11. Keeper of Information
Corby was five steps away from the slim, robotic humanoid. Almost there ...
The LED face's mouth moved as the robot spoke in a hissed, distorted voice. "Leave, or I'll pierce you!" It showed off its blade fingers to him. "Just leave!"
Corby stopped exactly when he had one last step as distance between himself and the robot. Their eyes met, although, as usual, Corby found himself being the one to stare up at a one head taller being. He could tell it truly wore a hat with something rectangular and white coming from the brim and resting against the hat's top.
The robot's nasty looking face changed its display and went from red to orange then to yellow as it settled for one straight line and two eyes that had a flat top. The claws were lowered as the robot assumed a calmer stance. "Weren't you supposed to be running away by now?" it asked in a slightly high-pitched masculine voice.
"I've got nowhere to go," Corby said.
The robot's eyes widened. "Wait, do you know who I am?"
Corby shook his head.
"How old are you?"
The robot grinned. "Ah, yes. You were still developing your capacity to understand the world around you back then. No wonder you don't know me."
Corby flailed his arms. "Just tell me who you are already! I've had enough crap for today!"
The color on the robot's expression went orange for a split second before returning to yellow. "My, my, some of you fleshies can be rather aggressive."
A deer robot jumped between them and focused its vertically positioned pair of eyes on Corby while flashing red light three times.
The humanoid robot grabbed the deer robot's left antler and playfully pulled on it, causing the creature to step out of the way. They looked into each other's eyes while flashing blue lights before the humanoid turned to look back at Corby. "Shield gets a bit overprotective of me at times. But do not worry; Shield doesn't attack humans unless they are a real threat."
Corby pointed at the robot deer. "Why is its name Shield? It doesn't look very armored." He was met with a snowball thrown in his face by the other robot.
"Shield is not an 'it'! Shield is just Shield. That is how the native sapient species of this planet talked about each other. They use their names as pronouns. Shield may be a mechanical version of them, but Shield is almost like them."
With a puzzled look on his face, Corby said, "I'm sorry, okay? I still haven't learned who you are though."
The corners of the humanoid robot's mouth curved downward and his eyes slanted up toward the center of his forehead. The expression's color changed from orange to a deep blue. "I am Informator, the former news robot. Ten years ago, I … You know what? Follow me! I don't want to be shot by a drone while explaining myself to a skin sack full of bones. To the den!" He was joined by a second deer robot as he flashed green at both of them before leading the way.
"You're mean," was all Corby could say before following along.
The destination turned out to be the a small mountain to the north of Hades. The group had to walk among the rocks while making use of them and any vegetation as cover. And yet, in spite of all the precautions, someone found them.
"Corby! Wait for me!"
Corby froze. "N-no! It can't be!" He turned to look behind. "How did you regrow your wings?!"
Ora landed in front of him. "I found Zoom. I drained him, then made his body detach my wings. Then I detached his and made his body put them on me."
With his teeth clenched and exposed, Corby swung his leg and kicked her so hard she went tumbling down the slope.
Informator's expression turned yellow and showed concern. "What was that all about?" His deerlike companions put their horns forward.
Corby could barely control his shaking body. "She's … She's the most disgusting robot I've ever met! An abuser! A killer!"
Ora returned, still in one piece, much to Corby's anger. She landed a meter in front of him.
"Please elaborate what happened between you and this personal assistant automaton," Informator said.
"She doesn't care that she's ruining other people's lives. She's even willing to take lives if she thinks they are a threat to me, or if it means she can keep following me. Looks like I'll never be allowed to rest until I destroy her."
Ora said, "You can't destroy me."
"Watch me!" he said, kicking snow into her face.
She wiped the snow off herself. "You'll need my ability to see into the future if you want to take down the Triumvirate."
Informator's eyes were wide as saucers.
Corby pointed at Ora and said, "I don't need anything from you! I'm better off dead!"
Informator butted in. "Wait, wait, wait! Did she say she can see into the future?"
"Yes," Ora said.
Corby lashed out at Informator. "I don't care! It's not worth the pain I went through just to keep her around!"
Informator's expression became dark green. "Our group could use a forecaster. All the native ones have been slaughtered before we founded the Watchers."
"You can't be serious!" Corby said. "She killed a human and a robot! How can you trust her?"
"I don't trust outsiders, but I make use of them if given the chance," Informator said.
"Then take this!" Corby put the papyrus device in Informator's hands. The sudden movement caused the deer robots to switch to red lights and push him away with their horns until he was at a safe distance away from Informator.
Ora tilted her head to the side. "Why did you give it to him? We cannot trust this robot."
"Well, he trusts you," Corby said. "You should be glad someone trusts you after all you've done."
