Chuck’s challenge for the week: Write the middle of a story. Our goal: Take the 500-word story begun by another author, and continue it.
I hijacked the story started by one Clay Ashby, Clank. It’s got some of my favorite stuff: Sci-Fi, mystery, robots, a sense of desperation and lostness. In short, it would be right at home here in my Flash Fiction collection.
Clay’s bit begins the story. My bit follows the asterisk.
My eyes opened with a metallic clatter. A single dim lamp reflected its yellow hue on the ceiling above. Instinctually I was able to sit up and balance myself on the table. At least I think it was instinct because I certainly don’t remember ever doing it before. My legs dangled over the edge and my feet didn’t quite touch the floor. The thought of lifting myself off the table and falling, even just that little bit, worried me, but I did it. My feet clanked on the rusty floor as I stumbled, trying to find my balance. With my feet spread wide I was able to stabilize, so I lifted my head to look around.
Large gears turned inside the walls, visible through crumbled sheets of wood and iron. My head began to whistle, beginning at a high pitch and increasing until it was nearly impossible to hear. The sound was terrifying and at first quite annoying, but the mild vibration was soothing, and it seemed to help me keep my balance. I took my first step, a step that was a little too big, but my foot landed on the floor and held firm. The vibration inside my head was helping me. I was sure of it, so I took several more steps. No problem at all! The vibration in my head made it almost easy.
There was only one exit from the room, a dark hallway. I decided to go. I didn’t really have any other choice. Every step I took was loud. It made me uncomfortable, like I was being watched. I tried to step softly, but it was no use. Metal contacting metal simply could not be made quiet. The hallway continued on without ending and my deliberate steps made progress slow. The glow of lamps from the room behind me began to fade. With every step it faded more. I wasn’t sure how much further I could go, so I stopped, unsure if another step forward would be wise. I was able to turn my head all the way around and look at where I had come from, a faint yellow spot now. There didn’t seem to be any reason to return, except fear. The room was vacant and square, with nothing useful inside. My only option was to move onward into the darkness.
I took only one more step, no clank. Imagine if I had turned back at that moment. I was only one step away from a new type of ground, but I would have never known it. With my arms slowly flailing, in search of obstacles, I continued into the pitch black. Still no clank from my feet. The silence combined with the dark made me feel like I was walking into nothingness, but that eerie feeling was certainly better than the creepy clank from before. At least I felt hidden now.
When my face met a solid steel door I thought I had finally made it to the end. I leaned into it and pushed. The metal moaned from stress and a few rivets popped, but it gave way easily enough. Unfortunately this door, my supposed salvation, revealed almost certain doom.
As the door creaked open, antiseptic white light spilled out from the room. Beneath my feet, muffling my footsteps, was a lush carpet covered in cascading geometric designs. It led into a room that, not unlike the first, was small and square. Unlike my room, this room was furnished with the soft carpet, and a single bed in the center of the far wall. In the bed was a human shape, its head propped up on a ponderous stack of dingy pillows, its body bundled beneath a thick sheet.
I didn’t know how I knew the word “human”, but the shape made sense to me the moment I saw it, and the word for the shape sprung into my circuits unbidden. It was a male human, spotted and wrinkled with age, a wisp of white hair fluttering above its head. I hadn’t noticed the tower of wires next to the bed, but the human grabbed this tower and wheeled it next to him as it advanced toward me on steps as shaky as my first ones. The wires snaked from a contraption set atop the tower, dangled by the human’s knees, and ended at an interface in the human’s arm. No, not wires. Tubes, delivering a cocktail of silvery liquids into its bloodstream. It stared at me, this human, its eyes wide and red-rimmed and disbelieving. It reached out a withered hand to touch my shoulder, my fingers, my face. Then it squinted, appraising me, measuring me. Finally, it spoke.
The command surged through me, irresistible and pervasive. I would have answered if I could, but my circuits did not contain any information to identify me, no matter how much my processors spun and whirred. A bit of loose machinery in my torso wrenched itself loose with the effort and a resounding “Clank” echoed through the room.
He frowned. “Report status.”
Again, I felt compelled to answer, and again, my drives buzzed and hummed, but I could not respond. It began to dawn on me that there were gaps and rusted connections all throughout my cognitive circuits, whatever those were. I blinked at the man, my eyelids clicking softly. He blinked back, his mouth tightening into a frown.
A familiar frown.
“Do you know who I am?”
The compulsion overtook me again, but this time, my neural network lit up and my consciousness flooded with images: a classroom full of people, a dark lab after hours, a chalkboard covered with equations, the soft face of a beautiful woman, the grave face of a doctor, a medical chart covered with indecipherable figures, and hours and hours of treatment and tubes and injections and suffering. The heavy clunk of ancient clockwork intensified within the walls. The high-pitched hum in my head was causing my entire body to resonate.
The old man whacked me in the head, a thin “clunk” reverberating through my metal skull. The images departed.
“Do you know who I am?“