It'd been four days since Julius McKlinsky had left his house. Maybe longer.
Had it been a week already? He couldn't tell.
The same four walls seemed to close in on him every passing day, yet whoever - or whatever - was out there... hadn't moved an inch.
At first he would only show up at night, and just stand there. At first Julius thought it was the angle of the streetlight hitting the curb and the apartments across the street.
But next week, he showed up again. Closer. Standing in the exact same manner, and appeared to be wearing some kind of costume.
Julius had brushed it off again, this time as a hallucination from not getting enough sleep, spending too many hours awake researching Firewall Oasis, and the new line of machines they were coming out with.
But then it showed up again, this time in his backyard.
It stood just behind the corner of his tool shed door, just inside.
So nobody could see it.
Then people starting dying.
Chloe Morton had just gotten her 2027 edition Bobby Bluebell, a 3-foot AI home assistant. Ever since the release of the Roomba, Chloe had been obsessed with robotic home appliances.
She had bought the Roomba in 2020, starting her collection off a bit behind everybody else. After being enthralled with its efficiency, Chloe had bought a Cue and a Landroid in 2021, raising the number of robots in her home to three.
In 2022, she had bought a Beam System, a Lynx for her Amazon Alexa, and a Riley night-vision, motion-detecting security system.
But when she bought the Bluebell is when things started getting... weird.
Chloe called the company - the one she worked for presently, but was a customer at the time - about Bluebell's strangely human persona. They assured her it was state-of-the-art technology, and designed to be the best-of-the-best. Everything else was rather simple, they explained the location of the instruction manual, which she perused, but it explained very little. Then, when they said the user briefing on how to manage the item itself - she recalled that there wasn't one. They exchanged glances, and agreed that there must have been an error in lower management. They said they would contact her immediately, as soon as they had more information.
Then, they ended the call.
They never called back.
She threw out her MiP, when she noticed that Bluebell did things even MiP wouldn't do - like talk to her and complement her outfits. Everything was fine... until Chloe realized it wouldn't turn off.
Every day Chloe woke to go to work, starting on the third day, Alexa would announce, "Good morning, Chloe," which was normal, but then add, "Bobby would like to speak to you, urgently."
The first day Bobby replied, "I am glad you are operating at optimum capacity, and ready to act at a moment's notice." Chloe blinked forcefully as she went to get her coffee ready.
"So, forgive me if I'm not understanding," said Chloe as the coffee cup filled with ground beans and hot liquid. "But, you were just checking on me. Why?"
Bobby explained that he wanted to ensure the survival of his owning human. "If my human does not survive or cannot operate at, the very least, potential optimum abilities, then nor can I."
Chloe didn't think much of it, sipping her coffee, and saying with a sigh, "Well, I guess all you bots are just weird like that now-days."
Bobby cocked his oblong head. "What do you mean, 'weird'?"
Chloe shrugged. "Abnormal. Bizarre. Sometimes... creepy," she shrugged again after another sip of coffee, beginning to realize how irritated she was. Chloe burned herself, and the Roomba squeaked and beeped as it hovered over to where she had spilled some of the scalding beverage.
"Roomba says he is happy to clean up," said Bobby curtly.
Chloe nodded in a fit of frustration, setting her cup down and ignoring the synthetic beings scurrying and jabbering about around her. As she got dressed, collected her things, and got ready - the bots were constantly around; asking her if she needed help, where they could find a certain item, reminding her about objectives and tasks for the day.
For the most part she ignored them, but even after she had left the house, gotten into her car and was on the road to Oasis - they remained in the back of her mind. Something so incredibly involved in nearly every aspect of one's personal life was impossible to ignore entirely.
When Chloe got to the building, she found several police cruisers and an FBI van parked out front. Normally, this wouldn't disturb her much - here in the city there was often crime.
But when she got inside, everything changed.
The press were there, snapping photos. She recalled a convoy of news vans on the way to work, and realized that this was the epicenter of the crisis for the day.
The mood was melancholy, and dark. The employees, supervisors, and others, were all gloomy and frightened. She passed a room where the Korean division was demonstrating with a dentist the new Orthodontics Assistant Robot to some students. It had always given her chills how humanoid the female figure was, notwithstanding her wide mouth, filled with teeth indistinguishable from the real thing. In another room, the blue-violet childcare robot sat glumly and lifelessly, unattended to. Chloe found this one just as creepy if not more so than the last Bot.
As Chloe arrived on the 10th floor, on which the officer of her boss resided, she didn't see the usual. What was happening was borderline nauseating.
The radio, the killing it had talked of... was the direct responsibility of her company Firewall Oasis.
"...entire family wiped out by their collection of Bots, some of which - were even - developed in Firewall Oasis laboratories. We are here speaking now with the Chief Financial Officer Gregory Hudson. Mr. Hudson, you said you were in the middle of an experimental endeavor with your superiors when this occurred at 4:30 AM last night. Is this true?"
The reporter turned his bluetooth in the direction of Hudson as he looked back and forth between the man and the camera, nodding intermittently.
"Yes, yes, this is true. But the units we are working on were not yet sanctioned and thus not on the market. So any correlation whatsoever between the... tragedy, in question... and business ventures is wholly nonexistent."
