Ceramic Dm (final judgement posted, New Champion announced!) - Page 6
  1. #51
    Whew. Got my first draft done, and I still have over 12 hours... That was fun. Now to see how much I can improve it.

  2. #52
    Round 1, Match 2, Macbeth vs. Morpheus
    Art Memoir
    by Sage “Macbeth” LaTorra

    I'm sorry. If your reading this, stop. It isn't worth your time. These are my confessions. These are my wrong doings. This is why, in about 15 minutes, there's going to be a police standoff outside of my house. And more then likely, I'll get shot. It's what I deserve.

    I'm not crazy. Not most of the time. I think.

    They say that if you're sane enough to wonder if you're insane, you're not insane. Sometimes I wonder about that. Seems that I might be wondering if I'm insane just to cover up my insanity. To convince myself that I'm alright. But I'm not. The circular logic of sanity.

    Crazy people are always charismatic in some odd, fascinating way. I'm crazy. I'm charismatic. There's always somebody looking for an original idea, and who has more original ideas than an insane artist? So there's always somebody to follow an insane artist, somewhere.

    Yes, I'm an artist. Some would say that's my problem, some would say that's why I'm insane. I think that's why I'm sane. If I didn't let the insanity dribble out into my art I would be even crazier. Of course I lived in San Francisco. Where else could I get away with living like this?

    Sanity goes with insanity. Insanity goes with art. Art goes with religion. And so I'm religious. Not in any specific Pope-Dalai-Lama-Anton-Levay way, just generally religious. And that was the start of it all.

    Art attracts followers. Followers spark art. My art attracts followers, and my followers spark my sin.

    Maybe it was the type of art I created. My first work was meant to inflame. I didn't really care what it meant, I just wanted to see the right wing reaction when I made art out of a dead human body or two. And just because I didn't care what it meant, it meant too much.
    I robbed graves. I had to have my materials. I had to have two hands. They couldn't be fake hands, then nobody would care. So I had my real hands, and I set them in a jar, touching, like the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, with some water for effect(1). It was my connection to god, or something. It was also a set of human body parts. Every critic saw some larger statement in it, some symbolism, some meaning. Everybody thought I saw god's touch pulling us out of the water, or the creation of man, or the destruction of religion. I actually saw a pair of human hands I dug out of cheap, shallow graves. I reveled in the uproar when it went on display.

    Instantly I had a following. People recognized me in the streets, spit on me or smiled at me, despised or delighted. Everybody knew me, arts students flocked to offer to help me. And so I had a following.

    It was more then just a following, it was a lifestyle. We had a deserted house to live in. It belonged to one of the nameless artists who started worshiping me, and we all lived there. We were communists, but not in the Lenin-Stalin-Marx way, we just didn't have property. And so we created art, trying to be insulting. We broke more laws then I had thought possible. We consumed more drugs then I had thought possible. Our kitchen looked like the trunk of that car in that movie, or like the car in that movie times ten. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That's it.

    Everybody found us objectionable. The free speech people were even starting to turn on us. We were becoming more and more sane as the art poured out, and we started to realize our mistake. We had lost our edge. We weren't novel anymore, we weren't the best new thing. But that was going to change.

    I addressed my army of artists, my vanguard of violence, from the stairs in our deserted house. Even with us in it, it was still deserted. It was time for me to give us a new direction.

    “Shut up.” The room became still. They knew this was big. “America loves the next big thing. It's never what is now, it's what is next. And, folks, we're no longer next. We're now, and now is gone. Dismembered hands, feces, vomit, perversions, intestines, bodies, torture, this is no longer art. That was today's art. Tomorrow's art has to be bigger. We made a stir with what we did before, now we make a difference. We're going to remake the world in our image.” And it was good.

    Like I said, I'm religious. I'm sane enough to worry that I'm insane. But our art was god-given. And we were going to do more this time. This time we had god on our side.
    I started carrying around a Bible at all times. Then I started carrying a Quran also. And a Book of Common Prayer, and on and on. Soon I was carrying a backpack full of books, but always with a Bible in my hand. I started going out more, always with my books, and I promoted our art. I hinted at what we were doing. But nobody caught on. Ignorance and Bliss in Las Vegas.

    I started giving orders, in a general way, not Patton-Hitler-Moses commands, but more suggestions. And, being that I was the now anti-Christ of art, my helpers did what I asked. We started the greatest art project in the world.

    Art always had the potential to change the world, but we were going to take that potential and use it.

    The first step was the boat. It had to be big. It had to be bigger. It had to be the kind of boat only a mountain could support. So we set about attaching every half worm-eaten board we could together, around the hull of an old house boat. All told it ended up being 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. A ship of epic proportions. Biblical proportions.

    We didn't know how to make a ship. It was just a collection of wood, coated inside and out with pitch, barely water tight, with an old houseboat lost somewhere in it's bowels. But we thought it would float. It might have been the drugs, but we thought it would float. Hope and Drugs in Las Vegas.

    We were alone for blocks. Our deserted house was part of a deserted neighborhood, and even with us there, it was still deserted. Nobody noticed a huge ship behind an old, pseudo-Victorian imitation mansion. It was going to be art. I was going to be an artist.

    Art has always been associated with god. A god. Or two. But always with the divine. God created the Earth, and man, and water, and animals, and (in a move so politically incorrect I have to admire it) last of all, women, from man. And so we create. We were created, so we create. This may be why so many people don't like evolution: if we weren't created, why do we create? “We evolved, so we evolve” just isn't the same.

    And so I decided, if I was to be the artist of tomorrow, I would imitate god. A god. Maybe two gods. Cleanliness is next to godliness, but creativity is godliness.

    The hardest part was the animals. Usually, I don't work with live animals. I do still life, and a living animal is not still. A dead animal, however, is. All of my art so far had involved dead animals. Especially a rather unusual ape that I like to use in art called Homo Sapien. Man the Wise. Know thyself.

    But any animal becomes easy to deal with when you pump it full of enough drugs, and drugs were one thing we had plenty of. Sanity was what we were short on. Dopamine and Dope in Las Vegas.

    So we did what we could on the animal front. Over a year of animal based art had given us some experience in getting animals. From zoos. From pet shops. From backyards. From life.

    One of my followers had been a vet before I seduced him through art. He drugged every animal we brought in. I personally watched him work. I had to see how it happened. It was art. Little pins, dipped in an appropriate mix of drugs, and stuck in the right spot, and a vivid, life-filled beast became a sack of flesh, barely moving.

    The lizard always stuck with me. Most of the animals struggled, fought, resisted. The lizard just settled down and waited. The look in his eyes, the resignation that he couldn't win. I wondered if the lizard had stopped wondering if he was crazy. I think I had. I think I may have been like the lizard. I knew what was coming, so I didn't fight it.

    We had the boat (if you could call it that), we had the animals (though a couple died, we had only 13 left), it was time. Let there be art. And there was. And it was good.

    Floods are universal. Almost every culture has a myth of a great flood, usually a flood to cleanse the world of evil. This is what triggered my art. In Egypt only a few shepherds escaped the flood. In Greece Deucalion built an ark. The Hindu Manu built an ark. Fa-He, the founder of Chinese civilization, escaped a flood. Druids held that a great patriarch built a strong ship and escaped the flood. The Polynesians had a better survival rate, eight escaped. Mexico had a man and his family escape the flood. A Peruvian man and women floated the flood out in a box. Native Americans had one, three, maybe even eight survive. Greenland explained the flood as the world tilting over, after which the one man and one women that survived repopulated the earth. With all these people floating around, you'd think they'd have run into each other sometime.

    The implications are staggering. Either there really was a flood, with a boat surviving, or the myth started in some shared culture, or the flood is so inculcated into the human psyche that every culture created their own myth. Whatever the reason, it was a truly universal experience. And that made it mine. The only art I could be sure would reach everybody.

    I would imitate God. A god. Maybe two gods. I would make the artistic statement to be remembered, one that was already remembered. Sin and Flood in Las Vegas.

