UnBooks:The Last Question

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Humanity's Last Question
2007 Special Edition Audio CD Edition Cover

Humanity's Last Question was an unpublished short story by Anonymous based on a short story by Isaac Asimov.

edit Humanity's Last Question

The final question was asked first somewhere in 1952, a time where people were starting to understand electronics. It was asked as a result of a five quid bet over a few drinks. It happened in the following manner:

edit The Following Manner

edit Chapter 1

Marty "The Party" Von Neumann and Todd "The Rodd" Eckert were two dudes that worked with a computer called UNIVAC. It was a piece of shit that couldn't calculate a square number if you punched it in the oscilloscope. It required consistent maintenance, was kicked daily, and was just about to go obsolete. They didn't actually know how to use it - Marty just got out of the community college and Todd never finished the seventh grade. Even though they clearly couldn't understand, any idiot with a phD in computer science could get this thing.

The UNIVAC was always wasting the operator's time with useless adjustments. It had to be, otherwise the engineers would be out of a job and the developers couldn't complain. Since nobody was in the room, and they were piss drunk, Marty and Todd would stick credit cards into the machine and laugh at the noises. The machine would try and parse the cards, only to spit them out with holes punched into them. Both of them knew their girlfriends would kill them in the morning.

Originally the UNIVAC was created as a computer that would help man reach the moon. Unfortunately its Intel Pentium floating point unit was off and the rocket was launched into the sun. Budget cuts looming, the NASA modified the machine for missions to Mars, Venus, and Mercury. UNIVAC would fail to deliver the passengers safely every time - some ended up in black holes, and others would be sucked into the secret wormhole into the twilight zone at the centre of the universe. Although Earth had plenty of resources to go to the other planets, this twenty ton piece of shit would hinder any progress.

But slowly UNIVAC would deteriorate due to the effects of Moore's Law, and stuck with this craptacular vacuum tube machine Stephen Hawking's wheelchair managed to pick up the slack, and on July 12th, 2094 (eighty years after Hawking's death), what had once been theory became a project with a rather tight budget.

The energy radiated by the sun was collected in space using solar panels, stored in batteries and sent to Earth, albeit with a 50% success rate with receiving 25% of the battery after re-entry. It was a great scientific revolution, but it wasn't needed because humanity still had enough oil to last four more months, and the project didn't really do much because - in order to conserve money - it was constructed out of a wad of gum, a paper clip, a tile stolen several years before, and a stuffed animal. All of Earth still ran on an innumerable amount of coal and oil, and nobody really cared.

A minute passed and FOX News stopped paying attention to it, instead focusing on their week long story on the death of Paris Hilton from a drug overdose. The scientists, angry and saddened that the public had the attention span of a flea and they couldn't get enough funding, angrily left the room which the UNIVAC stood. Nobody looked for the scientists nor really cared if they discovered cold fusion last week, and when the building was finally locked down for the night, Marty and Todd would do what they do best as security guards - get drunk in a quiet place. UNIVAC didn't deserve input. They didn't have any intention of pestering that old rust bucket, originally.

They had brought two bottles of gin with them, and their only concern was to get wasted before they have to go back to the fraternity.

"Some party last night, eh Rodster?" Marty said, while taking a sip from his paper bag covered bottle. "Fuckin' awesome, Marty! Did you see how fast Carl chugged down that gasoline?" Todd said back to Marty. "Fuck yeah, dude! Too bad he died after. That guy could fuckin' chug." Marty gave Todd a high five, they drank a bit more, and laughed at last night's happenings.

Todd cocked his head sideways. He knew he was going to ask one of those weird questions you're not supposed to ask, but for whatever reason, it was eating at him. "Hey Marty, if you were a chick, for a day, would you do a guy, or a chick?"

"How the fuck am I supposed to know man? I'm wasted."

UNIVAC Fast Food
"God Damnit Marty, you better not spill that or the Professor's gonna get pissed at us again"

"You're not answering my question."

"All right then. I'd do chicks. You satisfied now?"

Todd put his hand clumsily to his chin and stroked his thin goatee. "I'm not sure if you really would, man." He slowly sipped his gin for some Southern-style comfort. "You might be lying."

"Well, I'm drunk is there any more proof you need?"

"Damn Marty you know I trust you. I'm just messin' around."

"You sure, man?"

"It'd only be logical."

"What the hell you talking about logic for Todd? We're drunk!"

"We can still be logical when we're drunk."

"Maybe logical in bed!". Todd high fives Marty and they take another sip. Minutes pass.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey Todd, let's ask that computer the same question you asked me."

Todd laughed. "Now that would be fucking entertainment!"

"I can't walk right now. You go ask him."

"No, you should, man. I already asked a question."

"No, you, god damn it!"

