Carson knew they were being watched. Quiet in this part of the city was for the birds. Days earlier, he’d been wishing for the damn things to shut up. Now they’d gone silent and the ominous hush made his skin crawl.
“What are they up to?” he hissed to Klebeck squatting under a punched out window. Her boots ground broken glass as she swiveled to face Carson.
Even behind the heavy wire mesh of her faceplate, Carson could see her toothy grin. “They’re figuring out how to surround us and then peck our sorry asses into bird feed.”
“Jesus, Irene, give it a rest. The death and doom scenario doesn’t do much for morale.”
Klebeck swung the double-barreled shotgun across her chest and glowered. “I’m Ire, as in permanently pissed off. You got that, soldier boy, or do you need some lead up your tight ass to remember? And that ain’t a scenario, that’s our fuckin’ reality!”
Carson let her eyes bore holes through his helmet’s plexi-screen. Then he turned and scooted low across the abandoned factory floor to check in with Flores. The brief exchange with Klebeck made him wonder what bothered him more: dealing with his own kind or the damn crowbots. At least the crowbots stuck together.
Not that they had a choice. That’s how they’d been programmed. It’s what made them so effective and so dangerous.
Carson found Flores in an old boiler room dismantling the aluminum venting. “It’ll never be enough, Flores.” Carson gestured at the pile of dull, dusty metal. “They always find a way to get past our armor.”
Flores flashed a grim smile, but even that was welcome to Carson. “Maybe. Maybe not. We’ve stopped plenty of their attacks. They’re not smart.”
“But they’re coordinated,” Carson countered. “They communicate so well. It’s like they see the whole city with one eye. One mind.”
“That’s how they were designed. Much cheaper than building aerial drones. Much cheaper to implant living crows and program their behavior. The idea was sublime.”
Carson grunted in disgust. “That’s because you helped develop them for Special Ops. That’s how it always is. A bureaucratic decision. The simplicity, the cost effectiveness. And if anyone said, ‘What happens if one of our enemies hacks the system that control the crowbots?’ the brass would say, ‘Impossible! We have a fail safe. Redundant systems. A giant kill-switch Igor will pull if the monster gets loose!’”
Flores nodded in agreement. “Carson, you are part philosopher. Though a true philosopher doesn’t believe in irony—even the cosmic variety. That’s why this bothers you. The creation turning on its creator. It eats at you, but that’s the essence of existence. Life must feed.”
“Damn you!” Carson roared, kicking at Flores’ pile of venting. “Why can’t we get on the same page? You think the crowbots are a work of art. Klebeck thinks they’re the doom we deserve. And I’m just a hapless philosopher without a cosmic sense of humor.” He stomped and crumpled the pliable metal. “We’ve got to work together to wipe out these damn things. How do we get everyone on board?”
Unperturbed, Flores picked up another piece of metal. “We must feed them,” he offered.
“What are you talking about?”
“We must be like the crowbots. Feed on the same information. We must be able to see with one eye and one mind.”
“You’re crazy!” Carson shouted.
“No. I’m a philosopher. The crowbots are sublime. We can be too. It will only cost us our freedom.”
“Then what is the your bird-brained point, Flores?”
“Life without freedom isn’t worth living.”
“You know that isn't true, Carson. A false choice. Our DNA commands us otherwise. I helped create the crowbots. It could be our destiny.”
“To become thralls?”
“To be One.”
A shotgun blast across the factory made Carson and Flores whirl and crouch in soldier mode.
“Klebeck!” Carson shouted. He was answered only by a scream.
A cacophony of cawing echoed outside the boiler room. Carson released the safety on his rifle. Flores did the same.
“To life?” Flores asked.
“To the sublime,” Carson answered.
The two philosophers flew at the murder of crows.