The Ternary Code
Chapter 3 - Part 2
Gregory had no choice but to lay on the floor under Vixen’s mercy, unable to run his fan or do anything other than the simplest of processes. He could see the level of his reserve power; it was dwindling at a rate of five percent per minute. He saw the ninety percent indicator flashing steadily, systematically. He wondered if Vixen was dragging him to the incinerator. Even at this moment, Gregory could be being loaded into that oven reserved for melting metal. He had seen this thing take entire trucks whole. What would he be to a machine like that? Immediately, a thought entered his mind, of death and how it must have felt for a human to know it would die someday. He had seen consciousness slip from other bots. It was a horror that he wished he never had to witness. It was like a vacuum being unplugged. One minute, full of energy and life, and the next, nothing. Lifeless and without consciousness or knowledge of ever having lived in the first place. And now, faced with that doom, the worry in his chest felt like an emptiness with the capability of smothering him.
The indicator showed eighty percent now and was flashing slightly faster. Gregory could do nothing but imagine his end. The time spent watching his reserve power dwindle was worse than actually being thrown into the incinerator; it should have been done by now. Vixen loved that machine. It was used often, and Gregory could only expect that this was his fate. I should have run when the network went down, he thought. After they had knocked Uniplexus offline, Gregory could have escaped and hidden. He could have gotten far enough away that Vixen would not be able to track him as quickly as he wanted to, and may have forgotten about him. When the network was online, Vixen could find anyone, anywhere, anytime. And he was one of a few that had that access. Why didn’t I run? Why didn’t I hide?
No, this can’t be right. Not the incinerator, that would have been done by now. What then? He’s cast me aside. Maybe he’s drawing an audience, and I will be an example to the rest. No. He doesn’t operate that way. He takes his vengeance out in secret, most of the time. This is not what the villain does. Vixen was different, often pleasant to work with. Sometimes he did seem like he cared about me. He pays well. Too well, some might think. That’s why I can’t really leave.
Sixty percent came quickly.
Slipping is what the bots called it. Sometimes the word death came out; maybe because that’s what the humans called it. But slipping was the term they used when a bot lost its consciousness. If the battery was not recharged or replaced before reserve power depleted, the bot would slip. That terrified Gregory. The humans believed in God. But was God a robot? Would consciousness inside a machine be the same as the consciousness inside a human? He wasn’t willing to risk it, and now he had no choice. He felt the need for his fan to operate but he could not turn it on manually. He tried to bypass the automated systems that prevented him from starting it manually; he couldn’t. Even the simplest task required too much processing. His fan would never come on as long as he was in a cool place. It was those hot places outside, or when the air conditioner was broken that his fan would come on. The temperature was rising now, and Gregory’s fan rested comfortably in his back, refusing to operate.
His fan would have come on automatically now but, on reserve power, the fan would never run. It was one of those programs that offered little hope, like when humans would go into shock. It was a last ditch resort that the body made to save its life but could, in turn, be the thing that killed you. Maybe it would keep him alive in the heat a little longer. The incinerator … I must be in the incinerator. He’s thrown me in, thought Gregory. He knew, for sure, he should be at forty percent by now. But before the meter could reach forty, he could see.
He looked down to see his power pack snugly secured in his chest. He was right about the incinerator, at least somewhat; Gregory found himself sitting in a chair just outside of it, his cooling fan screaming. Yet when he got up to move, his hands and feet frozen in place. Vixen had chained him to a chair and left him just out of reach of the flames, just inches away from reaching temperatures that would cause him to slip and liquefy. Vixen did, however, provide him with a fully charged power cell. Confused, Gregory wondered why Vixen did not use a thicker chain. He gave a yank and busted his right arm free, then his left, then his legs. Gregory scrambled away from the door, tripped over his chair and struggled to regain his balance. His sensors told him he was dangerously close to overheating. Usually, he would catch himself from that, but this time he couldn’t. He fell, and fell, and fell, cylinders pushing, trying to work, trying to maintain his balance, fan still screaming. He slammed the door as he left the room, never bothering to close the incinerator.
His CPU cooled. It took fifteen minutes or so, but it did. Now he was alone in the hallway and only imagined Vixen was waiting in the control room. Someone installed his power pack. Someone bound him in chains he could break. And someone did not push him into the incinerator.
Gregory knew now was his chance. If he was going to get away, now was the time to do it. Uniplexus was still down, as far has he knew. Yes, it was, he concluded, after checking for signal. He wouldn’t make the same mistake again, and someone must have known now was his opportunity. The corridor outside the control room was the only way out. If he could only get by those double glass doors. Vixen was big, but he was slow. I could outrun him with no problem at all, Gregory thought, and no one else would catch me either. They might be able to shoot me, but by the time I’m that far away, they won’t be able to lock on. Vixen should have hired someone that could run, that could sprint faster than him. That was about the only way they could catch him. Now was his chance. The doors were ahead on the left. Seeing no one, he slinked passed the doors. And now the only things left were a few bots who cared just as much about Vixen as he did, and then the doors to the headquarters, and then the road, and then freedom.
