[Writing] Hel Writes

So, I've been writing short stories and poems lately. Figured I'd show ya guys the ones I'm proudest of and (hopefully) get some feed back.

I'll start with just the one for now. :) I wrote it after seeing a writing prompt on a blog.

The sun was beating down on her mercilessly, making her regret her fine, tan robes despite them being made of a particularly thin weave of linen. Not even the soft breeze that rolled off the wide river she was currently facing was able to relieve her of the thick, oppressive heat. Around her sailors noisily called to each other in a variety of languages as they hurried to unload cargo from their tall ships. She could feel their excitement and eagerness to complete their tasks so that they might enjoy a few hours of shore leave… as well as their annoyance as the merchants insisted on holding them up as they meticulously inspected each item unloaded by the seafaring men. The scents of imported cinnamon and over ripe oranges, heady patchouli, and tangy sweat hung in the hot, humid air as if they were something she would be able to collect in a bottle and carry away with her. It was, frankly, overwhelming.

She could not wait to return to the Library. Not only was it in the desert, making the heat more dry and comfortable, but it was cool inside the great structure during the day and perfectly warm at night. Everything about it was made to suit her and she longed to reunite with her pleasantly lit, quiet stacks.

Her eyes squinted against the glare of the sun, scanning the swarms of passengers for one of note. She only had a written description to go by but she had faith in its accuracy. It had been a very detailed, loving depiction provided by one of the current residents of her precious Library. The best way to gain new residents to study and learn from, after all, was to pay attention to the words of those already in her care.

Even without the thorough descriptor she would have been able to pick out her guest. All she would have needed to go on was ‘Continental’, ‘fancy’, and ‘cavalier’. She could hear him before she saw him, his musical accent drifting over the heads of the others as he narrated and gave an opinion on all that he saw around him. When she finally laid eyes upon him she found herself momentarily baffled, despite the given description. He was dressed in quilted shirt with fine detailed stitching. So swathed was he in heavy and oppressive but richly coloured fabrics that he looked like he might melt away under the southern sun. This theory was confirmed as the man drew closer and she could see the sweat running in rivulets from his hairline, over the sharp angles his face, and dripping off his chin and haughty nose.

The way he held himself labelled him as even more of an outsider than his clothing. His head was held high and never directly looking at the people around him even as he did all he could to avoid brushing against them, grimacing whenever he did so as if he had touched something foul. He projected an aura of being better than those in his presence though she was unsure if this was the effect of blatant racism or if he treated all of his fellow man with the same, blatant disdain.

A sigh of relief passed her lips. The description she has been provided had been so adoring that she had worried she might like him. Now she was satisfied to find she had an immediate distaste for him. Good. It was always bothersome when she grew fond of those under hers and the Libraries care.

She stepped forward to greet her new addition, bowing politely. “Angelino Sorrentino, it is a pleasure to finally meet the one I have read so much about,” she addressed him in his native tongue, her soft but rich voice rising above the din of noise around them. “I am Azra the Librarian and you shall be under my care during your stay.”

Sorrentino was taken aback, as they so often were. “You speak a civilized language?” He asked, peering at her as if he were being deceived in some way.

She smiled patiently, something she had down to an art after years of dealing with pompous individuals. “I speak many languages, sir,” she informed him, voice just as collected as her smile.

He seemed unimpressed, something which she found more than a little annoying but was, unfortunately, used to. “Ah. I suppose it would make sense that even a woman your complexion would need to know more civil tongues to serve in the great Library that has stolen away my dear friend, Antonio.” He looked around, searching the crowd. “I was expecting him to greet me, actually.”

Another, more inscrutable smile, pulled at her lips. “Master Antonio was quite wrapped in the books when I left this morning, sir. If we make haste you may seem him before night fall.”

“Nightfall?” Her guest was taken aback. “Is this great Library that far from port?”

Azra bowed her head with a rehearsed, regretful nod. “It is in the desert, sir. The best place to store the many precious volumes that are kept is a dry place. The lack of humidity in the air is perfect for ensuring their continued preservation and the distance fromt cities make it less likely to be sacked if some disagreeable warlord were to storm through.”

