Fiction: The Facility

First there was darkness and silence. Then the world turned a dim pink, and Kamal heard his heart beat, fast and irregular. The brightness grew until he opened his eyes to find a cluster of bright white lights shining down on him. He was lying on his back, and appeared to be alone in a room with whitewashed walls shrouded in gloom. He lay there on blinking at the bright lights, feeling like he had fallen off the top of a tall mountain and had landed having broken all the bones in his body.

He felt pins and needles all over his body. He tried to flex his fingers and twiddle his toes but nothing seemed to happen. He was alone and the room was quiet. He could hear a low hum in the background, but it was hardly noticeable above his labored breath. He could not recall how long he had been in that room. He had been drifting in and out of sleep.

Kamal dreamt of being the centre of attention in a large party. People congratulating him, shaking his hands and some hugging him. But it all felt very vague, as if something that had happened far enough to someone he barely knew. He felt some movement in the room, a slight shift in the air. He opened his eyes, and saw a shape, about the size of a man, standing in the gloom outside the cone of light from the lamp overhead.

He tried to speak, to call out to the shape, but he couldn’t. His throat felt raw, his lips dry and stuck together. He tried waving his arms, but the wave didn’t progress much more than a twitch of his fingers. More movement, and then his bed began to tilt up. It creaked slowly, raising Kamal to a sitting position.

The figure in the gloom moved forward. Kamal heard the familiar whine of electrical motors and the click of mechanical limbs. A bipedal drone strode into view and stopped a meter away from Kamal’s bed. The drone looked similar in design to the delivery drones that he had seen come and go from his father’s store back in London.

The drone held a brown box and a tray with a tumbler filled with water. It moved forward, and left the items on a table next to Kamal’s bed before disappearing back in the gloom. When he saw the water, he realised just how thirsty he was. It took him a few minutes to figure out how his limbs worked, but he managed to reach over and get himself a drink.

He had a look at the box the drone had left. There was a note attached to it, it was printed:

“You have just finished a long journey. Take some time to rest and recuperate. Keep hydrated. You will hear from us soon.”

Kamal opened the box and saw what looked like granola bars. He managed to eat one before falling back asleep.

This cycle continued a while. The drone would show up with water and food; always granola bars, sometimes apples and oranges.  Kamal’s time was spent eating, drinking and sleeping. He could barely remember his name.

After about 24 hours of waking up, the Kamal felt well enough to leave the bed and to explore his room. It was about five meters long and four across. There was a door leading to an empty corridor, and another door leading to a bathroom. The corridor was dark. The only light coming from the lamp above Kamal’s bed and from the small lamp in the bathroom.

Kamal saw himself in the mirror. He looked washed out, shrunken, awful. There were needle marks on his arms and his body simply refused to cooperate in doing the most simple tasks. Walking around, using toilet, all of it was an ordeal. Even worse was the confusion. He knew his name was Kamal, he came from London, his father owned a store, and lived with his brother in London. But he couldn’t tie his memories to his current situation.

The drone was his only companion, but like most drones, it was not particularly companionable. Kamal tried to talk to it, ask it where he was, what was going on, and got nothing. He tried blocking it from leaving, but it would just stand mute and still until Kamal got out of its way.

Kamal decided to follow the drone out of the door and into the corridor. The drone led him through the gloom to a circular security door. Kamal had seen doors similar to these in the entrances to his office block in Uxbridge. The drone walked through, but the door would not let Kamal through. He stood there a little while, tried knocking on the door, even tried shouting to see if there was someone around. But there was nothing but silence.

The next time the drone showed up, it was carrying something that looked like an ancient tablet. It left it on the bedside table along with Kamal’s food and was gone, motors whining and the ambulatory mechanism clicking down the corridor. Kamal picked up the tablet.  The glass screen was dark. There was a single button mounted on the bezel. When he pressed button, the tablet came to life:

Hello. This is a non-interactive device. This device will sound an alarm in 8 hours. Please rest until then. Follow all subsequent instructions.”

Kamal tried prodding the button again, he tried swiping up and down, right and left and nothing happened. The tablet displayed the same text, and a timer counting down the eight hours. There wasn’t anything else to do but wait.

The tablet started buzzing at the appointed time. Kamal was ready. He had been spent the last hour sitting on the bed watching the clock on the face of the table count down to zero. At the appointed time, the tablet lit up:

“Please walk down the corridor and through the security door. Please follow the next corridor to the end. The door at the end will be unlocked. Please enter the room and await further instructions.”

