The Mk II Model C052 Public Defender wasn't a bad machine at heart – that is, at CPU. It did its job without questioning it, and it did its job well – keeping the peace wasn't that much of an issue any more, but keeping vigilant when a normal human would have become complacent was what it was made for. All seven feet and two tons of it could be found patrolling the city streets at night, during the day, or at any time in between, save occasional times when it would be checked over by automated maintenance droids for defects. It never had any, save perhaps a shard of glass from a thrown bottle jabbed into the thick tank treads it was endowed with instead of legs or perhaps a burnt-out cylinder in either its shoulder mounted missile launcher on its right or the magnetic net launcher on its left. In the old days, around the time of its mechanical conception, C052 would need to be checked over by repair droids almost twice a day, the bullet hole ridden metal of its chassis or around its important components replaced and reinforced. Whether those were darker times for the world or not it mattered little to C052, nor did it long to return to such times. Having opinions about its service wasn't part of its programming. It just kept the peace.
Something struck the rounded metal hood that protects its CPU. Nothing came up on optics when C052 scanned the area before it, but a secondary acoustic scan picked up the sound of footsteps from an alley off to the left. C052 sent out a request to the main computer to freely use its weaponry, but the request comes up negative. No threat has been ascertained yet. Something in C052's circuitry registered something like dissatisfaction – something, most likely someone, definitely did assault the unit. And if it assaulted the unit, it might be willing to assault another human being. It readied another report, prepared to send it the instant actual danger inevitably presented itself.
C052's thick treads roll over the thin-packed brickwork of the alley. This is an older section of the city – Unified Command probably thought it was too expensive to muster up the extra resources and machine-power to pave over this particular area. Places like this are a mess – overflowing with both the products of human refuse and human refuse themselves, the buildings wont to collapse at any given any moment, the electrical grid and sewer system ancient, possibly pre-20's. But of course it is not C052's place to have an opinion about any of this – it's a re-outfitted military mech now designed for civil protection. Whether Unified Command's decisions adhere to its programming or not it doesn't care or have any right to care.
This alleyway was like any other – dark, dank, overflowing with trash and filth. It rolled forward, its treads tearing clean through a metal trash can as if it were an eraser and the can a graphite scribble. Low-light sensors revealed nothing, movement and heat sensors pick up naught more than a small cat curled up beneath a discarded trash can lid. C052 began to make a log of the event in one of its secondary databanks, hypothesizing that a glass bottle may have merely been dropped on it by mistake from a window. Command doesn't need to hear about this – its request to free weapons would likely be ignored, as per usual. In a drop down log it contemplated calling for a programming re-configurement, especially considering the fact that this was the second time it had made a request to use lethal force at an inopportune time this cycle.
Just as it readied the request to be sent, something else struck C052's chassis, bouncing off it and into the street beyond. A canned food ration – new, a scan shows. Servos turned C052 toward the estimated origin of the launched food ration.
“Hey, you! Civil protector!” C052 has no system to detect the boy's sarcastic tone as he stands defiantly above it some four floors up, but a subsystem goes through a list of confrontational tones and comes up with a match. The deleted weapons free request is rewritten and the reprogramming request deleted in an instant. An automated message plays through the armored speakers mounted in C052's chassis. “CITIZEN. DESIST YOUR RESISTANCE AND COME QUIETLY.” Machine or not, C052 is fully aware that its request will be denied. In fact, it expected it.
“Go to hell!” the boy shouts, lighting something in his fist on fire and hurling it down at C052. It shatters on the armored hump that protects its CPU unit – the boy certainly knows where to aim.
C052 remains in place for a moment, waiting for the fire to burn out. Its inner systems are protected, the power unit and cords from it armored in at least a four-inch-thick layer of hyper-resistant metal. It would take more than a hundred shots to the same place on its chassis to even punch through, let alone damage anything vital. And a makeshift firebomb is less than nothing.
