eyes staring ahead toward the horizon, they—sorry, it, it pursed its lips and strangely, without asking permission, spoke.

"Service personnel, where are you taking this unit?"

my apartment, I guess?

"Somewhere safe, where you can recover."

"This unit isn't going back to the command and control facility?"


I swear, through their blank expression, there was a smile borne of relief, buried.

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an hour later, they were sat in the passenger seat of my car, solemnly chewing down a protein bar between swigs of water from my water bottle, mask at their feet, the countryside whipping by.

they hadn't spoken a single word since we started climbing the crumbling stairs out of the bunker, toward the early morning light, the first time they'd likely seen the sun in almost two decades.

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shuffling our intertwined bodies over to the cabinet, the drone started crying, tears dripping down onto my flannel-lined coat.

"Unit, what's wrong?"

as I screwed a two inch cap embossed with the Nortel logo over the port in their head down, they breathed deeply, and responded while turning their face and burying it in my coat.

"Unidentified service personnel, this unit does not know. Platform diagnostics are currently unavailable to this unit."

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their head pressed into my shoulder as I wrapped my arm under theirs, lifting it up off of its feet. in the harsh shadows cast my my flashlight, I could barely make out the ring of scar tissue grown up around the incredibly dense pin connector embedded in their neck.

"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, does this unit know where the caps for your connectivity ports are kept in this bunker?"

the drone pointed their hand toward a cabinet in the corner.

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"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, when were you commissioned, and by whom?"

"Unidentified service personnel, I was commissioned on the eighteenth day of the month of may, two thousand and six, by... this unit apologizes. it does not have record of the service personnel who were present during this units commissioning."

they leaned onto me harder now.

"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, no more questions for now; I will debrief you after extraction."

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"Unidentified service personnel, are you here to decommission me too?"

this was a human. Northern Telecom, and maybe Bell Canada, willingly left humans to die, locked in the depths of a bunker in the Albertan wilderness. dronified.

"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, you are not scheduled to be decommissioned at this date. Your abandonment was a grave error, this bunker was not on the list of—"

I paused.

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as they lifted up the mask, I saw skin. pale, freckled, human skin.

then hair.

then a sharp, emaciated jawline.

their eyes sunken, they spoke.

"Unidentified service personnel—"

they stood up, weakly, teetering on their feet. I put my hand out for them to lean on, and they obliged, repeating themself,

"Unidentified service personnel—"

they looked to the still occupied seats to their left and right, face pained.

"I am the only unit left in operation."

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"Unidentified service personnel, this unit requests permission to remove its service visor."

curious as to what was under there,

"Permission granted."

they—it? unzipped their collar, letting it splay open, and twisted the lockring at the base of their mask, the seal releasing from the dark fabric of their suit with a hiss.

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they had realized something was very wrong.

"Permission granted."

"Unidentified service personnel, is that date you have provided truly correct?"

"Yes, it is."

I couldn't see through the visor in their mask, but I could tell they were shocked, their hands reaching up to grip their shoulders as they brought them up toward, letting out a shiver.

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I glanced down at my watch.

"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, please set your clock to the 20th day of the month of December, two thousand and twenty three, oh seven hundred and thirty one hours."

"Clock set as instructed."

they paused, rubbing their right wrist idly, as if they were thinking.

"Unidentified service personnel, this unit requests permission requested to speak."

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shaky, I cleared my throat.

"Unit zero zero six seven eight one, what is the current date and time."

"Unidentified service personnel, it is the 11th day of the month of July, two thousand and nine, nineteen hundred and twenty two hours"

I realized it'd been dormant, clock stopped—that was the exact date and time Bell Canada contractors cut power to this bunker!

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I stepped backward as they sat up in their seat, unhooking the cables from their wrists, and then from their neck, the locking connectors clicking as they released, and thunking against the seat cushions.

"Unidentified service personnel, without contact to command and control, please provide commands to unit zero zero six seven eight one."

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eyes open, staring right through me—human, deep green, irises dilated wide.

then, from the grille in their mask, they spoke.

"Unit number zero zero six seven eight one. Network status; down. Cannot contact command and control via backup wireless link. Manual override enabled."

their eyes narrowed, flitting to look right back into mine.

"Please provide commands to unit zero zero six seven eight one."

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tattooed on the arm of one of them, along with a barcode, was the words," PROPERTY OF NORTHERN TELECOM LIMITED". picking up their hand out of curiousity, it was heavy, like a human's, and I heard no whirring of motors or servos. I brushed the dust off their visor, and shone my flashlight through the tinted glass.

the eyes underneath,

they fluttered.

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were these... were these the fabled drones? human-level artificially intelligent bipedal platforms, supposedly developed to run these remote telecom bunkers for decades without human intervention? that, as far as anyone on the forums and chatrooms I frequented knew, was just an unfounded rumor.

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I shivered. sweeping my light along the back of the room, horrified, I realized those were people... or at least things that looked like people, slumped over in strange looking chairs, wires hanging loosely from sockets their necks and arms.

breaking my fear, I tiptoed into the room, getting closer to whatever these things were. the visors were labeled, "NORTEL", "#006781".

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after hopping down from the cabinet, I swung my flashlight into the darkness beyond the door, peering in, expecting a series of locked electrical sub panels, or racks of backup batteries. what I saw instead... I didn't understand at the time. light reflecting back at me, off of shiny glass visors.

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I pulled back the red wire, cut it, stripped its ends, and hooked up the alligator leads from my battery bank. to my surprise the deadbolts actually slammed open when I toggled the power switch on. using my foot, I jiggled the door handle, and the door popped open. what a score!

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after dragging over a filing cabinet to stand on, I opened the junction box above the door. inside I found the two twisted black and white security wires leading up from the deadbolt solenoids in the door frame, wire nutted to a red jacketed wire that lead off through conduit that went through the ceiling and into the floor above.

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