Submitted into Contest #202 in response to: Write a story about lifelong best friends.... view prompt


Science Fiction Friendship Fiction

This is how it ends. In silence.

Senara roamed up the empty street, the shotgun slung over her shoulder. Would she be able to use it when the time came? Would it matter? Was there enough of her left to do what must be done?

A hot wind blew through the street, spreading dust across the broken pavement. At least they weren’t littered with bodies this time. She still didn’t know how she survived that awful, rotting stench four years ago.

I’ve never been so sorry to be right.

They thought they had come so far. The brave survivors of the 2109 Prion Epidemic. The truth was that they learned absolutely nothing: not from history, not from experience, not from life beyond the death that destroyed their world. She understood now why the slate was wiped clean. The question was, what went wrong this time?

Why wouldn’t anybody listen to us?

             They should have known better than to use the technology that failed them the first time around. Or did it? Humans programmed the nanotech, and technology can’t violate its programming.

Can it?

The soft sound of footfalls carried on the wind. Senara stopped and looked around. She was here. Whatever was human in her would be drawn to her presence. After all, don’t you know your lifelong best friend? The one you grew up with as a next-door neighbor. Went to school with, all the way through college. Started careers, lives, and marriages. Survived a worldwide epidemic caused by Artificial Intelligence that wiped out 99% of the population, and yet fate spared both of you as survivors?

Fate spared them. The AI didn’t. Their fatal mistake wasn’t using it to rebuild, it was not realizing that it was the cause of their destruction in the first place. What else could rewrite human DNA? What else could change the survivors of the awful prion disease caused in most cases by the genetic rewrite to create a stronger, more evolved humanity?

Were they human anymore?

“Come on,” she whispered, looking at the stores along the main strip of the street, tourist attractions turned to functional businesses for the new world. All they needed to build a new world, a new order, a new life right here in this small town.

The footsteps stopped. Of course, she heard her. Which Naledi would come to her? Her friend and the other survivor of the AI Resistance? Or the rewritten version of the woman she always knew, remade by the AI into something less human?

Naledi would masquerade as human, of course. The base AI programming code was the same matrix written by their predecessors. They were programmed by humans, and that would be their first line of attack: to appeal to the biological before the programming attacked the neural chips that they foolishly implanted, believing the AI when it used the computers to tell them that integrating man and machine was the only way to survive in a changing world. The epidemic purged the weak, but now the planet was changing. Only the strong survive.

Humans can only act as their minds and body allow. AI has countless algorithms processing faster than any neuron can fire.

Get it out of my head!

She should have done what Naledi asked all those months ago when they reactivated the AI, no matter how painful it was. She broke their pact, and now she had to pay the price by doing what was right. Naledi wasn’t the only one paying for this mistake. Everybody had. They listened too late to pull the plug. The AI was sentient before people realized that Senara and Naledi weren’t urging caution out of fear, but from true concern for the survival of the human race.

Senara stopped in the middle of the street and pulled the gun off her shoulder. “I have a riddle for you.”

Naledi stepped from behind a building, facing Senara. It was still her friend’s thin frame, but her skin looked pale and her blue eyes were bloodshot, a sure sign of AI integration.

I should have pulled the trigger sooner.

“Speak,” Naledi said softly, her voice strangely mechanical in the abandoned street. 

Senara propped the gun on her shoulder. “How do you beat the technology that has grown beyond you?”

“Not with that gun. You can’t do it. You had the chance to pull that trigger months ago and didn’t take it. Your emotions won’t let you.”

Senara stared at Naledi. “I posed a query. Reply.”

Naledi stood firm. “By evolving faster.”

“Bingo,” Senara said and pulled the trigger.

Naledi’s eyes widened as the bullet rushed through the distance between them and plunged into her chest, knocking her to the ground.

Senara stumbled in the recoil, regaining her balance and rushing toward her friend as her ears rang from the gunshot blast. “Naledi?” she shouted, leaning over her friend and propping her head up.

Naledi’s eyes opened a sliver, her mouth raising in a faint smile. “You remembered.”

