Feather in the Tar: Looking Glass

           “YOU!” Charles Palmer shouts. He is frozen. “You, you can’t be…out.”

          {STEP FORWARD x 5: BOILER: ON.}
           {LIFT LEFT ARM 90 DEGREES,
          OPEN HAND,
          LEAN FORWARD,
          GRAB COLLAR,
          TIGHTEN GRIP,
          LIFT.}

           Frank’s camera lights target Chaz’s face. The lens opens and then focuses on his face. A series of images flashes across his upper consciousness, but none match. His drive spins up and repeats the search, still nothing. He can’t find a reference.

           Chaz closes his eyes from the light, the toes of his F-flyer sneakers scrape the boards, and he wraps his fingers around Frank’s neck. “Don’t,” he coughs, his collar tightens further as his pet project, now autonomous, tightens its grip. “Don’t, don’t you…recognize me?” He asks with a last forced breath.

           Frank’s head shutters, and the boiler discharges a cloud of hot steam. He loosens his grip a little. “N, n, no.” His lips do not move. A voice synthesizer from in his pack stutters. He drops Chaz to the ground on his knees. Frank raises his right arm; the strut that actuates it glows orange. Out of a row of rivets, several jets of steam form a solid plasma-like rail. The opposite side of his arm, the backside of the silicone skin is matted with dark brown and black chunks; its smoothness is pocked and disfigured, melted in splotches.

           “Don’t you know me,” Chaz squeaks out, trembling.

           {ACCESS LOG: IDENTITY?}

           Photos of people he knew in his life flash across his visual cortex. The plasma rail peaks blue.

           {FOUND.}
          {CHARLES PALMER, DHARMA WORKS, ENGINEER.}

           The lookup flashes under the photo.

          {FOUND.}
          {RELATION: CREATOR.}

           A brief CV summary scrolls down the right side of the photo.

           “You saved me.” Frank says.

           “YES, yes I saved you.” Chaz sighs. “Frank, listen to me.” Frank bends down and turns his ear towards Chaz. “Frank, bobit,” he says into its ear, “bobit.” Bobit is a backdoor password Mike insisted Chaz program, just in case.

           Frank erects himself, disengages the plasma rail, and lowers his arms to his side. Steam continues to boil.

           {REBOOT: SAFE MODE}

           The processor runs a number of test and maintenance routines on all the electronics and steam systems.

           The drives spin back up and Frank starts in command mode. Chaz created a safe mode in the operating system to troubleshoot processors, hard drives or components of the electronics if failure occurs, but he never imagined it would save his life.

           “Frank, initialize mirror 1 drive.” Chaz instructs as he stands to his feet. Mirror 1 is all initial autonomic instructions and those created dynamically by the system itself. I can’t believe this thing started itself. I didn’t program that or the stream plasma rod on the forearm he thinks. How, where, “Mike?” he says out loud. No, it can’t be and shakes his head. He doesn’t have the skill, and why, Chaz’s intellect dives into an obsessive pool of emotions and recriminations.

           Mirror 1 hard drive spins up and reads. Frank turns around and steps to the closet. He stops and shuts down again. Frank restarts a second time.

           “What the hell?” Chaz says.

           {LOAD MIRROR 1 FROM MIRROR 3.}

           Mirror 3 is a backup of the most recent mirror 1, but it was designed just to be additional storage. Frank’s sense of self-preservation dynamically created new functionality for the unused storage.

           Mirror 1 is restored and as Frank turns 90 degrees on his way to 180 and Chaz. He sees himself in a mirror. His lens open wide and close several times. He steps back and can see more of the frame actuating his body. His eyes are closed, but he can still see his reflection. He doesn’t look natural, but it’s his likeness, and he continues to stare. His pallor is grey and silky, like wax or even a faded plastic doll. He yells in horror through the synthesizer. The tinny speaker reverberates, pops, and crackles.

           “Frank,” Chaz says. “FRANK! BOBIT. FRANK, BOBIT,” he yells at the top of his lungs.

           Frank powers down again, but only for a few seconds. He restarts and not in safe mode. He is still staring at the mirror as his OS reloads. He catches a glimpse and clamps both lens shut, “NOOOO!” He turns to Chaz.

           {BOILER: MAXIMUM.}

           “Look what you’ve done to me.” His head lowers, points the camera down and up his body, lifting a leg, and arm, turning his wrist over and back “What have you done to me, you son of bitch?”

           Frank raises his arm and his forearm begins forming the plasma rail. Chaz turns and scrambles to the far end of the lab. Frank pushes his arm through a wooden table. It cuts like electric wire though thick solid foam. He steps between the two table half way to Chaz, but his progress is slow. He doesn’t have enough steam energy to actuate more than one or two actions at a time, and the plasma rail takes 80%.

           “BOBIT! BOBIT” Chaz screams. He realizes that he’s made a tactical error, because all the doors are on the opposite side of the lab. Frank reboots mid-worktable, and reboots again more quickly than the last. He pauses on restart.

           {FIND: SAFE MODE INSTRUCTIONS.}
           {ERASE INITIAL INSTRUCTION.}
          {LOAD FROM UPDATE ON MIRROR 3.}

           Frank pushes the two halve the 5-inch think worktable aside and steps to the next. The steam plasma rail glows blue.

          I’ll have to go around. I’ll wait till he’s half way through and jump to the top and around him to the front door. He can’t move very fast. Chaz calms himself, takes a few deep breaths as the room in front of him fills with smoke from the burning table. He visualizes his moves and possible outcomes, “focus on the moves, only the moves.”

           “BOBIT,” he shouts one last time to no affect. Frank does not reboot. “Shit.”

           “I saved you Frank. Do you hear me? I SAVED YOU.”

             Frank looks up, “yes, but..”

           “But what, you’d be feeding the worms if it weren’t for me, Frank. You’d be as dead as dirt, but I’ve given you a second chance.”

           “But…” Frank continues to cut. “…dirt is not dead.”

           “I can help you.” Chaz’s voice is desperate as he prepares to leap. “I can make you better.”

           “How?” Frank says and looks up again.

           “Leaks, stability, strength, speed, even memories.”

           Frank pauses, “look at me. I’m a monster.”

           “No, no Frank, you’ve been given a 2nd chance.” Chaz watches the plasma rail cool to orange. “Think of what you could mean to humanity and its suffering.”

           “Like Golem, like Frankenstein, they will hunt me down and destroy me.”

           {BOILER: MAXIMUM}

           “No, no, I won’t let them.” Chaz hands tremble as Frank inches to the middle of the table. “PLEASE, let me help you.”

           Frank looks up just as Chaz jumps to the top of the workbench. He’s under estimated Frank’s speed; he turns his arm and pushes it violently to one side. Chaz lands at the precise moment the table is whisked from under his feet. He falls against a bookshelf against the wall and knocks his head hard on an edge. He folds up in twisted heap on the floor, and Frank looks down towards him.

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