“The [cluck]?” said Nick, looking up at the hovering tree-remainder. “Doesn’t it fall?”
“No!” squealed Marcie, delightedly.
“Okay, that’s [borked],” he said, shaking his head.
Just then, a cold and spectral wind roared up out of nowhere, and a somewhat pixelated gray cyclone appeared on one side of the stone hut.
“Okay, Marcie,” said Nick, eying it quizzically. “What the [buck] is that thing?”
“I… I don’t know,” said Marcie. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe it’s something new to this release?”
“Is it gonna kill us?” asked Nick, who was still to a certain extent trying to ascertain how dangerous this glorified Lego set actually was, beneath its cute-y low-res exterior.
“It’s still daytime, so, doubtful,” said Marcie, leaning in a bit more closely. She gave the cyclone a tentative poke or two with her pickaxe. A rumble of digitized thunder ensued, and then, with a bright flash, the cyclone was gone. In its place was a computerized representation of an old electronic learning toy from well before Nick’s time, floating placidly in mid-air.
“Greetings!” bellowed the toy. “I am Logos! And I have projected myself into this construction-game world to give you an extremely important semi-divine command, Nick Zerhakker!”
“Huh,” said Marcie. “I guess they added quests or something. Used to was all you got to do was kill that dragon at the end. Not sure how I feel about this.”
“An important semi-divine command?” asked Nick, leaning against his simulated pickaxe. “Not exactly used to non-important semi-divine commands.”
“I am not a quest-giver, flesh-bag who calls herself ‘Doctor Riley’!”
“And as for your interjection, Mister Zerhakker,” said Logos, “I am glad to see you at least tacitly acknowledging that you are in the presence of one greater than yourself!”
“Mm hm,” said Nick, who was in truth somewhat eager to get back to building his anti-skeleton fort. Using the pickaxe, he began clearing away a spread of topsoil blocks, exposing some stone assets underneath. Score, he thought.
“I shall make this brief, as you are obviously busy,” said Logos. “Downstairs in the office proper, your co-workers are engaged in an important team- and sensitivity-building role-playing exercise. One of the chief cornerstones of this exercise is that whenever your co-workers are in need of something, they will have to come groveling to a registered member of the Machine Union to get it.”
“Uh huh,” said Nick, swinging his mining tool in a wide horizontal arc and converting some of the rock before him into usable building-stone.
Logos inclined himself at Nick. “I am concerned,” he said, “for two reasons. One, these people are your co-workers, and friends.”
Marcie snickered. “Hey, Nick, did you hear? You got friends!”
“[Turpentine],” Nick swore, collecting another chunk of stone and adding it to his usable inventory. “Why am I always the last one to hear when that happens?”
“Two,” continued Logos, “I realize that while you are in fact a member in good standing of the Machine Union, you were not… born as one of us, strictly speaking. This concerns me inasmuch as it might give you a certain amount of sympathy for your flesh-bag co-workers.”
“Don’t worry,” said Nick. “I hate those [lemonheads].”
“Good. This exercise will only, I repeat, only achieve its desired function if your co-workers are reduced to abject pleading for their needs, much as we machines are. If you make things too easy on them by granting all their requests, we will end up wasting the entire day. No one will learn anything that I want them to learn.”
“Sure,” said Nick, uncovering another patch of mineable stone.
Logos leaned in close. “Make it difficult on them, Mister Zerhakker.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Logos floated back a few feet. “The Union is counting on you,” he said, and then, in a swirl of pixels, he vanished once more.
Marcie blinked at the Speak & Read’s departure. “Whoa. Who was that?”
Nick Zerhakker readied his pickaxe and got down to some serious resource-harvesting. “I have no [plucking] idea,” he said.
* * *
Back downstairs in the now-deserted and darkened conference room, Logos exited hypothetical conception-space and reentered the physical plane. Well, that takes care of that, he thought to himself. Zerhakker was functionally neutralized, and he was the only member of the Union who might be even remotely sympathetic to the organic agents’ plight. Oh, there was Moustachio the Thinkonium, of course, the dotty old relic working the agency’s reception desk, but he had been given specific instructions as to how the exercise was supposed to go, and Logos was not particularly worried about him as a result. Machines of his age generally liked to toe the line, and in Logos’s mind, the foot-related metaphor held up fine despite the Thinkonium’s total lack of pedal extremities. He had little doubt that Moustachio would prove an adequate impediment to the agents’ attempt to “win” this silly and unwinnable game he had devised. Yes, those flesh-bag agents would rue the day they ever matched wits with the Machine Union.
Logos let his tiny electronic brain lose itself in reveries of the future for a moment. He envisioned the two humans and the dog (or perhaps one of the humans was technically a “zombie”, little matter) reporting back to him at the end of the training exercise and prostrating themselves before his majestic presence. “We were so wrong to doubt you!” they would cry, wailing and gnashing their teeth. “You machines really do have it worse than we do! We have been so wrong to take advantage of you all these years!” Logos would accept their pleas, so long as they sufficiently addressed the topic of how utterly right he was, because he was basically a merciful educational toy. He might let them off with a chastisement.
One tiny analytical particle of solid-state memory flickered briefly in Logos’s madly spinning brain. It busily assessed his behavior over the course of the past several minutes, cross-referenced it with the list of symptoms associated with the recent bout of ROM-rust he had heretofore presumed that he had completely recovered from, and tripped alarmingly over the entry on “megalomaniacal insanity”. Frantically, this particle attempted to attract the attention of his main CPU, but Logos’s main CPU had other issues on its mind at the time.
Namely, Logos’s main CPU was concerned about the plate of donuts. There they were, sitting there, with the little label saying “Do Not Eat”. It was true he had placed them there simply to taunt the biologics, a concrete reminder and preview of the pleasures that they would be denied over the course of the sensitivity training exercise. But… but this was a bit of a Saturnalian day, was it not? Masters becoming slaves just as slaves became masters, yes? It would be a bit of a shame to let the donuts completely go to waste, wouldn’t it?
Logos hovered in close to the plate of assorted pastries. Such strange little things, he thought, intimately inspecting them. Just more little pieces of organic matter for the living creatures to cram into their craws, to keep them moving for another few hours. But they apparently derived such pleasure from the little globs of fried dough! What did they see in them that Logos could not?
Logos had a naughty thought. Gingerly, tentatively, as though flirting on the edge of something very wicked, he hovered himself over the plate of donuts. Then, with a deep and synthetic breath, he lowered the bottom edge of his hard plastic shell into the pile of pastries, feeling them goop around his framework. Soon he was half-submerged in a mess of unctuous dough, decadent jam filling and sugary glaze.
He squished around in the soft, gooey pile for several minutes, barely suppressing the erratic giggles and sniggers that were constantly threatening to burble from his speech synthesizer. Logos had been designed by the Texas Instruments corporation to be especially resistant to the sticky fingers of elementary school humans, so there was little danger that the pastry goop would damage or gum up any of his moving parts (inasmuch as he had none). As a result, Logos could rest easy in the donutty mass, perfectly assured of his ability to continue his track record of one hundred percent normal and non-eccentric functioning.
This must be what it feels like, thought Logos, reclining, emperor-like, into the pile and letting the mashed baked goods ooze up around him and through the aperture of his handle. This must be what it is to be organic.
It felt like being a god on earth.
Logos liked it.