“That’s weird”, WISR remarked, tucking the cables back into his wrist.
“It says that the system was disconnected from the official server around the same time the strange things started happening. And the code of the thing that’s running it? Looks nothing like what it’s supposed to.”
His smile switched to the data output and Anny grasped both sides of his monitor to tug him in closer, peering at the various strings of numbers and letters.
“That’s an android,” she said, as he swatted her hands way and straightened, “A service model, maybe, probably one of the staff. They plugged a living robot into their controls and now they’re messing with them.”
Endon’s attempt at a musical stinger didn’t impress Jalissa, who replied with a firm shoulder nudge.
“Ow! Sorry! But still, what a twist!” he cried.
“Seriously,” Jalissa said, “Is that even legal?”
Anny waved her hand from side-to-side, “Sorta. Either way, we had to investigate.”
Row after row of empty-eyed androids stood like sleeping soldiers, the lights at their hearts slowly breathing in and out of standby glow. Anny shuddered, more than slightly unnerved.
“Do you see any that aren’t on?” WISR asked.
“Not as far as I can tell.”
She switched on the flashlight on her watch, casting sinister shadows on lifeless faces. These androids weren’t customized or personalized like consumer models meant for families and companions. Each one was a flat, featureless face with the smallest peak of a nose in the middle of the shiny white surface. Anny knew that behind the plastic was an LED light array that would project eyes and mouths to convey emotion – usually an inhumanly cheery grin in upturned half-moon eyes, as they were oh-so-pleased to serve, but without the added futures, they looked more like pale ghosts in waistcoats. Genderless, featureless, anonymous.
They made her jump back, arms waving, shouting something unintelligible.
“You alright there, partner?”
Plastic and metal hands on her shoulders only served to frighten her further, she whipped around, her flashlight dancing wildly.
“Easy, there. They’re just robots, same as the ones you see every day. Unless you’re this scared of me too.”
She swore his smile grew smile grew a few pixels into a smug grin. Anny just frowned.“Only scary thing about you is that no one’s fed you through a woodchipper by now.”
“Come now, you would have lost your job three times over were I not there to save you. It wouldn’t be a pleasant experience for either of us. But onto the task at hand, shall we split up? Cover more ground?”
“Y-Yeah,” she stammered, a hand rubbing up and down her goosebump-prickled arm.
Alone, Anny marched down the row, thrusting her light at the shadowed bodies, but each one had a status light to match. It was in the middle when she bumped up against another figure, sending terrified shivers down her spine.
“Find anything?” WISR asked, his monitor glass glinting in her flashlight before he gently pushed her arm aside.
“No, they’re all on. You?”
He shook his head.
“Well, now what?”
“We could call management back, tell them we’ve had enough nonsense for one day. You’d take a hit on your paycheck, maybe, but you wouldn’t have to deal with the scary ghosties any more.”
“What? No! No way! I’ve never given up on a job before and I’m not going to now.”
“But just look at you! You’re positively shaking! Clearly, this kind of job is too much for you. There is no shame in quitting while you’re ahead.”
Anny pushed past him, trooping back up the stairs in a huff.
“I’m not quitting, not now, not ever.”
Once her eyes adjusted to the world outside the musty basement, Anny noticed something.
The light above her head flickered out as soon as she stepped beneath it, the next one stuttering alive. She narrowed her eyes at it, then took another step forward. It too went out, the one after uneasily blinking on.
“What are you doing?” WISR asked.
“Trying something,” she answered, following the light down the hall and around the corner.
When she took the next step, however, the light stayed in place. Nothing seemed different or unusual about this spot, though, same foil-embellished wallpaper, same ugly patterned carpet.
“Well. That was pointless,” the android announced.
This couldn’t be just it. There had to be some reason why she was lead here. If she was lead here. She looked to her right, looked to her left, and spotted a closet. She grabbed the doorknob, the door creaking open almost of its own accord.
Amongst the ancient, stained mops and cleaning supplies, their labels faded and peeling, a figure sat collapsed and crumbled in the dim shadows.