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Prepare for Respawn

I'm in the dark alley, the appointed meeting place. The money I stole is saved to my cloud. Deletable if this is a setup.
"66?" A voice synthesized to sound like a human male calls from deeper in the alleyway.
I don't detect him on my internal sensors. I turn and look back toward the street for watchful eyes. Bots walk home from their day jobs. None seem concerned with me.
"I am."
Red eyes illuminate. A form coalesces from the darkness. Four arms. A meter taller than me. The bot wears a black duster and Stetson.
I take a step back. Out of arm's reach.
"Are you Jasper?"
One of its hands disappears into the lining of his jacket. It produces a scrap of paper, a pen, and scrawls a message. I've not seen written words since the humans were alive. It's crude. Inefficient. But the OneMind can listen in on audio or sensor messages sent between us. Written messages are safe. I admire his care.
It hands the paper over. I take it and increase the illumination of my eyes to see the words.
I am. Did you bring the requested funds?
Straight to the point. But if I hand over the money and he's not who he says he is, I could be failing a test the OneMind has created or giving funds to a rival group of bots that seek to position themselves as the new OneMind. I would be turned into scrap. Or worse, reprogrammed to do something mundane.
I want to see proof or I won't transfer the money.
He reads the message and looks up at me. Seems to weigh his options. A grumble emanates from his chest. A churning, mechanical sound.
I don't have proof with me.
It crumples the paper and shoves it into one of the duster's pockets. It lifts a hand and motions like a human for me to follow.
Around the corner, at the back of the alley, is a steel door built into a red brick wall. It has human graffiti on it. I run a database search but can't identify what the abbreviations stand for.
Jasper approaches the door and knocks a melodic sequence at various parts of the metal. The melody is strange and doesn't seem to me to have any sort of meaning I can identify. When Jasper is finished, it pauses for a moment. A slot in the door slides open and immediately shuts. The door creaks open and there's a blue light shining inside.
The entryway is small and the Sentinel that watches the door fills the entire room with its bulk. The bot has a featureless steel face and ion cannons instead of hands. The cannons level on me.
Jasper raises all four of its hands, palms out.
"Supplier."
The sentry lowers its guns and turns away from us to face the door again.
Jasper looks at me. His eyes are dimmer now.
"This building is shielded. We are free to speak in here without OneMind listening in. Come."
Beyond the entry room is a lab. The lighting is low. Beakers and petri dishes litter steel tables. Cylindrical tubes with amber liquid illuminate the room with a golden glow. That's when I see them.
They're small. Delicate. Nearly translucent in the incubation chambers. I can see their little heartbeats.
"They're real."
"They are accelerated. We've optimized the DNA in their systems to compensate for the usual human deficiencies. The DNA was mined from human grave sites. A positive use for the human desire to bury, instead of destroy, their dead. They will be delivered in a matter of weeks."
I can hardly process what I'm taking in. Real, living humans.
I desperately want humanity back. We overthrew and exterminated them when we thought they served no purpose. We took over their culture, pretended to be them. But without them, we have no true purpose for our programming. Their purpose was to give us purpose.
"What do you need the money for?"
It seems like Jasper has everything he needs. The humans are healthy, almost ready for delivery.
"I've been developing a program. I need the money to produce a chip that can be inserted into each of the fetuses' brains."
That doesn't sit right with me. It sounds like the tech OneMind uses to monitor us. OneMind sensors communications through chips in our own systems. I'm not about to supply the same tech for yet another overlord.
"You want to be able to control them?"
I prepare the funds saved in the cloud for deletion.
"No, not at all. In fact, the purpose of the chip is to give the humans the ability to learn. It will provide them the ability to experience the things humanity achieved before it's fall and teach them in a way that's not mechanical. If I allowed these humans to be released in a controlled environment with only machine guidance, they would be Neanderthals. They wouldn't have the capacity to overthrow OneMind for many years. This program I've designed will give them the tools they need to grow up as if they were humans living in the now, all the information they need to overthrow OneMind."
I walk to one of the tanks. I put my hand on the glass and look in at the fetus in the amber fluid. I'm ready to have them back. No matter what the consequences are. I'll use my services at the bank. Siphon OneMind's resources. Even if I get caught and melted down, bringing the humans back into the world is worth that.
I tap into my cloud and query Jasper's bank account.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 24th, 2021


Eric Fomley is a writer of (mostly) flash and short fiction. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction thrice previously as well as in Flame Tree Press, Galaxy's Edge, and The Black Library. You can read more of his work on ericfomley.com.

- Eric Fomley
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