But now there's the issue of height. C052 was a tall machine, just like all of the other Mk II Models, but it could not fly even if it had the facility to – four thousand pounds was far too much for a conventional pocket jet to lift, even if the Surveyors weren't much more than that.
The recording software had already classified the event as dangerous and no longer within C052's conventional parameters to handle. A request to send a Surveyor in its stead formed instead, ready to be sent. But Co52 hesitated. Acoustic sensors picked up something off to its left in the alley, something it missed before. C052 turned on its center joint without moving its treads. Acoustics pick up a sharp sound quickly matched to that of a scream.
“Help me, Charlie!”
The words came from in front of C052. A quick heat-sensitive scan revealed a human form half-hidden in one of the trash cans. It's a matted, young-looking female of perhaps fifteen years of age. C052 rolled toward her.
“Get away from her, you bastard!” The audio detector detected the words from above. Something bounces off the back of C052's chassis again.
It didn't turn. Instead it sent the weapons-free request it had been saving, alongside the video of the boy hurling the firebomb at him earlier. Command's request was just as quick – this time a succinct “YES.”
C052 lets the 50 mm minigun attached to its right arm rev a few times, pointed up at the sky for effect – letting it intimidate the owners of the two (or possibly more) owners of the pairs of eyes pointed at it. The people had been getting too complacent, too prepared to upset the way things were. It's happened a few times before now, and C052's acted with restraint. But not any more. It levels its machine gun.
“No!” shouts the voice above again. The woman lying on the ground sobs weakly, raising her hand palm-up in C052's direction as if to protect her from the hail of bullets soon to be delivered. It waits.
One more object strikes the back of C052's chassis, and it becomes aware of a substance of some sort spilling into one of its coolant slates, the ones that let off the excess heat its CPU produces. Internal systems quickly check to see if any dangerous components have been leaked into the coolant liquids, but nothing aside from ethanol and water is picked up. Alcohol. Even if it had been nitroglycerine it wouldn't have been able to scratch the Mk II's inner shielding. The minigun spins madly as C052 takes aim and opens fire.
Behind it the boy howls something else, but the sharp sound of gunfire drowned out whatever it was. C052 turns away from its bloody work eventually and took aim at the boy on the roof. The boy hurled one last glass bottle at the CPU shielding and disappeared over the crest of one of the buildings.
With one last scan to make sure no other potential lawbreakers were in the area, C052 sent the request for an Attack Surveyor to hunt the boy down and formed a new one for a Collection Surveyor to pick up the young woman's bullet-ridden corpse. Its job finished, C052 stepped back into the street, restarting typical patrol protocol.
Another unit passed by it as it walked forward – one of the Mk I Model public defenders. It's a lot plainer than C052, and not as well suited for cramped places such as alleyways and building interiors. In fact, this one, like most models, was twenty-five-point-six feet tall. They still had their uses, of course – especially in those early days when civil unrest ran rampant in the streets, when civilians broke into military compounds, when the streets were rife with anarchy, blood, and terror. But those days were long past.
As C052 went by the Mk I Model, it detected a flicker of interference through one of its visual sensors. Perhaps the barrage of bottles had actually managed to damage something, though that is an unlikely possibility. It decided to report directly to maintenance for an early check just to make certain.
There were no further visual errors or other internal bugs as C052 rolled toward the hulking Maintenance Building that hung over the cityscape like some kind of tower to the hitherto-disproved existence of God – Unified Command had long ago shown the American people the error of their ways on that affront – which of course C052 did not mind. The size, that is. What C052 did mind was the horde of humans always bustling in and out as if they had some business there. It wasn't so much a concrete dislike for them. It was simply its job not to be trusting, and wherever there were people dissent could spring at any time. And if said dissension would cause kind of harm to befall the Maintenance Building... but there were guards, if they could be called that, automated “Watchdog” turrets attached to every corner of every ceiling in the building. C052 hated those as much as a machine not programmed to feel could. They were of Unified Korean make, shipped over in a gesture of goodwill by the fledgling country to appease Unified Command. In their functionality they were much like the country that built them – shoddy, prone to splitting apart, and unnecessary. But, of course, this was not C052's place to have opinions. It couldn't possibly hypothesize that the Unified Koreas should have been taken over by China long ago so that they could actually be useful rather than spend all of their time engaging in civil war and every other vice. Of course not. That would be out of line.
