Its face was a putrid shade of orange, like fruit gone to rot. It had only the most basic impression of the necessary features—eyes, nose, and flat mouth—but lacked detail. No wrinkles, no whiskers, no creases or blemishes, no freckles or scars or tired bags beneath the eyes. The lack of definition made the flecks of blood splattered over that blank face all the more unsettling.
Arthur Nadler sat facing the android—itself sitting in a neutral, not uncomfortable looking pose—with his arms crossed, his legs crossed, and with his fingers mentally crossed as well. He wore a blank paper-white mask over his own face, which always gave him the creeps, but it confused the androids into thinking they were speaking to one of their own; one of many hardcoded parameters. Parameters meant to protect against situations such as this.
Arthur was no detective, just the on-site company rep, but he was the closest thing they had to an expert. Besides, it had taken him three days as it was to arrive at the Gilbert Crater Complex in the southern polar region from where he was stationed in Utopia Planitia. This needed to be handled quickly. And quietly.
“Cycle up,” he said. The android gave little indication it heard his command but for a slight lift of its chin and a dim green illumination from its eye sockets. “Diagnosis mode, run primary—”
“Hello, Mr. Lorne.”
Arthur was momentarily frozen, stunned. In the silence, the android continued.
“I expect you’re by now pleased with the outcome.”
The cold inflectionless voice turned Arthur’s vertebrae to ice cubes. He cocked his head and uncrossed his legs, leaning forward. “Who’s Mr. Lorne?”
“You are, of course. As you are aware, I can see through your mask.”
This couldn’t be happening. Arthur’s own face must now be paper-white, too. He removed his mask.
“I’m not Mr. Lorne.”
“No, Mr. Nadler, you’re not.” The android then began to laugh. A more chilling sound has never been heard. Its stuttering, joyless laugh stopped all at once, and it added, “Thank you, Arthur. You have been more helpful than you realize.” A bright flash accompanied a swift popping sound from behind its eyes, which now darkened and faintly smoked.
Arthur’s pounding heart sank into his guts. He had to make a phone call.