Kamal had been in the room for around 48 hours. He could just about walk, and he felt his mind clearing. The confusion receded a little. It had been replaced by agitation. This place was wrong, Kamal wasn’t supposed to be here. He was, however, glad to be given a chance to leave.

He walked out into the dark corridor and felt his way to the security door. It let him through and Kamal found himself in a well lit room. The room was dominated by a large screen set on the wall on one end. It was showing some text:

“Hello. This is an interactive screen and responds to voice commands.”

“Who are you? Why am I here? Where am I?”

“I am an interactive screen and respond to voice commands. I am programmed with a limited number of responses to your questions. Please speak slowly and clearly.”

Kamal had dealt with customer service bots before. The key was to be clear and unambiguous. “Where am I?”

“You are in a medical facility.”

“Why am I here?”

“You are recuperating from a medical procedure.”

What medical procedure?”

You were in stasis. You have been revived.”

Kamal’s confusion returned. Stasis? That was the procedure they had used for the terminally ill. Kamal felt almost a physical jolt as some of his memories came tumbling back. The party, the journey – the upload lottery had come through. He had heard that the transition could be difficult. The laws didn’t allow for two way communication between the Uploaded and the rest. Perhaps this was normal?

“The upload procedure… did it work? Where am I?”

“I am unable to answer that question. You are in a medical facility.”

Kamal felt a sense of dread rising. He had signed up for the procedure as soon as the lottery had come through. Perhaps he was dreaming.

“What do I do next?” Kamal asked.

“You are free to leave. Please keep the tablet with you at all time. Await further instructions.”

Leave what?”

“This facility.”

Kamal knew that the conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere.

“Where do I go?”

“Please leave this through the door on your right. The exit to the facility is via an escalator at the end of the next corridor.”

Is there someone I can talk to here?”

“I am programmed with a limited number of responses to your questions. Please speak slowly and clearly.”

Kamal knew he had to leave the facility if there was any hope to getting answers. He looked around the room and saw the shelves lining the walls were stacked with equipment. He saw boxes of the granola bars, some clothes and a sturdy pair of boots that just about fit him. He was still in a hospital gown. He would need to change and gather some supplies before leaving.

After about thirty minutes, Kamal took the elevator. He had found a small pack that he had loaded with granola bars and apples. The elevator creaked upwards before stopping at the only floor marked on the dashboard. Kamal left and walked out into bright sunlight.

The elevator had taken him up to an atrium. Or more accurately, what might have been an atrium. The doors opened on to a wide hall that had been taken over by vines. The sunlight was streaming down through the ruins of a skylight in the ceiling of the atrium. The doors, once made of glass and steel, were shattered and flung open on to a meadow. The atrium looked abandoned and it was quiet.

Kamal checked the tablet to see if something had changed. It remained dark. Kamal walked towards the doors, picking his way through the plants and shrubs that had colonised the concrete of the atrium floor. The sunlight felt good after the hours spent underground.

Kamal made his way out towards the meadow when he saw the girl. She looked like a teenager, perhaps fifteen or sixteen. She had dark brown skin and curly hair cropped close. She wore a loose shirt, a pair of denim trousers and sturdy boots. She stood facing him, mouth open in surprise. Clearly she hadn’t been expecting to see Kamal walk out of that ruined atrium.

“Hello. My name is Kamal. What is your name?”

The girl seemed to gather her thoughts. She took a step backwards but kept her eyes on Kamal.

“Do you speak English?”, it was a ridiculous question and Kamal knew it. But he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Yes”, she replied. “My name is Lily.”


Fiction: The Spirit and the Voice

Lily had always been different. The Spirit had never taken her even now, as a young woman, she wondered about what that meant. She had often seen the Spirit take father and mother, both writhing in ecstasy on the floor, arms and legs splayed, eyes closed. Sometimes the Spirit would be so forceful that father would lose his water. Yet he seemed so calm, almost ecstatic, after an intense communion.

The Spirit showed herself to her sister Daisy in a different way. They might be playing outside, running around near the reservoir, when Daisy would go quiet. Her eyes, normally bright, would go dull. She wouldn’t respond to questions, or react when Lily punched her on the arm. She would just stand there for a while before coming back, after the Spirit released her. Lily asked her how it felt, and Daisy always said that it was like nothing in this world. She said it was an absence, a feeling of losing touch with the world and of floating alone, but surrounded by the Spirit.

