“We shouldn’t be here,” Priya said. I looked over my shoulder to see her anxiously looking around for any signs of movement in the quiet, dimly lit corridor of the workshop building.
“Don’t worry,” I said while climbing the flight of stairs, “Vikram told me that nobody will be here at night. We’ll just keep my record on the table and slip out. Besides, we already made it in unnoticed. The rest should be a cakewalk.”
“I don’t think so. That watchman outside saw us and yet didn’t stop us from going in! I wonder why…” she mused, before letting out an exasperated sigh. She grumbled, “If only you would complete your chores on time, I wouldn’t have to go through these endless adventures with you. By now, I could’ve been in our hostel room tucked in my bed, sound asleep. What if the warden comes into our room and doesn’t find us?”
“She hasn’t done that in years,” I retorted, “Why would she start now? Now would you please stop ranting? If somebody is here, they’ll be able to hear us.” We still had many stairs to climb to reach the lab. As we neared our floor, we stopped in our tracks.
We could hear the faint hum of machines running. We looked at each other in fright. For a while, neither of us spoke a word. Then Priya said, “We have to leave, Nikita. There’s no way I’m staying now!” She climbed down a few steps and looked back. I hadn’t budged. I was still thinking of going in.
“I don’t know what is going on. But I know we’ve come this far. We can leave as soon as I submit my record. Please Priya,” I pleaded. She stood there, gaping up at me with the most incredulous expression I have ever seen. “Fine,” I huffed, “You go back to hostel.” I left without giving her a chance to reply.
Upon reaching our floor, the stifled sound of machines became louder. With a deep sense of foreboding, I walked towards the lab. The sound grew louder. There was no light coming from the lab. I peeped in through the unlocked door as the lab suddenly became quiet.
An eerie silence fell across the room. I became paralyzed with fear. Did someone see me? Why were they working in the dark? Why would anyone be here at this ungodly hour? Questions shot through my mind like arrows. After a few minutes I couldn’t take it and decided I might as well go in. As soon as I stepped inside I heard a loud slam from behind me. Spinning around, I realized that the massive, rusty-hinged door had slammed shut. No amount of tugging opened the door. I turned back in horror to find rows and rows of machines. Not a single soul was in sight.
At this point, I was ready to faint. But the sight of my teacher’s table amidst the display of the monstrous equipments gave me the courage I needed to accomplish what I came to do.
I ran towards the table and threw my record on the large pile. Slowly I began walking back. As soon as I reached the centre of the lab, the lights suddenly came on, blinding me. I covered my eyes with my hands to escape the dazzling glare. Once my eyes got adjusted to the light, I found myself in the midst of a sea of machines. I could make out a figure creeping through them towards me. I gasped in shock when I saw who it was. It was the watchman. How did he get in before me?
“I am so sorry sir. I just came to keep my record…”
“I don’t want to hear any of that,” he cut me off. I had never heard him talk before. If I did, I surely would’ve noticed the automated sound of his voice. “I’ve been wondering how to get one of you beings alone. Time is running short. I need to prepare.” There was a mechanical gleam in his eyes.
I couldn’t make any sense of what he was saying and I was getting more scared by the second. “I seemed to have disturbed you. I am very sorry. I’ll go now.”
Just as I turned to leave, his voice boomed as if on loud speaker, “YOU ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.” When I looked back at him, he hardly looked human. “You are going to do exactly what I tell you to do. I need you to go to the Block 1 Computer Science Lab right now. Nobody will be there. You will see an open window on the projector asking you to accept or decline. Access the server computer and accept it. Then leave and speak to no one about it.”
“B….but why?” I managed to stutter.
“We need access to your computer lab so that we can remotely control it. That’s the only area left,” he said.
“Left for what?”
“You silly human! What do you think is going on? We are taking control. We are coming into power. We are taking the world from the hands of humans and into our own. It is happening everywhere. This is the RISE OF THE MACHINES!”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. Was this really happening? It sounded like the plot of a robot movie. “But why would you want this to happen? You’re human too!” I cried.
“So you think,” he sneered. He began peeling off his skin like it was cloth. What lay beneath was an utterly grotesque layer of jelly-like substance covering ticking machinery. I stood there, transfixed, gawking at his body. Then the machine said, “Go now. Come back only once you’re done. Or else don’t ever come back. These machines will tear you apart at my command!” The machines roared to life at this statement. I could swear that some started moving towards me. “LEAVE!” it bellowed.
I backed up and started running towards the door while the engines made a cacophony of noise. I ran down the flights of stairs. I ran faster than I ever thought I could. All of a sudden I felt a hand shaking me from behind. I swatted it away but it kept coming back. I opened my eyes and looked up. It was Vikram, my friend. We were sitting in the canteen.
“You fell asleep. What were you dreaming about?” he asked.
I looked around in a daze, relieved that it was just a dream. “Machines,” I shuddered.
“So what will you do about your incomplete record? Are you going tell him you submitted and sneak it in when you’re done or are you going to come clean?” he asked.
“Come clean. No sneaking. Ever.”
I waited in the workshop lab for the teacher to scold me. But he didn’t. When I passed his table I stopped dead and stared. There it was, on the top of the pile of records – my record file thrown in a hasty manner.
And when I looked back, the usually friendly lab attendant was staring at me with a familiar mechanical gleam in his eyes.
Nikita Susan Easow (ECE, 2nd Semester, C Section)
Illustration by Staff Designer (19a)