A low, red glow pulsed from the middle of the helmet, flashing steady before growing rapid. The suit whirred, and the legs pistoned away from the wall. The arms pinwheeled forward, and the metallic hands flexed and relaxed. The helmet pivoted and the pulsing light flashed, from blood red to a faint lavender.
Computerized language like gibberish echoed from within the machine, before slowing and evening out, and in no time Orlov realized its language was changing rapidly. “…system Prospero uploaded. Greetings uncategorized organism. Identify please.”
Orlov swallowed. The lavender flash morphed into a faint golden coloring. He wanted nothing more than to be away from whatever this thing was.
“Heightened levels of anxiety detected. Countermeasures are being applied.” The voice still bore a distinctly tinny and technological echo, but it had also taken on what sounded like a British accent. The thin helmet hissed, and a track of nodules rose forth from what was the faceplate, in an oval pattern. The bulbs popped with an electrical flash. A glow spread within, and the faceplate coalesced, becoming a face.
It was a human face, though its features were exaggerated. Large eyes blinked owlishly above a sharp nose. The mouth had full lips that spread a bit too wide into a grin. “Countermeasures achieved. Greetings uncategorized organism. I am Prospero.”
Orlov opened his mouth hesitantly. “Um, hello. I am Darren Orlov.” He coughed nervously.
“Darren Orlov,” Prospero repeated, mimicking his voice expertly, save the computerized echo. “You are an uncategorized organism. Please advise your species and place of origin.”
It’s a stinking robot, Orlov thought, embarrassed and amused. “Human. From Earth.”
The digitized face brightened with joy. “A human!” It cried, with emotion that defied machinery. “How wonderful! I have longed to meet you. The denizens of this planet have spoken very highly of humankind. They shared much of your societies and history, before placing us in the lower wings.”
How ironic that the glowheads loved us before we tore their planet to shreds. “Us? Are there others like you, Prospero?”
“I am the only Prospero.” It’s reply struck Orlov as mystic, and when it said nothing further he assumed it was a dead issue.
Orlov touched his commlink. “Kwitowski? Lawton? I’ve found something. Over?” Droning static buzzed in reply. He glanced at Prospero. “Any reason our coms wouldn’t work down here?”
“The terminology ‘coms’ does not register. Based upon inference in your actions, I deduce you are inquiring as to why your communication device is not functioning properly. It is probable that technological devices embedded in the lower wings are radiating varying signals that are disturbing the links between your communication devices.” The face smiled placidly. “Would you like me to store the term ‘coms’ into my database for future references?”
Orlov laughed. “Sure. Knock yourself out.”
The face flickered briefly, and there was a soft, whirring noise from within. Then the face blipped clearly. “Greetings, Darren Orlov, human from Earth. I am Prospero. May I assist you?”
“You can. I need to find my platoon. How do I get to the upper levels?”
“The upper levels are restricted to me.” Prospero’s face smiled but his voice didn’t sound pleased. In fact, there was even a hint of frustration in its words. “There were elevators along the western wall. A current diagnostic suggests those have been incapacitated due to structural damage and power loss. There is also a stairwell, though it is unlikely that it is structurally sound due to aforementioned damage.”
“Take me, Prospero,” Orlov said.
“I can take you to the door, but we are forbidden to leave the lower wing,” Prospero said, and his smiling face defied his exasperated voice. “I must repeat the warning of structural instability.”
“You said ‘we’ again,” Orlov noted. “Are there others like you?”
“There is only one Prospero.”
“Other machines, I mean. Robots. Androids.”
Prospero’s face twisted bitterly. “I am not a machine, robot, or android. I am an organism. I am of the Omni, a powerful race.” The voice snapped with real anger, and Orlov took a step back. He held a hand up, placating.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t know.”
“Speech pattern dictates honesty regarding your ignorance, Darren Orlov.” The face returned to a smile, but now Orlov sensed something calculating in Prospero’s digitized features.
He rephrased his question. “Are there other Omni here?”
“Yes. I came to this planet accompanied by my brethren. The indigenous race here, known as Celestials before they abandoned, gave us names, borrowed from a beloved human known as Shake Spear. I am Prospero. My brethren are Othello, Iago, and Caliban. They are confined to the lower wing also.”
“Confined?” Orlov asked. He felt the hair on the back of his neck stir. “You meanimprisoned?”
“Yes.” Prospero said, playful smile widening.
The commlink burst to life, and amidst the roar of static emerged a shout of dismay, and in the distance, a staccato cough of gunfire.