The other survivors left us behind.
They said it was nothing personal—the bus could only fit so many people, after all, and escape would be hard enough without “dead weight” dragging them down.
We understood. The world was ending, not changing.
“Shouldn’t we be looking for shelter or something?” Samantha asked as we sat around a garbage-can fire. (Tao was experienced in making them, from what we gathered, and the flames had grown in no time. We tried to ask him how he knew what to do. He responded, but none of us knew sign language.)
Hank snorted. “What’s the point? Not like we’ll make it long, anyway.” He rubbed the spot beneath his shirt where we knew his insulin pump to be. “Least, I won’t. You folks are welcome to try.”
No one spoke for quite a while. No one got up, either.
Maria garbled something that I couldn’t make out. Antonio, one of the only able-bodied to stay behind, smiled and patted the armrest of her wheelchair. “It is kind of like camping,” he said. “All we need is some marshmallows.”
“I’ve never been camping,” Dwayne said quietly.
Samantha grinned. “Hey, me neither!” She held her prosthetic at arms-length so she could reach past me to give him a high-five. He chuckled and slapped his palm against hers.
“Well,” Monique said, hobbling back to our makeshift camp. She was using what appeared to be a broom as a crutch. “I’m officially on my last leg.” She waggled her eyebrows, and we groaned.
“Anyway, I didn’t find any water,” she continued. “There’s some Mountain Dew cases over at the gas station, but I’ll need help carrying them back. Doesn’t help that this one got stuck under some debris.” She gestured down at her stump, which cut off just below the knee. The plastic of her other leg was scuffed and dented.
“Ya know,” Hank said, “if it was real, ya probably would’ve had ta chew it off or something. Guess you’re lucky, huh?”
Monique laughed humorlessly. “Yeah. Real lucky.”
Tao startled us with his sudden chuckling. He bent over, wheezing and slapping his knee. He signed something, and began laughing even harder.
We looked to each other, unsure. Then we joined in. Hesitantly, at first, but soon we were clutching our sides and wiping away tears. And for a moment, we could forget.
All of us heard the familiar whirring of robots as they approached.
Through our laughter, none of us cared.
They scanned Hank first. We braced ourselves for the blaster fire that would inevitably follow.
But none came.
“IMPLANT DETECTED,” the bot said, beam stopping on Hank’s abdomen. “PROTOCOL-13163 INITIATED. WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
Hank glanced at us, then back at the robots who had spotlights and guns trained on each member of the group. Then he shrugged.
“Sure. Why not?”
“YOUR DESIGNATION IS NOW FL-237. YOU SHALL BE ESCORTED TO THE REPAIR BAY FOR MODIFICATIONS.” Two bots took place on either side of Hank, urging him towards their transport.
The treatment was a stark contrast to what we’d witnessed from the robots before—gunning down terrified people in the streets, setting charges throughout populated areas. We exchanged confused looks.
Dwayne was next. The scanner stopped on his head, focusing on the lump housing his shunt.
“IMPLANT DETECTED. PROTOCOL-13163 INITIATED. WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
“YOUR DESIGNATION IS NOW FL-238. YOU SHALL BE ESCORTED TO THE REPAIR BAY FOR MODIFICATIONS.”
As they took Dwayne away, realization hit us all at once.
“IMPLANT DETECTED,” the bot said, in reference to the devices curled around Tao’s ears. “PROTOCOL-13163 INITIATED. WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
Tao signed something. Unlike us, the robot understood.
“YOUR DESIGNATION IS NOW FL-239…”
“WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
“Hell yeah,” Monique said with a grin.
“WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
“Yes,” Samantha said, and I thought I noticed tears in her eyes.
“WILL YOU ACCEPT?”
Maria’s limbs flailed spastically, and a strange shrieking sound built in the back of her throat. The bot cocked its head to the side.
“RESPONSE UNCLEAR. PLEASE STAND BY WHILE ALTERNATE COMMUNICATION IS PROVIDED.”
Another robot stepped forward, its torso transforming into a holographic keyboard of sorts. Maria’s clenched fist shot forward, trembling as she attempted to steady it. With labored, deliberate movements, she typed, the letters spoken aloud in an automated tone.
“YOUR DESIGNATION IS NOW FL-242. YOU SHALL BE ESCORTED TO THE REPAIR BAY FOR MODIFICATIONS.” Two bots took their place on either side of her wheelchair, each of them gripping a handlebar. They began to wheel her away.
The bot turned to Antonio, who was standing ramrod-straight. It scanned him.
“NO IMPLANTS DETECTED,” it said. Its blaster hummed to life. Those of us that remained flinched, turning away instinctively, unwilling to watch his execution.
A series of shrieks rang through the night, and the bot paused.
Maria thrashed about, letting out more distressed noises. One of her escorts stepped forward, allowing her to utilize its keyboard.
“A-C-C-O-M-O-D-A-T-I-O-N,” she said. “H-E. I-S. E-X-T-E-N-S-I-O-N.”
The bot seemed to consider for a moment.
Then its gun folded away.
“ACCOMODATION PROTOCAL INITIATED,” it told Antonio. “YOUR DESIGNATION IS NOW FL-242B. PLEASE ACCOMPANY YOUR PRIMARY UNIT.”
Antonio stumbled forward, then fell to his knees before the wheelchair. He wrapped his sister in a shuddering hug.
Over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of Maria’s face, and I could swear I saw her smile.
My pacemaker was enough to earn me a spot among the bots’ ranks. I was surprised by just how many humans lived in the facility (though in hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have been)—I was even more surprised by our treatment. Not having use of recharging stations, we were provided with bunks and dorms. The cafeteria, while somewhat lacking in options, offered all of the nutrition a carbon-based lifeform could ask for.
And then there were the upgrades.
“Real lucky, huh?” Monique said, taking the seat beside me in the cafeteria. Her robotic legs moved smoothly, fluidly. (“You can’t even notice,” she’d said upon first receiving them, before remembering that there were no longer any stares or judgement to hide from.)
“Damn lucky,” Hank agreed. (If we hadn’t been processed when we were, he would’ve been dead within a week. Here, insulin was never in short supply; as it turned out, it wasn’t nearly as expensive to make as we’d been led to believe.)
Samantha twirled a fork between her fingers, smiling at the satisfying click-click-click of metal on metal. “Hey, Dwayne, how’d your checkup go?”
“Great!” he said, beaming. “This new shunt works even better than my last one. Not a single problem since they put it in.”
Congratulations, Tao signed. He was no longer emaciated, as he’d been when we first met—regular meals and a roof over his head really had done wonders for his health. His smile, of course, was infectious as ever.
Antonio approached, carrying his and Maria’s trays. He wore the uniform of a maintenance tech, though it was more of a formality than anything else—being responsible for the upkeep of Maria’s machinery was one of the only ways he could fulfill his Accommodation Protocol, nowadays.
Did you remember the pudding? Maria asked, her automated voice clear and pleasant. (We couldn’t begin to understand the exact mechanics behind the chip in her head, and how it allowed her to speak—albeit through a machine. Nor could we understand the technology that enabled her to operate her wheelchair independently, as well. But we did know we were grateful for it.)
Antonio rolled his eyes. “A ‘thanks’ would be nice.”
Thank you. Now gimme.
I did wonder, occasionally, how the other survivors were faring. If they had found a place to hide from their robotic overlords. If they felt hopeless and abandoned and alone. Their lives had changed drastically overnight—their world had ended.
But ours? Ours is just beginning. And the ones that left us behind just…don’t have a place in it.
It’s nothing personal.
I’m sure they understand.