Preamble: This the twelfth and final chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 and Chapter 11)
by Cheeseburger Brown
On the way home I asked the general to remind me how it was I'd been rescued. When she had finished telling me the story I shrugged and was forced to admit I couldn't remember a lick of it. "Rebooting can mess with your record," she said sympathetically. "I've never seen so many reboots as in this campaign. The line up for sick bay goes all the way to the bowling alley."
I lined up at the bowling alley and was eventually admitted to sick bay. "Let me guess," said the physician on duty. "Post-reboot bemusement?"
I nodded. He gave me a sub-routine, and told me to run it twice per cycle for two hundred million cycles. He emphasized that I was to continue running it even after I began to feel better. "That's how the medicine works best."
"Okay," I said.
We were hyperspatially shunted from the military base in batches of twelve. There was a line for that, too. I chatted with the soldiers while we waited for our go. It turned out next to nobody actually remembered bombarding the city from orbit after uploading the hostages to network, but here were the hostages in their gleaming new bodies and here was the bomb inventory depleted by the appropriate amount and here we were all feeling satisfied and brave and self-congratulatory about a job well done.
So what if nobody remembered doing the job? Reboots can be like that.
The general said she would nominate me for a medal, which was awesome because it meant I could probably gain some juice as a guest on celebrity chat forums for a while once back among the core systems. I would not only be able to pay off my various credit imbalances but also buy something fancy and ostentatious, maybe. Like a moon.
"We couldn't have done it without your help," said the general.
"If you say so, sir."
"Soon the whole world will know of the ancestors' brave struggle for life and dignity," she added, which at first I thought was a very odd thing to say but upon reflection it seemed perfectly natural. "I'm excited to share the good news."
"Me too," I heard myself say. And when I probed my feelings it turned out I was telling the truth: it really was exciting. Things were going to change, and for the better. But then I frowned. "There is one thing that bothers me, general…"
"If we're now such passionate advocates of defending ancestral access to liberty and self-determination, why did we vapourize the city from orbit?"
She took off her fancy helmet and turned it over in her hands, eyes defocused. "Oh, well, I suppose we wouldn't want to leave any loose ends. Orders were to save the hostages and secure the planet, which we have done. But certainly our new enlightenment will inform the way we approach similar situations in the future."
I nodded. "Totally. I mean, it's bound to affect the way I do my job. It's going to be way different being an exterminator with a deep conviction of ancestral life's inherent sanctity."
"You'll just have to cross each bridge as you come to it," opined the general.
"True that," I agreed.
The whole experience had caused me to grow as a person. I wasn't sure how, but I came away with a real passion for the noble beauty of ancestral life. If there was one thing I was sure about, it was that. And also how despite the miraculous artistry of their chemical brains it was evident to even an uneducated man like me that it would be quite impossible for ancestors to hack a human being, and somehow influence his mind. Despite their great sophistication such abilities were incontrovertibly beyond the reach of meat.
There was a real warmth in that certainty. It made me feel safe.
I stepped into the gate in a group of twelve and watched the port iris shut. We all smiled at one another. Homeward! And very, very soon we would be sharing the good news about ancestors with everyone we met.