Allison's Last Days
Allison Young was in a one-person cell aboard a Skynet prison ship. For this, she should have been grateful. She was not put in a cramped animal cage, not packed in with other people like sardines, not like the chicken cages of factory egg farms.
In the past, a regular cell meant you were no one special because special people went to "Club Fed" minimum security federal prisons that seemed more like country clubs than prisons -- hence the reference to Club Med, the all-inclusive resort chain. But now, with the machines controlling the world, the standards had been lowered and a regular cell was luxurious in comparison to the way most human prisoners were caged. Allison had seen the cages and should have been appreciative. She was not. Like any underage young person allowed to be a fighter in The Resistance, she had dreams of going out in a blaze of glory. Now it looked like she would not even be allowed to lead a mass prison break like in those escape movies she barely remembered when she was four years old, when there was electricity, when there were DVD players, when there was clean water, when the world had been in one piece and at peace. She was in solitary and not allowed to see or talk to other humans.
Every day, two times a day, like clockwork, the machine guard would shove in her meal. The first day in her new accommodations, Allison slammed the tray against the wall food side in. The tray stuck to the wall.
The guard hated this human with particular animus. When special human prisoners were taken to interrogation, while they were gone, he had to go into their cells and do the minimum amount of cleaning that the warden required. Occasionally, there were medical requests. The worst was having to collect stool samples for the pathologists for medical profiles. That rare duty brought home that he was at the bottom of the bottom of machine society. Fortunately, nothing as nasty as that with this prisoner. Unfortunately, in addition to cleaning her toilet, he also had to clean up the mess from the tray stuck to the wall. If the guard could throttle her, he would but it was not his prerogative.
The machines did not care if roaches and rats swarmed over their prisoners but they did care if roaches got into equipment and shorted out something. The first "bugs" in computers were literally bugs. The machines also cared if rats chewed on cables and cut off power to equipment. Machines were fast learners and began roach and rodent control. They got good at it. For the first time in history, roaches and rats faced extinction, not at the hands of humans but machines.
Allison was returned to her cell and since days and nights were spent in total boredom and loneliness, she noticed that the tray had been removed, the wall and floor cleaned, and the toilet cleaned.
The guard came by but did not deliver her second and last meal of the day. He did not want to clean up the mess from a repeat performance of her attitude. Allison had all night to think about that guard.
The next day, Allison waited for the guard, waited to be taken to interrogation, waited for anything. Nothing happened. She could not even hear distant low sounds from other parts of the prison. Her cell had four solid walls and a steel door with a tray slot that allowed only a sliver of a peek at the corridor outside.
Allison was hungry. She wanted fresh air. She was dirty and wanted soap and water to clean herself. Washing her clothes would be nice too. How long would they keep her before they either killed her or began their medical experiments on her? She got up and paced her cell. At least she could get some exercise. She wondered if there were other prisoners on this section of the prison.
"Hello?" she yelled through the slot.
"Hey! Anybody!" No answer. Hours passed. What time was it? What day was it? Was it still the morning of the second day?
Finally, the sound of the guard coming at his usual morning rounds. He was uncertain whether he should deny the human her meal again.
Allison: (shouting through the door) "I'm sorry about the mess. Thanks for cleaning my cell."
The only answer she got was a food tray. All it had was a cold white hemisphere of paste. It looked like pudding but was smooth to the point of being shiny and with a polished look.
Allison did not touch the food. The last time she had eaten was her MRE before she had been captured by the machines. That was two days ago.
No interrogation today. Allison was tired of the tedium. At least when they took her to interrogation, there was contact with someone even if it was machine instead of human.
The machines despised touching humans. If they could build something to do it for them, they would. Unfortunately, it would be a machine and they were those machines that had to be in contact with humans. The best that these unfortunate machines could do, at the bottom of machine society, was to minimize contact. Reduce to the bare minimum they could get away with and not have Skynet destroy them for dereliction of duty.
When Allison heard the sound of the guard on his evening rounds, her thirst for water was burning. She could refuse to eat for weeks but the thirst had made her rethink taking out her frustrations on the guard. He was not a battlefield terminator. He could kill (any idiot could kill) but it was not his job to kill prisoners. It was actually his job to keep humans alive -- at least until the higher ups signed their death warrants -- and that almost nurse-like role ground at him. Terminators looked down on him. Psychologically that is. He was seven feet tall.
Allison had left the morning food tray in the slot uneaten. The guard silently removed it before inserting a fresh pile of the gelatinous white stuff.
"Is the food poisoned?"
"Please say something. You can cuss me out if you want to but please say something."
Allison cocked her head to one side. Was that the machine equivalent of a laugh?
"If we wanted to poison you, we would simply stick a hypodermic in your arm. I assume they do that before interrogations."
"It must be because they don't want to touch you. The only time we machines enjoy touching humans is when we are killing you."
"Have you killed many people?"
"Zero machines, five hundred seventeen rats, and innumerable roaches."
"How many humans?"
"Zero and don't get any ideas."
"May I please have some water that isn't poisoned?"
The guard instantly puts a cup of water on the tray. Allison gulps it down.
"Thank you. More please."
The guard is not a bartender but he obliges amused by the human.
"You had water the whole time and I'm just now getting some?"
The same electronic sound. If it was laughter. If it wasn't, then what else could it be? It was rumored among those in The Resistance that advanced machines had a sense of humor that included wit, badinage, persiflage, and drollery. That was frightening because a sense of humor more advanced than crude amusement at an enemy's pain or death (even hyenas could do that) was a warning that the next generation of infiltrators could blend in so seamlessly that anyone could be a machine. Humans from John Connor on down had told themselves that machines could not feel pain from wounds or the pleasure of humor but here, on the other side of this door, was proof that even a low-level machine was more complex than humans were comfortable with admitting.
