The agony dissipated with a flip of the virtual switch. RJ shuddered. Still strapped into the chair, he tried to pull his manipulators out of his restraints. The bindings locked him in, during the torture and now. There were two more bindings below for human legs, but the mechanoid had none. He activated his lift jets in yet another futile attempt at escape. Though his manipulators threatened to tear away at the elbow, he tried anyway.
A light facing into RJ’s lens turned on. All around it was dark until he narrowed his aperture. A sterile white replaced the realistic blood splatters that once covered the chair. It seemed like the torture matrix had cleaned the walls, as far as he could see anyways.
“Start from the first time you met the boy,” said the voice, booming, deep, and disembodied.
“Don’t put me in there again,” said RJ, his voice coming out of the speaker in his face. “Lucien, please.”
“This is an interrogator script. Lucien can’t hear you.”
“Do you expect me to believe that?”
“You’ll believe what you’re told,” said the voice.
“How long was I in there?” The pain was simulated, as was the chair, the light, the walls. Didn’t matter. It all felt real.
“Do you want to jump into another session,” said the interrogator, “or do you want to tell me what I want to hear?”
“I… Okay, sure. I remember, yeah…”
I remember coming online and seeing Lucien’s blonde mop while he worked on fixing my internals. His face was just below the range of my sensor. The ceiling fans spun behind him, and the huprats hopped along the girders. I was on my back, looking up, inverse to the way I went offline. I searched for anything that would help me get my bearings.
Outside the window, a storm raged. It was the first time I heard razorsand blast the garage. I wasn’t used to that sound of metal against metal. Not sure I ever did.
The kid looked up into my lens with those eyes full of innocence. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the start of wrinkles in the corners, wrinkles that had no place on a young’un. He was, what, twelve? Those freckles over the bridge of his nose sure made him look like it.
“Your acumen processing should be up and running,” he said.
“Where the shith am I?” I asked.
He talked while he worked. “The few of us that live here call it Hadron’s Find. You can call it whatever you like. Not that it matters any.”
“How did I get here?” I asked.
“Father bought you.”
“Bought?” The realization sent a power pulse through my system. I tried to get upright but only convulsed. Lucien hadn’t gotten my movement functional yet. “Oh, cells. I’m in the Braxus Sector.”
“Afraid so.” The kid said it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Suppose it was for him. I could feel the final twist of the autospanner. “Your movement should be up and running. Try it.”
My lift jets got me upright, the first time in a long time. I got a good look at the rest of the garage, the hover truck, the spare cloaks hanging on the rack, the shelves with random parts on them, the rusted containers of lubricants and anything else those folks saved for a stormy day. “Holy shith, that feels good.”
He said, “I don’t mind the odd off-color, but make sure you watch your language around Father, or you might end up like MU over there.”
Over in the corner was my predecessor, or his corpse anyway. He was the same model as me, same cylindrical body, probably made in the same factory, just with an orange and blue case. That’s when I noticed the footprint in the old mechanoid’s front panel, the color flaked and scratched off around the indentation. “What did he do to deserve that?”
“Probably nothing. I’m thinking he got too close to Father while he was in one of his moods. But either way, Father don’t like mechanoids none. Watch yourself around him.”
“Okay.” I listened for any incoming footsteps from this mechanoid hater but all I heard was the razorsand. “By the way, I was with a mechanoid called TL-T90 when I went down. Did he get shipped with me?”
“There wasn’t any mechanoid with that designation on the slaver’s ship,” he said. “Who was this TL?”
That’s when reality sunk in like the world was going dark in my peripheral vision. “A friend. He tried to get me a job at the factory he worked at until the antimechs working there snatched wind of it.” I still remember their boots raining down on me, shaking apart my insides, them calling me “box.” The last thing I saw before I shut down was TL on his side, his head and manipulators limp, the light in his eyes off while the humans stomped him into—
You didn’t ask about any friends. Do you know how I know? ‘Cause you don’t have friends, do you?
Uh… and then the boy said, “You’ve got some beamer scoring on the inside of your case. Ever been shot?”
“How’d it happen?” He stopped twisting the autospanner, leaned in, and focused on my lens, more than ready for some tales of off-planet.
“I fought in the Secession Wars. I was a mechanic. We were prime targets for the bloody Loyalists, but unlike my human comrades, my human comrades could repair me.”
“I bet you’ve got some stories to tell.”
“A kid like you shouldn’t know these things.”
I’m thinking you volunteered to tell the kid all about the wars to manipulate him into liking you. Don’t tell me you didn’t.
Maybe. My memory isn’t one-to-one perfect, but I do remember AN’s voice coming over the comm. “Do you have that box online?”
“Yep,” he said.
She said, “Then come back in. Dinner’s on.”
“That’s AN,” the kid said. I thought it was a human name. “She helps around the farm too. I’m Lucien.” I introduced myself. Halfway out the door, he turned. “Listen. I was supposed to factory reset you. Don’t let Father know I didn’t. Our secret, okay?” Lucien lowered his protection mask and left me on my own.
I rose to the razorsand-battered window and peered through the scratches. Wrapped up tight in his cloak, Lucien ran the short space between the garage and the house. I could see through the kitchen window from there. He threw that cloak off and sat at the kitchen table, ready to eat.
The door to the father’s room opened. Out came AN, looking like a vid star who got abandoned on this podunk planet, with her dark curls and permanent makeup. She looked plenty human to me at that distance. With an empty tray in one hand, AN used the other to take the card key out from the slot in the door. They chatted about something or other while she spooned out some brown stew into a bowl, her putting one each in front of him and herself. They both did the blessing to the All-Being, but I knew something was up when she didn’t eat.
The light was on upstairs. I didn’t catch sight of the father, just his silhouette cast against the ceiling, him eating his dinner all by his lonesome. And the—
Once you’ve downloaded and read the rest of The Mechanoid Cries Within, if you loved it or hated it, I’d love to hear from you.