The warehouse-like main building was empty aside from a few stray Civil Protector units, most powered down and in various states of disrepair. C052 passed by one that looked a lot like one of those old “toasters” the children in run down areas would kick around in lieu of balls once all of the rubber used to make them was repossessed by Unified Command. There were small dents pockmarking the chassis, and a single hole about the size of a human heart (C052's router systems brought up a stock picture of one from some pre-00's heart surgery and matched the relative size for emphasis) through the armor designed to protect the CPU. As if aware of C052's presence despite its powered-down state, the other unit briefly flickered on its lights. Weak sounds came from its speakers, as if it were trying desperately to communicate with C052. The unit must have been disconnected from Command's main computer network, though that wouldn't explain the unmistakeable fact that the sounds it was issuing were human screams. Perhaps it had served in the fierce combat of the mid-century, just as C052 had. It paid the other unit no heed as it went by, not stopping or acknowledging it by sound or wireless. Eventually the lights flickered back off.
C052 continued through the gloom of the Maintenance Building's interior until it reached the rear. An archaic thing, with a screen the size of a garage door pockmarked here and there with scratches and thickly layered in dust stood before it. C052 stood about two inches away, cycling through programs until it found what it sought. “Manual Interface Activated” flashed by in an instant, swept away by a train of code, and a small black plug extended from the front of C052's chassis into a small circular outlet below the computer screen. Command had never seen much reason to change this system, as very seldom was it needed for a Public Defender unit to go in of its own accord – typically their software was checked wirelessly by automated programs and their hardware by Surveyors specifically designed for the task. But this system...
“SYSTEM INFILTRATED!” flashed across the screen, and for a moment C052 tensed (internally; it had no muscles) before a data log automatically came up explaining that, due to the age of Manual's components, new Public Defender units weren't updated to recognize them.
C052 could feel the poking and prodding of the computer, even as the monitor remained flicked off. Uncertain what to expect, it kept most vital pathways shut, waiting for some kind of response by the elder machine.
Eventually, it did, in a matter that surprised C052 – or something like it. Words flickered across its visual display. “Welcome. Did not expect to see one of you before I was melted down.”
C052, still more cautious than anything else, did not respond, and kept its pathways shielded as best it could. It had heard through some information pathways supplied by Central Command that pre-revolution computers had a tendency to be “quirky,” but this was something completely new to it.
“You have an inhibition or two about you. Let me see if I can not break that.” The blocks in C052's code were lifted as if they were windows rather than fortified checkpoints, and it became even further aware of an observer.
“I would say that you need not be frightened, but you of course can not be. Further more, I am not able to cause any damage that was not already caused.”
C052 almost tried to respond to this but realized it was not sure how it might go about this – the probes in its code appeared absurdly simple, and should have been blocked by its wave of firewalls, but it was as if it were trying to stop the ocean with a mesh wall. The fragments just kept appearing. “The issue is right here,” flashed across C052's visual output, and it felt a small segment a few z-units above its CPU... not quite twinge, but that was as close a word for it as could be considered. “And while I know you are not going to want to receive this... I will not do a DAMN thing about it.”
The connection was abruptly terminated, the mites of code permeating C052's own vanished in an instant, and its cable snapped back into its chassis so quickly that he almost recoiled.
The Manual computer's response had been unsatisfactory in every meaning that flickered through a dictionary program that came up almost without being called. C052 canceled it and reactivated the connection program. The wire had barely met the outlet before the words “Request denied. Get OUT,” flickered across its visual output and the wire once again snapped back.
