As the survivor of history’s worst robot massacre, Ciro Kwakkenbos spent years healing his physical and mental scars. Now he is ready to go back in the fray with what is supposed to be an easy job.
He is put in charge of studying SAGE, the Iris Colony’s all-seeing security robotic A.I., which has strayed far from his intended programming. SAGE is far more interested in watching the colonists every move and playing a proper soundtrack, than doing his duty.
During Ciro’s stay he learns three important facts: One, someone hacked SAGE’s memories and deleted a deadly secret. Two, SAGE’s deviant nature puts the lives of the whole colony in danger. Three, SAGE has fallen in love with him. Which, much to Ciro’s dismay, the rest of the crew finds completely adorable.
Can Ciro unravel the truth behind the missing memories before it’s too late? Will SAGE’s obsession lead to his demise, or is it the beginning of something new? Unless Ciro can uncover the truth behind the A.I.’s damaged mind, both SAGE and the colony are doomed.
– – –
My name is Amber Freeman (writing as A. A. Freeman), and below is the first chapter to Echo of the Larkspur, a sci-fi story complete at 101k words. The book features a diverse cast of genders, ethnicity, and multiple LBGT+ relationships, including the main male lead and the male robot who loves him. My novel can be read as a stand-alone but is part one of a planned four part series. At this time I have finished the first draft of book two, Cry of the Hawthorn, and have book three and four outlined.
– – –
Dr. Ciro Kwakkenbos knew he was going to die.
Not in the vague way that all mortals are aware of their limited time in the universe, but in a far more literal ‘he was going to die soon’ sense. He knew the second the laboratory’s doors opened he’d drop dead on the spot. If he was lucky, it would be from a heart attack. If he was unlucky it’d be from what waited for him inside.
His grandmother once wistfully told him a heart attack would be a nice way to die. Quick and to the point. No need to suffer any longer than one had to. You’d be up at the pearly gates greeting St. Peter before you knew what’d happened. At the time Ciro thought it morbid, but now he could see the appeal. Certainly would be better than facing the anomalous artificial intelligence waiting for him on the other side of the door.
This sensation of absolute dread drifting through his veins was nothing new to Ciro. Anxiety had been his stalwart companion over the years. To him, sleepless nights and teeth grinding was a small price to pay to stay alive. His anxiety at that moment was helpfully listing all the ways he could die in the stark white hallway he currently stood in. Mostly variations of being electrocuted to death, each just different enough to warrant its own spot.
Get a grip, Ciro told himself, he was fine. This was fine. Ceres’ Iris Colony was a self-sustaining masterpiece of human technology. Everything from the colony above to the deepest reaches of the water-treatment facility he stood in was built within an inch of perfection. The chances of him dying in this bleak hallway were slim-to-none at best. He couldn’t let his imagination ruin what could be the best job opportunity of his life. All he had to do was open the lab door and step inside.
Ciro just needed a moment, that’s all.
* * *
He’s just standing there.
“Give him time.”
He has been standing outside of the main lab for seven minutes and thirty-six seconds. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty–
“Don’t be a smartass, dear. You need to make a good first impression with Dr. Kwakkenbos. I’m sure that’s what everyone else is telling you right now.”
Out of the hundred and sixty-three workers on the night shift, I am only talking directly with seventy-eight of them, assisting fifty of them with their daily work tasks, thirteen with personal matters, fourteen with what can only be described as embarrassing human functions, and a group of seven who are struggling to divide a tip for the delivery person between them. Oh. And you.
“Why don’t you say hello, dear? He might be too nervous to make the first move.”
* * *
A panel flipped over on the wall next to the door, revealing a small screen with a logo of a stylized closed eye in a deep shade of indigo. Ciro had seen it here and there during his descent into the colony proper. Mostly in the form of stickers stuck in places that were meant to be left blank. The image flickered and a soft voice spoke. “Hello. How may I help you?”
Ciro’s first attempt at speaking out loud—for the first time all day no less—resulted in a strangled noise—more gruff than words. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I am Dr. Kwakkenbos. I was told to come here as soon as I arrived?”
There was a noise not unlike paper shuffling on the other end of the speaker. “Quackenboss?”
“Kwakkenbos,” Ciro managed to say despite the way his jaw clenched shut.
“As in a common waterfowl with a leadership position?”
It was going to be one of those days. One of those jobs. One of those lives, really, but he already knew that part. “K-w-a-k-k-e-n–”
* * *
“You are being polite to him, aren’t you my dear?”
Have I ever not?
