H.A.L. International: Come On Down!

by N. Celestina White

“Roderick Stahl 1-579, come on down!” The brightly-painted Gary George 536 cried, voice amplified automatically by his built-in microphone. The contestant jumped in place with a clatter, his paint job still gleaming wetly. He ran down the aisle to the lower stage, soft metal bangs sounding as his hand-analogues slapped other hand-analogues. Jim Roddey 95 spread his hand-analogues wide, greeting the newcomer with his trademark smile.

“Welcome, Roderick! Our next item up for bid is…” As Amanda 1-634 rolled out the prize, everyone oohed. It was a multi-part gift set, including a personal audio/video system, a free paint job at Old Sal’s Paint Shoppe, and a set of automatic wheels.

“15,045,” said Roderick.



“ONE DOLLAR,” yelled Sammi Roland 63-432, overloading the sound systems. Jim winced but kept the patent grin on his face, waving at the cheering crowd.

“The actual retail price is…” Jim paused and his eyebeams flashed as the information was fed into his brain-sockets.

“16,000 units. Roderick, you win!” As the contestant stumped up to the main stage, grinning, cleaners surreptitiously wobbled after him and scrubbed at the wet paint smears left behind. Jim deftly avoided a hug, instead shaking the proper hand-analogue.

“Roderick,” Jim declared in a warm, rolling voice, “You have a chance to play Plinko for One Million Units!” The crowd went wild, metal crashing against concrete, the sound echoing through the sound-stage. Roderick looked like he was about to malfunction with joy as he took the metal disc with trembling digits.

Roderick guessed three out of four smaller prizes—a self-repair kit, a miniature food dispenser, and a ladies’ paint kit. He missed out on the personal communication device.

“All right, Roderick, you have 4 chips to try and win Eight Hundred Thousand units!” Jim cried, gesturing at the Plinko board. Foregoing the stairs, Roderick stretched his legbits and became tall enough to drop the chips down the side. The first chip landed in the 10,000 slot; the second, in the 1,000 one. The third landed in 50,000. The roaring crowd fell silent as Roderick held up a hand-analogue, placing the disc against the board and began sliding it around as he tried to decide where to drop it. The crowd grew restless after a few long moments, and even Jim began shifting impatiently. George hummed until he realized his microphone was still on, and then the music abruptly stopped.

Finally, with trembling armbits, Roderick dropped the disc. His metal teeth chattered and he hugged himself as it bounded from side to side on its descent. Five seconds felt like forever.

The Plinko chip landed in the 200,000 unit slot, and the crowd exploded with cheers, whistles, and the clang of metal against metal. Roderick shrank his legbits and collapsed, leaking oil from his eyebeams in surprise as Amanda reached to help him to his feet with a wan smile.

Gary called from the announcer’s booth. “And our next contestant is….”

H.A.L. International presents stories outside of the People’s Republic.