“Kimona”: Chapter Five: The Empress

How she awoke, and when her “mind” actually began to reboot, no one really knows, not even K-2. I personally think that Vastrada had given her too much of a “mind of her own”.  And I think it was her own mind realizing that it did not have to rely on a silly disk that was slightly smaller than the palm of my hand.

But whatever the case may be, the fact stands: K-2 awoke. And she instantly remembered everything. Her “mind” knew exactly how much time had passed. She saw the brain disk beside her and deduced everything that had happened. It was as if it had been a half-hour nap. Squinting in the dark, she looked down at her hand. No, she was not invisible anymore. She listened for sounds outside. She couldn’t hear anything. Being in the same place she was before, was everything outside of the box still there?

With great courage, and sudden shock of the return of gravity pressure, she slowly lifted the lid of the box. The utility closet was open but unguarded. K-2 glanced around. Everything looked the same. Pushing open the door a little more, she stopped. The laboratory was dark and unoccupied. K-2 felt her battery speed as she hastened up the steps.

She could not move as quickly as she would have liked because of her magnetization. K-2 tried as hard as she could not to make much noise with her metal feet against the steps.

Opening the door, K-2 found the corridor completely changed. There was no longer a large widow for the tube-like hallway. Instead it was dark, with only bluish lights running along the edge of the thin-carpeted floorboards. Muffled intercoms from invisible speakers echoed through the dark hall and clashed with the hum of the AC vent. K-2 dashed behind a wall, there were robots walking or rolling down the hall. But they were not the same as she remembered. They were new, or newer. They looked different and more advanced. Their silver heads and gadgets were extremely high-tech compared to K-2’s old self.

The robots passed, and K-2 came out. Where was Vastrada? She had been human, so had she died? It had been a hundred years, after all. Was there someone new as ruler of Nosgo?

K-2 remembered a secret exit on the bottom floor of Vastrada’s mansion. If it was still there, she could escape unnoticed. The elevator was hard to get to because of countless robots stalking the halls. Where did they all come from?—K-2 thought. Why were there so many?

Struggling to steadily walk as fast as she could, K-2 exited the elevator and entered the dusty wasteland of a planet that she had never known. Dust and sand blew as she reached the open. The blaring heat made her head feel warm and active. Up ahead was a worn out town. Huts with dusty roofs were scattered here and there. K-2 had never been outside before. She took it in as quickly as she could manage.

Then she noticed it. There were no Arvers.

At first there were one or two robots. But no—the whole town was filled with them. Hundreds and hundreds of robots walked or rolled every which way. K-2 faltered back. This is what Vastrada was talking about. Everyone was now a robot. They went about their daily lives, inwardly suffering but unable to do anything about it. They could never move out of their own will. Vastrada’s technology had turned them into subservient machines.

Was all of Nosgo like this? K-2 would have been surprised if it wasn’t. That had been Vastrada’s intention. Then she stopped. If Nosgo was filled with hopeless machines, then Vastrada was still alive…

All at once the sky was dark. The robots stopped as all their heads gazed at the sky. K-2 watch the dark clouds spin above them all. Blue lightning flashed to the clouds…coming from where? K-2 hid herself before Vastrada could notice her.

It was a hologram. But K-2 saw her all too clearly. She was clad in blue, sparkling robes that covered her feet and fell behind her. She wore a crown of gold and sapphires. Her face was pale and her eyes were dark and power-hungry. Her staff was wrapped in gold with a sapphire jewel at the top. A viper encircled it. The lightning spewed from the giant jewel. The lightning thrashed against the dark clouds, as the robots turned to the massive image of Vastrada. They bowed to her.

K-2 paused, watching this dreadful scene. Vastrada was forcing the former-Arvers to bow to her. Was this her first step to universal domination? It had been one hundred years—was she already the dominant Empress of Altross?

The robots continued to bow in worship and respect. The hologram of Vastrada looked on with satisfaction and pride. Her malicious smile pierced K-2’s eyes. Suddenly, it was gone. The sky lightened. And the robots all continued their normal day through the town square, as if nothing had happened.

The sand was hard to walk on, for she had never done it before. Approaching the middle of the main street, K-2 stiffly paced towards one of the open bars. Inside, every robot stared at her. Some sat at the tables around the room. A few sat on the barstools at the counter. K-2 stopped and looked around, as every robot stood still.

“Hey. Metal-Brain,” said one of them in the robotic tone. “Forgot. To buy. A cape. With that. Costume? Ha. Ha. Ha.” And there was a round of “Ha. Ha. Ha”s around the room. They were programed to forget the Arvers and what they looked like.

They have personality, K-2 realized. Vastrada transformed them without removing some aspects of personality…as if they were still average townspeople.

K-2 stalked up to the counter while some “Ha. Ha.”s were heard because of her stiff walking. The bartender was before her by the time she reached the counter. K-2 spoke cautiously.

“Do you work here?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered (at least, she thought it was a “he”). “Robotic droid of. 6172 Light Years. Number. FO-C713.”

“Have you always been a robot?”

“Yes.”

“Were you once an Arver?”

“No.”

“Have you always been subject to Vastrada?”

“Empress. Vastrada,” was the answer. “We have always. Been her loyal. Subjects.”

Suddenly K-2 heard a whisper inside her “head”. Help me. She stared at the bartender but his expression was blank…of course. Where did she hear it from? She heard it again: Help me.

K-2 paused here. Aloud, he had answered the way he was programmed to answer. The whisper made her realize: inside, the former Arver longed to tell her the truth. And luckily for him, K-2 was not going to give up so easily. If she could only choose the right wording, she thought, she might be able to get the answer she needed.

Empress Vastrada?” she questioned.

“She is the ruler of. The Galaxy,” he recited, “—Creator of all energy. She is the source of power. We need. To survive.”

“Who is Emperor Conogo?” K-2 asked. She heard something click in his head.

“Conogo Stardipper.—the Emperor. of the Altross. Galaxy. He dwells. On Planet. Tinacia and maintains. Peace. Throughout. Galaxy.”

“Is he still alive?” K-2 inquired, striving to remain calm.

“Born. In Light Year 4796. He still lives.”

“Is he still Emperor?” K-2 nearly cried.

“Peace Giver. Of the Five Planets. Still. Reigns,” the robot’s head tilted.

K-2 finally relaxed. She wondered if this bartender would answer her one last question—one that might just be answered.

Your empress—the Empress of Nosgo…”

“Creator. Of all energy. She is the source of power. We need—”

“Yes yes,” K-2 interrupted. “You bowed to her.” She pointed, “out there.”

“Each day. She comes and we. Worship her might work,” the robot mechanically explained. “Each day. We go. And bow at her feet.”

Help us.

“It was a picture, though,” K-2 breathed harder.

“Citizens. Must not question. The great might—”

“But was it a hologram?” K-2 interjected. “Is Vastrada—”

“Empress. Vastrada.”

“Is she still alive?” K-2 was gasped. “Does she rule Nosgo by spirit, or was that really her, just in a hologram?”

The robot stared blankly. Help me. There it was again. Please, help me—all of us.

“IS VASTRADA ALIVE?” K-2 exclaimed.

More silence came between them. Abruptly, K-2 heard a click.

“Order. Up. Number. 19.” And he rolled away.

~J.L. Cordova

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