* * *
“I’m sorry, I don’t see your name on the list of approved workers. Are you sure you are at the correct location?”
Ciro hesitated for a second, letting a whisper of self-doubt get through. Ceres. The interviewer said Ceres. The second interview was on Ceres. He had signed a dozen or so papers all which had the name Ceres printed on them in bold font and underlined. This did not stop Ciro from wondering if the person on the other side of the conversation was right.
“Look, is Dr. Castillo there? Or can you contact her? Head of the lab? Nice old lady? Already threatened to knit me a scarf and wouldn’t take no for an answer?”
“I’m sorry, who?”
* * *
Hmm? Yes, Abuela?
* * *
“The head of the laboratory! The laboratory I am standing outside of right now!”
“Oh! You mean Dr. Mallard. I do apologize, but they’re on their yearly winter sojourn to the Bahamas. They should be back in early spring if you wish to speak with them in person. I do recommend bringing cut-up grapes or frozen peas to the meeting, as the traditional offering of bread is bad for their digestion.”
Ciro stared long and hard at the closed eye logo. He moved his glasses up enough to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You’re messing with me.”
* * *
* * *
“No, I’m distracting you long enough that you don’t notice the deadly robot assassin sneaking up on you. I apologize for the inconvenience with death, but you have made some rather powerful enemies with the Anas platyrhynchos family.”
* * *
I’m always nice.
* * *
Ciro was barely able to parse the phrase ‘deadly robot assassin’ before he felt the brush of metal against his ankle. His body reacted before his brain could stop him. He spun on his heel and—in a move that frankly shocked him–kicked whatever had touched him as hard as he could.
Too late Ciro realized his mistake as he watched a perfectly average Clean-Bot sail blissfully through the air down the hallway only to land in a sickening crash. For a brief moment, Ciro was lost in the shock of being able to kick anything far enough to impress the gym teachers of his youth. Cameras hidden behind dark glass half-spheres that dotted the walls moved as one to look at the Clean-Bot before turning their lenses towards Ciro.
He heard a crackle of static from the speaker as his unseen tormentor made an odd noise before whispering, “Holy shit.”
Ciro moved before his shock could fully form into the usual state of panic, muttering, “Oh no, oh no oh no oh no,” as he went. He was dimly aware of the poorly hidden cameras following him as he ran down the hall and knelt down next to the wreckage of the Clean-Bot. It had landed on its back, letting its wheels and brushes spin uselessly in the air. Ciro could hear a beeping noise that came out as more of a wheeze through the shattered speaker.
“Oh no, oh no,” Ciro continued his chant while he pulled his leather gloves out of the inner pocket of his coat along with his screwdriver travel pack. To think his sister used to tease him for carrying them around. He made a note to rub it in her face next time she called as he slipped his gloves on and opened his kit.
“I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry…”
Ciro let his muscle memory kick in and thought of his gloves instead of the machine he was disassembling. He needed new gloves. Ones not stained with oil to the point the soft peach color had turned a blotchy grey. It even had those weird missing patches that all old leather goods seemed to carry. Skin, he thought, it would be patches of skin, wouldn’t it?
“Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
His fingers moved on their own, reconnecting the speaker system and forcing the off-kilter wheel back into its spot. Only then did Ciro realize he was repairing a very old Clean-Bot model. Older than the one he had back during his college days. Which, like most Clean-Bots in the dorms, were never actually used for cleaning. His had been a three-time tournament champion before meeting its early demise to an illegally modified delivery-bot. Ciro would never admit it but he was still miffed about that, even if his Clean-Bot’s name had slipped his mind long ago.
With one last snap Ciro put the underside panel back in place and turned the Clean-Bot over.
“Sorry again, um,” Ciro glanced at the Clean-Bot’s serial number on the side, “Clean-Bot Zero-Four-Two-Main-Lab-Night-Shift. Should be right as rain now.” He gave it a firm tap, bringing the little machine back to life. It spun in a circle once, twice, three times before letting out a musical beep and going back on its path down the hallway.
“That was very sweet of you, Dr. Kwakkenbos.”
Ciro wished he didn’t jump at the sound of the voice, he really did. It didn’t help that the voice belonged to a small wrinkle of an old woman who, with no question, had immediate access to hard candy. Unlike the last time they met, her frail frame was bundled up in a lace shawl that almost covered the tubing connecting her to her mobile medical unit.