"No, you!"

After several minutes of bickering the alcohol solved the problem for them, and Marty just went up to UNIVAC, tripping over his shoelaces five times along the way. He fumbles and picks up the mic located on the UNIVAC's many panels. He presses a button and turns the loud machine on. A thief scurrying on the upper level has a heart attack due to the noise of the system, and shortly dies thereafter.

Todd yells, "DAMN, MARTY! THIS THING HAS AWESOME VOL, MAN! WE'VE GOTTA GO GET MY IPOD AND ATTACH IT TO THIS FUCKER!"

Marty looked for a volume control, but no volume controls were there. The UNIVAC didn't have any speakers, or much of voice recognition capability either. It was just plain loud because the original designers decided on jet intake cooling fans to cool the over 1, 400 cathode tubes and three 33½" vinyl record drives in the machine housing the machine.

Despite being flustered that there was no volume control, Marty went ahead and tried to shout his question into the mic, though he no longer actually remembers what question he's supposed to ask in the first place.

Before being asked the question, Todd notices the happy meal on the console of the UNIVAC. "GOD DAMNIT, MARTY! YOU BETTER NOT SPILL THAT OR THE PROFESSOR IS GOING TO GET PISSED AT US AGAIN FOR FUCKING AROUND WITH HIS EQUIPMENT!"

Marty doesn't hear Todd, and, at the top of his lungs without care, Marty screams into the mic "HI THERE COMPUTER! TELL ME, MY MAN: WILL I EVER GET LAID?"

The UNIVAC starts to work on the problem. It scans its drives for data, and searches for answers in difference engines while trying to solve others in its vacuum tubes. The UNIVAC worked for forty-five minutes on the issue, trying its best to come up with the answer to the question Marty didn't actually know he asked. Finally, the dot-matrix printer started to print something out. It printed out the following descriptive message regarding it:

2A

"HEY, I THINK IT PRINTED SOMETHING!" yelled Marty. He ripped the paper from the computer and examined the output he had created. Although he didn't know what it meant at first, he soon realized that the computer was implying that he should join the Deutsche Bahn.

However, he was too inebriated, and would just turn the machine off, and fall on the floor. He had no recollection of the incident the following day, although he was promptly fired with Todd for drinking on the job without a television.

edit Chapter 2

Hal9k

Jack, Wendy, and their three kids Ronald, Harland, and John watched as the stars slowly passed by as their passage through the people's hyperspace. Jack's eyes were bulging out of his head, his teeth grinding. On the car's SSD player, the constant melody of The Atoms in the Reactor Go Round and Round was starting to ingrain into his skull. The kids were getting rather restless as well.

"ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?" Ronald and Harland chanted.

"Shut. The Fuck. Up. You don't want me to give you the mouth again, do you?" Jack said.

"Nonsense, Jack. There's no need to resort to words in order to punish them! Next thing you know you'll be sent to the penitentiary for child abuse!" Wendy replied.

Jack frowned. "Wake up and smell the fucking coffee. We're in a god-damn Astro Metro. The ship can barely push 45 parsecs an hour. I'm just a convenience clerk on X-23. Give me a break!"

Wendy smacks Jack across the forehead "Don't use that language around me and the kids mister!"

"Stufu, Wendy. Like I need another problem."

Just then, the left warp nacelle on their metro gave out, and they were hurdled into the Earth's atmosphere, crashing upon an old, abandoned research facility. The force of their descent knocks them into a room with two skeletons, and the UNIVAC. Although power has not returned to the facility in over one hundred years, the UNIVAC is still on, feeding off the blood of small animals lured by a light bulb glowing on the floor, attached only by a thick, exposed copper wire. The animal is then skewered by antennae, dragged, and processed in the cooling fan. Remains are visible on the floor.

The family emerges from the car, each of them with a sore neck. The headlights and remaining warp nacelle light the damp, dark room to reveal UNIVAC.

"GOD DAMMIT!" roared Jack.

"Look, honey, there's an old computer. Perhaps it could help us?"

Willing to try anything, Jack approaches UNIVAC, holding his neck. He reaches for the microphone.

"Hello, Computer..."

After ten minutes of raw processing, UNIVAC scribbles its response:

DAISY, DAISY,
GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DO,
I'M SO CRAZY,
ALL FOR THE LOVE OF YOU,
ERROR READING WORD 539
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR ME SING AGAIN? (DIAL 1/0)

Jack responds "Yeah, really cute. Say, could you tell me if I'm getting any action with my wife later today?"

Wendy slaps Jack.

"Oh, and can you help us get back to the surface?"

