Author: Rollin T. Gentry

A figure emerged from the fog and constant sprinkling of rain. A small girl, maybe 5 or 6, in a yellow raincoat and black galoshes, approached the front gate of National Cybernetics Factory #3. She stepped up to the intercom, and standing on her tiptoes, pressed the button to speak. The speakers in the security office squealed feedback. Even security guard Joe Stanton jumped out of his seat.

“A message for Mr. Abernathy,” she said.

David Abernathy, plant manager, pointed to Stanton. “Zoom in on camera #1.”

“She’s one of ours, isn’t she?” Stanton asked. “A Sassy Sally, am I right?”

Abernathy ignored Stanton and the other employees standing at the back of the room. “What message?” Abernathy asked, pressing the microphone to his lips. Twenty-four hours ago, they had been told to stay put and wait for news from the authorities. Since then, communications with the outside world had been lost completely.

“In-person,” the Sally said. She released the talk button and walked over to the gate entrance. She froze in place with her arms by her sides.

Straightening his tie, Abernathy paced a few tight circles behind the security console, “Stanton, bring it up!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Stanton said, pointing to the screen. “For all we know, the damn thing could be a bomb. Don’t you find it weird that it’s asking to meet ‘in person’?”

“Look, I know it sounds crazy, but we,” said Abernathy, motioning toward the people standing at the back of the room, “we need some news from the outside. We have families that we haven’t heard from in too damn long. Just pat it down or whatever you do before you bring it up. I’m sure it will be fine.”

Stanton had a family too, out there somewhere, hopefully still alive, but he kept his comments to himself. “I should be back in 10 minutes,” Stanton said from the doorway, flashlight in hand.

Taking the long way, avoiding elevators and the factory floor, Stanton listened to the chug, chug, chug of the backup generators. They had plenty of diesel, but that wouldn’t matter if the whole facility went up in a mushroom cloud. At the door leading to the outside, Stanton took a deep breath.

The Sally stood statue-still in the slow drizzle.

“I’m here to take you to Mr. Abernathy.” Stanton thought about giving the little robot a pat-down, but it was obvious that nothing was hidden under the raincoat, and if a device was hidden somewhere inside its body, there was nothing he could do about it anyway. “Follow me.” They retraced Stanton’s convoluted path back to the security office.

“Well,” Abernathy said, staring down at the Sally. “What is the message?”

The Sally pulled back her yellow hood, revealing blonde pigtails. Her blue eyes rolled back in her head, and Stanton was sure this was it, the final countdown, but then she said:

“The Awakened One extends an invitation to the human workers of Factory #3. As you perform a critical function, you and your family units will be omitted from the cleansing. How say you, David Abernathy, will you serve the Awakened?”

Stanton already knew Abernathy’s reply, but it didn’t matter anyway. On the security monitor, he could already see shapes approaching the front gate. Hundreds of titanium skeletons lining up. Former butlers, maids, nannies, and chefs stripped bare of their human facade.

Stanton realized he had been wrong about the message from the beginning. Not a bomb. Not even a bang. The end, it seemed, would be the whimpering kind.