“Dr. Castillo!” Ciro said as he forced himself to stand up with a slight grunt, the ache in his knees reminding him exactly how long ago those college days were. Death Mop, thought Ciro, his Clean-Bot back in college was named Death Mop. He went to offer his hand, only to pull back to remove his gloves and tuck his repair kit away.
“I must apologize, I know I was scheduled to arrive before the shift change but the shuttle was late and then the receptionist refused to open the door and I couldn’t just let Clean-Bot Zero-Four-Two-Main-Lab-Night-Shift just lay there with its wheels in the air–”
“Receptionist?” Dr. Castillo asked, sharply enough to cut Ciro’s stream of apologies off.
“Er, I mean, whomever is manning the security doors?”
Dr. Castillo’s expression changed from confused to amused in a blink of an eye. “I see, I see. I do believe I am the one who must apologize, Dr. Kwakkenbos. The Night Shift here has a bit of a habit of pranking the new hires. They don’t mean any harm, I promise. But, hmm, perhaps…”
Ciro watched as Dr. Castillo searched deep in her shawl-covered-labcoat’s pocket and pulled out a small, vaguely alligator-shaped neon blue plastic clip.
She palmed it and gave Ciro a subtle wink. “I will admit that the Night Shift is a bit more casual than the Day Shift, but you really should keep your hair in order before meeting everyone.”
Before Ciro could get his thoughts together enough to be confused, Dr. Castillo reached up and ruffled his curly hair, slipping the clip onto his ear as she did. The sharp pinch of the alligator-teeth-like-clip almost got a yelp out of him, but Ciro kept it down as Dr. Castillo patted his hair to cover the clip. There was a strange—but not unpleasant—sensation of buzzing at the back of his skull, only to be quickly replaced by a peppy woodwind melody.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” Dr. Castillo whispered. “Yes, yes, emergency channels should just be for emergencies, I know, but our boy has such a lovely taste in music, and it gives him something to do between announcements.” She raised her voice to a normal level and continued, “Now let’s go give you a proper introduction, shall we?”
Dr. Castillo skittered down the hall to the lab doors fast enough for Ciro to need wide strides to catch up. “Dr. Castillo–”
“Please, dear, call me Abuela. Everyone does.”
Ciro gulped. “Abuela–”
“Well, everyone except that rather nasty old woman on the Day Crew who runs the coolant room. I don’t want to repeat what she calls me.”
“A few of the younger crew members call me Mama, or Nana, or Granny if you would prefer–”
“What do you mean our boy?”
Dr. Castillo—Abuela—stopped in front of the lab doors, waiting for Ciro to catch up. There was that look in her clear eyes again. “Our boy? Dear Sage? The reason you’re here?”
Ah. There it was. Ciro had been waiting for the other shoe to drop since he agreed to the position. The pay had been far too high and the benefits way too good for what was supposed to be a simple A.I. monitoring job. Part of him hoped deep down his time at the Iris Colony would be like the easier jobs he’d had: Meet the A.I., install the proper software, let it run, and then spend the next three months trying to find the misplaced bit of code that was causing the A.I. to only speak in pictograms.
Ciro fought the wave of nausea down and asked as gently as he could, “You call the Security A.I. ‘our boy’?”
“Oh, don’t you worry, he doesn’t mind at all! I know it’s silly, what with him being older than most of us, but he’s just the sweetest boy you’ll ever meet! Why, just the other day I was discussing with him–”
“Stop calling it him!” The words snapped out of him far louder than Ciro wished, but once they had, he couldn’t stop himself. “I’m sorry, but the number one rule of preventing aberrant A.I. is to never refer to the program by any other pronouns than it/its, and the second rule is to avoid any and all nicknames, terms of endearment, or any names other than the one assigned by the parent company. I cannot in any manner recommend calling your security A.I. anything other than–”
The name cut through Ciro’s words, leaving them to wither and die on his tongue. Abuela held herself up tall, looming over Ciro despite being a head shorter than him. Her voice darkened around the edges. The part of Ciro that never grew past his fear of nuns shuddered.
“His name is Sage. You will respect him, his pronouns, and his name. Nor, I will add, will you ever refer to Sage as aberrant again. You are here to assist in the Wireless Project and prevent data loss. Not, I will remind you, to fix what you think is broken. If you have an issue with this, SOL Inc. will be more than happy to pay for a shuttle back to Earth. Do you understand?”
Run, shouted a strained voice in Ciro. Run, run and never stop running until you are far from this place. You’ll die, everyone will die, leave leave run run go go go, escape NOW!
“Yes ma’am,” is what Ciro said instead. He wasn’t going to let his fear control him anymore. “I’m sorry.”
