That evening, 1 and 11's sat against the walls of the loft. 8 and 12 were by their side, standing guard.
"Remember that time you accidentally spilled the professor's formula and it burned a hole through the table?" 1 chuckled.
11 placed a hand on his forehead and laughed. "Oh yes. I was such a klutz."
"We were young. What did we know? Speaking of which, whatever happened to 10?"
The smile melted off 11's face. "He died."
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. What happened?"
"He was just a prototype. He didn't stand a chance in the war. But you have to admit, he was a silly idealist. He always had the silliest fantasies about a peaceful world."
1 chuckled. "Oh yes. Sounds just like our 9."
They both let out a sigh at the same time and leaned back. They were silent for a few seconds.
"It feels so good to laugh again," said 1 "I haven't felt this good since before all the humans were wiped out."
"That was a terrible day for all of us," 11 shook his head.
"So many lives pointlessly taken away," 1 cringed. "And for what? For the advancement of science. Feh."
"Humans were corrupt, just like the machines they built. It was their corruption that wiped them out."
"Not much else to do now. The nine of us have survived the machine and"
"The machine? You don't mean?"
"Yes, THAT machine. The fabrication machine," he smirked, drifting off in thought. "In fact, 9 killed us all when he put that talisman in it, but we came back when"
"The talisman?" 11 cleared his throat. "You still have it?"
"Yes. Don't you?"
"No. We left it in the house just down that way. But tell me more about yours."
"For starters, 6 used to draw it all the time. We had no idea what his drawings were. I remember the professor talking about it, but I never knew what it was used for until 9 came around."
11 leaned in and talked in a more quiet tone. "So uh
where is your talisman now?"
"9 has it. He's the only one I trust with it."
"You don't say? How interesting," 11 rubbed his chin. "My professor was not as intelligent as yours, I guess."
"I wouldn't say that," 1 chuckled in a teasing manner. "They both had their strengths and weaknesses."
"Indeed they did. Indeed they did."
"What are you going?" 17 called out to 13 in the field of dead grass bathed in the light of the moon. "You know we're not supposed to go inside the house"
13 ran over to her and clasped a hand over her mouth. "Shhhh! I don't want 11 to find me."
17 said something, but it was impossible to distinguish over 13's hand. 13 lifted her hand up. "You're gonna get in trouble."
"I'm going to find 10."
17 blinked, her face twisted in confusion. "In the house?"
"Sometimes the answer is staring us in the face."
"But didn't you hear what 11 said? Monsters live there."
"If you don't want to come, you can just stay here."
13 turned her heel and started walk toward the decaying white house with the blue trim.
17 stood and watched her walk away into the night. After a few seconds, she turned around and looked at the warm light coming from the barn door. She turned toward her friend and ran after her.
"Wait for me!" she whispered just loud enough for 13 to hear.
"Just a second," said a familiar female voice. 17 and 13 turned around to see 7. "I'm coming with you."
"Okay," said 13. "But this is just between us, got it?"
7 nodded and lifted her spear near her forehead in salute.
They walk far from the barn before they felt safe enough to talk quietly in the dark.
"Why are you so certain 10's alive?" 7 said to 13.
"10's too strong to die that easily," she replied.
7 thought for a moment before responding. "What makes you think he's in the house?"
13 shook her head. "I don't know. Just a hunch. We haven't been allowed in there since 17 awoke."
13 shrugged. She lifted her hands with the palm facing up. "11 forbid us. Something about machines."
"It's where the monsters come from," said 17, her optics wide with fear.
"I see," 7 smirked. "Well, I can fight off any monsters that attack us."
They continued walking for another minute.
"If you don't mind my asking," said 7. "I haven't met your 14 and 15. Did something happen?"
13 shook her head solemnly. "I have no idea. They disappeared before 10 did."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
13 waved a hand. "Don't worry. I'm not giving up until I find them."
"Or their corpses," said 17.
13 opened her mouth to say something, but she stopped. She hung her head.
"I'm sorry," said 17.
13 smiled sadly at her and patted her back.
In the dead of the night, a figure tiptoed its way across the hay and dirt covered floor of the barn. Silent as a mouse, the figure approached where the original 9 slept, specifically targeting 9 himself. He didn't even flinch as the shadow of the figure loomed over him, its face obscured by the darkness of the night. The only thing visible was the bunch of yellow on its head tied in a pink ribbon.