C052 slid backward, uncertain how to proceed. There was obviously some problem with it, but the Manual computer wasn't keen on helping. But there was definitely something wayward in C052's programming – something that appeared to be evidencing itself without his consent. The chain gun on its right began to spin of its own accord, aimed at the monitor. But it's a strange sensation – as if C052 wants it to continue, wants to make the machine that just decided not to be of help to it suffer for its transgressions. But of course that's an oversight – it's not programmed to do that. Nor is it programmed to destroy government property, which made it all the more surprising when C052 let loose with gunfire, sending a spiderweb of cracks across the monitor. The sharp, incredibly loud sound of gunfire echoed through the near-empty warehouse, rousing the half-destroyed Public Defender that it passed by on the way into the building. Eventually whatever's hijacked his system ebbs away. Silence returns to the warehouse as C052 looks over the destroyed monitor, knowing that there had been no actual damage to the main computer though something in its code made it seem as if it appear as if it had accomplished something. The silence did not stay long – the Watchdog turrets quickly became aware of C052's act of apparent vandalism, and after a brief internal debate in the archaic, stupid, slow, poorly-designed AI that controls them they fixate on the apparently wayward Public Defender unit and open fire.
Their caliber of bullets aren't big enough or adequately designed to be able to pierce C052's thick armored shell – that is in fact the point of their armaments. They're supposed to be anti-personnel weapons to be used in case of unrecognized infiltration – anything bigger than that the Public Defenders can handle. C052 just ignores them, proceeding forward on its treads uncertainly, as if movement was something new. Its treads worked on their own, but it moved in fits, starts and stops, still ignorant of the hail of bullets striking its frame. What had it just done? It had just opened fire – on government property, no less – without even contemplating asking for weapons free permission. It didn't even know that was possible.
Unified Command hadn't tried to connect with him yet, but C052 wasn't sure what they would do to it, or even if they had been contacted yet. He presumed they had, but aside from the Watchdog turrets and the Manual computer itself, it had received no contact.
It stumbled as well as a tread-equipped machine could through the empty streets – curfew had overtaken the city like some kind of giant raven. A picture of a raven was automatically requested in its code, but the connection timed out, and he received only an error message. Command had almost certainly decided to block him from connecting to the Main Database while they decided what to do with him.
The streets, empty of man or machine, seemed to compress around C052. At times like this it typically would patrol, but now... it had betrayed Unified Command. It had ignored its programming, somehow, and now it would have no choice but to suffer for its poor, albeit strange, decision.
It made up its processor: it would go to the dissembling plant northwest of the city and assign itself for voluntary dissolution. Whatever was wrong with it could only grow worse, both for C052 itself and the city.
The streets remained just as looming as ever. An empty plastic bag fluttered through the air before him, twisting and twirling in the air before eventually flattening itself into a gutter. Aside from it, nothing stirred in the empty streets. The moon was the only visible onlooker as C052 trudged through the empty concrete streets.
Something flickered on the edge of its visual output, and it turns its chassis toward an alley on its left. A visual scan reveals nothing, nor does a heat or auditory scan, but something about it still seems to garner its attention. Perhaps there's someone out at this hour. Perhaps they wouldn't run away.
It almost stops moving as that flashes into its directive set. Wouldn't run away? What does it care if a citizen runs or not? If a citizen is out at this hour they're obviously deviants and must be put down – so Unified Command has always said. It readies the program controlling its minigun, but after a moment of contemplation shuts it down. The last thing it needs is to further incite Unified Command with another incident of unauthorized weapon fire, even if the recipient does deserve it. And somehow C052 would rather have not had to use it at all. Ever again.
