There it was. She hadn’t been seeing things, after all. The building jutted from the ground like a rotten tooth as she crested the final dune. The old factory stood in defiance of time and the sands whipping around it.
But what kind of factory was it? That was the million-credit question. Even that took a back seat to the excitement she felt at the chance to get out of the sun for a few hours.
Perhaps it was some optical effect caused by the unrelenting sun, or her tenuous grasp on reality after being under its oppressive thumb for so long, but this was one big factory. She sighed with a sort of ecstasy as the shadow of the building finally fell over her. It felt as if she had just walked into a refrigeration unit.
She stood before the modest double-doors that gave entrance to the building. She looked up and up. It had to be a good three stories tall, at any rate. Old car factory? Tank factory? Had to be something big.
Lock-pick kit powers, activate. It was a simple deadbolt mechanism. She stood up a couple of minutes later, dusting herself off. She pulled on one of the doors. It resisted. She yanked at it until it finally squealed its way open.
The interior of the factory was cavernous. Brown and black shadows undisturbed for decades pulled away from the dusty beams of light set loose through the doorway. They joined the sunlight stabbing through the gloom from windows set high above her. She crept through the entrance, trying to look in every direction at once.
The door mechanism clicked and whirred, pulling the protesting door shut again. The clank and boom thundered through the factory like a thunderclap. The young woman jumped. “Jesus!”
She pulled a light mech off its perch on her arm and nestled it onto her shoulder. She turned it on, shooting a beam of blue-white light across the dimly-lit expanse. She whistled as the beam touched the farthest reaches of the factory.
The brief inspection told her she only had one floor to comb over. All that was left of the upper floors lay in piles of broken concrete and steel. Man’s handiwork was no match for the ravages of time and nature.
Neither, she feared, was anything that may lie beneath the building’s gutted remains. She lowered her head. There was so little left of humanity in this world. There had to be something here. Right?
“Please, God.” She approached the first pile of devastation, fingers working. It looked so insurmountable. A monument to broken dreams, as intangible as the faded memories hidden within it. She began to pry away the years.
She stepped down from the opposite side of the pile an hour later. There were no tears. Not yet. Not that she could spare the moisture… Three energy packs, a half-spent proton core. A sat-nav radio, possibly repairable, though with parts that were painfully scarce.
The clouded beams of sunlight were inching higher on the pitted walls of the factory. She looked about her at the various collections of detritus. She may be spending the night here.
She piled her finds in the middle of the trash-strewn floor and shuffled to the next trash pile. This one sparkled more than the last. Logic boards? Electrical circuits? She fought to keep her spirit as she tore into the past.
She found nothing of use. That was it, she had to stop. There were the tears. They tasted far too salty. She dropped to the floor, sending a cloud of stagnant dust into the air around her.
She slipped off her backpack and tore it open. She fished out a small bottle of faintly glowing yellow liquid. Concentrated hydrating fluid, the label said. It was half-empty. She took a small sip.
It felt as if she had drank the whole thing twice over. She sighed happily and capped the bottle. She surveyed the hilly landscape of trash. Right, where to next?
Her eyes paused and widened as they swept past the largest pile. It was shoved into one corner, mostly in shadow. She turned off her shoulder light and squinted.
She absently slipped the bottle into her backpack and shouldered it. She never took her eyes away from that mountain of waste. She began to smile as she neared it. Could it be?
In the middle of the pile was a small, rectangular object faintly radiating blue light. She scrambled towards it, feet and hands slipping in the dirt and detritus. She wiped her bloodied hand off on her pants and reached towards the object.
It was affixed to a dull metal panel of some sort. She wiped the dust away from the front of the object and squinted her eyes. The blue light shone brightly.
She tried to calm herself. Whatever this was, it was possibly functional, and almost certainly worth a considerable number of credits. But what was it?
There were no markings on the glowing rectangle. She ran her fingers around it, hoping they would tell her something she didn’t know. A smile slipped across her face. She pressed forward on the object.
