“They will look like us. They will work with us. They will even try to be us, but they are not us. In the future there will be robots.”
“For every generation there is one who shall answer to prophecy. They will be superior in combat and defence. You will know their name as the Maverick and preserving humanity is their calling.” – Lucius, a Warrior
Welcome to the Future
Chapter 1: Just a Soldier
Jack Thorn was entirely oblivious to the fact he stood so close to his own destiny. Only at that precise moment it faced him in disguise by way of a clunky metal air lock door. He shared the stale processed air with a regiment of other soldiers waiting for their dropship to land. Then the war would really begin.
How he got there would make a rich and far stretching story, but what followed after, well that is where this journey begins. A tale intertwined with destiny going back further than anyone could imagine just for this moment to exist. Sometimes Jack thought about everyday life just like that. One day can be made up of a series of chance meetings; unbeknown to you or anyone else that you may meet the love of your life or your archenemies and everyone in between. Maybe the soldiers behind him were just a cameo in his blockbuster life or maybe they would charge with him and lead the front line all the way to the enemy. He didn’t know at this precise moment that his thought process compared to others was different. His making was of prophecy laid out generations before. A prophecy saying he would fight and that he’ll be good at it.
“Damn turbulence,” Steve Franco grumbled. He glanced around nervously whilst trying to keep a rigid stance to the right of Jack.
Everyone bounced in slow-motion as the gravity adjusted. All of them bobbing up and down in clunky hard padded armouring, shoulder to shoulder in threes. They weren’t on solid ground just yet.
“Flying is so damn overrated right now,” Jack Thorn said with a tone of concern.
He eyed the mud encrusted metal grating they all stood upon.
“That’s just the battle anxiety in ya,” said the soldier stood on his other side. This older man thumped the chin strapped standard issue helmet he wore.
Franco’s round and rough shaven face briefly peered to this older soldier. The dim lights flickered for all but a moment and then Franco spoke with a Brooklyn tongue,
“Yeah, nothing like the fear of death to get the heart pumping. I just want you to know Connolly that both myself and Thorn are ever so grateful you volunteered us to the front.”
“I’ve always got you fellas in mind,” the soldier Connolly proudly said.
“At least in that way we get first dibs on cover and you gals need the experience. Unlike the senior cats on this boat. They didn’t appreciate the call up against these walking talking manikins”.
The entire dropship jolted with a rattling vibration.
“We attack this situation before it gets a chance. Guns up the ass of the enemy. Don’t give them an inch,” Connolly added.
“He’s right. We attack this situation Franco, so man up.” Jack thumped Franco’s worn out plastic shoulder pad.
“In the history of being told to man up, who actually has manned up?” Franco asked with an air of protest.
“Anybody ever said you think too much?” Connolly asked while turning away.
Jack gripped Franco’s shoulder and pulled him in close,
“What do I always say?” His eyes looked into the worried stare of his oldest friend.
“We find a way, always,” Franco chanted softly.
“We find a way, always,” Jack repeated and took a breath.
There came commotion from the back and then a rumbling of hydraulics underneath.
“Landing gear. It’s time,” Jack said. He checked the auto rifle cradled in his plastic armour shrouded arms.
“This is where we are supposed to be man, trust me,” he added.
“You better be right man.”
They smiled to each other, not in an endearing or loving type of way but the way two mischievous best friends would when they had an assured cunning plan.
The caged red light above the air lock door began to flicker.
Soldier Connolly turned to face his comrades and pulled a slider on his auto rifle. It powered to life with a digital display below the scope.
“Cliffeville regiment. Check your ammo and stand strong!” He strengthened his footing as everything seemed to shudder.
Both Thorn and Franco checked their weapons and pulled the sliders. As they let go their whole world bounced to a heavy jolt. The drop ship landed and the airlock door hissed loudly. A deafening barrage of war sounds blasted them. Music of terror and chaos played. The light above changed to green. That only meant one thing. Next came the piercing and vibrating buzz, their signal to disembark.
