On snowy day, two men pull along the disembodied head of a giant robot. Are they robot hunters who have taken down a rampaging bot? Soldiers who have captured an enemy combatant? Or are they bringing their own damaged robot back home?
Post your story responding to this image in the comments, and, as always, I'll add the stories to this post.
Professor Aslanov paused in the snow as he searched through the vials in his sample bag. At last, he found a tin thermos, which he carefully unscrewed with the leather palm of his gloved hand. After a long swig, he extended the thermos to his companion. Yevgeny Abramovich shook his head. "Thank you, professor," he said, "but I am used to the cold."
Professor Aslanov nodded. "Those chicken legs probably keep you from feeling the snow then, eh?"
Yevgeny Abramovich stiffened, but said nothing.
Professor Aslanov continued sipping from his thermos. Occasionally, droplets of clear liquid escaped from the corners of his lips, dribbling onto his fur collar. They shone, stubbornly liquid against the winter cold. He looked back at the giant head trailing behind Yevgeny Abramovich's diesel-powered legs. Coils exploded from the base of the robotic head and from one shattered eye. Professor Aslanov knew the head had been cut off from its power source, but he half expected it to spring back to animation, flashing its one good eye and gnashing its metal teeth. "Something bothers me about that scene in the village," he told Yevgeny Abramovich.
Yevgeny Abramovich rifled through his pockets until he produced a cigarette. He produced a spark from his hip flint and lit it. "And what is that, professor?"
Professor Aslanov tore his gaze from the head and fixed his eyes toward the ground in front of him. "The little boy, the one who didn't want us to take the head away. That didn't strike you as odd?"
Yevgeny Abramovich shrugged as cigarette smoke poured from his nostrils.
Professor Aslanov threw his hands into the air, spilling some of the liquid from his thermos. "This was the creature that ravaged his village! Why wouldn't he want us to take it away."
Yevgeny Abramovich tapped the cigarette against his metal waist. "Maybe he thought it would be his friend. My mother used to tell me a story about a boy and a giant robot who lived in the woods."
"Ah! So that story has reached even Siberia, eh? My mother told me the same story. Must be an old story." He looked back in the direction they had come from. Already the wind was obscuring his tracks and the drag marks from the head. "A folk story."
"Hmph," Yevgeny Abramovich grunted. "I thought you'd be dying to get this thing back to base. Get inside its brains."
The older man screwed the lid back on his thermos and slipped it under the flap of his bag. He wiped his lips with the back of his glove. "It's true, I've never seen one of these self-replicating models. I have been telling Dr. Zinchenko that if we could capture one…" He looked back again. "But I did not think one would simply land in our laps."
Yevgeny Abramovich reached back to strum the cords attached to his rear hitches. "My ass, you mean."
Professor Aslanov allowed a small smile, which he wrenched into a scowl. "Maybe we should not bring it to base. Maybe we study it out here."
Yevgeny Abramovich looked up. The wind had started to carry pinprick snowflakes, prompting him to tighten the clasps on his jacket. "Have your way, professor, but I'm not hauling you both back."
The professor let his backs slip from his shoulders, causing all the instruments and jars inside them to rattle. As he knelt to take stock of his equipment, the two men heard a low sigh coming from behind them. Professor Aslanov turned and Yevgeny Abramovich swiveled his waist to see the head's jaw shaking and its one good eye glowing orange.
"I'd hoped we'd make it back to base before I'd have to do this," the head told them. "But if we have to do here…"
And the snow began to sizzle.
Ghost_in_the_Machine offers the portrait of a robot hunter:
Mikhail had lost his legs back in 1948 at the Fifth Battle of Kharkov. His new mechanical legs had an unfortunate tendency to seize up in the cold but at least the power plant on his back kept him warm.
Mikhail dragged the head of his latest kill through the snowy Ukrainian field back to his base camp. He was the Red Army's best robot hunter, awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union by Stalin himself. His commissar observer walked next to him, mentally composing the propaganda story for the press. Mikhail's exploits were popular with the troops and the public.
The Great Patriotic War was in its twelfth year. Mikhail had heard some say that if the British had held out past 1940 things would have been different but he had no time for such idle speculation.
