Hey all, happy Thursday!
First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).
Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).
I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.
Today’s is one of those.
Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand
I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…
“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.
Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”
Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.
The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.
The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.
“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.
The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.
“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”
Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.
“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”
Archie affirmed with a series of tones.
“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”
Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.
Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.
In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.
Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”
“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.
The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.
Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.
This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.
As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.
“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”
Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.
“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”
The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’
Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.
The blockage would need to be removed manually.
As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.
“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”
Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.
Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.
The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.
“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.
Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.
“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.
Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”
Archie beeped sheepishly.
“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”
Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.
“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”
Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.
“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.
Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.
“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”
Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.
“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.
Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.
The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.
Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.
Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)