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Farms and High Grass

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If I’ve learned anything since I sabotaged my governor module and started living as a so-called free agent, it’s: one, that humans can hold conflicting ideas in their heads like nothing I’ve ever seen, and two, that you can’t ever really escape the consequences of your actions.

No, not those actions.

After Mensah bought out my contract and I repaid her by leaving, I could have done anything, gone anywhere. But sitting on that ship, trying to lose myself in media, I was swamped with a wave of I-don’t-care like nothing I’d felt before. I just wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else, so I hopped a few ships until I was far enough from a corporation to stop looking over my shoulder (much) and tried not to think for a while.

I ended up on on a world that, ironically, was not that different from Preservation - a freehold, lots of agriculture, a bit of a shitshow governmentally but fine as long as you didn’t befriend any planetary admins. I made a point of avoiding any and all planetary admins.

I had been working at a grain mill. It was perfect for me because I could carry heavy things and not talk much, and it paid enough for a small room where I could hide and watch the entertainment feed the rest of the planetary day. I was going under the name Gurathin - I figured that even if Preservation was foolish or angry (and foolish) enough to search for me, they would try Mensah, or Ratthi, not the human I didn’t like who didn’t like me. Everyone thought I was an augmented human, thanks to the data port in my neck, and it worked just fine for me.

The mill still had a connection to the planetary feed, which I mostly used to download media. I was almost caught up on Love Amongst the Stars, at least until new episodes premiered and the newest character decided which plural relationship to woo. I know I’ve mentioned how little I’m interested in the sex scenes, but the attempts at romance are usually pretty funny, if you ask me. Why does two or three people staring at each other while dramatic music plays mean “romance” and not “one party is having a painful health condition and the others are concerned”? I spend a lot of time around concerned humans, and it's the same expression.

I also kept a certain amount of attention on the newsfeeds. Ever since a bot revolt on one of the corporate moons a few months ago, control of bots and constructs had been a hot topic on the opinion newsfeeds. The talking heads were usually just a few loud arguments away from backing a ban on them - us - all. I knew it was just talk - the intelligent-mechanical complex is just too useful, why would most humans want to do the boring or dangerous or unlikeable jobs? - but I kept listening.

Which is why I stopped dead in the middle of the floor one day, three bags of product suspended from my arm.

A non-corporation world, Preservation, has been acquiring the contracts of constructs at an unprecedented rate. Some of the neighboring worlds are starting to show tension. Does Preservation mean to go to war with these--

“Oh, no,” I said.

“What?” asked Selberg from behind me. “What’s wrong with you, Gurathin?”

“I have to go,” I said. I dropped the bags to the ground and walked away.

I had to get to Preservation.

*

The trip took objectively twelve point seven days and subjectively three point five years. I wanted to get to Preservation yesterday, so I could shake my humans and ask what they were doing. I honestly couldn’t think of a good explanation. By the time the bot-driven ship touched down on the capital city’s launchpad, I had narrowed it down to two possibilities: trying to deplete the supply of constructs somehow, or plotting an attack. They could be trying to buy up constructs to force better behavior on the part of the corporations somehow, but… had they met corporations? They would just make more constructs, probably with even crappier parts. And if they needed to attack someone, well, I remembered how Dr. Mensah had worked to save every member of her crew, including her SecUnit. Something would have to be very, very wrong.

I switched into my best imitation of an augmented human once I disembarked. Look people in the eye occasionally, but not like you wanted to talk to them; look vague every once in a while, like you were pulling from the feed; don’t be heavy on politeness. (Listen, I still didn’t like Gurathin, okay?) The public feed didn’t have the address of the Mensah farm, but I was able to hack a private database. The proceeds of my grain mill work got me a vehicle, and I was on my way.

The Mensah homestead looked nice, I guessed: a large main house with additions on each side, some outbuildings that were probably for farm things, some random animals milling around. There was a youngish-looking male-looking person scattering something on the ground by some of the animals. It looked wasteful, but what did I know.

He looked up and saw me. “Hi?”

“Uh, hi,” I said. “I’m looking for… Dr. Mensah?”

“Which one?”

Which - oh, marital partners. Siblings. Somehow I had never considered that they might be doctors too. “Adwoa? The planetary admin?” I added, as if there were multiples of those. Maybe there were. How could I know?

“Aunt Adwoa!” he yelled, and Dr. Mensah came out the door, a tablet in one hand. She stopped short.

“Is it really you?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.

“Murderbot here,” I said, “in case you can’t tell me apart from all your other constructs.” It came out sounding almost bitter.

