Liam

There was nowhere to go. Liam was stuck in the control room, all by himself. He wasn’t prepared for this, but he sat down in front of the control panel anyway. The robot arms, normally used to load cargo, were given a different purpose. Liam used two of them to pick up a helicopter sitting on the deck. Then he had to override the locking mechanisms to allow the arms to move freely around the deck under load. The stabilizers didn’t work while the arms were moving so Liam had to keep the arms balanced, even in the sway of the boat on the ocean and the pressure from the wind. Going around corners was the trickiest part, where one arm had to move quicker than the other in a precise ratio to prevent them from overbalancing.

Liam managed all of that. He sped the arms around the deck as quickly as the arms could go, right to where they were coming aboard. He couldn’t throw the helicopter at them, the arms had lots of torque, able to pick up huge loads, but not capable of any great speed. And besides, it would have been wrong to damage such a delicate instrument. So instead he just put it down. Right where they were coming. There would be no way for them to miss it. No way for them to misinterpret it.

And as soon as the helicopter was down, Liam sped the arms off again. He picked up a tank, strung buoys across the path, and stacked containers to make a wall. All in an effort to plead with them, to ask them to go away. Not with sound, but with action. And don’t actions speak louder than words? When the arms were done, when the offerings were assembled, Liam parked the arms directly in their path, crossed over, in the clearest signal yet, to say you are not wanted, go away. Liam locked them in place unwilling to use them for anything else.

And then they came. They were solid, inevitable. They didn’t stumble on the deck, they were unaffected by the wind or sway. They went around the helicopter and the tank, so carefully placed. They went under the line of buoys. They went through, and over the containers, which they collapsed without malice, but only with inexorability, the action of something not only unused to stopping, but incapable of stopping, or even slowing down. Certainly the arms fared no better than anything else. They did not destroy the arms, but only freed the arms from Liam’s control and then cut the stabilizers and locks, allowing them to go through unmolested.

The loudspeaker system went unused. It didn’t even occur to Liam to try. It wouldn’t have helped. What would he have said? What could he have said that was not already adequately expressed? They wouldn’t have understood him, even if he had tried to speak. How could they? Nobody could. Liam waited at the control panel, watching them on the monitors. They got closer and closer. Winding through the corridors. They didn’t stop. They didn’t talk to each other. At every turn they knew exactly which way to go. Liam waited. And waited. He was good at waiting. As he waited, the arms, now abandoned, stabilizers overridden, were able to toss and turn with the boat were able to spin freely in the wind. The arms’ eerie, chaotic dance being broadcast to the bottom-right most of Liam’s monitors.

They were getting closer now, the sounds of their passage audible even through the doors and walls of the control room. Liam tensed up as the last refuge of the scared. Nowhere left to run, nothing left to do, but all of his muscles ready. Ready for something, for the last final stand. They yelled something from outside the door.

And then they knocked.

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