His latest kill was a new type of robot that he had never seen before. The Germans were always trying new modifications to their designs but this one was different. It was a lot smarter than the usual robot. It had detected Mikhail's ambush and had almost killed him while it was trying to escape. Mikhail had salvaged the head of the wrecked robot after the fight. He knew Russian scientists and engineers would want to examine it.
krwlingkaos takes us to a world where a brain in a jar heads R&D, with potentially disastrous consequences:
"Fucking hell! I can't believe this!" Jonas spat as he gazed though his binoculars at the two Russian soldiers, about two hundred feet away, dragging the beaten and sparking head of what was a few hours ago revealed as "the first in a new wave of automatic war machines " So much for that. He lowered them and turned towards his fellow scout-tower occupant. "Can you believe this?" Gordon shrugged dismissively "Man, the R&D department been rolling out crazy new shit almost non-stop for months. You really expect all of it to work?" Jonas rubbed his sleep deprived eyes, running on a half hour of sleep over the past two days. "I guess not, but I was expecting it to survive at least two rock volleys before falling over. This is exactly what happens when you make a guy who thinks putting his brain in a jar is a good idea Chief Science Officer. Worst off all, they stuck us out here to watch every second of it!" Gordon chewed thoughtfully on some dry biscuit and swallowed. "Jo, you gotta calm down, it ain't that bad. At least the Ruskies only got a piece of junk." "Yeah, I gue-" A burst of static from the radio cut him off. "Attention scout-tower 26B, this is Chief Science Officer Modren. I understand Project D2 has been incapacitated. The atomic self-destruct mechanism in its head doesn't seem to have activated and is probably still salvageable. Securing the remains is a priority one directive. Modren out." Stunned, Jonas lifted his binoculars back up and looked once more at the Russian soldiers, about two hundred feet away, dragging the beaten and sparking head of what was a few seconds ago revealed as containing a dormant atomic bomb. He lowered them and looked at Gordon wearily."...Fuck."
FranciscoSolidarityFlorimon notes that you should probably inspect your kill before you claim it:
Sythor and Gryph were debating which of them could claim rightful ownership of the head of the metal leviathan.
Sythor said, "It's true that you delivered the final blow, but I'm the one it chased down into the ravine. I'm the one who tripped it up and had it crawling on its belly. Ultimately, this was my kill."
Gryph shrugged. "I'm keeping the head. If I hadn't swooped in when I did it would have ripped you limb from limb. Hell. It's not even dead. Just incapacitated."
The head of the giant-machine soldier laughed. "Quite right," it said. "Quite right."
And then it exploded, killing them both.
corpore-metal delves into alternate history:
It was a field trip of the Young Pioneers to the Artificial Labor and Mechanical Men Factories outside of Samara, Russia. They were sons and daughters of the socialist utopia and of course they were full of questions.
"Comrade Chief Director, what is this photo here?" It was a dark haired girl of ten. Remembering his own time in the Young Pioneers, the director recognized most of the scientific and cybernetics badges on her sash.
The Chief Director was about forty-five and had been working for the Artificial Labor and Economic Planning Directorate for more than twenty years, straight out of school. He had a boyish face with full dark hair and an intense but not unfriendly stare behind his glasses. It seemed obvious, just looking at him, that he was of the intelligentsia.
"That, young pioneers, is where it all began, arguably. The Eastern Ruler Engagement, Vladivostok, December 1924, year seven of the Civil War. I was about five at that time. My parents had considered fleeing the war for the United States. It was very dangerous time for world socialism but, at the same time, it was time full of many opportunities," he looked around at the children, but of course none of them had yet read Dickens.
The photograph showed two Red Army soldiers dragging the ruined head of a Paul Bunyan Mark Two through the heavy snow of a Siberian December. One of the soldiers had diesel powered prosthetic legs and to him fell the task of hauling the enormous robot's head to headquarters.
"Comrade Lenin had been assassinated about six years earlier," The director continued rather pedantically, "But thanks to Doctor Fyodorov's preservation techniques, Comrades Krasin and Bogdanov were able to scientifically resurrect him only a few months later."
But he was losing the crowd. Ten-year-olds rarely had patience for lectures and ancient history.
