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Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 8: Automatic Kidnapping

John Barnes
Faster-Than-Light Reading
John Barnes, Author

"Not the liveliest entertainment, is it?" Markus asked.

"This isn't really fair. You can watch without having to do yoga against the straps."

"I'll let you know right away if anything exciting happens. Have you tried working the bonds?"

"Yeah, it's a smart fiber that constricts against your motion. It releases if you don't move or stretch it for a while."

"Duh. My hands are getting cold and numb. I'll try lying still a while. Didn't think of trying that. Nothing like being outwitted by a ball of twine."

"What do you think's going on, Markus?" I didn't like the helpless, whiny tone in my voice.

"I usually have the privilege of not thinking about that much," he said. "Mostly I just punch things that are trying to hurt the things that I'm protecting. I have no idea, except that the whole thing feels like we've been set up every stage of the way. But what they got by doing it, or even what we're being set up to do, that's... I have no idea."

"That applies even more to me, and it's really putting the taste of failure in my mouth. Right now anyone who could figure this out would impress me. I see no way anyone is getting any money, any power, anything any normal scheme involves --"

"Oh my god." Markus almost whispered it; it might have been the first time I'd ever heard him sound frightened. He was staring over my shoulder.

I raised up and turned to look at what was happening behind me. I did it too hard and fast. That triggered the smart bindings, which bit painfully into my wrists, ankles, ribs, and hips.

Nevertheless, I stayed twisted around. I could not have looked away.

"It just stood up," Markus whispered, as if afraid it might be listening.

All this time, the printer-assembler had gone on about its work, making parts and putting them together into assemblies, then attaching assemblies. What it had built was a roughly spherical body, now standing up on a tripod of long, thin, spindly legs. On top of the body sat a sensor package -- lenses, microphones in scoops, or "eyes" and "ears" except that they pointed in all directions and there was no room for a brain between them. Two powerful-looking arms, one long and one short, protruded from the body.

Like a windup crustacean, on the shorter of its two arms, the robot extended a round, manacle-like claw with interlocking fingers. On the longer arm, an obviously sharp cutting wheel was spinning up to speed like an old-fashioned circular saw. It cocked the saw arm back, telescoping it down, to hold the blade at ready next to its body.

The robot walked toward us deliberately, neither rushing nor delaying, with the clear purpose and utter efficiency only a robot has.

Next: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 9: Hacking an Escape

John Barnes Follow me on Twitter is the author of 31 commercially published and two self-published novels, along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts and encyclopedia articles, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer.

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