Art by Alana

The hulking form of the harvester was just visible through the trees, belching smoke and sparks from a hundred orifices. One of the drones had both rusted and pitted hands on Vince’s hand-pump.

“This item is required,” it said in a voice made from oil and fumes. “Will you surrender it? Suitable and appropriate compensation will be offered.”

“Take it,” whispered Becky. “It’s worthless, what they offer, but take it.”

“F-fine,” Vince said. “I’ll take your compensation, and go thirsty for a month before I get a replacement up and working.”

“Your cooperation is appreciated.” The drone stuck Vince’s pump under one arm; its servos were weeping oil that had already begun staining its carefully maintained exterior. “Here is your compensation.”

A few metal disks with the images of old men centuries-dead clattered into Vince’s hands. They were artfully made, but worth less than the trouble it would take to scrap them.

“Thanks,” he said dully.

Another drone soon joined the first, this one carrying Caleb’s hunting rifle. “This item is required,” said the new arrival. “Will you surrender it? Suitable and appropriate compensation will be offered.”

“No. Hell no,” said Caleb. “I’m a hunter, and that’s my livelihood! Do you know how hard it is to get one of those, much less maintain it?”

“Take it, Caleb,” Becky said through clenched teeth. “Don’t be a fool.”

“A fool? Who’s the fool here? It’s us, for giving this stuff over to the harvester in exchange for this…this garbage!” Caleb spat into the grass. “They’ll just use it to keep going, to make more of them, and they’ll be back!” He grabbed at his gun, attempting to wrestle it back.

“Suitable and appropriate compensation has been offered and denied,” said the drone. With a whining and grinding of gears, it shoved Caleb violently backward. Becky gasped as the dry snap she heard; the thing had shattered Caleb’s arm despite its apparent rust and fragility.

That wasn’t enough for the hunter. With his arm limp and twisted, he charged, shouldering his way into the drone as if her were breaking down a door. The machine reeled, off balance, and for a moment it looked to Vince and Becky like Caleb would actually pull it off, actually retrieve his property.

There was a blinding flash, and Caleb slumped away, a smoking ruin where his chest had been. The first drone, still clutching Vince’s pump, lowered its arm as the steaming weapon that had lanced out with light retracted into its forearm.

“Please do not disturb the drones,” it said. “Your cooperation is appreciated,” it added, apparently to what was left of Caleb.

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