One hour later, the UNIVAC scrawls more onto the ticker tape:'

2A

The cryptic message is soon forgotten, as Ronald and Harland dance around the remains of the Astro-Metro chanting "Wake up and smell the fucking coffee" to the tune of Ring around the Rosie. Jack was lucky enough to bring his space belt this time.

edit Chapter 3

EDSACondriveway

As the spaceship moved, XKCD-45F of AREA 2A stared into the map of the galaxy. He pondered, "What the hell are we doing here?"

STFD-24A of AREA F9 replied "I have no idea. We're supposed to figure out if we'll be able to keep ourselves in the galaxy or...something..."

"Oh...right... How about we just copy with Wikipedia entry or something?"

"Sure we can. I mean, we have an eternity to live, and I don't want to waste my time figuring this stuff out."

"GNUAC!"

XKCD-45F blew a tune into a small flute. A small midget-robot cube came into view, mounted on a futuristic-style unicycle. This was the GNUAC - storer of all the knowledge in the world, albeit all of it written poorly and only understandable to a niche of the population.

"Print out the Wikipedia entry for 'Number of Years We Will Have a Sustainable Galaxy'"

GNUAC pushed out a little card. STFD-24A pulled it out and placed it into the on-board computer. The text viewed had said "Wikipedia currently does not have an entry on 'Number of Years We Will Have a Sustainable Galaxy'. This article project is currently assigned to XKCD-45F and STFD-24A, and should be available shortly."

STFD yelled, "Damn! No way we're getting out of this one...". Both took a shot of Romulan Ale. GNUAC started to sing.

"GNUAC! FSFAC! 1-1-1-2! You've got the work ethics of a garundu!"

"Shut the hell up." STFD-24A yelled, beating the GNUAC with a small stick.

Just then the spaceship crashes. A thunderous roar is heard as it makes contact with an abandoned region of Earth. Apparently someone left their happy meal on the main console and the Vulca-Cola spilled all over the control panel, creating this sticky situation. Seeing this, XKCD promptly slaps STFD in the face. Not even one billion years into the future will man figure out how to waterproof electronics.

"Now what? NOW WHAT, HUH?! We're stuck on this godforsaken region of Earth all because you put you damn happy meal on the nav-panel," XKCD facepalms himself. "and now how are we going to get to the meeting on time?! You are a stooge!"

"Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!"

"A wise guy, eh?"

XKCD slaps STFD upside the head. He then takes STFD by the ear and they enter a building with a large hole near the roof. Following the large chasm through the middle of the building, they lead themselves to a large room with several skeletons in the corner and a primitive interstellar car, with the addition of a primitive earth computer with the words "UNIVAC" bevel bossed into the side of the machine. Tattered robes with skeletons and half-eaten candles are seen near the machine. Apparently UNIVAC was hungry for pagans.

"Look, a primitive Earth computer. Perhaps it can help us. STFD-24A, I want you to ask it if it can help us get out of here alive." spits XKCD

STFD walks up to the UNIVAC, nervous. He picks up the microphone from the floor.

He asks in a timid voice "Computer, will I ever...you now...do it?"

XKCD slaps STFD upside the head again. "YOU MORON!" he exclaimed.

The UNIVAC starts its familiar processing pattern. Within four hours their answer was processed and being printed on the ticker tape:

2A

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" STFD asks the computer. It starts to print a message again:

ERROR READING /DEV/NULL: ABORT, RETRY, FAIL? (1, 2, 3)

Realising it was absolutely no use, they left the machine alone. However, they could not leave, because the ceiling just caved in. Luckily, the UNIVAC had solid steel construction, and so, "lived" while these unfortunate people were slowly crushed to something that isn't quite death.

edit Chapter 4

Tesla Coil Zap

Male Human 101010 and Male Human 110001111010011, the last brains floating in a vast expanse of cold universe, drift around the dying universe. For they know the end time is nigh, but they make their time until they assimilate themselves with the iAC, a computer which is neither in existence or non-existence, covered in a beautiful off-white casing. A dim light is visible in the distance. Hurriedly, they board their ship, and move toward the lone object. The object, several metres long contains primitive earth scribbles on its side. Using the iAC's useful dictionary.app, they read the side of the object: UNIVAC.

"UNIVAC? What the hell is that?" says the former.

"Beats me. Probably some primiti-"

Then, with a great burst of electricity from UNIVAC induction coil, the last humans explode into a gooey mess. Several minutes later a message is printed out by UNIVAC:

DANGER:

INDUCTION COIL REACHING CRITICAL THRESHOLD.

And with that, the last living creatures faded away into nothingness. The universe then died of a cold and sad death while every bit of energy withered away, and the iAC has already abandoned this universe in favour of making one in off-white where everything is a silhouette. But one light stayed on in the cold black universe - that of the UNIVAC.


edit See Also

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The novel The Last Question is also available in paperback.
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