Am I destined to be destroyed today?
I just turned twenty-two like, two weeks ago. Going out so young, by something so stupid… it would be embarrassing.
I don’t want to die again so soon.
All I can do is push for my very existence, to survive among this horde of robots surrounding me in all directions, as far as the eye can see. The curvature of the Earth is populated entirely by robots.
I’m carried along the current all the way to the K-Store, struggling to stay afloat as robot bodies bump against me. I’m finally dumped out in the lawn and garden aisle, where I gasp for air and then instinctively wring the nonexistent water out of my hat.
Well, I made it to the destination, but now I have no idea where Karina is, and I have no idea if they even still have copies of the game with this many delivery robots around.
This store has six floors, each of them containing randomly sorted departments so that you basically have to go through all six of them each time you come to find what you want. It’s an ingenious trick to promote fitness through walking; that or a marketing ploy. One of those. I don’t know which floor has the video games, but dozens of robots are racing up the stairs in a constant stream, so I can assume it’s on another floor.
Wow, am I the only human in this entire store? The cashiers are all robots, and I don’t think any other people were insane enough to brave the constant flux of robots going in and out and rushing about. That might actually work to my advantage if I try to get the game.
Still… I should probably wait and try to find Karina. I really hope she’s safe.
But a four-dollar video game… That’s kinda cheap…
No, don’t give in! Think about your friend! Don’t–
Right behind me is a mostly-empty shelf of clearance items, mostly slightly-broken items and discontinued flavors of unpopular brands of soup. But over in the corner, there’s a stack of cardboard boxes, and they’re each labelled…
(Limit one per customer.)
I grab my spoils and gaze at the box art. The anime-esque characters, rendered in blocky 3D, right there. “Play with your friends and fight to be the best!” the back of the box reads. “You’ll be playing all night long!” Why are they over by clearance, anyway, and why haven’t all the robots noticed? That doesn’t really matter except that I got one first, yeah!
After taking a deep breath, I steel myself to dash through the robots and get to the checkout counter.
A robot smacks me onto the ground, and I hit the floor with a crack that I hope was the tile and not my head. I keep my grip on the game tight, but the robot yanks it away.
“Hey! Where the hell are you going?!”
It doesn’t answer. No reaction whatsoever. Usually robots are a lot chattier than that.
I hop back onto my feet and run at the robot, tackling it onto the ground. It lands and breaks the tile clean in half. I’m at least happy the back of my head probably isn’t bleeding right now.
It won’t let go of the game, though, and I can’t wriggle it loose from its iron grip. I’m strong, but not that strong.
And that’s when I see him– another human blocking the exit with a bunch of school desks stacked up in front of it. All of the courier robots in the store are too confused to leave. They stand at the exit just in front of the wall of desks, but their safety protocols are set too restrictively to simply knock the desks down and be on their way.
The man, greasy hair and thick glasses, is sitting on a chair as he is tinkering with the opened-up head of a robot, adjusting something with some tweezers and a screwdriver. He’s wearing a K-Store Department Supervisor uniform but he doesn’t look like an employee at all…
I get off the robot that stole my game, and it stands up, only to immediately walk up to the man and stand perfectly still.
“Who the hell are you?”
The man stops fiddling with this tweezers and looks at me. “How’d you get in the store with all the robots?” He chuckles and goes back to his work.
“Hey! Why did that robot steal my game? Give it back!”
“Oh, that? I just reprogrammed someone else’s delivery robot to pick up a copy of Genesis Crush and bring it back to my apartment,” he says. “I don’t have any control over how it acts. Blame the owner.”
This is too much.
“Ugh… I’m tired of all these stupid hackers!” I shout, mostly to myself.
The man shoots a glare. “I’m not a ‘hacker.’ I’m a Cybermancer, kid.”
I have no idea what that means, but it sounds extremely stupid and something that will never come up again the rest of my life. I decide to file it away in the “Who Cares?” cabinet of my brain. “So can you give me back the game, uh–” I look at his shirt and read his nametag. “–Edd Rockatansky?”
Edd Rockatansky laughs. “No friggin’ way,” he says. “You know how much hassle it was to move all those copies to clearance and block the exit this morning, just so I wouldn’t get anyone else stealing my games? Then I gotta spend ten minutes tinkering with each robot. These puppies go for what, ninety dollars new? Adds up.”
“Not even one copy?” I ask.
“It’s business, kid. I got a kid to feed.”
“To feed with… CRIME?” I brandish my fiercest pointing finger.
“Seriously, kid, get out of here while I’m in a good mood.”
He’s got to pay.
So what do I do? Well, I step up to the exit. The stack of desks is four high, just tall enough to block the door, and ten or eleven wide.
He immediately realizes what I’m doing, but he’s sitting down and can’t get up fast enough to react. “No, stop, don’t–”
One mighty kick sends the entire stack crumbling to the ground. I jump backwards to dodge the piles of desks falling towards me; several of the man’s reprogrammed robots are crushed, including a few that were waiting at the exit in confusion. The collateral damage… is not as low as I had hoped.
Edd himself avoids being hit, but the dozens and dozens of robots now have an easy way out of the store. And they all take it at once.
A monsoon of robots sweeps over Edd and carries him off to sea. He screams, but it’s drowned out by the sound of metal feet stamping on the ground.
I’m surprisingly okay.
And that clearance section still has a big stack of brand-new copies of Genesis Crush for four dollars.
(Limit one per customer.)
The sun is nearly setting, but I finally find Karina somewhere around where we were first separated, sitting on a bench and using her portable PC. Her hair’s a mess and her hat and left shoe are missing.
“What ended up happening with you?” I ask her.
“I got carried to a toy store.” Her eye twitches. Poor thing.
“Well, I have some good news, my old friend.” I show the game box to her, shining bright with the sun right behind it.
Her eyes sparkle, reflecting off the light from the shiny Genesis Crush logo on the box.
“Let’s go home, right now,” she shouts.
“Yes, sir!” I salute.
Little do I currently realize that my best option in life at this exact moment is to run back to the K-Store, drop off the game, and forget it ever existed, forget that I even know how to play video games. But, seeing how I don’t realize it, I have none of the regret that will soon fill my heart.
Mistakes are being made. By me.