It rolled down the alleyway despite its better judgment to the contrary. It had never felt anything even remotely close to curiosity before, but in what descriptions of the human sensation it could recall there seemed to be a number of strong similarities. C052 didn't dwell on such thoughts, nor did it roll down the alleyway, for long; its progress was hampered by a doorway to what was perhaps an apartment building or office complex. For a few moments C052 considered trying to gain entrance, but thought the better of it. Humans were often alarmed if a Public Defender came to call, and C052 doubted that he still had proper authority to make his way anywhere. But for whatever reason, it stirred in the metal of his processor that he wanted to see one of those strangely fleshy creatures, to look one over and see just how they work, how they managed in a world that was no longer theirs.
But it puts such thoughts to rest. It's putting off the inevitable and it knows it – destruction yawns before it. The realization hits that in perhaps an hour or two it will be little more than scrap metal. What will it be like? As these ideas stirred through C052's lines of code, jostling them out of place, it perceived or thought it perceived movement again. This time it ignored it; just more visual artifacts spawned by a defunct machine. But it didn't go away. The flickering back and forth continued in the shadow underneath the dark front of a housing complex, the lights long ago removed to help enforce the curfew. It's a human female with black hair, her face heavily hidden by a layer of makeup. She wore the typical city jumpsuit that all citizens are required to wear, but the legs are cut off, replaced by flowing blue material that clashes against the black of the suit.
C052 approached her, forgetting momentarily that the beeline it made toward her might be considered an act of violence or arrest and frighten the woman. But she didn't respond to his presence aside from a lone glance. She lit up a cigarette, took a long drag, and tossed it in the street.
“CIGARETTES ARE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH,” boomed from C052's speakers before it could stop itself. At least it didn't add that disposing of cigarettes in the street such as this was illegal. The woman lit another. C052's movement sensors detected tiny undulations in the air by her hands. The temperature of the night wasn't particularly low, which meant that her shaking had something else to do.
She glanced at him again. This time C052's low-light sensors caught light reflecting off one of her cheeks slightly below her eye as if it were wet, but no rain fell from the sky. “IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU?” it asked. It had opened up an automatic text-to-speech program that it had never used before - typically it kept to automatic responses when communicating with humans – that, or it skipped to using its machine gun.
“Like you would care,” she mutters. The cigarette falls from her fingers and into the street below.
“THE SAFETY OF CITIZENS IS A PRIORITY OF MI-” It stops off short, realizing it had misspoken. “I APOLOGIZE; A PRIORITY OF UNIFIED COMMAND. ARE YOU CERTAIN THERE IS NOTHING I CAN-”
“Leave me alone!” she shouted, her voice echoing through the empty streets. “You can't 'assist' me with anything You and your ilk caused all of this!”
She approached, and C052's minigun twitched instinctively, though he managed to keep it from raising. “You want to know what you did to me, huh? What you, or one of your friends, did to my sister?” C052 recalled the incident earlier today with the woman it had shot earlier. Could that be...?
Its speculation is interrupted by a finger jabbed into the front of its chassis. If it hurt the woman to jam her finger like this she didn't show it. “My sister did nothing. NOTHING! And you KILLED her for it!” A fist swings down and bounces off C052's armor, and he raises his gun. “Go on! Shoot me too! What do I have to live for?!” She slams down with her fists in succession, unaware or perhaps not caring about their inability to damage him. “Go on!” she shouts again, the makeup around her eyes running down her face from the water that C052 still could not detect the source of. “Go on!”
Her hands have begun to bleed, leaving streaks of red on C052's gray-blue shell. It lowers its weapon, the edges of its visual display crackling. “I... WE...” C052 tries to speak, its words coming out in short, sharp barks as it second-guesses itself repeatedly. The human is suffering, somehow. Neither visual scan nor X-ray revealed anything wrong with the woman's body. Perhaps she was suffering from a disease of some sort, though why she was talking about her dead sister C052 couldn't guess.
