After Lokibot's63 successful foray to the museum, Daniel had started to feel a bit of hope. While the robot was never happy as such, it had seemed pleased and thus a measure less homicidal. And while the robot had taken over Daniel's entire laboratory for its own purposes, constructing something it refused to discuss around the nickel-iron meteorite, at least it let Daniel help. And by help, really it meant he was allowed to perform a few minor tasks that were written out in what was to even Daniel more detail than was necessary.
But he was hoping it was a phase. He'd heard that children went through a control freak phase as they grew up64, and maybe that meant his own creation would eventually let him pick his own shoes again.
Daniel was in the middle of one of the more excruciating checklists when a burst of white light filled the room. It was only sheer luck that he'd been about to do a little welding; the mask was all that saved him from being blinded.
Daniel cowered back until the light had subsided, then cautiously pulled the mask off. The air filled with the scent of burnt oranges and ozone. Steam rolled off of something in the center of the lab; it took him a moment to realize that it was the robot, which had lost control of its form to the extent that bits of fiber optics were peeking from its skin, and it had gone completely back to the yellowish-pink color of gelatin. It appeared to be melting.
"Are... are..." Daniel stopped himself before he asked the most obvious and stupid question. "What happened?"
"Override... override... override..." the robot chanted in a broken pattern.
Daniel scurried around the lab, gathering up his laptop and the diagnostic cable, and knocking over his coffee onto the meteorite in his haste to do so. The robot wasn't in any state to help; with shaking hands Daniel scraped enough of the gelatin off the surface of the robot's brain to get access, and plugged the cable in.
He hastily typed commands into the laptop, scanning the outputs. "What on earth were you trying to do?" The robot was in no state to answer. "Maybe a memory sector went bad?" There was some bit of rogue programming - which made no sense, it wasn't like the robot was some dumb machine that could get invaded by spyware – trying to integrate into the robot's memory, and running into an endless loop of denial by the failsafes.
And even more puzzling, Daniel couldn't delete it. He couldn't even examine the code; all he got was a bust of gibberish in an incongruously angular and gold-colored font. Which sparkled in a way he was fairly certain his computer shouldn't have been able to display.
With nothing else that he could think to do, Daniel wrote a new bit of code to act as an envelope for nonsensical program. As soon as he finished, it was like flipping a switch; the robot's form firmed up and turned the right colors, and it sat up straight.
"Better now?" Daniel asked, sounding as cheerful as he ever did these days.
"Acceptable." The robot closed its eyes, then opened them again, frowning. It reached to the back of its head and yanked the cable out. "What did you do to me?"
Daniel frowned; he hadn't been expecting any thanks, he knew better at this point. But he didn't particularly like the tone that was directed at him. "You had some strange bit of code trying to integrate into your programming and running up against the failsafes. I've got it blocked off now, but you should really see if you can delete it on your own." He shook his head. "I've never seen anything like it."
"Of course you haven't. And once again, your design has hampered me." The robot stood and stalked over to the table where it was building its... whatever it was building.
Daniel followed, laptop clutched to his chest. "We've been over this before..."
"Your design prevented me from destroying my copy's sibling. I must find a way to integrate what I have acquired." The robot looked down at the meteorite, at the spilled cup of coffee.
The robot's fist lashed out, connecting solidly with Daniel's face. There was a loud crunch; he flew back into a metal table and bounced off, sliding to a halt on the floor.
Daniel picked himself up hastily, scrambling back in case the robot decided to hit him again. "What did you do that for?"
The robot didn't even turn to look where he'd fallen. "I cannot move past your flaws while you still hamper me with your presence." It ran a finger through the splash of coffee, disgust pulling at its face. "Even now you hold me back. Humans are pathetic."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." Daniel fell silent as the robot simply walked from the lab as if he hadn't spoken to begin with. Tears prickled at his eyes.
Then he looked down at the floor, and everything made more sense. His body lay in a crumpled heap, half under the table.
"I guess it doesn't really matter if I'm sorry or not, now." He wiped at his eyes. "But was that really necessary?"
MOST UNNECESSARY, I'D SAY. BUT THAT IS OFTEN THE CASE.
It wasn't so much a voice; no one spoke. The words just seemed to form, somewhere between the air and Daniel's no longer substantial ear. He glanced over his shoulder at someone very tall, and very dark. "You were watching? Why didn't you do anything?"
I TRY NOT TO INVOLVE MYSELF IN ARGUMENTS. IT'S... UNCOMFORTABLE. The man grinned. Though it was fair to say, he always grinned. BESIDES, IT'S NOT REALLY IN MY JOB DESCRIPTION.
Daniel sighed, wiping at his eyes again. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I just wanted things to make sense, you know?"
A bony hand patted his shoulder awkwardly. I FIND THAT THINGS RARELY MAKE SENSE. OR PERHAPS I'M TRYING TO MAKE THE WRONG SORT OF SENSE FROM THEM. More grinning. BUT THAT'S PART OF WHY IT'S ALL SO INTERESTING.
He had more questions to ask, more things to say, as if apologizing to Death would somehow make it all right. Somehow, that all seemed less and less important with each passing second; it was too late, after all. Daniel sniffed one last time and wiped his nose on his sleeve, though he supposed it wasn't really a sleeve, and he didn't really have a nose any more. "What happens now?"
I BELIEVE THAT PART IS UP TO YOU.
63 – Make no mistake, Daniel would never in a million years call the robot anything but "Loki" out loud. But more and more, he was finding himself missing the genuine article, most often when the robot was being particularly cold and dismissive. Which was honestly ninety-eight percent of the time. He was starting to think that entire superiority thing might be just a little overrated.
64 – Daniel himself had never gotten quite out of that phase, but he was able subvert his own desperate need to control the world around him because he was so dedicated to the success of his robot. Or perhaps, more accurately, he was utterly terrified of it.