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…
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”
with a series of tones.
Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could
use a little help?”
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
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
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
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
completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator
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.’
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.
completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer
Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”
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
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
“You want me to
what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.
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
“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.
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.
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.
little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel.
I’m out of gas.”
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.
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)