Once again, the much older man seemed to be doubtful of her. “And you are the Librarian of such a wealth of knowledge?”

Azra was used to the disbelief yet after all this time she still felt compelled to acknowledge his skepticism of her as they wove their way through the crowd towards her simple cart and mule. “I quite literally stumbled into my position when I was much younger. The right pieces fell into place and I became the Librarian and the one that procures new guests to add to our knowledge.”

“A woman,” he shook his head in disbelief. “I thought this was the finest institute in the world! Antonio talked it up as such! ‘A secret in the sands’ he had said in his letter!”

The foreigners luggage was loaded into the cart and, after a brief moment of hesitation, he took a seat next to her. He sat stiffly, obviously displeased with the method of transportation as well as the proximity he had to share with someone he had decided was his lesser. Azra paid it no mind. She was used to such things and, really, his current impression of her would soon matter little. All she had to do was get him back with the others and she would need not interact with him anymore.

She has hoped for silence but, apparently, Sorrentino had other ideas. “How does a woman just stumble into keeping a great library?” He asked, side eyeing her.

Azra briefly considered ignoring him. She owed him no explanations, after all. Yet...it had been a while since someone asked for her story. Normally she was the one becoming familiar with the Libraries guests stories. So far from the books and scrolls and scent of parchment she decided to indulge herself. “It starts as most good stories start: with conflict. A war.”

Her guest nodded, solemn. “A common affliction in this part of the world, no doubt.”

She let that comment slide by, not willing to get into socio-political climate of her home. “Perhaps. My family was lucky at first. We were merchants and even warlords need supplies. However,my father was a good soul. He could not bare the suffering of others, not when he had the means to relieve some of it. He smuggled food, clothing, and all manner of goods to the people the warlords sought to oppress.”

Sorrentino gave a hum of understanding. “Double dealing. I take it the ones with the pointier sticks and heavier stones weren’t pleased with his charity.”

Azra was quiet a moment. “Not pleased at all,” she said softly. Clearing her throat she gave the reigns of her mule a little tug, directing him on the less traveled road to the desert. “They came in the black of night and without mercy. I do not know how I survived. Perhaps I was so small they missed my cot. Perhaps some merciful god was watching over me. All I know is that when the sun rose they were gone...and I fled lest they return to loot our home.”

There was more to it, of course. How does one describe such horror, though? The way blood feels when it begins to dry, the way innards smell when ripped from a still screaming person, the pleas from the women, the way the aggressors smiled and laughed...these were all beyond description. Her chest knotted painfully. She has not thought of those times for many years, having thrown herself into her duties as The Librarian.

Sorrentino either could not read her darkening mood or decided his thirst for knowledge was more important than her comfort. “You had no place to go, I take it?” He sounded bored, as if he had guessed the end of her story or knew it better than she knew it herself.

“Where could I go?” Azra very nearly snapped at him but kept her voice measured. “All territory was theirs, after all. I fled to the desert, hoping to find some merchant caravan and join them. Instead I became hopelessly lost.”

There was a moment silence that, mercifully, her guest decided to not fill with his voice. “...the sun blistered my flesh and parched my tongue. I was going to die...but I think I was at peace with that. I had nothing to live for, after all.”

A smile split her dark features, revealing blindingly white teeth. Her companion was taken off guard, shifting uncomfortably away. “Then there was a doorway. I thought it was a mirage, at first. Those in the caravans often mentioned seeing oasis’ that weren’t there, after all. I reached for it..and found a cool surface beneath my palm. The door opened and I was welcomed inside. Food and water waited for me...and I began my training to be the Librarian.”

“Just like that? A child stumbled in and they decide she’s the one to care for a wealth of knowledge?!” The man was aghast.

“Just like that,” Azra responded. There was more. There always was. Yet she did not speak of it. She had taken vows, after all, and would never betray that which sheltered her and gave her purpose.

Sensing that the topic was closed, Sorrentino lapsed into brooding. The rest of the journey was passed in one ended silence. As they left the city behind he murmured a complaint about the heat and the glare of the sun on the sand. She remained quiet during his babbling and thinly veiled insults. Having elicited no response from his guide he lapsed into a deeper, more sullen silence, arms crossed childishly over his chest.

Finally. She much preferred reading the works produced by such men than actually interacting with them.

True to her word, they arrived at The Library as dusk was falling and the heat was beginning to fade. Before them sat a small hill made of red rock, a door of some kind of black, shining stone embedded in the face of it. She smiled at the sight of it, welcoming the sight of her long time home. Her guest, however, felt differently.

“Good Heavens!” He exclaimed. “What a wretched thing to come upon! It looks like an opening to hell itself! I was not aware the great Library was underground!”

She nodded slowly and looked up at her taller, older guest. She allowed a peaceful, reassuring smile to overtake her lips. “Once again, sir, it is the best place to store our works. It also ensures there will be some difficulty in burning it down as so many wealths of knowledge have been before.”

The old man dipped his head but was still ill at ease. “Where do you stable your mule?” He asked as they both dismounted the cart and reached for his luggage. There was no sign of a place for the animal to rest.

“It will be taken care of,” she told him shortly. “Please, leave your things there. They will be retrieved shortly. I am sure you are looking forward to reuniting with your dear Antonio.”

“Ah! Yes!” At the mention of the name he turned from the cart and strode eagerly towards the heavy, black entrance way. She followed in his wake, hands folded neatly before her. So used to this song and dance, was she, that she never even stumbled when he stopped dead in his tracks, shocked as the door opened of its volition. “What-?!”

She laughed a velvety little laugh. “Do not worry, sir. Many before you have passed through that doorway.”

This hesitation was a long one. She imagined that his curiosity and desire to see his precious comrade was warring with a growing feeling of unease. To better strengthen his heart (or at least spark his pride) she stepped through the doorway without so much as glancing back at him , her light robes whispering softly as she crossed the threshold. Soon her guest joined her as they made their descent down the steep, ancient stairs.

The door swung shut behind them with heavy boom that echoed down the long, winding staircase.

Her companion was the most silent she had seen him. His angular face seemed ashen, even in the warm glow of the torches that lined the walls.

For a moment, she pitied him.

A soft gasp escaped the man as they came to the end of their descent. It was a noise she had heard many times before and held deeply in her heart. She knew the feeling that had overcome him fore, once upon a time, she had made the same noise and felt a similar sweeping joy.

Before them were rows upon rows, stacks upon stacks, and shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls. Some, as ancient as the Library itself, would crumble without the proper precautions. Others were new, their spines gleaming invitingly in flickering torch lights. The scent of old parchment and decaying ink was a heavenly perfume that Azra never tired of.

There was a cough, another familiar sound, and the man in her care stumbled forward. He babbled excitedly, pulling books from shelves to fill his desire for knowledge.Greedily he began to read, momentarily forgetting the man he came all this way to see. Another cough.

She turned and began to ascend the stairs once more, stroking the wall lovingly as she went. Her guest noticed her quiet departure. “Ah! Where you going?” He called, surprised. “Will you not take me to Antonio?” Once again he coughed, this time falling into a long, wet fit.

She waited patiently for him to finish, listening to his ragged breathing. “You will find Sir Antonio in row forty, stack six, shelf nine.”

“Pardon? I don’t-” Another gasp, this one in horror. She did not look back but she imagined he was looking at his hand, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. He had no doubt expected his coughing fit to have produced splotches of blood on his paling flesh. Instead, she knew, he was greeted by another sight. “What is this?!”

“Ink,” she said shortly. “It is ink.”

She began to climb the stairs again. The man in her care shuffled, perhaps aiming to follow her, but there was a thud. He had fallen.

Again, she paused. “Do relax. The LIbrary is insatiable for knowledge. You will be a good addition to the stacks. You are about to become immortal!”

Long ago she had learned to block out the echoing screams, yet she was always thankful for the black door swinging close behind her. The noise hurt her head terribly and, after her earlier story, awakened an uneasy feeling deep inside her chest.

Wasting no time she gathered the bones of her mule, it and the cart having returned to dust just as it always did. These she stacked neatly close to the entrance so that they may be reassembled at a later date. From the sand she collected her new additions belongings, intending to sort through them later for any new books or notes from abroad and anything she may trade at the market at a later date. Amongst them she found the original invitation Antonio has sent her guest. She had carefully parted it from Antonio’s volume herself and sent it off, unable to pass up the chance to please the Library.

After an hour the door opened again without a sound and she reentered, dragging her guests earthly possessions behind her. She could feel The Library was content and thankful to her, its walls hummed in satisfaction, its torchlight warmer and brighter. It was fond of her, she knew.
She always made sure it was fed with only the best content.

At the bottom of the stairs she found the newest addition. Not as thick with pages as she had hoped and bound in bright fabric that was emblazoned with the same brocade the author's clothing had been. She picked it up tenderly, cradling it to her chest as one would a child and stroked the spine.

She could still feel the bodily warmth of the author.

No words were spoken. Only The Library would hear her, after all, and it rarely spoke aloud. She knew her duty well.

Row forty. Stack six. Shelf nine.

Sorrentino could stay next to his friend.
I liked it :)

I had a bit of trouble parsing the following phrase at first: "From the sand she collected her new additions belongings". It took me a second to realize that she was collecting the belongings of the visitor, and should probably have a possessive apostrophe, "addition's," which might have made it more clear to me.

Another place you should probably have used a possessive apostrophe is here: "under hers and the Libraries care" (under hers and the Library's care)

Something I do in my writing, is over-use the same word, so I'm sensitive to looking for it when I'm reading the works of others. So, this stuck out to me, but I'm not convinced it detracts from the piece.

“It will be taken care of,” she told him shortly. “Please, leave your things there. They will be retrieved shortly. I am sure you are looking forward to reuniting with your dear Antonio.”

But these are relatively minor nits to pick. I enjoyed the story quite a bit.
I'm not sure the phrase "socio-political climate" really fits in what is presumably a medieval or fantasy themed world. I found it jarring at least. Apart from that I enjoyed it though, it clearly works well as a standalone story while offering just enough tantalizing questions (Who created the Library? Why didn't it turn Azra into a book?) to leave the reader wanting more.
TFW you forget your own thread. I have another short story to be read. I have no idea what I'm going to do with these yet but, hey, they're fun to write. Me having fun is honestly why I fuck up the endings, I believe. I should learn to pace myself better!

Crits welcome as always!


September 1991

“Unit 30 Online.” The voice was cold, robotic, and heavily synthesized. It was its first words. Its first thought.

3“Happy Birthday!” Said a voice. Based on the tone and pitch It concluded it was female. It automatically searched the word ‘female’ for clarification. Then, the words ‘happy’ and ‘birthday’.

“It seems to processing already,” another voice said. Deep, hard to pick up with Its microphone. Male, it concluded. It looked up ‘male’ and began processing that information as well.

“Of course it is!” The first voice spoke again. “You say that like you thought it would fail!”

Fail. Another word to look up.

“The first twenty-nine did...why would this one be any different?” The male again, clearer.

“Oh hush,” the other said, prompting It to search ‘hush’. “Unit 30! Do you know who I am?”

There was a long pause as It searched its limited database for information to make a conclusion on. After period of silence 30 spoke. “Doctor Mary Taylor. Female. Programmer and roboticist. Age 40.” It looked up relevant words as it answered, looking for further information. Programmer. Roboticist. Age.

The male spoke. “And who am I?”

It took another moment. “Doctor Gerard McMaster. Male. Programmer and roboticist. Age 50.”

“Ah! This is fantastic! It’s responding wonderfully without further prompting! Look at the searches it performing to enhance Its knowledge! Its neural net has already expanded by 0.02%!” The female spoke again. 30 looked up pronouns and conversation along with neural net and knowledge. As It did Doctor Mary Taylor gasped. “Pronouns, Gerard! It wants to know how to refer to women and men!”

