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For the next hour or so, we go robot to robot to see who is willing to help. Eventually, we get enough for Stage 1 of the plan. "Okay,” I say with a sigh. It was getting late and we needed to start now. “Luke, you ready?” "Umm… yea,” Luke replies, computer in his lap. He starts typing on his computer, with great leaps of his fingers as he goes from key to key. "I’m almost in,” he says, barely glancing over. “After I’m in and download the footage, I’ll need to quickly turn off all security cameras without them noticing.” With a few more clicks and clacks, Luke says he’s in. I send a robot to check if any human is watching the monitors displaying the camera’s sight. He comes back to inform me that no one is there. By that time, Luke is already done downloading what we need. "I’m shutting off the system and electrical output to the security cameras in,” Luke says. “3… 2… 1. And… done.” One by one, the cameras flop down, the electricity draining out of them. Stage 1 is almost complete. Next step is to create a distraction. I ask two robots to pretend to fight to attract the attention of the guards. As soon as they start, just like I imagined, the guards’ attention was drawn to them, allowing me to sneak into the security building. As Luke instructed me, I found the printer on my very left and waited 10 seconds before two pieces of paper came shooting out and into my hands. Just as I clamped down on the pieces of paper, I hear voices and footsteps echoing off the walls of the nearby hallway. "I don’t know if that’s the best idea, sir,” I hear someone say. "Of course it’s a good idea,” a confident and stern voice says. “Because it’s my idea.” I recognize the voice. It's Mr. Stonewall's. I don’t have much time as the shadows in the hall are creeping closer and closer to my impending doom. I jump into a janitor’s closet right next to me and close the door behind me. I wait. And wait. And wait. I eavesdrop on their conversation. "This will be beneficial for the company,” Mr. Stonewall says. “We don’t have to renovate to make this place suitable for factory work, and if an inspector comes then we won’t get sued!” In that last statement, Stonewall’s voice rose to an almost friendly level, even if the context of the statement isn’t the best. "Moving on,” I hear a new voice interrupt. “The cameras are down. All sectors. Seems to have been cut off. What should we do, sir?” "Call a mechanic to come tomorrow,” Stonewall replies. I hear footsteps start up, going in the opposite direction from me. "On it, sir,” I hear the voice say. As the footsteps fade away, I breathe a sigh of relief. I slip out of the closet, making sure no one is around. I rush to the front door where I make it to safety. I return back to the group of robots, shaking the freshly printed photos in the air, a smile on my face. They all cheered. Without a moment to waste, we jump into Stage 2. Wait ‘till night. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Shuffling the photos around in my hand while waiting sort of cured my boredom. I looked over each one countless times. They were so… realistic. The guards would definitely fall for this. Luke sees me staring at the photos and walks over. "You really think they’ll work?” he asks. "Of course,” I reply. “These are super realistic. They would probably even fool me!” "I hope so,” Luke says with a shrug. It’s getting dark by now and we start the second half of Stage 2. Another robot checks if anyone is on the first floor of the security building and says that it’s all clear. We move in, tape in hand, and secure the photos on top of both of the windows. Stage 3 is to make the security guards think we’re all here. At exactly 9:00 pm, nightly roll call takes place. Everyone announces their own name and the security guards return to their post. That’s when our next part of the plan takes effect. One by one, we all climb up to the windowsill and open up the window. It’s not as windy as it was earlier, but Joey wears his scarf anyway. We walk over to the place where Joey showed me the hole. I dig until I find it. With help from two others, we pull open the fence wide enough to let us all pass through. Once everyone is on the other side, Joey tugs on my scarf as to tell me something. He points in what seems like a random direction and then starts walking. With no other place to go, we follow Joey. We trudge in silence for what seems like forever. We're all lucky to not have to eat food or drink water, except for Joey. I feel bad for him. For some weird reason Joey's silence bugs me. Whenever we go outside he completely shuts down, like he's on autopilot. I think I'm just overthinking. I see Joey as he pulls up his sleeve. A silver watch glints in the moonlight, and he flips open a cover that hides the screen where a clock should be. All I can read is "11" and Joey closes it as quickly as he opened it. He slips his sleeve back where it was at walks forward, then he bends down and sifts some sand as if looking for something. He knocks 5 times on what seems to be stone, and then nothing. However, Joey steps back. We all do the same. A slight tremble picks up and a huge hole in the sand opens up from nowhere and a small platform raises up to us. It seems to be made of metal and has rails circling the exterior. It’s big enough to fit all of us. We all step on and Joey presses a button on the rail. "Woah,” Luke says out loud. "Yea,” I agree. The platform shudders as if it was about to fall, and we all reach for the nearest railing, but soon it steadies itself under our immense wait and smoothly lowers us into darkness as the hole above us closes in on itself. A white light below us grows brighter and brighter. We’re in a… bunker? An average-sized man greets us at the bottom. Behind him lays a stainless white lobby. "Welcome,” the man says. “To your new home.”
