1. Your Personal Assistant

From the foot of the bed, she watched him sleep. His long, sandy, bristly hair was looking pretty messy. She would have to fix it up for him after he would wake up. Speaking of which … She jumped at him and landed hard onto his chest.

"Whoa!" He opened his wide, amber eyes in which two blue lights reflected, and stared at her, panting.

A slightly distorted but cheerful female voice said, "My internal clock says it's 7 in the morning! I woke you up as promised."

He calmed down and cleared his throat. "That's not how you wake people up." His hands reached out for her and went to her sides, then he picked her up and placed her on the bed, to his left side. "It's more likely that you'd give them a heart attack."

She was a metallic-blue robot that looked like a beetle the size of an adult cat with the head of a car. On her forehead, there was an azure, pear-shaped octagon between the machine's big, oval, blue glowing eyes. Her false mouth looked like a large smile, its four central teeth having the blue glow. The back of her head had a W-shaped crest that went toward the robot's round back. One elytron extended from her back's left side and another from the right, both hanging over the bed sheet. She had no legs, but had two segmented, azure arms, each of them ending in a single, pointy claw. The robot spoke in the same distorted female voice from earlier while the number of glowing teeth increased on each side of her mouth's center. "How was I supposed to wake you up then?"

He stared at her with a disappointed look, but decided to answer her question. "You could have simply told me that it was 7 AM, or could have told me to wake up, or … worst case you could have gently poked my shoulder with a claw."

"Preference noted, Corby!" the robot said, a wide smile lighting up on her face. It faded away as she observed the way his white pajamas were hanging over his form. "Your sudden weight loss has me concerned. Are you not getting enough nutrients?"

The young man scowled. "I've been eating nothing but pigeons for the past two weeks! What did you think would happen?"

"You know that all you have to do is tell me what you need and I will get it for you. I could even hunt one of those rats for you."

He shuddered after hearing that. "No, Ora! Rats are not food. At least … not for humans. Look, if you want to make yourself useful, go catch me some fish from the nearest lake or river."

"Order accepted," Ora said. She spread her elytra out, opened their underside lids, and unfolded a pair of translucent black wings. She used the lids to launch herself off the bed as her wings started beating rapidly. They were nearly silent, with only a faint hum. Within three seconds, she was gone through a window that only had small shards of glass hanging from its top.

He went to the bathroom, where he was "welcomed" by the stench of the lid-covered toilet. A stench he added to after lifting the lid, emptying his bladder. Lowering the toilet lid back, he looked into the mirror above the sink. The diffuse light that entered the bathroom from the bedroom's two windows helped him see his reflection.

It was the first time that week that he managed to get more than two hours of sleep, but it wasn't enough to get rid of the dark bags under his eyes. His hair looked like a messed up brush. Unfortunately, he didn't have a comb to style it. In fact, he didn't have most of the things he used to have in the past. There was no water running through the bathroom's pipes. There was no heater around either, but even if there would have been one the lack of a source of electricity to power it with was a problem too. His breath caused steam to come out of his nostrils. Things weren't looking good for him, what with colder and colder days coming.

As he returned to the bedroom, he noticed just how dusty the place was. The only things that didn't have any dust on them were his black t-shirt, his red jacket with white accents, his black pants, and the sole electronic device in the entire house: a rectangular, azure object that rested on the nightstand to the right of his bed. Its blue led was still on, which meant the battery had not been depleted yet.

He had nothing interesting to do while waiting for Ora, so he picked up the device and sat on the edge of the bed. Gently, he pulled the left half of the device, causing a transparent sheet of what seemed to be plastic to expand out of the other half. The transparency went away as the sheet turned black. A blue text appeared on it, over the dark background.

Welcome to the user guide for the Personal Assistant Hover Robot.

Introduction
▶ Training
▶ Recharging
▶ Maintenance
▶ Disposal

Those options remained unchecked ever since he had acquired the device and the robot, so he thought it was about time he informed himself. He tapped the Introduction button, and information was displayed on the screen.

The PAHR (Personal Assistant Hover Robot) is exactly what it says on the tin: your personal assistant that can hover and help you complete various tasks.

This robot is capable of flying at altitudes of up to 5000 meters and can swim at a maximum depth of 1000 meters below the surface of the ocean. Its endurance makes it perfect for aiding in rescue missions and retrievals of small objects.

Equipped with complex artificial intelligence, the PAHR is capable of holding simple conversations right out of the box. It can, through some training, become more adept at solving logical puzzles and holding interesting conversations. Be advised that, in spite of this, the PAHR is not your friend. Seek other humans for that purpose.

He sighed. On to the next section.

Training.

After booting the PAHR for the first time by pressing the button on its forehead, teach the robot to respond to a name. Use this name when issuing orders to the robot, or just look into its eyes and give the order.

The PAHR can be trained to obey up to 2000 commands. When it can no longer learn new ones, you can tell it to replace a command. By default, the PAHR understands basic commands such as retrieving requested objects, flying, swimming, and helping with schedules. If a request for retrieving a particular object is not recognized, you can describe the aspect of the object to the PAHR and it will retrieve the nearest object matching the description.