The entire room erupted in deafeaning jeers and protestations, so loud that Chloe had to cover her ears. The day only continued to get worse, to a point that she had to remove her badge and change clothing after the various incidents of being attacked by passersby in the streets.
Needless to say, Chloe had no choice but to return home for the day by 1, for Firewall Oasis was quickly collapsing into bankruptcy and legal scrutiny.
But even if the company itself fell, their hold on individuals the world-over would never go away... because they manufactured the bots.
And Analog Associates commanded the resources they needed to do so.
"Welcome home, Chloe," said Alexa. "Would you like something to eat, I am detecting an imbalance of nutrition in your body today," but before it could continue, Chloe interrupted demanding that the windows be dimmed.
"Certainly, blinds lowering and screens tinting."
Chloe wanted nothing more than to pretend today and the past few days had not happened, and drown herself in some wine. She had only had the new Bobby Unit for a few weeks, but was sure it could figure out for itself when to leave her alone.
The next few hours went by rather normally. Most of the time she spent drinking wine and reading the newest installment of 'The Timekeepers', by her favorite author Ian Elijah Davis - before eventually getting bored with that and going back to the television. After roughly her thirteenth glass of wine, she noticed an unsettling visage out of the corner of her perception.
A towering figure, at least eight feet tall, dominating her periphery. For a moment she sat petrified, unable to move a muscle. Unable, even, to move her eyes.
Finally, after about ten minutes of stupefaction, she managed to push herself to look out of the corner of her vision.
When she focused her eyes and head upon the terror, she found only the oblong-headed silhouette of Bobby Bluebell. He stood, motionless, for another ten minutes. Chloe and Bobby engaged in a staring contest, unable to move.
"Your chicken dinner is ready, Chloe," was all Bobby gleefully announced as he disappeared back into the hallway.
"That does it," she thought. "I'm calling Analog Associates, and telling them my unit is malfunctioning and was behind the deaths of those people," she said almost out loud, catching herself.
Chloe felt the hair stand up on her neck as she turned slowly to see Bobby was back, peaking out from around the corner. He was quickly gone, and Chloe was left with a racing heart and a dry throat.
Something had to be done.
As Chloe was making her way to the conference room, she was intercepted by the 5-foot Beam System, only the screen up top was projecting static.
"I am informed that your heart rate and higher-cognitive reasoning abilities are impaired," Alexa announced as the screen elevated and projected forward.
"Would you like to reconsider your decision?"
Projected in front of the static were two red rounded rectangles, representing eyes.
Chloe screamed and ran downstairs, almost intercepted by the security drone on the stairs leading up to the third floor. She landed on the bottom floor to see the Roomba spinning into the room before shining a red beam onto her. She screamed again and ran into the master bathroom through her own bedroom, locking the door.
As she sobbed uncontrollably, the door began to crack inward.
"Chloe, Mother, you are unwell."
"Mama, I want to give you dinner, you are hungry mama," shouted Alexa.
Another smash, deeper, harder.
Chloe cried out.
The door cracked.
"Mama," the machine cried, its voice becoming distorted. It cried out again, even further distorted. Chloe took a chair and smashed out the window over 40 floors up, and began to shimmy down the fire escape.
She was halfway down when she realized the ladder was not extended, and proceeded to use her weight to attempt to do so. While she was dangling from the bottom, she noticed something red out of the corner of her eye.
The security drone had deployed and was looking straight at her.
Slipped off the ladder.
And fell twenty-six stories to her death.
Detective Jim Rodriguez almost gagged as the mortician uncovered the body. Several snapped ligaments and bones; including ribs poking out, spilled organs, and a lower section that had almost entirely turned inside out.
"They're ruling it a suicide," the attorney said as the body was recovered. "But, between you and me, Detective," he continued, "nobody would knowingly destroy themselves like this. Unfortunately, there's nothing to suggest - let alone prove - it was anything else."
Jim sighed. "What's your theory? Only two people were living in that apartment, most moved out of that part of town in 2026 after the Italian-Egyptian AI tank scandal."
"Well," he began. "That old lady was too old to force a 32-year-old divorcee out of her window at that time of night. So, I think it would be smart to go with what everyone else is saying."
"That being, the robots did it," Jim replied.
"Yeah. I mean, think about it - ever since the McKlinsky murders in 2023 - in eastern Germany, there were over sixty-seven, sixty-six people killed in an exact 48 mile radius from Julius McKlinsky's residence. All courts were forced, by all evidence, to convinct the man. But he had nothing but fear and terror on his face, no remorse. No anger. No ego. Just bitter fear. Why would a convicted murderer spill his guts on live television his life-long love for a man he had long considered his brother? Among many other things, like that he was molested by his father and wanted justice? The official story doesn't add up in the way it should, and many people are saying the same thing. The rapid rise in a proliferation of robotic individuals is significantly altering the fabric of society in a timely and methodical manner. We can barely tell it's happening, thus - only those of us who pay obsessive amounts of attention to what is happening in the world today, and follow the pattern, can see it for what it is."
