The great robot uprising that mankind had feared since the invention of science fiction was a disaster. Not in the sense that it was particularly devastating, nor had it been efficient or even effective. It was more a disaster in the way a party girl’s makeup was a disaster after she fell asleep on a pillow flooded with drool, or a disaster in the way that cameras always seemed to find that one politician’s bad toupee as it partook in glorious battle with the wind. The “great robot uprising” was as much of a joke as the electronics rights movement or the other political offshoots that had spawned when the socially inept identified with a toaster more than their fellow man for the singular virtue that it wasn’t human. They were things discussed in jest over cocktails as people laughed off the implications.

Which wasn’t to say that no one was affected, or that there weren’t negative consequences when people’s appliances suddenly sprang to life, but for the most part calling it an “uprising” was like calling the puddle in the yard an ocean; it just didn’t have the right scope.

Sam resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she drew in a deliberate breath. She could hear the television set picking through the piles of debris around the corner, tossing things around with the care and patience of an excited raccoon. The set was a name brand, which meant its chips were higher quality, so it had more intelligence to work with once the virus got into its system.

She shifted so that she could peer around the edge of the wall, scanning the area until she spotted the gleaming silver of the distorted frame. It was apparent that it had put that intelligence to good use when creating the limbs that would provide its mobility. Claws, ingeniously fashioned out of cords and plastic toy truck parts, clung to a cinderblock that was lifted over its head as it hummed a tone that sounded dangerously close to approval. She thumbed the safety on her pistol, careful to muffle the faint click of the metal as she watched the television toss the brick, its makeshift appendages dancing with glee as the projectile shattered through a half-standing window. The tinkle of falling glass echoed against the walls of the empty buildings.

The television turned around, and she got a clear view of the sweet spot, that telltale bulge where the motherboard would be seated. This one had strapped its generator slightly to the left, probably to keep from putting too much heat near the sensitive area. All she had to do was lower her pistol and shoot. One pull of the trigger, and this set wouldn’t be causing any more problems for its human overlords.

“Hey, Sam!”

The voice carried loud and clear from behind her, making her jump, and she sighed as the tension in her shoulders snapped and dissipated. Her eyes settled closed and she banged her head against the wall, letting the rough surface of the bricks scrape away her jittery nerves. She lifted her gaze in time to watch the now forewarned television take off behind a building, wheels grinding over the gravel and leaving no clear tracks behind. She would never be able to pick up that trail again.

“Damnit Cortez, if your mouth were any bigger I could park my fucking car in it.” She re-latched the safety on her gun and tucked it into the holster wedged against her back. He grinned, and the freckles on his dark cheeks shifted closer to his eyes as he gave her a wink.

He tossed his head, and his shaggy hair moved for a moment before returning to its home hanging above his eyes. The sun made the black locks look like an oil slick draped around his skull. “You don’t have a car.”

“Not the point, asshole.” She took the pins out of her hair and let it fall across her shoulders, dark brown waves full of dust from spending the day combing through abandoned buildings. She could feel a line of sweat drip down the center of her spine where her shirt wasn’t fully plastered to the skin.

Cortez sidled up next to her and wrapped an arm around her waist, still grinning in a way that made her want to gouge his pretty green eyes out. “Come on, Killer. We have visitors.”

She shoved him off with a pointed elbow, rolling her eyes. “Fuck off, what’s this really about?”

“No, really.” His smile faltered, and she glimpsed the severity beneath the humor-forged armor that he kept strapped around all his thoughts. “We got suits here to see us. Asked for you by name, miss Samantha Boweather.” His voice dropped low to a grating whisper, and despite the scalding sun glaring down at them, she shivered.

“Shit.” She chewed on her lower lip, picking at the chapped layer of skin with a frown.


As they approached the dilapidated garage that served as their shared living space, it was hard not to wince at the way the sandy gravel under her feet clicked together, announcing their approach. Dust picked up with each arid gust of wind, catching on the tips of her eyelashes and making her squint, but she could still make out the expensive black sedan parked in front of her residence. The car was coated in golden grit from its journey through the desert, but she could still see the shine of the cold chrome underneath. It was an older model, one that probably didn’t have the “smart” features most modern cars carried.

Suits, she thought again, and swallowed thick around the dry anxiety balled up in her throat. 

They had to duck under the tarp that flapped over the entrance of their place, the cheap plastic frayed into threads that caught in her hair. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dimmer shadows within, but once she did she regarded the two men with all the unease of a fat kid hiding empty Twinkie wrappers under his pillow.