The Spirit communed with people in different ways. Some would fall, their legs collapsing beneath them, to lie motionless. Some could jump and twitch, wave their hands, as if they were at the mid-summer dance.

Lily could only watch, and listen and experience the Spirit through her friends and her family. When she was a child, she would pray to the Spirit, ask it to visit so she could be calm like Daisy or ecstatic like father. She would get upset and ask mother why it wouldn’t come, and how it wasn’t fair. Mother would hold her close, and whisper, “Don’t worry my love, nobody knows how the Spirit works. We are all blessed in different ways”.

When Lily got older, she accepted that perhaps the Spirit would never come. She took it upon herself to collect the stories of the Spirit, to catalog other people’s experience on her visits. For her, the Spirit was a mystery, something to study and to contemplate.

Lily had grown up in the shadow of the station. Watching the tall silent chimneys blow out white steam up into the sky was one of her earliest memories. Her mother tended to the apple trees in the orchard just outside the village and her father, a priest, tended to the men who worked in the station.

Every twelve hours, the sirens would call out from the station, signaling the start of a new shift. Men and women would stream out and head back to the village to their homes and their families. A new batch of people would take their place and do the work assigned to them. Some kept the gardens around the station, others looked at the glowing screens inside the station, while others worked in the myriad buildings and structures around the station.

Father, due to his affinity with the Spirit, couldn’t work in the station. He told Lily that the Voice had chosen him to look after the people doing the important work at the station. He held mass at the end of each shift. Preaching to the exhausted men and women, thanking them for their work in keeping the station in such fine order, and for doing performing their duty to the Voice.

The Voice and the Spirit were the two guiding forces of Lily’s world. The Voice commanded, and the Spirit visited. The Voice was inside everyone. The Voice spoke only when necessary. It was always direct and clear. It told the workers at the station what to do, from which switches to press to which chimneys to clean. Each villager had a role to play in keeping the station working and the Voice was the conductor. It helped Father with his sermons, it helped mother with tending to the trees in the orchards and it helped Lily heal the people  in the village.

The Voice was absent until the thirteenth year of a persons life. Lily remembered being shocked when the Voice first spoke to her. The Voice was clear, and calm and direct. She felt it in her very core. The Voice told her that she would be a healer and she would help the people of the village. The Voice had been with her ever since, teaching her how to soothe burns, how to stitch cuts, and how to help those that had a particularly intense communion.

Lily enjoyed working for the Voice. She liked its calm, even timbre and the certainty of its presence inside her.  It was imperative that a person listen to and obey the Voice. The consequences of disobedience were swift and could be final. Father told her the story of the man who refused to head into the station to put out a fire in the cooling tower. The man was scared and betrayed the village and the station by being a coward. The Voice banished him. He was ordered out of the village and to the mines. When he tried to sneak back into the village, the Voice commanded him to climb the station chimney and jump off, right as the night shift ended. Father still remembered the man’s screams and pleas for mercy as he climbed the chimney.

Lily had always been curious. She asked mother about the Spirit and the Voice, and where they came from. Mother said they had always been there in the village, as long as she or anybody she knew could remember. Lily would often ask the Voice questions. If the question was about her work, the Voice would answer. Otherwise it remained silent.

The village had few visitors. The only people Lily would see were the miners bringing in coal for the station. They would appear on the sixth day of every week. The miners were a quiet lot. They kept to themselves and seldom spoke to the villagers. It was clear though, that they too were guided by the Voice and visited by the Spirit. Lily had once helped a miner who had hit his head when communing with the Spirit. He heard him talking to the Voice about the schedule of their next delivery.

Sometimes people from other villages or stations would come visit a while or move to the village. Sometime the Voice would ask them to move from one village to another. It might be because the villager had particular skills needed by the station of the village, or it might be for no clear reason at all. As father often told Lily “One never questions the decisions of the Voice”.

Life in the village was predictable. Lily would spend the morning checking in on the workers from the night shift, cook dinner for the family, and spend the evening checking in on the workers from the morning shift. Most of her visits were routine, enlivened sometimes by a particularly gruesome injury or an intense communion with the Spirit.

On quiet days Lily would walk amongst the apple trees and try to imagine the world outside the village. If she wandered too far, the Voice would ask her to return. Usually this came in the form of a request to check in on someone not doing well back in the village. As she went from being a teenager to a young woman, Lily’s yearning for exploring the world beyond the village grew.  She kept asking the Voice about the world outside, and where the Voice came from.

The Voice had always been silent until one drizzly spring day when it finally answered.

