MARC

I am Peter, a survivor, one of only a handful that I’m aware of. I was Peter Grossman, accountant, employed by National Utility Testing Services. My company was a watchdog group, with an unfortunate acronym, and it was assigned to keep tabs on various laboratories, power plants, and other privately-run, high risk facilities. I was one of many numbers guys, certainly not head of my department either, and a committee of various role players (of which I was part) was recently assigned to examine a nuclear power plant in Utah. This was a financial audit, hence my presence, because their books were showing discrepancies in funding.  The supply examiners were coming anyways, since this type of shortfall often indicated political pocket-lining at the very least, or terrorist backing at the very worst. Anyways, after my portion of the audit information gathering was complete, one of the service androids gave me a grand tour of the whole facility, since the cubicle bound number-crunchers rarely get to see this side of the game.

Yeah, I said service androids. And this particular one survived along with me. More’s the pity.

So here’s how we got into this mess:

I heard it coming toward me before I saw it. The little puffs of their joint pistons firing always gave them away. I turned in time to receive its introduction.

“Hi! You look like you could use a tour! I am MARC, a Male-type Andro-Robotic Computer. What is your name, sir?” the service android became absolutely still, looking like a statue but for the faint whirr-click of its internal processor.

“Uh—hi, I’m Peter Grossman, accountant with N- U- T- S,” I spelled out the company acronym, and went to shake the MARC’s hand. I felt a little foolish doing so and nearly pulled away, when it grasped my hand and gave one concise pump. I was relieved to see my hand still attached. I had heard that the developers had to fix a handshake-and-high-five bug in androids through the latest round of updates. It appeared this one’s handlers kept up with the software.

“It is very good to meet you, Mr. Grossman. Please, follow me and keep your arms, legs, and mechanical components in the walkways. Haha, that is android humor,” it laughed eerily, an effect enhanced by its frozen facial features. The typical service android is unable to smile or show any other emotion.

The MARC showed me the cooling towers, the reactors, and the control panel rooms from a Safe-T-Glass distance. The nuclear scientists and plant employees were allowed to work at a much closer distance. That was fine by me. Those nuclear safety suits looked unwieldy and left no room to pick a wedgie, if need be. The control panel operators obviously didn’t need them; they had Safe-T-Glass too. Lucky bastards. Next was the meltdown bunker, and after that, the blessed break room, with hot coffee and candy bars. I’ll tell you what: I was looking forward to that hot cuppa Joe.

We had just reached the “panic room” when panic ensued. There was a huge rumble and the room shook, then the spinning red warning light and siren started going.

“Oh no, that is not good,” the MARC stated.

“Wh- what does that mean?”

“It means that this is not a drill,” it stated, again.

…Shit, this was not good.

It was apparently a mind-reading censor-bot.

“This is not good.”

“Of course it’s not good! What’s happening?”

“My server says that the reactor was directly hit by a foreign object—it appears to be a missile.”

I was ready to shake the nuts from this bag of bolts. Fortunately, I maintained my cool and asked, “So what now?”

“So you have the proof I was about to give you. You are here to audit a monetary discrepancy. This attack explains that shortage. I brought you here to tell you this, but I did not calculate that it would happen so soon. Terrorists received funding and supplies from this plant. I am not supposed to know this, but my programming requires me to monitor activity that pertains to tours. That activity qualifies. It was anomalous.”

I was shitting bricks at this point, so I screamed, “How is that important! What do we do now?!”

“We wait for more information. We stay here while we wait,” it said to the employee pawing at the security lock, “because there is nothing else we can do.”

Well, let’s just say I was pissed. I might be overreacting, but this seemed to be the end of the world. Then, the MARC confirmed this.

“My servers indicate that five of the major reactors in the United States were attacked. We must stay here for a while.”

I joined the desperate plant employee at the door. It was so unfair. I couldn’t die! I was just given hope of a promotion and that included a pay raise, and improved benefits, with a corner office, oh God, what was I doing? I slumped by the wall and started to cry. I’m being honest, I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t going to resort to gerbil antics. Even though I was a corporate gerbil. After a few minutes, once the siren subsided, I stood and asked, “So what now?”

“We are stocked for six months at full capacity. That equals,” a lot of whirring and clicking, “two years of supplies for those of us here.”

I was doing my own numbers. Something didn’t compute. “That doesn’t account for the entire staff, I mean, the original calculation.”

“Of course it does not. The survival supplies were only calculated for the plausibility of the number of employees who could make it here in time. I did the calculations myself.”

“You’re a cold bastard.”

“As an accountant, you know the probabilities.”

I was already crunching more numbers, and realized, “Damn, you’re right. Well, we have more than enough supplies to stay down here for a couple years. I am personally in favor of staying put until we have to leave, rather than getting fried by radiation.” I looked over at the guy who was banging on the door. He had stopped, and was curled in a ball, sobbing quietly. “I suppose he’s in, too,” I added, “not that we have a choice.”

The MARC gave the despairing employee a closer look and said, “That is Frank Watson. He works in cooling tower one. What were you doing down here?”

Frank Watson sniffled and gazed at us suspiciously. Finally, he answered, “the boss gave me a break and told me to see what you were doin’ with this examiner. The boss doesn’t trust androids, but they’re required in all the plants,” he directed the last sentence at me, by way of explanation.

“I was aware that Mr. Dubois was watching me. Did you know he was involved in the illegal sale of supplies to foreign entities?”

I don’t know if I was imagining it, but I thought there was a tone of reproach in the MARC’s voice. Then I realized this plant was his baby, more or less, due to the requirements of his programming.

The employee was still talking. “I was gettin’ a cut from some deal the boss made, ‘cuz I had to cover up some activity, but I didn’t know where it was goin’. I didn’t care neither. I was gettin’ paid,” he finished defiantly. He was standing by now and puffing his chest out like he was expecting a confrontation.

“Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself. We’re stuck down here, while the end of the world is going on out there, and you had a hand in that!” I spat at him, even before MARC could respond. When I looked at him to back me up, he was standing with his feet squared and arms crossed. It was a disconcertingly human gesture.  Then a thought struck me, and I asked, “Why didn’t you report what you knew?”

“Mr. Dubois was monitoring my outside communications and reports. He bought a lot of people’s loyalties,” he responded. “I had to wait for you to be here so I could report in person. I only found out everything yesterday.”

Frank spoke again. “Lot of good it did. I wish I was up there and dead, than down here with you morons.”

“Who’s the moron? You’re the one who sold out for a couple extra bucks! You’re selfish and idiotic,” I shouted at him. His reasoning was unbelievably frustrating.

I guess I hit a nerve because he took a swing at me. It wasn’t a great hit, but it startled me enough to make me step back. When I did, MARC came forward and landed one straight to Frank’s temple. I didn’t think androids were permitted to do that. As it turns out, all sorts of things are possible when their connection to the server is cut. In fact, they are allowed to use force in a security capacity, such as when a person poses a threat to the plant or to another person on the premises. It seems that Frank was guilty on both counts.

I learned a lot more about androids than I ever wanted to while stuck in the bunker with the murderous MARC and Frank Watson’s corpse.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/17/flash-fiction-challenge-the-who-the-where-the-uh-oh/

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