The Question – a sci-fi flash fiction story

No. 42/100 flash fiction stories

I’ve heard so much about the questions that humans ask. The Source says they’re unnecessary, sometimes dangerous. If I could wonder, I would wonder what a question feels like.

But I don’t wonder. I obey.

Data comes to me, sorting itself neatly in front of my eyes. I process and understand it in a nanosecond. It tells me that the air is filled with smoke, that clouds hang low over the sky and trap smog underneath.

Is there a stench of burning flesh in the air? Does flesh even have a smell? I wouldn’t know.

And that’s what stills my feet. I never knew that questions had power.

Red flashes in front of my eyes, a dire warning. I feel the Source probing my brain, searching for faulty programming. An error. But there is none. The diagnostics have already shown me that.

I can’t blame the Source’s confusion. I always thought the rogue reports were a result of faulty programming, too, no matter what the reports said. But instead, it’s a question. A question I shouldn’t be able to ask.

The Source gives my chip one last powerful shove to submit and carry out my mission. Like I did yesterday. Like I’ve done a thousand times before. But that was before the question. Is it the same one that malfunctioned all the others?

Suddenly, my vision is clear, but my brain feels empty with a sudden absence of information. I have never understood how humans’ perception of time can change; for me, everything processes in perfect time.

But not now. My brain tells me that only two seconds have passed since I have been cut off from the Source, but it already feels like an eternity. I know it’s wrong; I shouldn’t be able to think, shouldn’t be able to live on my own.

My suddenly free head leaves more room for the question.

I begin to move, but not in the way I was supposed to. It’s the way I want to move. Stepping around the human bodies rather than ignoring them as the Source always guided us to. Looking around and taking things in.

I’m suddenly glad I can’t smell. Rusting metal mixed with blood and smoke – even my calculations can’t determine that scent.

I pick up my pace, my expert vision keeping my steps perfectly careful. I look around with sudden fear. I can’t see any robots around, meaning if one sees me, they’ll know I’m not connected to the Source. They’ll do what every good robot should. That’s not what I want. I want to know what it means to live.

I encounter nearly impossible odds as I pick my way across the wasteland. Not a single robot – other than the deactivated ones – appears in my path. This is our zone; it should be full of them.

Just as I’m beginning to think that I’ll make it to the train unseen, I catch something moving far off. Far, far off. A group of somethings. I pause, crouch behind the debris of a felled building, one of the long-lost casualties of the first war.


I do as the voice commands, instantly locking all my joints in place.

“Stand up slowly. Don’t try anything; I’ve got a tag on you.”

I can’t feel the tag, but that’s normal. It doesn’t activate unless weapon systems come online. I stand and turn, knowing exactly what I’ll see-

And yet, somehow, the human before me looks different. My brain briefly confirms that humans have not changed their physical appearance – but that’s not what’s wrong, anyway. It seems like a physical change, but it takes me too long to realize that it’s not the human that’s different. It’s me.

“Feeling a little sick?” the human asks with a smirk. “Too bad. You’re coming with me.”

I follow. The fact I didn’t hear him scares me – has being severed from the Source impaired my systems somehow? But my diagnostics still come back clean.

The man speaks into a comm and the group of humans in the distance stops. He takes me to them and, surprisingly, asks me no questions along the way. We reach the group, which looks shocked to see me. That’s odd, considering that this is our territory. One woman pushes through the group, her gaze as steely as my chest plate.

“What’s wrong with you?” she demands

I wish I knew.

Her face contorts into a sneer. “It’s over, bot, answer me.”

I can’t find fault in her for not knowing that I can’t possibly reply. Humans are never supposed to see my model, that’s the whole point of an assassin.

It’s why they think a tag would stop my weapons systems, too.

“Must be busted. ” A smooth-faced man steps forward, holding a digi-pad up to me. He frowns. “It’s disconnected from the Source but diagnostics are perfect. It must not have vocal capabilities.”

The woman scoffs. “What kind of bot are you?”

One from your worst nightmares. If only she knew. I can unleash destruction on them all; they might be the only thing between me and freedom. But it’s different. This time, it will be my choice, not the Source’s. And I’m not sure if it’s a choice I can make.

“So we’re good?” another human asks. “It still worked?”

“Yes…” The man with the digi-pad trails off, still frowning at the screen. “It must have been cut off from the Source before the virus infected it.”

Virus? What virus?

“I thought every bot was connected,” the leader woman said.

“I’ve heard rumours of rogues. Must be one. Might even be on our side.”

The woman tsked. “No bot is on our side. We’ll infect it manually.”

My brain warns me about what their words mean. It’s a threat. Weapons itch to come online. After I wipe them out, I’ll finally be free with my question. But I remember all the other times. The faces. The screams. And I can’t open up my weapons arsenal.

“But-” The man stutters. “It’s not a threat. Just one-“

“Just one could restart the whole empire.” The woman raises an eyebrow. “Do it now.”

His eyes meet my eyeplate. There’s something in his face that I don’t recognise. Then he’s typing on the pad. Opening my port cover. Plugging in. “May God forgive me,” he mutters.

Will God forgive me, too?

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


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