“We find a way, always!” Jack barked over the loudness. He caught the image of Franco reciting those words just as another sight came into view.
Bright flashes and explosions played out on what was a murky and cloudy planet.
“Move, move, move…”
Jack marched forward and down the ramped airlock door. Franco followed behind with their boots gracing soft brown ground. Neither of them heard the droning whine resonating from above. The noise careened down from the sky and with it a damning bright light. Franco glanced up with a hand held to his helmet. His eyes widened to see the bright flaring light heading down towards him. He rushed forward alongside Jack and then a burning force knocked them both forward. Their boots lifted along with everything else. They crashed to the soggy sponge type ground of this planet. Their welcome, an explosive burning.
“Shit,” Jack said. He glanced back to smoke and flames
“They’re all gone!” Franco stared into mostly smoke and a mass of crumpled metal and burning.
“Connolly,” Jack shouted. He jumped up.
Franco grabbed his and Jack’s auto rifles and followed.
“We damn took a direct hit,” Connolly croaked.
“Welcome to X43 I guess,” he added.
“And this time the odds were with us,” Jack shouted over the loudness of war.
He helped the older soldier to his feet while the orchestra of gun fire and explosive commotion crept in all around them. This was a sheer sight of pandemonium. Other drop ships were landing nearby, all of them filled with men and women ready to duel with doom.
“Come on. We have to move forward,” Jack shouted.
He grabbed his auto rifle back. With one free arm he helped with Franco in guiding Connolly forward.
“What do we do now? This shit has gone south quickly!”
“But we are still here no matter how south Franco,” Connolly shouted. He broke free from his aiding soldiers.
“Take it all robot scum!” He marched on his own and discharged the auto rifle. A spray of bright laser guided bullets charged forward to the nearby horizon. Standing on it, a line of approaching enemy, the robots.
“Come on man this is it,” Jack shouted to Franco.
They both lined up with Connolly, aimed and picked targets. With more bullets volleying to the horizon they met incoming movement, some fell to the ground whilst others persevered. A nearby cluster of soldiers watched the last three of Cliffeville regiment take a stand for losing their brethren, then they joined in. Still the robot offensive advanced with more and more numbers heading from the bullet hazed horizon
“We’re kinda outnumbered!” Franco shouted. He reached down to his leg side pocket for another ammunition magazine.
“Preserve your laser rounds, switch to metal jackets!” Connolly ordered. He twisted a dial on his auto rifle. After an electronic whine a burst of bullets spread out wide and he tried to hose incoming robots down.
“Hold the line Gunners!” Shouted a commanding voice. Jack turned to see a pair of stern eyes look him back. He focused on the rest of a tanned rugged and scarred face, the face of a woman.
“Not the time to be eyeing up the talent soldier, and I’m pretty much it,” this older woman said in a slight Hispanic tongue
Jack’s eyes flashed over her printed chest name and initial.
“Well ‘M. Garcia’. Watch this,” Jack said. Before bolting forward, he gave this ‘Garcia’ a daring look.
“That’s Major Garcia to you soldier,” she barked.
“We got a man in the line of fire. Hand to hand offensive. Move!” Connolly looked up to see Jack run in to battle.
Like always Jack Thorn faced situations like this in a unique kind of slow motion. It seemed weird to begin with, the sensation of racing heart beat and everything around slowing down. By the time he reached the age he was, Jack had learned to use it and that’s what he did.
A cluster of dark blue uniformed robots marched toward the front running Jack. Some with guns others with just their hands. They moved like humans and even had mannerisms like humans. But Jack knew they weren’t like him, he had a sixth sense for these things. He looked closer at them, there were scratches and burns bringing out their partially plastic faces. Some had uniforms burned or ripped away and this rag tag army didn’t stop at anything, Jack liked it that way.
