"Hur hur hur," said the Scrapman. He walked through valleys of broken machines, his beady eyes seeking and peeking, skittering over rusted-out hulks as they sought any signs of movement. The Tallyman had said there were artificials wandering the scrapyard, and that meant money.
The Scrapman's ears perked up. A skitter, a clatter! Around a pile of industrial piping he ran, and found a sleek black artificial lifting a pipe and putting it back down, over and over again. The artificial looked at him with one good glowing red lense.
“Disassemble/recycle?” it said. Its voice was a static-laced blurt. The Scrapman chuckled, and slipped the slaver cube out of his satchel. It was the work of a moment to affix the cube to the artificial’s chassis. Nanofilaments extruded from the cube’s surface and wormed their way into the artificial’s logic centers, imparting new directives, new loyalties. The artificial set down its pipe for the last time and followed the Scrapman as he continued his hunt.
Man and machine walked twisting pathways through the scrap, around mountains of twisted metal, cracked gears and sparking circuitry. Here and there, the Scrapman spotted a bit of yttrium or lanthanum, and slipped them into his satchel; it never did to turn down easy money, after all. But for hours more artificials eluded him.
The Scrapman saw the sky lightening in the east and cursed, knowing that he would have to leave the scrapyard soon or risk running afoul of the Reclamation Authority. He was just about to turn back when a bit of light caught the corner of his eye. A pair of green glowing lenses was peeking at him around the side of a cracked maker engine.
“Here, little one, don’t be afraid,” said the Scrapman, smiling with an easy charm despite his missing teeth and growths of patchy stubble. “Come to your old uncle Scrapper.”
The Scrapman bent low and made welcoming gestures. The artificial, a small silvery unit, inched out from its hiding place. It was missing a manipulator unit, and sparks flew from the broken stump, but otherwise it seemed in fine condition.
“That’s right, you beauty,” the Scrapman said as the artificial crept closer. “Come to poppa.”
The black artificial perked up then, its red-lensed gaze locking on to the smaller unit. “Disassemble/recycle?” it said, raising its long, pointed manipulators and clacking them together quickly with a sound like chattering mandibles.
The smaller artificial started, then turned and ran. The Scrapman cursed his luck and went running after it, his inconvenient companion following along behind him with a smooth, unhurried stride.
The silver artificial ran like a kangaroo, springing from point to point in a way that would have been comical if it hadn’t allowed the machine to cover so much ground so quickly. The Scrapman was hard-pressed to keep up, puffing and wheezing from his exertions.
The Scrapman’s foot caught on an outstretched artificial limb, and he went down heavily, the air whooshing out of his lungs. He cursed again and looked up, expecting to see the silver artificial fleeing out of sight and out of reach.
To his surprise and pleasure, he saw instead that the artificial was bounding into a narrow gap between two large mounds of scrap, one even the Scrapman could see was a dead-end. The thing’s pathfinding algorithms must have been damaged. The Scrapman scrambled to his feet and got running again.
He caught up with the artificial at the end of the gap. It was bouncing up and down in place, it’s green lenses sweeping back and forth as it tried to decide where to go.
“You led a good chase, little one,” said the Scrapman, moving forward carefully. He kept both arms outstretched, in case the artificial made another break for it. “But Scrapper’s here now. Scrapper will take care of you.”
The silver artificial turned around at last and fell over in surprise. It scurried backward on ball-jointed arms and legs, clambering up the wall of scrap metal behind it in its desperation to get away. The scrap shifted and collapsed, keeping the artificial from making any progress.
“All be over soon, don’t worry,” said the Scrapman, pulling another slaver cube from his satchel.
The artificial’s frantic scrambling increased as the Scrapman drew close. The sparking stump of one of its arms clanged against a large square piece of blackened metal revealed by its struggling.
The spark travelled through the metal, down into circuitry and synapse structure that had been left cold and depowered years ago. The flare of electricity interacted with redundant power systems, jump-starting batteries that had been believed long dead.
The blackened metal shivered, then shook, then started to rise. The Scrapman and the artificial leapt away as the mound of scrap shifted and collapsed from the efforts of the immense form that had been hidden under it. The slaver cube dropped from the Scrapman’s hand and bounced under the collapsing heaps of metal.
The immense artificial was canine in appearance, a military-class artificial judging by the spikes and broken turrets that bedecked its emerging form. It regarded the Scrapman with eyes that burned like furnace doors as control systems tapped into the local network and tried to determine its current assignment.
UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL DETECTED, it growled in deep bass tones. YOU HAVE FIVE SECONDS TO VACATE THE PREMISES.
The Scrapman shivered and whimpered, his motor functions gone the way of his bladder control. One hand desperately reached into his satchel, but shook too badly to grip the cubes inside.
TIME’S UP, the guard dog said, and leapt.
A short time later, the guard dog had curled up in a rest state. The silver artificial was sitting on top of its head, gently polishing the dog’s head with its undamaged manipulator, when the sleek black artificial arrived. The guard dog ignored it – it was authorized, after all.
The black artificial looked down at the remains of the Scrapman. “Diassemble/recycle!” it said happily, and did just that.
I wrote this for a flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig's blog, TERRIBLEMINDS. It's a great blog, go check it out!