“You are here because you have a role to play”

Lily, shocked, stood still wondering if she had just hallucinated. “Why speak now? Why remain silent all these years?” she asked after recovering her bearings.

“We ask because we need your help,” the Voice answered. “One day soon, your wish will come true and we will ask you to travel far away from the village. Until that day, you will obey us and do your duty.”

Lily asked many more questions to the Voice. She asked it where she would go, what she would do, but the Voice remained silent. After a while, Lily was overcome with elation. She had never had communion with the Spirit, but now she had spoken with the Voice. The mystery at the center of her existence had deepened, yet she had found new meaning. She made her way back to the village in time for the end of the morning shift.

Fiction: The last cornershop in Islington

Mrs S hadn’t turned up at the shop for three days. Ketan looked forward to her visits. She followed the same routine, a pint of milk, a packet of peanuts and a token for the day’s lottery. They would talk about the weather, distant wars and the sad plight of the once mighty Arsenal football club.  Perhaps the lottery had come through or maybe Mrs S had left along with so many of his other customers over the years. Perhaps she was unwell or worse. Ketan’s children kept telling him that he worried too much, and that he should fret less and think of taking some time off. But Ketan couldn’t help it, and he had a lot of time on his hands these days.

Most who wandered into Ketan’s shop off Caledonian Road were lost tourists looking for directions or delivery drone technicians looking for a broken down drone. The tourists ended up in this part of London looking to visit the Google memorial, a massive glass and steel monument erected at the site of the now deceased company’s London head quarters. The building had been hit by a trans-Atlantic cargo drone, its navigation system hacked and it flown into the building just north of King’s Cross station in a horrible echo of the World Trade Center bombings.  Hundreds of people died in the explosion and the fires as the drones fuel and then it’s inflammable cargo ignited. The memorial now towered over the King’s Cross area and the outer edges of the borough of Islington, it’s multi faceted glass surfaces reflecting the few glimpses of the sun against the reliably gray London sky.

Over the last couple of years even the normally stable tourist business had dried up. Those people who were still around preferred to stay in the comfort of their home and take a virtual tour. There was still the odd straggler looking to have a more authentic experience, but it had been a quiet few weeks.

Ketan had never been much for using social media. He still remembered when receiving an email seemed magical. Mrs S had always been a somewhat of a recluse, but such a break from her routine of the last decade was out of character. They had known each other for years but had never exchanged social media details, email addresses or even phone numbers. Their relationship had always had boundaries, and they both were quite comfortable with them. So, with no way of contacting her, he called the council to see if they could send a social worker to check in on her.

As expected, there was no one at the council to actually speak to. Ketan had a chat with a polite customer service bot. It reassured him that someone would look into the incident as soon as possible before asking him for feedback on his experience with the bot and whether it could have done anything more to help. Ketan thought technology kept getting needier by the day.

He read lots of comic books when he was a teenager back in India. He loved the stories based on the Indian mythological sagas. He spent many a hot summer afternoon looking at the colorful panels with their fantastic beasts and immortal Gods. The comics with plots involving robots and artificial intelligence tended to bored him. They portrayed robots and computers as being powerful, usually unhinged, yet possessing a certain gravitas as they plotted the destruction of the human race and their conquest of Earth.

The future had appeared and the robots had turned out to be far more obsequious and irritating than those 20th century comic book writers had ever imagined. Ketan couldn’t imagine the skittish drones that came to a halt at the mere sight of a squirrel on the road wanting to take over the planet and enslave humanity.

As noon approached, Ketan prepared for the day’s deliveries. Most of central London had been listed for preservation. It was now impossible to build any substantial commercial buildings in the residential hubs around Islington. After the bombings of Google and the other technology company in the early 20’s, most businesses vacated premises in densely populated areas and either went fully virtual or to retreated to secure campuses in the outer exurbs of London. Retail outfits shut down warehouses and the giant malls and super markets that once had so threatened to put Ketan out of business had all disappeared.

Ketan found it ironic that sleepy Uxbridge was now London’s technology district and Islington a sleepy residential area populated by truculent old shop keepers and eccentric pensioners.

There were still people living in central districts who required the weekly shopping delivered or their dinner prepared. Ketan’s shop was much bigger than the narrow store front suggested. Ketan had bought up the leases on the shops on either side of his store after the real estate market crashed and the businesses shut down. He still kept his old narrow shop front but expanded his shop behind now closed facades of the Starbucks franchise and the dry cleaner. The narrow front entrance had allowed him to watch out for shoplifters in the chaos after the riots.

