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Length: 3,335 words - 17 minutes

Let's All Go To The Mall

The shopping mall was properly abandoned. It seemed like not a single soul had been around in years. The remains of the stores were empty reminders of what used to be, a time when things here were bustling and folks were eager to spend.

Sadie Cat made her way down the center of the mall and brushed by a few large plastic plants. Her footsteps echoed as Mao shuffled quietly behind her.

"I don't like this place," he stated. His complaining was less about the potential dangers than it was simply recognizing this trip as an inconvenience. Sadie Cat had woken him up from his mid-afternoon nap for this scavenger stroll.

"You don't have to like it," she replied. "But we have to at least have a look. We haven't been here before and there could be something others have missed."

In the distance Sadie Cat could see a stack of cans on top of a pedestal. There were three separate cans each with little pictures of cut vegetables on the labels. These could be really useful later on when they had to cover a long distance between cities.

"I'm not very much a fan of carrots," Mao said.

"You don't have to be a fan of carrots right now, Mao. I know you'll be a fan when you're starving," Sadie Cat replied. The pair turned and made their way toward the cans.

As they got closer, Sadie Cat started to have a strange feeling. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. There was something odd about the store these cans were in. It wasn't an abandoned food store or snack shop. It was probably a clothes store or a shop that sold candles as noted by the hints of cinnamon in the air. The placement of the cans also seemed strange: a perfect pyramid with labels facing out. Mao impatiently pushed past Sadie Cat.

"The sooner we grab these the sooner we can get back. I have my late-afternoon nap to attend to." Mao reached the cans first and picked one up. High above their heads a few hollow wooden tubes rattled and then there was a quick slack metal sound, like a chain being released. No more than a few seconds later, the pedestal sank into the floor and with it Mao. Sadie Cat was only a few inches away from what now was a gaping hole in the middle of an abandoned candle store in the middle of an abandoned shopping mall in the middle of nowhere.

For the record, Mao didn't yell or scream as he fell into the hole. His arms were crossed, had an annoyed smirk on his face, and he simply fell deeper and deeper into the unknown exhuming an air of "I knew this was going to happen" from his flared nostrils.

Captured

Mao woke with a throbbing headache. He rubbed his eyes and felt the swaying of the something like a boat on the ocean beneath his legs. He looked around. The room was dimly lit by a few torches. He couldn't make out much — some stone carvings, some cloth draped over old furniture, a bunch of vertical lines everywhere. It only took a few moments to realize the vertical lines were bars. He was swaying in a cage suspended a few feet off the ground.

This entire experience would be considered strange if it weren't for the even stranger sudden craving he had for canned vegetables.

Tunnels

Sadie Cat eventually found herself exploring a deep network of tunnels underneath the abandoned shopping mall. She had followed the chain at the top of the canned vegetable room out the door, around the corner, into a bathroom and into a stall that was marked "Out of Order". Inside was a thinly veiled attempt at hiding a secret passage: a picture of a toilet on a large piece of cardboard with a sign that said "Not a Door". It was a door.

She was holding a jar of glowing water with her. Every time it dimmed, she shook it for a few seconds and the glow grew once again. She had found this glowing teal water once on an adventure in the desert deep inside an underground cavern. She seemed to do a lot of adventuring in dark underground caverns as of late.

"I'm not sure where I'm going," Sadie Cat thought to herself. "But no matter what, I'm going to find you Mao. Just you wait!"

There was nothing unique about the walls or things she came across. No differences in sketches on the walls. Unfortunately there weren't special signs that said "this way to captured prisoners" either. She passed by a blue door, a green door, a yellow fence, and a white door. She walked by a blue fitted sheet sort of taped to an opening. Tired, Sadie Cat decided to take a chance and walk through the next door she saw. The sheet fluttered as Sadie Cat passed through it.

Rescue

Footsteps echoed down the hall as a dim light traced the outline of a figure coming closer. Mao didn't know what to do, so he collapsed in a heap and peeked out between his hands.

"He's in here," the voice said. It sounded like someone was speaking through a tin can. In walked a green colored robot with a tin can taped to where its mouth should be. "Have we found his owner yet?"

Mao sat up in his cage. Nobody owned him. He just happened to tag along to individuals that had a better sense of direction than him and would leech off them for food and shelter. But certainly nobody owned him. That would simply be preposterous. He was about to say something, but was interrupted.

"She's making her way down tunnel 4-B. Should I lead her this way?" the robot asked. Clearly it was speaking to someone on some kind of communication device as it was the only thing in the room. There was a pause and the robot concluded, "Understood."