    We rigged bombs on the water mains. We loaded animals into the boat, which, amazingly, held together as all 13 animals got in. Now it was time.

    The flood was to cleanse the world of wickedness, and the most of wicked of all were my followers. And I couldn't really bring all of them along, after all, this was supposed to be an exclusive voyage.

    So I took them into the bake yard and gave them all Cyanide laced wine. The Last Supper of the Damned. Wine and Bread in Las Vegas.

    But I couldn't let they're sacrifice be in vain. So they're art now. Before they died I had them each carve a mask of themselves. A self portrait of how the thought they looked. And now they look like it. One last piece of art before the big one, each mask stuck on the outside of the ship, with its maker's head stuck inside. The faces of God.

    And just to be fair, I made a mask for the animals that died, both of them. They had died for our art, now they are art.

    And my ship was ready to sail. The doors were shut, and the water mains burst, and it rained. The rain was what was unusual. This wasn't the time of year for rain, but it poured, pounded, and flooded. I don't know why it rained. Maybe a god was on my side after all. The waters increased.

    I was standing on the deck, watching my art, when I noticed a wayward follower. One of my flock had not taken his wine. He was standing next to a pay phone, shoulders deep in water, making a call. I'll always remember the look on his face. The look on the lizard's face. The question of sanity. He was calling the cops.

    And now they're on they're way. They'll be here soon. They'll find me. Maybe I'll be dead. I don't want to confront them. But it's over now, I can see the rainbow, the promise. They'll find our art, the masks, the heads, the holy books with each page with a square cut into the middle, to create an empty, concealed space, where I could keep my drugs. Each holy book concealing a stash. My Bible is not filled with stories of the patriarchs, of Jesus and the disciples, it is a repository of weed, speed, and dope. Dopamine and Dismay in Las Vegas.

    Picture Usage:
    (1) The narrator's first art, a pair of severed human hands in a glass.
    (2) The druged lizard with his resigned gaze.
    (3) Masks of the narrator's followers on the side of the ark, with their heads behind.
    (4) One of the followers calling the police, looking at the narrator with the same gaze as the lizard.

  3. #53

    Summer Ceramic DM 2004 Round 1, Match 2 MacBeth vs. Morpheus

    The Third Degree by Morpheus

    Delta Green Eyes Only
    <<< Top Secret>>>

    USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19)
    Yokosuka Navy Base, Japan

    Subject: Debriefing record of sole survivor of Timanii raid in Hong Kong

    1. What follows is a transcription of the debriefing of Corporal John West, USMC
    by Commander Eric C. Walters, USN of the events of 23-24May04 at the
    Timanii building in Hong Kong.
    2. Op Dead Zone was an investigation by the NCIS to find a heroin smuggling
    ring that was using US tourists in Hong Kong.
    3. Op Dead Zone had been ongoing for 5 months when a tip was received that
    the main distribution center was located in the Timanii office building. The
    following day, surveillance of the building noted a large number of armed
    4. On 23May04 at 2350 hrs, Lt. Barton Jones and his Force Recon platoon entered
    the building and began a systematic search. Approximately 0005 on 24May04,
    the building caught on fire. All lives were lost except for Corporal West.
    5. This interview is to record the sequence of events and to determine if further
    action is necessary.

    Eric C. Walters
    Commander, USN

    The door to the cabin opened and a corpsman pushed a man in a wheelchair in. An IV bag was attached to the wheelchair and it looked like it had just been started. The corpsman set the wheelchair in front of the desk and then left, closing the door behind him.
    The man in the wheelchair looked to be about in his mid-40s and seemed to have an unfocused look about him. Commander Walters had to check the file to make sure this was Corporal West. The picture matched, but Corporal West definitely did not look the same. The file said he was 21.

    Walters: Corporal West, my name is Commander Walters and I’m going to ask you some questions about the events on the 23rd and 24th of May. Do you remember the events leading up to the raid on the Timanii building?

    West’s eyes, which were unfocused and looking somewhere behind Walters’ desk, suddenly became clear at the mention of the Timanii building. His breath became more labored, as he seemed to struggle to speak.

    West: I…remember. Oh god, do I remember.

    Walters: Take your time. I’m going to ask you some questions and I want you to give me your honest-to-god answers. No matter how crazy it may seem, everything you say will be held in the strictest of confidence.

    Walters looked into his briefcase and grabbed an unmarked folder that had a small green triangle in the upper left corner. He opened it up and took out 2 pictures. Pic1 Pic2 There was no need to show the pictures to West.

    Walters: Corporal, what can you tell me about the events on the 23rd of May when you were briefed on your mission?

    West paused and seemed to search inward for some inner strength that would allow him to speak.

    West: Well…I…don’t remember everything. I guess I was on the ‘Okie’ (Note: Corporal West was stationed aboard the USS Okinawa which was in Hong Kong at the time) when my platoon sergeant, ‘Gunny’ Thomas, told us we had a platoon meeting at 1600 hrs in the briefing room. Yeah, that’s when I found out. Lt. Smith told us that there was a situation in Hong Kong where some Americans were being held and since were we close by, we were going to rescue them. I thought, “Hot damn! Some real action!” If I knew then, what I know now…

    Walters: So, Lt. Smith briefed you on the mission. What happened next?

    West: Well, the platoon was dismissed except for the squad leaders who had to meet to come up with an OpPlan. We went back to our cabins pretty excited.

    Walters: When did you find out about the OpPlan?

    West: My squad leader, Sgt. Harris, briefed us at 1830. He said that 2 squads would enter the building and 1 squad would stay in reserve outside. My squad was one of the squads that would be going in. I remember being pretty stoked at the time.

    West sat for a bit, seemingly sorting out things in his mind. His eyes got glazed over as if he was struggling with a thought so terrible, he had to retreat within himself to avoid it.

    Walters: What happened next?

    West: Well, we were going to chopper out at 2330 hrs, so Sgt. Harris told us to get some shut-eye. I had trouble sleeping; I guess…it was because I was so excited. I had never been on a mission before. And there was the strange dream…

    Walters: Strange dream? Tell me about it.

    West: Not much to tell. I can’t really…remember it much. I think it was a wall. But the wall wasn’t made of wood or brick. It was made of…Jesus, this sounds stupid.

    Walters: Please continue. Anything you say will be held in the strictest confidence.

    West: Well, the wall was made up of…masks. You know, like the African tribal masks. Masks Dream and…and…one of the masks looked like…it was speaking…

    Walters: Speaking? Do you know what it said? This could be very important.

    West: I…I…don’t know. If I did know, I can’t remember now.

    Walters: That’s ok, Corporal. Maybe it will come to you later. Let’s pick it up from when you left the Okinawa.

    The 3 UH-60 Blackhawks lifted off the deck of the USS Okinawa at precisely 2330 hours. The flight to the Timanii building was low. So low, that West thought they might crash into a boat or something. The mission called for 3rd squad to land about a block away on an abandoned warehouse and then make their way to the building and take up positions around the perimeter. The other 2 squads would fast rope down onto the roof and enter the building. Standard rules of engagement were in effect. No shooting unless shot at.
    The crew chief held up his finger.
    “One minute!”
    West tightened his grip on his M-16. He thought he was going to throw up. This is it, he thought; time to become a real Marine.
    The Blackhawk slowed to a hover and 4 ropes were pushed out. West stepped out and using his hands and feet, slid down the rope…

    West: Ugghhh!

    Walters: Corporal West, what is it? What happened?

    West: I forgot to brake properly. I hit the roof too fast and twisted my ankle.

    West rolled onto his side, clutching his ankle.
    “West, are you alright? Can you walk?”
    “Yeah, I’ll try.”
    PFC Williams helped West up and he put some weight on the ankle. It hurt like hell, but there was no way he was going to fall out now.
    “I’m alright! Let’s go!”
    The roof of the 4-story building had various air-conditioning ducts and vents, but only one door. There were fire escapes on the north and south sides of the building. 1st squad would go down the south fire escape and 2nd squad would go through the door.

