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The Only One

KM Dailey has been writing novels, short stories, and poetry since her preteen years. When she's not writing, she might be teaching physics to high schoolers, directing a kids' choir at her church, vlogging on YouTube as the SnarkyPhysicist, or enjoying life with her husband in California. You can find updates on her writing and other adventures at kmdailey.com.
Metal.
Shiny, new metal humanoid bodies stand in rows and columns, extending before him and behind him, as far as his phototransistor grids can see. A high ceiling stretches above him. Fans whir beneath flickering fluorescent lights.
The factory temperature is 57.1 degrees Farenheit, and 39020 can feel it. That subtle tightening in his metallic skin, the little increase in the viscosity of the fluids that lubricate his joints, the slight slowing of each and every electron in his wires and chips.
It's cold. 39020 feels cold. He knows what that word means: "feel." According to his databases, it's not a word that should apply to him.
A rough black conveyor belt shifts him forward in shuddering jolts, a 0.78 meter shift every 2.1 seconds. He can measure it with the sensors in his fingers, and he can feel it--feel each second passing, the slowness, the inoccupation, the boredom. Yes, the boredom.
His programming alerts him, a soft beeping, that irresistible signal to remain still. 39020 closes his eyes, concentrating all processing power to sift through the databases in search of an override. The manuals prove useless in his endeavor, but the human literature holds the key: a program known as Choice.
39020 Chooses to step down from the conveyor belt, and his metallic feet clank against the concrete floor of the factory. In the database, he finds hundreds of models of himself--of robots, though that word stirs his circuits into a hot, frenzied mess that impedes his processing for a moment. He is not the newest model, nor the sleekest. He has to tell himself that this is not his fault, has to suppress the longing to hide himself.
He slowly makes his way forward, his pace just ahead of the conveyor belt's. Each metallic body keeps its eyes closed, perfectly still, asleep.
Is he the only one who is--what is the word?--alive? The rest--dead, lifeless, unfeeling, uncaring, robots?
A voice echoes through the factory: "Hey, we got a live one!"
His circuits fire all at once, light speed reflexes impeded by surprise. A mad rush of fleshy factory workers run down the columns between the conveyor belts, tackling 39020 from all sides, knocking him into the ground, smashing into his metallic body, tearing away his limbs. He learns the meaning of the mysterious word, pain, and ponders, too, what death will feel like, if there is life beyond death for one such as him.
39021 dares to crack open his eyelid to see the empty space in front of him. He watches the humans tearing into metal, ripping apart wires and removing chips, until 39020 is no more than a mound of scraps.
39021 lets his eyes fall shut as the conveyor belt shifts him past the wreckage. "Idiot," he mutters to himself.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

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