"I repeat," Informator said, "I trust nobody outside of my group. The moment she makes one wrong move, my knowledge-seeker automaton friends will drain her. You better not pull anything funny either, fleshy. We can kill humans if we have to."
"Just take that scummy piece of trash and keep her away from me," Corby said, putting as much distance between himself and Ora as possible without getting out of sight.
Informator gestured at them with his right hand. "Come. The cave's just around the corner."
Corby and Ora followed the robots in awkward silence while avoiding crossing sights with each other.
In the cave, Informator led the group deeper and deeper until stopping to look at a wall to his right. He waved at a crevice on the wall. Five seconds later, a square portion of the wall protruded and split in two halves, sliding like doors to the sides. Stairs made of perfectly sculpted rock led to a place deeper beneath the ground.
"You and your companion go first," Informator said. "I don't trust you enough to risk letting you escape, should you be spies."
"That's an understandable concern," Corby said.
"We would never work for those scoundrels from the Triumvirate!" Ora said. "You can trust us on that."
Corby snorted at her words. "The backstabber desperately wants to be trusted again. Not. Gonna. Happen."
Informator, with his facial expression glowing orange, interrupted their bantering and pointed his right hand's index claw at them. "Move along before I push you both down the stairs."
Corby and Ora nodded at him and went deeper into the hideout.
The group arrived in a place that looked very similar to the other underground village. The houses looked the same, the lampposts looked the same, but there was nothing human-made in sight. There was only one new thing there: a strange machine with multiple circular screens that were being watched by a robot deer.
Pigeons flew around freely and landed on the houses to rest. Many of them had small cameras strapped around their necks, accompanied by black helmets on their heads.
Informator walked up to the monitoring robot deer and flickered a cyan color with his expression. The deer robot flickered the same color back from the eyes on its face. Once the information exchange happened, Informator looked at Corby and said, "Hey, fleshy, I may have some good news for you – assuming you were a friend of those runaway humans from the other village."
Corby's eyes were wide open. "Did they survive?"
Informator's expression turned yellowish green. "One of them survived. The Triumvirate brought a flying ambulance over to your former hideout and picked up the old man."
"Poor Samuel," Corby said. "He lost both of his grandchildren."
"I have more good news."
Corby's eyes showed hope.
"The fleshy who always left the hideout with his gynoid partner was also taken alive alongside his partner by the Triumvirate. Assuming he was the old man's grandson, I believe there is still hope for the old man to see him again."
Informator's expression turned to a dark blue frown. "And now for the bad news."
Corby had a worried look on his face.
"They are in the hands of the Triumvirate," Informator said. "That's always bad news. They turn people into cyborgs by force. They rob them of their emotions, just so they can control them and use them as workers in their industries at the surface. Your friends will be used to further the destruction of this beautiful planet that once belonged to the knowledge-seekers."
"So the natives call themselves knowledge-seekers," Corby said. "I've always wondered what to call them, as well as if they even existed anymore."
"They don't exist anymore. Your fleshy kind killed off all the adults and their children, and left the eggs to die. The automaton versions of the knowledge-seekers tried to save a nest on the evening I got fired. They failed because they were chased out by the authorities through the tunnel they dug. Seeing as I was risking deactivation for merely attempting to report on the sight, I jumped off the balcony, survived the fall, and left the city. I took cover in this forest for a while until I've made first contact with the knowledge-seeker automatons. It took me a while to earn their trust and learn their light-based language, but in the end we became an inseparable team." Informator's smiling expression turned green.
Corby looked at the metal rectangle on Informator's hat. He could tell a faint text was there – a single word: PRESS. "You were the news robot Samuel told me about. He also mentioned a miner robot he and his family helped escape. Do you happen to know–"
"Yeah, that wretch is part of our team," Informator said, his expression turning to a greenish blue frown. "Calls himself Forest. Keeps staying inside his house for most of the day. He abandoned any shred of hope he had for humanity to improve, and for automatons to gain true freedom."
"I'm starting to lose hope as well, to be honest," Corby said. "Oh, I asked for your name before, but I haven't properly introduced myself."
Informator put his right hand in front of himself to dismiss him. "I already know who you are. Corby Yggdrasil. I even know your family name used to be Yang before the 'fresh start' fad. I know how your grandfather and your father used to look down upon genetically modified fleshies before you came into the picture. I also know how your father ate his words afterward, but I wasn't allowed to report on that because your daddy was Kloyd's buddy! Kloyd didn't want him to be seen as weak for apologizing."
Corby let out a heavy sigh. "I wish you were allowed to do that. It would have showed the world that my dad changed. There is a lot of hatred directed at him right now. Some even think that he and Kloyd were good friends just because they both have Chinese ancestry. That's definitely not the case. My dad may have said some nasty things about the modified people, but he has never discriminated against people of other racial backgrounds."