He engaged target number one, a robot about take aim but instead received a sharp forceful jab. The robot blinked as the stunning flash of attack made him stop. Jack, already in mid jump, swung all the way around. His boot driving into the side of robot head before it could even realise. The force caused a spark instantly knocking the target down.
Everything sped up and Thorn landed before his first victim hit the ground.
“You’re fast. Wanna see how faster a robot can be?” Another enemy closed in, bigger than the last and charging.
“I’m not sure you’ll live to find out,” Jack said with deadpan emotion.
He side stepped and ducked to evade a wild swipe. This he followed into another jumping round house kick; not an easy feat in the clunky battle armour. The big robot grunted and stumbled forward after the force hit from behind. Before any words could be spoken the robot’s mouth was driven shut by a thundering uppercut by Thorn. Another spark and flash followed, the robot crashed to the ground where it remained motionless.
Jack skipped on further into combat. He scoped out another as it came charging and they collided. Thorn couldn’t even manoeuvre his auto rifle to aim as the robot wrestled it away with a smile. The enemy hovered one dirty finger over the trigger. Thorn smiled back and then swung out a high and wide kick colliding into auto rifle and mostly robot. Bullets fired upwards as the robot lost footing and fell. Jack rolled forward, closed in and reached out. With quick nimble hands, he took the rifle back and turned the weapon. A short burst of fire blew into plastic flesh and black oily liquid sprayed.
Jack sensed another robot close in behind and so he drove an elbow back. His padded arm buried straight into another face, there came the familiar spark and spray of liquid, but Thorn was nowhere near done. He only moved on with robots falling and leaving a trail of destruction.
“What’s he on and where can I get some?” Connolly asked. He and Franco struggled to wrestle a single robot. Together they worked in getting it to the ground.
“I don’t know… but take this you son of a, bitch,” Franco shouted. He drove a foot into the downed robot’s face. They both looked further ahead to the group of robots that had been dented by Thorn’s efforts.
“Remind me to apologize fully to Thorn,” Connolly said.
“What for?” Franco asked.
“Everything, just everything.”
He and Franco were passed by Major Garcia and a wide cluster soldiers following.
“Let’s not stand on ceremony. Help the soldier damn it or he’ll win the war on his own,” she ordered.
“Come on Connolly.” Franco marched forward.
In the clearing of downed enemies Jack looked all around, in his sights came a straggling robot. He focused on the target and took a double step forward swivelling his body side on into a stretching kick. In a flash he leant back and drove his right boot up and high, the sole driving into the chin of this unsuspecting target. Jack’s whole body seemed to follow in smashing through the robot’s chin. Again came the flash.
The sounds of war and explosions carried off in the distance where many more battles were taking place, but for now on this small rock surrounded hill Jack Thorn claimed it to be his own the moment the final robot fell. Major Garcia’s regiment closed in all around the scene of partial victory.
“Reel it in dog tags,” Garcia ordered.
Jack found his two fellow regiment mates and without breaking a sweat or any lost breath he stood beside them.
“That was some intensity Thorn, didn’t know you had that in ya,” Connolly said with an air of surrender in his tone.
“That was kind of showy, but in a necessary this is war kind of way,” Franco added with an approving nod and attitude of someone who had seen Thorn fight many times previous.
“Alright soldiers, break it up,” Major Garcia grumbled, she stepped in to face Thorn.
“I don’t do compliments much, but that was some fine work soldier. You wanna tell me your name?” She asked. Her eyes looked at Jack’s nameless chest armour.
“It’s Thorn, Major,” he said and nodded.
“Thorn huh, I knew a Thorn once before, back in the day. Well it seems like you three are the remainder of an extinct regiment. That’s the brutal reality of this gig. For now, consider yourselves honorary Gunnery members.” She nodded to Jack as her regiment roared in approval.
“I’ve got just the mission for a quick fighter like you Thorn.” They started to walk back towards the wrecked dropship, now a smouldering pile of jagged metal.
