Four food bars later, Lasko sat next to the dog, staring at the ground. He had lost all of his fear, completely treating the dog like a stray, occasionally petting it as he pleased.
With each food bar that they had shared, the dog became more and more energetic, even readjusting its position, and even curling up to gnaw at some of its scabbed wounds.
Lasko sighed. He was nearing the end of his food stash sooner than he thought. His original intention to ration the food had completely been forgotten when he began to feed the pitiful dog. If he didn’t want to go hungry, soon he would have to get to work on escaping the chamber. Lasko didn’t have enough time to wait for the potential rescue by Sharp and Tunnel anymore.
“Well, Ford, I better get to work,” he said bitterly. “If I can get out, that’ll probably be the end of our acquaintance. How do you feel about that?”
The dog just looked at him with round eyes. Lasko thought that they seemed to hide some profound meaning. But that was probably just his imagination.
All this time cooped up in this dark cave is making me act a little crazy.
Just then, there was a crashing sound, followed by the sound of cutting and grinding.
What? Where was that coming from? Lasko listened carefully. It seemed like the sound was coming from all around him. Was it a rescue? Lasko grew excited.
“Hey! Hello! I’m here!” Lasko yelled. There was no answer, but the sounds continued.
“Who is it? Sharp, Tunnel is that you?” In response to the loud noises, the dog began to freak out. Lasko stopped yelling, and patted the dog in an attempt to calm it down.
The noises grew closer and closer, until finally there was a scraping sound. Then from the small tunnel entrance a voice called out.
“Hey, stupid! Are you in there?”
It was the rude robot.
Lasko didn’t know what to say. It was a completely unexpected scenario.
“Hey idiot, if you’re in there say something. Otherwise I’m leaving.”
“I’m here, I’m here,” Lasko said hurriedly.
“Well, then hurry up and come out. I don’t have all day,” PiRA said with an annoyed tone.
Lasko crawled down the tunnel. Questions flooded through his mind. How the heck did PiRA get here? How did the robot even find him? He emerged through the newly opened entrance into the bright light, where the robot was waiting impatiently.
“Took you long enough,” the robot said condescendingly, but Lasko couldn’t answer. He was too busy gawking at the robot.
The robot had completely changed since the last time Lasko had seen it. When he had left PiRA in the hut, the robot had been a humanoid frame with two skinny arms and no legs.
Now, the PiRA unit was barely recognizable. The original torso was still there, but now it was covered with various mechanisms and devices that made the body bulky. The arms had been reinforced and even extended, with an additional joint.
Legs. PiRA had somehow manufactured a platform out of scrap that its torso was attached to comfortably. The whole thing was supported by a set of four legs, thrown together by assortment of various pieces of metal and machine parts. They weren’t identical by any means, but they seemed rugged and somehow reliable.
The last major difference was the appearance of a long, sturdy, powerful limb that extended out of the base of the platform. It was segmented, having at least five thick omnidirectional joints. It looked very similar to a scorpion’s tail.
If it wasn’t for the robot’s unique personality, Lasko might not have believed that this robot and the previous robot that he knew were one and the same.
“What… what happened to you?” Lasko stammered.
“What, you don’t like it?” Pira swiveled around, observing its structural changes. “When you didn’t come back as scheduled, I realized that something may have happened. The large amount of debris falling from the sky also heightened the probability that you may have gotten squashed.”
PiRA patted one of the legs. “Since it was apparent that you weren’t coming back, mobility became my primary concern. These legs aren’t standard issue, but I think that they’ll do quite nicely considering this new 30th century terrain.”
“I managed to find some of your pathetic trail markings, and I was able to map your path accordingly. When I got to a place that was likely to be ‘the end of your travels’, I began scanning the area using an assortment of techniques, including sonar, infrared, and acoustic monitoring.”
PiRA preened. “Pretty impressive, right? I’m quite the genius.”
Lasko was floored. He didn’t think that PiRA would be able to fix itself, yet alone design, manufacture, and install parts, on top of that also tracking and performing a rescue operation. Wasn’t that really, incredibly impressive?
It was, but Lasko for some reason really didn’t want to admit it. He was thankful, but feeding the already over-bloated ego of the robot didn’t seem like a good idea.
“Yeah, good work. Thanks for saving me.”
“Your completely insufficient thanks will be accepted, for now.” PiRA folded its two front arms. “Naturally, I understand that as a human of lower IQ it may be difficult for you to recognize the extent of the amazing feat that I have just performed. We’ll work on getting your comprehension of my greatness up to speed.”
OMG. Nothing worked. This robot would never change.
“Anyway, let’s head back. You need to take a shower. My olfactory sensors are spiking whenever they’re pointed at you.”
Lasko paused. “Can you hold on a second?” He headed back into the cave, where Ford, the crippled dog was lying down patiently.
Patting the giant dog’s head, Lasko felt a bit of sadness. “Thanks for keeping me company, buddy. I gotta go now. I hope that you can live out the rest of your life well.” Dropping the remainder of his bars on the ground, he held his hand out to the dog one last time.
The dog sniffed his hand, and licked it, the first time it did so, before turning its attention to the food bars.
Fighting the strong emotions that suddenly sprouted in his chest, Lasko shouldered his bag, and left the chamber.
An hour later, walking back to the hut, alongside of PiRA, Lasko stopped.
The man turned around and headed back.