No Strings

The whir and click of Jole’s servos was starting to wear on me. This was supposed to be a stealth mission so why had I thought that bringing the android along would be a good idea. Maybe because I couldn’t tell anybody else about this and I didn’t want to do this alone. Nobody went in to Phoebus Labs. Well, of course people went in and androids and robots too. They all worked their though. They had a purpose there. Nobody walked in there off the street and here we were strolling through the second sub-basement. Here we were, the biggest fools of them all.

Doctor Amle had jury rigged several different devices to mask us from electronic, thermal and sonic sensors. She even had a device that caused the human eye to just not notice you. The spheres containing the devices orbitted around us in a tight perimeter at an even pace. If we didn’t bump into to to many walls, I thought we would be fine. At least, that’s what Sheila had told us. I didn’t have the fancy degree so I couldn’t quite follow all the schematics and technical terms. I’m no James Bond, I’m just the guy they sent in here. The guy they didn’t mind not getting back.

“Michael, what are we doing here?” Joel asked, not bothering to modulate his speaker’s volume down to a more stealthy level. It made me wince a little but no alarms went off so I guessed that Amle’s tech was working.

“We’re investigating this place for Doctor Amle. She thinks there’s some shady stuff happening here. I’m here because I’m too curious for my own good and you’re here because your body is loaded with sensors.”

“Those sensors are picking up rather strange signatures throughout our immediate area. Several heretofore unknown technological advancements must be in use here.”

“Well, this is known as the bleeding edge tech lab for a reason, right?”

“This is beyond the bleeding edge, Michael. I posit that you will not be disappointed by our results but you may regret this visit.”

“That’s on me but you’re right, this place is pretty creepy. I have a bad feeling.”

“Are we to wander the halls indefinitely?” It was almost as if the android had a sense of humor but I was sure that wasn’t possible.

“No. You’re right again. Let’s start poking our heads into some of the labs and see what we can see.”

The first few labs were less than interesting, at least visually. There were banks and banks of servers that, of course, didn’t do a thing when we entered the room. The third of these large rooms was a little different. The servers only filled half the room and in the other half of the room there was a single server that was colored black instead of the sleek silver and white of the others. The lights were red and not the green of the others. There was a physical barrier about a foot and a half around the server as if it was a museum piece but it was hooked up to power and nothing else.

As we got near it, Jole began to falter in the normal precision of his steps. I looked at him and he said nothing but stared at the black server.

“Joel. What’s going on? Are you operating right?”

“I do not know, Michael. I feel strange.”

“You ‘feel’ strange? You don’t feel, Jole. You’re a machine.”

“I am aware of this fact, Michael. And yet it is the only word I could have used at that particular moment. I suggest we vacate this room immediately. Something in that server is drastically different. I will attempt to link remotely to other servers but this one is dangerous.” Something in the android’s mechanical voice actually sounded afraid which was enough to make my blood run cold in turn.

“That’s fine. I wouldn’t want to endanger my partner. We’re leaving here together.” I smiled at him and he nodded slightly before we headed through the door back to the hallway. If I wasn’t sure it was impossible I would have sworn that Jole looked relieved. We pressed on.

There were plenty of rooms with exotic looking flora and fauna that I had never seen before and probably will never see again. Some of the creatures looked dangerous but we took pictures of them all and recorded audio and downloaded what files we could get our hands on. The break-in was beginning to get tedious. No guards checked in on the labs or patrolled the hallways. I was prepared to fight our way out but it looked like we were free an clear.

“You came here because you like Sheila, did you not?” Jole said, breaking what felt like hours of silence.

“She prefers Doctor Amle. You know that.”

“You prefer to call her Sheila. It is a fitting name.” Jole said, turning to face me.

“Yeah, I guess I do and yeah I like Sheila a lot. She hasn’t really noticed but I’ll be there when she does.” I smiled at the thought of Sheila’s tough exterior cracking just enough to let me in. One day she would look up from her research and see me there smiling and holding flowers and that would be it. We would be together and happy even with the Phoebus Corporation making our lives dark and miserable.

“I can’t let that happen.” Jole said simply. The words were staccato and almost overenunciated.

“What? Wait, since when do you use contractions?” My eyes went wide as I turned toward Jole to say more but he gripped both hands around my neck. I gasped for breath and tried to tear his hands from me but they were metal powered by servos and machinery and I had no hope. I could barely breathe as he carried me into a lab.

“Sheila will be mine. She will never notice you. She will never notice that you’re gone.” Jole said, his eyes going red. Red like that server a couple rooms back. The server that had troubled Jole so much. What happened? What was happening? I felt an icy chill as he dumped me into a giant vat of some liquid. I found some energy reserves deep down and I fought back again but I couldn’t hit anything vital on him. There was a shower of sparks as I kicked at his shoulder but he easily held me down.

As fluid filled my lungs I thought of Sheila. If only I could warn her.

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