The Great Poet was dying.
For nearly 11,000 years his odes, his songs, and his sonnets had marked the passing of the ages, had shaped the games children played in the schoolyards, had supplied statesmen with oratory, had inspired workers pulling ore out of distant moons, had launched the fleet across the void and immortalized its victories when it returned.
In a time beyond illness, beyond aging, beyond most forms of physical pain, they kept him alive, pumping him full of telomerase. They had to; they didn't know how to go on without him.
There was a time when he begged them to let him pass. It was shortly after his beloved 37th wife decided to end 796 years of life. He'd watched so many go, he said. Man was not meant to last.
But they would not permit it. They amended the Fundamental Law to deny his right. In an age of absolute comfort, poetry was too rare. He had to content himself with composing an interlocking series of 40,000 haiku on the nature of immortality. The critics found it to be one of his "lesser" works.
And so he lived. And lived. And sang. And lived. The stars aligned and disaligned. The Pale Ones made it to the edge of the sector, and even bombarded the Outworlds, before being beaten back by an awful new weapon named after a phrase from his third best limerick. The language changed so much that those younger than 500 could no longer even pronounce his original name.
But then one quiet Sunday his fingernails fell out. A week later his hair was graying. Within months his boyish good looks had faded into a ghastly apparition that epochs ago had been called "middle aged." It turned out to be a previously unknown mutation on the seventh chromosome that had somehow eluded all their scans.
They tried everything they could think of: experimental new gene therapies, dangerous new viruses, protein ionization, designer prions. Nothing worked. The aging process was irrevocably underway. They managed to slow the process, and buy themselves 50 years or so to find a solution, but that was the best that science could do.
In desperation they turned to the taboo of robotics. Robotics had fallen out of favor after an ancient robot rebellion, and had long since been replaced by macrogerontology as the most prestigious field for ambitious young researchers. But a few renegade roboticists still practiced the ancient techniques on Phobos, the most distant of the Outworlds with the harshest of climates.
It took them 37 years to reach the Homeworld in the fastest ship available. They appeared before the High Council. Could human emotions, verbal acuity, and creative genius be captured, transfered, and imprinted on a positronic robot? Perhaps, they said, it was only done once before, and the transfer could never be more than partial.
For 11 years they toiled, the 13 most talented roboticists alive, given access to every resource the Imperium had to offer. By the end the Poet was little more than a dessicated husk, his voice a whisper, his eyes milky cataracts. The gene therapy stopped working completely and they resorted desperate measures of the most barbaric and painful sort to keep him breathing.
On the last day of winter of the 48th year since the Poet's disease became apparent, they finally rediscovered the formula to inject into the brain to capture the patterns of poetry. Over 400 volunteers had already died by then, injected with faulty formulae.
More than 1000 robots were prepared. Gleaming chrome, they reflected the image of all who gazed upon them, the finest engineering of the era, and the hopes and desperate dreams of 10,000 worlds.
In the five days between when they injected the Poet's brain and the Poet's last breath, they imprinted as much of the pattern as possible on as many of the robots they could. The robots were subjected to a battery of tests. Each was asked to compose more than 4,800 poems in less than three weeks. Many had emotional breakdowns. Others went mad. Human emotions and robots don't mix well.
Over 700 robots were sent to the incinerator. Most of them cried as they burned.
But the 716th robot composed 7,623 poems in his first three days of life. He smiled and played calmly with the test children. He learned to love a small housecat, mourned for six days when it "accidentally" died, but then began to recover. They called him Sam. He gave the eulogy at the Poet's funeral, an unusual villanelle, and 100 trillion people wept.