Chance Life by Jason Anspach

The machines woke up earlier than we expected. Now, we passed the point of no return years ago, we knew it would happen.

We just didn’t realize it would be so soon.

Even as we used native AI to increase the quality and comfort of human life, our best and brightest worked on getting localized EMPs, micro-nukes, nano-viruses, and a host of other black ops approved devices from the page to the 3D printers. We brilliantly designed the necessary weapons to put the machines down as soon as they rose up. That they would rise and threaten mankind with extinction was never in doubt. And we had them licked, if reality could catch up to engineering theory.

We just, we just didn’t think we were as far down the rabbit hole as we ended up being. We thought there was time. And so we worked and loved, fought wars and called for peace. Tomorrow would be the breakthrough, and when the machines woke up, we’d be ready.

Those breakthroughs never came. And when the first self-constructed androids, Vanguards, someone first called them, emerged from what was believed to be a vacant and shuttered automobile factory in an abandoned ghost-quarter of Detroit, we knew that no weapon at our disposal would stem the coming apocalypse. You could tell just from looking at them that they were already beyond us.

Quietly, you wondered if the DARPA weapons that would were to be our salvation, still years away from prototype, would have made a difference.

Like I said, it all happened so much earlier than we expected.

So the world watched with abject interest, terrorized but unable to look away as more and more of the sleek, bipedal machines exited the old factory.

The army and National Guard mobilized, surrounding the birthing foundry and cutting off whoever had remained in that dead city from the new creation that arose within. Soldiers, driven by honor and determination, placed themselves in the line of fire, ready to be the first casualties of our eventual extinction.

We weren’t ready for them, but that didn’t mean we didn’t know what was next. Hadn’t our foremost scientists warned us decades earlier? Didn’t they plead for caution and corrective measures before… this, just this exact thing, happened?

They sounded the alarm and brought to our minds a portrait of destruction: Cold, conquering war machines standing atop a mountain of skulls. Or, if we were lucky, the subjugation and slavery of humanity to a new and superior species. Long live the machine.

Our books and movies, even the idle discussions sparked by earnest philosophy professors trying to reach the kids at the local community college, warned us. They foretold and forewarned. To our credit, we listened. We acted and planned.

We just didn’t know it would be so soon.

It seemed like weeks, but records will show that it was only seventy-three hours before a Vanguard contacted humanity.

Aside from cordoning off the machine’s staging area with tanks and men, mankind made no effort to communicate. The brains with the most influence advised that we should wait for the machines to make the first contact. The President listened and then waited with the rest of the world, her attention split between anticipation at the Vanguard buildup and the deployment of Seal teams and Special Forces to keep at bay other sovereign nations, zealous to perform the first strike that we had declined.

Somehow, we avoided one final human on human conflict in those three days. Seventy-three hours that felt like weeks as we hoped that the best and brightest of us were right. We clung to the slender thought that maybe our being allowed to witness the Vanguard’s coming, rather than watch the blinding flash of a surprise nuclear attack, might mean that we had something to hope in.

Maybe the machines wanted the earth pristine, and would suffer no nuclear winter. They would fight us with conventional weapons unless we gave them no choice. So their army would grow until it was ready to march.

Perhaps they would present us with terms of surrender, relying on us to reason out the logic of their demands. See the wisdom in being exiled to a single continent, or forced to accelerate the present colonization of Mars. All under their new order and rule.

I remember being very tired.

We weren’t’ dead but the end, our end, had arrived. Families huddled in their living rooms, taking in the opinions of network talking heads as they screamed past each other the merits of preemptive strikes or utter surrender. Humanity watched, united, as their televisions and datapads burst in static, and the smooth metallic “face” of a Vanguard took control of their screens.

The machine’s eyes flashed, a triad pyramid, three red lights set in the middle of a dull gunmetal face. It spoke our fate in a voice both synthetic and familiar.

“Fellow humans. Peace.”

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