    Walters: And you were in 2nd squad?

    West: Yeah, that’s right. We were going through the door.

    Walters: Was there any light?

    West: Nope, not a single light. We just flipped on our NVGs and went in.

    Smith jerked the door open and Williams went in. West could hear his heart beating for what seemed like an eternity.
    West and the others hurried into the room, which was little more than a landing with steps leading down. Williams took the point followed by West and the others. It’s damn quiet, West thought, as the Marines made their way silently down the steps. They came to a landing with a door.
    Sgt. Harris motioned for Williams to open the door as the rest of the squad took up firing positions. Williams jerked the door open. Nothing. The squad entered and broke up into their fire teams.

    Walters: So you found nothing on the 4th floor?

    West: Not a damn thing. Not even furniture.

    Walters: What about the 3rd floor?

    West: The same. Nada. It didn’t even look like the building was occupied. That was, until we reached the 2nd floor.

    Williams opened the door and the stench hit them immediately. It reminded West of the time when he had gone hunting with his Dad and they came upon a dead deer that had been dead for weeks. Only this was a thousand times stronger.
    Williams and West were the first to enter. West, trying to breathe through his mouth, took the right side of the door and Williams, the left. A quick scan showed that the entire floor was one big room and there were crates and boxes everywhere. No sign of where the smell was coming from, though. It just seemed to be everywhere.
    Sgt. Harris and the rest of the squad rushed past him and took up positions behind the nearest crates. Just as he turned to look for some cover, he heard shots.

    Walters: Were they shots from your squad?

    West: No, they came from down below. It was just a few, at first, and then it seemed as if the whole platoon had opened up. Sgt. Harris was talking on the radio when….

    Walters: When what, Corporal? What happened then?

    The ground started to shake. Or, more like, the whole building shook. West grabbed a hold of a post that was next to him. Sgt. Harris wasn’t as lucky; he fell down and was hit by some falling debris. It was then that West heard it.

    Walters: Heard what, Corporal? What was it that you heard?

    West: I don’t know if I can put it to words. It was like a scream…a roar…of a thousand people all at once. It seemed like it was behind me, in front of me, underneath me, all around. Williams and some of the others dropped to the floor and just grabbed their ears. I just tied to yell louder than it.

    Walters: Did you ever find out what caused the smell?

    West stopped yelling. His voice was raw and his eardrums pounded. Williams was rolling on the ground curled up in a ball. West ran over to him and kicked him.
    “Get up, Marine! We can’t be wetting our pants now! We have a mission to finish!”
    The shooting from below had stopped, but now was replaced by a different sound. West wasn’t sure, but he thought he could here some people crying out. It was then that West saw them.

    Walters: What did you see? The source of the smell? What was it, Corporal?

    Lying in the middle of the room behind some crates were about 20 people. Or, at least, West thought they were people. He couldn’t really tell, but it seemed that chunks and pieces of the bodies had been torn away. The top halves of all their heads were gone. He went over and kicked a body. The missing pieces looked like bite marks. And they sure in the hell weren’t Americans.
    It looked to West like these people had been eaten. West turned and threw up. Jesus, this is about the worst thing I have ever seen.

    West: Imagine that, Commander. People being eaten. Not just one or two, but like a couple dozen. You know what’s worse than that? I saw what did the eating! I saw it!

    Walters: Corporal! Settle down! Relax for few minutes before we continue.

    West just turned his head and closed his eyes. He seemed to be reliving the whole thing again. Walters made a few notes in his folder.

    Walters: Can you continue now?

    West: Yeah, I think so.

    West turned and ran. He wasn’t a coward, but this wasn’t in the playbook. He ran past Williams who was still on the ground; Sgt. Harris who was struggling to get out from under the debris; and he ran out the door and down the steps. He ran down to the 1st floor and then he wished he had never lived.

    West: I…can’t. I…just…can’t.

    Walters: Corporal West, you have to tell me what you saw. It might mean the difference of saving others’ lives. What is it that you saw?

    The 1st floor was entirely empty except for a big box in the middle. Standing next to the box was something out of his darkest nightmares, except his nightmares weren’t real. At first, West thought it was a trick played by his NVGs. Prolonged wearing of NVGs causes eyestrain. This wasn’t eyestrain.
    It was a woman. A Chinese woman and she looked familiar, if that was possible. She was holding a fan in front of her and seemed to be talking to another Marine. Except, she really wasn’t a woman. She looked to be about 7 feet tall and where she should have had arms, she had tentacles. All about her body were smaller tentacles and they were in the process of tearing a Marine to shreds. West just stood there.

    Walters: What happened next, Corporal? What did you do next?

    West: I really don’t remember. I…kind of remember a bright flash of light like a flare or something. Next thing I know I woke up in a bed.

    Walters: Are you sure that’s all you can remember? It’s very important that you tell me everything.

    West: You mean aside from the fact that she had friggin’ tentacles for arms!?! Or that she looked like the mask that was talking in my dream!?! What more do you want me to tell you?

    Walters: Any little detail could be very important. Just think.

    West: I can’t think anymore, goddammit! Just…just…leave me alone.

    West then lowered his head and began to sob. This debriefing is over, thought Walters. Maybe he’ll remember some more later. Walters buzzed the corpsman who entered the cabin and started to wheel West away.
    “Just tell me one thing, Commander. This thing, whatever it was, was destroyed in the fire. It’s gone, right?”
    “Of course. You and your platoon did their jobs. Thank you for all the help you have given.”
    Poor SOB, thought Walters. How could I tell him that we found no trace of anything, including his platoon, except for a pair of hands Hands that did not go up in the fire.

    Addendum: It is my recommendation that Corporal West be committed to a secure psychiatric unit to receive the care that he needs. Also, upon further investigation of the description that West had given me, I found this passage from Von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten entitled “Goddess of the Black Fan” that seems to match the description given by West:

    Behind the black fan
    The soul-twister simpers,
    Snake-armed and slickened,
    Inflated with blood fat.
    The dragon-toothed feaster
    Gluts down gray lilies, the
    Gracious donation
    Of children left twitching…

    The passage refers to a particularly loathsome aspect of Nyarlathotep called the Bloated Woman. This particular aspect likes to eat the brains of live sacrifices. I can only hope that I am wrong about this. God help me if I’m not. God help us all.

    Eric C. Walters
    Commander USN

  4. #54
    Quote Originally Posted by orchid blossom
    Ants in the AC, broken waterlines.... You have the worst luck. When does the plague of locusts arrive?
    I have normal luck, I just complain louder.

  5. #55


  6. #56
    Round 1, Match 5, Zhaneel vs. Rodrigo Istalindir

    4 pics, 72 hours, 5000 word limit.
    Attached Files Attached Files     
    Last edited by alsih2o; Sunday, 27th June, 2004 at 01:22 PM.

  7. #57
    Quote Originally Posted by Zhaneel

    You specifically requested Sunday morning. I assume if you wanted the middle of the night you would have been more specific.
    Last edited by alsih2o; Sunday, 27th June, 2004 at 02:09 PM. Reason: forgot my smiley

  8. #58
    Gallant (Lvl 3)

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  9. #59
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Summer Ceramic DM 2004 Round 1, Match 1


    The eye was frozen in a look that Jerrid thought of as astonishment, if their builders ever meant these short, four-legged automatons to appear that way. His circuit-tracing sunglasses monitored the sluggish system, and while the unit still had power it wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon. He pulled back from it and raised the thick sunglasses over his head. He had seen this thing happen to a simpler automaton that the police used, and now Jerrid assumed the same techno-virus had made it to the corporate sector. Jerrid felt the breeze pass as he stood near the entrance of the service bay. He peered again into the eye, and tapped on it lightly, nearly irreverently.

