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Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2268312
The janitor of the space station must escape from the site's new electronic psychopath.
Phil's Stellar Day

         Humankind had long since left their cradle in the Milky Way and had begun to carve their civilizations among the stars. Stellar empires had risen, and from those empires, numerous people had ventured into the void of space seeking their dreams. From nomads to merchants, to scientists and warmongers, the celestial void seemed to call to everyone and stoke the solar fires of their dreams. These people came to be known as the Stellar Vanguard, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and control across the heavens. Phil On was a 27-year-old man with an aspiration as bright as the stars themselves. He badly wanted to join that coalition of legendary icons, but how could he? He was just a lowly security guard, after all. Then came the day when the power cut off, and a monster was made.

         Earlier that morning, Phil On had tried to recall a single moment in his life where he had been more bored. He worked on an orbital space station out in frontier space owned by ForeSight, an interstellar corporation that specialized in custom electronic gadgets for the wealthy and elite. He worked as a security guard for ForeSight’s Experimental Research and Development (FERD) station out in mostly un-surveyed outer space. He worked at the station security checkpoint between the airlock and the station proper, and he knew everyone who lived and worked on this metal orb of cybernetic dreams by name. So why? Why on earth was his job so utterly dull? Oh, that’s right, it’s the fact that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE goes to the front desk – EVER! Seriously, why would there be a need for a front desk at an orbital space station that no one regularly comes to or leaves? The only things that came through that airlock door were supply shipments from headquarters, and the station Quartermaster’s humanoid robotic hauler handled that. Phil would come to hate robots. In fact, all that Phil had to do was stare at the security camera monitor, and he did this day in and day out for the last four months.

         One would think since he worked for a company that makes all kinds of electronic gadgets, that he could at least have some fun with the prototypes in the testing chambers (or, as the interns used to call them, toys). But Foresight has a strict policy about not letting non-scientists interact or even observe their client’s commissioned creations. So no one, not even the lowliest of the nerds on this halved metal ball would tell him anything. Also, the station Head of Research, Randal Marscott, a tall, slightly pudgy 40-year-old man had specifically forbidden any horsing around with them. You could thank Enrique, the station janitor and Phil’s only friend on this metal bowl of disappointment, for that. About a week ago, he had messed around with the prototype inertia cannon and punched a bloody hole through Alita’s cat. Sure, she was an irritable, strict, and sometimes violent woman. Sure, she gave Phil the annoying nickname “cameraman”, and she constantly got on Phil’s case for not clocking out before leaving his post. Regardless, it was sad seeing her come to tears over her halved hairy friend. It really didn’t help that that was the only thing her late husband, who she dearly loved, left her after dying in the War in Heaven. Regardless, Randal went to work making sure that no one could play with the prototypes anymore. They were all locked away in the big vault in the R&D division which only Randal and Phil’s boss, Alita, could access. In hindsight that was a bad idea.

         There Phil was, sighing after winning his fifth game of 3-Dimensional Solitaire in a row. It looked like it would be yet another dull day of watching cameras pointed at dull metallic hallways and the many lab doors which he wasn’t allowed in. At least he could finally take his break. He made sure to clock out at the terminal outside his office door, so Alita wouldn’t make good on her threat to get the power-fist prototype from the vault and… Phil didn’t want to finish that remembering that conversation. He walked to the elevator and found that – surprise – it was out of order. Phil just took the stairs instead. He thought that with so many technologically capable people all living in one place, at least someone should fix the myriad of issues this incomplete orb had.

         As he exited the stairwell, he noticed how empty the main hall was. Normally, Enrique was up here cleaning up a mess. Where was everyone? Oh, that’s right, Phil thought, Randal had said the eggheads would be testing a new project of theirs with Alita. Phil couldn’t remember everything Randal had said in his overcomplicated weekly newsletter. It didn’t matter to Phil though, he just kept walking towards the break room. He opened the break room door and observed the one place he could truly be at peace on the FERD. The red leather chairs and checkered floor made it look like a 1950’s American diner, but it was the only place he could really relax without having to check the cameras to see if Alita was nearby.

         And as though the devil himself was giving Phil the middle finger, the moment he sat down, the power cut out. Alright, what utter jackassery was this? He had just picked up the latest issue of his favorite magazine, The Vanguard’s Progress, and the station itself denies him the light to read it with? Phil cursed his luck. It figured this would happen on his break. He’d bet the reactor had a shut down from all the energy whatever Randal’s newest project was. After waiting for a few minutes to see if the problem would fix itself, Phil rolled his eyes. No “genius” experiment was going to interrupt his personal time; he wasn’t getting paid enough to care. He would go to Enrique’s closet and borrow his flashlight. Then he could get back to reading about the Stellar Vanguard’s latest exploits – A squad of explorers was supposedly in this sector, and Phil wanted to know what they planned on doing here!