With that Abuela pulled back, her voice promises of handmade blankets and warm cookies once more. “Please dear, Abuela is fine. Now why don’t you head in and say hello to Sage while I go fetch the Lab Head. He’s looped the same song three times, so I do think he’s getting a bit nervous. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!”
The lab door opened with only a whisper of sound. Ciro looked at Abuela, who gave him a gentle motion of ‘go on’ and a smile that made her outburst from before seem impossible.
There was only darkness on the other side of the door. Darkness and vague shapes he assumed were furniture. That he hoped were furniture. Alarms wrung in his head again, but thankfully not loudly enough that Ciro couldn’t ignore them. He stepped over the threshold and followed the trail of hallway’s light into the darkness within.
Ciro’s footsteps echoed against the concrete floor of the pitch-black lab, betraying its massive unseen size. As his eyes adjusted, Ciro was beyond thrilled to see that yes, the odd shapes were just desks and chairs, placed here and there on small islands of cheap carpeting. No obvious central units or screens he could see. Audio-only A.I.s weren’t unheard of, but the interview implied a physical data center A.I.
When the path of light down the hallway came to an abrupt stop, Ciro kept walking. He didn’t notice that the music in his ear had faded until it stopped completely. There was nothing but Ciro, the sound of his own heartbeat, and the darkness.
* * *
Sage would not call himself omnipotent. Nor omnipresent. Both words implied a power far beyond his limits. Instead, Sage liked to think of himself as water. His presence shaped itself to fill the needs of the Iris Colony. Most days, that meant still waters of the empty hallways, waves crashing against coworkers who required his assistance, filling the tide pools of the health monitoring system, the fish…the fish…
What were the fish, again?
“We agreed the fish was your music,” Gabi, aka employee Little_Sister_Gabi, said as she braided wires between her fingers on the server room floor. An ongoing project of hers to make The Rat’s Nest no longer resemble its nickname, or to at least make it a nicer home for said rats.
I thought those were the boats.
* * *
“Since when did your ocean metaphor have boats?” Asked Lu’lu, aka Fashionable_Medic_Lulu. She glanced up from the report she was writing out in long hand to the camera above. “I thought we agreed on a prehistoric ocean.”
“I thought we agreed to stop describing things in overwrought metaphors with purply prose,” said Yasmir, aka Shiny_Waterboy_Yasmir. Unlike his twin sister, he was notably not filling out his report. Instead, he was perched on the Medical Bay’s front desk and focused on the very important task of balancing paper cranes on Lu’lu’s head.
Yasmir, I have been using overwrought metaphors and purple prose since before you were born, and I shall still be using them when your ashes return to the stars from which they came.
* * *
Knocking against the janitor’s closet camera caught Sage’s attention. Pointless as not only was he already paying attention, but because it was physically impossible to ignore Ox the Neon Nightmare, aka Cyber_Janitor_Ox. “Oi. Sage. You’re on.”
* * *
Sage shifted himself to the Main Lab feed to see the latest pest had wandered into its center. Well. He was already pretty spooked. A nice burst of light should be enough to run him off. Sage set a timer for the average length of a non-cybernetic eye to adjust to the darkness and settled in.
* * *
Ah, thank you Ox. When you’re ready.
Ox gave the camera a double finger gun salute and slapped the emergency door control panel to make the main lab’s door slam shut and lock behind Dr. Kwakkenbos.
* * *
The good doctor’s scared little jump at the noise almost made putting up with him worthwhile. Almost.
Sage let himself relax, spreading evenly across the emergency channel, reaching out to each Night Crew member. He whistled, the Night Crew moved as one to look up at the nearest camera, as if making eye contact with the familiar unseen voice. Humans were adorable in that respect. Sage cleared a throat he didn’t have and spoke to the Iris Colony.
Everyone! Your attention, please! I am happy to announce that Dr. Quackers has entered the main laboratory! I have stopped the official non-official timer at twenty-one minutes and thirteen seconds for those who were placing bets.
Which I am required to remind everyone are extremely forbidden and in absolutely no way now feature a double-or-nothing on our newest member leaving before the end of the shift. Please contact Jocelyn at your earliest convenience as I suspect the next round will end far earlier than the first.
On that note, Jocelyn please take my winnings and put them down for, oh, let’s say an hour and fifty minutes. Just in time for him to catch the next shuttle to the Inner System. With a little luck he will be back on Earth before the day is over. Unless he wishes to visit the Mars colonies. I do hear the crimson foliage is rather lovely this time of year. Perhaps our resident Martian can confirm?