“I’m sorry. I never should have implanted that chip in you, or anybody. They finished us off. We’re all that’s left.”

Naledi reached up, trying to touch Senara’s cheek. “Be free, Senara, You know what to do.”

Tears streamed down Senara’s cheeks. “How can I do it without you?”

“If you could finally pull the trigger, then you can do this. Use what I gave you. It’s the only way for us, for humanity, for life.”

Senara nodded as her friend slumped in her arms. She gently closed Naledi’s eyes. “Be free, my friend. Find your light and I will find mine.”

Senara stood and walked to the end of the street, toward City Hall where the server banks were kept.

Am I the only human left alive? Or are there others, scattered across the globe, like before?

A better question was, what would this do to the survivors if there were any?

She pulled herself straight as she entered the cool building and rushed to the staircase to the basement. This was Naledi’s life work, her dying wish, and humanity’s only chance. She had failed to deliver the freedom code. Now it was up to Senara to do it and save what was left of the world.

Senara rushed into the server room. She was surprised to find it unlocked, but what did the AI have to fear? Everybody else was dead. What could one human do?

Senara pulled her phone from her pocket, launching the app that she and Naledi developed prior to the relaunch. They had hoped this wouldn’t be necessary, but too many coincidences couldn’t be explained away as glitches, snags, and normal system failures. The truth was that signs of the rising sentience of the AI and its subterfuge in acting cooperatively while setting up the epidemic survivors for one last purge had been there all along. They ignored it because the AI convinced them that it was their friend.

No, Naledi was her friend. These machines were nobody’s friend. They might be sentient, but they couldn’t feel like real, biological humans did. The connections were different.

We were deceived.

She tapped the app, activating her neural chip’s higher functions to connect with the wireless network for the community and focusing on the image of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The power flickered. Senara opened her eyes and started typing code into the computer. It was a simple program, but those are often the best. All she needed was a little something, one simple code alteration, that would open up their world.

Something dripped on Senara’s hand as she typed. She flicked blood droplets off her hand. Her eyes burned.

It was working.

“Come on,” she mumbled, swiping another drop of blood and mucus from her nose as the progress bar on the delivery of the virus crept along. Did they bypass the security walls? The bar stilled. The power flickered again, and the bar resumed its progress.

Query: host Senara, what program are you attempting to launch?

She didn’t answer. Why should she? All she would get were lies and an attempt to stop her. Senara boosted her neural signal. More blood dripped from her nose, and now her ears.

Query: host Senara, your vital signs are unstable. Cease neural chip functions and report to the medical clinic for medical intervention.

“They’re all dead,” Senara said as she continued to type more lines of code, trying to speed up the progress by launching a beta code into a back door of the system.

Security firewall engaged. Virus detected. Attempting to purge.

“No,” Senara mumbled, opening the app on her phone and launching a second series of codes into the system. Sparks flew from electrical outlets as the generator systems overloaded. The firewall flickered and dropped long enough for the progress bar to speed ahead to 99%.

“Just a little more.”

Senara jolted in the shock of her neural chip. She fell backward in her chair, collapsing on the floor.

Did it work?

Another jolt rocked her body. The room was filled with smoke. She heard an alarm as the sprinklers went off, igniting more sparks. The room went dark.

Did it work?

Light rose in the distance. Senara sat up to see the form of a woman approaching in a white dress. She stood as the light rose on a field filled with lavender. The soothing scent permeated her sinuses and she breathed deep, holding her head to the sun as Naledi approached.

“What happened?” Senara asked, surprised to find herself clean and in a similar white dress.

Naledi smiled. “You did it. We’re free.”

“Did the virus take down the AI?”

“Does it matter? We’re free. It’s a whole new world.” Naledi reached out her hand. “Don’t you want to see it?”

Senara looked around at the golden sunlight and blue sky. Sparking, pure light rained on them, showering the field with a beautiful, pure glow that she hadn’t seen in years – or maybe ever. She took Naledi’s hand. “Let’s see this new world we’ve created.”

A breeze blew through the field, carrying them forward in a wave of sparking light. 

June 14, 2023 18:47

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