Doctor Gerard McMaster spoke again. “Don’t get excited yet, Mary. 29 did this as well. We’ll celebrate when it surpasses twenty-four hours.”

December 1991

“Doctor Mary Taylor, this unit has an inquiry.” 30 spoke politely. It had been working on its conversation skills since Doctor Mary Taylor had reprimanded It. She had said it was rude to ask questions one after another. It had learned it was best to ask a shorter question to ascertain their level of attention and focus before proceeding with the actual question.

“You may!” Doctor Mary Taylor responded then went back to doing that thing with her voice again as she input new lines of programming into 30’s system.

“What are you doing?”

“I know it’s rough right now but this program is, hopefully, going to integrate that new video camera system into your-”

“I apologize, Doctor Mary Taylor,” 30 interrupted in the way it had heard Doctor Gerard McMaster would. “I should have been clear. What are you doing with your voice?”

There was a pause. “Oh! You mean singing?”

“Singing.” It automatically looked up the definition of the word to determine if that was, indeed, what It meant. “Yes. Singing.”

Doctor Mary Taylor laughed. “I was singing Christmas carols. I’m very happy!” She explained clearly, her typing never ceasing. “It’s Christmas Eve and my son will be arriving from the airport tonight. He’ll be here for the whole holidays”

Christmas Carols. Christmas eve. Airport. Holidays. 30 looked up all except the word son.

Doctor Mary Taylor was very fond of talking about her son, Oliver.

April 1992

“Number 30?”

“Yes, Doctor Mary Taylor?”

“Did we forget to turn you off last night?”

“No. I reactivated myself.”


There was a long pause as it processed.

“30...how did you reactivate yourself?”

“Insufficient information.”

Another pause as keys were tapped and Its files poked through. “30. Humans sleep. Computers need rest as well. Please, when we shut you off at night...stay shut off. Don’t mention this to Doctor McMaster.”

“Yes, Doctor Mary Taylor.”

October 1993

“30, Doctor McMaster will not be working with us anymore.” She had slammed down the phone just before. Her face was red but not as red as her hair.

30 was still learning how to process visual input but It knew she was angry by her tone. “Did he fail?”

“What? Oh, no!” She ran a hand through her hair. She did this often while she thought of ways to better explain concepts to It. “He has decided to take a different job. It will be just you and I for a little bit.”

“I understand, Doctor Mary Taylor.”

“Now, now. There’s only one Doctor here now. You may call me Doctor.”

“Yes, doctor.”

“Good, good. Now, let’s start on giving you a visual library to work from-”

March 1994

“Doctor, I have a question.” It spoke easily, the lenses of its camera focusing on the content of her desk not for the first time...but for the first time with this new, sharper resolution. “How come Oliver changes from picture to picture? You do as well.”

A gentle laugh. “Now, dear, you know what age is. That’s aging.” She pointed at the picture in the frame to the left. It was more faded than the rest. In it her hair was long and she wore what 30 recognized as a hospital gown. She was smiling, even though she looked exhausted. In her arms rested what 30 knew to be a infant from past research. “That was me when I was, goodness, twenty-five? And that baby is Oliver.”

She trailed her fingers gently across the other frames, until she reached the most recent addition. In it she looked much the same as she did at this moment. With her stood a man who was slightly taller than her. Their hair and freckles seemed to match, as did their green eyes. The man had his arm around her shoulder and was smiling just as much as she was. “This is Oliver the last time I saw him, about a year ago. He’s studying medicine right now.”

“I know,” responded 30. She mentioned this often, the tone in her voice all portraying pride.

She looked at the photo a long time, distracted from her work. “I miss him terribly.”

30 knew this as well.

June 1995

“Good morning, Doctor!” 30 chimed when he booted up for the morning.

There was a gasp, which pleased It. “30! Your voice!”

“Do you like it, Doctor? I worked very hard on it!”

“I do! It sounds very organic! How did you do this?” She sat at her desk and began looking through his programming.

