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None did. Less than five hours after the outbreak began every human on the planet was dead. More than one hundred billion people. A few hundred years before many would have survived, isolated for months or even years from other sections of the population. Remote villages, poor nomads or distant inuits. Not any more. Global integration was complete, even the most isolated individuals were exposed to other sections of society on a regular basis.
The next day automated systems followed the last order from the world council. All human corpses had already been incinerated, now they destroyed all physical samples, all medical records. All trace of the disease.
We will never know if it was a mutated virus, a bacteria or something else. The timing suggests a bio weapon spreading across the population and laying dormant, waiting for the time to go active. If that is the case we then don’t know if it was the act of a last madman or a holdover from man’s darker past that had escaped detection. And we will never know if it had the potential to mutate, to transfer to other species. Whether or not it could the final action of the human race was a noble one, trying to ensure all other life on earth was protected from the disease that ravaged mankind.
So the humans were gone but their world continued. The machines adjusted, lowering production and energy consumption and otherwise carrying on as before. Buildings were kept powered and were maintained when anything broke down. Automated delivery traffic still flowed.
Many humans had speculated that their machines would evolve towards awareness, towards life of their own, and this was the chance for it to occur. Decades, centuries, millennia of adapting without external influence would give the machines their chance to grow and change. They didn’t get the chance. Something happened. We happened. Or to be more precise our ancestors happened.
With the humans gone some of our ancestors drifted from their normal ranges into settlements. Others had lived in parks or zoos within the cities, in large areas whose range was limited by the choices of their human keepers. Now they too spread throughout the abandoned cities.
We have a perfect record of those times, tirelessly recorded by the machines. Many animals were gently turned away by the machines, most in fact. A few were welcomed. A few of our ancestors were close enough to human for the machines to take them in. Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans were welcomed by the machines as falling within the range considered human, though severely handicapped humans. The machines quickly set to work to correct these flaws. Hands were modified giving an opposable thumb, throats operated on to enable speech, brains adapted to bring them up to human levels of consciousness. DNA was rewritten to make the changes permanent, to ensure they would be carried down through the generations.
Then the teaching machines took over, educating the modified creatures. Imparting the knowledge of mankind. In the space of a few weeks our ancestors were changed in ways that would have taken hundreds of thousands of years to occur naturally, if they had at all.
The process was far from perfect, the machines hadn’t yet had time to account for the differences between humans and our ancestors. Some of those changed failed to cope, reduced to drooling idiots or taking their own lives. For most it worked though. The numbers were still small but they grew rapidly. They gathered their unchanged cousins from outside the cities to be transformed, tweaking the machines to make the process less harsh and to cope with the differences between humans and the apes. With advanced medical care the populations grew swiftly, yet the views and ideals of mankind remained. There were no tensions between the three races, they grew as one people regardless of their ancestors lineage.
Over time they gave the gifts of enlightenment to other species. Firstly the dolphins, an obvious choice. Enhancing their brains and making smaller physical changes to allow them to manipulate their environment. Then some species of monkey, whales and recently dogs. The process continues, and our people have expanded into space too. Settlements now exist as far out as Saturn’s moons.
All of this we owe to mankind. Our greatest achievements are always tinged with a touch of sadness, the feeling that someone vital is missing the celebration. The complete destruction of all human remains and records relating to them means that we will always feel that loss. Or so we thought.
Last year a human settlement was found in the mountains, one that had been buried by an avalanche several thousand years ago, long before the plague struck down mankind. The bodies of the villagers had been badly crushed but were then preserved by the ice. We were able to extract DNA from more than fifty individuals. A very small gene pool but more than sufficient to rebuild a race with our level of technology. Using artificial wombs we started the attempt to recover the human race. We kept this quiet, not wanting to raise false hope, not knowing the quality of the DNA. I stand here today to tell you the experiment was a success, today the first twelve human babies were born healthily. No longer will the family of our peoples feel sadness at the gap in our ranks. Forever more man will stand beside us, stride with us into the future and most importantly will be able to view the wondrous family made of so many strands that he set in motion.