The Golden Desert Hotel on Tyche was a strange place and Anny didn’t like it. Sure, its “gilded” crown molding was gold spray-painted to look like it had seen flaky centuries, the elaborately framed mirrors artfully “tarnished”, and canvas-printed “paintings” of pastoral landscapes may have created the illusion of an old and timeless locale, but to Anny it seemed more like a theme park ride, only convincing if you really were in the mood to believe.
She would be merely annoyed, roll her eyes and sigh, if it weren’t for the eerily flickering lights overhead, the creak of doors opening and closing in the distance on their own, and the fact that they had yet to see a single solitary soul. That last part was design, however, their briefing documents emphasized that while they were left alone to investigate without interference, there would be security staff watching through the cameras and they were not to take or leave anything behind. Anny shot a glance at the lidless black eye sweeping back and forth from its perch in the ceiling and shuddered. The quicker they could finish his mission, the better.
On the table was a single room key with the words “ALL ACCESS” scrawled on it in magic marker, Anny scooped it up and frowned. She’d hoped there’d be two so she could send her robot shadow somewhere – anywhere – else but she supposed they wouldn’t trust an android with free run of the place anyway.
“The brief said it all started on the thirteenth floor. Spooky, right?” Anny said as she pushed the ‘ancient’ brass button of the elevator.
“Don’t tell me you’re superstitious,” WISR said.
“Maybe a little! This whole place is eerie as all get out.”
“And you’re sure it’s not the automated system looking for attention?”
“Which is more likely? A simple, voice-activated IF/THEN program gaining enough self-awareness to cause mischief, or…”
“Or faulty wiring.”
Anny looked up to spot Mirae leaning on the counter above her, taking a noisy slurp from the drink in her hand.
“Faulty wiring, it was just the electricity. Saw it on a TV show once,” Mirae said.
“Everything seems to be in working order,” WISR announced, snapping the breaker panel closed over an array of green all-clear lights. “Nothing’s broken or needs to be maintenanced. There’s no discernible reason for things acting so strangely.”
“Any…any working theories?” Anny asked, wrapping her arms anxiously around her middle. “Besides… you know.”
His pixelated smile narrowed to a hyphenated glare, “Don’t say it.”
“B-But what if this place really,” she had to force the words out, “really is, y’know?”
“Well, don’t you worry, Anniekins, I will keep you safe from the ghouls and the ghosties.”
“Never call me that again,” she growled.
“Well then, my dearest Anniepoo, if it truly is specters and spirits, is it our duty to exorcise them?”
“I swear, calculator, you’ll be fit for scrap in a second.”
“Any more clues?”
“I’m not sure,” Anny replied, her hands rubbing up and down her arms, “Hey, did it just get really cold in here?”
“My sensors indicate a significant drop in temperature. Almost makes me feel sorry for the organics in the room.”
“Har dee har har. The thermostat says nothing’s changed, though.”
Nikolae leaned against the break room door, experimentally tossing the up apple in his hand a few times before taking a massive bite. Mirae who had long since joined Jalissa and Endon on the floor gave Anny a nudge with her elbow and a knowing grin.
“It wasn’t faulty wiring!” Anny insisted, “Will you people give it a rest and let me get on with the story? Although WISR probably already told you all of this.”
“He would if I actually cared.”
“Well, now I know where he gets that terrible attitude from. Will you let me finish?”
He put on a bitter grin and a posh accent, “No, do go on dear.”