It walked into the room some more, took at look at Mao sitting there, turned around, and left the room. As soon as the robot was out of earshot, Mao chimed in and said proudly, "Nobody owns me!" He smiled triumphantly. His cage swayed just a little bit more.

Blue Robot

Sadie Cat entered a room and noticed a cage hanging from the ceiling. It was a square cage with black iron bars all around it. Inside was a blue box with a bunch of blue tubes sticking out of it. Sadie Cat walked closer, leading with the glowing jar. She must have made a sound to startle the box because the tubes started to move all around, like wriggling snakes, and it stood up in the cage bumping its head near the top. It was a blue robot with a small wide rectangle head, a tall rectangle body, and clamps at the end of its arms. It also had short stubby legs, but no feet to be seen. It was smiling.

"Hello," Sadie Cat said. "My name is Sadie Cat. How long have you been down here? Who did this to you?"

The robot processed the questions and replied in a friendly voice, "My name is Robot. I was put here by the other robots. They are also named Robot. We are from the Order of the Trap Makers. I used to be a trap maker, but now am just a prisoner inside this cage. I have been in this cage for seven years, 129 days, 4 hours, 22 minutes, and 43 seconds." Robot looked around his surroundings.

"Why are you..." Sadie Cat was interrupted.

"44 seconds," Robot stated.

"Why are you..." Sadie Cat was interrupted.

"45 seconds," Robot stated.

"Okay. I get it. Why are you in the cage? What did you do?" Sadie Cat asked.

"I was put in here because my computer chips malfunctioned," Robot replied. "I started thinking and doing things that did not match the other robot's programming."

Before Robot could continue with his explanation, a row of lights illuminated below Sadie Cat's feet. They led out the room and down the hall. A voice crackled through some speaker that was embedded in the ceiling. "We have your cat. Bring money," it said. There was a click and then the lights started to pulsate.

"You'd better get going," Robot said. "Robots don't like to be kept waiting."

Sadie Cat started to make her way back to the exit of the room, turned back, and said, "I'll come back for you." Robot smiled back at her as she left the room. Robot smiled because his smile was actually painted onto his face.

The Long Walk

Sadie Cat had expected the walk from Robot's room to where Mao was supposedly being held captive would be a short one. It wasn't. She probably walked for a good 35 minutes before reaching Mao. It turns out these underground tunnels were much larger and more spread out than she had initially imagined. She ran up to Mao's cage and shook it.

"Mao! Are you okay?" Sadie Cat darted her eyes around the cage, checking to see if there were any obvious wounds on Mao's body.

"You're not my owner," Mao said with his arms crossed. He got closer to Sadie Cat and whispered, "Thank goodness you are here. I'm terrified and I started to eat my scarf." It was true. There were bite marks on his scarf.

"Don't worry, Mao. I'll get you out of here," Sadie Cat said. She stepped away from the cage and spoke out loud to nobody in particular, "I'm here! What do you want?"

A green robot walked into the room, followed by two more green robots. They had the same design as Robot, with tall rectangular bodies and stumpy tube legs. "Are you this cat's owner?" the first green robot asked.

"I have no owner!" Mao said defiantly. He then winked at Sadie Cat. She rolled her eyes and let out an audible sigh.

"Yes. I am his owner. What do you want for him?" Sadie Cat asked.

"We want money. All the money that you have. What is this cat worth to you?" the first green robot asked. The two green robots walked up and flanked the first green robot.

"I can give you what I got," Sadie Cat said. She searched around in her pockets and presented a piece of lint, a spool of thread, and a shiny button. "We don't have any money, to be honest. That's why we were scrounging around in this abandoned mall for food, clothing, whatever useful we could find."

The green robots looked at each other. She noticed that they didn't have a smile like Robot. Well, maybe they did. She just couldn't tell because of the tin cans attached to their mouth areas.

"Unacceptable," the first green robot declared. "You must be captured." The green robots started to close in on Sadie Cat.

She quickly threw whatever was from her pocket at the green robot in the middle. It clanked off his chest and fell to the floor. Sadie Cat then spun around and grabbed Mao's cage with both hands, leaning back and digging her heels into the floor. She shifted her weight to the right and swung the cage around in a circle. Now there was a caged cat between her and the green robots. With a quick kick, she let go of the cage and sent it flying toward the three robots that were trying to close in on her.

Mao's cage successfully knocked the three green robots to the floor. They landed on their backs and their arms started to wriggle around like worms. While their center of gravity is low, their tall rectangular bodies made it extremely easy to push them over. Each robot planted one clamp into the ground, while using the other to pull each other up. They made their way toward Sadie Cat once again and she once again kicked Mao's cage, slamming the three green robots to the floor. They landed on their backs and their arms started to wriggle around like worms.