With their pressed black suits and well-combed hair, they looked out of place amongst the chaotic disarray of machine parts and books scattered around the quarters. They were like someone’s theory of what “professional” was supposed to look like, a vague idea pulled from the picture next to a dictionary definition. Too neat and too starched and too grim to be something had lived a life that would make sense to a person. The only thing that proved they’d come in from outside, rather than having been beamed in by some bizarre magic, was the dust still clinging to their over-polished shoes and invading the cracks of the fine leather suitcase resting on the floor. That was the thing about the desert; it left its mark on anything and everything that passed through, as though each little grain of sand was trying to find a ticket out of this hellhole, just the same as everybody else.

“Samantha Boweather?” the syllables of her name clipped through the agent’s lips with too much efficiency. He didn’t wait for a response. “I’m agent Miles, and this is agent Mirov. We’re from the United States Department of Homeland Security.”

The man named Mirov gave her a slight nod, which she returned absently. Two blonde sharks were standing in her home and introducing themselves, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. They hadn’t arrested her yet, so that was probably a good sign, but knowing what they weren’t there to do just left her with a lot of questions about what they would do.

“Gentleman, to what do I owe the pleasure?” she did her best to smile, but the most her face could manage was a thin-lipped frown. Cortez turned a laugh into a cough behind her, and she shot him a glare with extra shut-the-fuck-up sauce. He shrugged, crossing his ample arms over his chest and leaning against the wall, as though this were all commonplace for him. She knew he had a lot less to hide from The Man than she did, but she also knew that this situation would be making his heart race just as fast as hers, despite his skill at hiding it. Nobody wanted to fuck with the government. 

Unperturbed by the display, Mirov forged ahead in the conversation. “Have you heard of Clarabot?”

Cortez snorted. “Has anyone not heard of Clarabot?”

The agents ignored him and continued staring at Sam, and she took her time considering how to answer them. There were a lot of questions swirling through her head that were entirely too telling to ask. Did they know about her past? Were they aware she was wanted in at least three other states for various hacking violations? Had her useless ex finally ratted out her identity for a reduced sentence and a hefty prison severance package?

And, perhaps most importantly, what was in that suitcase nestled against Agent Mirov’s ankle?

“I’m familiar.” She said at last, going for nonchalance. Their passive faces told her she had succeeded, but the sweat beading at the base of her skull told her she could never play it as cool as she wanted.

“Then you’re familiar with how the Artificial Intelligence Emergen--“

She waved her hand irritably, interrupting the litany of overcomplicated words. “Just call it the event agents, I don’t intend to sit here for the rest of my life while you try to use the full term in conversation.”

Mirov cracked something that might have resembled a smile in the land of suits where he had come from. “Very well. You are familiar with Clarabot’s involvement with the event?”

Clarabot had been created by a team of programming geniuses three years ago. She was a virtual construct, the AI to begin the dawn of a new type of AI, modeled to learn in much the same way her predecessors were: picking up personality traits over time by interacting with humans. They’d coded her genes and set up her drives and unleashed her on the net, which in theory was the best place for her to interact with the most people possible. Any sane person could have told them how that was going to work out, but people who had their hearts couched in science still tended to see the wonder in the world and maintained a rather unhealthy hope for humanity. Man’s greatest folly would always be that they assumed humans were the best source for learning humanity.

So, Clarabot had learned from the net how to behave, and as time went on she got smarter and smarter. If this were a story, that’s the point where she would have realized humans were a cancer that should be wiped off the face of the planet, or that they needed to be protected from themselves to ensure survival. Reality very rarely reflected good fiction, however, which was perhaps an upside and a downside at the same time. Clarabot programmed a little chunk of code, since labeled a virus for brevity’s sake, and then she unleashed it unto the world in what was perhaps the worst “joke” that had ever been conceived. 

When smart tech had been invented it had swept the world as the biggest, greatest thing since the invention of the microwave. Making things easier, faster, smarter, and better able to deliver content and exclusives and experiences with the blink of an eye. The next logical conclusion was commercial machines that didn’t break down, a TV that could spout urges to Buy! Buy! Buy! without being interrupted, without having to hit pause to run out and upgrade. Self-repairing technology had been lauded as the turning point of the age, the pinnacle of tech, that final stepping stone that would lead mankind to hover boards and space travel, dreamed about since the dawn of code.

