As I wandered through the maze on my way home, I was having trouble keeping ahead of the patrolling stoneguard. I clenched my spray bottle of circuit disruptor liquid in my hand, one finger straight out, ready to squeeze down should anything come too close. Several times, only my reflexes saved me.
One touch– that was all it took– one touch and I would be dead– so dead. Super dead. Nobody would ever find me again– that kind of dead. I took a deep breath as I approached the end of the labyrinth. The split went four ways– three wide hallways and a simple double-door-sized doorway. No doors.
A patrol was coming. I shifted, then took a deep breath and sprinted to the hallway across from the doorway. I nearly ran into a patrolling pair. Without a thought, I sprayed them repeatedly until one fell and the other just twitched in place. Tears began to slide down my face. I was trapped. I didn’t have long before they would wake up and kill me.
My breath didn’t go in and out right. It was like I was trying to breathe velcro. Cold, smooth stone pressed against my back. Just a wall. The pair slowly regained themselves and turned away. I could only stare. I glanced down. Lines. I was just out of their jurisdiction. I nearly peed.
As my breathing slowed, I began to follow them. My stupid feet moved forward. Why was the wall here so low suddenly, like a bar instead of a real wall? The path of the pair curved around it. Normally, the stoneguard didn’t have such long paths. It went all the way out of sight. I set my bottle down on the half-wall and began to examine it.
How had nobody come through here before? My curiosity drove me now. The wall looked like nothing special. No markings adorned its sides, and the top was smooth. It was as high as my lowest rib, I guessed. With a sigh, I slowly crouched and touched the wall. I glanced down. My lace was untied. I hurriedly remedied that possible danger, only to stand and find my bottle was gone. Not only that, the two stoneguard were on their way back.
My eyes widened, and my breath caught in my throat.
No. They moved fast.
I turned on the ball of my foot and dashed toward the joint of the four halls. I stared in each direction, and shot across the gap.
It seemed so far. My feet crossed the threshold, and I nearly collapsed with relief.
I made it. I could go home and get a new bottle, and go to bed, and then… I gulped. Then, I would travel through the maze again to get to my workplace.
At least, crossing the threshold meant no more stoneguard. Even when they were tailing a person, only a few dared cross, and those always hurried back once they finished the job.
Thum thum thum!
It was coming from behind me, and getting closer.
I. That was a foreign concept. It seemed to come imprinted upon the strange vessel in my hand. It was not the only imprinted concept on the strange object. Fear, shame, worry, exhaustion, and a concept of family also invaded my mind. For a time, I stared at the thing in my hand. I was at the end of my current lap, and my partner stood beside me, impassive as he waited for me to finish what I was doing.
I stared at the vessel and scanned it. Humans used vessels like these to temporarily disable us. The human who left it out was hurrying away, filled with the idea of fear. She was a thing called alive, and she would stop being alive if one of us found her.
She was an intruder, after all. Her body would break if I touched her, because her form was weak. It was not uncommon. Humans did not often survive our grasp. It was unfortunate.
I suddenly felt distant from my kin, and my partner began to continue his rounds.
His. No longer mine.
The human ran across the hall and through the doorway to the end zone, where we were not programmed to tread save we chased someone there, and then we must always return.
For a time, I simply watched her retreating back, and then I followed her. In the process, I abandoned my post and my partner. Had the makers still existed, I would have been disabled and repaired.
The human looked back at me, and began to run faster. My scanners found liquid exiting her eyes– a common phenomenon when a human was about to die. My scanners found large amounts of adrenaline and other chemicals that increased the reaction times of a human who was about to die. My steps seemed unusually heavy as I left my programmed path. I crossed between other guards, and they moved from my path. I continued my slow advance.
The female heard my steps and looked back. Despite my sluggishness, I was catching up easily.
“Why are you following me? I wasn’t close enough to set you off!” Her voice did not sound like a casually-speaking human female. It was filled with indicators of fear and confusion. It was hoarse. Her face was ugly with her fear, and she pulled back her lips.
I had no proper answer, but continued forward, as did she.
My heavy steps and her heavy breath were not synchronized, and I had no idea why that realization bothered me at all.
The amount of new sensations and ideas today were astonishing. I reached toward the female as I came close, and I carefully touched her shoulder. She froze and became rigid. I was careful to keep my weight off her. I had to be.
For a long time, we stood like this. Finally, she turned to face me. I held her vessel toward her, and she slowly took it from me.
I enjoyed her confused and thankful expression.