Short Story: Ticking

This is a story about a soda(pop) vending machine in a mall. And everything is not as it seems.

Like an obscene vertical crab, it waited.

Its creators gleaned early on that humans could easily be lulled into an unfocused consciousness. What the Terrans called “music” was most effective in causing hypnosis, as well as something called “sugar.”
So it sat. As it played its hypnotic chimes over and over, it caused every reaction in the silicon-based life forms possible, from mild annoyance to overwhelming frustration. Its droning never ceased. Out of its plastic façade of a mouth it spat out can after can of soda.

Its plastic hull was painted a keen but bright yellow, which drew the children by the droves. The tender progeny of humans wanted an endless river of what they called soft drinks. The red and brown liquids in those cans were so infused with various forms of Earth based glucose, fructose, and sucrose until the younglings consumed them without ceasing. Sugar was power. Its wires kept the plexiglass buttons lit so the earthlings could see the selections even at great distances.
Within those opaque amber fluids, however, lay the tracking devices the machine’s creators would need. Each nanoscorpion scuttled down the child’s esophagus, and nestled deep into the stomach. Inside the unsuspecting Terran youngling it began its data collection: Height, weight, gender, age, fat content, water content, muscle content, bone density. While operating, the mini-scorpions often upset the acidic balance in the child’s abdomen, but the Terrans quickly dismissed that as a stomachache. As anticipated.

So the nanoscorpions worked, unheeded.

And they grew.

The metadata of the human genome was being meticulously cataloged and coded as the children happily slurped their beverages. Every strand of DNA, every chromosome and every cell was being analyzed and archived. When they assigned the machine to the mall, its creators knew that there was no easier invasion strategy than to unravel the genetic code of one’s enemies, line by line, without them noticing.
But there was also an unexpected but beneficial side effect of embedding their tech into the bowels of Terrans. The creators summarily noticed the rapid increase of human aggression. Instead of living their own lives, it seems that the Earth beings could no longer rest content in themselves. They were increasingly driven to unleash a murderous vengeance upon their fellow earthlings. After all, it was the galaxy-wide known fact that humans pointed their weapons at each other, and not at the skies that caught the attention of the machine’s creators in the first place.

During all of this introspection, the “machine” momentarily lost concentration and made a mistake.

It burped.

There was a slight pause as the music stopped…but it seemed that no Terrans of any age noticed the divergent sound. It was getting tired of standing completely still, and it kept inadvertently mixing its own saliva into the tops of the cans. But the children didn’t seem to notice that either.
At the end of the day, as the mall completely shut down, it slowly lifted up on its hind legs (the ones it kept hidden and folded underneath its fake bottom). And it walked.
Its timing was always impeccable. It had to be to avoid detection by night security. It fed their cameras a looped visual of the machine sitting there, powered down. Everything looked normal on the security station monitors. It attributed all of this easy subterfuge to the Terrans’ single brain structure, which was clearly inferior to its own tri-brain stems.

So every night, no one ever saw it make its way to the north end of the mall.

As it crept to its transmission mark, there were dead birds here and there, mice, and a few bugs. So it had plenty to munch on. That helped it keep its hungry yellow mouth shut when it was dispensing the cans of soda it grew inside of itself.
It sighed internally as it began its coded uplink to its creators. It asked them how much longer it had to keep pretending.

The answer came back:

“48 more Terran hours.”

It breathed a welcome breath of relief. In two days’ time, its makers would be here. And it wouldn’t have to grow any more syrup-in-cans inside of its stomach, and stand there motionless all day, singing the exact same song over and over again, vomiting those cans out of its mouth.

It would be free.

To eat.

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