"Why does the ground have to be so soggy and disgusting? On today of all days! And this fog! It's so thick. And cold! I can't see for crap. Anything could be lurking in this infernal mist!"
Luckily for the well-dressed young man wildly waving his hands in front of his snub nose, there was no one around for miles and miles. Though, if any feral beast or crazed escaped convict had been within the immediate vicinity, they surely would have been drawn to the man's clamorous whinging. Fortunately, the large prison campus had been abandoned for several years. No one had been around to run the place, so the inmates had been relocated to other prisons. Only vermin and untamed weeds prowled within the jail's pewter walls.
The man's companion, the seventh prototype in a line of machines dubbed 'Jailbot', scanned the environment. The robot and its master were laboriously crossing the barren jail's memorial grounds. Nothing much dwelled here but the dead. Jailbot informed its master, its Warden, of this observation with an assuring boop.
The Warden didn't acknowledge his creation. He was instead preoccupied with tripping over a broken bit of headstone. With an undignified yelp he managed to catch himself. Jailbot pivoted where it floated midair to face his master. It extended an arm, offering assistance. The man slapped the proffered arm away weakly. His breath came hard and his face was so pale it nearly shone in the muted, gray morning light.
Jailbot emitted a concerned beep.
Its master composed himself quickly. With deft hands he righted his skewed top hat and tugged on the lapels of his coat. Brows knit in irritation, he looked into the simple dot-matrix face of his Jailbot.
"Would you look at these shoes?" he spat. He jabbed a gloved finger at his feet. His once gleaming black shoes were now caked in mud and grass. Obligingly, the machine tilted its boxy body earthwards and observed his master's tarnished footwear. "You're going to fix these when we get back."
Jailbot beeped an affirmative. It would do as his master pleased. The machine, though sentient, had not the capacities for emotion or empathy humans had. When its master announced that the two of them would be taking short trip away from the volcanic compound in which they dwelled, Jailbot simply prepared The Warden's ocular aircraft for the journey. It could scarcely feel awe at the outside world it had never previously experienced before. It would not feel compelled to wonder about their mission. It could, however, sense its master's growing unease and anxiety. Even as the pair traversed the quiet graveyard in the cool blanket of an overcast morning, the man's irritation became more apparent. His troubled feelings manifested in an increasingly petulant attitude: snapping at his creation and loudly complaining.
The purple-clad man in question glared at his complacent machine for a second longer before turning sharply on his heels. He strode haughtily back into the fog, bristling. Jailbot floated after him with a flat little noise. In this it could not assist him. It had not the ability to solve problems of the mind.
The twosome moved in onward for a while longer. The Warden would only complain occasionally now. He was moving with a purpose. Jailbot followed, vacuously absorbing the intermittent verbal dart from his beloved companion. Yet, as they climbed the narrow slope of a hill, his boss grew quieter. They approached a grand, blocky shape in the mist. The robot simply recognized the shape as a stone building. Its human companion knew it to be a mausoleum.
The Warden squinted behind round yellow spectacles at the elaborate grave. The morning fog was dissipating and faint sunlight began to illuminate the grand resting place. With a shudder, the young man averted his gaze and looked around the side of the structure. He patted a rounded vertex on his rectangular pal and pointed to a smaller stone protruding from the boggy ground.
"There we are," the man said softly. He moved into the shadow of the mausoleum to approach the small headstone. When he spoke again, his voice shook only a little, "This is what we're here for."
Jailbot gave a beep of acknowledgment before swiftly clamping onto the flat stone and ripping it from the ground. It presented the object to his master obtusely and devoid of any fanfare. Upon the stone a single word was engraved: Jarum.
The Warden blanched and froze in shock as his ignorant robot held out the defiled grave marker expectantly. After several seconds of silent, wide-eyed staring, the shock melted off of the man's face and he gingerly grasped the small stone. His breath rattled as he inhaled deeply. On the exhale, his expression morphed into one of patronizing exasperation.
"We aren't here for this," he shook the gray headstone at Jailbot's blank expression. "I need what was under this."
His witless machine chirped in understanding. Two compartments at its side popped open. Jailbot removed two shovels and presented one to his master. The man regarded the tool cooly.
He barked out laugh and waved his hand dismissively at Jailbot. "I'm the Warden. I don't do manual labor. That's what I made you for."
Jailbot, ever faithful, simply began to dig with both shovels. His master, meanwhile, began to regard the carved stone still in his hands. Before wandering a short distance away to have some privacy, he called out almost jovially, "You're looking for a long box, about me-sized. Oh! And be very gentle! If you break anything important, I'll break you!"
Jailbot beeped in acknowledgement, feeling no fear of the threat. Not because it believed his creator wasn't serious, but because it lacked the capacity to fear mortality. Nonetheless, the machine dug obediently until it had unearthed a simple, unadorned container some time later. Gently, it hoisted the box out of the ground and went to collect its master.
Jailbot found his Warden standing in the pale sunlight before the imposing mausoleum. He still gripped the tombstone in his grey-gloved hands with hunched shoulders. His expression was tight and his face was wet though the mist had evaporated long ago. The machine approached with a concerned sound. The Warden flinched. Hurriedly wiping his face and hastily tossing the stone upon the downward slope of the hill, he turned to Jailbot.
"Ah! Good work, Buddy!" He punctuated his praise with a snotty sniff.
Pixels in the robots face arranged in an effort to convey worry. What is wrong? What can I do to help you?
