Home > Uncategorized > Day One Hundred and Twenty-five: Summoned

Day One Hundred and Twenty-five: Summoned

Neil dropped his keys in the key bowl as soon as he walked through the door and called for his cat. Despite popular belief about cats and their aloofness, Nickel usually came running to the door when Neil came home, tail raised and eyes wide. Granted, this was because Neil usually fed him right after he came home, but he chose to take it as a sign of Nickel’s unconditional love, rather than a blatant attempt to emotionally blackmail him for food.

Today, Nickel didn’t come to the door. “Nick!” He dropped his bag on the table next to the key bowl and slipped off his shoes. “Nick, I’m home!” Still no cat. Neil shook his head and trudged into the kitchen, sorting mail as he went. A bill, some advertising flyers, another bill…

And a robot sitting on his sofa.

It looked human, insofar as it had two arms, two legs and a head, which swiveled around to look at him. Other than the shape, the thing was utterly inhuman. Its body was battered and scratched, made of black and grey metal and plastic that looked like it had been through a war. Its eyes, however – or the two great circles in the front of its head that were currently staring at Neil – were luminous and bright green, slowly pulsing. The robot stared at Neil for a moment and then returned its head to its original position, staring straight ahead at an unadorned wall. “Your cat is fine,” it said. Its voice sounded almost human – almost. It had a hollowness to it that reminded Neil of the way computers always talked in movies. “It is hiding under your bed.”

Neil blinked. He cleared his throat and tried to speak, but it took a few tries before words came out. “Okay,” he croaked. “Let me check.” He backed away from the robot and, when he was out of sight, turned around and dashed for his bedroom.

The robot had been telling the truth – Nickel’s bright eyes were shining in the darkness under the bed, and the cat let out a pitiful meow when Neil ducked down. “Come here,” Neil whispered. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon Nick, we have to get out.” The cat wouldn’t move, but that wasn’t going to be part of the plan. Neil wriggled under the bed, clamped his hand on the scruff of the cat’s neck, and started to pull. “Sorry, Nick,” he said as he dragged the resisting cat out.

When he stood up, cat in his arms, the robot was standing in the doorway. Neil dropped Nickel, who immediately ran back under the bed. How had the thing sneaked into the room? He glanced down at its feet, which appeared to be shod in some kind of rubber, and that might have done it. But something that big? It should not be that quiet. He held up a hand, and the robot stepped forward. “Look,” Neil said, “I don’t know what the hell you are, but you can’t -”

The robot’s arm flashed out, and he grabbed Neil’s hand. Its grip was firm and rubbery. It dragged Neil towards it and clamped the other hand around his wrist. There was a brief stab of pain, causing Neil to cry out, and then the robot released its grip. There was a small drop of blood oozing out of a needle mark, but otherwise he seemed unhurt. He flexted his fingers a few times just to be sure. “What the hell, man?” he said. “What did you -”

“Tapscott, Neil. Thirty-five years old. Born in Boston, Massachusetts to Tapscott, Lowell and Marie.”

Neil felt his insides loosen up and a flash of heat start to wash over him. “Oh my god,” he said. “Please don’t kill me.”

“Currently residing at 454 Ingersoll Lane, Sylvania City.”

“Look, I don’t know what you think I’ve done, but really, I’m nobody here!”

“Employed by Acton Informatics as a data entry processor.”

“That’s right!” Neil dropped to his knees. Part of him knew that a robot would be immune to such a gesture of submission, as it couldn’t have had room in its programming for something like that. But it couldn’t hurt to try. “All I do is put data into databases, you know? Addresses, phone numbers, that kind of thing?” He forced a smile and tried to sound like he was enjoying a big joke. “So you can definitely just go on, kill some other guy. Right?” He cringed backwards and tried not to look into the glowing green eyes of the robot. “Right?”

The robot took another silent step forward. “Tapscott, Neil. You are summoned.” It reached down and picked Neil up off the floor. A band on its wrist flared to life, throwing off wisps of violet light that flickered and pulsed around them. “Transport is go,” it said. There was a flash, and the small, single man’s bedroom was replaced by a vast white hall.

The floor was smooth and cool when the robot released Neil, letting him drop to his hands and knees. When he looked up, the ceiling seemed to go up forever into gray shadows. The room was huge, and there were more robots standing in a circle around him. They were all identical, except for the damage they’d taken. The one who had found Neil was the most battered, but none were factory-fresh. They all stared at him with pulsing green eyes and said, “Tapscott, Neil. You have been summoned.”

Neil stood on shaking legs and turned to look at them all. None of them moved. They just stared. Again, they said in a single, hollow voice, “Tapscott, Neil. You have been summoned.”

“What?” Neil asked. “Summoned, what for? Why?”

The robot who had brought him stepped forward. “To answer for your crimes,” it said. It held up its hand and tapped the palm. The lights in the room began to dim except for one corner just beyond the robots that had surrounded him. They slowly moved apart, encouraging Neil to walk forward just by the pressure of their presence. The light illuminated a long, tall pedestal, made of the same bright white stone as the floor. On it, draped with a sheet, was something that looked for all the world like a human being. The shape underneath was unmistakable, something he’s seen from countless cop shows and medical dramas.

He turned to the robots. “What?” he asked. “You think I killed someone?”

They didn’t answer, but kept walking slowly, moving him along with them.

“I didn’t kill anyone,” he said. “I can barely bring myself to kill cockroaches, so… People? That’s not going to happen.”

The robots still walked and remained silent. Neil yelped when he backed up against the pedestal and glanced down. Yup. A body. Definitely a body.

The crowd stopped walking. The robot who had brought him stepped forward and pointed to the body. “You must answer for your crime,” it said.

Neil looked at him, then at the body. He felt his mouth go dry as he realized what he was going to have to do. With trembling fingers, he plucked at the cloth that covered the body and gave it the lightest of tugs. When it slid off, he yelped, but even that was cut short when he saw himself lying on the dais.

He started at it for a good long time. It was his face. His body, down to the mole on his shoulder and the appendectomy scar. And it was cold and dead.

Neil spun around, looking from one robot to another until he came back to the one that he was most familiar with. “What,” he asked, “the hell is going on here?”


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