Continued from Automaton and I.
As the automaton watched his master close his eyes and quiet his breathing to sleep, the creation began to adjust his settings for the usual night-time inactivity. The light emitted by his eyes dimmed, and his vision became less sharp. He seated himself in a chair not far from the bed, should his master need his aid during the night for relieving himself.
Time passed, and morning came with nothing unusual. Pebble rose and walked to the bed. Master was still asleep. Pebble rested a hand on him. Normally, this would be enough to wake him, but today, Pebble’s master remained still. The automaton’s head tilted to one side as he shook his master gently.
The master refused to move. A knock came from the door, and Pebble assumed it to be the composer. He tucked Master in more securely, so he would be warm, and walked to the door. Upon opening the wooden portal, he saw two unfamiliar faces. These must be the strangers, he assumed. The automaton stepped aside to allow them entry, and kept his face forward. The words of his master were remembered– if these men thought he was unusual, they would destroy him.
He stood still as one of the men began to inspect him, and the other questioned him. He remained still and allowed such inspections.
“It looks like Gepet made a modification to allow this thing to vocalize, but it’s design is flawed. That’s all.” The shorter man looked up and nodded. “Nothing else is unusual. Should I repair the vocalization mod?”
“Go ahead. It seems normal. Could be it’s to call for help if Gepet falls.”
The smaller man nodded and began his repairs. “It looks unfinished.” he murmured as he used a portable tool kit to repair the vocalization organs. “That should do.” He looked up at Pebble and took a deep, nervous breath. “Speak.”
For several moments, there was silence. “I take orders from my Master only.” the automaton answered in a tinny voice.
“Good enough.” The man wiped his hands on his own pants and grinned. “It seems normal enough. Let’s just leave a note. I don’t want to get caught up chattering with Gepet. He tends to babble.”
“Don’t be rude.” The taller man sighed. “Automaton, inform your master that you will not be taken by the guild and destroyed.”
Pebble gave no response, and the two waited uneasily for a moment before they departed with uneasy banter.
“That thing looks almost human-like, doesn’t it? Eerie old codger.”
“I heard he used the likeness of his most recent apprentice– the one who was killed in a mugging.”
“That makes it worse, not better.”
“I never said it was better!”
“Then don’t say it.” The short man groaned. “What if he’d made multiple and didn’t add fancy wings and weird ears? Those eyes would be the only hint something’s off!”
As they turned around the corner, Pebble closed the door and touched the repaired installation on his neck. He quietly began to test it more fully. He began to wonder if he could sing, as his master did sometimes, and decided to go check on him again.
Still, his master continued to sleep, so Pebble began to clean up the house and wait for the composer to arrive. The rest of the day passed as usual, save that the Master did not wake. After the day was over, Pebble placed a hand on the composer’s shoulder. “Master is in need of repair. I lack knowledge on the proper repair protocols on his model. Please fetch a suitable repair-man.”
The young composer looked up, startled. “You can talk.”
“The inspectors from the guild repaired Master’s modifications on me.”
He paused and frowned. “I’ll see if he’s not just needing to shit.” He stood and walked away, into the living portion of the building and climbed the stairs to the two-room upper floor. Pebble followed along quietly. Under his weight, the floor creaked and groaned. Despite his tiny form, he was heavy with metal and clay parts.
The young composer opened the door to the Master’s room and walked in. “Boss! Your thing says you’re broke or something!” He tattled as he walked over and placed a hand on the old man’s shoulder. He paused as he felt how icy the pale flesh was. “Oh, no.” His voice became quiet. He pressed his fingers against the Master’s neck and waited a long time. “He’s dead.”
“What is dead?” The tinny voice behind him made the boy jump.
“Dead means can’t be fixed. Broken forever.” He continued to stare at the dead man in the bed, shock on his face. “Bloody…”
“Master can be fixed. Find the repair man.” Pebble stepped forward. “Find the repair man,” he repeated again and again. Finally, the composer fled, terrified of the repeating automaton.
Ten minutes passed before the composer returned with a doctor, who officially declared the man dead. The man’s body was taken away, and a lawyer arrived some time later to inform Pebble that he was the owner of the old man’s store now, and possessed all of the man’s money, save what was to be used for the funeral. The composer boy was going to continue to work in the shop, and would teach Pebble how to manage the business of living. A letter was given to each of them, and they read them quietly. Pebble’s letter was filled with instructions, while the composer boy’s letter was filled with reassurances that all would be well, and he would continue to be employed for several years.
A slip of paper fell from Pebble’s letter’s envelope, and he slowly picked it up. He read it carefully, then looked at the letter again. “I am his apprentice in the tinkerers’ guild, it says. I am to apply for mastership after I learn to compose.” His tinny voice as he spoke made the lawyer laugh.
“Little chance of that. You couldn’t compose a song if you had a million years to try.” He stood and laughed. “You’re just an automaton, not a person.” He shook his head and laughed. “Good bye, then. I have other people to deal with today.” He stood and left.
Pebble felt an odd sensation inside, and he spoke with no thoughts or filters. “I will learn to compose.”