Short Circuit

by Bear Hunter

I arrived home from Korea on Monday. I was originally meant to stay an extra week while the trials continued. I wrote my last post the night after the last successful trial, the day my mind was connected to the drone. Having my consciousness transferred into the drone was a life altering experience. I thought I was witnessing an event that would change the course of history. I’m still having difficulty processing what I discovered the next morning.

Last Friday the 25th of July, 2014 was a long day. All of the crew as well as myself got to test drive the Drone “Son of Road Block” which had been modelled after the combatant “Road Block” from the 90s tv show “Robot Wars”. All systems were a go. I even accidentally discovered a mechanism that allows the driver to operate SORB’s rear saw. I just had to put some “gas” into it, lol. I know, I shouldn’t joke.

That night the entire crew went out to celebrate over drinks. The project’s founder – he still wants to be referred to as Victor – stayed behind to further calibrate the saw. We tried to convince him to take a break but the man’s mind was fixed.

We all settled down at Kwang-Sun’s house for a night cap of Cheongju – a rice wine – and conversation. Most of the conversation revolved around the trials and which super models they would like to pose beside the drone in magazine publications. Even in Korea, men are men. Even with the stories and the laughs I couldn’t settle myself. Maybe it was the excitement of the trials or maybe it was this strange and eerie feeling that had been building up inside of me ever since that first night I had sat down to dinner with Victor for the first time. That conversation about Frankenstein, it shook me up in ways I didn’t understand at the time.

My dreams where full of robots and beautiful women… at first. A faint memory of being trapped inside the body of a rampaging battle drone and feeling the void in his confused programming still sits with me.

I couldn’t sleep very long so I called up Kwang-Sun and offered to come in early and help him set up shop. He was more than appreciative. The lab is located in an old run-down industrial district. None of the crew fancy arriving early or closing up late.

I arrived at the lab at 6am, I had to bribe the cab driver with a fat tip to convince him to drop me off right at the gate.  I knew the area was run down – I had spent days at the lab already – but I hadn’t seen anything suspicious in that time.

I met Kwang-Sun at the front door.  He laughed and commented on my dishevelled appearance believing that I couldn’t hold my alcohol and that I was hung over.  I laughed it off and I didn’t bother mentioning the dream.

Inside, everything looked as it did the night before.  Kwang-Sun entered each room systematically as he activated all of the systems.  My mind was still fixed on the day before.  I yearned to “ride again”.  Impatient, I decided to visit “The Bridge”.  The moment I entered my heart nearly stopped.  Hooked up – how I don’t know – to the throne was Victor.  He had somehow managed to fasten himself into the machine.  His body was as still as the dead.  An expression of terror was frozen onto his face, his eyes wide open.  My first thought was, “The poor man must have had a heart attack.”

I stood there unable to speak as Kwang-Sun entered the room.  The expression on his face was of instant urgency.  Kwang-Sun is a mechanic and “The Bridge” falls outside of his expertise, still he knew the emergency procedures.  He punched in some commands on a nearby console and the restraints on the throne loosened.  We both stood by as the computers went through their procedures and a green light went off above the helmet on Victor’s head.  What I had believed was a corpse blinked at us.  I assisted Kwang-Sun remove Victor from the machine and we carried him to a couch in a nearby office.

In a couple of hours Victor finally came to.  By then all of the crew were present.  It took a while for Victor to regain his composure.  He told us all what had happened.  I will attempt to re-tell his story as best I can.

When we had left, Victor had gone about the exact thing he had mentioned, he began to re-callibrate SORB’s saw.  It only took him an hour to adjust the algorithms.  Once the programming was complete Victor sat at the console for a few minutes just staring at the screen.  As time passed his hunger to test the saw grew.  He wanted to feel the blade spin, to feel the steel screech as it chipped and hacked away at wood.  Victor knew how many men it took to monitor the drone’s systems but he didn’t care, he was riding an enormous high.  He wanted the experience and he wanted it then and there.  Like an addict he took the plunge without a second thought.

Victor set all of the systems in “The Bridge” on timers and went to work.  He sat down on the throne and lowered the helmet down onto his own head – out of procedural order.  With helmet on head, Victor sat still as he waited for the timer to finish its countdown.  When the timer hit zero the restraints automatically fastened locking Victor to the throne.  He closed his eyes and started to breath in deep.

In mere moments his mind was once again inside of SORB.  He could feel the engine revving up inside his very being.    He drove around the lot at top speed relishing in the rush, adrenaline transformed into electricity.  SORB came to a stop as Victor concentrated on his rectal muscles.  He felt something… a release of sorts… a tickle.  It was the saw, it was spinning.  Victory!

The lot was fairly empty.  In his haste Victor hadn’t consider what exactly he would test the saw on.  SORB has no arms or legs and can’t open the gate either.  All SORB is equip with is a lift and the saw… the saw.  Victor had an idea, he would cut a hole in the fence and set off on his search for test objects.

He backed up to the fence and he went to work.  Victor prides himself on choice of materials and equipment and the saw didn’t disappoint.  It slid through the fence like a hot knife through butter.  He compared the sensation of the saw cutting to his experiences of riding on a farm tractor.  I’ve never ridden a tractor so I’m taking his word for it.

Once he cut through the fence he used the lift to bend it back and drove on through.  He sped through neighbouring lots like a demon of speed.  He did donuts, he jumped pallets and he flipped over random barrels with SORB’s lift.  By the sound of it, he was out of control and loving every minute of it.