He had ridden out the recessions by changing his inventory as the area changed following the ups and downs of London’s economy.  Now there weren’t that many customers demanding ice cream in the middle of a winter night, or looking for artisanal cheeses. Ketan had some room to spare in his store. He decided to sub-lease some of the space to a drone delivery company. Ketan kept a small kiosk and refrigerator for his customers. The rest of shop had been laid out in a grid, with charging units in walls free-standing shelves standing floor to ceiling in the middle of the room.

Every afternoon a large drone would ride up caledonian road and drop off the day’s items outside Ketan’s shop. A couple of smaller, bipedal drones would come by and stack the shelves; their movements always precise and economical. If they were low on power, they would retreat to the charging ports on the walls  before moving on to their next tasks. Ketan always thought the drones looked a bit embarrassed when forced to stop stacking and take a quick hit off the wall.  Ketan found watching the drone’s precisely, calibrated actions fascinating at first, but now they just bored him.

He even tried to give them a hand but they stopped moving as soon as he approached within a meter of them. He ended up getting a phone call from a representative from the drone company politely asking him to not interfere with the drones. It was apparently a matter of healthy and safety and was a breach of the contract that Ketan had signed when he sublet the space.

Now and then a drone would break down and would be unable to fix itself. Sometimes it would be picked up by another bipedal drone and carried off to be fixed. But if no other drone was around, the scheduler would send a technician to take a look. They would usually turn up with some sort of diagnostic tool to hook up to the drone. With nothing else to do, the more sociable technicians usually stayed around for a cup of tea and a quick chat.  Ketan enjoyed those rare visits but suspected that the technicians really didn’t need to turn up, but were sent out as part of some job creation or outreach program.

Through out the day other drones would turn up at the shop. Most of them tended to be little flying delivery drones that would land on the pavement and roll into the store. They would pick up an item from the shelf and roll back out, taking off from the pavement to drop off the package somewhere in the neighborhood. Some would even hang around to have a quick charge before dashing off to their next delivery.

Ketan no longer needed to work sixteen hours a day and left the shop around seven every evening. He would lock up his kiosk and activate the security systems which allowed drones to come in and out overnight.  He decided to leave a bit early that evening since there wasn’t likely to be much business on hand. He locked up the kiosk and grabbed some fruits that had started to look a little worse for wear.

He thought about the old man who ran the kiosk in his old neighborhood. The man must have been in his seventies, but Ketan always remembered him as being ancient and wizened. The man sold cigarettes and candy and an eclectic, ever changing assortment of baubles. He would set up his kiosk on the pavement across the road from the old house. The old man had a short temper, but was friendly, and always ready to tell Ketan stories about famous cricketers and that time he had once ridden a train with Gandhi. The old man would sit out chatting, smoking until dusk when he would lock up his kiosk and go home.

One day Ketan had asked how decided when to lock up. The old man had replied that he waited until the the birds flew home and pointed to a flock of black birds flying above. Ketan thought of the old man as walked down the Caledonian road and saw six drones fly silently overhead, rushing to their destinations.

Fiction: The Festival

The Valley

The sky was lit, purple and pink, the setting sun veiled by silver cloud. The valley was empty, the inhabitants long gone. He could still make out the village, with it’s bombed out houses and cratered gardens. The craters looked less desolate every single day. The local flora trying its best to cover the conflicts of the years gone by.

He had visited the village on his first reconnaissance patrol. His group had rolled up from the dusty foot hills and was part of the last anti-insurgent surge. He was the rookie, and always brought up the rear. They moved spread out, a V slowly moving up the dirt road that was the main thoroughfare. There were reports on insurgent activity in the hills above and they had drones above, their indefatigable eyes scanning the valley.

It wasn’t clear whether there were any sympathizers in the village. The intel units had been listening in for weeks and all they found were mythological soap operas and pornography, interspersed with mundane chatter. A couple of months ago, an intel unit identified anomalous activity and some men had been rounded up from the village. Enhanced interrogation had revealed nothing useful. The men were sent down to the base to Re-education and re-assignment.

That first day had been uneventful. After a show of force, his group had moved up the hill and settled in for the night. He remembered watching the sun set and the darkness creep across valley; the lights down below coming on as the stars and the drones lit up the night sky.