The figure took hold of the zipper on his chest. Very slowly and gently, the figure pulled the zipper down. 9 moaned, the figure stopped and pulled its hands back. 9 let out a sigh and moved his head to the side. When it was apparent 9 was still asleep, the figure let out a quiet sigh and continued to pull the zipper down. When the talisman in 9's chest cavity became visible, the figure reached in and slipped it out. The figure zipped 9's chest back up carefully, and then ran back to the shadows from whence it came.
After a while, the three female ragdolls found themselves on the wooden front step of the house. What was once white paint had been chipped and weathered and the wood had been warped from the rain. Together, they made their way up the front steps. Getting inside was no problem; somebody propped open the front door with a rock.
Once inside, the cool night breeze sounded more like hissing against the rusted windows.
"Who's house is this?" said 7.
"Boris Herrman. The man who created us," said 13. "He liked it here. He could be alone with his farm animals. The animals ran away when the machines came."
"Your professor was a farmer?" 7 smirked.
"Why? What was yours?"
"I think he used to be a toymaker."
"Sounds boring," 13 smiled slyly.
17 looked around. She examined the stacks of books on the shelf by the desk, trying to make out each of the titles. "Men Like Gods" by H.G. Wells. A collection of short stories by Kafka. "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" by Nietzsche. "And Then Will Come Soft Rain and Other Short Stories" by Ray Bradbury.
"Didn't he die?" 17 asked.
"That's right," said 13. "He died right in this room giving the last of his soul away to you and your brothers. I was there when it happened and when his family found his body. They thought he committed suicide. They buried his body not too far from here."
"What's up there?" 7 pointed to a machine at the top of the desk, barely visible from the ground.
"It's the machine the professor used to give us life."
"18 and 19 are still up there," said 17 as she climbed up the desk using the opened drawers.
"You mean there are still more of you? Wow, your professor was a busy guy."
17 lifted herself up to the desk. When she peeked on top of the desk, she stopped.
"What's wrong?" said 13.
"Gone? Who's gone?"
"18 and 19."
"Impossible," she said as she and 17 climbed on top of the desk. 7 followed.
They stood, looking around, but only saw the soul transfer machine and a few sheets of paper laid on the desk, but nothing else. 17 walked to one of the papers and picked it up. It depicted a drawing of a burly ragdoll with hips dwarfed by a barrel chest. By her feet were the drawings of another tall and thin doll, as well as her own design sketch.
The three stood and stared until the sound of footsteps was heard. They all turned around to where the noises were coming from in the hall. Voices followed the footsteps.
"Hello? Who's there?" an unfamiliar tenor voice called out.
"Come on out, or we'll be forced to fight," said another female voice.
13 motioned 7 and 17 to be quiet. She tip-toed over towards the edge of the desk and looked down.
"I don't believe it," 13 laughed as she looked to the floor. "You've been here the whole time?"
"13? Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. 7, 17, come here. I want you to meet 14 and 15."
7 and 17 made their way to the edge of the desk and peered down. In the doorway, two rag dolls stood holding maps and tools. The female was purple with a gray stripe down her middle, and wore the lens of a magnifying glass on her head. A silver zipper was on her torso. The number 14 was on her right arm. The male had a gray-blue body and dark gray arms and legs. He wore the bulb of a flashlight on his head, similar to what a coal miner wears. He also had a silver zipper on his torso. The number 15 was tattooed on his left arm.
"You guys aren't supposed to be here," said 14. "11 won't be too pleased if he sees you're here.
"That old coot can kiss my canvas butt," said 13 as she made her way down to greet them.
"13 said a swear!" 17 giggled.
13 ran up and hugged her lost comrades. "What are you doing here?"
"No, really, you guys need to get out," said 15. "What we're doing here is top-secret."
"But 11 said the beast got you. Why are you here?"
"No, really. You need to go."
"And who's that?" 14 pointed to 7.
"That's 7. She's from the original 9," said 13.
"You don't say," 14 rubbed her chin.
"Okay, you really have to go now," said 15. "And tell nothing of what you saw here."
Creeeeeeeeeaaak, thud. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
"What's that sound?" said 13.
"It's 18, he's awake," 15 shivered where he stood.
"That sounds more like a machine," said 7.
"Can't we meet him?" said 13.
"You don't understand," 14 said. "If he sees you, he might try to kill you."