The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your I'm-a-big-boy-now host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the sixth installment.
Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds
And now, the story continues:
THE AUTOMATIC MARLBORO - SECTION II
"Things can't go on like this," declares Air Marrowman. "It's wrong."
"Is this going to be another lecture on optimization?" groans Pulse as he plucks a beer from the train. He cracks the seal. "Because I've optimized my listening to the point where I don't actually have to be here to hear you talk anymore. It's a breakthrough."
"I'm not talking about efficiency," snaps Air. "I'm talking about human rights."
Pulse swigs beer as he taps at his console. "Human rights have no place in a robot shop," he says with a smirk. "This is grad school. We don't have rights. We exist to serve and dissert."
"Your rights aren't my concern," she replies icily. "It's about the Zorannics."
Pulse ignores her, leaning deeper over his glowing blue command-trees. She stares at him. I pause from oiling the wheels on a boxcar, turning to look from him to her. "Zorannics aren't human, Air. The law doesn't look at them that way."
"I'm not talking about the law. I'm talking about morality."
Pulse narrows his eyes without looking up. "If your next sentence is about either Jesus or Xenu I'm officially declaring you an open target for beer caps. That goes double if you start in about Oprah, Commercial Islamic Futurism or the flying spaghetti monster."
"Morality," persists Air, "is about doing what's right. It's also about helping those less fortunate than ourselves. It's about fighting to secure rights for those who have none."
"Zorannics have rights," I point out. "They own themselves, and you're not allowed to murder them."
Air shakes her head. "I'm talking about what happens right here, guys. I'm talking about what we do. We're complicit in a system that is fundamentally anti-feminist."
Pulse's eyes widen as he spits out a mouthful of beer through the carefully arrayed holographics over his console. The numbers sway and distort. Coughing and wincing he squeaks, "What?"
"Anti-feminist," repeats Air seriously. "I'm talking about reproductive rights. Can't you see that it isn't fair for their continuance to be predicated on our cooperation? It isn't ours to veto. What right do we have to hold any power in the process whatsoever?"
"We help," I say. "We facilitate."
"No, a uterus facilitates. It's an organ. You and Pulse and me -- we're agents. We're autonomous. We make choices. We decide. You're right that we help, but he could withhold that help."
I furrow my brow. "Why would we want do that?"
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