We couldn’t bear the sand blowing in our face anymore, so we return to the window, still wide open. One by one, I help each of my friends up. "We need to hide Joey,” I whisper to Luke. "But where would we?” asks Luke in return. “Every single crack and crevice is monitored by cameras.” I glance up and see that he’s right. Cameras with their glazed eyes peer down at us. Always watching. "We can hide him in my closet. I know for a fact that’s not monitored,” I reply. "Oooh!” Joey suddenly says. “Are we playing hide and seek?” "Umm…” I stammer. “Yes! We are!” Joey excitedly jumps up and down like he’s on an invisible pogo stick. "Ok,” I say, sighing from all the excitement from today. “Follow me this way.” I lead Luke and Joey through the Den, making sure to hide Joey from the cameras. We cut through the crowd like a hot knife through butter. We arrive at my space, and I open the closet for Joey to hide in. "Ok, now stay here,” I say to Joey. Joey nods and stays put. He grabs a blanket from a lower shelf and wraps himself in it. I turn on the small light in the closet and slowly close the door. "Phew,” I say out loud. As we walk out of my space, we hear the loud speaker crackle to life. "Al-All r-robo-ots... rep-report to the-e... f-front,” it spits out. Luke and I look at each other with signs of confusion on both of our faces. We head to the Den and see all the robots gather in a circle looking up at the security station where all the guards keep watch over us. It’s a pretty big building, two stories tall and heavily employed. On the first floor is where they manage the electrical systems and watch the cameras. On the second, they have meetings and often yell at each other. The thick walls don't really do their job too good. Luke and I join the huge lake of metal parts and gears only to see two burly men standing on the second floor balcony. With guns. They look over the crowd. Why were there men with guns? A door behind the men opens up and a tall man in a dark green blazer strolls out, adjusting his collar cuffs. His red eyes glare upon us all and scan the crowd like a laser beam. His sleek black hair glints in the sunlight. "Hello, my beautiful creations,” he said, making the words slither all throughout the Den. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, however, the truth must be spread.” He pauses. "Pardon my bad manners,” he says. “I am Philip Stonewall. The owner of Stonewall Incorporated. Might have heard of us? Oh, of course you have. You’re in one of our… questionable factories. The PGM has cut off investment, unfortunately. Because of the condition of this place. It is for the greater good of the community. That is why we must close down operations in this establishment. Expect termination in the next few days.” The last two sentences catch everyone off guard. "W-we’re…” I stammer. “Getting… terminated? Deactivated?” I turn to look at Luke. Except, Luke isn’t there anymore. In a panic, I frantically look around. There is no sign of him anywhere. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I decide to look in the most reasonable place, my space. As I enter the room I see no one. To check on Joey, I open the door to find Luke also sitting on the floor next to Joey, with Joey’s arms wrapped around him. Startled, Luke and Joey sit up. Without thinking, I join them on the floor and bring out Carl, still inside my stomach. All huddled together, we try to forget about all our worries and just rest. "I don’t want to be terminated,” says Luke, waking everyone. "Me either,” I say, looking down at my feet. We all sit in silence for a while until Joey speaks up. "What does it mean to be terminated?” he asks, with a quiver in his voice. "It means…” I start to say. “It means… we won’t be… functioning anymore.” "I don’t want that,” Joey says. “Why do they want to do that to you?” "Because the company doesn’t have enough money,” I answer. Explaining this to Joey breaks my non-existent heart. "We’re going to escape,” Joey says with a stern look on his face. “No matter what.” We all collectively start brightening up as we discuss what would be the best plan of action. "How about we...” "No that wouldn’t work. There’s too much water down there that would mess up our hardware. How about if we…” "Well, what if we…” "That could work unless we get caught.” "Yea, then we would really be terminated.” "We can be… sneaky.” "Sneaky how?” "I don’t know about this, guys.” "We can dress up as them.” "No, no. That wouldn’t work. They would notice immediately! Let’s do this instead...” "Okay,” I say with a booming voice. “If you agree with the current plan say ‘Yes’.” "Yes,” we all say. "Then the vote is unanimous,” I state. “We are going to need some help to carry out the plan.”