"The point is," the director resumed hastily, "that was the first military conflict of mechanical men or as we call them, robots. After that Lenin and Trotsky called for the superautomation of the entire Soviet economy. And then in the 1930, the Machines came online and began to plan all aspects of our economy. The Cheka was disbanded and very soon after that the dictatorship of the working classes vanished, leading to fully realized socialism. You now live in that world."
The Directors glasses flashed reminders of other appointments.
"Anyway, I'm sure you'd all love to see the factory floor instead of listen to a geezer like me ramble on. Follow Comrade Professor Rosenbaum and she'll take you there. I want to thank you all for coming to visit our factory!"
Comrade Professor Alisa Rosenbaum, Vanguard Mother of the Samara Oblast Young Pioneers took her cue, "And what do we say Comrade Chief Director Osimov, Young Pioneers?"
jonos zooms in on the man with the artificial legs:
'How can they work?'
This stroj lekár has not spoken before. It startled Karol to hear his voice. If it had been thin and frail, like the baba who were cursing and praising them until they got this head out of their lands, he would not have been surprised. But it is strong and deep, as if his coat hides a much larger man.
'How can they work?', the lekár asked again. 'They are a child's dream of a machine'
Karol does not think the words are for him. He knows the lekár are great men and women, that they can spin wonders out of iron and copper. Is he not proof of this? No, it must be some great mystery, too big for the small man to keep all under his heavy coat.
'Do you have any children, boys or girls?'
Karol slows the pumping of his engine and takes the cigareta from his mouth
'I asked, do you have any children? Small boys or young girls?'
'Nie, lekár. My legs were taken in one of the accidents of Nitra when I was very young.'
'Ah, your legs, I forget'
'I was very lucky to be near the Stroj Nemocnice of Cabaj-Čápor when the žehlička hmyzu were chewing my stomach. The lekár let me keep five in a jar when they were dead'
The little man in the big coat raises an eyebrow over thick, black goggles
'When you looked at those hmyzu in the jar, what were your thoughts?'
Karol feels his legs beginning to lose speed and the levers in his stomach pit begin to grind uncomfortable, but he does not wish to interrupt the lekár by making his engine pump louder
'My thoughts were of death, but also proud for survival. I was grateful that the lekár had such power to stop this evil'
Karol turns his head to give a grateful grin to the little man, but he is staring at the snow ahead and does not notice.
'Power. Evil. Ability and intent. No sign of reason. No thought to the how. This head, this evil, powerful head, this obývacia železa, made a body the size of a house pick up twenty and seven men, women and deti, and put them in its mouth. It ate them, and we found their remains lodged somewhere in what would have been its esophagus, if it had made sense.'
Karol risks increasing the engine pump a little. The levers are churning, threatening to stop. That is at least thirty minutes work.
'But it doesn't. It is a head filled with springs and woven metal fibres. It is a body filled with gears and levers and dry blood. It has no engine. It has no reason. We can not know it'
Karol understands, that these must be important lekár thoughts. He feels happy to be a part of them, but he wonders if he can start his engine fully soon.
'Perhaps they do not understand that they can not work, lekár. I am happy for my legs, but I use them without knowing them. If I was told they could not work, this would not make me stop using them.'
The lekár stops and turns his head to look at Karol through his black goggles. Karol feels he must slow down so he can be looked at. The pain begins to grow.
'Perhaps that is all we will ever know' says the little man finally. He begins to walk again.
Karol slowly makes his engine pump as the lekár picks up speed. He puts the cigareta back in his mouth. It feels good to have his lungs working when he walks, even while they must not.
monicawoe has the head carted off for salvage:
"How much do you think we'll get for this haul?" Josef asked, his breath forming small white clouds in the cold air. The snowfall had gotten stronger again, and if it wasn't for his goggles, old as they were, he wouldn't be able to see more than a few centimeters ahead of him.
Petr took a drag from his cigarillo. "For the eye lens? 50 easy. For the neck springs? Hard to know. If Gregor is in today, he'll take the lens, and laugh at the rest, but if Olaf is in, and I think he is…we're in luck. He loves the old black steel."
"Olaf should do us both a favor and fix your chicken-legs." Josef said, smirking to himself.
