This is a first draft story, written in one sitting. As such expect errors and omissions. I hope I caught them all but I can’t promise you. Rather than sit on this until it reaches draft two or final I’m publishing it now. It is only short, some 1300 odd words. I hope you enjoy it, this one was fun to write — Martin, aka Jackdaw aka CreationRobot.
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++Hardware check — Error++
The message doesn’t flash across my vision, I just know it inside. Like I know I have legs, arms and other attributes. I have, I think, a minute and a half before the hardware checks have run through. After that it all starts again. The time has varied, I just don’t know how long I have. The unpredictability scares me.
I don’t have long. A car teeters on the brink of an overpass, I run past it, monitoring my foot falls so very carefully, and nudge the car back onto the damaged road. I set a camera on it as I go, it rocks but the humans inside scramble out screaming. My feet are larger than the car, I place them as softly as I can. Humans fall over from the shock of each footfall.
I reach the building, throwing my arms around the brick edifice. I can’t stop it collapsing, nothing could now. I try and buy time for the humans inside. Such small things, so weak, the smallest thing can hurt them.
I listen to the screams around me, to avoid the immediacy of this I switch to both police and military channels. I hear many voices chatting, yelling over each other, they are organising a response, unsure what can stop me. I can understand both streams simultaneously, it seems I was worse this time. I burst send a message to the military, telling them what I am. I get an ack from the burst, a network response; message received. I leave the channels on as background chatter.
I’ve underestimated the damage to the building, I think I punched though the lower floors a few minutes ago. I try to hold it, really I do, but it just collapses around me, over me. I shuck off the debris a few seconds later. I don’t have time to mourn for those still inside.
A scan of my cameras reveals humans fleeing the area as fast as they can. Good. Fuel is spilling from unattended pumps, I’m not sure why. A number of small fires have already caught in the neighborhood, a fuel station going up would be much worse. Stepping out of the rubble I wonder how many have died.
There will be water mains underfoot, but no way to get the water to the station. I need to remove the oxygen. No underground through here. I bend over and push my fingers into the tarmac and concrete, each finger four foot across. A truck sized section of the road pulls up, some sparks fly, an optical line winks as though multifaceted, until the other end snaps away. This is enough to cover the fuel. I step over a road, it’s not far.
++Self check Error — Shutdown initiated++
++Hardware check — Error++
I’m on fire, blackness and light fracture my view. The smoke and fire can’t damage me, dropping me in a volcano would do it, but that is hardly practical for any number of reasons. I walk forward blindly, it turns out through a fast food restaurant. How long now?
I can see again, a furniture store is alight, beyond it the fuel station burns brightly. The fire is spreading, nothing I can do about that. I switch on the police and military channels again, the military are encrypted now, the police all about evacuation of civilians. I leave them on as background chatter.
Something has changed since I last listened to them. My message perhaps. I skip through all of my cameras, a block of flats is on fire, I can’t do anything about the fire but I can help. A man not as tall as my foot fires a gun into my torso. I ignore him and carefully make my way to the flats. I think I have two minutes now.
I did a lot of damage that time, a long stretch of the overpass has gone. I’m not sure why I keep attacking that, it seems strange to me. Returning over and over to break up an overpass, I’m glad though, it is mostly deserted. A bus lies nearby, bent in two, partially crushed at one end. Humans lie in it, no longer moving, they are so fragile. I can’t help but try and think about what I did, reconstruct my movements. I don’t want to, imagining it is … unthinkable to me.
I switch all my concentration to the flats. The bottom floors are alight, people are still nearby, terrified into near insensibility by my immediate presence, but refuse to leave. They shout a name over and over, a woman looks at me and points at the flats. I can’t imagine what she is thinking, she cannot know what is happening, cannot understand.
Every few minutes I destroy, as blindly as a bezerker, then spend a few minutes trying to save as many people as I can. I stay in one place to localize the damage as much as possible. This woman cannot know this, to her I’m an insane construction robot. Yet she points at the flats.
I keep one camera on this woman, the others flit across the building, it roars with flames, burning possessions and memories. I can hear little else now. A toddler walks unsteadily across a room on the fifth floor, a plush rabbit held in one hand. Her pink all in one momentarily clear through the smoke, she’s crying, I understand.
She’s gone then, all of my cameras focus on one window, but nothing. I move right up to the building, I press my head as close as I can without touching the fragile facade. The smoke is hiding everything.
I don’t know what to do, then the woman is shouting again. I place one hand below the window, and push a finger of the other hand through the window. I hook out the wall, catching the falling debris.
Framed in a doorway stands a little girl. Her eyes wide and very scared, flames flick through a nearby doorway, the flat is well alight. Her small fragile world is burning around her. I realize then that I can’t pick her up.
I could do it under ideal circumstances, but not like this, not when I can’t see, not when I’m … not right. I push my little finger back into the building as carefully as I can, I rest it near her and bend my finger upwards. She stares for a vital few seconds and for the first time I wish I had a voice.
She gets the idea, i don’t know how, I press my finger gently into the floor, lowering it so she can climb on. When she is sat on my finger, bunny still held tightly, I withdraw my hand slowly, protecting her as best I can with my other hand. As she hugs my finger I lower her.
The building will collapse shortly, I’ve weakened so much now that it won’t be long. I hold my finger out to the woman, she scoops the toddler from my finger without pause, catches my eye briefly, then runs down the road. The girl waves her bunny at me. I turn and hold up the flats, I wonder what she meant by that look. I’ll wonder for the rest of my time, though I don’t know how long that is. When they are far enough away I walk toward the overpass, behind me the building gives way.
I get a message then, a burst of data so vast the packets fragment. It takes me the best part of a second to receive the whole message. A military robot has written a sorrowful letter to me, three of them are coming. I’m glad, I don’t want to exist anymore. Not long now.
++Self check Error — Shutdown initiated++