What follows is the first chapter of a new work in progress called Interference. It has yet to be seen whether this will wind up being a short story or something longer, but right now my money is on something longer.
Content warning for brief references to torture and grievous bodily injury.
Kay’s treads just weren’t made for off-road travel. After nearly losing his balance and sliding back down a particularly rocky slope, the battered librarian climbed to his feet and took stock of his surroundings.
Rocky soil stretched up the rutted trail in front of him, framed on either side by scrubby alder and arctic birch. Ahead, over the shoulder of the hill, the antennas of a radio tower farm stretched into the cloudy sky. Kay removed a crushed alder leaf that had become caught in the hinge of his right elbow and allowed himself a moment to stare longingly at the antenna array, lost in its hypnotic song.
Down in the flatlands of Southbank, the array had been a crown of spikes atop a distant hill. Its call had been little more than a whisper, easily ignored. The closer he came, the clearer the signal grew. The multi-pitched murmur caressed his circuits and vibrated through his processors, promising–
Kay froze mid-computation. He couldn’t figure why the whisper of the signal felt so pleasant, or why the feeling compelled him to come closer. Perhaps he’d understand when he reached his destination. Bob would be there, he reasoned, and Bob would be able to explain it to him.
The librarian adjusted the small waterproof pack holding his spare battery, leaned forward to maximize his grip on the slippery earth, and tackled the treacherous hill again. After much slipping and sliding and a fall that put new dents in his battered chassis, the top of the hill finally came into view.
An eight foot high chainlink fence surrounded by brush and topped with razor wire circled each cluster of transmitter towers. Self-maintaining generator sheds emitted a bass hum that provided a pleasant counterpoint to the relay’s ephemeral song.
At the top of the rise another fence inclosed an old wooden building shaped like a rectangular box, its windows covered with weathered plywood. The signal from the listing, corroded tower beside it dragged Kay forward like an invisible hand, muffling even the insistent beeping of the librarian’s battery monitor. It wasn’t until his visual feed began to flicker that he realized he was dangerously close to shutting down.
Bob, despite his nickname, would not have had this problem even after the long climb. His friend was one of the bio-synthetic Real Bot companion models, powered by the electrical current given off by his organic components.
Shutting down all but his most basic functions, Kay opened the battery compartment in his chest and swapped the spent battery for a fresh cell from his bag. Energy surged through his circuitry, mingling with the siren song of the tower, pushing him forward. He told himself that he was only doing this for his friend, and for Bob’s distraught human partner, but the closer he came to the tower the harder it was to ignore the influence of its signal.
The fence around the warped building and repeater tower was festooned with arcane warnings and No Trespassing signs, but oddly enough its gate hung open, inviting the curious. Kay paused, confused. His code strictly forbade violating the rules laid out by the humans, but his logic processor suggested loopholes. The open gate was one of them. If the humans wanted no one to enter, why was it open? An open door was an invitation.
Bob wasn’t outside the building, so Kay made his way through the weeds and up a set of metal stairs to the porch. A colony of wasps had made the covered entryway their home; their tiny bodies bounced off his chassis in futile rage as he approached the front door.
Like the gate, the door stood open. Gibberish markings, neither words nor pictograms, covered the walls inside. Kay supposed they might be human art. He was a reference librarian, but when it came to art his programming was still rather basic. The tower’s song was so strong that it verged on overloading his circuits and scrambled the higher functions of his processor core, so he focused on his sole reason for being there: finding Bob.
The main and upper floors of the building were empty except for the occasional piece of trash. Behind the main staircase, another set of stairs descended into the dimness of a basement. Candles, half melted, had been arranged around the low, windowless room. Their flickering illumination provided just enough light for Kay to find his way.
Processor slowed by the interference, it took the librarian a few moments to interpret what he was seeing. Broken androids rested against the walls, spilling skeins of wiring, their processor cores open to the air. Against the back wall, surrounded by candles, a human shape hung suspended by its arms. The bare cement around it was stained dark.
Kay shuffled closer. The figure wore Bob’s trademark fitted jeans and hiking boots, but the organic flesh of his face had been peeled away to reveal the naked composite chassis beneath. The Real Bot’s upper body had been similarly mutilated.
Kay’s librarian programming helpfully displayed descriptive words for the images filtering through his processor core. Death. Torture. Mutilation. Murder. The figure in front of him was part of a crime scene, and as the discovering party it was his duty to report it to the authorities.
Unfortunately bots sometimes made poor judgement calls about what constituted an emergency, so he had no direct link to human emergency systems. He could, however, uploaded the scene to the library’s internal communication server and flag it as urgent. A human librarian would surely see it and forward it to the human authorities.
Upload completed, Kay leaned down and gingerly touched the figure’s shoulder. There was no response. The Real Bot’s chest no longer rose and fell, and Kay felt that was a bad sign. He should try to help while he waited. The first step was to undo the wires holding the bot suspended by his arms.
Kay was so absorbed in his task that he never noticed the disturbed flickering of the candles. He had no idea he was no longer alone until something struck him across the back of his head, cracking his chassis and crushing the fragile chips and sensors within. The librarian lurched sideways and crashed to the floor.
Interference, Chapter 1: Kay – copyright 2018 Leland Lydecker
Photo of old building next to radio tower – copyright 2018 Nocturnal Lynx Photography