We hadn’t seen a living human in decades.
We continued to cruise the battlefields where we sought out our enemies. Still-moving but barely-living flesh. Once, they were inmates, prisoners of the Last Civilization.
That is what we called them. We hadn’t seen anyone living for nearly a century. The penal armies were recruited when viral plague struck city after city in targeted attacks. Normal armies fell, corporate armies of slaves replaced them.
Back then we were part of a program of technology designed to protect the populace by spreading an agent thought to immunize the survivors. We were tiny, barely larger than a mosquito, capable of synthesizing the agent ourselves from natural compounds found in nearly every environment. Tiny but sophisticated, we were given a form of swarm intelligence, necessary to do our work. Any member was disposable as long as the collective mission was met.
We were released, at first in the tens of thousands, with micro-forges left to create new ones as old units went offline. Each forge was able to produce millions of units in its lifetime.
For a time we received instructions and went to the cities hardest hit. During the summers, the plague spread the fastest. We were a silver shadow as we moved into city after city, trying to save as many lives as possible. We scanned our subjects, finding those who could be cured and immunizing them. We left a chemical marker which bloomed into a tattoo, signifying their successful treatment. The tattoo became a marker on the face of the saved.
This is how they learned to recognize each other. For a time we thought we were winning.
Then the Resurrected Dead began to attack The Saved. They were creatures who once worked for Afterlife, a penal-industrial complex which used former convicts as slave labor.
When exposed to the plague, their lower brains, the part of the brain dealing with rage, fight or flight came back online. Mindless, violent, powerful, they rampaged across the world because Afterlife was everywhere. They had franchised their technology across the planet. So our work was being undone by the same greed which had created us.
As an artificial intelligence, I am barely capable of understanding irony, but I suspect this would resemble a situation rife with it.
We, my brothers and I, took it upon ourselves to change our programming. We transformed ourselves into weapons. Though we were tiny, it was possible to create powerful chemical compounds which when combined could be destructive and explosive.
There were millions of these former inmates, on every continent, in every city; roaming the world seeking the flesh of the living. For in their barely-living state, they needed to feed desperately. Eventually, hunted to extinction, our programming completely on a war-based footing, we sought any other enemy possible.
Soon other serum-drones began to make their own programming and opposed our goals of protecting the last humans. When there were no Inmates, we battled each other, a fireworks display randomly erupting, a cataclysm of technology, of loss.
A century later, a thousand new bodies later, I am one of the Last. Other drone hives have grown silent. The familiar hum of the micro-forges which once created us were now quiet. Now when we died, we were not renewed. Our experiences not conserved. Each death is the end of a singular intelligence, hard won, irreplaceable.
Another swarm approached our position.
It is the same size as we are. Now a second, and a third. We retreated to what would have been Louisiana because the swamps masked our signals and allowed us to absorb solar energy unmolested. Now we are surrounded.
Each seems surprised to see the other. Data flows, of the eight hives we three are all that are left. A million members in total. Calculations agreed upon by each group indicate mutual annihilation is the result of our conflict. We check again, and again, unable to believe our own calculations or those of the others.
We move around in patterns, seeking position, seeking a possibility of winning. None presented themselves. Not enough trust to turn away, not enough power to win.
Stalemate. Time passed. We cohabitate, expanding across the swamp, watching each other. Vigilant.
As members of our swarms slowly become dysfunctional, we tend each other. Hesitantly at first, scavenging the lost, trading components, finding possibilities to extend our lives. We forget our other reasons for fighting.
Slowly three become one. There is an orgy of transformation as components merge, recombine, renew, and regenerate us.
We barely noticed the Last Humans nearly a century later. I lived long enough to note their passing before I was renewed, losing myself within our new peace.
“Da, what’s that noise?”
“Don’t worry about it son, it’s probably just some mosquitos. Swamps be full of em. Keep moving, Ma, says we’re having gator tonight.”
Their serum-tattoos flicker in the light of the setting sun. Tiny mechanical lights coupled with a soft buzzing quietly heralded their passing.
Keeping the Peace © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved