On a beautiful morning in the last week of June 2052, 27-year-old Winnie Scribb found herself crouched behind a stack of crates in an abandoned warehouse trying to hold her breath.
“It went that way!” A voice roared.
A shadow appeared on the wall above Winnie’s hiding place. She tensed, praying that nobody would notice her.
“Damn thing must have given us the slip. First thing I’m gonna do when we catch that fucker is smash its legs in.”
A small group cheered, accompanied by more sounds of movement. They were gone.
Winnie released the breath she’d been holding, great hacking coughs that rattled her chest as she slumped to rest against the crate. The gash on her leg wept.
“Infected.” Said a mechanised voice, far too close for comfort.
Quick as a shot, Winnie drew her pistol and levelled it at the robot’s head. That solved the mystery of the voice – Anti-Tech League members, looking for the robot now stood in front of her. Didn’t the thing know better than to wander during the day?
“What?” Winnie gasped, voice raspy and soft.
The robot started to climb over the barrier crate into the alcove, either unaware or unconcerned with the gun aimed at its head. There was a faded symbol on the robot’s chest – a staff with a snake coiled around it.
Winnie scrambled back.
“No. Go away! I will shoot you!”
The robot remained unfazed by the pistol. It stopped and tilted its head. A red beam shot from its chest, raking over Winnie’s hunched body before its display screen lit up. A series of numbers scrolled across the screen.
“Fever: 40c. Heart rate: 126bpm. Leg: Infected. Directive: Help.”
Winnie lowered the gun and sighed.
“You’re not going to go away until you look at me, are you?” She asked.
The robot remained silent, tilting its head further. Its featureless face seemed to judge her.
“Ok,” Winnie relented, “Go ahead.”
The robot released a happy chirp, seemingly pleased with the turn of events. Winnie rolled up her pant leg and laid back, too tired to keep vigil over the medic unit’s work.
At some point Winnie must have fallen asleep, as the next thing she knew she was waking up. The crisp morning sunlight had turned golden with the afternoon, and there was a lingering mugginess in the air from the midday heat. The robot had moved Winnie out from the alcove and into the open space of the warehouse floor.
A makeshift blanket fashioned out of tarp had been laid over her.
Winnie sat up and looked over at the robot. Already with only a little rest she felt much better.
“Yes. What are you still doing here?”
The robot stilled, head tilting to the side. The small lights above its display screen blinked once, twice, before it stood and began to root through a crate.
“Okay. Don’t answer my question then.”
Exasperated, Winnie ignored the robot and checked the gash on her leg. The area was clean and far less red than before. Winnie bet that if she checked under the bandage there’d be a neat row of stitches keeping the wound closed.
The robot offered a sealed bottle in its claw. It must have found a pallet of water in one of the crates.
“I get it!”
Winnie snatched the bottle from the robot. It was lukewarm from the summer heat.
“Thank you.” She whispered, glancing at the robot.
The robot settled down next to her with a happy chirp.
“What’s your name?” She asked, voice a little stronger with the water.
The robot turned its head to face her. The lights on its head blinked red.
Winnie tried to recall all the robotics terminology she had been forced to learn as a child.
The little lights above the robot’s display screen blinked green.
“Designation: Medical Unit 2-A4.”
Not quite a name, but it was far better than referring to it as ‘the robot’.
“Win-e?” 2-A4’s voice wavered, as if unused to producing such strong vowel sounds.
“Close enough.” She chuckled.
“What? What is my ‘directive’? I’m a- … I was a mechanic by trade. It’s why I’m in this mess in the first place,” Winnie gestured to her bandaged leg, “The Anti-Tech League don’t take kindly to those who can repair what they deem ‘ungodly’. I thought I’d shaken them off, but it seems they found you to hunt instead.”
Seemingly satisfied with the answer, 2-A4 turned back to face the waning sunlight pouring in through the window.
Something suddenly occurred to Winnie.
“Hey, 2-A4?” She asked, leaning towards the robot, “What are doing so far away from the hospital?”
The nearest medical centre was a three day walk away from the warehouse the pair were currently occupying.
The lights on 2-A4’s face blinked once, twice, red.
“2-A4 Directive: help. Hospital: no people. Outside: people. 2-A4 leave fulfil directive. Outside people: destroy units. 2-A4 fulfil directive: not be destroyed. 2-A4 walk. Find people. Run. 2-A4 find Win-e. Fulfil directive: help.”
As 2-A4 talked Winnie’s eyebrows scrunched together, a pinched look taking over her face.
“So you came all this way, faced all that danger, to satisfy a line of code?”
2-A4 seemed surprised by the question. It sat, head tilted to the side.
“2-A4 directive: help. 2-A4: built to help. 2-A4: want to help.”
It took Winnie a second to understand what 2-A4 was saying, but when she did, she smiled.
“You find purpose in your work. It’s something you know you can do. Something you can do well. I can respect that.”
The sun was beginning to set, casting soft shadows across the warehouse floor. Winnie stood and set about making a fire to stave off the night-time chill. As the evening set in Winnie and 2-A4 sat quietly enjoying the fire together, easy in their newfound companionship.
Kes Bonnage is a third year Bachelors student studying JH Creative Writing and English Literature at York St John University. She is very interested in sci-fi and fantasy stories of all kinds. Kes is currently working on completing her degree and hopes to have a novel published by her 30th birthday.