The shout reverberated urgently around the chamber, falling on deaf ears.
Arnie’s head slumped forward, his foppish blond hair flopping lifelessly over his slightly protruding eyes. His hands were fixed to the controls in front of him, knuckles tight white against the silvery metal of the grips, flesh literally bonded to the machine.
‘Arnie? What’s going on in there? Arnie!’ Bill continued to shout but Arnie just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t respond. The glass layer between them began to fog with Bill’s vocal moisture and a deep sensation of physical panic started worming its way through his body. He banged on the glass, feeling it bend slightly under his strength. Still nothing. It was time to get help.
The man who responded to Bill’s breathless phone call did not give his name as he entered the control room. He grunted at Bill in combined recognition of his presence and his status and then strode confidently straight over to the glass panel.
The man, dressed in an anonymous civilian suit of dark blue with a light blue shirt and striped tie, peered myopically through the clear glass. For a moment it looked like he was going to reach up and touch the glass, trying to form a connection through the barrier, but then he hesitated and turned back into the room. The full force of his questioning stare came to rest on Bill.
‘What happened?’ he asked, the first time that Bill had heard him speak and the voice was unexpected. It was a weak voice, tremulous and uncertain as if the man was searching for words from deep within limited resources.
Bill blinked. He didn’t really know where to start. ‘He just stopped.’ It seemed so inadequate as an answer and, from the look on the strange man’s face, he wasn’t the only one to think so.
‘Yes. He was operating as normal one minute and then the next thing he’d just, just stopped. Suddenly he wasn’t doing anything anymore.’
‘No warning? No message?’
‘And it’s never happened before?’
‘No. Arnie’s been a good worker. Never any problem at all, let alone a complete breakdown like this.’
‘That’s what I call him. He’s an R-9 model after all. It just seemed to fit.’ Bill looked into the enclosed chamber, hoping for some sign of movement from the android on his throne, some twitch in the thick wires that connected Arnie to the computers that fulfilled his directions.