Author: Chris Hobson

On the day of Bard Maglin’s retirement, his scribe made a stunning request. “Your secret manuscript,” he uttered as his master approached the punch bowl. “Where is it?”

Maglin flashed a vacant smile. Pouring himself a drink, he returned to his guests. Did I let it slip? he wondered, throat constricting. It was possible. But even if he hadn’t, Arlox was smart enough to intuit the truth. He should’ve seen this coming.

Bard Maglin hadn’t wanted a party, least of all in his own flat. Celebrating the launch of his final book felt like a death sentence, like Nero driving a chariot while his empire crumbled.

Making small talk with androids dressed in tuxedos and silk dresses, his frock coat felt tight at the collar. The welter of noise — bursts of laughter mixed with clinking cutlery — nearly drove him mad.

Hours later, the final guest left. Arlox plugged himself into the wall recharging port.

“It took you 62.48 days to complete your final work,” he said. “That can only mean one thing.”

“Writer’s block,” lied Maglin. He looked out a window at the double circumference of walls surrounding his home. Around him, dustbots collected wine glasses that guests had left behind. “Admittedly, a problem you virtuo-writers don’t face.”

“No matter,” Arlox sighed, his oculars dulling. “I will monitor your dreamless sleep waves. If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.”

Fear. Maglin felt the word’s jagged contours shape into being. If caught, he’d hoped to petition the high mayor for a reprieve. But he hadn’t counted on Arlox turning him in. “Do you really think I’d keep a whole manuscript hidden away in my mind?”

“A secret manuscript,” pressed the droid, his voice sawing on his master’s nerves, “would only mar your legacy.”

Maglin stepped into his den. Hung with watercolor paintings of the Palio di Siena, for fifty years the space had served as his office. Bookshelves occupied three walls, the books wrapped in aerogel dust jackets. He breathed in their ozone smell. Where would he spend the next thirty years, now that he’d outlived his usefulness?

Shrugging off the thought, Maglin said, “Not to mention how it would hurt your credibility. Just think,” he added, “if everyone thought there were two Bard Maglins — one in the public eye and one still writing in the shadows. Like two popes residing in Rome.”

Above his writing desk was mounted a sword. A gift from his publisher, its blade bore the inscription Labor omnia vincit: Hard work conquers all. It caught a ray of late-day sunshine, gilding it in gold.

Fifty years, thought Maglin. Only to be replaced by a pile of silicon.

Without warning his hands flew to the hilt.

“What are you doing?” questioned the scribe, his voice edged with anger.

“What I should’ve done long ago.”

Maglin yanked down the weapon and rushed forward. Arlox dodged sideways.

“You will be tried and executed.” Pitched to pierce Maglin’s heart, his companion howled, “Think of your illustrious name!”

When the sword swung again, it gashed Arlox’s arm. Lithium grease spurted against the bookshelves.
“I’m bleeding!” he shrieked.

Another jab punctured his interleaved respirator. With a desperate move, Arlox wrapped his steel fingers around Maglin’s neck and squeezed.

“You will die so that your name may endure,” he promised, tightening his grip.

Fighting for breath, Bard Maglin kicked his companion’s torso. Arlox stumbled backward. In one motion his master sprang up, brought the blade around, and buried it in the android’s chest. With a final spasm, Arlox fell cold at his master’s feet.