Jim ignored the man, and continued his search of the complex the next day. He could find no evidence, no wrongdoing. In fact, the next day, he was told that Firewall Oasis had been shut down and relocated.
"Where is my next assignment?"
"Analog Associates. Its location is being uploaded to your GPS, and you have been granted all-access on account of law enforcement," Director K.D. announced.
Attorney Ollie Kruger wasn't sure if he was going crazy, or something really was going on. He hadn't seen his friend Joe Dixon in three weeks, yet he could've sworn he saw him through his bedroom window, across the alley in the building next to him.
Nobody had seen him since.
And the old lady at the cornerstore down town was acting weird. She seemed... ill, or troubled.
"You sure you're ok," he inquired a second time.
"Don't be silly," she said flatly.
"Get plenty of rest, Miss Fuller."
A few hours later, it hit him like a ton of bricks.
Her face had looked like a mask.
Maybe he hadn't realized it, maybe he hadn't seen it in the light.
She hadn't been real.
And that's when he heard the most terrifying sound in his life.
Followed by a voice he'd known for decades.
"Hello? Ollie? Its me, Joey!"
When Ollie answered the door - as slowly and cautiously as possible - the thing claiming to be Joey, came right in.
"How's it going?"
It sat down on his couch, and asked for him to do the same.
"Ollie, I have to tell you something."
At first he was fascinated, more over than horrified.
"W-what happened to-"
"That's what I'm going to tell you, we're... we're becoming something... more."
"I'm going to have to ask you to come with me," he said, standing up.
Ollie reacted by punching it in the face. When Joe recovered, what Ollie saw was not the face he'd seen earlier - but clockwork, circuits and machinery. The faceless Joe turned to him, but before it could finish its sentence, Ollie kicked the bot, collapsing it. He ran out of his house, begging for help. Screaming for it. But everyone he ran into didn't look right.
They looked... like masks.
The building was located around 200 miles north of Oslo, Norway.
One of the most remote locations on the planet.
Jim kept to himself, realizing barely anyone spoke his language. And although Jim had begun to study Norwegian, realizing he was going to be awhile, it was almost exclusively restrained to short instances and exchanges.
When he arrived, Rodriguez expected to be greeted with Norwegian and English speakers of various backgrounds scurrying about the facility.
Instead, he found no one, and the building was locked down with no visible entrances. Jim skirted the perimeter one good time, then another.
Again he found no way in.
He called out, "Hello!?"
Again he called out.
The next few days Jim noticed strange figures passing by his house. On the third day he decided to tail the individual, realizing almost immediately he was wearing a bizarre outfit, even for the arctic weather.
The stranger led him to the facility.
Jim followed him in the way he entered, a hidden doorway that seemed to respond to Jim's presence.
He searched the structure from the top floor to the bottom, eventually coming to the basement.
He could find no one.
Not a soul.
Not a single shred of evidence that someone had been here.
The walls were blank. There were no pictures, no windows, no defining features. Just flat, featureless walls, with a door every now and again - also without features.
Rodriguez was eventually brought to the basement, where he saw a nigh-endless corridor that appeared almost fractal in how long it was.
He followed it to a dark room, illuminated by the thin glow of a flickering bulb dangling from the center of the ceiling. Rodriguez was about to call someone, when he saw him.
The Attorney he had spoken to was hogtied and dangling from the ceiling. He shook his head and gagged against the thick wad of material strapped around his head and shoved into his mouth.
Then, the light went out.
Rodriguez immediately heard the man begin sobbing uncontrollably, and then howling and caterwauling in agony as sickening smacks and sounds of ripping and tearing reverberated through the area.
Knowing there was no time to waste, the Detective hurried out of the room.
Coming to a corner, he saw - in the shadows before him - dozens, if not hundreds, of Bobby Bluebells marching toward him, their eyes glowing red.
Rodriguez backed up, attempting to draw his firearm. But as he lifted his elbow a glazing and incinerating agony fired through his arm, going numb. He looked down and saw what looked human, what should have been human... but clearly was not.
And it was digging into his arm, right below the elbow.
Jim screamed in terror and pain, and kicked at the creature, which contorted and fidgeted in a way that clearly exposed its being a transparent facsimile of a human. It was soon joined by identical copies of itself, what looked like little Asian women gnashing unrealistically-proportioned jaws and teeth. Unfortunately, however, this was not to be the apex of this nightmare. Jim screamed again, as he saw a larger, darker, figure walking towards him through the swarm of humanoid children.
Carrying a Bluebell, which turned towards him with a blank stare - and joined by another of the human child bot produced by Firewall - was the costumed figure that he had seen earlier.
It was not human.
As he moved to book it out of the facility as quickly as possible, Jim bumped into something.
The Detective turned, and saw a Beam System Screen, staring him in the face - upon the screen - was the Golden Ratio; expressed through events in human history.
Detective Rodriguez never again left Lakeshore Psychiatric, and the Attorney's body was never found.
What law enforcement and the United Nations did find, however, was that the recent series of events - from the 2023 murders to the ones in 2027 - was that they all followed a specific pattern, that of the Fibonacci sequence.
The Golden Ratio.
Written by D. Compton Ambrose