He regathered his senses and rose to his feet, again.
The security guard who had kicked him out looked vaguely into the distance, as if Marley never existed.
He brushed his trousers and jacket.
The guard pretended not to hear.
“Goodbye. Toodooloo.” Marley returned the way he came. As he walked past the end of the shed, he was attracted by movement out of the corner of his eye.
“Psst. It’s me.”
Marley was a little surprised to see the rusty WD35 hiding around the corner.
He put his hands on his hips. “Yes? What can I do for you?”
The droid’s head extended on its neck as if trying to get closer. “Perhaps I can do something for you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“My time draws to an end. I want to do something useful. One last time, I want to be .. I want to be, what’s the word?”
Marley scratched his head. “Can’t think of it. Helpful?”
The WD35’s belly flashed a confusing series of reds and greens.
“Never mind. What is it you can do for me?”
“Anything you want.”
Marley folded his arms. “Can you transform into a seductive Sirian companion?”
The control lights again flashed, this time with more intensity. “I have no identifiable program which complies with this request.”
“There’s not much you can do for me, is there?”
“I bet there is.”
Marley had never come across a gambling robot. “Then do it.”
The WD35 marched stiffly a further 30 feet behind the shed. It tapped a sequence of commands into the control panel on its torso. A thin barrel extended from one of the three fingers on its right arm – the middle finger.
“Do you know what this is?”
“Are you mocking me?”
The buttons on the WD35’s panel flickered uncertainly. It shuffled awkwardly on its feet, rotating itself 90 degrees to face the steel shed. It lifted its arm perpendicular to the wall. The third finger extended until it ended in a fine point. A narrow yellow beam shot forth and seared the steel shed.
Within one minute the WD35 had lasered a hole into the warehouse wall. It was the perfect size for a Centauri cat flap, meaning a modestly sized human could crawl through (provided he’d had only one Betelgeuse Burger for lunch).
The left arm of the WD35 extended, and Marley noticed that its first and third fingers were red with silver at the ends, just like a magnet. As the WD35 pressed the fingers against the panelling, Marley saw that the fingers were magnets.
With an effortless tug, a perfect square section of the wall came free.
“Wow,” said Marley. “You’ve helped me. You’ve made a way into the fair.”
“My intention was to give you this.” The WD35 presented Marley with the square panel it had lasered away. “My final offering. Accept this steel panel and my time is complete. I will shut down and return to the holy sea of electrons.”
Marley had had enough of panels. He tilted his head to one side. “So you weren’t trying to help me get in then.”
“Please accept this panel.”
“What will I use it for?”
“Accept this panel.” The eyes on the droid reddened with intensity.
“Righto thanks. I will bang my head on it whenever I get frustrated trying to work out why you gave it to me.” He took the plate with both hands, moved over to the gap in the wall, and crawled through the opening. Once through, he poked his head through the gap one last time. “You right?”
“My time is complete. Thank you ladies and gentleman.”
“I don’t see any ladies around here.” Marley looked left and right.
On the belly of the WD35, a green and a red light chased each other around the configuration of light-emitting diodes. They circled faster. The red light was catching up to the green one. They merged, flashing green and red. The flashing increased in frequency until the colours combined.
“Goodnight.” The head of the WD35 rolled off its shoulders and landed next to Marley’s own.
“Rest in peace.” Marley felt silly saying this, but robots were becoming more lifelike every day. He pulled the shutters down on the two eye-flaps and squeezed back into the exhibition hall.
He emerged behind a life-sized advertising pillar cut in human form. Breathing in, he pondered his next course of action. He should probably not have leant on the pillar.
The pillar was life sized, but not life weighted. It tumbled at the merest hint of body mass. The pillar of Mr Kibbles, CEO of Kibbles Industries, fell flat on its face. Marley stooped to hoist it upright.
“Here let me help you. I knew the guard made a mistake.” The Kibbles representative patted him on the shoulder. “Where were we? That’s right, I was going to show you our latest propulsion technology.” The representative adjusted his thin blue tie. “But first.” He clicked a finger.
The serving bot spun on its treads and swerved around a Centauran who almost dropped the Jovian jellyfish he was holding.
“This little beauty is the fair’s best-kept secret.”
“What is? You mean the wine and cheese droid?” Marley laughed. “Yes, I get you. Where would we be without these little suckers?” He took another glass of wine, finishing it in two sips.
The serving-bot quickly offered him another, the tray attached to its three bronze appendages calmly rising to chest height.
“Thank you garçon,” said Marley.
“It is my pleasure to present this,” said the droid, “especially the wine. Note the scent of Falernian fields freshly ploughed, observe the hue of tinted green with hints of elderberry, conjectures of elongated musk and solar dry seeds, the approaching ripeness that culminates in a clean finish.”
“Much like Alfredo’s surgical strike in this season’s opener against Flying Betelgeuse,” said Marley.
“Hmmm.” The Kibbles representative bent over to look at the droid’s serial number. “One of the AI programmers must be a connoisseur. He has created not only a serving bot, but a sommelier. I must put restrictions on the creation of voice scripts. This is more than just a waiter. Those three brass appendages are sniper beams. While it might look like a catering platform, it is a little beast, designed to infiltrate and neutralise insurgents, wherever they may hide.”
“By offering them wine and cheese,” said Marley.
“Something like that.” The representative smiled. “But come! The propulsion systems. We’re almost there.”
They passed the latest carbon fibre body armour, followed by a collection of stun guns, plasma bows, heavy machine guns, laser rifles, sniper sights and gas grenades. It crossed him that while he had spent hours decimating aliens and humanoids in video games, he had never used a real weapon.
How would he react if someone placed an assault rifle in his hands and asked him to defend against invasion. Would he freeze in horror? Or would he be exhilarated by the sense of danger?
They rounded a high black partition and entered a cordoned-off area.
Some of them lay on their bellies. The more compact stood upright, yet they all had one purpose. To send a payload into space, and once in space, keep it there. The smaller vernier thrusters were marvels of ancient technology still in use, designed to automate navigation to the target location. These additions to the main rocket were specially engineered for manoeuvrability through the tightest burger drive-thrus in the densest asteroid fields.
“Allow me to introduce our latest project success, the V14 SE1000.”
Hanging on two chains emerging from the depths of the ceiling was a conical red and white rocket. It could be fitted as a missile on a destroyer, or attached to a fuel chamber on smaller craft to lift it into the atmosphere. It was very close to what Marley sought.
“Do you have the V13 by any chance?” Marley crossed his fingers behind his back.
The representative clasped his hands in a look of remorse. “No. I’m sorry. The V13 was a white elephant. The chief architect followed superseded design specs, resulting in the V13 being incompatible with modern craft.”
“Let me guess, it’s only compatible with V4s.”
The representative’s eyes narrowed. “Correct.”
“And the chief architect who failed to follow the correct design specs…was me.”
Chuck Marley and the Kibbles representative turned around to view the uninvited speaker. He was of medium height, with slick black hair parted like chicken wings, certainly over fifty, but dressed in baggy denim and flannel. He was likely one of the more humble customers at the fair, probably connected to some grassroots anarchist movement.
“Allow me to introduce you. Mr…” The representative looked apologetically at Marley. “Your name?”
“Mr Marley, allow me to introduce you to Jeremiah Kibbles Junior, Director, Kibbles Industries.”