Alex was "promoted" to Supervisor. He was one of the lucky ones. The company employed some of the best engineers in the country and yet they were deemed obsolete as the people in charge decided their hard earned knowledge and skills could be replaced by walking toasters. He hated them already.
Alex was snapped out of his thoughts when he heard his name being called. He walked up to the man in the grey suit who handed him a box, as he did with the other ex-engineers before.
"Your new office is 301, 43rd floor, C block. The unit assigned to you will be waiting there. Instructions are in the box," the man murmured in a bored, dead voice without taking his eyes off the paper he was holding. "Penzavalli!"
Checking the note on top of the box again for the location of his office, Alex stepped aside and headed towards the elevators. As he waited, he opened the box and peeked inside. On the top was a large book titled 'ANGEL Instruction Manual'. He walked inside when the elevator door opened while reaching inside the box with one hand to feel the size of the manual. Jesus, there is no way they expect them to actually read all this, it was practically as thick as the box. He punched at the button that said 43 and leaned back. So his new job now was to teach a computer how to do his old job. Awesome.
The elevator carried him up swiftly to the 43rd floor and the doors slid open. The place looked nothing like any other areas of the complex Alex had seen. It was a corridor, maybe seven feet wide, twenty feet long, with two doors, one on each end. The walls were white, blinding as they reflected the sharp light coming from the ceiling. Squinting his eyes, he made out the numbers of the door on his right. 3-0-1. His footsteps echoed as though the hall was larger than it seemed, accompanied by a sound he still remembered from his childhood, the one a light bulb would make as it flickered before dying. Alex fished the keys out of the box and unlocked the office.
This was definitely not a promotion.
The office was no different than the hall. Same white walls, white light, no windows. In the center were a black desk and an uncomfortable looking chair. Alex closed his eyes for a second and sighed. Alright. Life gives you lemons, rub them against the walls to bring some color to your white, sterile office. He walked over to the desk and dropped the box down with intentional carelessness.
Alex twisted around, lifting his fists instinctively. In the left corner of the room was a man, sitting on the only other chair in the office. He was dressed in the same whiteness as the rest of the room.
Lowering his arms, Alex managed a small self-deprecating smile he does so well, and extended his right hand. "I'm Alex Lansky."
The man's body was as still as a statue as the deep blue eyes stared at Alex's for a few painfully long, unnerving moments.
Then in an instant his face softened, lips curling upwards slightly into a polite smile. He looked down at the hand Alex had been holding out for way too long to not be considered awkward.
Finally, he lifted his right arm from where it was resting on his knee and reached to grab Alex's. His smile grew as they shook hands.
As Alex pulled his hand back, Raziel's smile returned to the polite version. Alex alternated between a frown and a smile as he started picking up the contents of the box from the floor, turning his back towards the strange man. "Raziel, huh? That's a weird-"
He froze, turning his head slowly to stare at him. "What's your serial number?"
The expression on the android's face did not change in any way as it confidently recited the long string of numbers and letters. Alex stared, his breaths increasingly shorter as he felt the room shrink in size even further. Keeping his eyes on the smiling robot, he moved carefully around the table to sit in the chair.
"You seem frightened, Alex Lansky," the rough voice came again, but not hauntingly cold and empty as it was when it recited the numbers. There was a slight urgency to it, and along with the barely parted lips, it's brows slightly drawn together and body inclined at a small angle, it was apparent this was a display of worry.
"Don't call me that," Alex spat and immediately winced at the harshness. "Just- call me Supervisor, okay?"
When the machine didn't reply, he glanced up. It was sitting still, it's arms still resting on it's legs, worry gone from the face and replaced again with the polite smile and empty stare. It looked dead. But you have to be alive first to be dead.
"Okay?" Alex repeated loudly.
For ten excruciatingly long seconds, nothing happened. There was no movement in the room except for Alex's breathing as he stared at the machine, hoping to establish some sort of authority because anything else would be even scarier. Finally, the robot's mouth moved.
That broke the tension enough for Alex to dare look away and down at the book on his desk.
First thing he did was find the chapter with basic commands and scan through them, searching for something that would make the thing turn off before he started losing his mind. He kept glancing up every other second. The robot hadn't moved an inch, and Alex wasn't sure whether that was reassuring or only made it worse. This tin can has definitely not climbed out of the uncanny valley.
After activating sleep mode, Alex felt himself relax a little as the android's eyes were covered with eyelids. It still took him a long time to read through a chapter as he kept glancing up to check on the sleeping machine, but without the hollow eyes staring at him he didn't feel the need to do it as often. At some point he stopped checking on it altogether, leaning back in his chair and scratching absentmindedly at his chin as he read through a particularly interesting chapter. Although there was no way he could ever fully wrap his mind around the machine's brain, many of the ideas and principles were similar to the computers in the spacecrafts he built. This new information helped clear the confusion to some degree and get past the initial shock. It was a computer, like any other. More complex and sophisticated, but really the only thing that was strange about it was that it was dressed up as a human being, that's all.
"What is the purpose of this hair?"
Alex jumped up, knocking down the chair. The robot was holding it's hand in front of it's face and staring at it unblinkingly.
"How did you-" The words wouldn't come out, the adrenaline and fear closing up his throat. The machine's head turned left to look at him, no polite twist of lips, just a perfectly expressionless face.
"What is the purpose of this hair?" it repeated, pointing at the back of the hand it was holding up.
Alex eyed it wearily. He didn't say anything to activate it, did he? Maybe he read something out loud without knowing. Or maybe he activated some sort of stand-by mode instead of sleep mode. He glanced down at his own hand quickly.
"It, uh, it doesn't really have a purpose."
The android stared emotionlessly another couple of seconds before it's expression softened again into the cheap imitation of kindness.
"Then why do I have it?" it questioned, smiling politely.
Alex's palms were sweating. He was not qualified to do this, this is not what he studied and trained for.
"So you look like us."
The robot was silent again and unmoving apart from blinking periodically.
"Why must I look like you?"
Alex's heart was racing again and in the deafening silence of the room he could hear it beating.
"Who else you gonna look like?" he said more than asked, trying to tear his eyes away but found that he couldn't, like the robot's gaze somehow enveloped every muscle of his body and held it in place, paralyzing him.
The robot's smile seemed to somehow disappear without it's face ever moving. Alex's breathing had become so loud in the stillness of the room it felt deafening, getting slowly drowned out by the ringing in his ears. It's a computer, he repeated to himself over and over, it's just a computer.
"You're a giant bag of wires. Nobody wants to look at that. We done with the Q&A?" he said, unbelievably managing to sound casual and not terrified.
He tried to move his arm to reach for the phone on his desk but couldn't. He couldn't move. His heart felt like there was a hand wrapped around it, squeezing hard. The silence seemed to drag on for eternity before the machine smiled politely.