The Warden smiled genuinely in response Jailbot's unspoken inquiry. "Everything's okay now. We got what we came for, now let's get out of this disgusting, smelly place." As he spoke, more of his cheerful yet petulant demeanor seemed to return. He ghosted his hands over the dirty box, too repulsed to actually touch it. "I am going to put this somewhere nice. This is too important to leave lying around just anywhere. I can make a better tombstone! Bigger, and grander! And I can find a casket that- ugh!- doesn't smell so horrible."
Jailbot beeped in passive agreement. They both stood at the crest of the hill. With the fog gone, the entire drab prison complex was visible from where they stood. Jailbot and his creator absorbed the site of tall, disheartening gray walls, empty dog kennels, gallows in disrepair in the yard, and a glue factory no longer in operation. Jailbot was unaffected, but it did not miss the slight shake in The Warden's knees, or his sharp intake of breath, or the moisture gathering in his eyes. But before the loyal companion could give another futile offer of assistance, The Warden had already begun striding down the wet, grassy hill.
"Come on!" the fledgling Warden shouted over his shoulder, tone authoritative and determined. "We're going home!"
Jailbot obliged without hesitation. It was just a machine after all, designed to obey his creator's commands. It could not comprehend the turmoil writhing in his master now. How could a mechanical tool, no matter how intelligent, be able to understand and fix the hurts of the heart? How could loyal, diligent Jailbot assist Warden as he stood on that hill, assaulted by the memories of a tragic and bittersweet childhood owed to the two men buried on this hill?
Whilst Jailbot had dug, unknowingly stealing a man from his grave, Warden had been looking upon the mausoleum of The Prison Mogul, his father. He remembered the abuse: the beatings and the executions he was forced to carry out. He recalled being belittled, punished for his fanciful ideas- punished for being a child. And, as the Warden stood there, staring at the opulent tomb, tears of self-pity and frustration welled in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. The pity was for himself, and for the years of suffering he endured by the man who brought him into the world but did not love him. The frustration was for the pang of grief that emanated deep in The Warden's chest, and the knowledge that despite everything, The Warden still loved The Prison Mogul and yearned for the life together he could never have.
The humble grave marker in his hands, however, elicited different but equally painful memories. With the monstrous Mogul dead after a freak and traumatic accident, the young Warden was left in a terrifying void of uncertainty. The only thing scarier than having the Prison Mogul for a father was the concept of having no father at all in his young mind.
Jarum wasn't emotional, or even particularly nurturing. He was practical, emotionally distant, and super old. He hadn't been especially thrilled to raise a child at his age, but he recognized that the boy was an heir to an important legacy and to a considerable estate. There was a certain level of responsibility Jarum felt to his former boss's son. After all, it wasn't like he had been oblivious to the young Warden's treatment. He just felt that he couldn't abandon the boy.
Nonetheless to young Warden, Jarum was perfection. Once Father was gone, he got his own room! No longer would he sleep in a dark, drafty cell, haunted by the sounds dangerous inmates surrounding him. Jarum let him paint some of the outside walls of the prison when he complained about how ugly they were. Even today someone could see chipped and faded blotches of purple, orange, and yellow adorning the otherwise blank barriers at approximately knee-height. Jarum let him touch and feed the dogs, though the child would never quite shake that weighty feeling of dread whenever a pup took a liking to him.
The Warden allowed himself to smile as he recalled these happier times. But, the tombstone he held was a heavy reminder of the sour end to their relationship. Tears welled in his eyes once more as his tumultuous teen years came to the forefront of his mind. He had craved independence, artistic freedom. He had wanted a more active role in the running of his birthright, his father's prison. But Jarum always shot down his plans. His guardian was always insisting that his ideas were unethical, expensive, and likely physically impossible. They argued constantly.
Tears spilled once more done The Warden's face. He had felt betrayed, infantilized, and ignored. People were starting to be scared of him; they were beginning to think he was crazy. The teen had left that prison quite suddenly one day, eager to prove them all wrong, to strike it out on his own.
He had been lucky to find that sweet volcano in dimension 56-12.
The Warden only left that volcano to collect his inheritance a short time later. That's when he found that Jarum had died of natural causes. It wasn't a huge shock. The man had been old even before he came to care for his ward. That didn't ease the young man's pain, however. They had never made up. The Warden had never gotten the chance to present to his guardian his ideal prison, his masterpiece, his Superjail. The Warden could not stay in that old prison. He returned to his volcano, heartbroken and alone but well-funded.
In the subsequent few short years, The Warden had worked hard to accomplish his dreams. He was so close now. He had nearly finished perfecting his Flying Man, now called Jailbot, and soon he would begin the construction of his incarceration wonderland.
He was happy. Finally.
But before he could fully realize Superjail, he had to put the past to rest. He had to make amends; he had to show his appreciation, his gratitude for all those years in the only way he now knew. Jarum would be a part of his Superjail. It was the highest honor he could think of.
In the present, Jailbot was loading the casket into The Warden's eye-shaped aircraft. The warden in question had recovered from his melancholy reverie. His business was finished. All was well. He could go back to creating his perfect jail and forget this haunted, cursed place. He smiled and stepped into his ship. As Jailbot secured the casket, he melted into his plush chair.
The Warden sighed, feeling liberated. He turned to his faithful Jailbot. "Get us home quick before this guy stinks up the whole ship. We've got a lot of work to do!"