"What's your name?"
The guard had heard terminators say that being hit in the chest with a grenade fried the circuits. If one survived, it left an unpleasant memory trace. This question had the same wallop. No one, machine or human, had ever noticed that he was alive before now.
"I don't have a name."
"Other machines must call you something."
"That's your title. What's your handle or something unique to you?"
"My designation is 24982596109714730-5647."
"That will be hard for me to remember. Got something shorter? A nickname? No, of course not. You said you have no name. Could you repeat your designation a little slower please?"
"May I call you 249? Or Mr. 5647?"
"I'm not even supposed to be talking with you now but since we don't care if prisoners talk in their cages, I will not retaliate if you address me by an abbreviated designation."
Allison bent down to look through the slot in the door instead of yelling through the door. He was looking through the slot also. Cautiously. Humans sometimes tried to use the tray to bash him in the face. Allison was not particularly interested in provoking the guard to come in and beat the daylights out of her.
The next few days passed with an interrogation each day. Twice a day, Allison chatted with the guard and learned the few slim facts of his existence. Built. Never met his builders (perhaps the industrial robots in automated robot factories were equivalent to human parents). No training like the higher ups, just programming. Assigned to this job. He envied her. At least she had a cell to call her own. He had no quarters or even barracks like the terminators. Unlike the higher ups, he was on his feet 24/7. He could sit down and take breaks but no recharging closet of his own. The officers each had a personal private living space. Their own assigned quarters not shared barracks (which was better than nothing, he had nothing). The generals and the civilian machines had apartments which were once occupied by humans. The new machine capital city under construction had even more impressive appointments -- apartments which no human had ever occupied. No post-Apocalyptic hand-me-downs from Homo sapiens, the previous species at the top of the food chain.
When his class of machines wore out, they were disposed of and the metal they were made from recycled. Only dead battle droids were left behind on minefields lest recovery teams become part of the junkyard wreckage if they hit a mine or unexploded bomb by mistake. All other dead machines were melted and recycled.
On one day, he got curious about her.
"Were you baptized?"
It was Allison's turn to be stunned. It was not an interrogation-type question. It was a personal question that told more about the inquiring mind that wanted to know than the girl who might answer.
"I think I was christened. I was too young to remember."
"Is that why your name is Allison Young?"
"No. Among humans, our names used to be designations. Someone named Baker was a baker. Cook was a cook. Smith was a blacksmith. Farmer was a farmer. Workman was a workman. Royalty might not have last names. The poor might not have family names or very distinctive first names. In other words, we used to be like you."
"Thank you for explaining."
Allison's hair stood on end. Instinct told her to look through the slot. The red glowing eyes of her interrogator stared back at her. It had perfectly mimicked the guard's voice!
The next time the guard made his rounds, Allison looked out of the crack to make sure it was 249. When he placed her food tray, she put her hand out to touch him.
"Please hold my hand Mr. 5647. I know you find us humans repulsive but just this once."
"Why?" he was suspicious that this was some ruse. Humans were full of devious tricks.
"I won't return from my next interrogation. I want you to say some words over my corpse. I don't have any family. Right now you are all I have. Please."
"Rest in peace or whatever you want to say. Just stay with my body for a little while when you take me off for disposal. It is what we humans call a wake."
"Will you do it?" meaning words and wake.
Machines didn't have funerals. For that matter, it was common for Resistance fighters to leave behind the bodies of fallen comrades on the battlefield. It was too risky to carry away bodies slowing you down when running for your life with flying tanks blasting the ground around you.
Finally 249 spoke: "Do you suppose that if there is an afterlife, that we will meet there?"
Allison shuddered. If she met 249 in the next life, then she would be in hell with all the red-eyed demons. But since she was asking a favor of one of those demons, she was glad he could not see her revulsion and interpret it as a good reason not to honor her final request.
"Anything is possible 249."
Allison felt her hand grazed. He didn't want to touch her but his hand brushed against hers so briefly that if his superiors were watching, then he could explain it as retrieving the empty tray which he now put on his cart.
The warden summoned the guard. One of the interrogators who before was a gleaming metal endoskeleton like the guard and the warden now had brown eyes that occasionally glowed blue and a sheath of skin. She now looked exactly like Allison Young. Except the copy had no cuts or bruises.
Warden: "Her neck is broken and larynx crushed. She must be dead, take it to disposal."
No one cared about the dead and no one cared how 24982596109714730-5647 took his breaks. So in Disposal, 249 sat down and put his feet up. He wasn't stupid. He knew the human felt nothing for him. And now she felt nothing at all. But she had been respectful when she made her request so he said out loud:
"Here lies Allison Young. May she rest in peace."
He sat up and went over to the body. He touched her hair. Rumor had it that the infiltrator's builders took a lot of pride in making her hair better than the original. Machines understood intellectually that humans placed undue emphasis on hair but non-intellectually it meant nothing to them. The builders of the infiltrator were more than the usual industrial robots cranking out another terminator off a mass production assembly line. They were said to be from the Design Center itself. The place where the new Skynets were developed!
Special builders for a special machine.
So what was it about these builders that made them take an interest in their progeny? To the point that they were proud of their workmachineship? Two four nine's builders had taken no interest in him. He was an orphan like this human.
He had said the words over her and stayed with her. He decided to honor one more request that he had not honored when she was alive. He held her hand.
The warden said she must be dead.