The Last Sentence (short fiction)

It was decided at some point that humans were not that humane. They were careless creatures, cruel, vicious, petty, and flawed. Once they realized this about themselves, they decided to fix it the same way they tried to fix everything.

With machines.

The robots were tasked with all those delicate jobs humans weren’t cut out for. Anything that required a fair hand, an ethical standard, pure objectivity. That was the great thing about the robots. You fed them directives. They carried them out. They never wavered. They never faltered. When a robot was tasked with guarding a million dollars, it would never be tempted to steal it. When a robot was told to enforce the law, it did so without malice, without risk of racial profiling, without the corruption that came with the power. And after a while, it was noted that even jobs like plumbing and car sales were rife with human failings. So quietly, without much objection from anyone, the robots took over everything, and nearly everyone agreed it was for the better.

There were those who argued that the human race themselves had become superfluous at a certain point. Ed had never quite believed that until everyone else in the world was dead, and he was the last man. And yet, the world kept chugging away. Cleaner now. Nicer. Perhaps more sterile, but functional. No wars. No crime. No strife. Ed found it rather boring, but that might have been because he was stuck in a prison cell most of that time.

The guard robot checked in on him. “Exercise time in fifteen minutes,” it said. Right on time. It was always right on time.

“Any news from the warden system?” asked Ed.

“No human life detected,” replied the guard with the cool indifference of reporting the weather. Slightly cloudy. 32 percent humidity. 100 percent chance of human extinction.

Ed lay back on his cot. He was here because he’d killed a man. He deserved to be here. He’d done the crime. He’d accepted the time. Prison wasn’t so bad now that it was run by machines, but he missed the people. God, he missed the people. They’d been lousy and foolish, but now that they were gone, he saw their worthy moments. Humans were stupid, but they aspired. Some of them anyway. But robots just did their job.

“Don’t suppose the governor system came through my pardon yet?”

“Pardon request denied. You have yet to serve minimum sentence for your crime.”

“There’s no one else out there. Don’t suppose we could make an exception?”

The guard didn’t respond. There would be no exceptions. Robots followed the rules. Humans broke the rules. That was why Ed was on this side of the bars, and the robots made sure he stayed there.

He wondered what the world would look like once he got out. If he got out. He had no doubt the robots would be fair when his parole finally came up for review, and he was a model prisoner. Always did as he was told. Never made any trouble. But fifteen years was a long time. He might go crazy. He might screw up.

He was only human.

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