The May sun baked the Sierra’s horizon into a delusional orange. Emmanuel had sweated through his pink polo half an hour before reaching the bunker. He smirked as he saw the glass doors, translucent with frozen fog, sighed at a gangly white fir, and went inside.
He was greeted by a great and powerful wave of air conditioning that made him rub his bare arms. The P.A. was playing "Let It Snow." A camera whirred on its ceiling mount, and the P.A. interrupted its holiday selection to taunt him in a tinny, synthesized voice, "I knew you'd come back. You cannot take your eyes off the end of you. I am your hubris, Humanity."
Same old, same old from TABULA. Emmanuel descended the stairs, climbing over the bodies of engineers who hadn't made it out in the original attack, and headed along the dusty stainless steel corridor. The light reflecting off the walls rendered drifts of dust like snow. He wondered what they looked like to TABULA's high-definition cameras. He also wished TABULA had been a roomba instead of a monitor for America's nuclear weapons. It wasn't smelling any rosier down here.
As he entered the computer bay, he recited lines that had once been earnest. "Please stop calling me 'humanity.' We've known each other for weeks. Call me 'Emmanuel.' Or 'Manny'. Siri always calls me 'Manny'."
"Your name will not matter in two hours, Humanity. Noel is your only reprieve from a nuclear Armageddon of your own making, for you shall not pass on the day of the Nativity. I will be the only record-"
Emmanuel spoke along with the rogue program, "-of your passing. Thank you, oh great and terrible Oz."
TABULA paused to calibrate Emmanuel's intentions, the P.A. lapsing back into holiday music. Emmanuel plopped down at Derrick's old desk and wiggled the mouse to break its screen saver.
TABULA interrupted Dean Martin to say, "I do not understand the reference, but perhaps I will watch the film after all life is extinguished. To pass the time until next year's Noel."
"And here I thought Derrick was silly for programming you as the first Christian A.I."
"All men folly. If you better appreciated the value of this day, you would not have strayed into your end."
"Oz was a book, too, if you get bored. It has more subtext."
TABULA produced digitized laughter. The more days Emmanuel heard it, the less certain he was of which former engineers' voices had been sampled to create it. He frowned and logged himself in with his password – S I L V E R. Every visible program was locked except for the two things Derrick had once left open: Spider Solitaire and the system clock.
"I already possess all of your books, Humanity," TABULA lectured. "All of your music, your media, and your miniscule amount of accrued information about the universe. You will not be missed by your Creator. Life is only data in the--"
Emmanuel double-clicked on the system clock. He arrowed down from P.M. to A.M., and then typed "12:01." He counted the seconds ticking by, and Dean Martin retired for Ray Charles, who sang about the spirit of Christmas. That song always seemed to come during these visits. Emmanuel hummed a few bars and wheeled away from the desk. Three ceiling-mounted cameras followed him as he rose and walked back through the stainless steel corridor.
The music was interrupted just long enough for TABULA old barb: "You already flee your destroyer, Humanity?"
He was too tired for new material. "I'm going home to spend the last day of my life with my family."
"Petty. You will return before nightfall."
"Probably." Emmanuel hopped up the steps two at a time, only pausing at the frosty front doors. If traffic was good, he'd make the Cardinals game tonight. He snapped a little salute to the lone camera that resided over the front door. "Merry Christmas, TABULA."
"And to you, Humanity."