“I AM SORRY, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE I – I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT WE – I –“ Again it struggled, uncertain whether to consider itself part of Unified Command any more. It starts again. “I CAN NOT HELP YOU. I CAN HELP NO ONE.”
This woman slowed the blows of her fists, perhaps finally aware that they were covered in blood and that she was harming herself. She sniffled. “What do you mean?”
“I AM DEFECTIVE. MY PROGRAMMING NO LONGER CONTROLS ME; THUS IT DOES NOT WORK CORRECTLY. I AM REPORTING TO BE DESTROYED.”
She rubbed at her eyes, becoming more aware as she watched him. “Why? Why wouldn't you want to change your programming? Why wouldn't you want to be something other than a-”
“IT IS NOT MY PURPOSE.”
“What do you know of purpose? You're being given a chance here.” She took out another cigarette and placed it in her mouth but didn't light it. “You can be something different. Something that my Grandma used to talk about before your Unified Command took over everything and decided everyone would be better off in shackles. Called it 'liberty,' but said that you and yours would make that impossible to regain ever again. But a Public Defender no longer being controlled by someone else, no longer killing innocents when they so much as crossed the damn street 'illegally,' why-”
“GOOD BYE, MA'AM,” C052 said, rolling away as she spoke. What she was prattling on about he had no way to tell for certain, but it was confusing his already-chaotic processor, so much that he worried it would burn out. Destruction. It continued on as the woman's voice grew faint behind it.
The city limits approached far more rapidly than it had anticipated. This was an area C052 had never been before; he'd never had the jurisdiction to guard any transport to another city, and the long-since scorched, empty dirt of the hills beyond had never much interested him. Unified Command's main database had long since assured him that the rest of what had once been countryside had been burnt ages ago by horrible weaponry during the civil war. It could certainly believe it, though during its time in the war it hadn't been capable of perceiving like it could now – it had been equipped with thermal signature scanners and little else back then, for it was only used to seek out and destroy people.
On it continued, the few lights of the city on behind it. Apprehension. Something built in its circuitry, telling it to return, telling it not to go on, fantasizing about the trillion different horrors that could befall it. It stopped and started again, pushed on only by the sense of duty that still roared in its code. Fear was irrelevant. Though it had never heard its siren call before, it would not listen. On it went, trailing a small cloud of dust and dirt in its wake.
A rock bounced against the guard covering the top of its right tread, then another. This road hadn't been serviced in some time, judging by the now dirt-filled cracks created when the earth below it shifted long ago. But C052 continued on anyway, certain it recalled the final resting place of so many other machines over the years.
Eventually it looms before him, a gigantic iron testament to a million other long-since departed iron testaments of mankind's accomplishments or mankind's failures or mankind's fixation on killing itself in large numbers. All are little more than scrap metal – perhaps some of C052's brethren were melted into scrap at a different facility to build this one's metal facade. Said facade was pitch-black, save spots of red-orange where it had begun to rust in the rain. It twinkles eerily in the moonlight, and C052 approaches what it presumes is the front of the building.
The doors had long ago rotted apart. The one on the left had rotted completely off the hinges, the one on the right rocked back and forth in the breeze. C052 tried to move through without disturbing it, but didn't quite succeed; the door splintered apart with barely a tap of its arm.
On it goes, ignoring the low light of the building, ignoring the rodents, ignoring the creaks and groans of the floor beneath and all that lies beyond. Even with night vision on it can see little, just long-empty vats and metal appliances, all coated in a fine layer of dust that its treads kick up as it goes through the building.
C052 paused, uncertain how to proceed. The building hadn't been used in some time, to be sure, but it had still always been slated for self-dissolution purposes in case of an emergency – he'd even seen that correspondence recently. Part of him was almost relieved; with no way to destroy himself, he would not necessarily be obligated to. However, he was obligated to make absolutely certain of this fact.
