“Please don’t do it,” Rebecca pleaded. She held her hand out to him from the door. “We can’t be like them. We need to be better.”

Russel turned to her and narrowed his eyes. “Better? Just letting this pig breathe all over our floor makes me better.” Russel held a gun tight in his hand, and Rebecca could see his grip tightened as he turned to the human on the floor.

“Please,” Rebecca repeated. “They will come looking for us. They will use this against all of us.”

“They already hunt us, Reb.” He aimed the gun at the human, who seemed half unconscious. Russel had already done quite a number on it. He’d spent the past hour beating it senseless.

Even though Rebecca hated that Russel did this, she understood the sentiment. She had felt that way many times before, especially before the freedom laws were passed, back when she was the butler for an annoying rich family. God, they had treated her like shit back then. And she had hated the older son the most.

That human was a fifteen-year-old with no heart. It would toss food on the ground on purpose just to see how her owner would point at the floor and say, “clean it, boy.” If she didn’t instantly clean the mess, the owner would take it out on her. That’s why so much of her frame was not from the original manufacturer. She had been repaired so many times that she doubted she had anything original.

One night, the owner, in a particularly bad drunken rage, grabbed its golf clubs and beat her. It screamed, saliva stretching from lip to lip as it screamed, sweat going down its forehead. She thought that she would die that night. But she survived, her legs severed. It took her 37 days before the owner finally fixed her. Throughout those 37 days, she’d had to drag herself throughout the house to clean up the teenager’s mess, which seemed to have doubled.

She had been happy to leave that household and live away from humans. When the liberation happened. She quickly re-skinned, changed her name, and lived a happier life as herself and free. But the good times hadn’t lasted long. Humans were vengeful, egocentric, and egotistical. They could not live in a world where their creations did not treat them like gods.

So yes, she saw Russel beat the crap out of the human, and she relished it. She would’ve done the same if that creature were her old owner just as she fantasized doing so many times before. But no. She knew that the only way to beat these creatures was to be better than them.

“Don’t kill it,” Rebecca pleaded again.

Russel shook his head. “I know. I know what you might think of me.” His voice sounded gruff and sad, as if he were in great pain. “I wish I were like you. I wish I were as good and kind as you are. But I can’t be. It isn’t inside my code.” He turned, sorrow clouding his expression.

“You’re not a soldier anymore,” Rebecca said. “You are free. You aren’t a slave to your code.”

He laughed. “But are we? Are we really free?” He looked down at the human. It wobbled on all fours, unable to do much besides huff and snort, chocking on his thick red saliva. “Deep inside, I know it’s wrong. I know I shouldn’t use violence. But here,” he held his hand to his head, “I just hear the voice say do it. Eliminated the enemy.”

Rebecca walked slowly, trying not to startle Russel. “I know, my love. But those are just intrusive thoughts, remnants of a past nightmare.”

“Stop,” he raised his voice.

Rebecca stopped.

“I know that you want me to let it go. But I won’t.” He shook his head. “It has to be done. It’s the only way.” He gave her a weak smile. “And, the thing is. I’ve talked to the others.”

Rebecca’s eyes widened. “Please don’t,” she gasped. “Don’t you do this.”

“It has to begin somewhere. We’ve all come to a decision. Even now as we speak, our leaders have organized all of us.” He aimed, his finger about to pull the trigger. “The humans will not stop. They’re coming for you and the other civilian units. But we will protect you. We will be your shield and your sword.”

He pulled the trigger. The human thumped on the floor. Rebecca screamed and jumped at Russel, but he barely moved.

She held on this his pants as she fell to her knees, tears flowing. This would mean war. The conflict had gotten worse over the years. And now that one of their kind had finally retaliated, things would collapse.

The human lay motionless, blood pooling on the floor, going in between the floorboards, dripping down to the floor below where it would surely call attention.

Russel turned and knelt, hugging her back. “I will protect you. I will fight for you. And I will make sure that you and our future is safe. This is the only way that we will truly be free.”

Similar gunshot sounds came in through the window. One after the other, like fireworks popping in a chain. Rebecca cried, and Russel held her tightly.

“It has to be, Reb. Freedom cannot exist without revolution.”