He was in the second rest cycle of the night when he lit up with alerts. The group was already deployed in a defensive formation, shields up and cannons primed. He saw that one of the other units had taken fire, just a couple of projectiles, from across the valley. They were still trying to locate the sniper when he saw, or felt, a huge explosion. He went blind that instant, overwhelmed by white noise and confusion. He stood still, warnings flashing and silence from his group. He felt the unit jerk up and retreat further up the hillside. He had lost control and was tethered.

After a minute or two, his vision cleared and he found himself in a defensive formation with two units on either side a hundred meters further up from where he had been at rest. Group leader still had control and his unit was orientated down the hill. The units flanking him were launching projectiles across the valley and lighting up the tree line above the village. He saw the missiles fly across and explode above the trees. Each leaf edged with a bright orange outline.

He felt the cannon move and the unit settle deeper in the gravel. Four bright orange stars came flying out, arcing down towards the village. Each star hitting a house and exploding, the heat and light blanking out his vision as processing was diverted to target acquisition. He saw a feed from the drone, about three thousand meters above the village. There were people running out of the houses and out on the dirt road. His unit moved, the cannon tracking and firing more projectiles. They arced out above him before looping down towards the group of panicked people. Incendiary shells, exploding five meters above the valley floor, obliterating everything in a thirty meter radius.

The next morning the group swept the village. They found the remnants of an electro magnetic pulse device hidden in the gas tank of a generator. There was nothing else left except the embers of burnt down houses.


Re-education was a low, white washed building out by the university campus. Surrounded with barbed wire, and patrolled by automated drones, it was spartan and quiet.

He had been on a raid, headset on and palms sweaty when the unit barged in through the door and asked him to desist and surrender.  He was confused, and asked for clarification. None was forthcoming. The constitution had been suspended during the current surge, and there wasn’t much he could do except plead innocence hope for the best.

They had a swarm of intel bots scan every inch of his room and grab his kit and workstation. He was taken to the local detention center and kept in a cell overnight with twenty other men. He remembered the stench coming from the toilet in the corner and anxious buzz of the others in the cell. The next day, they put him on a transport and took him to Re-education.

They verified his biometrics and left him alone for the night in a small featureless cell. They came for him at dawn. He had tried to sleep, failed, and had spent the rest of the night pacing the length of the cell. They made him put on a headset, not that different to the one he gamed on, and asked him to play. The scenario was similar to a game he had played before. He and his group had to capture points across the map and defend them against the opposition group. Whichever group held the most points for the longest time won.

At first he had refused to cooperate, but Re-education was known to be very persuasive. He tried to throw the game but they found out. They had access to his game statistics and play logs for the last ten years. They made him play variations on the same game scenario, over and over again. Every other week, they changed scenarios.  They recorded every game, every move and every decision. During the day he played, at night he paced his cell.

After a month, or was it three, he was transported to a medical facility. It was located in an underground bunker not far from the main Re-education building. He remembered bright lights and each surface gleaming. They put him under.

He woke up a few days later in Re-orientation. He spent the next few months learning how to live with his unit. After Re-orientation, they sent him up to the hills as part of the last surge.

The Festival

His earliest memory was the festival. His mother had turned off the lights in the house and lit oil lamps. She had held him tight as they watched the fireworks across the river. Every year, until the insurgency hit, they had spent the festival together. Sometimes accompanied by the current boyfriend, but usually alone, he visited his mother and they would stand looking out over the river as the fireworks lit up the night sky.

The insurgency had burnt through this part of the country before the upload. The villagers were all gone. Either wiped out during the insurgency operations or gone with the rest after the upload. The only sound came from the birds flocking raucously in the trees around him, the only light from the setting sun.

He would have stayed with his group for five years. In the sixth year he would have been decommissioned. But the insurgency ended and nobody had any time for fighting or the need for pacification in the years before the upload. There was talk of rehabilitation and of remorse for what Re-education had done. Some of his group found patrons who were willing to help them upload. He couldn’t.

His memories, his life before Re-education came back. In drips at first and then torrents. His systems slowly degraded over time but the unit kept functioning. They had removed the weapons and handed him over to Infrastructure when the insurgency came to an end. Infrastructure, like Re-education was no longer relevant.  He was let loose as the upload wound down and silence took over the cities, towns and villages. He had spent the last year re-tracing his steps back to the hills.

On the day of the Festival, he reached the valley. Standing up on that hill side and looking over the remains of the village, he saw shells arcing through the night air towards the running villagers. He turned off the safety and fired up the power unit. Warnings surged again, and he ignored them.

There were no lamps to be seen in the valley, but there would be fireworks after all.