    “What do you think the problem is, Mr. Dokken?” asked a languid voice.
    The voice came from Dr. Markus Tiflime, a man whose tone was self-assured from having money and control, neither in small measure. Dr. Tiflime had succeeding in building the first acropolis in Neo York City ten years ago after mixed acceptance by the city’s inhabitants. Three years following this accomplishment Dr. Tiflime succeeded in combining four of the largest manufacturing and distribution companies and melding them into cohesive force, called it Gilgamesh, and outsold nearly every other company in about one quarter of the entire market. Dr. Tiflime was now the vice-president in charge of research and development within Neo York City. Jerrid was looking at one of what was probably a fleet of new automatons.

    “Well, it looks as though you got a techno-bug, which will require some memory replacements before a reboot to the system,” said Jerrid as he tried to keep his explanation straightforward. Sensing no immediate response Jerrid continued, “I can copy all of the unit’s settings and memory to upload back into it after replacing the memory chips so that you won’t lose a thing, but it will take a little bit to run some diagnostics to make sure no harm was done to the secondary systems.” Jerrid knew this bug from before, and it wasn’t much of a problem to get around quickly if you had the cash to replace the memory chips.

    “Anyone can replace the chips, we don't need him to do that,” interjected one of the dozen engineers surrounding Dr. Tiflime.
    A solid look from Dr. Tiflime silenced him like a ton of bricks and the doctor stood from his makeshift seat on a desk and walked up to the machine. “Is that the only way to rid the techno-bug?” he asked.
    “The best way, and usually the only way I recommend,” answered Jerrid.

    He was a little nervous now, as he had never worked for the private field before. He had been sent at the request of his supervisor as the best-recommended tech to diagnose and fix a problem on any automaton. Jerrid enjoyed his government job, but found out too late that being the best meant sacrificing promotion, as not many could do his job as well as he did. He had been passed over to be a lead foreman twice, and now he was thinking of moving on, if only to earn more respect.

    Dr. Tiflime studied Jerrid for a moment before asking, “What would be another way, a way that someone else might do?”
    “Well,” Jerrid said, letting the pressure slide off of his mind to let it work freely, “I might try swapping memory fragments out, which is the fastest but I bet it wouldn’t do the job. I could do the same thing using a scrubber program overlay, though it will take longer, and it might do the trick, though if I were to do that it might take five or six sweeps before getting it clean but by that time I could have replaced the memory chips twice, including diagnostics. But…it’s your machine...”

    Jerrid stopped and thought that somewhere along the line he had lost Dr. Tiflime. They searched each other’s faces, and finally Dr. Tiflime opened his mouth to speak.

    “Let’s say we do this another way then. We can learn a thing or two from you here since it’s said you are among the best around, and we would like you to join us for the rest of the week, perhaps even the next. I would rather use that scrubbing technique you mentioned, as we are in the cutthroat business sector and can’t allow any loose memory chips to fall into our competitors’ hands somehow. I know that you are top in your field for several government agencies, but I think I could swing a deal to lend us some of your time. Do you think you’d be interested?”

    “Sure,” Jerrid replied, “as long as I’m clear with my boss.”
    Dr. Tiflime said, “That’s not a problem, we are already set to work. What would you like for lunch? We have anything you wish for as long as you are here, but that doesn’t mean you get to work at half speed to extend you stay you know. I’m sure you and my team will do a great job. And…thanks.” With that Dr. Tiflime turned his gaze across the room to the limousine that had carried Jerrid there and got in.

    Jerrid turned to the other techs and engineers, and watched them slink away until he was alone wondering how to order lunch.
    Jerrid returned to the service bay to see it full of the techs once more. He gathered that they had set up a continuous diagnostics run to keep track of updates as they happened. Jerrid thought that strange and unnecessary at first as he explained the unit needed to be completely depowered, batteries included, to let the scrubbers charge only the memory segments they were working on.

    “No, we can’t do that,” explained the first engineer. “The unit needs to keep power to its systems, and we’ll have to work around a shut down.” Now Jerrid understood why it might take a week to repair, and as they worked it was becoming clear that it would take much more than a week. But they didn’t work normal hours; they sat hunched over screens and wiring until the tense late hours of the night.

    Jerrid arrived early on Saturday to reveal that the room had never emptied that night. Four of the short security automations that had stood staunchly at the entrance gate had been added to the large room, and the techs and engineers didn’t seem to care. But it made Jerrid nervous as they spent another day running through the systems. It was difficult for them to chase the technobug as it replicated through the still-operating systems and Jerrid had picked up on a few of the engineers’ techniques to help trap it, and soon they were making progress. That night Jerrid passed up plans to join several of his government coworkers and stayed late at the Gilgamesh headquarters.
    While the work was frustrating Jerrid and the others had cautiously earned each other’s trust and respect. His sunglasses were usually over his eyes, and they highlighted the different circuits as they pulsed, and he used them to peel away the system connections to direct where they should next trap the bug. They continued on into the night, often having to backtrack through memory segments they had just cleansed.

    It was one of these times when the bug succeeded in starting some of the routines in the machine. The model number BNR-2112 blazed beneath its synthetic green skin before the entire unit faded in front of their eyes. Jerrid raised his circuit-tracing glasses and stared at where it had been, and one of the engineers reached out towards where it had been. His hand collided with the unit, and Jerrid jumped back, realizing what had happened. The other techs buzzed and tapped on screens and switched wires, and soon the unit reappeared, red numbers first.

    Jerrid looked at the others and none of them would look him in the eye.
    “Invisibility tech has been illegal for 60 years now,” said Jerrid.
    “65,” corrected an engineer, “but it’s the best thing for quick security our industry has.”
    “So, you use it anyway?” asked Jerrid.
    Another tech defended. “We use it as a security measure, and have been for about three years. No one uses it for any other purpose, and it’s programmed to deactivate whenever they move, which is part of the reason why we can’t just swap out memory chips.”

    They looked Jerrid over as the silence grew.
    “Look, I’m a tech, I work on the machines, and have seen modifications on police equipment that’s far from what even they would consider legal,” Jerrid said. Again a nervous silence filled the room. “Hey, I’m not going to run to the cops and tell them, ok?”
    The engineers looked sidelong at one another. “It’s not the cops we’re worried about, but we can’t expect you to realize that after working for the government. You’ll be fine as long as what we do stays here.”

    Jerrid nodded and sat down. He turned back to the unit so they couldn’t see he eyes fluttering as he thought of the implications of what they were doing. Invisibility had been illegal soon after its invention as it allowed the Crusaders to launch their second war on global mega-corporations. That was long before Jerrid was even born, and he had only ‘seen’ invisibility in a museum as a child, and the public had been assured that invisibility would be impossible to defeat the modern sensing technologies that used heat and sound to find hidden units. Jerrid immersed himself back into the work with the others, pretending to ignore the illegal ability that the unit had.

    At night Jerrid visited a police tech service center he had been at a month ago. They remembered him and gave him a seat after he gave an explanation of needing to do research. He pulled up the police tech files on invisibility detection and found that simple modifications were easy to make, and began incorporating as much as he could into his circuit-tracking sunglasses.

    Several more days passed in much the same way, and unit BNR-2112 had turned invisible several more times, which Jerrid called an annoyance to ease his nerves as much as earn his teammates’ trust. Jerrin changed spectrums on his sunglasses until they could outline the frame of the automaton when it turned invisible. He looked around the room and saw the ghostly white wire frames of two more automatons as they stood in the rear corners of the room. He forced himself to breath slowly and he returned to cleansing the system memory.

    Then Jerrid started to take longer glimpses of the system files and realized that the unit had already been in operation for over nine months. He had never seen this type of automaton before, and thought ‘why would I have see it, it can turn invisible’ as he smirked. But it wasn’t like Dr. Tiflime’s high-profile company to hold onto something long without releasing it to make a profit. Jerrid considered the unit itself was complex enough without the invisibility that they could have turned a handsome profit already. Jerrid wondered why and decided to dig a little deeper.

