“Quick, in here!” Carissa pushed open a door and waved them all in, letting it close and electronically barring the door after them. They seemed to be in a conference hall of some sort. The whole area was empty, silent, and dark after the bright chaos of the main halls. Daniel could still hear the screaming.
“We can wait in here till the rampage is over,” Carissa announced.
Aaron was still scoping out the numerous exits--that could also be points of entry to anyone or anything outside the room.
“What makes you so sure the robots won’t find us in here?” he asked dubiously.
“They’re probably programmed to scan for signs of life, right? And their processors can probably access security feeds, which is how they’re hunting down all the others.”
Harry scanned the corners of the room. No telltale flashing lights winked back to tell him there was any kind of surveillance system at all. Realization dawned as he looked back to the grin on Carissa’s face.
“And,” she added, “these doors are impervious to their thermal sensors. There is no way they can find us.”
Daniel allowed himself to relax a little. He turned to thank Carissa for her assistance--when something cracked on the far side of the room. Daniel turned to look in the same instant that Mike yelled, “Duck and cover!”
More bullets ripped through the room, and a whole contingent of the weaponized killer robots blasted through the doors.
Daniel quickly knocked over the chair nearest him and took refuge from the bullets under the table. “Carissa!” He called over his shoulder--but Carissa wasn’t in any capacity to follow him. He saw that the first bullet that had entered the room had struck her right between the eyes. A red stain unfolded from her face and dripped down her neck onto her clothes. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and curled up into a ball, tucking his knees against his forehead.
“PLEASE STAND BY,” intoned the digital announcement from the robot as it flipped over the table and exposed Daniel hiding underneath. “YOUR DEMISE IS IMMINENT.”
Daniel raised his gaze. The robot sent after him was an ARIC--an Automated Response Incendiary Component. These types he knew were typically used in mob control situations, since they could be programmed with a set of recorded responses, in addition to the weapons used only in case of resistance. Daniel remained as he was--in essence, obeying the robot’s command. The ARIC didn’t fire immediately. Instead, it began repeating the recorded message, “PLEASE STAND--”
Daniel stood to his feet before the robot could finish the phrase. The weapon-arm lowered, and the assault in the room ceased. Daniel watched the robot--all a mass of pistons and wiring, with one glowing audiovisual sensor at the middle of the head. Servos whirred as the machine awaited his next move.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
The ARIC’s central computer hummed a moment. “YOUR QUERY IS INVALID, CANNOT COMPUTE,” it said.
“It’s a machine,” Mike’s voice whispered, as he stood next to Daniel. “You’ve got to think the way the programmers would, figure out just the right question to ask to get the answers you want, to override the protocols.”
Daniel stared at the robot. As long as he wasn’t behaving in a threatening manner, the robot waited in relative silence. He thought over every word before he spoke.
“Why has President King issued the executive order for the annihilation of the technicians and consultant personnel?”
The blue light pulsed. “ACTIVATING ORIGINAL DIRECTIVE RECORDING,” ARIC announced. A faint rustle of static preceded the sound of President Chad King’s voice, and that of another consultant, issuing from the speaker system.
“Well? Did it work?” His voice sounded strained, still laced with agitation from the recent nightmare.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it appears that the program did not receive adequate information.”
“What more do you want?”
“The program needs a prompt to begin reproducing images from the dream. Perhaps if you could remember at least one element of the dream--”
“You call yourselves dream technicians? Don’t you specialize in fashioning dreams from people’s memories?”
“Yes, but according to the information received by the program, you haven’t indicated any memories.”
“That’s your job! I’m warning you, if your program can’t recall my dream, I’m shutting you down and getting rid of all the consultants and technicians associated with this department!”
“Sir, you are asking for a level of telepathy that no machine has ever--”
“What about the prediction machines? What about the star-gazers and spirit-readers? You’re telling me all your claims about predicting the future and knowing someone’s fate are false? You are all of you useless frauds!”
“No! I’m done listening to excuses! We’re done! I believed you, I trusted you--and you have failed me! Every last one of you! Activate the ARICs! The Mystic Department must be eliminated!”
Daniel pondered his options as the recording finished. Still, the ARICs scattered around the room stood and waited as the four friends stood peacefully and assessed the information they had just heard.
“ARIC,” Daniel addressed the robot, “Requesting permission to stay the execution.”
“REQUEST DENIED,” ARIC responded, then added, “SUBJECT MUST SPECIFY PARAMETERS OF DELAY AND DATE OF TERMINATION.”
“Termination of what?” Aaron whispered to Harry.
“I’m guessing it wants a deadline--as in, if we fail or if we take too long, we’re literally dead,” the young man replied.
The trio watched Daniel carefully as he answered for all of them, “Give us twenty-four hours, my friends and I, and then you may escort us to President King, and we will have the answer he seeks.” He paused as a small smile played around his lips. “Are these terms acceptable?”The ARIC’s audiovisual receptor blinked as it processed the request. Finally, the light glowed solid. “REQUEST ACCEPTED. PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR QUARTERS FOR THE PROBATIONARY PERIOD OF TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. SUBJECTS MUST PRESENT THEMSELVES BEFORE PRESIDENT CHAD KING AT THE END OF TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. FAILURE TO APPEAR WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE ANNIHILATION.” With that declaration, the ARICs withdrew.