Sample PagesLow, black, and menacing, its angular metallic surfaces bristling
with sensors and protuberances, the robot resembled, if anything, a walking
It moved on six multiply-articulated legs projecting outward
and downward from its underside in pairs, like sprung arches. Its front consisted
of a blunt, turret-like head, flanked by a pair of rotary-jointed grasping appendages
terminating in four-point, independently movable claws.
Emerging soundlessly from a steep-sided valley of depths lost
in blackness, it climbed a hill of regularly spaced ridges alternating with
darker furrows. A fibrous growth, like coarse, springy grass, covered the surface,
which yielded slightly under the robots weight. It reached the top of
the rise and paused to survey a landscape of peculiarly rounded mounds and folds,
picked out bloodred in the gloom by the glow of a distant light. The red "moon"
illuminating the nocturnal landscape formed the numerals 3:17:04.
The device was no bigger than a cockroach. It stood atop the
highest of a chain of wrinkles formed where the bedspread was pulled around
the figure lying asleep. After checking its direction, the mechanical insect
resumed moving, following an ascending fold onto the slowly breathing form,
higher to the shoulder, and from there onto the smoother expanse of sheet. At
the edge of the sheet, inches from the sleeping mans ear, the device halted
again to identify its target, gauging angles and distances.
Then it moved fast for the area beneath the ear lobe, where
even in an autopsy a small puncture would easily be overlooked. The claws had
anchored to the epidermis and the tiny needle discharged before the alarm message
registered in the sluggishly responding brain.
The figure stirred, turning its head. "Uh . . .
Huh? . . ." An arm freed itself and slapped. "Wassat?"
But the tiny assailant had already disengaged and jumped two feet back down
The man lay puzzled in the darkness, rubbing his neck as his
faculties returned. For a moment he was restored fully to wakefulness; and then
a heavy, muggy feeling came over him. He sat up, fumbled for the light-switch
in the red glow cast by the hotel rooms clock, but couldnt coordinate
sufficiently to find it. He swung his legs out and grabbed for the phone, but
crashed instead into the bedside unit, upsetting the tray with the coffee pot
and chinaware from his room-service meal.
He put a hand to his head. "Oh Christ . . ."
His legs buckled, and he slumped down onto the edge of the
bed again. For a few seconds he tried futilely to resist whatever was happening
to him; then he slid down and crumpled to a sitting position on the floor. His
body went limp and keeled over.
At the foot of the bed, the tiny robot dropped to the floor.
It crossed to the protruding corner formed by the bathroom, from there to the
small vestibule area, and exited to the corridor via the gap beneath the door.
The eyes staring sightlessly upward slowly glazed over in the
dim red glow from the clock, obliviously counting away the seconds.