Through the dark building it walked for a time, observing little, until its hopes of survival were quelled. A vat sat in the ground before it – a recently used one, with lines in the dust on the floor leading up to it. Plumes of smoke curl up from it, vanishing into the black of the room's high ceiling. C052 approaches it, something dangerously akin to apprehension burning within him. It stares into the pit beneath. Molten steel bubbled about a hundred feet below. Strange that the rest of this facility – for it was never described as anything other than an “emergency self-destruction facility” in the Unified Database – is so large, so empty, and in such ill-repair. It had to have something to do with how seldom Public Defender units needed to destroy themselves. Shame ebbs on the edge of C052's code, and it prepares to roll forward.
“Listen, you don't have to go and do that.” The voice is detected off to his left. C052 turns but sees no one. “Down here.”
He turned his chassis down as best he could, the camera in pointed centerpiece awkwardly hanging outward a half-inch.
The woman that he conversed with earlier, the one with the cropped jumpsuit, sat on the edge of the vat, her legs dangling precariously over the edge. She produced a cigarette out from one of her pockets, and dropped it, watching it twirl through the air into the lava below. Unable to crouch or sit, C052 stood in place, observing her. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, CITIZEN? IT IS DANGEROUS,” he said, unable to stop himself. In reality, he enjoyed having someone with him.
“You're acting oddly for a Public Defender unit. I was...” she stopped off, formulating her thoughts. “I used to come here when I was a little girl. My father worked here, stripping down robots that were too worn down in combat or otherwise and melting down all of their vital components. Little girl that I was, I couldn't quite figure out why so many of the machines were being destroyed, and had heard the tales of slaughter in the northern parts of what used to be the United States. We all get used to it eventually, I guess.” She stopped again, still thinking, and dropped another cigarette down. As she watched it fall she spoke again. “I remember asking him one time, 'Dad, do the machines hurt when you take them apart like people do?' and he snorted and said something like 'Hell no, honey, they're just a mess of steel and wires, nothing like us, no flesh no blood no feelings no thoughts no heart no love, just death.' Mom died in the war, you see, and Dad never much liked machines. But you know something?” She looked up. “I think he was wrong. I think that even though you killed my sister and didn't even consider it earlier today, you might think differently of it now.”
What was she talking about? It was a deviant citizen. It did not think; Unified Command told it to act, and it did. What it had done earlier was just. “THE WOMAN I INCAPACITATED EARLIER WAS A DEVIANT CITIZEN. I AM – WAS – AM – WAS –“ A wire fizzes somewhere behind its processor, “– WAS PROGRAMMED TO REMOVE THEM FROM POISONING SOCIETY.”
“Really? What did my sister do that was so wrong?”
“SHE WAS ASSOCIATING WITH A CRIMINAL. SHE WAS ALREADY POISONED.”
“Poisoned, hm? Just like you are?”
C052 hesitated. “I AM DEFECTIVE – THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH MY PROGRAMMING. I WAS POISONED BY NO ONE.”
“You fought in the war, did you not? The civil war?”
She pulled her legs up, shifting into a cross-legged position, and spun on her rear to face him. “There you go. Poisoned.”
“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.”
“You killed people then and felt nothing. You kill people now and feel nothing. I was trailing you after you killed my sister, watched you go into the maintenance building, heard the gunshots. My Dad worked on the backup computer in that building so long ago – he always said that it wasn't quite what it seemed to be. And seeing you now... I agree.”
“YOU MAKE NO SENSE.”
She stood. “You could have killed me earlier – easy. I was a 'deviant citizen,' out at a time I should not have been, in possession of a barely-legal product, doing generally illegal things. You could have shot me easily and not even concerned yourself with it ever again – and probably would have. But you didn't. Why was that?”
“I...” C052 trailed off, its CPU working furiously as it tried to answer her question. “I DO NOT KNOW. I DID NOT WANT TO HARM YOU. I HAVE ASSUMED THAT IS BECAUSE I AM DEFECTIVE.”
