Administrative Leave
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Professor Mago didn’t know what to expect from the new classes at Alexylva University. Sure, the university was renowned across the empire as a hub of paratechnology. He could thank the Triumvirate for them, as shadowy as their operations were, but alas, the Triumvirate sometimes made really, really, questionable decisions. From what he’d heard, they were doing something quite unheard of: rather than losing the occasional device or two to the Phitransium’s baseline, they began to communicate to those on the baseline. A man who called himself Anderson, and said he was a master in automaton masonry. Granted, he’d never seen Anderson, nor had anyone else on campus, but considering how much focus the Triumvirate was putting into these classes, he was no doubt some celebrity.

The area surrounding Alexylva’s main office was always a centrum of hubbub. Students getting schedules, relaxing with friends, and the all too common franticism of faculty when getting new class assignments. Mago shifted past the Praetors, their scowling faces scooting by to offer him access to the wall where professor class assignments were posted. Adjusting his glasses to the tip of his nose, Mago ran a finger down the cold stone tablets, stopping once he saw his name: Mago, Fulvius, assigned to a new course. AN/AX-054, “The Pinocchio Question,” alongside one “Hannibal Locke.” How peculiar. He shoved through the rest of the faculty scrambling to read the tablets, and headed through the open doorway of the main office. Passing a fresco of Tanit, he ran a hand through his quickly graying and fraying hairs, as he came up to the front desk.

“Excuse me,” he harrumphed, causing the attending receptionist to look at Mago in distaste, as if he’d just told her that her goblet of wine had been spilled into East Sylvanos’ oceans. “I require my lesson tablets, please.” Sighing, the secretary put down her mug of coffee, and flipped through a large filing cabinet towards the back of her desk, before fishing out the required materials. Handing them over, she urged him towards the door, where a few students had begun to toss around a football.

Scowling, he yelled as the football struck his tablet, nearly shattering it upon the floor. “Hey! You heathens! Throw your ball onto the floor, or I will report thee to the Triumvirate!” He rose his fist as the students turned tail and ran, the lilting sounds of their laughs floating in the wind. Shaking his head and muttering a few ancient Carthagian curses, Mago made the long trek to his room, nestled in a small corner of the brick Parascientific wing. Shuffling his papers and reviewing his tablets, he prepared for the long class to come.

The next weeks went by quickly. Each day, hundreds of eager new faces shuffled through his class, and out the door. Each seemed a model student in Mago’s head, all simply itching to learn. He was proud of his class, all of them, for they were true Romuli and Remi, each vying for the perfect grade, wanting to lap up every last drop from the mother wolf’s teat. And his teaching showed how grateful he was. Mago regaled the class with his tales of his escapades when he was younger, back when his beard wasn’t quite so long, when his hairs weren’t quite so gray, and when there were more of them. He enjoyed this, this idea of being the figure that everyone turned to. That people looked up to. That people thought was cool for being knowledgeable. And like a dragon, he spit his knowledge like sparks, and the students’ brains were like tinder. Their curiosity’s flame blazed bright.

Stroking his beard whilst grading the last final of the second course, Mago looked up as he studied the peculiar machine in the back of the room. Its single eye stared at him unceasingly, as it stood proudly upon its three legs. Its ears were folded back, as if it could spring to life at any time. Sadly, its operator wasn’t here at the moment, but the professor still didn’t trust the machine at all. It looked like nothing he’d seen before, and worked in mysterious ways. A camera, the Triumvirate called it, and it was capable of capturing his soul’s essence and replaying it back for all to see. Well, all who had access to something the Triumvirate and his brief co-professor called the Internet. From what he had heard, the place sounded absolutely wonderful. A place for the zeitgeist to access any knowledge, at any time, and it was free to almost everyone in the baseline. The mere thought of it tickled Mago’s ear hairs.

He looked back to the assignments. Mago had always thought, over the past two semesters or so that the class had been running, that the final projects were a tad… strange. Building entire automatons? Ones that looked like professors? When he had come up to the one that Aquilia and Gaius had made of him, he was struck by a sense of uncanniness when he poked and prodded the automaton’s hair and eyes. They blinked, and to his surprise, vocalized in a voice familiar to him.

“HELLO PROGENITOR,” it spoke. “I AM UNIT M4-G0, DESIGNED TO REPLICATE YOUR ACTIONS AND THOUGHT PROCESSES.” Mago had nervously shaken its hand, to which it had responded, “FABULOUS GRIP OLD BOY,” in the same deep, grandfatherly tone which the professor used. He refused to see anymore and gave the two students perfect scores. He in fact, couldn’t look at any of the professor’s copies, for they only gave him a lingering sense of dread. The feeling that something was simply… off about them. ’Of course something’s off about them, the damn things are automatons. Talos would be proud,’ Mago thought, as he recollected the experience.

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Come in," Mago cried. He believed it was one of his students. Most likely, he'd mistakenly given one a bad grade after peering at their automaton. The experience proved most jarring. Though not quite as jarring as Mago looking up to see an automaton, though incomplete.

"YOU ARE BEING RESCUED," it clicked, and Mago could see gears, bells, and whistles, clank and turn as the automaton's incomplete shell gave away its artificial nature. "PLEASE DO NOT RESIST, FOR YOU WILL NOW JOIN KNOWLEDGE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SACRIFICE," it continued buzzing, before raising an arm. As the professor reached for his glasses, Mago could hardly see the automaton's arm swing down to strike him over the head.

Then, all was black.

The light flashed. The predators howled. The metal clanked.

And he woke.

Once Mago awoke, he struggled, for he was bound in chains. His eyes revealed only fear, as he looked with wide eyes, and saw his students eagerly noting his reactions. Gingerly poking at his flesh, excited to examine it with no more than a knife and scalpel. Mago roared and rattled his chains. The students did nothing but dutifully take notes upon their tablets the dirt. And then they came for him. They sliced his skin open, pulled back his wrinkles with their scalpels, pinned down his tissue to the bed with tacks.

Mago did not hear the android state that faculty replacement had begun, nor did he realize he was only the first in a long line of those to be put under the knife. But he realized one thing as the saw drew blood across his body, as his ear hairs and eardrums tickled for the last time at the students whispers at what a great job Aquilia and Gaius had done.

No, it was not the blade which killed him. Rather, curiosity killed the cat.

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