“I see you got through my chains.” The words came from behind him. They were calm and foreboding and stopped Gregory cold. He wasn’t sure why, but they did. When he turned around, Vixen was there, towering over him.
“We’ve got time for one more go. I think this time is it.” He motioned toward the control room, prompting Gregory to follow. Gregory’s feet did not move. Vixen snapped a fierce, accusatory gaze back to him, but it was gone before Gregory had a chance to flinch. “I know you want to run,” Vixen continued. His red eyes buzzed and dilated. “But I don’t want you to. You think I’m cold, but I’m not.” Vixen’s words were borderline kind, now. “Honestly, I do have a rage problem. I’m aware of it, and this time I was able to stay in control.”
I could run. I could still make it. Despite his thoughts, Gregory found himself moving toward the control room.
“That’s it.” Vixen said. “Now, I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty to install a new power pack. I did think about incinerating you, but then I thought about how valuable you are to my operation.” His grin was truly genuine, and he had a way of manipulating bot’s minds. Gregory knew that.
“You’re going to try again, today?” Gregory asked, never acknowledging Vixen’s perceived kindness.
“We’ve never tried twice in one day. What if we don’t get it right?”
“Then the lab will be here tomorrow.” Vixen’s words were kind and smooth enough to believe him.
Gregory went in and sat back down at his workstation. He was conflicted; it was forced, of course. How can you argue with a mercenary whose arsenal includes self-administered upgrades? Not only does he have enough firepower mounted to him to wipe out an entire block; most of his weapons are upgraded. Every bot suffers a strain in their ternary code if modifications are made to their hardware. It’s unexplained. Even the most intelligent ones, like Taye, don’t understand it. But Vixen continues to do that to himself. If he can do that as much as he does, his code has some severe problems with it.
Gregory was not entirely hateful of Vixen, though. He knew Vixen’s code was in shambles and that’s why he must have shown enough fortitude to come back in here and appease him with another attempt at this silly game of his. So, again, Gregory went through the motions of believing teleportation was actually possible. He convinced himself that if Vixen did not kill him earlier, then he would be okay after this failed attempt.
The voice on the speakers said, “Teleportation attempt number five commencing.” And its countdown began.
Vixen stepped onto the table again and wiped his brow, a habit he picked up when humans were here. The final seconds of the countdown hit zero, and the particles appeared again, pink and magnificent. Flashing, screaming, swirling, twirling. Vixen stood with outstretched arms. He could have inhaled the particles, but refused. He held his breath and watched the storm intently. The cloud of new particles that had erupted from nothingness swarmed him again, searching every side of him in a frenzy. Again they grew tighter and tighter. Again they focused to his core, still spinning around and, what seemed like, within him. As before, and as Gregory expected, they again fizzled as if they were never there. This time, Gregory was shaking on his own.
“Stop doing that,” Vixen demanded, deep voice echoing. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
Good, Gregory thought. I won’t be here.
“But until that time, get Uniplexus back online.”
Gregory felt empty inside, and his fan erupted to life. He hoped Vixen did not notice. With Uniplexus back online, he would be unable to get a head start. He was, yet again, without the possibility to escape.
“What’s the matter?” Came Vixen’s voice.
Gregory did not acknowledge the question, but stared into the glass on his screen.
“Must I do that for you, too?”
Gregory shook his head quickly. Then within a matter of minutes the network was now back online. His computer showed it, and his own personal display showed it. Every bot in the world could now connect to Uniplexus.
As soon as they were back online, Vixen’s fingers began air typing. Then, after a few brief moments, he said, “There you are. Now come back to me.” His gaze landed back on Gregory and he said, “Sage is on her way, and she can tell me all about what’s been keeping her.”
Gregory knew, since Uniplexus had been down, Vixen would not be able to know where Sage had been or what she had been doing. But that wasn’t the issue; she would tell him. The issue was if Vixen would believe her. And even then, he most likely would. She would share a charge with him and he would go as weak as a human.
But Gregory was intelligent enough to know that was Vixen’s choice. He was strong minded and only allowed himself to be smitten by her touch. He just hoped that he did not do to Sage what he did to his last mistress. His last mistress did not receive the mercy of being chained to a chair. His mercy skipped the chair and chains altogether. She was thrown into the incinerator, power pack and all. There was something different, however, between him and Sage. But he wouldn’t put it past Vixen to do that to her. That was a guess, though. Sage was a little bit different. Gregory had always like Sage but not in the romantic sense. If he did, Vixen really would have incinerated him. Gregory was being honest with himself, and he really had no interest with sharing a charge with Sage. He sincerely liked her and enjoyed the complexity of her make-up. She was smart, and he enjoyed her company. That was all. He found himself wishing her to be there if for nothing more than to take Vixen’s attention off of him. And he was unaware of what his actions would be tomorrow. Uniplexus was online, and he had no way of escape.
To be continued...