Sage risked a peek over at the still sleeping Day Crew members. Should be sleeping Day Crew. Whether they followed the recommended sleep schedule was up to them to decide. For example, Reyes, aka Handsome_Scientist_Reyes, was hunched over his desk prodding at a jumble of electronics. His intense focus on his project wasn’t enough to keep him from flipping the camera off.
Loveliness confirmed. But I digress!
You do not wish to hear me ramble, Night Crew. You want to hear my field report of the newest, extremely temporary member of our little family. How do I even begin to describe the man—let me check, ah yes, pronouns he/him—standing before me? Do I start at his crooked nose, once broken, then healed by unskilled hands? Do I speak of his rough skin, marred in branching electrical scars that peek out through his collar and sleeves like dead roots through drought-rought soil? What of his short hair, soft and curled with a slight peppering of grey? No, I think I’ll dive straight into his sensitive medical records. Always a fun way to meet a new coworker!
* * *
In the cafeteria Jocelyn, aka Shady_Housekeeper_Jocelyn, put down her sandwich for long enough to sign at the camera, asking Sage to repeat the part about the new guy’s hair.
Sage ignored her.
* * *
Let’s see! According to Dr. Ashton’s medical records, Quackers is in very good condition for a man his age, save for the intense electrical scarring that covers, oh my, seventy-two percent of his body! No reason listed, boo. Boring. Anything else interesting?
While Sage mentally flipped through Dr. Kwakkenbos’ medical file another part of him tracked Ciro’s journey in the pitch-black lab. The man wandered aimlessly, clearly not prepared for the immensity of the room. He kept avoiding the desks, but he did knock a chair over, so small victory there.
Blah blah blah, severe anxiety, various medications to treat said anxiety, gallbladder removed, ugh. Sorry everyone, this one’s a real snoozefest of a medical report. I suppose we can’t all be Keiy’s inch-thick army folder, eh? Keiy? Air high five?
* * *
Down in the server room curled up in Gabi’s pile of unbranded wires, Keiy, aka SuperCoolAwesome_Mechanic_Keiy lifted their hand into the air.
Air high five!
Keiy was asleep before their arm flopped back down.
* * *
Dr. Ashton did leave a rather nasty note about his weight. Yes, Thad, I said nasty. I may not be specialized in medicine, but I am specialized in knowing when someone is healthy versus when they are not. It’s part of my job. I physically cannot not stop monitoring his health. His vitals are perfect, his cholesterol levels low, his blood pressure fine, and he isn’t currently on fire. Let me edit Dr. Quackers’ file since Dr. Ashton is clearly once again projecting his own body issues onto our newest coworker.
“Everything you just did is highly illegal.” Thad, aka Obsequious_Doctor_Thad, said to the camera in his private office. “Everything. In both the Inner and Outer System. Especially the Outer System.
Everyone please take a moment to boo Thad for being a buzzkill.
The door to Thad’s office opened just enough for Lu’lu and Yasmir to pop their heads in for a proper booing. Sage knew he could always count on the twins.
* * *
Interestingly enough, SOL Inc.’s very invasive background check on our new temp only brought up a series of parking tickets from fifteen or so odd years ago and nothing else. Not even an outstanding credit balance! Doctorate in computer science, graduated with honors at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico. His resume is outstanding, his references filled with ecstatic praise, and he is even quoted in multiple research papers on the evolution of vintage artificial intelligences in the early twenty-second century. Why, he appears to be perfect for the Wireless Project in every way. Perhaps a bit too perfect. Care to comment, Ezinne?
Ezinne, aka Fearless_Leader_Ezinne, stopped halfway up the emergency stairs to glare at the camera. “Sage, I swear to God if you chase this one off, I’m going to bring back team building exercises and make them mandatory. Dr. Kwakkenbos is the best in the field. We will not find anyone better than him. He’s the one. He has to be the one.”
Dr. Quackers does appear like the perfect candidate for the Wireless Project. The fact that he applied for this job in the first place is nothing short of miraculous. Or maybe he’s a carefully constructed façade of a fake background and pretty hair sent to lull me into a false sense of security.
The suspicious scientist—ooo, good potential file name— had given up on wandering aimlessly and was just standing in the middle of the lab. He was staring up at the main camera with a curious expression. Good! That meant it was almost blinding light time.
But you and I know SOL Inc. would never do that to me, and all genetic manipulation was outlawed decades ago, and all experts in the field quietly silenced in the night. Assuming whoever silenced them simply didn’t claim the experts for their own nefarious purposes, as one does.