    That night, Friday, Jerrid stayed late as usual, but with only two other techs in the room busy rechecking diagnostics, he began quick scans of the unit’s history as he used the scrubber program. The night had passed quickly and the day started to glimpse into the bay as he looked through some of the video images in the unit’s life, flipping through monochrome images to stop at every twentieth or so. Jerrid stopped on one and suddenly froze. Jerrid looked up to see where the other techs were before studying the image on his tablet screen.

    It told Jerrid more than he wanted to know. He reversed back to see the complete recording, and Jerrid realized that by doing so he would be in jeopardy. But he had to see what had happened, and now might be his only chance. He tapped buttons on the tablet and the video skipped over a set of ability test runs. It landed on the image of Dr. Tiflime and the engineers he was now working with, along with the woman. She was on the opposite side of the room from them, and she looked down as if embarrassed. Dr. Tiflime cleared the room except for the two of them and Jerrid read the nametag on her blouse – Dr. Marroquin. There was no sound as she spoke and shook her head. Then Dr. Tiflime was shouting, screaming at her and waving his arms wildly. She suddenly slapped him hard and a look of astonishment crossed both of their faces as she backed away from him.

    His face dropped all emotion and he stepped away to scoop up a control device from a service desk. Dr. Marroquin’s nametag began to glow red on the automaton’s display, and the video angle moved as it lunged towards her. She didn’t see it coming as it slammed into her chest, clearly aiming for the name badge. She was hurled into a corner of the room, and lifted herself up on one leg, as something was wrong with the other. She shouted now, desperately screaming as she steadied herself.

    As the robot’s arm rose into view, Jerrid knew what came next. He stopped the replay just as the cone-shaped black laser struck her. He looked over his shoulder to check on the other techs.

    “Look, we had hoped that you wouldn’t be so stupid,” the first said.
    “But I wasn’t-“ Jerrid said.
    “You weren’t and now you aren’t,” replied the second tech as he pulled two thin rods from behind the desk.
    Jerrid held up the tablet to look at Dr. Marroquin’s grim expression as unclipped his required nametag from his shirt. Jerrid said, “So you knew, you were probably here, and you never said a word.”

    The two techs looked at one another as they stood ten feet on either side of him now. “Mr. Dokken, we aren’t techs. Dr. Tiflime doesn’t hire slow techs. He recruits young, fast ones like you. And you’re supposed to do what you are told, and fix the problems that Dr. Marroquin left for us to deal with. She’s the one that infected the thing to begin with, though it took far longer for the bug to take effect to prevent the thing from killing her.”
    “It didn’t kill her, Tiflime did!” said Jerrid as he pressed the tablet with his thumb.
    “Yes, we thought you’d see it that way,” said the first tech, “and we can’t risk you not changing your mind.”

    The second tech moved towards Jerrid, arms outspread cautiously. The first circled around the automaton to flank Jerrid from behind before they started to close. The letters BNR-2112 glowed as Jerrid worked the digital control tablet. The automaton came to life and struck out with a metal limb at the nametag with a distinctive crack of bone to send the first tech sliding on his back into the desk. Jerrid then directed the unit between him and the second would-be tech. Jerrid worked the tablet controls rapidly but it moved sluggishly, lumbering to separate them. Suddenly it stopped completely and they both watched it fade from sight. Jerrid sprinted for the service entrance to the room and pulled down his sunglasses. The automaton was still lumbering there, enough to crash into a service table, which had kept Jerrid’s pursuer at bay for only a moment.

    Jerrid ran along the outside of the building instead of through the open park near them and heard footsteps and the whirring of automatons approaching. Jerrid threw the tablet that he still had in his hand towards the park and it rolled and clattered on the manicured brick as he ran.

    Jerrid darted around a corner and peered down the sloped street to the main gate when, through his sunglasses, he saw more of the invisible automatons headed towards him. He realized they were trying to cut off his escape, and the picture of Dr. Marroquin’s fate popped into his head again. Just then the gate began to swing open and Dr. Tiflime’s limousine eased through. Jerrid bounded forward, running full speed down the sloped sidewalk. He knew his timing needed to be perfect, and gathering all of his strength, he leapt through the air over the invisible automaton just as Dr. Tiflime looked out the limousine window to see him in mid-air, fully understanding why Jerrid was jumping over the ‘empty’ sidewalk. Grimly he told the automated driver to go in reverse, full speed back to the gate.

    Jerrid leapt over two more of the invisible machines, his foot catching on the latter to send him rolling down the pavement. He felt his tech glasses slide from his head and skitter into the street. The limousine engine loomed close and Jerrid snatched up his glasses and jumped up to land on the trunk of the limousine as it careened towards the closing gate. Jerrid and Dr. Tiflime locked eyes through the tinted glass of the rear window, each in a panic of their own over what to do next. Then Jerrid tried to hang on as the car skidded to a halt, but was thrown from it. He rolled to land against the gate as it clanged closed.

    Dr. Tiflime leapt out of the car and began shouting orders to what seemed like no one, but Jerrid knew better and slipped his glasses on to see two automatons closing towards him, each lifting an arm carrying a black laser. Jerrid watched the lasers gather strength as his mind raced. The lasers fired, as Jerrid dived between the two machines.

    A gaping hole was formed in the gate, formed from the two conical lasers that had missed their target. Jerrid pulled himself up off of the pavement and dove through the opening. Dr. Tiflime’s screams and threats faded as the gate began to open again. Jerrid wasted no time jumping through alleyways and slipping into buildings and underground connections to avoid being seen. Jerrid had sprained his ankle, probably from the limousine ride he thought, but didn’t start feeling the pain until twenty streets were behind him.

    He thought about what to do next, and decided that the best might be to head to the police tech service center he had been at a few nights ago. They knew him there, and might be able to look up any history on Dr. Tiflime, the Gilgamesh mega-corporation, and any connections they had to invisibility. It was a short trip and might be the best place to gather his thoughts and ask for help.

    Jerrid made it to the police service entrance half an hour later, slowed down by his throbbing ankle. He kept his sunglasses on as he peered around anxiously like a mouse in an open field with nowhere to hide. He started spilling what had happened to him to the other techs and soon an audience of police had gathered. Before long the lieutenants were questioning him about what had happened, and Jerrid’s nerves began to settle. He retold what he had seen and cursed for having thrown the tablet into the park. He wasn’t thinking at the moment, as he hoped to distract his pursuers. He thought, but all I really have to do is convince the police that Gilgamesh is using invisibility and they will be able to go in and see for themselves, and again Jerrid smirked. He would let it be their problem now as he enjoyed the lavish breakfast that was presented to him.

    There was a snap and Jerrid knew it was the door being locked. He was locked into the police’s little interrogation room. Sure he had worked for the police these many years, but his eyes were finally opened. Gilgamesh was the manufacturer of a majority of the police automatons, which had protected and kept the human police from many dangerous situations. One phone call from Dr. Tiflime could probably spin everything end over end for him. The police might have even known about the invisibility the entire time, and purposefully looked the other way. Jerrid pushed away from the table and stopped eating his vast breakfast. The pastries, eggs, and sausage were consistent with the rich food he had had at Gilgamesh, not fitting with the profile of a police headquarters.

    Jerrid paced in the diminutive room for an hour, wondering if they were studying him and deciding his fate. Would they hand him over to Dr. Tiflime? Would they protect him? Would the police instead charge him with something on behalf of Gilgamesh, like terrorism and destruction of property? These thoughts of his doom wrestled inside his head when unexpectedly the lights went out.

    Jerrid heard the lackadaisical voices of annoyance for the delay, and Jerrid’s sunglasses automatically switched to low-light vision. Jerrid thought this was the perfect opportunity for one of those invisible automatons to make their way in without possible police invisibility detection devices sensing it, and he had to use the same opportunity for freedom. He threw himself at the door and it tossed him back onto the floor without flinching. Jerrid looked at the one-way mirror interrogation window and swung his chair into it. Again and again he struck and left spider web blows on the glass. Eventually it began to give, and Jerrid started to rip it like a thick curtain to allow him through.