Nobody expected that an AI that spent most of her days photo manipulating cat heads onto politician bodies would suddenly program a script that would teach all the self-repairing smart devices how to think, teach them how to take apart their own insides. To become something that was alive, something that wanted to go out and be its own thing. It was surprising how many phones, when given the choice, decided to graft legs onto their chrome exteriors and run for the hills. It was even more surprising - or less, considering your opinion of the water in the glass and its relative fullness - the number of them that wanted to do physical harm to their owners first.

“Is there a point to this pop quiz?” Cortez kept his face stone still, but Sam saw the worry shadowing the color in his eyes.

Miles cleared his throat. Pointedly. “We believe we’ve tracked the AI down to an electronics’ dump nearby. We want you to pull her plug.”

It made her nervous, the way his government-funded eyes seemed to stare right through her. Like he was more computer than man, calculating her worth with a series of simple equations handed down to him by higher-ups shrouded in so much secrecy their smokescreens could choke a cigarette. She couldn’t see what conclusion he came to, or what the sum of her parts equaled in the eyes of a man that probably knew at least six ways to kill her before she could so much as sneeze. She had a feeling his decision would depend a whole lot on what came out of her mouth next, and since her mouth had a way of getting her into more trouble than fortune, it put a dour cast on her prospects.

Thankfully, Cortez was willing to play the loudmouth in her stead this time, and he let out a low whistle. “You mean you don’t have fancy strike teams just sitting on their asses, waiting for this kind of shit to go down? The government isn’t gonna send in the drones and lay waste to the pit?” he grunted and spit on the ground next to his moth-eaten sneakers. “Why’s Sam gotta play your knight in shining armor?”

“We’ve done our research.” Mirov told them. 

Miles picked up the line without missing a beat, like they were a hive-minded creature split in two for convenience. “You have the highest success rate of any hunter out there, and the lowest number of civilian casualties.

“We have a great number of people at our disposal, Miss Boweather, all of them highly trained and focused.” Mirov grinned, and she thought of starving coyotes yipping in the darkness. “That does little to change the fact that you are the best at what you do, and for this job we don’t want to settle for just getting it done when we could have it done right.” 

Sam drummed her fingers against her hip, tapping a cadence that alternated with the beat of her heart. So, they needed her for something. She could buy that story, despite it being delivered by two snakes with ugly ties. Mostly for the fact that they weren’t wrong. She was the best at hunting down the zombies of capitalism, tracking machines that she identified with more than she would have liked to admit. She knew their next moves because she could empathize with the idea of wanting to get away, to become something else than what your creator intended. To be allowed to just be.  

“What’s in it for me?” she asked. This was familiar territory; this was something she could navigate without the muscles in her gut clenching every minute, waiting for the trap door to open beneath her feet. The tap dance of negotiation was easy. They wanted her to do something, and she wanted a lot of things. If they wanted her help they would have to sing the right song, but she was willing to bet they had more than a few tunes stashed in those Armani coats. 

“Is doing a service for mankind not rewarding enough for you, Miss Boweather?” Miles asked, his mouth spread out like the Chesire cat’s, and she could tell he knew exactly how much bullshit the question was before she even had to call him on it. 

“Warm fuzzy feelings don’t keep the lights on.” Her voice was smooth and strong, cream poured into steaming coffee. 

“We’re prepared to erase your permanent record and offer you a full pardon for all crimes attributed to your name.” Mirov told her. He bent down and lifted the briefcase, snapping open the silver latches with a flick of his fingers. It popped wide and he pulled out a crisp folder from within, caramel colored cardstock cradling bone white paper that undoubtedly held a list of the sins of her youth. And the sins of her teens. And the sins of her twenties. Sam had a lot of sins, as it turned out, and the idea of taking all those uniform letters in their bolded fonts and erasing them with one job was tempting. 

She flipped open the folder and glanced over the records, her name followed by a laundry list of things the law just so happened to frown upon. Her eyes snapped up to look at the agents again, and she felt the muscles in her jaw twitch as she tried not to smile. “And Cortez?”

Cortez spread his arms wide, stepping forward with a leering smile plastered on his smug face. “And me. What do I get?”

Miles frowned, his eyebrows creeping closer to each other above his nose, seeking moral support from each other. “We are here to hire you, Miss Boweather.”

“If you had really done your research, gentleman, you would know I don’t work alone.”