Corby hoped that Ora knew what a fish looked like.

Recharging

You can recharge your PAHR from wireless electricity suppliers. Alternatively, the PAHR's wings can act as solar panels and recharge the robot through sunlight or any bright sources of light.

"Seems like they've never heard of the glowanade when they've made this robot," he said.

Maintenance

The PAHR normally follows a system maintenance routine every week, as long as its parts have not been damaged. If parts need replacing or fixing, then manual maintenance is needed.

For your safety, you must power off the PAHR before beginning manual maintenance. Tell the robot to shut down. In case of disobedience, press the octagon on the PAHR's forehead for 30 seconds until all of the robot's lights turn off. Once the robot is deactivated, you can begin to work on its parts or replace them.

Then came the topic that made him feel sorry for the PAHRs out there that had been abandoned this way.

Disposal

If you no longer want the PAHR, you can return it to the store from where you've bought it. Please make sure to shut down your PAHR before bringing it in.

Should the robot's artificial intelligence configuration be deemed damaged, the robot's brain chip will be reprogrammed or recycled, and its body will receive the restored chip.

"I'm back!" Ora said as she flew in through the window again. She held something long, black, with six barbels around its mouth. The prey struggled to slip out of her claws and succeeded, flopping all over the dusty floor.

Corby got up from the bed. "Ora! What the heck?! You brought a live catfish here!"

Ora landed and folded her wings into her elytra, then stared at the desperate creature that thrashed about. "I could not snap its neck like I did with the pigeons."

He frowned. "You could have used one of your claws to destroy its brain!"

She raised her right claw while holding the fish pinned to the floor with her left one. "I am sorry. I will kill it for you."

Corby gasped, then reached out with his right hand. "No, wait!"

She looked at him with her head tilted to the left side. "Is something wrong?"

"Please, just … take it outside before you do that. I don't want to see its slaying. I wish we had lab-grown meat here."

The robot grabbed the fish with her claws, securing it as she spread her wings. "As you wish, Corby." She flew out the window while her master watched with concern. A wet thwack sound came from outside, and he flinched, knowing what it meant: the end of a life, and the prolonging of his own.


Corby swapped his pajamas with his T-shirt, jacket, and black pants, then came out of the old house whose roof was in shambles and walls were cracked all over. He looked at the now dead catfish that had a hole on the top of its head.

"I've done as you ordered," Ora said. "Enjoy!"

He picked up the slimy fish and brought out a pocket knife from his jacket's right pocket, then proceeded to gut the corpse. A look of disgust formed on his face as the smell of the creature's intestines reached his nose. He was unable to wash the food because there wasn't any water in this abandoned little town called Gruzifor. Heat would have to do, so he brought out a lighter from the same pocket while putting the knife back. "Ora, could you gather some of those dried up leaves and a few twigs and bring them here?"

"Order acknowledged, Corby!" She flew around the area and collected the required items from under the nearly barren trees. Then she brought the resources to her master and landed. "Leaves and twigs acquired!"

"Thank you," he said while kicking the foliage and wood until it all piled up in one place. He had set aside one stick. With the lighter's flame, the entire little mound was set on fire, and dark smoke came out of it as it burned. "Ora, do me one last favor: check what's going to happen during the next hour. Send me the render."

She spread her wings out. "Attempting to follow order. Sufficient power available, but I will require immediate recharge afterwards. Prepare the papyrus device." Bright blue circuit lines expanded from her chest and covered the entirety of Gruzifor, all the way up the black cliffs that surrounded the city.

Corby placed the fish on a big rock nearby and dug his left hand into his left pocket, bringing out the device that had the PAHR user guide. He unfolded it and the screen turned black. It first showed the message about the user guide, but then displayed a different text.

Incoming video feed!

A time lapse of events could be seen on the device. He overlapped the display area with anything he could observe before him, and it seemed to see into the future for that same place. What he witnessed confirmed what he feared: three bulky, armored, humanoid black robots with red stripes on their arms would locate him and Ora based on the smoke, then jump off the cliffs to get to them. The robots' heads looked heavily stylized, like those of origami bulls, but with horns pointing forward. Their sturdy legs had feet that looked like mechanical cow hooves. Their hands had weapons that looked like miniguns, and they would use them on Corby and Ora, instantly destroying them both with a hail of small blasts.

Corby did not want to have to deal with that, so he picked up his fish, skewered it with the stick, and held it over the fire, hoping it would get cooked fast enough. The "prophecy" that Ora had shared with him showed that it would take the robots twenty minutes after the fire had been lit to reach the towering cliffs. He looked at his personal assistant, who lay on the ground. "Thanks, Ora."

"Battery at 5%," she said while extending one blue circuit light toward the fire, putting it out instantly. "Battery at 30%."

Corby gave her a rather displeased look. "Aw, come on! Now I have to light it up again!"


The three bulky, horned robots roamed near the edge of the cliff, inspecting their surroundings. They saw the stream of smoke that came from the crater to their left. The ground they walked on seemed to be made out of a metal as black as their armors and went all the way down to the bottom of the cliff. Upon detecting the origin of the smoke, the robots saw their targets. Their arms' three claws retracted to reveal the minigun weapons before the robots jumped off the cliff and fell like boulders.

