art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Evan Dicken
Rob was feeding the dog when Ashley came home from the rebellion. It took less than a second for the front door to recognize her and slide open, but it still wasn't fast enough. She kicked the jam with a muffled curse and stalked into the room, five and a half feet of wiry, dirt-smudged outrage.
RL-147 was on her like an excited puppy. "Welcome home, Mistress Ashley. Would you like me to--"
"Go fuck yourself." She tossed her omnirifle onto the kitchen counter with a look of disgust and leaned over the sink to shake the ash from her hair.
"Belay that command, Erl," Rob said under his breath. "And switch to silent mode, please."
He dumped the last of the artificial beef into Whistler's bowl and the dog dove in face-first, snuffling up the stew with wet, guttural gulps.
"Calm down, I'm not going to take it away," Rob murmured.
Cupboards banged open and closed as Ashley rummaged around, looking for something to be angry about. "Where's my damn Sea Pines mug?"
"Above the microcleaner, near the back." Rob gave Whistler one last pat and stood with a soft sigh. He'd avoided the question as long as he could. Ashley already blamed him for leaving the rebellion. She was only going to get angrier if he kept ducking the issue.
"So... I take it the war didn't go so well?" Rob tried for a sympathetic frown, but felt his jaw tighten. He didn't like being out of the loop. There would almost certainly be news of the rebellion on the Wikifont, which he would have been able to see if Ashley hadn't disabled the holoplates to protect them from "machine propaganda."
"No, it went great. Just great." Ashley sprayed her head off in the sink, then shook her hair, splattering the kitchen with drops of grimy water. "I'm president of the New Human Republic."
"Congratulations." Rob said, without much feeling. His eyes kept sliding to kitchen windows. The spray had left grey and brown tracks on the plastic. He couldn't ask RL-147 to clean it up until Ashley was out of the room.
"Right." She pulled a beer can from her rucksack and popped it open. From the faded silver and white logo it could have been almost any of the pre-Singularity brands Ashley favored. Whistler, finished with his food, nuzzled up to Ashley for some head-scratching.
"We must have destroyed hundreds of bots, gunned 'em down like dogs." Ashley glanced down at Whistler. "No offense."
Whistler just thumped the floor with his tail, blissfully ignorant as Ashley kneaded the skin behind his ears.
"So, what's the problem?" Rob asked. He could use a beer as well, but didn't want one of Ashley's. They were flat and tasted like metal. Nothing like actual beer.
"I'll tell you what the problem is." Ashley took a long pull from her can, then grimaced. "They let us win. It was a good show, I'll give 'em that. We were outnumbered ten, no twenty to one, but we still won."