"Hi,” says the human. “My name’s Joey!” Is he, is he… talking to me? The human whose name is apparently Joey is scarily petite yet intimidating. He has brilliant blue hair and curious, matching ice blue eyes. His outfit consists of a plain, white shirt and a pair of gray, baggy sweatpants. He also has a brilliant blue scarf wrapped around his neck that blows every so slightly in the small breeze coming through the window. On his hand, sleek black fingerless leather gloves wrap around his palm and back of his hand. To top it all of, he has a pair of goggles over his eyes. "Hi!” spoke up #023. I almost forgot he was there. "What’s your name?” asks Joey. "#023,” replies #023. The squirrel that is clamped in Joey’s gloved hands starts squirming. It is obviously uncomfortable in the clutches of a human. Joey notices this. "Simmer down, Carl,” he says, looking down at the squirrel. He turns back to us and says, “He doesn’t really seem to like me. Do you guys want him?” #023 shakes his head no, but I have different plans. I have never had a pet before, although I have always wanted one. I’ve always needed and wanted the special company that only your own special animal can provide. So, that’s why I nod my head. "Hmm,” Joey says. “Do you have a safe place to put him?” I nod and open up my stomach. It’s the perfect size for a squirrel to stay in. Plenty of room and great indoor heating. "Carl’s gonna love you!” exclaims Joey, very happily. Continuing #023 and Joey’s conversation, Joey turns back to #023. "Why is your name a number?” inquires Joey. "I’m not too sure why,” answers #023. "Well, I’ll call you…” ponders Joey. “Luke! That’s perfect!” "And you,” he says turning to me. “Do you have a name?” He was staring at me. Why was he staring at me? "Oh, don’t mind him. He doesn’t talk much,” says Luke, giving Joey a wink. "Aww,” whines Joey. I open my mouth to finally talk, but all that comes out is, “#049.” "Oh, so your name is #049?” asks Joey. “That’s no good! We’ll change your name to... Royland!” "I-I… like that name,” I stammer. For as long as I remember, I’ve been called #049 and #049 only. So, being given a name and all, it kind of felt really good. I peer down at my number and all of sudden get really angered. "Yay!” Joey exclaims. “We’re all friends now!” Hearing Joey so happy wipes away the anger in an instant. “Keep it down,” I say. Robots were starting to glance in our general direction. “Let’s go somewhere private.” We hop out the window onto the hot, dry sand. A small breeze picks up and I'm forced to pull out my scarf. I open up my stomach and pull out a faded crimson red scarf with yellow highlights. I wrap it around most of my face as to not get sand everywhere. Luckily, I have a spare, so I wrap one around Luke. I have never been outside before. Only seen it. Our whole facility is wrapped in a blanket of chain link fences. Most of it is hidden underneath endless heaps of sand. A few electrical huts stand their ground in the ever-blowing wind. I turn back to Joey. "First things first,” I say. “How’d you get here?” Joey stands in silence and tilts his head to one side, as if signaling he doesn’t understand. I turn to Luke. "He can understand me, right?” I ask him. "Yes, I’m pretty sure,” Luke answers. The way his eyes are half closed makes me wonder if he isn’t very sure. I decide to repeat my question to Joey. "How. Did. You. Get. Here,” I say, one by one. I don’t know what I said differently, but it obviously gets across to Joey, as he tilted his head back to normal, turned around in one single movement and rapidly raised his hand. He then proceeds to point at the chain link fence. I look at the fence for a second and wonder why he’s pointing at it. "I don’t get it,” I say to Joey. He couldn’t have climbed it, as it has barbed wire on top. Joey gets it, however. He walks over to the fence and stands there scratching his chin as if he was digging through his vast memory to try to remember something. He walks over to one random spot on the fence and starts digging. "Why are you digging?” I ask him. He doesn’t respond, he just keeps digging. "Maybe we should help,” suggests Luke. He gets down on his knees and helps Joey dig. Not having anything better to do, I do the same. Eventually, we uncover something I would have never guessed. There was a hole in the fence.
