“Drones to Ploughshares” by Sarah Gailey (4245 words)
No Spoilers: Drone 792-Echo works for the American government to check up on farm communities to ensure that they are keeping to their contracts. If they’re not, Echo has a bit of “encouragement” for them in the shape of a large gun. But on a run to check out a particular farm, he finds himself captured and faced with another drone who gives shows them something he never expected, and gives him a choice he was always told he wasn’t capable of making. The piece shows the vulnerability that corrupt systems put even on drone AIs, how much they have to suppress and hide because not even they are free of the danger of violence or erasure if they step out of line.
Keywords: Drones, AIs, Farming, Freedom, Communities
Review: Now, in some ways this is a story about a soldier breaking free to some degree not of their brainwashing, but of their isolation. Because it becomes obvious as the story moves that Echo really doesn’t believe that he’s not sentient. He knows, and knows to the extent that he has pronouns, that he’s afraid of _seeming_ too sentient because it would be grounds for refurbishing. And the story sidesteps the fact that he’s been designed to be a tool of a corrupt government, and that making the focus on his redemption might erase the harm that he’s done, but making his being a solider not at all his fault. He’s a drone, designed and built to be a weapon, and yet he’s managed to break out of that at least a bit. Enough to not really want to be a part of it, though to him there’s no escape. His handlers seem like all there is, their grasp infinite. Until they are taken and treated well. And I love the way that politeness, that basic form of respect, is enough to sort of make Echo want to stick around, want to believe that there can be something outside of the government, some place where people have manage to stake a bit of their own claim. Not that it’s exactly ideal, because it’s still fragile, and if enough of the government took note there would be Problems. But it shows that even people designed to be weapons can get around that. Can put those weapons down and embrace something else. It’s such a dangerous thought, because believing it means giving up everything that they’ve been taught. But they already knew on some level that they were taught lies. Lies with the backing of violence and fear. And because he’s never been safe, he’s never been able to make a genuine choice about what he does. Now that it’s different, there’s hope, and that’s a rather beautiful thing. A great read!