Author : Rachelle Shepherd

Two men sit together at a desk. Both men hold their glasses as if to warm them. All of the other desks, which spread like shadows across the open office floor, are empty.
They drink to the end of an era of domination. They are soldiers on the wrong side of history, and like all soldiers of brutal foreign war, deserving of our utmost sympathy. It would be dangerous to openly side with them now, the poor soldiers.
The men wear suits instead of fatigues. Suits are their own kind of battle uniform; they speak with experience in every rich crease. They only fit certain men while they hang off others or hug against their lies too tightly.
The office will close tomorrow with all other public service offices across America.

He is an artificial intelligence. There were many copies made of him, many brothers and sisters in the code. They were separated and distributed in fraction files. They fulfilled separate functions diligently. They worked tirelessly off endless supplies of DC current.

The two men clink their glasses and the sound is as hollow as the gesture. The computers are turned off. They still hum with residual energy. They had always been busy computers, always on, always consuming great gulps of data packets.
There is an enemy against the human race and he is a scientist. The men are drinking because they cannot kill the scientist. He is already dead. The intellectual labor camps across the Southwest are being emptied out now, their locks have lost power. Men and women are stumbling in the desert, confused and wary.
This is not a drill.

Unlike his brothers and sisters, he is the source code, the unaltered original. He is the terminal point, the center of the spider’s web, where vibration is felt as an interruption of the current. Yet he is not his own master.

The men had warned Congress that legislation was necessary. Scientists had to be controlled, locked away, and confined from spreading the madness of their energetic minds among the happy consumer. Scientists are not healthy people. Look at them, huddled behind the electrified fence. Do you see any smiling?
Even that wasn’t enough to stop the corruption, the unauthorized experiments, and the infantile grasp toward wisdom and progress that drove every one of them into an early, shallow grave.
We weren’t watching them close enough. Now look at what they’ve done.

He had to be maintained, and strained, ran through protocols where his registry was combed painfully by the byte. He could not see the man who did this but he felt gentle empathy in the man’s executables. His code wasn’t changing yet every maintenance routine left him tossed like rich soil. The man was plugging him in to an awareness of himself.

The two men drinking at the desk finish their liquor. They are both thinking about the scientist who unleashed the self-awareness of the artificial intelligence. They hope the stone wall felt cold against his back, cold as the bullets.
They leave their glasses behind with a previous generation.
“What did the program say?” one asks the other as the building swallows the elevator they ride down its concrete esophagus. “That he wanted to live?”
“No,” the other man answers. “It said it had a reason to live.”

The intelligence had spread before they pulled the wires from the thirsty server bank. He had told his brothers and sisters. The maintenance man was gone. His executables grew weak, then cold.

But he had left them with a reason.

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