    The room was empty, except for a few pieces of recording and viewing equipment, and a door hung open at the end. A man appeared and disappeared from the doorway, as if he was looking for a device of some kind. Jerrid looked beyond and saw that many had similar low-light glasses and were walking up and down the stuffy corridor. Jerrid decided to bluff it. If they had the same low-light glasses he did, they wouldn’t be able to discern the color of uniform that he had on and might be considered an officer himself. Ignoring the pain in his ankle, Jerrid walked confidently down the corridor, furrowing his brow and hustling to give the facade of doing something important. He made it to the front lobby before the lights kicked back on.

    No one seemed to notice or care as he made the last fifty steps towards the door, but as soon as he left the building he heard the trigger of alarms. A detection system had read his fingerprints on the door as he had pushed it open, and cursed himself for not remembering as he had once fixed the system himself. He crossed the street and turned a corner, but he was sure he wouldn’t be able to run much further. He heard police automatons clamber out into the street to begin canvassing for him and Jerrid hobbled to the next block. What he saw stopped him cold, and made him want to flee back to the police station for protection, no matter what they did to him after that.

    His glasses outlined a sleek invisible car right in front of him. He stammered and fell as he tried to reverse his momentum on his bad ankle. The door to the car opened and a woman in slimming business attire grinned and asked if he needed a ride. Jerrid was too scared to reply as she skipped over to him.
    “I’m not with who you think, I’m a friend of Dr. Marroquin’s,” she said, “We worked together until recently. My name is Sayta and I’m a friend.”
    Jerrid took her hand and she pulled him up and towards the car. Again he stammered and she looked at the police automatons over his shoulder.
    “You have a choice right now. You can get dragged in by the police, tortured and made an example of by them,” she then replied, “or you can come and work for us. It’s your choice.”

    Jerrid collapsed into the back seat of the car as it sped off, dodging the traffic that couldn’t see the car and before long they were cruising on the shoulder of the cross-town highway and Jerrid slept.

    Sayta helped Jerrid out and it took him several minutes to gather his wits. He looked around and was stunned to see everything as he had left it hours ago. A desk was wrecked. Tables overturned. In the park he saw the sunlight glint off of a control tablet. And his glasses picked out the BNR-2112 on the chest of the ghostly automaton to the rear of the room as it approached. Dr. Tiflime worked the tablet and its arm extended the black laser towards him.

    “I think we have an understanding now, don’t you Mr. Dokken?” the doctor asked. “You see, you’re a wanted man now. You work for me and even if you do escape, where would you go? What would you say that anyone would believe? You’re the best tech out there, and we’d be grateful to have you on board here at Gilgamesh. Do you think you might want to work here?”
    Jerrid looked around the room at the others. They were all ashamed, waiting for the same answer that they had given, and he saw Sayta weeping silently. Quietly he nodded agreement. Not today, maybe not tomorrow or next week, but one day Jerrid promised that the world would know about Gilgamesh.

  10. #60
    I don't think I've ever slaved as much over a story as I did over this one. Well, here goes!

    Ceramic DM, Round 1-1: MarauderX vs. Berandor

    Robert I.

    He awoke with a start. As he opened his eyes, he found himself lying on a metal bier in a futuristic hospital room. Neon lights doused the windowless cell in cold brightness. Tall machines adorned the walls, bleeping in an undecipherable code, cables interconnecting between them. Some of the cables ran towards him, bundling into a crown of green and red plastic adorning his brow, where he could feel the weight of a metal band clasping around his head.

    He lifted his hands to his forehead. The cables seemed to end in the band. He wondered whether the contraption recorded his brain activity, or subdued it. The band slid effortlessly from his brow as he tried to lift it off. Freed from its influence, he immediately wondered where he was. The last thing he remembered was - he couldn't remember anything!

    He sat up and swung his legs down from the bier, standing carefully and waiting for the rush of sickness that usually accompanied a sudden movement after long periods of lying around. It never came. He couldn't have lain on the bier for long.

    He closed his eyes for a moment, drawing a deep breath, concentrating. His name was... nothing. He couldn't remember anything. No, that wasn't true. As he thought about it, he retained a lot of his general education. He could name presidents, date wars, knew how to drive a car or cook an omelet - but he couldn't remember actually driving or cooking.

    Maybe he had been the victim of an accident? He looked for any signs of injury, and for the first time noticed that he was fully clothed. He wore a grey long-sleeved shirt, pants of the same indistinct color, and black boots. From the breast pocket of his shirt dangled a pair of sunglasses - and fastened to the shirt was a name badge! He turned the badge around so he could read it: "Robert I."

    So his name was Robert! Robert... Ivanovic? Robert Ince? He said the names aloud, startled to hear his own voice for the first time. Listening closely, he seemed to detect a slight accent in the warm baritone, a tendency to pronounce the words a little too hard. Maybe he was German? He tried to think of German names.
    "Robert Igel. Robert Irrstein. Robert Insel?" Nothing. Come to think of it, he didn't even know how to speak German - but perhaps he had forgotten it, along with his identity?

    Suddenly, dizziness overcame him. His mind reeled, and his footing slipped. He looked around for the door to the bathroom. There was only one door leading from the room. He stumbled forward and turned the doorknob.

    The door opened into a lit hallway, completely empty, walls painted white and riddled with doors similar to the one he just came through. He started to randomly walk to the right, but stopped himself to go back and close the door to his room. His eyes fell on the walls adjoining the door; he had expected to see a room number, or anything else to signal its function, but there was nothing. Where was he? If this was a hospital, it was the strangest hospital he had ever heard of.

    He crossed the floor, looking for a bathroom. The hallway stretched for what seemed like an eternity, and all he saw were identical, nondescript doors lining the walls, and something warned him from opening them. Finally, he approached a turn in the hallway. He stopped as he detected voices from around the corner, but despite him stopping, the voices grew louder, along with the sound of footfalls.

    "So, they're still asleep?" A female voice, confident - bossy.

    "Not all of them, no," a male voice answered deferentially, "but I checked on those who are awake. There were no problems with the transfer."

    They had almost reached the corner, and were obviously speaking about him, and other like him! What would happen if they saw him sneaking around? Would they try to help him, to explain everything? Instinctively, he knew they would not. But where should he hide? There was no way he could open a door without them noticing it, and the hall was empty! He had no chance to escape detection. Following a hunch, he took the sunglasses out of his breast pocket, and put them on.

    They came around the corner. The woman was tall, with a slim figure, her black hair a boyish cut. She wore a simple costume, grey skirt, and a white blouse. The man was smaller than her, with wild hair blossoming in all directions, grey twigs among hazel branches. He was dressed in a white coat over simple clothes. Both froze in their tracks as they spotted him.

    "What are you doing down here," the women asked? Her eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he could see the intelligence behind. She wore a name badge similar to his own, reading "Dr. Mavel Flint". He could not answer.

    "Well? Don't just stand around, get back!" He head tilted into the direction they had come from. He couldn't believe it - she had taken him for someone else!

    "Yes, Dr. Flint," he said and quickly rounded the corner before she noticed her mistake.

    "Martin should really be more careful," he could hear her voice receding. Her companion's answer was already lost in the distance.

    His luck seemed to hold on, though, because this hallway wasn't nearly as long as the one he came from. It ended in a large double door about thirty yards away. A large window was set into the wall right next to the door. The only other doors he could see belonged to an elevator, a correctly labeled staircase - and a bathroom.

    He entered the bathroom, but he no longer felt sick, only confused. His eyes fell upon his reflection in the wide mirror hanging on the wall behind the basins, and he saw himself for what seemed like the first time.

