Author : Asher Wismer

“You’re not even human anymore.”

EB-109 paused, holding a heavy crate. “Excuse me?”

“We should have a human here, to oversee.”

“I function,” EB-109 said. “You deliver, I defend. It’s not that hard.”

“But you’ve been here for a thousand years, right? And they’ve replaced just about every piece of you with metal.”

EB-109 shrugged. The cargo-master on the screen was deep inside the ship, behind acres of pallets and crates. He wouldn’t move until the cargo was unloaded, and then EB-109 would never see him again.

“You don’t even have a human name anymore,” the cargo-master continued. “Just a designation.”

“It’s easier to record and report that way,” EB-109 replied. “How many more to go?”

“Few million.”

“We have time,” EB-109 said. He placed the crate on the conveyer belt and moved to lift the next one. “And I am pleased to report that our sector is very safe.”

“You could be a machine from creation, for all the emotion you have.”

“I don’t need emotion. I have a job.”

The cargo master shut off the screen without responding. EB-109 continued to unload. Far away, his hardline connection to the outpost recorded dull booms as the planetary cannons fired, aimed, fired again. The invaders grew bolder by the day, but EB-109 had sector defense down to a science. No ship had passed his line in many years.

Two days later, EB-109 loaded the last crate and clicked the screen back on. The cargo-master appeared, yawning.

“Not like there’s anything more to do but check the manifest,” he said by way of greeting.

“I am pleased to report that your manifest is manifestly correct,” EB-109 said. “And we are fully stocked for the next decade.”

“Did you just make a joke?”

“I appreciate your noticing. I thought perhaps a touch of levity would speed you on your way with a happy heart.”

“Spare me a cyborg’s view of humor.” The cargo-master signed the screen with his stylus and made to sign off.

“Wait,” EB-109 said. “I wanted to ask before you left. Is there any news from Sector 98? I haven’t heard anything over tightbeam for a few years.”

“Lemme check… hm. Why do you ask?”

“My family is there in cold-sleep storage,” EB-109 said. “I wanted to make sure they’re safe.”

“Your family? Radios and silicon chips?”

“I was born human,” EB-109 said calmly. “When the war started everyone on my planet went into storage except the ones who were picked to defend. You in the Inner Core don’t know what it was like out here.”

“Hey, I was just kidding. Levity, right? Anyway, it says here that Sector 98 is perfectly fine. No intrusions in fifty years, give or take.”

“Then I will be able to rejoin them when my assignment is complete,” EB-109 said. “I am pleased.”

“And,” the cargo-master said, grinning, “your cold-sleep facility is completely shielded against solar flares and EMP attacks, so all your brothers and sisters are safe as well, if you catch my drift.”

“I do indeed catch your drift,” EB-109 said, “because I used to be a sailor.”

Silence from the screen, and then the cargo-master laughed, a deep and genuine sound.

“Now that was funny!” he said. “Maybe you were once human after all!”

“Thank you for your service,” EB-109 said. “Signing off.”

The cargo ship rose, its massive bulk visible even out of the stratosphere before it winked into hyperspace. Over his hardline, EB-109 felt another invader ship run the blockade and flash into dust. He nodded.

“As human does,” he said to himself.

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