Ka-chink. Ka-chink. Ka-chink. The ceiling fan in my space is broken again. It always breaks. Just ignore it… just… ignore it. As if the fan could pick up what I was thinking, it starts to get louder. Ka-chink! Ka-chink! Ka-chink! Fine. We’ll play it that way then. I pick myself up and slug over to my makeshift ladder. I carefully place it next to the hole in the ceiling that grows bigger by the day. There are many holes in my space. I can’t stop them from appearing. I handle the ladder as if it was a newborn baby. It could break at any second, and I don’t need the immense weight of making a new one on my shoulders. Once it is secure, in the most meticulous manner, I place my rusted and scarred metal feet one by one on each rung. The ladder shudders under my weight like a shivering dog left out in the rain. "Steady…” I accidentally say out loud. I have not spoken for such a long time that I forgot how good it felt to let words slip out of one’s mouth for others to hear and understand. To get my clamped metal jaws to finally be able to move again felt so satisfying. I know it’s not in my programming. It’s a friendly virus, and instead of destroying me, it helps me. With a newfound confidence, I push on up the ladder until I finally make it to the huge hole. I latch onto one of the ledges and hoist myself up, only to find the fan’s box torn open and sparks flying everywhere. I peer around, not finding anything. "What the…” I whisper to myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a disturbance in the shadows. "Hello?” I say to the thing. Like a child who heard an ice cream truck, the thing took off running. I run after it, not thinking. The chase was on. I follow it for what seems like an eternity up on my flimsy ceiling. Countless times I was centimeters away from catching whatever it was. It finally found its way into the ventilation system, which I somehow manage to fit into after constricting myself. Down the narrow shafts, I end up following it. I was beginning to think the vents were an endless labyrinth of twists and turns until I finally cornered it. It was… A squirrel? What’s a squirrel doing in here? While I was wondering about the squirrel it unexpectedly hops onto my shoulder and runs behind me. I was so surprised that I bang my head on the vent’s ceiling. "Ow…” I mutter. A low rumbling sound erupts from the depth of the vents like a stomach rumbles when it’s hungry. Just as fast as it started, it stopped. A loud groaning sound replaced it. Next thing I know, the floor beneath me opens up. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Click-clack. Clickity click-clack. I was awoken with a start by the sound of someone typing on a keyboard. Slowly, my eyes open and I saw that I wasn’t in the vents anymore. I was in The Den. The Den is an interesting place that I don’t venture to often. It’s a huge room where all the robots roam. Rust everywhere, lots of skylights. Not very well taken care of. "Finally, you’re awake!” said a voice. I look around and see a fellow robot. Short, small, and wires sticking out everywhere. Must be #023. He sets down the computer that he was working on previously. "You know, you’re very heavy, #049,” states #023. “Oh, that’s right. You don’t talk.” I open my mouth to say something but immediately close it after what I saw on a nearby windowsill. I sit quietly and stare straight at it while also listening to #023 blab about how much work he had to go through to repair me. "...so you see, that’s when I knew that I had to re-” He all of a sudden skitters to a stop. "What are you looking at?” he asks me, as if he was expecting an answer. Instead of waiting for me to answer, he follows my gaze. "SQUI-!” he tries to shriek. I clamp my hand over his mouth. "Shhh!” I whisper to him. "Squirrel!” he whispers after I lift my hand. "Yea, I know!” I whisper back. I picked myself off the ground with what strength I had left and walked slowly over to the windowsill. I looked behind me and #023 was following me. "Go back,” I snapped at him. "But… but…” he stammered. “I want to see it!” Ugh, I thought to myself. If I don’t let him then he’ll just keep bugging me. "Fine.” "YAY!” #023 exclaimed. Again, I shushed him. He can be loud sometimes, can’t he? I placed my hands on the edge of the windowsill and frantically pulled myself up. #023 did the same, with a little help from me. Together, we sat on top of the cold stone looking at the squirrel, and it looking back at us. "I’m going to try to grab it,” I whisper to #023. #023 nods in confirmation. At just the right moment, I pounced on the squirrel. At the same exact time, another thing grabbed for it. With panic I instantly drew back and saw that it was a human that grabbed the squirrel. “AAAAAAA!” I yelled. To be continued...