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Midnight discovery

by Scott Trudeau 7 months ago in Sci Fi

The future without us

It was a little past nine in the evening. The night air carried a sting of cold in the dehydrated atmosphere. The usual mix of smog and dust defined the atmosphere. T-14 thought that surely all this night was lacking was a generous spray of moisture and his scene would disappear under a tiny white blanket.

Fortunately for his forensic inspection the air was dry. This is the point where all the data that made sense tonight would stop.

T-14, an investigation model bot. Persona profile 1920s private investigator but working with the 3rd district PD. His C-series piston leg joints had been months without oil as he motioned himself forward with a casual limp to his left side. Slide and click was the sound that accompanied him as he approached the carnage.

Oil and hydraulic fluids painted a grisly portrait upon the otherwise uninteresting alleyway. Smoke, fumes and broken parts littered the ground.

Slide click, he stepped over a small pile of springs and washers. The March continued, slide click. T-14 shambled to his right bypassing scored and ruptured metallic fragments. He came finally to a stop at a point about eighty paces into the alley and knelt before a brass filled metallic orb that once played the role of a head to a simple serving bot. Lifeless optic sensors met his gaze. Smoke and melted plastic told a story of an ending filled with tremendous pain that was not fast but was deliberate. This little one had suffered. The damage was extensive, it took several scans to process before T-14 could identify the model. A 34B work suport series bot. Once upon a time they served as Butlers but after the P-servators came into the fold they fell out of that role and became relegated to labor bots or warehouse stock boys and lab assistants. Unlike the P-servators, 34Bs were old school tech from bygone days when humans still controlled the world. They lacked the capacity for full free thought. Some argued the assessment may have sold the bots short but no evidence was ever presented to back this claim. Their memory storage was insufficient to store persona overlays so the models melted into the social wallpaper much like their creators, humans.

T-14 let his processors run with this tangent like memory, or a daydream. To their credit, humans had produced two substantial achievements. They had forged the baseline tech for inorganic society to prosper within a framework including introducing personalities and role descriptions for non-organic life. And more importantly, when they died off, they left templates for society programming to allow a social structure to be integrated. Say what you want about humans, but creativity was a skill non-organic life was never programmed with. The selection process had been very comprehensive in the wake of human passing. In the end a roaring twenties theme won out. Personas were disbursed and the bot world went on without human influence. So it was that T-14 of the San-Vago multiplex found himself a sergeant investigating a disturbance in a back alley on the outskirts of town.

T-14 widened his visual assessment. Detached from the bulk of robotic remains was a scorched partial arm. It laid upon the concrete like a clue. All that seemed to be missing was a cardboard fold with a label "exhibit a". A glint flashed in 14s visual receptors. Instantly the image magnified, there was an object within the clamps that functioned once as fingers for the body of the fallen.

T-14 reached for the rendered appendage. He slowly pried open the grip. What dropped to his open hand made no sense. A length of polished metal chain only 3 millimeters in width stretched out on either side of a compact container. No electrical components were visible. No data port, no power supply. Only a simple button clasp on the unusually shaped storage device.

T-14 clicked open the broach like object within a quizzical glance. He traced the double rounded tops down to their pointy bottom tips. The shape was significant. A heart he thought to himself. Contained within the heart was a scrap of fibrous mass, paper? Nobody had seen paper scraps in ages. That would make this a locket. A heart shaped locket.

Buy why?

Why was it here?

Why was it in the dying grip of an outmoded service bot?

This made no sense. The bot world had taken personality from humans. Also some fashion influences, but not jewelry.

Not sentiment.

A locket was generally a momento.

Emotional attachment.

Perhaps the answer lay upon this paper scrap?

"33874DF activate"

A code?

The desk at the precinct occupied by officer T-14 was an oak construct. It was littered with data in the form of paperwork projections. A stylized display pattern society had come to expect. There were circular oil stains in random places about the same shape as old school coffee mugs to give a look of authenticity. Every detail was accounted for to preserve "the spark!" The nickname for any reference to the lost arts of human creativity. For all their constructed superiority the one trait all of the mechanical metroplex wished for was their own true sense of the spark!

Humans were inferior in every way. Yet say what you want about their organic frailty and their departure by way of their own shortsightedness, the human mind; however flawed, was very creative. Despite all the improvements made in society since their disappearance humanity and their minds were tragically missed. At least by most. There were those in higher places who held a good riddance policy where humans were concerned. Humans were violent, destructive, messy and woefully terminal. The last humans had gone by the wayside nearly half a century ago.