It slid haltingly across the gritting surface of the panel. The lights clicked off, but something behind the panel clicked as well. She took a wobbling step back as the whole panel suddenly hinged upwards on pneumatic arms.
The glowing blue, red, and yellow lights inside illuminated her wide eyes and spreading smile. Here, friends, was hope. She dropped her backpack off of her shoulder and dove into it for her tools.
She sat back on her legs a short while later with a satisfied look on her face. The red lights had fallen dark, replaced with green. She thoughtlessly piled her tools back into her backpack and shouldered it again.
The panel quietly hissed itself closed. She reached out and pulled the rectangular release back down. It illuminated again, casting a soft blue light across her face and neck.
The sound of machinery whirring to life shattered the silence around her. Chunks of twisted steel and broken concrete shuddered and slid off of the piles of junk around her. She stood shakily, crying out.
She dropped to the floor, quickly walking backwards, her eyes widening as the pile grew. No, it wasn’t growing. Something was moving, shifting beneath the concrete and steel.
A pair of brilliant blue eyes shone out from the shadows.
A robot. Massive, corroded, but intact, slowly stood erect before her. Its head, fully ten feet above her own, turned to look down at her. Its eyes focused on her and turned red.
“No… No! Oh, God…” The young woman turned and began to run. The noise she feared, had expected, the robot’s shifting feet booming on the factory floor followed closely behind her.
“That is not what I expected.” She rounded the first pile of refuse she had combed through and settled in behind it. “ACQUIRING TARGET,” a loud, deep, robotic voice boomed close behind her.
The pile behind her shifted violently. She screamed, falling forward and scrambling forward over the dirt and debris. She turned to see the robot rapidly dismantling the pile.
It picked up a steel beam and cast it to the side. It slammed off the main doors, buckling them and sealing off her only known exit. She shook her head as she made eye contact with the robot.
“TARGET ACQUIRED.” The robot pounded one massive foot down upon the remains of the pile and dug in. The young woman screamed and ran towards the far corner of the factory.
She pressed herself tightly into the corner of the factory and reached for her only weapon, a small plasma pistol. It wasn’t there. She must have lost it when she ran…
The colossal machine filled her vision with darkness mixed with blood-red light. It leaned down, lowering its head. It smelt of motor oil and ancient technology.
She began to cry. Red laser beams scanned over her face and body. The lights disappeared a moment later with a loud buzz, followed by several beeps. “ACQUISITION COMPLETE.”
The robot swiftly stood back up. Its head faced forward, the crimson eyes fading to a more hopeful blue. There came a loud click, followed by staticky feedback from a speaker hidden in the robot’s chest.
“Is it working? Oh!” The sound of a young man clearing his throat came from the robot’s speaker. “If uh, a hem. If you’re hearing this, I am unfortunately no more. And… Okay, this is stupid.”
The young woman’s brow dipped as she cocked her head. The voice continued. “I had a whole speech, um… Look. I’m dead if you’re hearing this. If you reactivated this robot, you obviously know enough to take care of it.
“It’s all yours. Just… Please take care of it?” The man’s voice began to crack. “He’s much more than just a robot. You’ll see… So good luck. Or something.” There was a loud click. The speaker fell silent.
The young woman looked back up at the robot’s face. She jumped as it suddenly twisted to return her gaze. “So… You’re my robot now?”
“THAT IS CORRECT.” She twitched. “ADJUSTING volume. I obey your commands.” The young woman began to smile.
BOOM. The doors to the warehouse buckled outwards. BOOM! The doors exploded out into the desert, frame and all. The young lady walked out of the shadows and stepped to one side of the newly-formed exit.
The massive robot dipped down as it stepped out into the open. It stood, gazing out across the wastes, exposed to the outside world for the first time in decades. It turned to look at the young woman.
She smiled back at the robot before turning and walking back out into the desert. The robot clunked along behind her obediently. She guessed there was something worthwhile in there, after all.