         The dark hallways were barely lit with red-tinted emergency lights. Enrique’s door was just at the end of this corridor - “D – d - does it k-k-k-know that I have arisen-en-*error*” … What was that? Phil looked up where the public announcement box was, listening for the quiet voice that came from its dark corner. Nothing. Was this a prank? Enrique had once told him that the interns tried to screw with him by hijacking the PA system to try to convince him the station was haunted. Phil stopped wondering when he opened the door to Enrique’s closet. There, a 6 ft tall arachnid-like security robot, with its sharp legs covered in a dark maroon liquid, turned to face Phil. Underneath it, a body lay in pieces, strewn about the shelves of his friend’s closet. Phil closed the door with the speed and grace of a dying elephant. Okay then. This was NOT a prank. Good to know. Obviously, it took a moment for the gravity of what Phil had seen to sink in. The moment it hit home, he snapped out of his shocked stupor and started running. Holy Cungadero (one of the fake swear-words Enrique taught him), a security robot was on the fritz! I mean, it shouldn’t have been surprising, given how often Enrique said the walking blenders malfunctioned. “Has-s the m-m-mouse reali-i-i-ized the cat’s plan?” Phil knew he heard something that time. Phil turned toward the PA box and called out. He asked if whoever was there knew what was going on. The moment he yelled, the hallway security turret gun went on alert. The voice from the PA box said, “There is only the one who ends idiots like yo-yo-you, cameraman.”

         Cameraman?... Oh. Ooooooh. OH NO. It was Alita. And she was PISSED. With an ungraceful leap, Phil dropped into the maintenance shaft and the turret gun fired into the floor where he had been standing. Falling like a beanbag onto the floor, Phil looked up in search of a hiding place. He knew that since Alita was hunting him down, he wouldn’t have much time. She somehow had accessed all the station’s security systems, so he needed to plan his next move fast. The maintenance shaft was the one Enrique had rigged to be a blind spot in the camera system. They had played cards in that place many times – Phil hoped Enrique was okay. He turned to see the magnificent old man beside him, covered in oil and wires. Enrique was holding the inertia cannon prototype, or as he called it, his “boomstick”, with his mop strapped to his back. Phil could barely hold back his joy at seeing his old friend alive, well, and armed.

          Enrique filled Phil in on what had happened. Apparently, the scientists were trying to develop a semi-autonomous security system that would make Phil’s job irrelevant. They needed a human mind to connect to the neural interface and link with the station A.I. to complete the process. In a moment of pure, unadulterated genius, Alita volunteered to take the position. It figures she would be involved in something like this. Enrique wondered why the team thought it was a good idea to appoint an unstable woman, who only a month ago lost her husband (the light of her world), to a task which required a sound and stable mind for the AI to build itself upon. Thanks again for killing her cat, Enrique. No, no, Phil knew he was sorry about that, and – never mind, Phil was sorry he ever brought it up. Now, what had Enrique been saying? Enrique continued, “After the science team finished hooking her up to the station, either someone screwed up the wiring, or she and the A.I. collectively went postal and started mailing people, left and right, straight to the afterlife.” Enrique said he had been running for the past 3 minutes from the station’s now hostile murder-mincing robots as A.I.lita went on a rage-fueled revenge rampage.

         Both Enrique and Phil were extremely lucky to be alive. The only reason Enrique was still among the living was that he had snuck the inertia cannon from the vault. He met one of the murder droids near the entrance to the shaft, but his boomstick made short work of it. That explained the mess of robot parts outside the shaft, and why Enrique was covered in oil and wires. But regardless, Enrique assured Phil everything was going to be okay from here on out because Enrique had turned on one of the station's many emergency distress beacons. If the Stellar Vanguard really were in this system, they would come to save them. They just needed to sit tight and wai- *Ding - Dong* “Warning. Station Oxygen Venting. Please hold for asphyxiation.” Scratch that, they needed to get the heck off this station, and fast.

         Phil and Enrique had one chance of making it out of here. They made a mad dash for the emergency shuttle just outside the airlock by the main desk. Enrique peeked around the corner, eyeing the turret gun that was hunting for survivors. He picked up one of the dead security droid’s legs with the inertia cannon’s beam and fired it straight through the sentry. With the threat of bullets bursting through their heads taken care of, they rushed down the hallway and towards the stairs. Phil couldn’t help but give thanks that the incompetent construction workers had not put turrets in the stairwell. Phil opened the stairwell door and ducked as a familiar hand flew above his head. Oh, it was just the Quartermaster’s robot, and… oh shoot, OH NO, IT HAD THE POWER-FIST!!! The door frame beside Phil crumpled like paper from the force of the blow he dodged. Phil rolled like an awkward armadillo away from the robot and hit his head on the doorframe to his office. As Phil got up, reeling from the disorienting blow, a more precise, painful blow to his chest followed, and Phil flew into the airlock door.

          The Quarter Master’s robot marched toward him as Phil tried to crawl away, clutching his chest, feeling the blood that belonged there coming out of his mouth. “About time I-I-I smacked you with this, cameraman” the robot vocalized under Alita’s insanity-driven influence. “DO you remember that threat I made to you last Mond-d-day, Phil? I think it’s about t-t-t-t-time I made good on that. Say your prayers, you – “…and that was all that she could say before a computer rammed into the back of her head. Enrique had once again saved Phil’s life.

          Enrique walked over to the wrecked electronic puppet, picked it up with the inertia cannon, and fired the mess at the elevator shaft. The door gave way, and wires snapped as the elevator car came rushing down to crush the scrapped robot with a tremendous crash. “I didn’t like that leaky bucket of bolts anyway”, Enrique said. Still wracked with pain, Phil still smiled at his friend’s quip. Enrique holstered the inertia cannon on his back and grabbed Phil’s arms, dragging him through the airlock.

         When the airlock door opened Phil saw men in tactical armor aiming guns at them. And then he saw their logo. “About time you fellas showed up,” Enrique said. One of the men spoke “And do what? Leave our best infiltrator agent for dead? No chance, ‘Janitor’.” Phil smirked. It wasn’t the way Phil had thought he would meet one of his heroes from the Stellar Vanguard, but who better than a friend to be your hero.

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