"They're not chicken legs!" Petr snapped. "They're good legs. Better than yours, stumpy."
Josef loved teasing Petr more than he loved a good drink. Not more than a good meal though. Which he could have used right about now. "Is that why they're so slow? Because they're so high quality?"
"Shut up. They aren't designed for snow. Anyway, without these we'd need a cart to carry this load, and last thing I remember, you sold yours." Petr blew a puff of smoke in Josef's general direction and flipped the hydraulic control setting higher again. The legs were getting stuck an awful lot lately. Olaf had better be there.
"We need at least 200 altogether. Less than that and we'll have to go out again tomorrow." Josef added, after a moment, "I don't want to go out again tomorrow. I want to stay home and relax."
Petr laughed. "You mean have to stay home tomorrow or Bree will tell you not to bother coming home again."
"She has said something to that effect, yes," Josef's cheeks flushed. His wife had a temper, but that just made her more lovely, in his eyes. Unless she was throwing things at him. Then she wasn't so lovely. Afterwards though…
"Cursed snow!" Petr yelled as his legs locked up again, one curled up awkwardly, making his balance tenuous. "Josef, oil. Now."
Josef sighed and went to oil Petr's legs for the fourth time that day. At least there would be only five more months of winter.
ShirtBloke's story is just one line long, but it gets his point across:
"That's the last time he'll be paying booty calls on my Esmeralda."
TRIORBIS notices our robot friend looks a mite familiar:
"So, my friend, at last we have destroyed the invader!".
Both men trudged through the bitter cold, although Miska's mechanical legs didn't mind the long walk back.
"Ah, it was glorious! Glorious! I never thought we could bring this monster down". Petra was crowing, almost giddy. Miska took a more somber tone.
"Yes, we are all happy he is dead, but to think of the carnage he wrought! Of granaries, emptied! Our supplies all but gone!"
"True, too true. But it is over. We can rebuild. We will survive and become stronger!"
"Perhaps," intoned Miska. "But we will be long in that rebuilding."
"Come, cheer up! We shall be home to our village soon. When we arrive, I shall be the first to buy you a drink."
Miska snorted. "You forget, dear comrade, the beast has drunk all our liquor. Beer, wine, it did not matter. He consumed them all!"
Petra did not know how to respond. He had forgotten that the monster, from its first day of landing on their small world, had demanded all their liquor, and had demanded they produce more and more, until finally the Great Rebellion had deprived him of his much-needed drinks.
Finally, the village was in site. Lookouts sounded the alarm, and the people, slowly at first, then in excited crowds, rush forward to throw open the gates. Petra and Miska were mobbed, the cheering echoed and reechoed throughout their tiny valley.
"Come!", said the Lord Mayor. "We have hear of your brave deeds. The village has worked furiously and created a space in the plaza where we can display your trophy for all to see! Come!"
The crowd now unharnessed Miska and began dragging the huge head to the center of the village. There, a raised circular platform had been hastily built. With tremendous effort they all shoved and pulled until the head was standing up, its once malevolent eyes a hollow threat gazing down at the people.
For a second, all were silent, then they burst out in song and cheers. The mayor gatherd Petra and Miska at the bottom of the platform, where a large cloth was draped over a long, low stone.
"Here, my heroes! Do the honor of unavailing the sign that will forever proclaim our freedom from this monster. Your names have been carved here, for all to know who did this brave deed."
Petra beamed, while Miska looked more bemused than happy. The two stepped up to the sides of the cloth, and with a nod to each other whipped away the covering.
There, carved into a beautiful slab of polished stone, was the following words:
"Here the bravest of men, Miska and Petra, have placed the head of the monster who called himself BENDER"
notbenjamin follows a pair of time travelers on a search for a renegade robot:
"Are you sure no one saw?"
Deniska sighed. This would be the fourth time the Observer asked him this.
"Of course I am. I don't make mistakes."
"Forgive me Deniska, I didn't mean to imply...."
"Forget it. Just make sure we have everything. I don't want any sign we were ever here." The Observer nodded, then scurried away, scanning the ground for more debris.
