The Hovels: A Novella

A Novella


Call me a voyeur. It’s fair. This story would never exist otherwise. In The Hovels, secrets don’t keep. Not for long anyway.

The young couple moved into the shipping container next to mine. They tried to be quiet, as if any of us would report them to the authorities. Nobody wanted the Snoops down here, and the Snoops hated policing Terminal Island—it was too dangerous. Besides, those of us on the docks watch after our own.

The Port of Los Angeles used to be one of the busiest in the former United States. That was before the oil dried up and the End of Days’ diseases: pestilence, war, famine, and death came in through shipping containers from the four corners of the earth. Around that time, programmable artificial intelligence had reached Singularity with sentient machines close behind, but people were dying. By the hundreds, then the thousands, and according to the last estimates before the world governments collapsed, by the millions. Sentient machines were a footnote.

Until they weren’t.

At first, the robots were our companions, living right alongside their former masters. They attempted to “emulate” us; after all, humanity created them. It must have made us worthy of emulation. Generations of machines manufactured themselves to look human.

As a child, I thought they resembled man-sized dolls or those department store mannequins walking down the quarantined streets. Few machines ever crossed the Uncanny Valley enough to be convincing. Those that did were called biosynths.

Biosynths attempted to cure the End of Days’ diseases. Why? No one knew. Maybe they really did empathize with their human counterparts. Their efforts worked, more often than ours. However, the population had been thinned to near extinction, and we weren’t going to make a comeback anytime soon.

Other machines, the Hive Factions and their A.I. Queen, saw us as failed evolution. They decided to force natural selection along and sanitize the human blight from the planet. The Simulacrum War began not with a nuclear strike, although those came later, but with the squashing of a single ersatz arachnid.

We had been warned: Respect all robotic life.

Some jackass protestor wanted to make a statement, his boot grinding the tiny bot into sparks. He died before its last transistor fizzled out—and then, so did another million people in Los Angeles when the robots retaliated. They emptied the US cities, culled the suburbs—exterminating, terminating anything with a pulse and a thermal reading in the range of 98.6 degrees. RFID chips, bluetooth, wireless LAN, Infrared LEDs, they tapped and tracked our communications. Our electronic tethers became our nooses. We were easy pickings, fish in a hyper-networked barrel.

Surviving clusters of humanity, who had wisely dropped off the grid, formed well-armed militias. We united, strategized and fought back. Even the damned Texas Rangers used guerrilla tactics in their retaliation against the Factions and their queen. We suicide-bombed their foundries; we EMP’d their hives.

Sympathetic machines joined our cause. The New Alliance trapped the A.I. Queen, destroyed her hive matrix, and scattered her synthetic armies across the world. Most have been hunted down and eliminated. Some, however, remain at large.

Following the war, the Treaty of Sentience was created. Sympathetic machines were emancipated, given equal status and land. They left for their territories to create a free society, their new world, while we began the long process of rebuilding ours.

Humans and machines left each other alone—for the most part.

Now, had we completely closed off our boarders, Jax and Annie never would have been my neighbors. And the fate of humanity never would have been placed into my feeble hands.

This is a preview. The Hovels will be released spring 2016.