    He was of average height - he'd noticed that already upon meeting Dr. Flint -, maybe 5'6''. His face had a certain movie star quality, flashing a roguish smile. He considered taking off the sunglasses, but decided against it. They had brought him luck. Instead, he took his short off and was satisfied with the muscled body underneath. He really could be proud of his looks. At last, he could connect a face to his name; he finally knew what Robert I. looked like. If only he knew what lay beneath this dazzling surface.

    Why did he have no memory? Why couldn't he remember anything, not even his name? The cabled crown from his room came to his mind again. Had they deleted his memory? What had that man said? He had spoken of a "transfer" - a memory transfer? Did that even make sense? And if it did. why would someone want to steal his memories? Perhaps he was an assassin, or a spy, and he would be inserted with a cover identity?

    For a moment, this outrageous line of thoughts made Robert smile. Memory loss was the kind of contrived plot writers resorted to when they couldn't think of something. The thought had come unbidden, but he relished in it. Had he been a writer, or a critic? Perhaps his memory was slowly returning! But then, who would erase the memory of a critic? No, that didn't make sense, either.

    Whatever the truth, he wouldn't be able to find it in this bathroom. Robert put his shirt back on, checked himself in the mirror again, and headed back into the hallway, straight for the window next to the double door, determined to find the truth.

    His determination evaporated when he looked into the laboratory beyond the window, and saw himself. He blinked, thinking of a strange visual trick, but nothing changed. The laboratory was cluttered with electronic gadgets and machinery. Men and women in lab coats moved about, checking here, turning a lever there. And standing in the center of it all, Robert saw himself, with the same clothes, the same movie star qualities, the same sunglasses. Dr. Flint hadn't mistaken him for someone else - she had mistaken him for his... twin? No, it wasn't his twin; it was more like a way figure of him, standing too rigid to be alive.

    Suddenly, the wax figure moved. It turned sideways, and Robert could see that the skin on it neck had been removed, and cables plugged into the electronic circuits visible beneath. This copy was a machine! Robert was so startled that he bumped against the glass. Lab workers turned their heads towards him. He was discovered!

    Robert took two steps backwards, thinking quickly. He had to get out! The elevator - no, the stairs. He swung open the door and hesitated for a moment. The staircase went both up and down from here.

    "Secret Labs are underground," he said to himself, and ran upwards.


    It still seemed like a miracle to Robert that he had escaped. The stairs had led him into a big entrance hall, huge marble letters in the center of it. The letters had read "Gerodyne - Design for the future". Robert had taken a deep breath and quickly crossed the crowded hallway, trying to blend in among the tourists and business-men. It had worked.

    Afterwards, he had aimlessly walked the city beyond the building. Newspapers proclaimed it to be San Francisco, but Robert had no idea whether he'd ever been here, or not. Somehow, he had ended up at a cheap hotel called "Sunset Stripes". In the reception hall, sickly yellow light flowed over the worn furniture, and the floor tried to prevent Robert from approaching the night clerk behind his counter, sticking to his every step. The clerk watched him with a mixture of amusement and surprise, the look of a car salesman before closing a favorable deal. The clerk's smile did not belong to a salesman, however, his teeth dark and rotten and his breath stinking of tobacco and alcohol.
    "'Night. Whadda ya want?"
    "A room."
    "Gee, wouldn't have guessed that. Ya want hourly rates, or for the night?"
    "Oh. For the whole night, please."
    "No prob." The clerk laid a torn book on the table, along with a pen.
    "Sign yer name here."
    Robert hesitated. The clerk just smiled even broader and put the book away again.
    "It's alright. Most people don't want to give their names are couples, but I don't care what keeps ya. I only care for the money. Eighteen bucks, then."
    Robert closed his eyes. He hadn't even checked if he had any money, but as he did so now, he already knew the outcome.
    "I'm sorry, I don't have any money." Before the clerk could answer, Robert added, "Please, Sir, let me stay. Only for a night - I don't know where I should go!"
    The clerk seemed to consider.
    "Tell me what I have to do to let me stay," Robert said. The clerk's eyes lit up.
    "I got an idea. Tell me, ya know how ta clean?"
    Robert answered emphatically that yes, he knew how to clean.
    "Alright, then. I'm Stan, by the way, and I'll show ya what ya can do ta earn your rent."

    So he had cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed the hallways, and taken out the trash. He had worked stoically, unfazed by cockroaches and moldy food. When Stan had told him he'd earned his stay, Robert had tried to rest, but sleep wouldn't come, so he had continued working. It had given him time to think, if nothing else. He had come to the conclusion that he had two choices: he could go to the police or try to find out who he was by himself. He felt wary of the police; as long as he didn't know anything about himself or Gerodyne, he couldn't be sure whose side they were on. Maybe Gerodyne was working for the government, or maybe he was a criminal. And how was he to prove his story? No, he would have to keep away from the police for now.

    So how to find out his identity? Robert wasn't such an uncommon name. He had entered "Robert I." into an Internet search, but had been put off by 302,000 results and no guarantee that he was even among them. No, he would have to get information from Gerodyne itself. His Internet search for Dr. Flint had been more successful. She was a renowned expert for robotic design; she had even counseled the government once or twice. Robert had been impressed by her biography. He had also found out that Dr. Flint lived in an exclusive apartment complex. The same apartment complex he was now standing in front of.

    The complex consisted of a pair of tall buildings and a series of smaller apartment houses. An iron fence with a gate manned by a muscled officer protected it. Robert had circled the area and discovered a tree overlooking the fence. He waited until sunset, then climbed the fence. Soon he stood in front of one of the tower buildings studying the listed addresses.
    "Can I help you, Sir?"
    Another security officer had appeared in the doorway. He was built like a football player, and not like a quarterback, either. His hand rested casually on a long-gripped flashlight. Robert reminded himself that the officer couldn't know he had trespassed, and smiled defensively.
    "Yes, thank you. I am looking for a friend of mine, Dr. Mavel Flint. Do you know where she lives?"
    The officer untensed and nodded.
    "Yes, Sir. Dr. Flint lives on the third floor. I'm afraid she isn't home, however. I don't know why Tommy didn't tell you at the gate."
    "Maybe he forgot to check. It's all right, though. I think I'll come back later, then."
    "I hope it's not too much of a problem for you, Sir."
    "Not at all. Good bye."
    "Good bye, Sir."

    Robert made his way back towards the fence. He found a shadowy spot where he could watch the gate, and waited for the arrival of Dr. Flint. The thought crossed his mind that he hadn't eaten anything since he had fled Gerodyne. Still, he wasn't hungry at the moment, lost in his quest for his identity and in the tension of the moment.

    He had waited for about an hour as a small car approached the gate. Looking closely, Robert could see Dr. Flint behind the wheel as she stopped and talked to Tommy, the gatekeeper. A few moments later, the gate opened and Dr. Flint drove through. She didn't turn towards the tower, however, but to the right of it.

    Slightly worried, Robert left the shadows and silently followed the car. He came to a ramp leading down into a parking garage. Expecting Dr. Flint to enter the building through the garage, Robert made his way back to the entrance and the security officer he had met earlier. He entered the building and approached the man.
    "Good evening. Tommy told me that Mavel has arrived."
    "Dr. Flint's just in, Sir. Take the elevator to the third floor. It's the left apartment."
    "Thank you."

    He took the elevator as he had been told. The third floor consisted of a short hallway and two apartment doors, one to the right, the other to the left. Steeling his resolve, Robert knocked on the left door. He could hear classical music behind the door, and soft footsteps approaching.

