Cobwebs filled the empty fireplace. She stepped closer. There, on the mantle, between a gold-faced clock and a statue of a reclining lion, lay an ornate object she would easily have mistaken for a hand mirror if not for Hart’s description. The frame around the mirror was thick and
covered in minute dials and switches, but it still fit easily in her hand. She picked it up and slipped it into her belt.
A shadow fell across her. She shuddered and turned. The robotic maid blocked the doorway. Nyssa held her breath. It’s a maid, not a security system. I’m not a dust bunny, so it shouldn’t give me any trouble.
The automaton’s eyes flashed at her. Dirt and spider webs choked the broom to the point where it spread as much dirt as it picked up. How
many times had this machine gone over this same hall, pushing the same dust and debris?
Go on. Keep sweeping and move out of my way.
The maid swept the broom forward, the objects clattering like thrown dice. Nyssa glanced down. The hollow eyes of a skull gazed back at
her before the maid pushed it again, sending the dirt and bones rolling across the floor.
Oh Sparks. Nyssa flattened herself against the cold bricks of the fireplace. The maid wheeled about the room, pushing the bones back into a pile. Where had it picked up bones? Were they the remains of one of Albriet’s agents?
The robot circled the room, avoiding the chairs and table. Nyssa edged away from the fireplace, towards the door.
“Nyss? You all right in there?” Hart’s voice echoed through the door. As if in response, the RAM gave out a high pitched buzzing. Panic jolted
through her like a fist to the gut. The maid shook. Its head turned 180 degrees, and a beam of light shot from its eyes, blinding Nyssa.
“Not authorized!” The suit’s harsh mechanical tone echoed.
Nyssa blinked several times and stumbled towards the door. Her knee hit a side-table, and she yelped at the pain. The whirring of gears filled her ears. “Not authorized!”
“Nyss?” Hart shouted.
Her vision adjusted as the handle of a broom hurtled towards her skull. She dodged. It crashed into her shoulder, knocking her to the floor.
Her breath went out of her and dull pain swept through her upper torso. She rolled away as the broom handle thumped on the carpet beside her.
“I thought you said this thing was just a maid?” Nyssa darted behind the wingback chair.
“It is. It must be malfunctioning. I’m trying to communicate with it. If I can send the right code, it should shut down.”
The broom battered the cushions of the chair. The strikes tore the upholstery, and stuffing flew about her like snow. The maid tried to maneuver around it, but Nyssa kept the heavy piece of furniture between herself and the robot like a shield. Unfortunately in turn the robot kept itself between Nyssa and the door. It pushed her towards the wall.
“It’s not listening. Nyssa, get out of there.” Hart’s voice barely carried over the crashing of the robot destroying the furniture and
the pounding of Nyssa’s own pulse.
Nyssa’s back ground into the bricks of the fireplace. The robot pressed against the chair.
“Not authorized! Not authorized!”
Sandwiched between the chair and the wall, Nyssa had to force out her next breath. Her hand flailed for something, anything, and caught the cold iron of the fireplace poker. God, if ever You listen to my prayers, now’s the time.
Grasping the poker, Nyssa kicked against the chair with all her might. The robot rolled back a few feet but then rushed forward. Nyssa swung. The poker shattered the robot’s left eye socket. Sparks and glass shards flew across the room.
The robot’s head swiveled from left to right, like a disorientated owl. Nyssa bolted for the door. The broom smacked against her legs,
pushing her into the table. Chess pieces scattered. She sprang to her feet and aimed another powerful swipe. Its head crunched like a tin
The robot’s hands jolted up and down. The broom handle came at Nyssa again and again, but she parried each strike with her poker, backing steadily towards the door. Her feet touched the hardwood of the hallway.
“Aim for its chest!” Hart said. “That’s where the circuitry should be.”
Nyssa jabbed, skewering the rusty metal plating of the robot’s body. The mechanical monster quivered. Nyssa yanked back. A large section of plating broke away, revealing turning gears and sparking wires. She stabbed again, ripping into the wires. Her nostrils flared and her
jaw clenched as she swung until the robot collapsed in a heap.
Nyssa sank to the floor. Her breath escaped in ragged gasps. In the ruined maid’s chest, amongst a nest of wires, pierced by metallic tubes,
pulsed a pinkish-red mass, fleshy and veined. Nyssa’s stomach heaved, for inside the chest of the maid beat a human heart.