Two tiny red points of light glared out of the darkness at Francis and the metallic, emotionless voice spoke again.
“Who are you?”
Stumbling backwards Francis crashed into a wall and was about to phase through it when something grabbed him by the throat and hoisted him into the air. His limbs froze, his mind scrabbled about wildly in terror and his stupid power refused, all of a sudden, to function.
“Answer the question, human,” the voice of the thing in the darkness said, “who are you?”
Francis stared at the tiny red dots, eyes bulging, unable to breath. The fingers around his neck were icy cold. He opened his mouth and tried to speak, but no words would come. The grip around his throat loosened a little and he gasped, drawing in a lungful of air that felt like a blast of flame.
“F-francis,” he said, breathing heavily, “I’m Francis.”
There was silence for a second, then the fingers around his neck eased entirely and Francis fell to the floor with a thump. He massaged his throat and looked up at the little red dots. They turned away from him and headed off into the darkness. He considered getting up and phasing away through the wall, but then remembered he didn’t know which wall it even was and where he’d end up.
Before he could put any more thought into it the room was suddenly filled with light and he was temporarily blinded by the glare and had to blink rapidly. Eventually his eyes adjusted to the light and he looked up. He immediately regretted it.
The room was entirely bare, the walls painted white. A single lightbulb hung down from the ceiling, without covering. In the centre of the room stood something the height of a man, towering over Francis.
It looked like a robot, its body made of some kind of polished metal that gleamed in the light of the single bulb. Its torso seemed to be designed to resemble the ribcage of a skeleton, with wires and tubing snaking out from within to the rest of the body. The limbs where jointed and finished with iron claws that twitched as Francis regarded them. The face was a metal skull, the two red points of light glowing in the eye sockets.
A claw was lowered at Francis.
“Stay where you are,” said the lifeless voice, “I shall contact the Director.”
The mention of the Director reminded Francis with a start why he was here. He moved to get to his feet, suddenly finding his voice.
“No, please,” he said, “I’m sure you don’t need to do that.”
“Stay where you are,” the thing took a step forward. Francis lowered himself to the floor slowly, trying not to make any sudden movements. The robot nodded. Then there was a pause.
“Why are you here?” the robot said suddenly.
“I’m…” Francis stopped and considered for a moment, “here to…”
He couldn’t think of anything, so decided that he might as well come clean.
“I’m here to steal the Source of super-human powers.”
Another deafening silence followed. The robot remained perfectly still. Francis could still feel its eyes boring into him, those little red dots.
“I know of the Source,” the robot said after a while, “you intend to steal it?”
“Yes,” Francis said.
“Good,” the robot said, “then also you can steal me.”
Francis opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he opened it again. Then, for the second time, he closed it. A bemused smile flickered across his face. Then he narrowed his eyes. Then he opened his mouth again. This time he managed to speak.
“I’m sorry what?”
“Steal me,” the robot said, putting its head to one side, “I can break down the door, though you do not appear to need doors. You have accomplices, yes? Hopefully some of them actually look tough. They can hostage me. We will escape, then I will be free.”
“Right,” Francis furrowed his brow, “can we go through that again. You want me to get you out of here?”
“And you want me to appear to take you hostage?”
“No, I want someone who appears to know what they are doing to take me hostage.”
“Okay,” Francis mulled over all of this, “what are you, exactly?”
The robot had been about to turn away. At his words it looked back sharply, its neck making a whirring sound as its head snapped around. It stood perfectly still again.
“I am a cyborg,” it said, its voice suddenly a little quieter, “a human brain placed within a machine body. My creators are unknown and I remember little of my former human life. The Director discovered me and placed me here, within this facility. I do not know how long I have been here. I wish to escape. You appear to be my first opportunity.”
Francis nodded, aware that his mouth was hanging open a little. The cyborg turned away and walked over to the door. Francis stood up hurriedly.
“What will you do once you’re out?” He asked, images of the thing going on a wild killing spree flashing through his head.
“I do not know,” the cyborg said, not looking at him, “merely to be free of this place will be enough. I have waited so long.”
“But you can break down the door,” Francis said, “can’t you can escape by yourself?”
“And be apprehended by the guards? Truly, you are a genius.”
Francis frowned. Was that… sarcasm? It was impossible to tell, the voice was so inhuman.
“You could beat up a few guards couldn’t you?” He nearly laughed, “I mean come on, you’re a freaking robot skeleton for goodness sake.”
The cyborg shook its head with a whirr.
“I do not hurt people.”
“You don’t hurt people? You tried to strangle me earlier.”
The cyborg looked away. There was something strange about its movements, almost embarrassed.
“I do not know my own strength,” it said, “I am sorry if I caused you pain.”
Francis nodded and walked over to the door.
“Well,” he said, “I can help you, I think, if you want to get out of here.”
Nodding rapidly the cyborg stepped over to join him. Now that he was standing up he realised that it actually wasn’t that tall, only a head or so higher than himself.
“Good,” it said, “then let us get out of here.”
“Sure,” he nodded, “first though I need to ask you something. Do you have a name? Sorry, it’s just that I need to think about you as something other than just ‘the cyborg’.”
It nodded, a motion accompanied by a strange clicking sound.
“Yes,” it said, “my name is Rachel.”
Francis’ jaw went slack.