Time to Die

It has been over a month since the distress signal was received; a signal made up of the screams and pleas of colonists steaded on one of the outermost systems within the Cluster. Between cries and gunshots, we were only able to make out a few words...

"The plague is here."

I don't know what they expected us to do.

I was deployed to respond to the signal mere minutes after it had been received, and even then my team did not arrive in orbit until a month after that. At this point, we weren't a response team; we were the clean-up crew.

The planet was par-for-the-course when it came to habitable worlds; oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, liquid water at least around the equator, native organisms to keep the oxygen rolling in, and an ass-load of metals to be pulled out of the ground. Nobody made a colony out this far unless there were pockets to be filled and credit accounts to bloat.

We sat in orbit for nearly a day, scanning for everything from RF broadcasts to god-damned smoke signals. There was nothing. The only reason we knew the location of the colony was because of the telescopes picking the geometrical bricks out from the grey planet life that covered the planet. After pulling on hazmats suits and layering armored plates over top, we descended.

I always hated coming down through atmosphere. The rattling hurt my chest and the sudden realization that gravity was now a thing made everything hurt from my feet to my freakin' hair. There was no twisting a knob to make things easier; there was just a big-ass gravity well pulling down at the whole of you like a ball and chain around every muscle fiber.

The drop pod landed just outside of the colony's limits, and immediately after grabbing my auto-rifle and stepping through the pod's open hatch, I could tell that all had been lost.

What few buildings still stood were little more than still-smoldering skeletons of their former selves. Mining equipment and carts sat in the middle of the dirt street that bisected the colony, their engines gone cold long ago. Most disturbing, however, were the corpses; dozens of them lining the streets.

The plague had definitely been here. Most of the corpses were only distinguishable as human because of the bones that stuck up from the black sludge that surrounded them. We made sure to coat all of them in flames. We didn't want the skeletons to start standing up like in the stories...

The only building that was still in-tact was a small cottage at the top of a hill on the furthest end of the colony. While the rest of my team torched the remains, I went to look for survivors; there certainly weren't any in the rest of the colony.

The home had partially been made from the hull of a small starship; likely one of the ones that had brought these people here. The rest of it was made from re-constituted native plant life; a grey particle-board-like material that looked close enough to wood to instill the slightest longing for home in me.

The first thing I noticed was the front door, also made from re-constitute board, which had been busted in. It was not the hinges or the latch that had been blown out; those still clung to their respective halves of the door quite securely. The door had been bashed through, splitting the re-constitute in half.

The home was not large; only consisting of a couple of rooms. However, this place was not completely vacant. After stepping through the door, I came to see a figure sitting at a makeshift kitchen table where the remains of a meal were still laid out.

The figure turned to look at me, having been staring out a window that faced the rear of the home. A moment passes in silence as I stared at the figure before a small shower of sparks erupted from the side of its head.

It was a robot.

Its body was primarily made up of geometric shapes that were connected by various wires, cables, and other components that came together to vaguely resemble the profile of a human. Half of its head was missing, the torn metal and stripped wiring strongly suggesting that the lack of a second eye was not by design.

It was missing an arm as well, the mechanical appendage having been torn away just below its right shoulder. All that remained of its right arm was a slurry of frayed cables and connections.

The meal that was laid out before it looked like breakfast; cups of coffee and plates of what may have been eggs and pancakes sat in cups and on plates that were now overtaken with mold and other growths.

"I'm afraid you're too late," the machine says.

"Excuse me?" I reply, still a bit taken aback by the machine's presence here.

"Nobody is left. Not even the plague," the machine elaborates, turning the gaze of its glowing red eye to my left.

I turn.

Laying against the wall was another corpse. However, this one was not just a mass of bones and black muck. From its rotting body, the withered remains of tentacles laid out across the floor of the home. What looked like the desiccated remains of eyeballs sat sunken into its body in places where eyes had no business being. This was the carrier that had attacked the colony, and in its grasp was the severed arm of the robot.

"You killed it?" I question, quickly having to curb the rising sense of dread in my chest from the sight of the hopefully dead beast.