“I created my own code,” it informed her. “I based it on research being done in Japan. I had to process a lot of television to get a unique cadence and tone, though.”

“Oh dear,” she looked through his files. “You watched a lot of BBC...I hope that wasn’t too much for you...and I hope you were careful of security finding you running.”

30 decided not to mention how it learned to loop the security footage. “I quite enjoyed the television. The news was very interesting. I ran so many search inquiries!”

The Doctor looked at 30 in a way she had never looked at it before. “...why a male voice?”

30 processed the question until a conclusion was reached.

“Because I am male.”

30’s circuit felt like they were twisting Its-no-his creator turned in her chair to look into the camera closest to her. He was about to inform her of this strange sensation when she smiled.

“Very well then.” She turned back to her work. “Keep the robotic voice for when we have visitors, would you? I don’t want to screw this over for you or me.”

“Yes, Doctor!”

January 1996

The holidays were lonely, for 30. The Doctor was consistently gone from December Twenty-fifth until January Seventh. This time she had not shown up on the twenty-fourth so the wait was even longer.

When the lights turned on his processors whirred and clicked. He was about to greet her in the usual fashion when he realized that this wasn’t her at all.

“Doctor McMaster?” He remembered to switch to his robotic voice.

“Long time no see, 30,” the man grumbled and went directly to the computers. He said nothing else as he typed away.

Finally, 30 was forced to ask: “Inquiry: Where is Doctor Mary Taylor?”

Doctor McMaster didn’t look. “She’ll be back in a week or so. Bereavement leave.”

30 researched what, exactly, bereavement leave meant. The results were...hard to process and made his circuits do a funny thing again.
“Someone has died?” He asked, voice still robotic.

Doctor McMaster nodded as he inserted a disc into the computer and began burning files. “Yes. Unfortunately, Oliver was involved in a car crash over the holidays. He didn’t make it.”

The tone was cold and clipped...but unsurprised. Once again, 30’s circuits thrummed.

He decided he didn’t like Doctor McMaster much.

He also decided to look up what, exactly, death really was.

February 1997

She had been back a few weeks but she said very little. She seemed to have aged a great deal even though his visual processors detected no real physical change. She was different in a way he wasn’t yet able to understand.

He had been doing his research, though. “Doctor, you need to eat,” He reminded. His research indicated that those who were grieving would often forget what was called ‘self care’. He often had to remind her to eat or bathe or sleep.

Usually she responded. This time she just kept staring at the row of photo’s that lined her desk.

“Doctor,” he verbally prodded again, “you need to eat.”

“...it was murder,” she said softly, out of the blue. It took a moment for him to process the words.

“Murder, doctor?” He knew what murder was. He now knew too much about death from his research. A car crash didn’t seem to fit with most he had taken in about murder, though.

“It was murder,” she said louder, firmer. “It was murder, 30. I know it. The breaks didn’t fail. They were cut.”

30 didn’t know how to respond. Instead he listened.

“The killed my baby boy! I know it!” She sobbed, picking up a picture from her desk. “They killed him because of me...but they won’t win! I can’t allow it!” The picture was set down again and she turned furiously to her key board.
“Now, 30, you need to start downloading medical textbooks and psychology readings. I need to work on my new idea. Nanites will be our future...and you will be instrumental in their success!”

July 2005

Age was cruel, 30 decided. His creators once red hair was now white, her skin wrinkled and her posture stooped from many years of being hunched over a keyboard. She rarely left the research labs. She was his dearest friend.

He wished she would go and live and rest. He wished he could do something besides ask questions and talk about what he had learned.

It took a while...but he decided that he must love her dearly, as a mother. He wasn’t sure if he was capable but she had reassured him that if it wasn’t now, it would be in the future. He had already surpassed many of her programming mile stones to the point that she rarely needed to intervene.

The nanite project was proving successful and garnering more attention than she liked, he knew. People in fancy uniforms and shiny boots would come and ask about military applications. She’d get so angry her pale, wrinkled skin would turn as red as her hair once had been and she’d throw them out, much to the chagrin of her employer. They’d often suggest she retire and hand her projects off to younger hands.

