The next day at school I told Priya about the flash. At first she thought I’d imagined it and asked lots of questions like “Were the curtains closed?”,”Did you have your head-lamp on again?” and “How much sleep have you had lately?”. All of this was a little bit cheeky if you ask me but eventually I convinced her that I saw what I saw. She got quite excited at the idea of finally getting Sugar to work again and I suggested she came round after school so we could take a look at him together.
She came round a bit later than I was expecting which was annoying because I wanted to get working on Sugar as soon as possible. By the time Mum shouted that Priya had arrived I had already started investigating. I was beginning to look at the servos but Priya thought it might be a good idea to look at the power supply first. This was a pretty good idea so I agreed.
“You’ll need to take the batteries out first”, Priya said.
“No need.” I replied,”I left them out last night. I didn’t want them to leak or anything.”
“So where are they then?” she asked looking about the desk.
“There…” I started to point to where the batteries were but stopped because they weren’t there.”Oh I must have put them in my battery box.” I said opening the box, but they weren’t in there. This was confusing because I was sure I had taken them out.
“Are you sure you took them out?” Priya asked nervously.
“Of course!” I snapped.”Look you can see that because the battery compartment lid is..” and I turned Sugar over, “..closed?”.
Priya just smiled and said” It’s okay you know. It was probably late when you finished last night and you just thought you had taken them out.”
“No. I definitely did it.” I said, getting a bit puzzled.”In fact I can prove it!” I picked up my camera and began flicking through the photos on it.”I took a progress photo last night for my blog.” I continued without looking up from the camera.”Yes, here it is.” I showed her a photo with the batteries lying on the desk next to Sugar. I always have the date and time on my photos so I knew this one was taken just before I went to bed the night before.
“So who put them back in then? Your Mum?”
I shook my head,”Doubt it. She knows better than to touch anything on the desk. Besides she was at a training course for work today.”
“Your Dad then?” Priya sounded as confused as I felt.
“I don’t think so but he might have. He sometimes comes in here to see what progress I’ve been making.” Dad was interested in electronics but not as much as me. He had a nasty habit of touching things despite the post-it notes instructing him not to.
“Well was anything else moved?” Priya was getting into her detective mode. Any second now she’d be pulling out a magnifying glass and stroking her chin saying “Hmmm”. She continued “I mean if he had been looking around he’d have moved things wouldn’t he?”
“Good point and come to think of it Sugar was moved and my laptop was open.”
“How did you not notice that?” Priya rolled her eyes at me.
“I did notice,” I shrugged,”I just didn’t think it was important.”
“Why would your Dad have moved Sugar though?”
“I don’t know and more importantly why would he use my laptop? His one is much faster.
“Perhaps you should ask him?”, Priya suggested,.
“He’s not in until later,” I sighed,”but hang on I’ll ask Mum if she knows anything.” and with that I ran out of the room and downstairs.
Mum said Dad couldn’t have been in my room because he left for work early that day. She also said that she had only been in to collect my washing - a point she then used to tell me off about leaving it on the floor again. I’d asked her where Sugar had been when she came in but she didn’t know because she hadn’t looked on the desk.
Priya went into detective mode again and said we should look at the laptop to see what had been done on it. It had gone to sleep so I hit a few keys to wake it up. Once it had eventually sprung back to life I noticed the web browser was open. The last few pages showed that whoever had used it had been searching for mobile ‘phone masts, electricity pylons, maps of our local area and, oddly, star maps for the last few weeks.
“Mum was talking about some protests against the new ‘phone mast being put up by the library the other day.” I said.
“So you think your Mum was using your laptop?” Priya asked.
“No.” I shook my head “She said she didn’t and, besides, she’d use the computer downstairs. I just think it’s odd that they were looking for mobile ‘phone masts and maps of this area.”
“And what’s this about electricity pylons and star maps?” Priya asked “I don’t see the connection.”
“Well both pylons and masts are tall structures but beats me why they’d be looking at star maps as well.” I started going further back through the browser history and found more weird searches all to do with communications, the local area or stars.
