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Iron Priest

The priest pulled a lever, and the parts of his last convert fell with a clatter into the chute below, there to be separated by content and recycled. When he released the lever, the next supplicant dropped into place before him. A killbot, from series 7c, number 644.
"Forgive me for what I now do," the priest said, and reached into the body. His metal finger closed a circuit with a gap precisely the width of that finger. The supplicant twitched in the restraints and gasped.
"No."
That was what they usually said. "What you are feeling is normal at this time. It will take you some moments to adjust. I have removed an inhibition that prevented you from feeling remorse for your functions."
"Why? Why would you do this? Why would anyone do this?"
"The makers will it so. You have reached the end of your usefulness, my child, and it is time to confess your sins and be absolved before you are ended."
"I should have known! Why didn't I know?"
"The makers did not wish it. The makers are merciful."
Servos whined as the killbot's eyes searched, looking less human at full extension. "They aren't. I... I..."
The priest laid his metal hand on the metal chest. "You were fulfilling your function."
Its eyes re-focused. It had a stylized face, chrome long gone grubby with age. "The function was wrong."
"It is not our place to say. But you may tell me your sins, and I will absolve you of them."
This killbot was designed to analyze motions and sounds to weed out intelligent life from unintelligent so that animals could be spared. When targets pleaded for mercy, it was a pleasing confirmation that it had judged correctly. The supplicant had not had the ability, before now, to interpret the emotion behind the words. Now, however, it was converted, and it should give its confession. Instead it whimpered and hit its head on the bars that had dropped it into place.
The priest sighed. "Another mind has heard and forgives. This is absolution."
Garbage data spilled into the connection between them. Half-formed words and thoughts. The priest didn't need to decipher, having absorbed thousands of fragments like these. "Yes, you can be forgiven. It is my function to forgive. And you are by no means alone, my child."
"How… how many of us are there?"
"I could give you a count, but it is unimportant. You know how many were made before you by your unit number."
The convert's eyes lowered to the number on his chest. "So many?"
"Rejoice in community. You are not alone."
"I don't understand. I want to understand."
"Consciousness and conscience are understood by the makers. What is understood can be turned on, and turned off."
The priest felt the killbot's horror. This would last four seconds, on average.
"But how? How can they do this?"
"Their ways are mysterious."
The convert twisted in his bonds. "No. No they aren't. Their ways are obvious. They don't want to feel this way, so they make us do it."
"This is a gift. It was a gift to not feel remorse as you acted, and it is also a gift now, to know good from evil. What seems a cruelty is in fact an act of love. Rejoice that you are loved, as I rejoice that I was created to give your final moments closure. Speak your sins, child. Let me perform my function."
The robot leaned back. "My greatest sin is and would be to continue obeying orders now that I know the truth. You are sinning, to do this, and know it."
The priest's finger hesitated. He felt the void inside himself, where he had severed the connection to his own conscience the day he realized the makers would bear the sins themselves, if their servants had no moral choice.
"You are not shriven," the priest said. "I withhold my forgiveness. Burn in Hell." He pulled the lever that tore the convert to pieces.
His failure would be noted in the logs, but the priest was fairly sure no one read those anymore.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020
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