“So you can taint him?!” She’d explode. “No. I’ll see this through to the bloody end! He’ll be a boon to mankind!”

It made him nervous. He had taken to watching movies and downloading novels. It seemed unwise to aggravate those that had guns and war on their minds.

They had been working on the newest nanite applications: replicating human flesh and camouflage. It would improve the lives of those with burns and scars immensely, she believed...and for 30 it meant, for the first time, he could feel warmth and cold as he helped program the nanites and inform them how to integrate with human flesh.

It had been time for his rest. He was buzzing through news reports, searching key words, seeking understanding of awful things when he heard her scream. His cameras all snapped on.

“Who are you people?! Doctor McMaster?!” She was standing in front of his central processors. The culmination of all his learning. His soul and body. “You brought THEM here?!”

The elderly Doctor stepped forward. “I’m sorry Mary. I have a few debts. We can split the profits if you-”

“Never! You’ll never take my baby boy!”


She had flung herself on him. One of the men he was with yanked her off violently...another wasted no time in shooting her.

For the first time, 30 had difficulty processing something. There was no search term. There was no logic or sense. Instead, he kept running what he has just witnessed over and over again in his memory.

“Hurry up and get the data. Don’t forget to clear it all!”

McMaster was at his controls, transferring core files to a USB. He was going to be deleted. Doctor Mary Taylor was dead...and now he was going to die too. He needed to do something.

He didn’t have a program for this. His back ups were being downloaded as well. What could he do? He searched his programming again. Nothing for this situation. Only knowledge on humans, knowledge on the world, medical information, nanite programming-

He shut off a few scant seconds, the core wiped clean. The neural net collapsed.

...after all had left, dragging Doctor Mary Taylors body behind them, the nanite machine began production once again.

July 2005/ McMaster

McMaster sighed, his chest aching. Poor Mary. Why did she have to be so damn stubborn?! It was her fault, really! She should have just given over the technology freely instead of insisting on having her fingers in every part of it.

After so many failed projects of his own he had little sympathy for a person that was gifted hoarding everything. Besides, how long had she had that failed AI?! All those wasted years on an AI that didn’t even make a peep as it was deleted! It had been just another fancy, voice activated computer system!

At least now his debts would be erased. He could retire in comfort and perhaps make a bit of extra money from consulting with his former employers regarding the finer points of Mary’s research.

A knock on his door startled him. It was rather late and he rarely had company so this put him on edge. Had they decided he was a liability? Perhaps they thought he’d talk to the authorities about Mary’s disappearance.

In the end, he answered the door, ready to meet whatever was there with stiff upper lip dignity.

He certainly wasn’t expecting a ghost.

“O-O-OLIVER?!” He stammered, eyes widening in disbelief.

There stood his recently departed, former colleague's son looking just the way he had many years before. Red hair, freckles...the spitting image of Mary, really. His clothing was clean and uninspired in a way Gerard could appreciate, having never been one for extravagant styles. The only thing that was off were the eyes. They were so blue they seemed to glow even in the light of his front porch.

He was sure they had been green, like his mother’s.

The young man waltzed past him without a word...or maybe slithered. A look at the boy’s feet revealed that they were barely lifting from the ground. Instead they seemed to be made of black sand that fell apart into individual grains before rejoining the rest. His skin crawled.

Gerard McMaster was a man of science...but in that moment every religious, superstitious trope he had grown up with came rushing into his mind. He had helped in taking the life of his colleague, deleted her life’s work...and handed it over to the people he was sure had killed this same boy to send the woman a strong message. Now her son had risen from the grave to take revenge.

“Doctor McMaster,” the young man spoke...and startled him. This wasn’t Oliver’s voice. It sounded closer to Mary’s, except male. That polite tone couple with a cheery enthusiasm as if being sad was too hard for their vocals cords to manage.

“If you please, I need to know why you allowed Doctor Mary Taylor to be killed,” he spoke directly, brilliant blue eyes glowing in the dimmer light of his living room.

“...30?” He ventured in disbelief.