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One of These Is Not Like the Others...
Toggle wasn't fond of having grown up in Clockwork. Yes, the town itself was beautiful, with its lush greenery and quaint houses, but he never quite felt welcome there. With camera lens eyes and a speaker for a mouth, he resembled a machine more than a living being, and many of the human-like "androids" throughout the town made sure that he never forgot it.
"Watch where you're going, you kitchen appliance!", an AI woman once screeched at him while he was out making deliveries one day. He had accidentally bumped into her on the sidewalk, unable to see her coming from the opposite direction over the large box that he was attempting to carry. A timid "sorry" was all that he could manage in his digitized voice. She was unharmed, but in her fit of rage, she pushed the heavy box out of his hands and it came crashing down onto the ground with a loud crunch.
Although the equipment inside was obviously damaged, Toggle had no choice but to deliver it anyway. He was already late. "You useless bucket of bolts!", the AI man who received the package yelled. "Tell your equally useless father that I'm not paying for this!", he added as he slammed the door in his face.
Toggle could take being called names, but bringing up his family was a different story. Even though he would rather avoid a fight whenever possible, it always made him angry in their defense. However, he was much too tired to argue today. With a sigh, he turned around and made his way back home to his father's repair shop, dragging what was left of the box behind him as he went.
His father, Trigger, was also a "robot". Most beings of this type were considered "second-class citizens", doing the menial or labor-intensive jobs that kept the town running according to its namesake. Though they constantly worked hard, Toggle felt that robots were not valued enough. Despite these circumstances, it surprised him that his father always seemed cheerful, no matter how poorly he was treated throughout the day.
"What other people say and do shouldn't affect us son! We can only be responsible for ourselves. If we are sincere, that is enough," he would regularly remind him, before following with, "...Besides, I still love you!", one of his camera eyes clicking shut in a mock wink.
This always made Toggle smile, or at least it would if he could smile. The only hint that other beings had of most robot's emotions were color-coded icons on a small screen. This screen was usually located somewhere that others could easily see, such as the "forehead" or "chest" of a robot, and the icons that would appear on it would persist throughout the duration of their most intense feelings. For example, a yellow happy face would show up when they felt a strong sense of joy, a scowling red face when they were furiously angry, a blue frown with a tear-drop coming down from one eye when they were deeply sad, and so on.
It is silly to think that such a wide range of emotions could be reduced to such a small collection of rudimentary symbols, but it did make it hard for many robots to lie. You cannot really hide your feelings from others when they are literally "written on your face", and hiding from feelings is often what Toggle wanted to do most. They seemed more more like a burden than a blessing. How did humans cope with them?
One of the only times that he felt at peace was when he was repairing things. It gave him a sense of purpose, like he was making a difference in the world, however small, and that his life had some value because of it. And one of the few people whose company he enjoyed, other than his father, was his best friend Abby.
She was very different from other androids. She didn't seem to hold any prejudices against him because of his features or the jobs that he took. In a manner similar to his father, she was almost always chipper for some reason. Sometimes she would become quiet when she was thinking carefully about things, but even then, he always felt welcome in her presence.
Her cottage was across a grass field on a gently sloping hill behind his house. Their proximity to one another meant that they could not avoid crossing paths whenever one of them was going into town. This familiarity eventually blossomed into friendship. During their time growing up together, they played "hide-and-seek" and other human games in the nearby forest. "I wonder what she is up to right now?", Toggle thought to himself, a smiley face slowly flashing on his screen at the thought of these memories.
Upon reaching the door of the repair shop, his hand folded downward to reveal a hole in his wrist that contained a key. Leaving the box of broken equipment outside, he unlocked the door and entered. The entryway was dark, other than a sliver of sun peering through a small crack in the roof, a luminous eye spying on him from up above. "I have to fix that," he mumbled to himself, walking over to a workbench littered with screws and fasteners of various sizes.
"Oh Pop, why do you leave such a mess?," he continued to mumble. A bright orange sticky note grabbed his attention. It was stuck to a pile of batteries that were sitting on the table, holding them back like a minature neon-colored barricade. In hastily scribbled letters it read:
went to help at the power supply station
After reading it, Toggle sank into a nearby couch. He laid his head upon its purple cushioned surface and surveyed the room. A mix of workshop and living quarters, the home was equal parts serious and inviting. On any given day, one corner might have housed a jet engine, yet be sitting right next to a shelf full of family photos and personal trinkets.
He pondered the items on one of the shelves. In a plain wooden frame was a picture of he and his father standing in front of town, each of them with an arm over the other's shoulder. Next to it was a small plaque with two letter B's intertwined with one another, one black and one white, the insignia of a spiritual group whose teachings his father was fond of. The last item on the shelf was a golden wrench-shaped trophy. Etched into a plate on its base was the following inscription:
On behalf of Clockwork Town, this award is presented to Trigger Bailey in honor of his exemplary repair work.
"What a joke", Toggle quietly scoffed under his breath. "If they truly honored my father, then they would treat him better...I know I value him...", he trailed off. His thoughts drifted about as he became more and more sleepy, the apertures of his camera eyes slowly closing until the workshop disappeared from view.