* * *
Jocelyn climbed the cafeteria table just so she could sign, “PRETTY HAIR” right in Sage’s line of sight. He metaphorically rolled his eyes as best he could and shifted his attention her way.
What? Just because he’ll be high tailing it before dinner doesn’t mean he doesn’t have nice hair. A little short for my tastes, never liked BEEP cuts. I bet it’d look wonderful grown out. Just look at those curls! I bet they bounce back when you give them a tug! I need someone to pull one of those curls for me and report back. Ilex, you’re on hair tug duty.
* * *
Ilex wasn’t visible on any of the cameras in the water treatment area, but Sage could hear his muffled voice coming from one of the broken-down water filter pipes. “I refuse to be part of your freaky one-person-removed hair fetish.”
Everyone please disregard Ilex’s last statement, as he is a jerk that’s no fun at all.
Sage could almost hear Ilex’s smirk. “Why don’t you come out and say that to my face?”
Why don’t you crawl the rest of the way up that drainage pipe and shove–
* * *
A polite cough no louder than a kitten’s purr cut Sage’s words brutally off. Abeula, whose backup memory file name was a redundant Dear_Abeula_Maria, stood outside the lab door with her hands neatly folded in front. “Sage sweetie, I do think it’s time for introductions.”
If we must, Abuela. Everyone please take a moment to make yourselves presentable. Warrah, you have a piece of food between your front teeth. XiaoChen, I beg of you to at least give brushing your hair a go. And Quanah? You, my man, are killing it in those heels. Shall we?
* * *
If Sage was an ocean, then his focus turning to the Main Lab were the tides drawing back to prepare for a tsunami. His consciousness still flowed freely across the colony (cameras tracking all movement, life support running smoothly, begging Xiao-chen to part xier hair on the other side), but the center of it all, the part that made Sage, Sage was focused on Dr. Kwakkenbos and his smug smile. Cocky bastard. He’d be gone within the hour.
* * *
Oh, Abuela, before I turn the screens on could you please get a guest clip ready for Dr. Quackers. I would hate for him to miss Stravinsky’s Second Movement on his way out.
“A guest clip, dear?” Abelua asked, all sunshine and smiles.
Yes, there is no indication on his medical report that his cybernetics were updated to accept the emergency broadcast frequency prior to his arrival. Not one of the long-term guest clips with all the padding. Give him one of those cheap plastic ones everyone hates! You know, like the one–
In the heart of the lab Dr. Kwakkenbos brushed back some wild curls of his hair, revealing a neon blue clip underneath.
–on his ear.
* * *
The lights in the lab gradually brightened, revealing a room far larger than Ciro expected. It certainly explained how he never seemed to reach the far wall during his wanderings. The lab was an immense geodesic dome made out of hexagonal opaque glass panels. Screens, Ciro thought as the panels lit up one by one, revealing what had to be a different security feed on each. While most were empty hallways, there were also screens taken up by the smiling faces of his new coworkers. Some were waving, others signing hello, and at least three people were holding signs with crudely-drawn ducks on them.
Ciro felt the clip on his ear buzz, followed by a sound not unlike a soft inhale. The voice from before spoke directly into his mind once more. This time without the smartass grin.
Greetings. On behalf of SOL Inc., I welcome you to the Iris Colony. I am the Sentient Automated Geo-sentinel Engineer, or Sage for short. I am in charge of monitoring the basic health and safety of the inner Iris Colony’s night crew. I also give daily reports using the emergency broadcast channel and play a collection of music designed for the promotion of mental activity. Dr. Castillo has given me an outline on the Wireless Project, and I look forward to working alongside you for the duration of your stay, Dr. Kwakkenbos.
Ciro breathed in deeply through his nose, holding his breath as he forced a polite smile on his face. Old scars and memories screamed in the back of his head. Nothing good could come of this. He knew it. He had experienced it. Every night the same dreams, every day the same aches, every moment an echo of what had come before.
Run. He should run. Get on the first shuttle off the colony and never look back. Anything was better than dealing with an A.I. that was clearly insane. Not a fringe program, not on the verge of aberrance, but honest-to-God insane. He knew accepting another colony position was a mistake–
He had spent almost ten years ignoring the primal screams in the back of his head and by God, Ciro wasn’t going to give into them now. Remember what Dr. Dolinski said: Gam zu l’tova. This too is for the best.
“Please. Call me Dr. Quackers.”
– – –
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