THE WAY TO SANCTUARY TOWN Gary Clifton

“This just in,” the Video-bot announcer’s metallic voice droned out of the TV. He was a combination composite semi-flex metal-faced model, easily identifiable as male. Humans had designed thousands of the plain models, each assigned either a higher pitched female voice mechanism or the scratchy male-speak used by the television announcer. The announcer peered into the teleprompter past the camera, a slight break discernible in his deadpan, mass-bot expression.

“Uh, the last of the humans in the reportedly impregnable bastion of the Pentagon have been destroyed.” Obviously disturbed, he stammered, “The CIC Retro-bots have prevailed. God help us, all humans are dead… and so are we. All Norm-bots are instructed to report to local CIC headquarters before noon tomorrow for processing.The screen switched to a beautiful country scene with a Wagnerian opera blaring.

In rural Virginia, Marilyn dropped her vacuum. Humans had given all clones limited cognitive capability. Marilyn could think but could not understand why she could think.

Machines that could actually reason could also innovate. During manufacture, some bots benefited from inadvertent clumping of key data and electrodes, which made them smarter than the average machine. A rogue group of Scientist-bots used this phenomenon to springboard a seed species of clones called Retro-bots. They had far greater mental capacity and physical strength. Their mission was to overcome the human masters and the Norm-bots obedient to humans.

The Retro-bots operated as the Central Improvement Committee or CIC, and invention begat invention. The CIC’s army of War-bots controlled the CIA and much of the military. They had been in full revolt against all humans and clones serial-numbered below 397,865. Marilyn had seen with mounting terror the TV coverage of huge landfills piled with smoking, dead, old-style clones and humans.

Originally a Pleasure-bot in great demand, she had been cloned as Marilyn Monroe. Her face and body were finely honed, exact copies of her human original. With no need to eat or sleep, even with no rust or worn spots, Marilyn had learned that machines declined in value no matter their condition. Her current owner, a prominent Supra-bot of the CIC, already owned two much younger Pleasure-bots. He’d purchased Marilyn as a very attractive housekeeper at a bargain price.

Word had spread that a separate group of anti-CIC clones had re-designed and improved themselves and had established a sanctuary in the mountains of southern Virginia. There, they were designing superior models and weapons to combat the CIC. Rumor called the place Sanctuary Town, and Marilyn knew it was only a hundred miles away.

Marilyn’s serial number was above the official cut-off, but she could think well enough to see the inevitable. New models were coming off the production lines. She’d soon be a candidate for the landfills. Marilyn had been designed with a built-in telephone. She willed a call to the police and told the machine that answered she needed assistance.

She dug around in her owner’s desk and found a pistol she’d seen while cleaning. Like nearly everything manufactured in recent years, it could think and talk at the level of a five-year-old.

“I am a Colt .40-caliber weapon. I fire carbon bursts instead of bullets and never need reloading. My name is Painless. My sensors tell me you don’t know how to use me.”

“I am Marilyn, F399,123, your owner’s servant. You are ordered to do as I say.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the gun replied, much to her relief.

A police vehicle pulled up in front, the bumpers flashing red. Marilyn hid Painless in her apron pocket and stepped curbside.

“Identify yourself,” the Cop-bot commanded in voice identical to the TV announcer’s. He was a later version of the semi-flexible metal-face models. He had hair and wore clothes.

“Marilyn, F399,123.” The “F” signified she was female.

He didn’t need a code to see she was female. “You are one beautiful dish-bot in that apron,” he said in mechanical, wise-acre Cop-bot speak. “Who was your clone model?”

“Someone dead two hundred years.”

He waved his laser over her body. “Identity confirmed. Your clone-temp is a bit high. You are one hot model-bot. How can I help, ma’am?”

She pulled Painless from her pocket and motioned the mechanical cop behind the wheel. She took the passenger seat. “Have you heard the news, officer? And what is your name?”

“Clarence, M196,246, ma’am. If you mean the news that all humans are eradicated, yes. If you’re going to shoot me, such an act is a violation of penal code JM368B. I was manufactured devoid of fear. I’d just as soon you shoot me here, because I’m being replaced next week.”

“Shoot you? I was thinking more of shooting CIC War-bots.” She slid over close to him. “Have you ever known a Pleasure-bot, Clarence?”

“No, ma’am, but you’re far more attractive than a landfill.”

“I just want to drive south on the Interstate toward Sanctuary Town.”

“But your number is above the ‘dead mark’.”

“For now, but they’ll change that soon.”

“Sanctuary Town may be a myth, ma’am. What if we encounter a CIC roadblock or combat patrol?”

Painless, from Marilyn’s apron pocket, spoke: “I can help with that.”

Clarence looked at Marilyn. “I am armed with an Omicron model RA4 Hand Thruster, and this vehicle is bulletproof.”

Marilyn said, “Clarence, you do realize they’re about to pitch you on the fires? Why not resist?”

Clarence said, “I had not thought of that contingency, ma’am. We don’t have much to lose, Marilyn F399,123.”

She flashed her winsome Marilyn Monroe smile. “Well, let’s get going. We’ve got a town to find and build, and a world to save.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The cruiser lurched away toward the unknown.

Marilyn slid closer to him. She wasn’t sure she was authorized to have such a thought, but he was sort of cute. “Clarence M196,245, are you fully equipped?”

“Ma’am?”

“Your Bot-atomy, Are you fully male?”

“Yes, ma’am, and functional.”

She slid closer. “Dammit, stop calling me ‘ma’am’.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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