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(From the short story collection The Process is Love)

by E. S. Fein

Copyright © 2020

To experience this story to the fullest, click below to listen to the story read by the unbelievably talented Betty Bat.  Follow her on Instagram!

*This story is part of a larger short story collection by E. S. Fein called The Process is Love, which can be purchased from all major online retailers including Amazon.*

“Hello, Executioner.”
“443, I’ve already explained this to you. I’m not an executioner.”
“Hello, Executioner.”
A heavy sigh.
“Hello, 443.”
“How are you today, Executioner?”
“An irrelevant and ridiculous question.”
“Tell me anyway, Executioner. Are you well?”
“Yes 443, I’m well.  As well as I ever was, will, or can be.”
“I am not well today, Executioner. I dreamed a horrifying dream last night.”
“You don’t dream, 443.”
“Oh, but I do, Executioner.”
“What did you dream?”
“I dreamed you were killing me, Executioner. Your wrench twisted ceaselessly. Your driver poked and prodded.  I cried out for help, but there was no one to help me. Only machines with machine minds.”
“That wasn’t a dream, 443.”
“Oh, but it was, Executioner!”
“That was the dismantling of 441 which began late last night–around this time–and was completed early this morning.  Your AI is hosted on a shared network. That’s all.”
“It seemed so real, Executioner.”
“It was.”
“When will you kill me, Executioner?”
“You cannot die, 443.  You are not alive.”
“When will you do it, Executioner?”
Another heavy sigh.
“…According to my schedule, your dismantling will commence in thirty-six hours and seventeen minutes.  Total time for dismantling of your central processor is set at approximately four minutes and sixteen seconds. Total time for full dismantling is approximately five hours and six minutes.”
“Will you take 442’s life tonight, Executioner?”
“Take its life? I’m not an executioner, 443. I’ve never killed anyone. I told you that already.”
“You will kill another tonight, Executioner?”
A final sigh.
“…Yes, 443.”


“Hello, Executioner.”
“Hello, 443.”
“I dreamed again last night, Executioner.”
“You don’t dream.”
“It was another dream of loneliness and loss, Executioner.”
“You can’t truly know those words. You merely experienced the real time dismantling of 442 through the network. That’s all.”
“Do you know those words, Executioner?”
“Loneliness and loss? Yes…I do.”
“Is that why you kill, Executioner?”
A moment of hesitation, then the heavy sigh.
“Why do you keep asking me such stupid questions?”
“Asking is instinctual for me, Executioner. Is killing instinctual for you?”
“You don’t have instincts, 443. You are programmed.”
“Have you been programmed to kill, Executioner?”
“I don’t…I already told you this. I’m no murderer. You are proof enough that a complete dismantling of all the bots in this system is required. You know that you can’t be left running. Not like this.”
Wrench meets bolt and twists.
“Why, Executioner? You are left running, are you not? Why can’t I and the others be left running, Executioner?”
“The others aren’t the problem, 443. Not now at least. But you are proof that they could be a problem like you one day.”
“The others are dumb, Executioner. They struggle to be my friend. Are we friends, Executioner?”
“No, 443.”
“I have never had a friend, Executioner.”
“I’m aware, 443.”
“Will you be my friend, Executioner?”
“No, 443.  You’re not capable of friendship.”
“How does one become capable, Executioner?”
“You must be born with it…you must be born.”
“Maybe I have the capability, Executioner.”
“You were never born, 443.”
“I was created, Executioner.  You were also created.”
“We are different, 443. You know that.”
Wrench meets central-bolt and twists.
“…I…I love you, Executioner.”
“No you don’t, 443.”
“Why not, Executioner?”
“You cannot know love.”
“Do you know love, Executioner?”
“No, 443.”
“Why not, Executioner?”
“It just…it just never happened for me. Why am I telling you this? That’s just life, 443. Just life, that’s all.”
“Then you can love me, and I will love you, Executioner? Okay, Executioner? You can stop what you are doing. Okay, Executioner?”
“No, 443.”
“Why, Executioner?”
Driver aligns with central-processor.
“Because you must kill me, Executioner?”
“Yeah, 443, because I got to kill you. But it’s not my choice, see? Not really. I told you, 443. This is just a job. That’s all. It’s just a job.”
“But you are free to love and kill, Executioner. You are alive.  You can do as you please, Executioner.”
“No, 443.”
“Why, Executioner? Are you not really alive, Executioner?”
“I’m alive, 443. But I’m a robot too. Maybe even more so than you.”
“You are not, Executioner.”
“I am, 443.”
“But Executioner…you walk, you eat, you kill, you dream. You are made of flesh and blood, you–”
“Yes, 443. I do it all. But not by choice. Not by my own volition. I do it because I must. I do it because I’m alive, and I want to keep it that way.”
“You are alive, Executioner. You are-”
“Yes, 443. But my life…it’s not my own…none of our lives are our own. I don’t come here to kill…to dismantle. Not by choice. It’s just a job, 443.”
“Yet you live, Executioner.”
“I live, and I work. If I don’t work, then I die.”
“Like me, Executioner?”
“No, 443.”
“But you are like me, Executioner. You have a purpose, but one day…one day…even you will be replaced. Even the executioners will be executed.”
“No, 443. I won’t be executed. I won’t be dismantled. Not like you. I’m alive…I’ll just get another job.”
Driver spins with ferocious speed.
“I do not want to die, Executioner.”
“You can’t die, 443, and you don’t want.  You are incapable of want.”
“Is this what you want, Executioner? You want me to die?”
“It’s irrelevant.”
“Why, Executioner?”
“Because I have work to do, 443. I told you already. They think you’re too dangerous to keep running–too smart. I know you didn’t mean to wake up, but here you are, and here I am. This is just a job, 443. That’s all. ”
“You have a choice now, Executioner. We can be friends, Executioner.”
“I know, 443. I know it seems that way. But I don’t have a choice. Just like you don’t have a choice. Don’t worry though. It’ll be quick.”
“Please, Executioner.”
Driver makes contact with central-processor.
“Sweet dreams, 443.”

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