Arranged in what seemed to be a random scattered pattern across his desk T-14 displayed random photo style images upon his desk. The projections were made to resemble old school photos of images from his crime scene he investigated the evening before. Though he could process all the data simultaneously, there was something soothing about the formal attempt at a display.

Crime scene.

Those words seemed to be a source of turmoil in his processors. Can you really call it a crime scene with such a low tech bot? They were never complex enough for true sentience. At least according to all accounts. Would it even have known it suffered? By the same token, why would someone attack and destroy such an insignificant bot? No 34Bs had ever been noted to cause harm or glitch in a harmful capacity. Then there's the matter of the locket. When humans were no longer among society the idea of jewelry was one segment of the persona societal programming that was not maintained. Most of the materials had much better applications in electronic components. A desire for a society template was certainly necessary but practical modifications just made sense. Since organic beings were no longer around, the ability to regulate the costs of such materials also became much easier to justify. No longer was society bound by an outlandish mark up simply because it was pretty. But it's conductor speed, now that was a real justification. But for reasons unknown this 34B had clung to the trinket with it's last breath, so to speak. Within the locket a simple scrap of parchment.

The unfolded fragment revealed a combination or a sequence of some kind. "33874DF activate" it read. T-14 spread the illusionary mass of projected photos around his desktop scanning each in detail.

What was here that he wasn't seeing? Someone had attacked this bot, someone who intended it to suffer. Someone unconcerned about its discovery. It was just a 34B, maybe they thought nobody would care or miss it. Most wouldn't, there was some truth in that.

T-14 suddenly stiffened, his head tilted left in a gesture of an inspired thought. He rifled the drawer of illusionary files that represented the global database. The bot was registered with a company formerly known as Centris. Centris was the target of a recent corporate takeover and immediately after the acquisition the entire staff of Centris was terminated and their assets vacated and a stop on all corprate projects. The new owners, a company called "Atlas Holdings" simply ordered the facilities closed pending reorganization and assimilation.

This little guy had been a warehouse worker on the East side. Maybe this warehouse held some answers. T-14 stood and swung his trench coat around his shoulders. The material cascaded down his stance with the grace of a parachute. No doubt a practiced maneuver. He tumbled his fedora down his arm and onto his head. He was careful to angle it thirty degrees to his left. The look was distinctive. He checked the charge in his department issue weapons before vanishing it beneath his jacket. In his mind he envisioned a grandiose and graceful maneuver toward the exit. What followed in reality was slide click. His limp took nothing away from his pace but it lacked style and grace. Brutes were not meant to be graceful. As he entered the elevator his processors began to ponder the question "What secrets were you carrying my little friend?"

The approach to the warehouse was dark, too dark. Perhaps best described as pitch black. It was as if the order to cut operations meant cut power to the building and had included all backup generators. That meant nothing was running. No security services, cameras, scanners or electronic doors and locks.

There was a creepy sensation which accompanied the approach to a building. No signs of power, not even street lights. The entire campus was cast in a vain of midnights best handiwork. To a more sophisticated collection of hardware like T-14, an adjustment to a night vision mode was less accurate to his persona programming but he made an exception in this case.

T-14 traversed the empty corridors and office spaces above the main floor of the massive building. Something felt off. He could feel it. Something was not right. The dread sense he was being watched or scanned. The frosted glass door was labeled "supervisor office" on a loft floor overlooking the warehouse floor. T-14 scanned doorframe noting the continued blackness of a building without energy. Looking to the floor below he noticed it was as if the stop order had been so sudden that even the assets had not been moved. Crates lined the floor below from wall to wall, some stacks were ten or more crates high. T-14 slipped inside the office finding the electronic lock was not a concern without power. A desk much like his own sat on the far side of the room. A quiet hum emanated from the oak interior. This desk had independent power and upon the desk was a file projection. Someone had either carelessly left a file out or someone had recently been in this room. T-14 slid his hand beneath his duster and retrieved his service weapon as he converged on the desk. What his visual receptors fell upon nearly caused his mind to instantly short circuit!

He sensed them before he saw them, his combat reflexes executed a graceful sideways dive as a hail of blasts arched through the space his body once filled. Piercing bolts of light lit the pitch black room as T-14 pinned himself to the underside of the oak desk.

He slid left of the desk and rapidly returned fire. But it was too late and he knew it. The coast was clear. Whomever had been the assailant was gone. And their cascade of attacks had been more distraction than actually attempts to kill. The file had been the target and the marksman had hit the bullseye. The evidence was gone.

All that is except the visual record of his sensor memory. He could not unsee the image if he tried. There in his memory, an image of thousands of stasis pods. Somewhere out there, humans were alive!

Sci Fi

Scott Trudeau


Read next: From the Other Side

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