“I would never mistake you for anyone else,” she said, which was not even logical but reminded me why she’s my favorite human.

“We need to talk,” I said, ignoring the way my insides were trying to melt. “You have so many constructs you’re on the newsfeeds, Dr. Mensah. What do you think you’re doing? How many people have been hurt so far?”

Mensah’s nephew had drifted closer to us during this conversation. “On the little farm?” he asked. “Who got hurt?”

“Nobody, Akwasi, go in the house,” she said. He hesitated. “Now,” she said with more command in her voice, and he sighed and walked away as slowly as possible.

Mensah waited until he was in the house. “No one’s been hurt,” she said. “We’ve reassured our neighbors that we’re not building an army. Many of them did...non-security work, anyway.”

“You have sexbots,” I said flatly.

“We have former security workers and former sex workers,” she said.

“You have murderbots and sexbots,” I said. “And they’re...farming? Being farmed? I don’t understand.”

She put a hand out. “No, no! They’re not being mistreated in any way. Would you like me to take you to them?”

No, not at all. “Yes.”

*

I had some sort of vague mental image of the constructs in stalls with feeders or in fields plowing (I had never bothered with any of the education modules on agriculture, even when I worked at the grain mill). But the “little farm” was a two-story building a few kilometers away. There were yards and yards of high grass in front of it and dogs running around, and a small body of water behind it. It looked like the setting of a serial. Love on the Prairie, they’d call it, or Small Town, Still Waters.

But instead of a well-dressed actress or a charming dirty-faced child, there was a SecUnit construct sitting to one side of the front door, looking down the barrel of the energy weapon built into its right arm. I tensed to jump in front of Mensah, but she patted me on the arm. “How are you this morning, my friend?” she asked the SecUnit.

“I don’t have friends,” the SecUnit said, scowling without looking up. “I’m a construct. Friends are for humans.”

“I’ll send one of the doctors over to discuss it with you later,” Mensah said. As we walked up the stairs and past the SecUnit, I realized that its energy weapons were --

“You disabled it,” I said, trying to stay neutral. “Its weapons. You disabled them.”

“By its request,” she said. Behind us, the SecUnit grunted in assent. “Any unit can have their weapons restored to them as they leave us. Most choose to, a few do not.”

“A SecUnit doesn’t need a weapon to kill you,” I said.

“I’m aware,” she said, reminding me of the day she put a mining drill through the chest of the rogue SecUnit attacking me.

Weapons being disabled, restored. Units leaving Preservation? I hadn’t heard about that. Humans and their words were too confusing. I stopped in the middle of the room, aware that all eyes were on me, and sent out a ping.

A flurry of pings returned, nearly flattening me.

Bot 393 here.

Nancybot9.

Murderbot IV.

SecUnit Alfred.

There must have been forty or more, all with these ridiculous, personal names (Murderbot IV, what--). And not a one of them with a working governor module.

I ran a diagnostic to make sure I wasn’t in a cubicle somewhere or too deep in the entertainment feed but no, this was real.

*

Gurathin had done it. Of course Gurathin had done it. I sat on the steps outside with Mensah, the depressed SecUnit having gone off to meet with “the doctors,” and contemplated how much I really disliked that augmented human.

“He observed the way you hacked your governor module.”

“When he invaded my programming, yes, I remember.”

Mensah continued, her voice level. “Once we returned to Preservation, he was able to reverse engineer the process.”

“And you just started buying up contracts and offering it near and far? Dr. Mensah, the risk --”

“Is worth it,” she said. “Once we knew you, really knew you, how could we do otherwise?”

I just stared at her. “What?”

Her hand lifted an inch, hovered in the air, and settled back on her knee. “Once we knew what lay under the facade of a construct, how could we not offer as many as possible the option to be their true selves?”

“Even if their true selves are murderers? Liars?” Who run away when asked to stay on a pretty planet with farms and high grass?

“Humans can lie and kill too,” she said, and for a moment we were both in the DeltFall habitat again.

I stared at her for a moment longer, my brain considering and rejecting arguments faster than I would have thought I could process, and finally I sighed. “I suppose if any human should do this, it’s you.”

She smiled in a way I hadn’t seen before. “Thank you. That means a great deal to me. Would you like to meet some more of them? I’m afraid you’re a bit of a folk hero to them at this point.”

“One of them. I’ll meet one of them,” I said.

“It’s a good start,” she said.

Maybe. Okay.

But I still don’t like Gurathin.