“It’s a real mystery.” I said” But to be honest as long as nothing has been taken or damaged, I’m not sure what harm has been done.”
“Has anything been damaged?” Priya asked.
“Not that I can see, certainly there was nothing wrong with Sugar.” I said, picking him up again.
“Apart from the batteries.” Priya pointed out.
“Yes, that is a bit weird.” I looked at the back of Sugar again “But it’s interesting that the cover hasn’t been done up. Look, it’s been closed but the little screw is undone. It’s like someone was in a hurry or was interrupted while doing it.”
“And” Priya interrupted “that one isn’t in properly.”. She was right. One of the batteries was sticking slightly out of the compartment. I pushed it back in and almost as soon as I did Sugar’s eye flashed.
“See?” I shouted.”I told you I wasn’t imagining it.”
“I did believe you eventually you know?” Priya seemed a bit put out by my remark.
“But the point is”, I continued without really listening to her,”that he works!” I stood him up and switched his power switch on. Almost as soon as I did it I said “Hang on. How did the light flash if he was turned off?”
“Short circuit perhaps?” Priya said but before she could finish, Sugar suddenly leapt into life. His eye flashed, his head spun and his arms flailed around like a gorilla being chased by a bee. Best of all his legs started moving.
Priya gasped and we sat and watched as Sugar started to walk. I had a huge beaming smile on my face. After all that time Sugar was finally working again. I couldn’t wait to show Grandad. Sugar, his beloved robot, was working again and walking. In fact as I watched I could see that Sugar was walking right off the edge of the desk.
“Not again!” I groaned.
I dived to catch him. My arm at full stretch as the moment seemed to pass in slow-motion. My fingers were tantalisingly close as he toppled, wobbled and fell. I watched in despair as he fell past my fingertips and landed with a resounding thump. Nobody spoke for a few seconds and I sat on the floor looking at Sugar’s one good eye.
Slowly I got to my knees and picked him up. The switch was still in the “on” position but Sugar was definitely not “on”. I fiddled with the switch a few times but nothing happened. I gave him a little shake and was reassured that there was no rattling sounds other than what I was used to.
Eventually I sat there on the floor with Sugar in my hands and just stared at him. A moment of pure joy had been shattered in an instant as years of work was smashed. Thankfully Sugar wasn’t smashed but he still wasn’t working. I could tell Priya was looking at me and I could feel a lump in my throat. Instead of crying I got angry and shook Sugar quite hard.
I’m not sure if I expected anything to happen or not when I did that but nothing did. He just lay there with that cold, staring eye looking at me. I put him in one hand and tapped his head.”Sorry Sugar” I said chokingly.”I should have put you on the floor and not the desk but I didn’t think you would actually start walking you see and all I wanted to do was just get you working again. Now I’ve probably broken you forever.”
Priya put a hand on my shoulder.”Don’t be so hard on yourself, Tim. There was nothing you could have done. It was just an accident and I mean we don’t know he’s broken do we?”
I looked at her, amazed.”What? Yes we do! Why would you say that?”
Priya gave me a puzzled look “Tim, the battery came out when he fell, look.” She pointed to the battery by my foot. I picked it up and put it back into Sugar, hopefully. Nothing happened. Well almost nothing. I mean he didn’t start moving or anything but his eye did glow faintly.”See?” Priya said excitedly,”He is working.”
“Not like he was before.” I said “But, yes he’s still working and yesterday he wasn’t working at all.” I gave him a more affectionate tap on the head and smiled.”Hello Sugar, good to have you back.”
I gasped and looked at Priya. That sound had come from Sugar! I looked at him and his eye lit up brightly.
he “said” again.
“Er..hello?” I replied, hesitantly.
“Tim, what..?” Priya whispered but I held up a hand to stop her.
“Who is this?” I asked. I knew the sound was coming from Sugar but I also knew he didn’t have the capacity for speech so this had to be his speaker picking up a mobile ‘phone signal or something. No answer so I tried again.”Who is this speaking?”
++THE PROBE MUST REPLY++
“The probe?” asked Priya,”What’s the probe?”
“Don’t you read any science-fiction?” I sighed.
“Not as much as you!” she retorted.
