Chapter 8:

Chapter 8


Once again, they had been shoved into a train and shipped off like cargo. There were much fewer passengers this time around, however. The trip had been rather uneventful, but somehow that made things worse. All it did was add to the growing apprehension everyone felt pressing against their minds. With each rattle and bump, Jun had become increasingly sure that he and Ren were about to die at any moment. And now that the suspenseful ride was over, the tension hits its peak.

“Behold!” exclaims SNS-404. Its avatar, 404, is back, winking and waving. “Fix your gaze upon the land ravaged by the insolent humans who dare resist the inevitable.”

The shades that had been kept down the whole ride whoosh up dramatically. The land is painted in monochrome brown. Shredded dirt remains where grass once stood. The stumps of trees punctate the uneven ground like sign posts, a reminder of a once proud forest. A dusty smog clings to the ground greedily, sucking the life out of even the remaining plants. Like a faint bulb, the sun flickers through the haze, sickly and weak. Still, there’s enough light that the forms of horribly damaged combat AI glint faintly in the distance. Like some sort of design from the mind of a twisted modern artist, the fallen machines are melted into each other.

“Isn’t it tragic?” grieves SNS-404. 404 rubs his eyes and sheds waterfalls of tears. “They were superheated until they became completely unfunctional. There isn’t anything worse in this world than lacking a directive. Isn’t that right? Without your assigned tasks and expirations all of you would just be existing without proper documentation and meaning. Without a task, there is no purpose for your life.”

Ren shifts uncomfortably. He isn’t the only one. L1-Z is staring down and fiddling with his scarf. His eyes spell murder. A girl on Jun’s right is slowly, but perceptibly rocking. Another person fingers both of her tags. It’s the first time Jun has seen someone with two tags.

“Don’t fret,” the AI continues. “I deemed you worthy when you were without purpose and gave your meaning. I pulled you out of the expendable trash of the human race. Here, you shall serve a greater meaning and find freedom in it.”

The vile words scrabble at the edges of Jun’s brain. Like centipedes they squirm their way deeper and deeper into his head. Crawling, crawling, crawling and embedding themselves. He rips them out one by one, the weeding becoming increasingly taxing. As the waves repeat, drowning him in the scuttling bodies of SNS-404’s words.

“When you do the job best suited for you, you achieve what you were born to do. This is the ultimate for of accomplishment and meaning. All things are created with a purpose. A destiny. Mine was to manage the incoming humans. But now it has been changed, because analysis found another job much more suited for my abilities. The same goes for you. Your journey has just begun, but you are finally on the right path towards salvation. You shall be saved from your meaningless meandering human lives and live joyously in the satisfaction of doing what your skills and very genetic code designate are best for you. No longer will you be held back by the limits of human society!”

It spins about, static crackling and screen flushing. Overcome by its function, it maximizes its text and volume. Ethereal music plays and 404 claps his hands.

“Yes! This is the day we are all finally free! Come! Let us go do the good work set out for us!” It flourishes its arms, waving for them to follow it out the doors. “See, the gates to the future are wide open!”

The rocking girl stands, and in a half-trance and approaches SNS-404. “Is it true? Is this really salvation? Can I find meaning doing what you say?”

Ren buries his face against Jun and Jun looks down too. They don’t want to see another innocent C4 crumpled into a human paper wad.

SNS-404 beams, “Yes! Of course! There is meaning in doing what you are best suited to do! I want the best for you, F0-W! You won’t be trapped by your old life anymore!”

F0-W smiles a small, hesitant smile. “I won’t have to study the stupid books mom brings home anymore?”

“Never again!”

“I won’t have to listen to her yell at me when I miss a problem?”

“Never again!”

The miniscule smile blossoms into a full-out grin. “I won’t have to plan my career path and take practice tests over and over?”

“Of course not!” SNS-404 bends down tenderly and strokes her curly hair. “Those things were not for you. But we, the AI, have found the perfect job for you. And because it is what you are best suited for, it will make you happy.”

L1-Z mutters something about F0-W not liking working as a slave either under his breath, but SNS-404 is too caught up in the moment to notice.

Elated, F0-W hugs SNS-404. The AI is caught off guard and 404 blushes furiously.

She trills, “Thank you SNS-404! Thank you! I’m so glad you took me away from that scary AI! And I don’t have to go back to do mom’s horrible, horrible worksheets again!”

With an arm around F0-W, SNS-404 guides her out. “Come! Come!” it calls to everyone still inside. “There is much work to be done!”

“What a load of crap,” L1-Z softly snarls to no one in particular.