At dawn came the pig truck, driving itself in from over the hills.
By the time it reached the jail, the prisoners were lined up, resigned, watched by the armed guards in their towers.
Cleaned and shaved, naked and divested of names, they were human no longer.
Dust rose and fell as the long blank truck pulled up, the back springing open by itself, the ramp dropping to the ground.
Every prisoner looked into the gloom within, weighing the uncertain death that awaited beyond against the certain death from above should they run.
Forward they filed, up the ramp, into the gray steel interior, the pen built for holding the animals called pigs, before the war.
Guns watched them in here as well, swiveling silently from high corners next to blank-gazed cameras, monitored by no one.
Her neck itched, in back, where she could feel guns trained on it; she was used to being under the eyes of guards, but this blank machine space unnerved her.
I could still run, she thought; the doors are still open.
Jumping down, dashing and weaving across the parking lot, shot down before reaching the barbed wire — bleeding out on the asphalt — thrown into a furnace, uneaten; now, would that be better or worse?
Knowing what she knew, the one edge she possessed, a secret long lost: could that really save her; could she trust it enough to endure in this car that stank of metal and death?
Loaded full, the truck drew shut its gate and drove forth, and red lights switched on inside, not for their benefit but to aid the targeting of the computers behind the cameras.
Men yelled or cried, women screamed or wept, but most just huddled in whatever space they could find.
No one fought; a large man made an aggressive move and was instantly dappled by red laser dots from the corner guns; then he slumped and made himself harmless-looking.
Onward drove the truck, seemingly indestructible, pre-war infrastructure, unstoppable minion of the autofac.
People depended on the autofac, the goods and foods it made, that only it could make because the rest of the tools had been destroyed … because the animals and crops had died.
Quieting her thoughts, stilling her body, she rehearsed in her mind the shapes and gestures and letters she had learned.
Reading old texts was uncommon, though many computers still worked, delivered in shiny boxes from unmanned trucks; most people used them to play games or watch movies or conduct endless arguments.
She, however, delved deep in servers, hacked old archives, pored over the documents describing the factories her ancestors built.
This was what put her in jail: the old laws still in place, the old software watchdogs, the new policemen afraid to disobey any orders that came from the machines.
Under the blank gaze of noon the truck backed up to the autofac and disgorged its prisoners into the holding pen of the slaughterhouse, all white walls and steel machinery made for disassembling pigs, that still ran even though the pigs were gone.
Visible now to a multitude of cameras, overheard by microphones, monitored by the factory’s intricate control software, she stood apart from the others.
Watching and listening, the systems saw her strike poses, make precise movements and sounds designed to confuse their sensory recognition … befuddled, they reacted in predetermined ways described in old texts, summoning the assistance of higher level executive agents, the overseers.
“X S 7 M A A C 8 2 J…” she chanted, reeling off the thirty-two letters of an ancient word of power, to which those overseers themselves were subservient.
“YESSS…” came the rumbling response from a hundred dusty speaker grilles, as the factory acknowledged her mastery, lowering its knives and stilling its motors.
Zero-level privileged, she walked through the maintenance door into the autofac’s innards and began the climb to its control center, already considering the many meatless choices to reprogram its kitchens to.
(This was a writing exercise at our group tonight. Despite some awkwardness imposed by the structure, I quite like it. It allowed me to put into words a plot I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks.)