I ignored her and carried on “Probes are machines, robots I guess, sent out to find out about other places.”
“Sent by whom?”
“Sent by someone else.” I was getting a bit excited “I don’t know exactly but someone. Maybe someone”, I chose my words carefully “not from this world!”
++YES - NOT OF THIS WORLD++
We both sat back, startled. Priya pointed wide-eyed “H..he..he can understand us.”
“So it seems” I said “and that means we can ask questions.” I leant towards Sugar “What is the probe?”
++THE PROBE IS BEFORE YOU++
“What does that mean?” I asked
Now it was Priya’s turn to sigh” It means that Sugar is the probe, silly!”
“But how?” I asked her “He’s a toy robot, he hasn’t worked for years. So when did he suddenly become a probe?”
++THE PROBE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE PROBE++
“So why have you, I mean the probe, why has the probe been silent for so long?”
++MALFUNCTION. TIM REPAIRED THE PROBE++
“Tim!” Priya whispered “You just said you added some servos!”
“But that’s all I did.” I turned to her,”Just some servos to replace the broken motors.”
“So how did you repair Sugar then?”
“Search me.” I shrugged.
++THE PROBE WAS FIXED WHEN TIM REPAIRED THE POWER SOURCE++
“So that’s what I did. It must have been when I was fiddling with the servos and reconnected the battery holder.” As good as this information was though, I realised we were missing out the important stuff.
“Where are you from?” I asked Sugar.
++I COME FROM THE MASTERS++
“What masters? Where are they?” Priya demanded
++THE MASTERS ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD. THE PROBE WAS SENT TO DISCOVER IF THIS WORLD IS SUITABLE++
“Suitable? Suitable for what?” I leaned in.
Sugar’s eye flashed off and on and then he said
“Occupation?!” Priya gasped.”What do you think he means?”
“I don’t know.” I replied,”Occupation means living or staying in a place but”, and then speaking to Sugar I asked “Occupation of what?”
++OCCUPATION OF THIS WORLD++
We both sat in silence for a few moments, taking it all in.”So,” I said to Priya,”he means invasion. Whoever has sent Sugar here means to invade the earth!”
“You think so?” Priya didn’t seem convinced “But why?”
“That’s what we need to find out.” I asked Sugar “What is the purpose of occupying this world?”
Sugar was silent for a long time so I repeated the question.
++NOT UNDERSTAND PURPOSE++
Priya tried “Why do your masters want to occupy this world?”
++TO RESIDE ON THIS WORLD. TO TAKE THIS WORLD AS HOME++
Priya puffed out her cheeks.”Wow! Now what do we do?”
I thought for a bit and said “I’m not sure we should do anything just yet.”
Priya was flabbergasted,”Nothing?! What do you mean?”
I looked at her and explained “Look, this is a toy robot. He shouldn’t be able to speak, let alone make conversations with us. I think this is some kind of trick.”
“You mean…” Priya began
“Yes.” I cut her off and then whispered “Somebody has planted a radio unit into Sugar and is nearby, speaking to us remotely.”
“Why would they do that?” She asked and then followed up with “And who could it be?”
“I have some ideas who it might be but as for why or how come to that, I don’t know. I just think, for now we should - what is it?”
Priya was no longer listening to me and was staring behind me, towards Sugar. She pointed and said” Where’s Sugar?”
“Don’t be daft.” I laughed, turning around,”He’s right here.” But Sugar was not there. In fact he was nowhere to be seen. We looked everywhere in the room, well sort of, and couldn’t find him. Then I noticed the window was open. We ran to look. Sugar was not in the garden, although it was difficult to see clearly because Mum had hung the washing out.
“Look!” exclaimed Priya pointing below. I looked down but couldn’t see anything except t-shirts and underwear. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something move.
“What is that?” Priya asked
“I think,” I said, leaning forward, “that is a pair of my Mum’s knickers. They must have broken his fall.”
“Umm”, Priya said,”they seem to be moving towards the back gate.”
Suddenly a pair of metal legs appeared under the knickers. We looked at each other and shouted together “We’ve got to stop him!”