Red and Blue
Brenna R. Singman
The winter chill seeped into the deathly quiet car despite the heater's best efforts. Archie hadn't made the time to take it in for repairs yet, not when he and his wife were drowning in work, slaving beneath coiling LED bulbs and staring at black typeface like pokers to their already weak eyes. Still, they had a deadline. As his breathing eased, there was only buzzing between his ears and a howling wind, pulsing to the rhythm of Archie's and Janet's drumming hearts. Archie laid a hand over Janet's from the driver's seat and gave it a small squeeze.
"Are you okay?" he asked, watching his breath puff out from between his shivering lips. Janet nodded, a good sign. No immediate injury from whiplash after the car spun out. Archie unbuckled himself and pushed the car door open past the weakened snow bank.
The road wove along a mountain pass, a foggy, sharp vista that made the five and a half hour commute a touch beautiful. Over the buried rail, the jagged mountainside sloped towards a partially frozen river below. But the crisp air was now clogged with acrid smoke from his sedan's hood, and the back passenger door crumpled where it struck the metal rail.
Archie knocked on Janet's window. She pulled her coat up to her cheeks and rolled the window down an inch.
"Doesn't looking good," he admitted. "We might need to hoof it until we find reception."
"We have to get to the compound before nightfall," Janet wailed. "They'll come after us." She peeked at the backseat where gray file boxes were strapped in. Archie pressed his hand to the window directly over where Janet's hand rested and shook. He caught her eye and smiled until she weakly smiled back.
"Get the bags."
Archie looked back out at the snow-capped mountains. He could count on one hand how many other cars he had ever seen on their weekly trips to the compound. That stretch of road was a pitiful extension of the brief weekend alone with his wife and away from the labor. It was almost a blessing once they arrived to the teeming facility even though his co-workers were more like comrades than colleagues. Their goals aligned: access to the technology bringing the world into a new age. He never anticipated how much R.U.B.Y. allowed the ends to justify the means.
"What the-?" Archie squinted at the snowbank past the glare of the late afternoon sun. He pushed aside the half foot mound of snow atop the railing and slid over to the rocky cliff face.
"Archie, be careful!" Janet cried.
He inched down the mountain, stepping perpendicular to the slope for balance and testing for any snapping ice beneath his boots. Over the dangerous bumps of the cliff were flat, rectangular imprints in perfect rows following a smooth course along the snow.
He followed the marks down, tracking over boulders that nothing should be able to traverse so smoothly. He could hear the echo of the river below and crunching ice sheets carried by the current. Just before the cliff face became impossible to continue down on foot, he spotted the mouth of a cave dusted with snow carried on the wind. He shimmied along a path cleared by treads, and he jumped a gap to the cave. What he saw caught his breath.
Small machines zipped about. Archie recognized the pinhole sized indentations on the triangular rubber treads that he designed as one machine bumped the curving, bumpy wall where it met the floor, and then projected a series of spikes that allowed for traction. It began its ascent towards a cluster of marbled stones with a pincer-like appendage grabbing hold of one. Another machine-no more than a silver ball on an axle between rotating, thin metal bars with hinges that let the feet slap across the ground in a wheeling motion-stopped just short of Archie's feet. He knelt down.
"Bravo Lima Uniform Echo. You're Janet's design."
"Mama, yes," the bot said. A small light blinked feverishly in green. It was Janet's early coding to display emotion by color and pace like a heartbeat.
A chorus of 'Mama!' rang out through the cave like a thunderclap with sprouting green lights from cast aside A.I. prototypes of long passed years with R.U.B.Y. Archie knew their old work was decommissioned as they moved forward with projects. Apparently it wasn't done well. Archie held his hands out, and BLUE slapped down its torn rubber feet on his palm. He picked it up and cradled it.
"How did you survive?"
BLUE's light bloomed red and still. "The handlers could not decommission us. We escaped the compactor and took to the cliffs. We tumbled into the river two hundred and forty point two-nine-five-five-eight kilometers southeast of our location. We maintained our directive to rediscover Mama and Papa. We shielded the new location to avoid detection. RUBY is calculated as unworthy."
BLUE's 's light flickered. Its "heart" churned and so did Archie's. Unworthy was the closest calculation they could design to feeling hatred or fear in order to activate a fabricated fight-or-flight scenario in their bots' visceral chip. BLUE knew as best as an A.I. could how he and Janet felt. Then the cave was filled with hundreds of blinking red lights. The cave echoed with the vacuum release of a door far off in the dark. Pale LED light, just like their workstation with R.U.B.Y., flooded the back of the cave revealing its tremendous depth. He could imagine the tools the bots could have pilfered in all of those years.
"Archie!" Janet's voice rang out. Archie ran to the mouth of the cave. "Where are you?"
"I'm in the cave! Don't move, honey!" he called back over the merry cheers of 'Mama!' again.
"Cave?" she asked, voice straining to yell despite how the mountain chasm amplified her. "I only see rocks."
"I'll get you, and we need to empty the car. We don't need to go too far after all."