This repeated action went on for a good 10 minutes.

"Can you please stop kicking the cage," Mao finally said. He was holding his head with his hands. "I'm really starting to get a headache."

Sadie Cat was breathing hard, "I'd like to, but these robots just keep coming." The robots arms started to wriggled around like worms. Again. "I know I can't keep this up forever, but I don't have any other options right now."

"I have an idea," Mao said. He turned the knob on the cage and it swung open. He stepped out of the cage and landed on the floor next to Sadie Cat. His hands brushed off the front of his pants. Sadie Cat stood there, dumbfounded, staring at Mao with a slightly agape mouth.

"The cat has been released. Payment has been made," the front green robot stated. The three robots turned around and exited the room, cheering and giving themselves robot high fives about the money they had just made.

Blue Robot

Sadie Cat and Mao walked down the hall back to where Robot, the blue one, was still being held captive. Mao was holding the glowing jar this time. He held out in front of him.

"Why didn't you try opening the cage to begin with?" Sadie Cat finally asked.

"I just didn't think to. I was in a cage. I was scared. Would you have done that? Would you have that kind of clarity in that moment of infinite stress?" Mao asked, voice slightly shaking.

"Trying the door would have been the first thing I tried," Sadie Cat flatly stated. "We're here." Sadie Cat pushed the blue fitted sheet aside and walked into the room.

Robot was sitting in his cage. He raised his head and cocked his head, examining Mao for the first time.

"Hello," Robot greeted. "My name is Robot."

"Try opening the door," Sadie Cat suggested as she pointed at the door behind Robot. Robot turned around and tried the handle. It swung open and he stepped out of the cage. When his stubby feet hit the floor a very faint hooting and hollering down the halls could be heard, robot high fives being given.

"I never even considered trying the door," Robot said. Mao stared at Sadie Cat with eyes that screamed I told you so. "Actually, I just figured I should stay put. I wouldn't want to be a bad captive."

"Who are those robots? Who are you?" Sadie Cat asked.

Robot scratched his chest with his clamp hand and revealed that underneath his blue coat was green, the same green as the other robots. Robot started to explain how he got into the cage in the first place.

Robot Land

All of the robots were created and manufactured from a place known as Robot Land. All the robots came from this place. They were also all programmed to do the same thing: make traps and make money. The creator of these robots was pretty much obsessed with kidnapping via traps. The creator released all of his robots out into the wild, and waited for all of the money to roll in.

The problem was that it didn't roll in.

While the green robots continued to expand outward, making traps, capturing folks, and ransoming them for money, there were a few problems. The robots didn't actually know where to send the money. The robots also didn't know what to do if they couldn't find a proper master. The robots automatically assumed if a captive got out of the cage then they must have paid. The creator wasn't the best robot maker out there, but certainly one of the most hard working it seemed. The creator had actually died before the robots were able to get any money. Turns out you need money to buy food to eat and you need to eat to stay alive.

Even with these mistakes, the creator did end up doing one miraculous thing.

Robot, our blue friend, was the final robot the creator ever made. It programmed Robot a little bit differently. It may have been on purpose or it may have been a delirious fever dream from not eating, but the creator had added a single line of code into the Robot's brain that was different from all the others.The creator added this line of code: imagination = true;

Robot Imagination

"And that's when I realized I didn't have to do what the others did. I could be my own robot. It took a few years, but things changed inside. I didn't want to make traps anymore. I painted myself blue," Robot said.

"And how did you end up in the cage?" Sadie Cat asked.

"Cotton candy. I got caught in a cotton candy trap and they brought me down here. I love cotton candy," Robot admitted. "It's funny because I was the one who had originally set that trap many years before."

"Well, I think we can leave now, right? I missed the naps and have to get home to get ready for bed," Mao said. Sadie Cat and Mao made their way towards the exit.

Sadie Cat stood in the doorway and turned around. "You can come with us, if you'd like," she said.

"That is very nice of you," Robot remarked. "I think there's still a lot for me to see out there on my own." Robot cocked his head to the side and thought for a moment. "The world is a lot smaller than you think. I am sure we will run into each other again."

Sadie Cat and Mao smiled and waved goodbye. They made their way back through the tunnels and up to the abandoned mall where this all started. A few hours later, Sadie Cat and Mao finally left the abandoned mall empty handed, but they didn't leave empty hearted. They had a made a new friend and hoped to see Robot once again.

Copyright 2018 // Alexander Shen