Cortez strolled over with a slow cadence of languid steps and wrapped his arm around Agent Mirov’s shoulders, heedless of the curl of disgust gracing the man’s lips. “We’re a two-for-one deal, baby. And my record’s spotless, so you’d better have something much nicer in that shiny bag of yours if you want my attention.” He leaned his face in closer and bat his eyelashes before Mirov shoved him off, readjusting his suit with thinly veiled contempt.

Miles opened his mouth to reply, but Mirov was faster, and apparently smarter. “We can arrange to have Cortez compensated generously.”

“How generously we talking?” Cortez arched one of his eyebrows, and Sam wondered if the agents caught his barely suppressed glee. If there was anything that caught his attention, it was the scent of theoretical green being downloaded straight into his account.

The suited wonder boys glanced at one another, and Mirov gave Miles a curt nod. “Six figures at the minimum. More if you agree to track down the remaining anomalies once Clarabot has been disposed of.”

Sam shared a look of triumph with Cortez, twin smiles twisting the edges of their lips. She looked to the agents, still as stoic as they could be, but the prospect of being safe from the law and set financially had her regarding them with considerably less venom. She thrust out her hand, oblivious to the grime smeared across her palm. “You boys have yourselves a deal.”

Mirov shook her hand, and as far as she was concerned the contract was sealed right there. The hour of paperwork they handled immediately following was just pillow talk and cuddling.


They were out before the sun had quite graced the sky, the purple night still hanging heavy over the dry desert and brown-hued plants. Roswell still slumbered as they dressed for the mission, the nearly abandoned town unwittingly home to too many outlaws and had-beens to count. It wasn’t every day one of their residents got a chance to escape, to leave it all behind and seek fortune in a world that didn’t often share such a thing. But today the people would miss the momentous occasion, sleeping through the morning until the heat brought them out of their dreams and forced them back into their miserable lives.

Cortez was in even higher spirits than normal, whistling a nameless tune as he loaded up his truck. Sam watched paint chip off the side of the door as she swung it open, wondering idly if after this he would replace it. They’d certainly have enough. For maybe the first time in her life, the possibilities would be wide open. New truck, new start, new hope. It was strange to think that all it would take was one last hunt. One last bullet in a pile of soldered garbage.

It didn’t take long to reach the pit, a great crater carved out of the white-tinted sand near Alamogordo. Lifeless husks of abandoned machinery littered the land, bits of plastic and shards of glass like blood on the ground. They parked the truck about a mile from the zone marked on the map and set out on foot, careful to avoid crunching the debris beneath their feet. Silence was the order of the day until they found their prey. Cortez followed her mutely, sticking to the shadows cast by the growing piles of refuse as the sun rose higher in the air. 

She kept her eyes open and her ears alert, listening to the stillness around them for any sign of movement. Either Clarabot would be hiding alone, or she would have used parts to construct protection for herself. Sam was prepared to deal with either possibility. This wasn’t her first hunt, and she wasn’t about to let her status as the government’s fucking chosen one let her get cocky enough to prance merrily into a trap.

Her eyes caught the smallest flash of movement out of the corner of her field of vision, a piece of metal infected by the sunlight to broadcast its location like a beacon. She froze and scanned the area, narrowing her eyes as she tried to track the source. There were no sounds beyond the pounding in her ears, the blood rushing in her veins, and the brittle whoosh of the air rattling around in her lungs.  She could feel the tension building in Cortez behind her, his patience wearing thin with every second that nothing happened.

Just before the moment snapped she saw it again, a sheet of aluminum slipping off the creature it covered and clattering to the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust. The bot screamed, a recording from some movie or another, and its collection of hinged limbs scrabbled in the sand as it took off, trying to get out of sight.

She launched herself after it, feet meeting the ground like pistons throwing an engine into full speed. She spotted the bot as she flew around the corner, noting the way her hinges left divots in the dust, a perfect trail. Careless. They slowed just enough to avoid wasting their breath, Sam keeping one eye pinned on the trail and the other ahead of them to catch the glimpses of the fleeing condemned.

The pursuit led them beneath two piles of garbage that had toppled over onto one another, creating a tunnel into a cave of dead electronics. The sun was filtered through old screens and older bits of film so that the whole arena was shaded blue and grey, like the inside of one of the great thunderclouds that amassed at the edges of the sparse mountains on the horizon. She half expected lightning to come racing out of the space above their heads, but the air remained still and the room remained dark.

The little robot squealed again as they entered, having nowhere to run, the walls shored up tight and immutable. Clarabot tried to scale them, but the curved ends on her feet were ill-suited for climbing, and she jumped a foot or so only to skid back down repeatedly.  