He was in a cold, dark space. He would have described it as a "room", but there were no walls to speak of, just an expanse of inky blackness in all directions. Dry straw lay all across the floor. While standing there, a small ember started to glow among the stalks. Knowing that it may start a fire, he tried to squelch it.
As quickly as he stomped it out, another appeared about a meter away. He rushed over and smothered the flickering flame with the rubberized bottom of his metallic foot, but another rapidly took its place. Little fires arose all around him. He began to panic, frantically moving to and fro, attempting to put them all out. The coldness of the air was steadily becoming warmer. He could distinctly feel the heat rising.
Then, hearing a whooshing sound coming from far off in the distance, he turned his head. A giant wall of fire was speeding towards him, a bolt of lightning instantly illuminating the dark. He ran in the opposite direction, the fire seeming to catch up with him every second. The din of the fire's roar became deafening as it drew ever closer, until he realized that the sound wasn't the fire at all, it was his father screaming, "HELP!"
He awoke with a start, body shooting rigidly upright. A sense of confusion overcame him. He knew it was a nightmare and that his father wasn't home, but he felt uneasy. Jumping out of his seat, he bounded for the door. He paused for a brief moment in front of the house, looking past Wire Forest towards the power supply station. Although he could not see it from behind the curtain of trees, thick black smoke was steadily rising from its location, ashes billowing in a soft wind.
Without thinking, he made a mad dash towards the forest, the spring-loaded joints within his knees creaking from the exertion. He cleared the grass field behind the repair shop in record time, stopping at Abigal's house. Pounding upon the kitchen door with his fist, he fervently shouted, "Hurry! Open up! It's an emergency!"
Before he knew it, Abigail threw the door open, and she and Mrs. Marble came outside with concerned looks upon their faces.
"What is it Tog?", Abigail asked.
"There is something wrong at the power supply station," he explained, gesturing towards the column of smoke behind the trees.
"Oh my!", Mrs. Marble gasped, throwing a hand up in front of her mouth.
"Please go get help Mrs. Marble. Toggle and I will go ahead to the power station to make sure everyone is alright," Abigail stated in a serious tone.
With that, Mrs. Marble nodded and turned on the spot, moving as swiftly as she could up the hill that Toggle had just sprinted down. Abigail grabbed Toggle's hand and together they headed for the forest.
Unfortunately, Wire Forest was named after the fact that the exposed roots of all of the trees within it made circuit-like patterns upon the ground. This made it nigh impossible to run through, which was demonstrated by Abigail when she tripped and fell shortly upon entering its domain.
Toggle helped her up, and with a slightly embarassed "Thanks" in response, they continued to walk briskly through the dense foliage. When the vegetation lessened, they knew they were getting closer to the clearing where the power supply station was.
"There it is! Up ahead," Toggle pointed towards a long cement building visible beyond the branches. Soon they stood before a massive concrete monolith, streamers of flame dancing upon its roof in spiralling patterns.
Without hesitation, Toggle reached out for the handle of the front door.
"Wait!," Abigail cautioned, pulling him away from it. She placed the back of one hand upon the surface of the door to check its temperature, and then immediately moved her and Toggle against the wall adjacent to it. Pulling on the handle, the entrance became the nozzle of a flamethrower, spewing out a ball of fire several meters past its frame. Their position was far enough back behind the door to completely avoid its violent path.
"Woah! How did you know?," Toggle questioned.
"Backdraft," Abigail replied.
"It's a concept that I read about in a human book."
"...You really are something else Abby."
"Tog, we have to get inside."
The hallway was partially blocked by a flaming log, a rafter from the now collapsing roof. They carefully maneuvered around it to make their way to the control room at the end. Inside was Trigger at a complex looking console covered in buttons, switches, and knobs that operated the whole station.
"Pop!," Toggle called out.
There was no respone, but the wheels of Trigger's continuous track kept spinning forward and reverse so that he repeatedly smacked into the console, sparks emitting every time he crashed into it. Toggle ran over to him and enclosed him within his arms to make him stop moving. Abigail followed.
"What's wrong with him?," Toggle asked. Filling with concern, a green worry icon vibrated onto his screen.
"I don't know, but let's see if we can figure it out," Abigail said soothingly. She raised a hand to a small compartment on the back of Trigger's head. When the panel unlatched, some of the wires of his neural network bulged out in a knot. She gently unwound it and reconnected the loose plugs to their corresponding sockets. As she clicked the panel shut, a rising tone rang out indicating that he was powering on again.
"Son, what are you doing here? Where are we?," he inquired.
"Dad, we can talk about that later. We've got to get out of here!," Toggle quickly related.
Trigger's eye lenses zoomed in and out to take in his surroundings, the glare of the fires around him becoming apparent.
"Yes, let's go!," Trigger stated.
Toggle hoisted his father onto his back while Abigail lead the way back down the hall. The air was thick with soot that made it hard to see. Groping along the walls for a way out, they finally made it into the clear outside air.
A loud boom quaked the earth as what was left of the roof collided with the forest floor.
"I guess we made it out just in time," Abigail nervously offered, the light of the smouldering heap gleaming in their eyes as they stood back from it.
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