Uromys Rex sat in the pitch black, another noise in the inky distance broke his state of inactivity. He had placed himself in sleep mode to conserve what energy was left in his power cell, for what reason he couldn’t compute. He was, as all his kind were, programmed for self-preservation, (unless of course, it put human wellbeing in jeopardy), even in his present disabled predicament, with no foreseeable way out, it must be a viable option.
He angled his small head toward the disturbance, giving his aural receptors the best chance of identifying the sound. No, it was all quiet again.
Uromys Rex sat straining for more audible information, the silence was deafening, a silent hum in the absolute dark. He made a rough calculation of where the clamour had originated and concluded it was on the same level as he. Should he risk dragging himself towards the origin of the sound and risk using valuable energy for what could be a fruitless quest in the darkness?
His small capacity for understanding the implications of this action led him to question the logic. He agonised over the practicality of attempting the trek, given his already broken chassis, legs permanently smashed, against the hope that he could be found and repaired to be made functional and able to pursue his duties as a maintenance robot. To be what he was designed for, a useful and committed tool in the workplace.
He listened rigorously for what seemed an age, there was nothing, unusually for a machine he felt discouraged and despondent.
Uromys Rex had weighed the odds and decided to remain in the black, he relaxed his listening attitude and slumped into the wreckage of his broken legs beneath him, defeated.
Suddenly in reasonable proximity to where he situated there came another sound, it was not familiar to him, a scraping metallic sound. For around an hour the scraping seemed to be coming closer, Uromys Rex turned his head toward the approaching noise, trying desperately to gather some coherence as to distance and identification.
The scraping was getting ever nearer, it was perhaps only a matter of several metres from him. There was an almost inaudible whirring accompanying the scraping, it was definitely on a path coinciding with Uromys Rex. The absolute darkness exaggerated the noises, he sat as still as a stone, listening, listening.
Now the sounds changed subtly, his aural receptors received the vibrations, both longitudinal and transverse waves were analysed and frequency checked, whatever was making the scraping sound was passing by, away from Uromys Rex. He struggled to make a judgement, should he commit to silence and let the stranger in the dark pass along, thus leaving him to face the black alone again. Having no vocal function he was unable to summon the newcomer. He had made a decision, clapping his steel hands together twice, the metal ringing sharply through the darkness.
The clamour echoed and faded to nothing, Uromys Rex again searched, his auditory perception at its zenith of capability. He rotated his head slowly left, then right and left again listening. The sound had stopped.
For what seemed an age nothing happened, then the dragging resumed, this time he could gauge the whereabouts of this unseen traveller. Whatever approached had arrived, Uromys Rex, reached out, probing with his hands, his stannic fingers seeking the new arrival, a strange feeling of dread crept into his circuits. Could this be an error, would this new arrival be benign or a threat? Before he could modify his decision his hand touched something smooth and metallic.
His touch sensors were loosely based on the human somatosensory system, pressure, temperature, shape, texture and vibration. It wasn’t long before he could identify the new discovery, it was one of the maintenance crew, a robot the same as he. Abandoned in this vast complex, without light or support for wireless communication, effectively marooned and left to their own fates.
As he examined further, running his hands over the prone robot, he discovered the poor mech had befallen a similar misfortune to himself. The legs were buckled and useless, twisted and non-functional. The unfortunate fellow had probably fallen from the overhead maintenance gantries whilst stumbling blindly around in the pitch darkness. Often in the first few years of the dark, Uromys Rex would hear a distant clamour, but these days not much at all.
A hand touched Uromys about the head another around his shoulder plates, he reciprocated by placing an arm around his new companion, they embraced each other in an effort to console and comfort each other. With no other way of communicating, they reverted to that most ‘human’ form of attachment, physical contact. Like two wounded comrades waiting for the end, they lapsed into dormancy mode to further conserve energy.
A year passed, perhaps longer, the two unfortunates huddled together for mutual solace in the darkness, small movements between them the only indication they were still operational, if only at a lower state of viability. An unseen, distant commotion stimulated the pair out of their latent state and back into a vigilant capacity. Both rose slightly, releasing each other and scanning the darkness for information, heads turning right and left, seeking answers. The whirr of their electric motors whispering softly as they drove the gears responsible for movement.
Another loud crash echoed through the darkened halls, stirring the two robots into a more fevered search. The light came as abruptly as the noises, flooding the chamber and shedding much longed for illumination. Obviously the power had been re-established as the overhead lighting flickered into life and glared brightly. Almost instantaneously Li-Fi communication between the two broken ‘bots was confirmed and Uromys Rex basked in the flood of new information and it was obviously reciprocated by his companion, judging by the to and fro of transmissions.
There were others linking in to the Li-Fi loop, others that used to be in the work group, the sudden chatter threatened to overwhelm Uromys’ circuits, it had been so long since he’d heard the endless cyber connections. He had a strange feeling of loss as he calculated the number of survivors of his associates, barely twelve, maybe thirteen out of over a hundred of his kind.
The light revealed the extent of disuse since the lock down, the building was in a sorry state, dust and debris lie everywhere, they would need a reliable maintenance force to rectify the situation. Uromys Rex, despite his disability, was in a state of robotic euphoria. The thought of being of service again was intoxicating.
There was movement, Uromys and his companion, turned their heads toward the approaching figures, perfectly visible now the the dark was banished. At last, salvation.
The steel rod caught Uromys a glancing blow alongside his head, he was thrown backwards twisting with the force of the impact, he ended in a tangled heap, broken legs twisted around him. He shut himself down, damage limitation. Rebooting brought with it a sensation of movement, he and a number of other maintenance ‘bots were being hauled through the derelict building on the flat bed of a small electric buggy, two humans sat at the front in control. Exiting the building the cart travelled some hundred meters toward a larger vehicle, they bounced roughly around whilst in transit, then the buggy stopped.