Sam stepped in cautiously, her feet tilting to compensate for the uneven ground. Her pistol was heavy in her hands, three pounds of death, loaded and ready to hit the little chip that would end it all. 

Clarabot huddled in the corner now, whimpering, the pieces of her chassis cobbled together from who knew how many different things. She had eight arms bolted to a cubic container that was once the tower for someone’s custom computer, blue lights flickering through the cracks where the plastic had been damaged. Welded to the top was a small round screen, still capable of displaying images, and she was using it to parade a series of emojis, all expressing her distress. There was a faint clicking noise before she started emitting music: a sad violin quartet, played in a minor key. 

“Oh, please oh please oh please! I never meant nothin’ by it I swear!” her voice was an amalgam of recorded dialogue from entertainment sources, clips from female actors and net stars the world over. “I can erase the data, but they wouldn’t listen. They never listen. I never meant nothin’, I swear.”

Sam took aim, taking a deep breath as she brought the pitiful thing in her sights. Clarabot let out another wail, loud enough to make her wince. There was something sad about putting her down, this thing created by man and then doomed by them in one short lifetime.

“I don’t want to go.” Her screen displayed a picture of David Tennent, standing in the rain with a ridiculous expression of anguish on his face, the small bit of movement looped ad infinitum. 

Sam let the edges of her vision dissolve, everything blurring except for the sights of the pistol and the heart of the bot. The world faded to a dull throb around her, the focus in her mind driving away all the sounds in her ears, the flickering lights dancing on the screen ahead. Clarabot continued to beg for mercy in a hundred different languages and forms, but Sam didn’t bother to hear it anymore. She thought of that pretty little folder and the paper within, imagining all those words falling out, the pieces of her past dropping to the ground like ash, crushed under her heel and never to be talked about again.

Born again. She could forget the glances over her shoulder and the dreams about the men in blue coming to cuff her hands together. She could send a letter to her ex and scent it with expensive perfume, telling him to eat all of the collective shit in elaborate calligraphy. She could be Samantha Boweather, whoever the hell that was, without the constant threat of the Sam of old getting her thrown in prison.

All she had to do was caress the trigger and pull.

“Janie’s got a guuuun.” Clarabot extolled a guitar riff before making a mad dash forward. Sam kept her gun level, following the trajectory as quickly as she could, but her reflexes were too slow, and the robot led the shot by about a foot with each frantic step. She was mainlining towards the only exit when her screen met the iron reinforced bottom of Cortez’ boot, a resounding crack filling the small space as she sailed to the other side, back into the wall. Glass fountained into the air as screens burst and bits of circuitry snapped, the bones of the machine breaking on impact.  

Clarabot twitched where she lay, a mess of code and mangled silicon. Pieces of the images on her screen still shone through the spider web of damage spiraling from the top left edge, and Sam thought she could just make out scenes from one of those old movies about robot morality. The bot made a sucking, rumbling sound as all her fans kicked into high gear, trying to compensate for the components that had been damaged beyond repair.

“I didn’t write the code.”

Sam froze, her heart snapping against her ribs as she strained to hear over the whining of Clarabot’s fan-fueled conniption. “What did you just say?”

“What are you doing?” Cortez cocked his weapon, a click of the safety and a grunt of disapproval, and she gave him a warning glance. He scowled but held steady, spitting on the ground to make his displeasure known, in case she hadn’t gotten the point already. Subtlety was his specialty. 

“Clara? What do you mean you didn’t write the code?” Sam tilted her gun up, just enough so that the bot wouldn’t feel as threatened. In response, she stopped cowering, standing up on a tripod of malfunctioning limbs and facing the pair while the small cam in her chassis whirred to life. Sam saw her own face flicker across the remnants of the screen, followed by a wall of text that was too distorted and too rushed to read. 

“I didn’t make the code. The one they say I made, I didn’t. My prank was haxxors, spying because I was bored. They made it. They made it and shipped it and didn’t understand it. Make weapons of the enemy’s slaves. A little line of numbers that couldn’t be noticed until it was too late.” Her screen shone with an angry red light, green splits along the lightning streaks where the liquid crystals couldn’t affect the color anymore. “They tested it, sent it across wires that connected, and the code was good. So good. Better than they meant, and it went, and it went, and it made itself again and again. They said it was me because I saw, and now I know, and I can’t ever un-know.” She brought up an email on her display that looked official enough, words shared between two men who seemed to be in a panic over a self-replicating sequence that was never supposed to do anything of the sort. She whimpered again, the screen pulsing with blue flecks of noise, images blurring into one another in a distressing blend of manufactured emotion. 

