Chapter 3:- The Metal Man
Murray wiped her forehead with the back of one hand and sighed. The bulk of the android's parts had been carefully dismantled, and reattaching them proved to be a simple process. She'd required nothing more than her wits and a few rounds of trial and error to sort out the puzzle.
Its head, however, was another matter. Once she'd found and pried open the access panel, just at the point where the neck joined the torso, simple had flown out the window.
"Say, Mur," Zora drawled from her mound of straw in the far corner.
"Corner." Murray pointed an accusing finger without looking up from the head.
"I'm in the corner," Zora said. "We don't..."
"Shhh." She stared into the circuit chamber and frowned. The bot's processes followed a standard schematic, but someone had customized the brain. All the circuitry converged at a lump in the center of the head, no bigger than a marble, and not an original part. The spherical add-on vexed her. She poked it again.
"We don't have time for this, Mur." Zora stood up. When Murray ignored her, she stalked across the cell and slid to a stop beside her.
"Don't touch anything," Murray said. "Or it's back to the corner."
"I didn't mean to drop it," Zora said. "And you can't make me." She folded her arms across her chest and pouted.
Murray shrugged and poked her finger back inside the android's head. She wriggled it against the surface of the central lump--smooth, cool, no projections. "I don't get it," she said.
"What?" Zora dropped to a crouch and leaned in to see. "What is that?"
"I think it's a brain," Murray answered and poked the sphere again.
"You mean it's alive?"
"No, Zor, an artificial brain. I've never seen one quite like..." she trailed off into her own thoughts. There had to be projections, or ports, or some way for the circuits to connect to the sphere. She groaned. Unless whoever took the thing apart had deliberately sabotaged the brain.
"Maybe you should stop poking it," Zora said.
"So what? Now you're the robotics specialist?"
"Don't snap at me, Mur."
"Or what?" Murray felt like smacking something, and her sister made for a tempting target.
Zora knew her too well, unfortunately. She sat back and put both hands up between them.
"Listen, I just meant if it's the brain, you know, maybe you should try a more gentle approach," she said.
"Right, next time I'll sing to it."
"That's not funny."
"No, look!" Zora stared past Murray's scowl. Her eyes widened dramatically. "It's all blue now," she said.
Murray turned back to the brain. Not only was it "all blue," lit with a web of glowing, neon strands, it was also moving. She peered closer. One by one, the light filaments slowly unwound from the core, snaking away and connecting with the circuitry already hard-wired into the head. She shook her head. Nothing worked like that. She raised a finger, but stopped short of touching anything. She didn't need too; the brain had already connected to nearly every major system. The android's chest began to hum, soft, purr-like.
"You did it!" Zora squealed. "Hurray!"
"There." Murray slid the access panel closed. "That ought to do it." She cleared her throat and sat back against the straw. "Now we just have to..."
"GREETINGS!" The word exploded from the android's lips. The metal torso rocked to one side as its legs engaged. Murray crawled across a scrambling Zora and slid behind the hay pile. "Gree, gree, oopf." The android flopped forward onto the cell floor.
Zora stood and smoothed her skirt. She cast a hostile glance in Murray's direction. "Well done," she said.
"Can it, Zora."
"You got grease on my skirt."
"Hello?" A mechanical voice interrupted the argument. Murray leaned around Zora's legs in time to see the android sit up. "Hello?" it said. "Is someone there?"
"Hello," Murray shuffled to her feet and pushed around her sister. "My name is Dr. Murray. Are you functioning?"
"Where am I? What happened?" The android stood, unfolding chiseled, silver legs and turning to face them in one smooth motion. The torso had been cast to mimic a human's, and the muscled chest gleamed in a series of angled, geometric planes.
"He-llo," Zora said, a low whistle following in the word's wake.
Murray stepped directly in front of her sister. "That," she said. "Is my sister, Zora. I am Dr. Murray. We found you here." She waved toward the rubble around the cell. "In pieces, I'm afraid. Are you functioning properly?"
"Pieces?" The android flexed its forearms and turned the strikingly humanoid head to either side. Somehow, now that it moved atop an animated body, it looked nothing like an ashtray. "How did I...?"
"Listen, cutie," Zora broke in. "I don't mean to be rude, but what do you say you use those big strong arms and help us get out of here, hmm?"
The android blinked at her and turned back to Murray. "Doctor Murray," it said. "How was I reanimated?"
"She put you back together," Zora said. "Now can we start escaping?"
"Shut up, Zora," Murray said. "I need to ascertain that the android is functioning properly before,"
"Actually, I'm not..." it said.
"What's wrong?" Murray asked. She forgot Zora and shuffled to the android. "Are your sensors online? Your motor functions seem adequate, but..."
"Yes, what is it?"
"I believe I am functioning properly."
"Oh." Murray let her hands drop back to her side. "Oh, good."
"My name is Rook," the android said. "And I'm not really..."
"Can we get a move on?" Zora asked.
"Where are we?" Rook asked.
Zora heaved a sigh and flopped back onto the rubble pile. "Crantok's dungeon... still," she said.
"Crantok took me apart?" Rook's metallic voice took on a sudden, flat tone.
"It would appear so," Murray answered.
"So what do you say, Stud? Give us a hand?" Zora crossed her legs and tilted her head to one side.
Murray stared at her. If they got out of here, she'd kill her. At the moment, she wanted to throw up. Instead she conceded. "We are in a bit of a pickle," she told Rook.
"Stand back," he said. He walked to the cage front and wrapped ten thick, metal fingers around the bars. The bars screeched and bent aside.
"Woo hoo!" Zora shouted. Pretending not to hear Murray's shushing, she brushed the bits of straw from her clothes. "You might be helpful to have around, sweetie." She sauntered in Rook's direction. "What exactly are you made out of?"
"You've got to be kidding me," Murray said. "Can we please save this for later?"
"Doctor Murray," Rook said. He turned his back to Zora. "Should we be getting away now?"
"Yes," Murray said. "Yes, we're coming." Rook moved away, stepping sideways through the widened bars. Murray watched him as Zora approached.
"He completely ignored me, Mur," she said.
"I know." Murray smiled and followed Rook through the opening.
"Are they supposed to be rude?" Zora muttered behind her. "I thought they were polite."
"This one's a custom job."
Murray waited outside their cell. She watched Rook's back shining in the dark at the base of the stair. He slid into the shadows near the wall, and surveyed their passage up out of the dungeon. He put a hand up, and Murray froze in place. She could hear Zora behind her, muttering under her breath. "What are you whining about, Zor?"
"I don't like your robot," Zora whispered. "It gives me the creeps."
"It's an android, Zor, and it's saving our asses."
"It must be a eunuch android," Zora said.
Rook waved a silver arm to signal them. Murray started toward him--a custom android, thank god. Zora's antics might have been the death of her, but now, now...She looked at the strong form of her android waiting near the exit and couldn't help but feel safe. Once they'd escaped, once she'd killed Zora, things would settle right back to normal.
She was grinning when she passed the next cell. The hairy creature leaped straight forward, crashing against the bars and howling inches from her face. She heard Zora scream. She felt the hairy thing's breath wafting past her, a ripple of heat and stench. She heard the tread of boots, heavy boots on reptilian feet, hammering down the staircase.
Then again, she thought. Maybe normal was too much to ask.