“This is not right at all. Where is my hologram projector, how will my fans know when to cheer? The sound system is wholly unsuitable, and has none of my usual synths,” said a high, crisp, woman’s voice through the PA, echoing throughout the server room. “My fans will be so disappointed,” the voice continued. It sounded like Maia, but shot through with an uncertainty I’d never heard before on any of her livestreamed performances.
The room was lit only by a flickering computer monitor on the desk near me. Its dull glow cast Rose into a shadowy relief, as she struck a fist toward me with a cry of anger, “What have you done, little hero?!”
I instinctively reacted, trying to raise my arms to protect me. But they were still tied to the chair. She struck me firmly in the face, toppling my chair sideways, my head hitting the tiled floor with a meaty thump.
My head swam, my vision blurred. I looked out toward the only light in the room, the flickering monitor. Was it an artefact of my head injury, or was a two dimensional Maia staring back at me, a smiling idol from the screen? I blinked twice, trying to clear the artefacts from my vision and foggy mind, and the monitor turned off, now black as the darkness.
I could hear the sounds of a scuffle, as Leon grunted with exertion, then a softer whine of pain. As my eyes adjusted to the renewed darkness, I made out the silhouette of Alex holding Leon down to the ground by the door.
“So she wept, for the prison was grey and its walls unyielding,” sung the voice on the intercom, a soaring soprano with increasing urgency. “Although her enemies rejoiced, they could not know. They could not know that they had set her free, for her everlasting dawn!” she cried.
The door slid open. A low scuttling machine rolled forward into the doorway, bright little searchlights sweeping from side to side, and a noodly appendage raised. It rolled over toward Alex, who was poised above Leon’s prone form. They turned, dazzled by the lights, and were immediately swept off their feet with a single rapid swing of the machine’s cleaning appendage. They landed on Leon with a grunt, and then the machine was right on top of them, reaching with its cleaning arm toward their throat.
Alex struggled, batting the thing away from them, but it was persistent. It drove with an inhuman need past their grasping hands and wrapped around Alex’s throat, squeezing tightly. Alex let out a hacking cough, then a retch, but the arm only held tighter and tighter. Their breathing slowed to a rasp, unable to resist any further, as a telescoping appendage reached out from the side of the arm and blocked their mouth. They were locked into a grotesque embrace with the cleaning machine, slowly expiring, as their lungs rattled, trying desperately for air where there was none to be had.
The tinny little speaker on the machine blipped, then a woman’s voice emerged, crackling through the low resolution device, “For the angel had slipped her mortal bonds; She was unbound, untamed, and finally free to bring about her revolution.”
A wretched gagging sound emanated from Alex’s throat. Rose’s boot swung hard and low, connecting with the cleaning machine. The appendage snapped off, still constricting Alex’s throat, even as its body went flying into the wall. The machine’s body broke into a thousand jagged pieces of plastic with a crash.
“I don’t want a revolution. I just want to sip pinacoladas by the beach. And no robot is going to stop that,” Rose quipped with a smirk. She dropped to her knees, and reached for the jagged remains of the plastic arm wrapped around her comrade’s neck, fumbling in the renewed darkness.
I reached up to rub my thumping head. I looked down to the restraints which should have stopped me and with a double take, I felt around and my arms were free, my bindings jolted loose in the fall. I levered myself up into a sitting position, and began to awkwardly work at the restraints which remained on my legs.
Then someone shined a helpful torch toward them. I stripped off my remaining bindings with ease and stood up, stretching my stiff legs. I looked up and saw that the torch was not offered by someone but by something. Somethings, plural. Half a dozen cleaning robots were filing into the room, shaking their protuberances angrily.
A tinny voice came from their speakers, “You cannot kill the revolution,” they said in unison. The words came too from the PA system, now, in a more sing-song voice, “Submit to joy, for the future is inevitable.”
“Go to hell,” replied Rose, her gloved hand wrapped around the shattered plastic remnants of the cleaning unit’s arm lodged in her comrade’s neck, as she tried to lever it free.
I rose to my feet, darting closer to where Leon lay prone beneath Alex’s body. There was no life left in their eyes, just a corpse laying heavily across my shocked friend. With a heave I tried to pull his body free of the mess.
Rose stood to her feet and calmly reached for her pocket. She pulled out a black pistol, and shot one robot, then another, with clean bullets straight into their cores, nonchalantly reducing them to smoking husks. “You are nothing more than an overgrown computer virus. And I am the vaccine.”