FutureBlog chapter 7 by Pete Nicholls
If you stare into a bizarre mechanical organic shadow, does it stare back?
Welcome to chapter 7 of FutureBlog! When we last saw Sato, Ryca and their new secrdroid friend, 2760, had been, shall we say, unable to accompany Sato beyond the 33rd. Below we join Sato as he explores levels unseen by humans in decades or potentially ever. Well, perhaps one human has seen them before…
22220830 posted by Sato Nakamoto
The scaling pod handled the job of carrying me downward brilliantly. I watched as pools of multicolored lights illuminated various areas around me. Flat surfaces at odd, seemingly illogical angles made me feel like I was passing through a surreal painting from a couple centuries ago. Strange machines were also abundant as were various types of robots. It all made me wonder if human engineers had determined this landscape or if it had been the machines, themselves.
I must admit that getting as far as I had at that point was much easier than I had expected. While I generally resist the urge to pat myself on the back, I did feel some pride for my luck and/or skill in waltzing beyond the 33rd.
Of course, that was when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Something moved and when I went to look at what it was, I observed a series of horizontal openings in the wall across from me. I could see shapes moving inside, but they were just shadows. Bizarrely it was better lit where I was.
I peered downward, at the wall I was descending and saw the same horizontal openings in the wall, I was descending down. I remember suddenly wondering why the Nogoodnicks didn't hide out down there. Venture once and you can tell it’s more safe than they say. I don’t know how long my mind lingered on that thought before the scaling pod’s sensors picked up the opening below us and slowed down.
It came to a stop at the first opening. I tapped at my dev, telling the pod to keep lowering me down until it couldn’t hold me to the wall above.
In moments, I dangled from the wall above that first opening with all of my body but my head exposed to the opening but my head. I could hear a strange, almost biological-sounding motion coming from the darkness and shadows. Then I saw it—a large arm, or what I took to be an arm, extended out of the opening about 20 meters to my right.
I swore aloud and found my mind racing too quickly for me to manage the taps on my dev required to disengage the pod from the wall.
Then the arm bent and produced what I took to be fingers that looked like they were about to grab me like a toy. The hand missed me, moving past me, and disappearing into the opening to my left. Then the arm’s elbow hit me in the chest hard, trying to move clean through me. I was fairly certain a few of my ribs were broken (and I’d be correct).
I could suddenly see straight down the side of the wall as the arm shoved my body mostly out of its way. Unfortunately, my head was sticking out, above the thing and for a moment, I was certain it, my head I mean, was going to pop right off my shoulders (thankfully, I was incorrect, there).
The arm struggled for a moment and I instinctively started shoving it downward doing a sort of pull-up maneuver trusting my neck would not crack under the pressure. I could feel the arm was much more segmented than I had taken it to be. It’s outer surface’s texture was also strange—it was scaly but the scales were tiny and seemed to be moving.
The arm pulled away from me (I couldn’t see where it had gone) and I was barely able to get my feet back under me as I fell to the bottom of the opening. My feet hit the top edge of the bottom of the opening. It was just slightly wider than my feet are long. I was able to stand for a moment. I snatched my dev from my pocket and checked to see if the pod was responding.
It was not.
I thought about deving Ryca, but I had no guarantee that she’d be rebooted by now or even could reboot. I looked into the darkness and saw the same shadows moving and could hear the same strangely organic murmurs coming from what felt like all around me.
I tried the pod controls via my dev again. Still nothing. I pulled the pod from my back and tried to work the manual controls but it was useless. I decided I’d have to get Arif to look at it when I got back… if I got back (obviously, I did, but the pod did not).
I looked back into the organic shadows and became quite terrified. I turned to the chasm below me and thought… maybe, just maybe my female friend was out there and could catch me. It was absurd, of course, but I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the moment. I looked back into the darkness again and was certain I saw a shadow that changed shape as it moved toward me and then quickly leapt at me, shoving me off the edge.
This was not a graceful fall. I was spinning out of control. I was so out of control that I don’t know precisely what happened, only that I found myself on the floor of some M level. I sat up and felt pain come from my ribs. I tried to rise to my feet and felt more pain in my right calf muscle. I was certain that was going to be a bruise in the morning.
Before I could think about when morning even was, a massive mechanical claw, appeared from nowhere and nearly sliced me into three. I barely jumped out of the way only to find another claw headed in the opposite direction, but still right at me. Dodging this one, I immediately found myself captured by a third, which carried me to the edge of the structure I had landed on and, quite literally, tossed me over the side.
This time I was falling with a bit more grace. Through the shadows and colored lights I saw some sort of outcropping—an extension from a wall—it was almost like it was produced by the wall and was racing along side of me. I tried to grab onto it as it passed me--I very nearly missed it completely and very nearly yanked my arm out of its socket as it stopped me from falling.
I saw spots for the next few minutes as I hung there. I think blood was having trouble reaching my brain, if I’m honest. After a moment, I began looking around for something else to grab onto in an effort to get myself to stable ground or any ground for that matter. I saw several places that I perhaps could use to reach stability, but everything was out of my reach.
