By T. Fox Dunham
The overseer raised the whip in its tendril to lash Grease’s back. The girl closed her eyes, bracing for the rip on her skin. She waited for the blow to fall, but it never came. She chanced a glance at the android. Perhaps the overseer had malfunctioned. She knew to stay still for the damaged unit to be replaced by another android to finish her punishment. She had fallen behind on her work quota. Then its head, an aureate globe of photons, faded away. The whip crackled in the air, throwing sparks. The arm never fell.
She wiped oil from her face and hands with a rag. It stained her torn tunic. She scanned the factory floor. The assembly line had stopped. The other human slaves waited at their stations. Leaving your station before a designated break time resulted in a lashing. The decapitated overseers stood about the factory floor frozen like the statues.
The clocked ticked over 17.00. The slaves set down their tools. The overseers always released them to their hostels to partake of the evening meal then sleep before the next work day. Old Spanner trembled, struggling to stand. Grease couldn’t endure the silence any longer. Her belly pinched and growled.
“Perhaps they are sleeping?” she said, risking a violation of conduct by speaking. She expected an overseer to swoop down on her. When the other slaves realized she had spoken with impunity, they sat on the floor.
“Maybe this has something to do with the sky bird that fell from outside the world,” Spanner said. “I saw it come down when I was on refuse detail.”
The Overlord A.I. forbade human names, tattooing a barcode on their arms. The slaves adopted clandestine monikers and only used them when alone.
Gears limped from her station, leaning on her cane. She fell before the silver tentacles of an overseer and wept into its skirts.
“Please wake up,” she said. “I am sorry I worked so slow. Be bright lights again and punish me.” She tugged on the tendrils.
The group decided Grease should risk journeying into the street for news. Being young and the still strong, she could move faster. She hesitated leaving the custody of the overseer and slowly walked to the gate. After no punishment came, she walked out of the factory, through the gate and into the street.
Several of the ancient buildings had crumbled into brick piles. She followed the pockmarked road until her legs tired. The overseers’ disc floated over the moribund human city. It carried the golden fortress of the Overlord. She had never seen such a still sky. No overseer dirigibles floated. The transit lines slept. Time drained from the city, and her body trembled from the alien silence. She returned to the factory. The human slaves awaited her report.
“The sky is still,” Grease said.
“We are being punished!” Gears said. She wailed and buried her face in the tendrils of a petrified android. “Don’t abandon us.”
A human dressed in a silver jumpsuit entered the factory gate. He holstered his plasma pistol. Grease had never seen a working pistol, only broken antiques collected as curiosities, mementos of the savage time when humans ruled their own world and destroyed it in foolish wars, nearly wiping themselves out. She knew this from the Song of Human Woe her mother had sung to her. The overseers had taken Grease from her mother when she had lived ten years. She’d never see her mother again.
“What do you want, stranger?” Grease asked.
“Send him away,” Gears said. “This is a test. The overseers will punish the disloyal.”
“You’re free,” spoke the stranger. He looked so clean and healthy with a rich hue in his face, a well nourished man. “I’ve freed you like Lincoln freed the slaves.”
“Your name is Lincoln?” Grease asked. She had never heard such a name before.
“I know this is hard for you to understand. I was in space, sleeping in suspended animation. I was an explorer. My ship was lost, and I slept for centuries. I woke up when the system malfunctioned. I came home and saw the earth in shreds from a war. Androids had enslaved you all.”
“That is not the way of The Song of Human Woe,” Grease said.
“I found the master A.I. and overloaded its fusion core. It had no defenses since humans had become so docile. They were all connected, a row of dominoes. It’s freedom day.”
“You killed the overseers?” Grease said.
“Now we can rebuild this world together.”
The slaves picked up their tools and fell upon the spaceman.
Grease sang the Song of Human Woe:
Savage wars the old humans fought,
poisoning their earth, sea and sky,
A way to survive they desperately sought,
So they set metal masters on high.
Once the spaceman no longer moved, the slaves knelt before their still overseers and prayed at their silver tendrils, begging the androids to awaken.
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T. Fox Dunham is a new author, having had over fifty stories accepted in the last year. He is a cancer survivor, often writing about his near death from Lymphoma at the age of 18 and his miracle survivor, being the first person to survive his cell type. He is a modern bard and a rising author.