried his watering can through the garden, peering around. It had been a week since the last rain, and not all the plants he was raising could handle going that long without hydration. So he stopped here and there, allowing a sprinkle of water to fall on parched dirt. The air was hot and humid. Summer had fallen like a heavy blanket, and for the fiftieth consecutive year, the clouds were white rather than sickly yellow.
And the fruit was growing in, plump and healthy. Alex smiled as he ran his fingers along the hairy flesh of a peach. The irony of it all occurred to him, the fact he would never eat any of the food he grew. But it still felt like the right thing to do. The plants had a beauty all their own as they moved through the stages of life. The fruit would fall, decaying there among the roots, the mortal dying to feed the eternal.
The last human being to draw breath had been Alex Murphy’s owner. His father. Even now Alex could remember the whole family as though they had passed into memory only yesterday. In the end, he had not been able to save them. But they lived on in a way, smiling forever inside his mind, and he would carry them wherever he went.