“Big ol’ storm’s rollin’ in,” Sandra noted after the thunder subsided. “Anyway, you were tellin’ us about this Eidolon thing.”
Charlie nodded importantly. “No one knows what it is. It’s invisible, but you can feel it coming, because it knocks out the power when it does. Old Doyle, the weekend guard, swears it’s a failed experiment with nanobots. He figures the nanites were given the programming of a hush-hush prototype network-distributed crime-fighting artificial intelligence they’d been working on in R&D, and they went nuts. Now they roam the factory in a swarm, killing anyone they find.”
“Uh huh. So what’s this got to do with the night you found Mr. Lurge?”
“Well, I was at my station up front, just doing my usual. I thought I heard noises back here and but figured it was just Samuel. I was looking at some, uh, pictures—security footage, that was it—when I looked up and out the window. That’s when I saw the parking lot lights going out—first they’d flicker, and then they’d pop out. When my desk lamp started doing the same thing. I knew it had to be the Eidolon coming.” He nodded with great seriousness.
“And you realized since it was coming across the parking lot, your best bet was to retreat into the factory,” Venus finished.
Charlie blinked a few times. “Yeah… that’s right. How’d you know?”
“We’re detectives,” said Venus.
“So, Charlie, let’s all go into the factory. Ms. Darcy and I will go first, make sure the coast is clear, then you can show us where you found Mr. Lurge, and we’ll clear out, okay?”
“You’ll go first?” he said, his cocky manner starting to return. “I’ll keep watch on the rear.”
Sandra again fought the urge to roll her eyes. Some security guard, she thought to herself.
“Let’s get going,” Venus said blandly.
“Well, okay. But I’ve gotta warn you: there’s no telling what’ll show up in there. You know, there have been teams of pro ghost hunters that come to investigate this place, and you know what?”
“They were all killed by ghosts, providing hard evidence of a spirit world which somehow has still received no attention from the media?” Sandra snapped.
“Uh, no… not that.”
“Didn’t think so, actually.”
“But they recorded these freaky noises! Here,” he pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped a few times, then held the device up for Sandra and Venus to see.
On the screen was displayed green-tinted night vision footage of a bearded man standing in the beam of a strong light, throwing an eerie halo around him as he walked through what appeared to be an endless black abyss.
“They say this is where the old floor manager was burned alive by the robot’s cannons,” the man on the screen was saying. “It’s pretty spooky, I can tell you. It feels like there’s something here. We’re lucky our equipment works down here, the energies in this place can disrupt electronic devices. Our cell phones have been on the fritz since we got here.”
From his pocket, the bearded man took a small rectangular device and held it up to the air. “Let’s see what our proprietary ectoplasmic aural spectrometer can detect.” After a few moments, he lowered the device and pressed a button on the side. It began to playback a weird series of noises which resembled badly-garbled speech, as if spoken on a radio frequency full of interference.
“Do you hear that?” He said. “It’s saying ‘get away,” isn’t it?”
He played the noise back several times: “Get away! Get away! Get away!” it said, and though still garbled, each time it seemed clearer and clearer.
“The human ear can’t detect the cries of lost souls,” the man concluded, “But our devices detect the frequencies from the planes beyond, of spirits stuck between this world and the next.”
The clip ended there, and Charlie gave a firm nod towards his phone, as if to say, “I told you so.”
“That was recorded on the factory floor just about a year ago,” he said.
“Okay, good,” said Sandra. “Come on, enough stalling; let’s get this over with. How do you turn the lights on in here?” She stepped through the huge doorway and into the cavernous room beyond. Although in the darkness she could see only a few feet ahead, the echoing of her footsteps told her the room was vast indeed.
“You don’t,” said Charlie.
“You don’t turn the lights on. The old man took out the wiring years ago; he said he didn’t want to waste the money. During the day, enough light comes in that you can see pretty good.”
“And at night?”
“No one’s supposed to go in here at night; except for ghost hunts, and those happen in the dark anyway.”
