The touch screens are sufficient to illuminate the cockpit. I’m on the inside and the agents are on the outside, yet there’s no escape. Still, the pelt of bullets pinging off the armor never comes.
Maybe the agents will try to break through the access port. No, that seems unlikely. The hatch sealed mechanically; prying it open would be impossible, even with a lever. I hope.
The glowing menus aren’t labeled like the toggle switches, so it’s not apparent what controls the communication devices, or even what devices there are. There is a virtual scroll bar in the forward part of each panel; I start with the one on my lower right.
Sliding it backward changes the menus from two-dimensional buttons to rows of smaller scroll bars. It reminds me of a stereo equalizer, but the electronic prompts indicate they calibrate something other than sound: Photovoltaic, Piezoelectric…the list continues with other unfamiliar terminology.
Easing the main scroll bar back another “notch” changes the panel once again, this time revealing menus for subsystems like hydraulics and servomechanisms.
Why can’t there just be a phone? In nervous frustration, I flick the scroll bar as far back as it will go. This sends all four panels into a demo mode of sorts; menus and diagnostic information scrolls like a slide show.
The central monitor also flickers before displaying what looks like a schematic of the robot. It too operates like a PowerPoint presentation, each diagram fading into the next every few seconds. Then the screen and control panels go black. A faint vibration hums in the background when the monitor returns to a one-line piece of text: Loading alternate peripherals…
The text begins to flash before the command is replaced with what looks like video footage of a man sitting extremely close to the camera. Coarse white hair, piercing blue eyes, a resolute jowl—Thomas Worthington.
Thomas leans forward as if he’s looking right at me and says, “What is man? A simple puppet? Some men are. He is a finite creature, one whose limitations are never understood as fully than by those who meet them. But man excels where he would not; he adapts to his environment.”
“You have to listen to me,” I blurt out, leaning forward.
Thomas continues, still gazing back at me. “This evolution propels him to great heights, far beyond the limits imposed by common thought. What anchors him? What can impede his progress? Nothing but man himself.”
My palms are soaked and my throat sticks. “There are men outside—agents from the Illuma Corp. I need help!”
“For centuries man has been the saboteur of his own designs, fearing what his neighbor was or what he might become. Never has he embraced his own potential, save for a few brave but meager souls.”
“Ray is dead!” I shout in disbelief at the monitor. There’s no way anyone in their right mind could ignore me right now. A recording—it must be a recording. But as I think this, Thomas stops talking.
He studies me with stabbing eyes. “Do you think you’re in control?”
“You can’t possibly have the wherewithal to understand your own situation. The position you are in, the power you can wield. It’s all very heroic in your mind—and manageable. But you have no concept of how misguided you are. Your only hope is the Balance.”
“Then you are listening to me, dammit! Where are you? Call the police, man!” The veins in my temples might explode.
Thomas responds only with his questioning stare before he disappears from the monitor. The blue and red graphics return, as do the flowing diagrams of the machine.
Frustration seeps like heat from every pore. I halt the urge to send my foot through the monitor when with a fizzle of static, the forward curvature of the cockpit renders itself a life-size view of the hangar outside.
The door on the inside wall, scarred by whatever method was used to breach it, hangs limp on its hinges. Scattered bits of machinery lay nearby.
Below me, the agents move in fastidious and mechanical strides. They scour the hangar for something, inspecting each piece of equipment before moving to the next. Never once do they look up; they only remain intent on whatever terrible thing they do.