“I’m guessing it’s the type of something you would rather not lose one of your own with?” Jack asked and Garcia eyed him firmly again.
“I’ve met your type before kid, young and full of ability but you’re attitude stinks.”
“That attitude keeps me and my friends alive Major. Sorry if that’s disappointing to the man,” Jack said.
Garcia stopped again and moved within spitting distance of Thorn. Her face full of commanding grimace,
“I don’t give two shits about the ‘man’. And the deal on this rock is all types of irrelevant. Just like you I happened to be in the army when this war got declared. Now I think it’s pretty damn obvious what you are capable of and I’m asking if you’ll answer to that. Hell, maybe we’ll get a name printed on that third hand armour of yours. Then perhaps you’ll be somebody, that’s why we are all here right?” she asked.
Jack cracked a half smile and replied, “This mission then? What did you have in mind?”
* * *
Jeremey Jones awkwardly shifted his large frame in the leather office style chair. No matter which position he tried or whatever lever he adjusted, nothing could be done to achieve any comfort. Jones was a big man approaching fifty and unless the seat had been custom made his body would protest. This was a pay by the hour conference room after all so the décor and contents were mostly items of the cheap plastic persuasion and to him, a place he looked down his nose at.
Jones wouldn’t let thoughts like that go any further. He spent a life convincing people the family he came from weren’t just some snooty upper-class types. So there he sat trying to keep a military drilled posture in an expensive suit at the head of a long oval table and the chair was a pain in the ass.
He glanced at the ‘commy’ around his left wrist. The future’s answer to the cell phone. It did just about everything a cell would, plus more. He tapped the glowing screen and checked the time. Still the same as a few seconds ago when he last checked.
“It’s been a long damn time,” a southern accent said out of the nearby shadows.
Jones looked to the outline of Joey Connors opposite. His tipped cowboy style hat leant forward into a spotlight with the rest of him. A roughly bearded and wrinkled face glanced up momentarily and nodded to Jones.
“You’re looking old Jones,” Connors added and smiled.
“None of us have as much hair as we used to but we aren’t exactly young anymore,” Jones said. He ran a large hand across his near grey slightly receding hair line.
“It’s not the greatest of turnouts,” another said closely beside Jones. He too leant out of the shadows. An African American; Axel Hendricks looked to the only two other occupants of the room and then clasped both hands together. One of them covered by a dark leather glove.
“Do ya blame them?” Connors asked, “hell I turned up so Kelly didn’t have to, plus he’s running the bar in a state that currently has a shutdown government. Anybody heard from Clark in recent times?”
“Not for a few years, but him no showing doesn’t surprise me one bit. I also tracked down Don Dedman,” Jones said.
“He’s still alive?” Connors laughed.
“Barely,” Hendricks said.
“Who else is around, that uh, survived that night?” Connors asked.
“Harish went back to India after Police Force shut the department down,” Hendricks explained.
“Blew out years ago, busy running the family restaurant,” Jones added with a deep sigh.
“Well fellas, good try and all but this reunion kind of stinks,” Connors said.
“Saying that, it’s good to see you both. Those years I spent up in the city were good times with good folks. Shame it went the way it did. You know if ya think about it deep, we caused that shitstorm in a way.”
The room fell silent for a moment. Connors felt the awkwardness before the other two and did his best to fill it with words. As he inhaled to speak Jones beat him to it,
“I’m going to bring back the World Force.”
Connors stared at Jones vacantly until he became conscious of the silence.
“What now?” He asked in that southern accent.
“Seeing as Police Force didn’t want to renew their deal it put us all out of job. Acting ‘Chief’ Martin Case made that decision personally. That means it goes back to before, where I fully own the rights to robot law enforcement in the eyes of the S.E.S. With Hendricks I am going to bring back the World Force,” Jones said.