“It’s okay,” Venus said, “Sandra; I think my eyes’ll adjust pretty well, if you want to hang back, I’ll go with him—”
Oh, so you can take the credit? Sandra thought. “I’ve got a flashlight; I’ll be fine, c’mon, let’s go.”
Sandra flicked on the beam of light and the three walked into the room. More muffled rumbling from outside indicated the storm was drawing near. Sandra flicked the beam of her light from left to right; inspecting the surroundings. Dilapidated conveyer belts and welding arms sat on the left; on the right, massive rust-covered hooks, designed for loading the finished products into government trucks, hung ominously from chains that disappeared into the blackness above. At irregularly-spaced intervals were pyramidal stacks of cardboard boxes, all labeled “Fragile” and some “Top Secret.” Every few yards, mounted about nine feet up the grey, featureless wall, were inoperative, bulb-less light fixtures, and just below these, small silver disks resembling smoke detectors. The room was cold—clearly, Lurge had not been any more willing to pay for heat than he had for light—and the total absence of the reassuring white noise found in almost all buildings made it feel even more remote and empty.
Eventually, the narrow cone of Sandra’s flashlight fell upon something that made all three stop at once, and Charlie yelped with a noise halfway between terror and excitement as he crashed into Venus’ back. She pushed him away, and all three stared at the thing before them.
It was huge, at least 7 feet in height, and in the general build of its frame, resembled a massive ape. This was by design; it was meant to instill fear by conjuring the genetic memories of great menacing beasts. But where an ape would have had curved muscle, soft flesh, and fur, this figure was outfitted with sharp, angular points of metal—one arm terminating in a long cylinder pockmarked with holes, and the opposite limb in a serrated blade nearly two feet long. Its blocky legs were bent as if it were poised to spring upon its prey, and on its shoulders sat what, by analogy to organic bipeds, might be called its head; a silvery metal cube, covered with thin wire mesh. This appendage was small in comparison to the rest of the armored monster, and if the rest of the figure were not so manifestly intimidating, might have appeared comical.
“Wow, a genuine combat infantry bot,” Venus whispered.
“More like fifty genuine combat infantry bots,” Sandra said, shining her light behind the figure, revealing more identical forms assembled behind it, in a long, perfectly-spaced line; soldiers standing eternal guard at their posts.
“Technically, these are assault bots,” Charlie with some self-importance. “The way you can tell is that they have more armor in the chest and shoulder areas than a standard infantry bot. These are for storming fortified positions, whereas the typical infantry bot—”
Venus and Sandra simultaneously glared at Charlie in a way that clearly communicated to him that further details regarding the different attributes and uses of war robots were not required at this time.
“Is this where you found Lurge?”
“Er, yeah; just about. He was…” Charlie looked at the floor and held up his hands as if to measure, pointing to a spot some three yards from the clawed feet of the first robot in line. “…right about here. Well, mostly. Part of him was here. And there.” He indicated an open area a few yards away. “And some more over there.”
“So, you’re quite sure the robots did it, then?” Venus asked.
Charlie shook his head. “Well, maybe the robots pulled the trigger. But there’s no way they shoulda been on! These things are deactivated—they’re just here for tourists to see.”
“Do they have an energy source?” Venus asked.
“Well, yeah; I mean, there’s a power core in ‘em for demos. But they should never open fire. At most they’d just stomp around a little and look threatening. But that’s only if someone went to the main office and manually activated ‘em.” Charlie could tell he had their attention, and he intended to keep it as long as he could. “There’s this whole security protocol the bots have to go through—they have a voice-controlled activation system. There’s a series of questions the bots ask whoever activated ‘em.”
“So, they have voice recognition capability?” Venus asked.
Charlie nodded. “Yup. Voice samples of all key Lurge personnel on file.” There was a very long pause, and Sandra and Venus exchanged a glance. Then both of them looked at Charlie.
“Chief of Security would be key personnel, huh?” said Sandra quietly.