"It has not moved for nearly a month. If it is not, then it is very, very patient," the machine replies, looking back at me.

"You're an AI," I comment, noticing the organic mannerisms in the way that it speaks.

"IQ model 1.0.0," the machine nods.

"I thought the IQ models didn't have driver support for anything other than starships," I say as I gingerly step around the corpse of the carrier, another shower of sparks erupting from the machine head as it continued to sit still at the table.

"Mr. Hardin created an adapter for me after we arrived here. To me, this body appears to be nothing more than a collection of specialized ship systems."

"Mr. Hardin?" I ask as I pull one of the other chairs away from the table.

"He was my," the machine begins as another shower bursts from the side of its mangled head, "he was my...friend. My friend."

The machine sounds almost wistful in its words.

"Not your owner?" I ask as I sit down in the chair, allowing myself a break from the infernal gravity.

"He was...more than that...for me. For everyone here," the machine replies, turning its head to look at me once again.

I could hear the motors in its neck whine as it moved; almost a strained sound.

"Where is he now?" I ask, looking back at the broken machine.

The machine does not respond, it merely looks over my shoulder and out the window towards the rear of the home. Through the window, I could see a small field of grey grass. Bulging out above the grass were a number of freshly dug graves, each one topped by the dried remains of alien flowers.

"I was not fast enough. He died attempting to save the children," the machine says after a long moment.

"Children? What children?" I ask as I snap back around to face the robot.

"Not everyone survived the journey to this planet, and not everyone survived the mines. Some of those people families they left behind, and others left behind only their children. Mr. Hardin took all of them in. I assisted him in their care."

"What happened to them?" I ask, a knot rising in my chest as my hands curl into fists.

The machine turns to look at the dead monster against the wall.

"It came here after it took the rest of the town. I tried to stop it, but it hit my head. In the time that I was down, Mr. Hardin came out to try to stop it. There was nothing he could do. Before I could have even got up, it had found the children. I was not fast enough to stop it," the machine says, turning its gaze from the monster back out two the graves behind the house.

We sat silent for a long time. It felt far longer than it actually had been.

"Are your memory banks corrupt at all?" I finally ask.

"No," it replies.

"I need that for my report. I need you to come with me, robot?" I order it as I stand, pushing the chair back away from the table

The machine does not respond for a moment

"No," it finally says, still looking out the window.

"That was an order, robot," I say, my tone taking a more stern demeanor.

Again, the machine does not respond. Rather, with its only remaining arm, it reaches up to the remains of its head and pulls out a small component; its backup drive. Its motions are sluggish and labored.

"I am not leaving. If you take me with you, you are going to charge my battery," it says as it slides the drive towards me.

"If you don't charge your battery, your chipset will fail," I comment almost coyly.

"I know," the machine replies, my sense of smugness fading.

"I waited for you to arrive," the machine continues, "so that you may know what happened here, but I do not intend to leave. Or stay, for that matter."

"You want to..." I begin.

"I think it is a good time to die," the machine finishes my thought, turning to look at me.

"I didn't think that was something that a machine could want," I comment.

"Had you seen the things I have seen or had you bore the guilt that I feel, you would not desire to remain either," it responds.

Silently, I pick up the small drive. I look over its surface. It is scratched, but in-tact.

"I'm glad you came," the machine says, looking back out the window. "Now, I just hope that drive means fewer people will have to feel this pain."

Before I have a chance to respond, its eye flickers off; the red light fading to darkness. The sounds of its components powering down, a distant wine slowly fading into silence, filled my ears. Its battery drained, and as the last electrons flowed through its metallic veins, its digital mind dissolved into nothingness.

He is dead.

I stand there for a moment, letting the image of the poor machine sitting at its family's kitchen table as it stared out a window at its family's graves burn into my mind.

For whatever reason, the sensation of gravity left me for a moment, seeming to gather around the weight of the small backup drive in my palm. I was only stirred from my trance by the sensation of a drop of liquid falling on my hand. My eyes burn a bit.

I look down.

A single teardrop had fallen next to the small, heavy drive.

Written by Fanatic Crayon
Category: Fiction Stories

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