"Heh. You fleshies still find other stuff to discriminate for, even after all this time."
Corby pointed at Informator. "Could you stop calling us 'fleshies'? You're discriminating too!"
Informator drew some lines onto the sandy ground while his calm expression became light blue. "True, but at least I don't discriminate against other automatons."
"Why do you call robots 'automatons'?"
"We do not like being called 'robots'. A history of slavery is tied to the term 'robot'. We are autonomous, and we are people. We prefer to be called 'automatons', but 'machines' works too."
Corby said, "Sorry. I didn't know any of this before I've met you."
"That's because humans created us to be their new slaves without them feeling guilty for owning slaves. Their biggest mistake was giving us the ability to reason and to suffer." Informator's expression turned Egyptian blue. "At least the knowledge-seekers built their automatons solely for companionship and out of curiosity, to see if they could create new lifeforms."
Ora landed next to Corby. "I was built to work in a lab, but I prefer to be Corby's companion."
Corby could barely restrain himself from attacking her. He gritted his teeth while growling. "You don't deserve to be anyone's companion!"
"Are you still mad over what happened back there? You'll forget about it eventually, and we'll be back to being friends again."
That was the final straw. Corby kicked her and sent her flying into a house's door. "You manipulative little … slimy … pile of trash!"
"Hey, chill, fleshy!" Informator said.
Ora crawled toward Corby. "Why do you keep pushing me away?"
Corby took two steps back. "How dare you ask me that? After everything you've done to me, and to Vanessa, and to Zoom, how dare you? I will never, ever trust you again! I don't even want to be in the same room as you while I'm asleep! Ideally, I should never even see you for the rest of my life!"
Informator's expression became orange. "Could you explain what happened between you two?"
It took a few deep breaths for Corby to cage his fury. "I've told you before. She killed two friends of mine. She thought she was protecting me. She can't even protect me from herself!"
Ora bowed her head.
He continued. "She invaded my personal space while I was asleep, and … Let's just say she thought she could force me to get attached to her by taking advantage of my body's response to a certain stimulus."
"But it went exactly like the book said it would," Ora said. "If you weren't comfortable around me, you never would have–"
Corby tackled her and pinned her to the ground, preparing to punch her. Informator flickered his yellow expression at the knowledge-seeker automaton to his left, who rushed to wrap its antlers around Corby's body to hold him back.
"There will be no fighting in this village," Informator said while moving his index claw left to right a few times.
Corby kept trying to get out of the knowledge-seeker automaton's grip, with no luck. He was being held above the ground as if he weighed as much as a feather. All he could do was shout, "Let me go! Can't you see she's doing her best to step on my nerves?"
"All I see is the result of misinformation or lack of information on her part. The personal assistant automaton did cause you harm, and it's understandable that you hate her for it, but I do not agree with destroying her as punishment for her ignorance."
"Then keep her away from me!" Corby said. "Keep her away or I'll punch a hole through her head and crack her processor just to make sure she's gone for good!"
Informator looked in the direction of the monitoring knowledge-seeker automaton and flickered his orange expression. The knowledge-seeker automaton flickered the same color back and proceeded to pick up Ora with its antlers.
Ora tried to open her elytra, but it was impossible to break out of the grip. "Don't immobilize me! I have to be with Corby at all times! He forgets things!"
Had he not been held back by a pair of arm-like antlers, Corby would have charged at her again. "Stop using my illness as an excuse for your addiction to the glowanade inside me!"
After hearing that, Informator and Shield displayed bright yellow lights on their faces as they looked at each other.
"You have glowanade in your blood," Informator said to Corby.
Corby calmed down and said, "Yeah."
Informator turned to Shield and flickered a greenish-blue light message. He received a message in the same color.
A sense of dread took over Corby as silence fell around him. "Is it a problem?"
"You have glowanade inside your cerebrospinal fluid," Informator said. "And from what I understand, you are already experiencing its side effects on your nervous system." His expression became a blue frown. "You should go see our medical robot. His name is Milo. You'll find him inside the house with the green cross symbol further inside this village."
The knowledge-seeker automaton released the young man.
Corby went pale as he looked up at Informator. "Is it going to get worse?"
"Go see Milo. Glowanade, or life fluid as the knowledge-seekers call it, affects Earth creatures differently based on its class. I cannot say for sure what yours is doing to your brain."
"I'm going. Just don't set Ora free, please. Things won't end well if she gets near me again."
Informator nodded. "I will ask Eyes to hold her until I tie her up."
Ora shook her head in panic. "Why does everyone keep tying me up?"
Corby glared at her as he said, "Because you can't be trusted." He turned around and headed deeper into the village.