The moment came when he finally found what he was looking for, something to cut down.  He spotted a tall pine tree growing in an overgrown field not too far from an abandoned factory lot.  Cutting down random trees is never a good idea but Victor was drunk with robotic power.  He raced  backwards at full speed towards the large plant.  His saw made contact and wooden splitters filled the air like snowflakes in winter.  The SORB saw thrashed through the wood with ease.  Once the saw had cut all the way through Victor could feel the resistance on the blade melt away.  Since the saw was in the rear – no cameras back there – he couldn’t see his handy work nor could he see what was crashing down on top of him.  The trunk of the pine crashed down on the SORB’s body.  What Victor didn’t anticipate was the pain that accompanied it.

Victor attempted to hoist the tree off of himself with the lift but the weight was too much.  He couldn’t get the blade to work either.  He attempted to call out the abort safe word but SORB’s audio system had been damaged and it only came out as an inaudible garble.  His mind was trapped in a machine that was trapped under a tree and he couldn’t escape.

A couple hours had passed and Victor had long given up on the abort command.  All he could do was stare out at the dark emptiness of the lot.  Without warning something caught Victor’s eye or lens.  A lone man in a black windbreaker was jogging across the lot.  Victor called out with an incomprehensible mumble in a hope to get some aid from the stranger.  The stranger froze.  A moment passed and the man looked around the perimeter in a panic.  Victor continued to call out.  He blinked SORB’s headlight causing the man to jump.  The man turned towards Victor confused.  He took a deep breath and slowly began to approach the drone.  He knelt down in front of Victor.  Victor let out another loud garble.  The man in the windbreaker put his finger in front of his lips and shushed the little bot with Victor’s mind inside of it.

Victor could only stare at the man.  He was covered in sweat and was breathing heavily.  A deep voice echoed through the lot causing the man to jump behind the tree trunk.  More voices answered.  Victor couldn’t yet see the sources of the voices.  They all spoke in Korean.  Victor later told me that they were members of a local gang and the man they were searching for had been a deserter.  The man they were searching for was the man in the black wind breaker.

It didn’t take long for the men – a half dozen of them – to enter into Victor’s line of sight.  A flashlight glinted in the drone’s lens which caught the attention of the men.  Dressed in leather jackets with hoods the men rushed in Victor’s direction, he couldn’t see their faces in the dark and he was afraid to use his headlight, for all he knew his headlight had attracted them from a distance in the first place.  One of the men spotted the windbreaker stranger crouching behind the trees and yanked him to his feet.  The man in the windbreaker pleaded for his life but to no avail.

Windbreaker Man was thrown to the ground right in front of Victor’s line of sight.  An argument broke out followed by many swift kicks to Windbreaker Man’s stomach and ribs.  They continued to assault the defenceless man as he pleaded desperately for his life.  Victor sat their paralyzed and helpless as the man was bloodied to a pulp.  In a desperate attempt to scare off the gang Victor let out a piercing garble.  All the men became startled minus one.  This one tall man pulled a knife from out of his jacket pocket and thrust it downward into Windbreaker Man’s throat.  The leader then instructed his men to remove the tree from atop the drone.

Once the tree was lifted, half of the men lifted the corpse of Windbreaker Man and the other half lifted the immobilized SORB.  They walked them a great distance before tossing both in the back of a black van.  Victor has no idea how long they drove for, all he knew is that he was wedged in a dark trunk with a dead man and he was too afraid to turn on his headlights.

When they finally stopped the men were quick to open the trunk and reach in.  Once again, half the men grabbed the drone and the other the corpse.  At first Victor managed to see a dark and empty road.  As the men switched direction Victor could now see a stone wall approach.  As the wall drew closer  he suddenly realized that there was no land on the other side.  They were carrying him to the side of a stone bridge.  The men lifted him up high and all he could see was the sky.  In moments the sky was replaced by murky water.

Victor felt fortunate that the drone’s sensors couldn’t detect the cold.  The bottom of the river felt peaceful to him and he figured he would never have to see any of those men again including Windbreaker Man.  That thought didn’t last long as the water around Victor began to waver.  A large lump crashed into the water and sank down to the bottom right in front of Victor’s camera.  It was Windbreaker Man’s body.  His dead eyes stared right into the lens.  Victor was unable to look away or close his eyes.  The two remained locked in eye contact for hours, until Kwang-Sun and I managed to disconnect Victor from the machine.

The tale I was told that morning after sent shivers up my spine.  In fiction or on the news it all sounds so exciting but when you are so close to it… it’s surreal.  Kwang-Sun asked Victor if we should report the missing drone, Victor told him to leave it be.

The next couple of days were rough.  Victor stayed clear of the lab.  On the Saturday I sat down with Victor one last time and I asked him what his next step was.  He told me that he was done trying to play God – I didn’t see his intentions as such – and that he now knows how it feels like to be completely helpless.  For half an evening, he had been unable to move while inside the damaged drone.  He had no arms, no legs, and the fucking saw wouldn’t turn back on.  He now had an appreciation for what paraplegics live through every day.  He thinks now is the time for him to venture into the world of prosthetics, to get away from vanity projects and help people who are in need.  Pretty amazing change in one’s life purpose for sure.

I am now back home.  The experience has affected me in ways both positive and negative.  I have seen how different the world can appear through a different perspective and how one’s direction in life can change on a dime.  I have a lot to think about.  I might take a break from blogging for a while while I clear my head.

– Bear Hunter