Snippets: Scattered in the Sand

August 5, 2009

Qī gritted his teeth as the sandstorm struck, and he felt his clothing vanish like wisps of air. He skin followed suit, flayed from his back, demonstrating all the resistance of wet tissue paper against the force of the burning sand. He kept silent, though, despite the pain. He kept his head low and between his arms, and kept his weight firmly pressed against the bunker’s broken door – if he didn’t keep it shut, there would be nothing standing between the storm and those inside. And the Professor – and Susan – didn’t have an android’s metal frame. Bereft of flesh, they would be lifeless piles of blood and bone… if the storm left them with even that.

For Qī, the loss brought only discomfort… and pain.

The pain was artificial, just a thousand warning sensors alerting him to the damage his frame had taken. To the loss of his outer layer that let him blend in among human society, and to the ravages the sandstorm was visiting on his inner shellas it scoured the metal dry and searced for any weakness, any crevice, in which it could reach his fragile innermost workings. For the earlier iterations of his model, that had been all that ‘pain’ was – a warning they were in need of repair, and should seek assistance and maintenance at the earliest opportunity.

Yet… it was a flawed system. Even with such warnings labelled as urgent, the first androids seemed to take almost a leisurely approach to damage, letting other priorities take the lead over repair and rest. It should have worked – they rationally understood the dangers of leaving damage unattended. But it wasn’t quite enough. They were too willing to reason aside the risks, and put off repair… until it was too late.

So they added the capacity for pain. Qī felt it as keenly as any human did – more so, even, since he had no hope of the pain easing, no chance of respite. His body’s sensors registered the damage that had been done, and sent the sensation of pain, an urgent and unyielding command to ensure he addressed the problem as quickly as he could.

It was purest agony.

In a human mind, that much unrelenting sensation could drive a man mad. Qī didn’t have that risk… or that chance of escape, depending on how one looked at it. And given how long the Professor predicted the sandstorm would run, that meant he had nothing to look forward to except endless pain for hours to come…

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