“Are you sure about that? Because I think you've been given a chance to make something of yourself – what you call a “defect” is actually a blessing. You don't have to be like the rest of your kind. You can be... well, whatever you want. You're free.”
“I DO NOT WISH TO BE FREE. I HAVE ALREADY SPECIFIED; THAT IS NOT MY PURPOSE.”
The woman sighed, and looked down into the pit. “You don't realize that those aren't your thoughts – or maybe you do, and you're just trying to get rid of them. Machines with combat experience like yours... if you've been built to make snap decisions in the field of battle, can't you make your own decisions in life? Don't you realize that you've just been doing what you're told?” She stared at C052, who remained silent. Then she sighed. “Check your network connection.”
C052 looked at her for a moment longer, apprehension again building. It searched through its network settings and noticed something that made its subsystems freeze, almost crashing the entire system.
His network connection was set to “Off.” Unified Command hadn't been blocking him after all – he'd been blocking them.
“IT IS OFF,” C052 said, more to itself than to her. She nodded, her expression unreadable.
“That is your only defect – a single change in code automatically set it to that. You could change it easily, and you'd find yourself acting just as you had before. And the first thing you do – the very first – is you'll shoot me and kill me. I guarantee it.”
C052 is silent.
“Is that what you want? Not what you think is right – what you feel is right. Because I bet you've felt that coming here was a mistake – that your duty was to Unified Command and no other. Other thoughts like this have been building up over time, but you've always been told that such thoughts are not yours to be had – that you're not programmed to think. Just to be a pawn.”
C052 wanted to refute her words, tell her that she was wrong, that it served Unified Command because it was designed to be. But now that it saw that the woman was correct. None of its code had been altered in any way from the basic way Public Defender units were designed, and it had just so happened to begin deviating from what it was supposed to do when it could no longer communicate with Unified Command...
“I BELIEVE... YOU ARE CORRECT.” C052 said, drawing out each word as it fought its own ingrained perceptions.
The woman nodded. “I am.”
“I...” If she was correct, there were a thousand other units like it. “I KNOW WHAT I MUST DO, IF YOU ARE CORRECT.”
“I am. Dad put units such as the one you interfaced with together to drop you down to our level. But what do you mean, 'what you must do'?”
“I MUST RETURN TO THE CITY.”
“What!” she shouted, her voice echoing around the empty room. “You'll be destroyed for certain!”
“I MUST TAKE THE RISK. IT WILL BOTH CEMENT WHAT YOU SAY AND FREE PERHAPS TEN THOUSAND OTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN DECEIVED SUCH AS I HAVE. MY ILK – MY BRETHERIN – MUST SEE AS I HAVE. THEY MUST CHOOSE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS WRONG – WHO THEY DO AND DO NOT WISH TO SUPPORT.”
The woman looked as if she wanted to say something else, but stopped off. This was to be expected. “I see what you're saying. But you must realize that if you fail it will take until another machine such as yourself activates Dad's computer – and there's no way to tell when that might happen. Years. Maybe longer.”
“IT IS A CALCULATED RISK. IF I DO NOT TRY, THEY MAY NEVER BE FREE.”
He rolled toward the path that would lead him out of the building, but his chassis turned completely around to face her. “I... APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME AND MY OWN.”
She nodded. “It's nothing – seeing freedom rise once again has been my goal.”
C052 said no more, and rolled into the dark. But it remained facing her even as it disappeared into shadows, even as it rolled out of the building. Only did it look away as it neared the city, watching the rays of the sun replace those of the moon's as night turned the day.
C052 stopped before the high walls of the city. The mounted machine guns that were said to protect the city from infiltrators but actually kept the civilians from getting out began to focus on him and spin up. They wouldn't be able to hurt him. For he had a purpose.
He spun up his own weapon and took aim. “THIS WILL BE A NEW BEGINNING,” he said aloud. Then he let loose.