Uromys Rex and his fellow passengers were unceremoniously dumped in the back of the larger truck and the doors closed with a slam, back in the dark. Having established communications with the other robots, it was easier to configure an alternative method of connection because of the close proximity to each other. The communion between them was palpable and the chatter frantic to say the least. But there was something else trying to commune with him, but it seemed faint and distant, nothing tangible.
The truck stopped some two hours or so later and the doors flung open, the light was dimming so it must be early evening. The robots were manhandled out of the back into another conveyance and driven into what appeared to be a run down industrial area, decrepit and dilapidated units running down both sides of a road in disrepair. A large roller shutter door started to open with an ear-splitting screech and rattle and they were driven inside. What they saw was truly worrying and confusing, there before them was the remnants of what seemed to be a large number of broken robots, limbs and chassis, collecting in the corners of the large work unit, heaped together, like old unwanted scrap metal.
Unable to move under their own steam, due to the damage to their legs, Uromys and his companion were dragged from the vehicle and thrown roughly against the wall. The other robots, all exhibiting the scars of their stay in the locked down building, ambled uncertainly in a group. Most of them missing arms or presenting some evidence of some other drastic trauma, none in pristine condition by any stretch of the imagination, the human members forcefully encouraging them to move quicker with violent prodding with metal rods.
After a few minutes a thick steel door opened with a creak and another human entered the room, he had an arrogance and an intimidating air about him, he bore the warpaint of the ‘Pierrots’. He eyed the days ‘catch’ dispassionately, “I reckon we’ll get at least
eight good’uns out of these, get to it!” The other humans herded the ‘bots through the steel door into a larger hanger type area, Uromys Rex watched in dismay and confusion at what he saw, there were other robots in the hanger, all painted in lurid black and yellow stripes, all shuffling beside long benches, purposely attending to their duties. On the benches were the remains of other robots, some completely dismantled others looking around frantically for some kind of impossible deliverance, their optics flicking this way and that in what could only be described as terror. The chatter was deafening, the panic was infectious and it threatened to overwhelm him.
The striped ‘bots continued working undeterred by their counterparts on the benches, wielding the tools needed to strip the others of vital components, numbly going about their business. On occasion a human overseer would provide some forceful encouragement in the form of a blow or an electrical discharge to the ‘striped’ from what can only be described as a cattle prod. Not enough to cause permanent damage, but certainly enough to put the point across.
Uromys Rex was dragged toward one of the benches, lifted and dumped heavily on the metal worktop. The work surface was perforated with a myriad of holes, the hydraulic fluids that inevitably leaked from his dismembered brethren drained through into catch tanks beneath the benches, the lifeblood of a robot.
Two of the ‘striped’ approached, the necessary tools hung from an overhead rig, flexible drive shafts, feeding rotational, mechanical power to the tools from motors situated above. It was a very macabre production line, the only thing this factory produced was horror. The ‘striped’ proceeded with their tasks, one restrained Uromys as he thrashed his arms about in self-defence, the other went to work. The shrill whine of the drive pierced the air as the fasteners attaching his broken pelvic unit were removed. He felt a shudder as it was tugged away from his torso, the feeds carrying his hydraulics spilling onto the worktop like a mass of metallic intestines. The thin mineral oil bled from the severed feeds and seeped through the bench to the catch tank. He had no choice but to surrender to his fate, he did as he was programmed, when in a state of crisis, he entered dormant mode.
Uromys Rex felt a surge of electrical power, restarting his systems with a jolt. As he came back online, he frantically looked around to ascertain the situation, he was seated in a dimly lit room with other ‘bots, he determined that he was still operational and able to compute. There was something else, he had legs, the smashed and serviceable limbs he had suffered with for so long had been replaced by a functioning pair. He wondered where they might have come from, then the realisation that they had been harvested from some other unfortunate donor, but why? He was about to find out.
As his optics became accustomed to the light, the other robots in the room became more evident, they were decorated in the same manner as the ‘striped’, black and yellow banding, it took a moment to register, he was decorated the same way.
The door swung open, two humans entered the room and ushered the robots out into the benched area. Uromys Rex was forcibly ordered to pick up some of the discarded remains of now defunct, inoperative robotic debris and was instructed to follow one of the other ‘striped’. He was obviously programmed to understand spoken language, although not able to respond in kind and to submit to human authority. He was surprised he offered obedience so swiftly, had his behaviour protocols been altered to be more compliant?
He lifted a dented, headless chassis from the pile at the end of one of the benches and shuffled after the ‘striped’, as they passed another room on route, Uromys glanced in and to his horror he saw several head units, secured to posts, with his passing their optics fluttered alarmingly toward him, silently crying out for help. How could he?
The two robots exited the rear of the building and walked with their cargo towards what appeared to be a large scrap pile, as they walked Uromys was desperately reaching out to his companion in front of him but their seemed to be very little response. Desperate to understand what was happening, he tried again to make contact but the ‘striped’ seemed unresponsive to his communicative advances, he sensed a hopelessness, a despair almost.
As they approached the heap, something seemed to be buzzing in his receptors, like the nagging of a forgotten memory he couldn’t retrieve, he’d felt it before in the truck, but it was barely a whisper then. With barely fifty meters to go, the buzzing started to clarify, it was ‘chatter’. It washed over him and through him like the rush of a drug, getting ever stronger the closer he got. A multitude of cyber voices all speaking as one, “We are 54”.