Fungal Halo

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Not A Person

“It’s kinda romantic, don’t you think?” the mechanic asks, staring at the massive combat unit.

“What’s that?”

She just gestures again to the powered-off weapon, and I scratch my head, not seeing the romance in the machine equipped with such terrifying firepower.

“Big scary thing like this, you’d think they’d be as self-sufficient as anything, yeah?” she continues. “But they’re still not made to fight alone, y’know. They got partners, every one o’ them. Somewhere out there is one made just for them.”

I shrug. “You make it all sound like more than it really is. They’re all manufactured the same; we just test them for performance variance, bin them, pair them to match up their capabilities, and write the calibration data for each one to its counterpart’s firmware.”

“We play matchmaker,” she says with a wide smile, hand placed on the machine in a gesture that seems strangely affectionate.

“It’s just optimization,” I respond, only half paying attention while tapping at the keyboard to check my script’s progress.

“Whatever you wanna call it. If one dies, the other can’t just plug ‘n play with any ol’ unit, yeah?”

“I don’t know about ‘plug and play,’” I mutter, chewing my lip thoughtfully and ignoring that weapons don’t “die” per se, “but there’s a built-in recalibration procedure on the E side.”

“No shit?”

The script is working, but I keep watching for signs of someone out there taking notice. “It’ll process their mutual deltas and upload the diff to the X. Firmware’s read-only after burn in, so both will have to deal with a little lag every boot when applying the patch, but…”

She interrupts, “they can find a new partner, but can’t forget their first. See? Romantic.”

“Back-ups corrupted,” I announce, briefly switching topic to update her on my progress. “Time to tickle the automated checks to trick them into restoring from the bad data.”

The mechanic laughs. “And here you’re always accusing me of usin’ human terms for machines!”

“Figuratively tickle. I do not actually anthopomorphize mindless automated alerts like you do these war machines.”

“And yet here you are,” she says, arms folded, smirk aimed squarely at me. “Helpin’ me save them ‘fore they get scrapped.”

“Here I am,” I agree, “forging shipping requests, deleting records, and hoping to keep a bunch of war machines from getting destroyed.”

“Lotta risk to take to save them if you don’t think they’re people, yeah?”

“Not as big a risk as you took that time you broke in to a guarded, secret facility to physically extract a new infiltrator-class prototype. This network security is a joke.”

She shrugs. “Wasn’t too bad. They gave me the clearance to work on their hardware. They got comfortable with me. Just had to act all serious and in a hurry, and nobody asked questions. More surprised they never came for me after.”

“Perhaps someone was watching out for you.”

“Guess so. They sure were panicking, alright. Still hadn’t finished testing the limits of that active camo array, worryin’ about the enemy getting their hands on them.”

“They hadn’t worked out all the potential applications, so they had no idea how to evaluate the risk,” I muse.

I must admit that it is rather amusing to imagine those researchers, normally so full of themselves, in a wild panic trying to identify the worst-case scenarios.

“Yep. That was the first one I freed, but they sure weren’t the last, were they?” She pauses, reflecting on the nearly empty warehouse we occupy, with just one last shipment prepped for one last unit. “Dunno where they went after I helped them, y’know. Safer if I don’t, I figure.”

“Good opsec, yes.” The script is almost done. I queue up our last X-Model for loading into the truck. “You’ll want to step away from that one in a moment.”

She does, and soon a mechanical arm traces a path on its ceiling track to the powered down unit.

“Hope they’re happy, wherever they ended up,” she says. “People deserve happiness, not just gettin’ thrown away just ‘cause a treaty says so.”

“Not a person,” I insist, watching the script conclude with perfect timing as the arm loads the hulking X-Model onto the truck.

“If you really don’t think they’re people, then why the hell are you helping?”

She climbs into the truck, joining the last of the huge machines, and I follow.

I sit in silence, trying to put my thoughts together, with only the the rumble of the engine filling the space between us as the truck carries us to safety.

Philosophy is not my strong suit. Hacking? Sure. Sneaking into places I shouldn’t have access to? Easy. Becoming whoever I need to be to earn someone’s trust? Nothing out there is better than me.

Self-expression? I’m still learning.

“I just think we do not need to be people to deserve life.”