Ponderings from a Procrastinating Prognosticator

SHORT STORY: THE ROBINS

Posted by samatwitch on December 14, 2011

Another group writing challenge, this was for Hallowe’en 2006.  A fire had damaged a local newspaper office and the challenge was to come up with an explanation for that.  Here’s mine.

 THE ROBINS

“Hey mister, you okay?”

The man lying on the ground couldn’t make out the words, but he instinctively tried to reach the voice.  He stretched out his left hand as far as he could and tried to turn in the direction of the voice.

“Please, help me.”  The man’s voice was so weak as to be almost non-existent.  “I need help.”

Gravel crunched under cautious footsteps as Walter neared the outstretched man.

“Hey, mister,” said a voice near his head, “do you need some help?”

“Need help,” the man repeated.

Walter jumped and looked down as he felt something brush his ankle.  The man was reaching out with his hand.

“Please,” he whispered, “. . .  call . . .  doctor . . . warn her.”

“I’ll run home and call 911,” Walter suggested.

“No, no, not the police.”  The man was so agitated, he struggled to sit up, only to fall back limply.

Walter looked apprehensively at the man.  He couldn’t see any blood or wounds anywhere, but the man certainly didn’t look well.   Maybe he had fallen and hurt his head.  He remembered his mother waking him up periodically when he’d had a concussion during a hockey practice.

“Mister,” he asked quietly, “where do you hurt?  Is it your head?”

“Unnh,” groaned the man.

Walter persisted, “What’s your name?”

“Robin . . . Seven.”

“Robin Seven?  Okay, Mr. Seven…”

“Just Robin,” said the man.

“Okay, Robin, I think you better try to stay awake until the ambulance gets here.  You don’t look so good.”

“No ambulance.”  The man became agitated again.  “Call doctor.”

“I don’t have a phone.  The hospital can call your doctor.”

“No, no.”  This time Mr. Seven managed to raise himself up slightly.  With great difficulty, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and  pulled out what must be the world’s smallest cell phone.  He pressed one button but even that effort seemed to be too much for him and he collapsed onto the hard ground, the device rolling out of his hand.

Walter looked at him anxiously and hoped someone would come by soon.  He was off the main roads, but surely somebody would drive by on their way to work.  He had the day off because his teachers were on a course, but it was a Thursday after all.

Walter was sure the man – Robin – wasn’t getting any better lying on the cold damp road, but he didn’t want to move him.  Walter walked around the man to pick up his phone.  Even though it was a dull February day, light was beginning to filter through the trees lining the road and when Walter picked up the object, it was clear that this wasn’t any kind of cell phone that he had ever seen.  He put it back in the man’s pocket, noting a smoky smell when he bent over.  As he straightened, his hand touched the man’s arm beneath his sleeve and he found Robin’s skin to be cool.  Walter wished he had a blanket.  Maybe he should take off his jacket and put it on top of the man.

Just then he heard a thumping sound and he looked up to see a helicopter about to land on the road in front of him.

The helicopter landed and two men, looking very much like the man lying on the ground, jumped out, followed more slowly by an older woman in a white coat.  They all looked as surprised to see Walter as he was to see them.

“He was talking to me a few minutes ago,” he offered.

Three heads swivelled towards him.

“What did he say?” barked the woman.

“Just that his name was Robin Seven and he wanted me to call his doctor.  I don’t have a phone, but I think he called someone on his.”

The three people exchanged looks.

“Anything else?”

“No, he couldn’t tell me where he was hurt, but there’s no blood that I can see,” replied Walter, relieved that help had arrived and yet feeling as if something was not quite right.  Why were they standing asking him questions when the man obviously needed medical attention?

As if she could hear Walter’s thoughts, the woman looked down at Robin and murmured, “You have served us well, Seven.”

Turning to the other two men, she motioned to the man on the ground, “Four, Nine, please take him back to the helicopter.”

The two younger men picked up Robin, one at his head and one taking his feet.

Walter stared in astonishment and growing anger.  He’d watched enough medical shows on TV in his young life to know that something was very wrong.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Who are you?  Where’s the stretcher or your medical bags?”

The woman shook her head slowly.

“I am Dr. Rudolph.  I created the Robin series.”

“Robin series?  What are you talking about?”  Walter felt as if he were in a dream.  What was going on?

“The Robin series of robots,” the doctor explained patiently.  “ROBIN stands for ROBotic INtelligence.  I have created artificial life so that I could place the ROBINS in positions of authority at various CanWest media.  ROBIN 7 was placed at the North Shore News, but his position was compromised when the staff there started going through their archived material for their 35th anniversary and someone realised that he hadn’t aged at all in the last twenty years.  He had to get rid of the evidence and set the building on fire.  Unfortunately, he must have overloaded his circuitry and only made it this far before he collapsed.  With the damage, we couldn’t track him until he pressed the button on his old-fashioned homing device.  But now he’ll be taken home and recycled.”

Walter’s eyes were near to popping.  He had so many questions he thought his head would explode, including the nagging feeling that the doctor shouldn’t be telling him this.

He managed to stammer, “Why?  Why would you put robots at newspapers?”

“Oh,  not just at newspapers, at TV stations, too.  It’s the only way to control what news people hear.  Unfortunately, somehow I wasn’t able to get the ROBINs situated at all the news media, just CanWest and its subsidiaries, but that was a good start – they own most of the news sources around here anyway.”  The doctor shrugged and then started towards Walter.

Walter started to run but he had been so absorbed in what the doctor was saying that he hadn’t noticed the other two men – robots, too, he guessed – coming up behind him.  They grabbed him by the arms while the doctor approached with a needle which she inserted into Walter’s neck.

“Just a pinch, boy, and then you will remember nothing of this conversation.  You won’t be aware of us at all and you will return home with memories of a pleasant morning walk.”

Walter started walking in the direction of his home, oblivious to the helicopter taking off behind him.  When he entered the house, his mother asked, “Anything exciting happen on your walk, Walter?”

“No,” he answered at he went into the living room to turn on the news.

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4 Responses to “SHORT STORY: THE ROBINS”

  1. saalon said

    Evil Robots are always the best explanation. Poor kid is going to have robot-paranoia for the rest of his life and never know why.

  2. This is really well done. The description is wonderful-I enjoyed reading this 🙂

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