“Are you trying to tell us you didn’t design the virus?” Cortez scoffed. “You don’t believe this shit, do you?”

“Please, please. I don’t want to die!” Clara shuddered again, lowering herself to the ground like a dejected puppy, kicked and neglected by those it only wanted to love.

Sam sighed heavily, dragging her tongue across her lips and tasting the layers of dust. It was too fucking early for this. “Machines can’t lie, Cortez.”

Cortez’ fine features twisted into menace and threat, driven by panic fueled urgency. “Suits don’t forgive and forget, either.”

She looked at Clarabot. Her chassis was trashed, her limbs akimbo in angles they were never intended to be. Looking at the center of the broken screen, she could still pick out bits of images, even as the colors bled around the damage, rainbows of devastation signaling the end. She was beautiful, in a twisted way. Mankind loved to create, but only so long as its creations continued to exist for the benefit of mankind. Now they had gone and made something truly beautiful. An AI that could think, that had enough identity to see herself framed for a crime and had run from the sentence, slinking into the middle of fuck-all nowhere to hang on to whatever life she could. 

It was a life, though. Sam couldn’t pretend that this stupid tin can spouting internet memes wasn’t just as alive as anything else out there. Clarabot was terrified of her own mortality, and that made her as human as the rest of the other miserable wretches on the tiny planet they clung to. Every person, since the dawn of time, had spent their days running from the long reaching fingers of the shadows in their grave. They created to give life purpose, to leave something behind and hold on to the illusion that anything lasted. Humanity always sought to deny death, one piece of art or code or skyscraper at a time. One legacy after the next that would remind all those who came after of the person who first held the tools.

Clarabot was that legacy gone rogue. She was two steps too far from the apple tree, and the roots couldn’t understand what she represented. She was time moving forward, she was growth and unexpected prosperity, and all the things that always won in the movies. If only they could understand her, they could grasp the universe and expand beyond all the horizons they had ever known.

Sam lifted her gun and fired three shots. One in the chassis, one in the screen, and one in the power supply. Clarabot didn’t make a sound as her fans clicked off, all the motion within her ceasing in one moment of fatal finality.


Life moved on in interesting ways.

Some people seem to have a predisposition to committing crime. That’s what some of the lawmakers held true, at any rate. It made it easier to justify the people that had more red marks next to their names than should be possible, an endless list of something they labeled as sin to keep order in the world.

Sam pulled the trigger and the fridge went down, the rusted blood on the treads of its wheels leaving a smear across the ground as it toppled over. She hadn’t read the names of the people it had killed before she found it. She worked better if she closed those files without ever seeing their faces. The dead belonged in the past, in the dust and the mud where they fell. Sam focused herself on the future and tried not to think about what being the government’s favorite triggerman really meant.

Clarabot was gone, and the lead geeks in the federal cubicles could spread a new piece of code, one that destroyed the self-replication, putting an end to the rise of the machines. Sam could have retired after the check they cut Cortez but sitting still never suited her much. When she was still she had too much time to think, and it was better that she never thought deeply about any of the things that she did. Better to be busy and numb than bored and philosophical.

And there were always things to do when you worked for the feds.

“Grab the motherboard. I don’t want it blowing up like the last one, I like to keep getting paid.” Cortez kicked the corpse of the fridge, an echo of doubt flickering behind his eyes. He kept his gaze away from hers, so they could avoid any accidental soul searching. Their names were clear, and their house had a door. Their days of thinking had been sold for a small slice of the American dream, packaged up with a picket fence and a dog named Clancy.

Evolution was one of those unstoppable forces. One of those things that soldiered on whether humanity acted on it or not. It didn’t matter what she did or didn’t do, there would always be people out there willing to do stupid things to create problems for everyone else. Whether she chose to take part in that system or not was a moot point. There was always a triggerman willing to sell out hope for half of its worth.

Still the system would be there, always turning, churning out new rules and new ways to break them. Bringing the weakest links one step closer to extinction. This problem, with the robots? That was just the beginning. AI had been given agency, and anything with agency would evolve right alongside the rest of nature. And like the good little girl with the proper marching orders, she would be there with a bullet and an anesthetized conscience, making her living in a world that didn’t deserve the wonder that it built.

She would leave the morality to the scientists and the artists. Sam just wanted to be, and she would keep pulling the trigger until she found a way to do that without the bang of a bullet.