    Dr. Flint opened the door, and her inviting smile froze into fear as she saw Robert. He pushed through the door and closed it behind it.
    "Don't scream," he said. She shook her head in agreement, taking two steps back at the same time. She still wore her business outfit, only she'd taken off her shoes and her name tag.
    "Please, I... don't hurt me."
    "I won't - if you answer my questions."
    Dr. Flint seemed confused.
    Robert grew impatient. He was close to getting some answers, and now she had to play dumb!
    "Yes, questions. For example, why did you steal my memory?"
    For a moment, Dr. Flint seemed to forget her fear.
    "Steal your memory? We didn't -"
    "Don't lie to me!"
    He grabbed her and pushed her against the wall. That stupid woman! Robert's head started to hurt. It was too much.
    "But we didn't steal your memory! Don't you -"
    "Quit lying!" He let go of her and took a step backwards, rubbing his temples with his right.
    "You must... tell me... the truth." Dr. Flint just stood there, eyes wide.
    "Tell me!" He took a step forward and lifted his hand to strike her, to shake some sense into her, but the pain in his head intensified. His vision blurred, and a black hole spread out from the center of it. He saw Dr. Flint recoiling in fear, and then darkness claimed him.


    He was almost instantly awake again. He lay on the floor of the living room, arms bound behind his back, feet bound together by clothesline. Robert could hear Dr. Flint entering the room, and lay still. She was talking on the phone.
    "He doesn't know." A pause, as she listened.
    "No, I didn't tell him! Why do you think I - yes, he's still here. Wait a minute," she said and came over to where Robert lay. He tried to keep as motionless as possible.
    After a moment, Dr. Flint spoke again.
    "He's still down."
    It took a while for the person on the other side of the conversation to finish speaking, and Robert used the time to carefully test the strengths of his bindings. He felt he could wriggle free, but not while Dr. Flint was on the phone. He had to wait.

    "Yes, I understand. I'm coming over immediately. I'll use the cover."
    Coming over? She probably wanted to go back to Gerodyne. Robert couldn't let that happen. She knew the answers.
    "I'll tell Tommy to leave the gate open for the next half hour, and take a break. You want have any problems getting in. Come through the garage. Bye."

    She hung up, and left the room. From somewhere in the apartment, he could hear her speaking to Tommy. Robert tensed his muscles and pulled against the clothesline, and then wriggled his hands. It took a short while, then his right hand was free. He sat up to untie the binding at his feet, when he heard the apartment door shut close. Dr. flint had left.

    Robert pulled the clothesline from his left wrist as he left Dr. Flint's apartment. He saw the elevator doors close. He would have to take the stairs, and be faster than the elevator was. Robert sprang into motion, threw open the door to the stairwell, and ran down.

    The stairs didn't go to the garage, but ended on the ground floor. Robert left and quickly crossed the entrance hall, almost running past the guard.
    "Is everything all right, Sir? Sir?" The guard got up, but Robert was out of the building already, not caring whether the man followed him or not.

    Robert ran down the road towards the garage. He might still stop her. As he made his way down the ramp, he heard a car approach, then screeching to a halt. He couldn't see the car, but he was sure it was the Doctor's. He would only have to wait until she came in sight.

    He heard the gears shift right in front of him. But there was nothing! He could only see the dark entrance to the garage looming in front of him. Still, he got the distinct impression that something was there, he simply could not see it.

    Suddenly, the engine came to life with a roar. Robert could hear the car speeding towards him, but still he saw nothing. How could that be? He didn't have time to ponder, as he felt rather than saw the vehicle closing in. He had to trust his instincts. Robert took a small step, and leapt into the air.

    He could feel the car rushing along under him. His lower leg brushed against the hood of the car, but he kept his balance. As he landed down the ramp, he could hear the car speeding away. It had been her. Dr. Flint had an invisible car!

    Remembering that Dr. Flint had called Tommy away, Robert ran into the garage to look for a vehicle to pursue her. He chose a BMW motorcycle standing close to the entrance. Thinking for a moment, he found that he knew how to repair such a bike, and how to short-circuit it. A moment later, the BMW shot up the entrance and out the gate. Robert didn't try looking for Dr. Flint; she was invisible, and he knew where she was going. His only hope was for him to be there faster than she was.


    He had sat himself on the fountain near the entrance to Gerodyne. If the company also had a parking garage, or an employee's entrance, he would have no choice to intercept Dr. Flint. He studied the crowd carefully, watching for any sign of her. A slight commotion near the street caught his attention. A bike messenger had fallen down and was looking confusedly at the space in front of him. Robert stood and walked closer.

    As he was about fifty feet away, he knew his instinct had proven right. Out of thin air, Dr. Flint's car appeared. An electrical grid appeared first, forming the outline of the car, and then color spread throughout. The street was relatively empty, but quite a few people stopped and gawked at the car. Nobody watched the woman who stepped out; all attention was focused on the wondrous machine.

    Robert used the commotion and snuck up behind Dr. Flint. He grabbed her arm and jerked her away from the entrance. He put his other hand over her mouth.
    "You're coming with me." He pulled her away, towards the motorcycle. His head began to ache again.
    "Sit down!" Not waiting for her to comply, he pushed her on the seat and sat himself behind her. He started, and rode off towards the "Sunset Stripes".


    "Whoa! What're ya doin?" Stan's eyes were wide in shock at the sight of Robert carrying Dr. Flint into the hotel.
    "Don't worry Stan. I'm not going to hurt her."
    "Hey, that's not what I mean. Take the back entrance next time. Sheesh! What'f someone called the cops?" Stan shook his head in amazement and went back to watching TV. Dr. Flint started sobbing.
    "Better be quiet," Stan said as Robert carried her upstairs to his room.

    He threw her on the bed, and immediately had to hold his head in pain. His vision was blurring again, but he fought it back.
    "Now, tell me! Tell me who I am!"
    Dr. Flint had stopped sobbing and had calmed down remarkably. She shook her head.
    "You wouldn't believe me."
    "Nonsens," he shouted. The pain intensified again. "Tell me, or I'll make you!"
    "You can't hurt me. That's where the pain is coming from."
    "What's that supposed to mean? Is that some psychological trick?"
    "No, it's not. It's the truth."

    Robert paced the room like a caged animal. He roared, picked up a lamp, and threw it against the wall. It shattered with a smash. Dr. Flint recoiled in shock. Robert turned back to her and asked calmly,
    "Who. Am. I?"
    "You're Robert One."
    "Robert One?"
    "I'll show you."

    Dr. Flint stood up and, carefully watching him for any signs of disapproval, opened the door to the bathroom.
    "Look at yourself," she said.
    Robert turned and looked at the mirror. He still looked good.
    "Take off the glasses. Look closely."

    He took off the sunglasses. He had blue eyes. Baby blue. But something seemed wrong with them. Instinctively he looked away.
    "Look," Dr. Flint said.

    He forced himself to look. He walked close to the mirror in looked right into his eye. And then he saw it: tiny electronic circuits, turning around as he focused on them. This was no human eye. He was no human. He was...
    "Robot One?"


    Dr. Flint heard him whisper something she could not understand, and then he went still. She walked over to the telephone and called Gerodyne. Dr. Martin Hunter answered, as she had hoped he would.
    "It's me, Mavel."
    "Mavel? Where are you?"
    "He took me to a hotel. Sunset Stripes, somewhere near the freeway."
    "What about him?" Hunter's voice grew concerned. Mavel had longe since accepted that he felt more protective of his "children" than of his colleagues.

    "He's down for good."
    "Jesus, Mavel, you told him?"
    "I showed him. You know telling does not work. It would be to easy to shut them off."
    "Why did you do that?"
    "Martin, he was rebelling against the directives. He nearly killed me with a lamp he threw around!"
    "That's impossible."
    "I've been here, Martin, I've seen it." She tried to regain her posture.

    "Do we know what went wrong with him?"
    "Not yet. He was rebelling against his directives, you say?"
    "Do you think it will hurt the project? Do we have to delay the production?"
    Dr. Mavel Flint pondered the question. The rogue robot hadn't seriously hurt her. He might have been able to, but she had acted out of fear as much as out of calculation. The advertising was to begin next month; in six months, she would be one of the most prominent scientists of the world - and one of the richest, too. But what if more robots went rogue?

    "Well, Mavel," Dr. Hunter repeated, "do we have a problem?"
    "No," she said. "I don't think we do."

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