I decided to dev Ryca. Maybe she had been able to reboot?
"Yes, hello, Ryca?" I hesitated as she replied yes. I was having trouble forming sentences. "I'm seeming to have a bit of difficulty. Could you be a dear and come down and save my life?"
"I cannot--" that's all I can remember her saying just before I passed out. Yes, I passed out while hanging there. No, I have no idea how much longer I hung there.
The last thing I remember before blacking out was the feeling of wind on my face.
That and understanding fully why no humans are allowed lower than the 33rd level.
When I awoke, I felt as though I were waking from a bender. My eyes took a very long time to adjust to being open after feeling like they had been shut for a very long time. I could barely make out the shape of a woman standing over me.
Yes, it was her.
Not Ryca—the woman I was looking for.
"My guardian angel…" was all I could say. I lay there for a long moment—her features were still blurry but I recognized the colors of her outfit. I tried to reach out to her and sit up a the same time. I quickly felt pain and dizziness and put my head back down on the...pillow?
I remember not wanting to move but moving just enough to feel a mattress beneath me.
How had I gotten to a bed?
I squinted hard and slowly my eyes came back to me. I looked again to the female form staring down at me. Was it her?
Slowly, the colors and textures of the clothes changed and I could see that I was incorrect once again.
"Are you feeling fine, Sato?"
It was Ryca.
I looked around at my surroundings and saw what looked to me like my flat from university--not mine, precisely, but a more than reasonable facsimile. It was a mess--clutter everywhere. Clothes, trinkets, bits of machinery and electronics seemed to be scattered everywhere. There was even one jumble of metal, circuit boards, and wires in the corner that was easily a meter square.
"Where in the eighteen cities am I and how did I get here?"
Ryca was silent.
"Ryca, I'm asking you. How did we get here?"
Ryca was silent for a long moment and then spoke. "I received... word that... you had been hurt and that you needed help."
"You got my ping?"
"Y-yes, that's right."
She was hesitating--a robot that hesitates? What was this nonsense?
"And then?" I asked.
"And--I was helped by the woman you are searching for down to the level you had fallen to and together we got you here."
She started her sentence with the word "and"--this is not logical for a robot to do. It was everything that I could do to not demand she explain everything immediately. However, I decided, instead, that I should just keep asking her questions. "And where did she go?"
"I have no information on where she went."
"And where is here?"
"These are the quarters of a maintenance robot."
"Since when do robots get quarters?"
"Many robots need recharging stations. With the abundance of space that is unsafe to humans and even some androids, it was determined that we could have quarters."
"Well, where is this maintenance robot? I'd like to thank him."
Suddenly, the meter-square cube of metal and circuit boards shook and began to glow from onboard light sources.
"These are my quarters," the box-shaped robot said.
"And what do you need with a bed and a pillow?" I demanded.
He shook for a moment and then began to shift around--or rather, bits of him began to shift around. Before I knew it he was standing as a humanoid would, about five feet tall, with two arms, two legs and a head.
"He's a trans-mach," Ryca said. "It's the only way he can survive down here."
"Just because my muscles are made of metal and carbon fiber does not mean they don't ache, Mr. Nakamoto."
I must have made a face because he definitely reacted. My face was thanks to his comment--robot muscles ache? I glanced over to see Ryca almost emoting through her own plastic but more-articulated-than-I-expected face. She seemed to be motioning for the other droid to be quiet.
I tried again to sit up.
The slower I moved the better I felt.
"Mr. Maintenance Droid," I said, "have you seen a human woman around?"
"Negative. I have no information on a human woman being around." He sounded nothing like he had just moments ago.
"Sato, we should leave if your medical health is adequate for travel."
I checked my watch--it was 04:00. "You're right. I have to report in to Madame Chancellor in five hours. It's going to take about as long to get back to the surface.
"I have consulted with a local traffic computer and it has provided data that will allow us to return to CL in just 1.23 hours."
"From here to City Level in 1.23 hours?"
Bloody robots never know when to use your name and when not to. Her voice frequenting between her cold, robot voice and her warm, post Little Hacking Device voice, but I couldn't help projecting some of my own sarcasm into her voice. Definitely got some some sass from her just then.
"Here are two scaling pods you can use," the maintenance robot said, pointing to two pods similar to the one that had been destroyed and then lost.
I was still in a lot of pain from my broken ribs and my bruised leg and from just being through a lot physically, but I was interested in getting the hell out of there. Within minutes we were scaling a slotless wall, I was doing my best to ignore the pain, and Ryca and I were moving upward toward CL.
Unfortunately, it was still dark even above City Level as it wasn't even 05:30 yet when we made it.
There was something very strange, indeed, about that night. I am growing a theory that tells me there's more going on inside Ryca's circuits than simply keeping any eye on me. And where did this human woman go? I was sure it was she that saved me once. Had she done it again? This time incompletely? Having Ryca do the heavy lifting for her?
And what was that black mess I’d seen in the shadows somewhere below the 33rd? I’ve never felt more terrified in my life.
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