Corby was enjoying his fish while Ora flew around his head, styling his hair to stand up like a paint brush. He noticed the three large, black objects that were in free fall near the cliff in front of him and he immediately swallowed the food he was chewing. "What?! I thought they wouldn't be here for another ten minutes!"

Ora consumed the fire with her glowing circuit lines while saying, "New events have happened since the moment I've made my last prediction, changing minor details for the outcome. That is why I cannot predict with 100% accuracy."

"Now you tell me!"

Ora landed on the ground and tilted her head to the right. "I have also specified the limitations of my predictions on the 12th of November, which was two weeks ago."

"Never mind that! Let's find a place where we can hide!" With the fish on a stick in hand, Corby ran toward the cliff to his right. Ora launched herself and flew after him.

The bulky robots had reached the bottom of the crater and went after them with their weaponry exposed. Due to so many obstacles being in their line of sight, the robots fired at anything in their way: houses, statues, dried up fountains, white rats with red eyes … all the while hoping to kill the running duo.

Corby stopped in front of the wall of metal and stared at the top of the cliff. "We can't climb while they're shooting at us. Ora, we need to hide inside this wall. Please use your glowanade to make it create a hideout for us!"

Ora landed next to him and hid her wings inside her elytron cases. "My battery is at 29%. That is insufficient power for proxying. I recommend using your own glowanade."

"Oh, good idea!" he said while placing his fish on a rock to free his hands. His amber eyes gained a violet glow as some circuit lines of the same color were emitted out of his body: twenty out of his back, five out of each of his hands, and one out of his forehead. The circuitry extended toward the wall and spread its pattern all over the metallic cliff, causing cubes to jut out of it. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. "I wish it didn't give me a splitting headache every time I use it or when it randomly overloads."

"Glowanade was likely not meant to be used by organic entities. Studies regarding side effects of glowanade usage on laboratory rats have been done, but the only information I have is that some of the rats became unwilling to complete the usual tasks given to them and seemed more curious about exploring their surroundings, including their cages."

"So they've lost their ability to focus?"

The robots arrived with their guns firing everywhere in front of them. Fortunately for Corby and Ora, the metal wall separated them from the attackers just in time.

Corby looked at his assistant. "Do you think they'll lose interest after a while?"

"Making a stairway to the top of the cliff as soon as possible is advised. Minotaur robots are equipped with glowanade. This allows them to–"

The blockage was beginning to move before Ora could finish what she had to say.

"No, no, no, no!" Corby said while using his violet circuits to close the wall back. Red circuitry mixed in with his and took over his wires, giving the minotaurs almost complete control over the wall's shape.

Ora tried to explain what was happening. "Red glowanade is categorized as class 8 on the glowanade power scale."

Corby stared at her with a confused look on his face. "What does that mean?"

"It absorbs violet glowanade, which is rated class 9, but does not emit as much power as violet glowanade."

He turned his head to look at the pixelated cracks that were growing in the wall. "Does this mean we're as good as dead? I can't keep the wall like this for much longer!"

"Blue glowanade, which is rated class 1, can take full control over the wall and drain the minotaurs of energy. Should I use it?"

"What happens when they get drained? Does it kill them?"

"Their memories get reset. I recommend deciding before the cracks get big enough to allow blasts to pass through."

"That sounds like it would kill them. Isn't there another way?"

"Corby, minotaurs are not social robots. They do not experience life like humans do. Their sole reason for existing is to ensure that their targets are eliminated. Do I drain them or not?"

The red blasts flew out of the cracks that were getting big enough to allow the minotaurs to see inside the shelter.

Taken over by fear, Corby retracted his glowanade wires and said, "Drain them!"

Ora spread her blue glowing circuitry toward the wall, slipping the lines through the cracks while absorbing the blasts. The lines became purple for a moment before turning blue again, and the gunshots stopped. She opened her elytra and flapped her expanded wings once. "Battery fully recharged."

Corby looked through the cracks and saw the three minotaur robots that lay on the ground, their eyes no longer glowing. "Are they …?"

"Deactivated. They will be useless until being retrieved and administered more energy."

"Let's get out of here before they send more after us. I'm sure they won't let us get away with this."

Ora lifted off. "I agree. Let's go."

He looked at the wall to his left. "My head already hurts a lot. Could you build a stairway for me, please?"

"I'm on it!" Ora said, using her blue circuitry to form the stairs out of cubes jutting from the wall. "Be advised, when we reach the top, I will need you to recharge me with some of your glowanade."

"Oh, boy ..." Corby said, holding his right hand over his aching forehead. "At least I won't be using the glowanade for the whole trip to the top." Stepping onto the stairs, he pondered about something. "Say, how come they gave this substance such a stupid name? They're known for being all serious, then they pull this name out of nowhere."

"Scientists have given odd names to discoveries even during the time humans were confined to Earth. Some of the names given were inspired by fictional characters and places, while others were based on the names of other humans, or on the traits exhibited by the discoveries."

The two partners had reached one third of the path to the top when Corby remembered something. "Crap! I didn't bring my fish!"