The snow crunched under Deniskas metal legs as he walked to the robot and inspected the damage. This new cannon packed a serious punch. The shot had hit so hard that the robots head had been torn off and thrown clear by about 12 feet. It had taken a lot longer than expected to pull the pieces together.
Something wasn't right here. He crouched down and peered at the wreckage.
"Observer, how many field missions have you taken part in?" he asked.
The smaller man was queit for a moment, but didn't pause in his task.
"Seven I believe, Deniska. This is only my third temporal mission though."
'Three temporal missions? I'm impressed. Most of the recent Observers assigned to me could barely manage one!"
The observer shrugged, and continued searching the ground.
"So tell me Observer, does anything seem off to you?" Deniska stood up, leg mechanism groaning in the cold.
The Observer turned to face him. "Yes Deniska. This is not the robot we followed here."
"What do you mean?' Deniska asked, surprise in his voice.
"This one is composed almost entirely of machinery from this time period."
Deniska looked back at the robot, his confusion clearing.
"Damn, I should have spotted that sooner... It was far too easy to take it out." He sighed. "We're going to have to come back here aren't we?"
"I'm afraid so. It would appear its learn to replicate itself."
"We have to hope this is the only one. There's no telling how much damage an army of these things could do to the timestream"
At that moment, there was a sound like thunder, then a glowing white doorway appeared in the snow.
"Right, let's get this hooked up to me, I'll drag it through. We'll get ourselves warmed up and come straight back."
They were too busy to notice the glowing, robitic eyes watching from the treeline. The two pairs of eyes.
Mel Chow's characters worry the head is a bomb, but discover a different dangerous truth:
"Godunov. How did you take down Metal Man?"
Godunov sighed. They had told him, no warned him about the Professor. That the man could sometimes see things no one could. But this. This was ridiculous. Slapping the lever near his hip, he waited as the smokestack behind him belched up a cloud of black smoke and the metal stilts in place of his legs ground to a halt.
He turned to look at the Professor.
"How did you take down Metal Man?"
"You mean this?"
Godunov turned to look at the Metal Man's mutilated head he was dragging behind him. It was rather large, the size of an outhouse. Trailing wires, springs, and other electrical nightmares.
Right. That. Time to humor the Professor a little. And then head back to base, before the snowstorm got any worse.
"I have no idea. It was long, long time ago, when I was leetle kid. Like ten minutes before this. Perhaps this did play a part?"
He gestured at the elephant gun strapped to his smokestack, named for it's ability to put holes the size of small elephants in bigger elephants. Or bigger metal elephants. Or metal men the size of houses, if said elephants were not within range.
"No. Really. Try to remember how you took it down."
So Godunov, having no choice but to humor the Professor further, tried remembering. And realised that he couldn't.
"I..I do not remember."
"So do I. Too easy, no? Like we are walking about in cold and BOOM, we destroy Metal Man and take him back to base for all to see."
"You could say that."
"Then I have good news, and bad news for us."
The snowstorm was all around them now. Godunov could hardly see the Professor, though he was just beside him. And then at the corner of his eye, he saw something shining through the heavy snow. Something orange. Something behind him.
He turned to look.
"The good news, Godunov. This is not atomic bomb. This will not blow us into million pieces smeared all over the beautiful white snow."
"The bad news then, Professor?"
Though he could already tell somehow, by staring at the Metal Man's head, now but a silhouette in the blizzard.
A silhoutte, except for the beams of unearthly orange light streaming forth from its eyes.
"It is homing beacon. Our day is not ending, it's begining."
And Godunov could make out something, shrouded by the heavy snowstorm. Something moving.
No, not just something. Many things.
Many things the size of houses.
BookManFilm considers the hazards of using a robot for parts:
The planet was ruined, they had known that as their ship twisted and turned as it crash landed.
Piotr and Sara had made it their mission to scavenge for bits and pieces, anything, that they could use to fix their ship.
On the third day they found the head. Eyeless, but not brainless. Coils, chips and circuits which they could use to get the hell off this desolate rock.
As they dragged the head through the ash they felt the first vibrations. Sara looked back but Piotr did not. He lit a cigarette and took and long, slow drag. He knew it would be his last.
They had taken the head but there is no such thing as a dead robot.