“That is why we invited you here today. Just to connect after all this time and talk about it. Maybe you could have some involvement in training future World Forcer’s,” Hendricks added.
“Ownership in the eyes of ‘S.E.S’? I can’t believe this shit. You’re both serious about this? Serious about treadin’ on the lives of those folks we lost all those years ago on that damn night. I was there when it happened, and we lost those people. Clark lost everything man, and I wasn’t far from it either,” Connors barked.
He pulled back and lifted his leg up onto the table, he revealed it to be metal and prosthetic.
“This is what happened to me that night and I have to live with it for the rest of my days. I fled that city because those damn robots won. What gives you any damn idea you ‘own the rights’ to robot law enforcement?”
“We all have our scars from the past,” Hendricks said. He held out both hands momentarily.
Jones ran a hand along the prominent scar on his right cheek. He then slid a hand into the jacket he wore. From it he took a faded bronze badge.
“The Secret Earth Services presented me with this all those years ago. They never revoked it Connors. Even after Clark’s presumed breakdown he still has his. So, in my eyes our original deal still stands. What is it you have an issue with?” Jones asked.
Connors clambered to his feet and made for the door.
“After all these years, you’re still afraid of him aren’t you?” Jones asked making Connors stop. Again, silence ruled until he turned.
“You bet your ass I am. You weren’t there Jones. You didn’t see the way he drove that blade into…” He stopped himself before simmering over with even more anger and took a breath.
“She died that night and it changed all of our lives. For whatever you have planned I say bullshit and I want nothing to do with it. Let me be the only one who actually cares about defending our legacy without stepping on it.”
“A legacy of failure?” Jones replied. Again, Connors stopped.
“You would make a good politician ‘Sarge’. People still call you that right? Cliffevile could do with a mayor like you to ignore the people’s needs.”
Connors limped away to the door. He pulled it to and then came the loud angry slamming.
“I expected more resistance from the others,” Jones said.
“They didn’t show and probably for good reason,” Hendricks added.
“They don’t know what we and Clark know. This planet has a robot crime problem that we fought for so long. Just because our contract with that corrupt police force timed out doesn’t mean we have to stop. There’s a new generation of fighters out there and so is our maverick. He could be up there on that muddy rock,” Jones said.
“X43? You know he is, but what about the girl?”
“As far as I know, the Warrior is watching over her. Where they are right now, I don’t know…”
“Well Jones, we are going to need a Warrior if you want this to be a success…”
“I know Hendricks, I know. We need a whole bunch of them. The World Force worked because of the Warrior support we had. Right now, we need to get our Maverick, that’s if Lucius turned out to be right.”
* * *
“I’ll be brief soldier…” Major Garcia braced while a nearby thudding explosion shook the muddy ground of X43. Her Gunnery regiment stood huddled around in a covering cluster of rocks, this included their three new recruits.
Jack stood front and centre. He listened in over the distant sound of battle which seemed to close in around them.
“Now here’s our line.” Garcia turned and glanced at the upward slope leading to battle. Men and women soldiers struggled to push back attacking robots.
“Receding at every moment,” she mumbled and pulled out a long battle knife from her belt. In one motion she sliced a horizontal line in the brown clay type rock surface.
“Over that hill and across the way is another line.” Again, she sliced a parallel line above the first.
“The ‘supposed robot rebellion’ have a line of mobile artillery trucks. They move around and to wherever we drop troops.”
Jack watched her carving five crosses above the top line.
“They were responsible for taking out your regiment. Our job is to take them out before they move on…”
The whole area shook violently. Clumps of mud rained down on the group. An artillery shot landed dangerously near. The ground rumbled and dust rode the wind briefly thickening the air with a thick dusty haze.
“As you can see, they are still in town. If you want to make yourself a hero kid, then the job is yours to take them out. All you gotta do is run in there and place some explosive charges,” the Major explained.
A cluster of her troops turned towards the hill. More and more robots appeared.
“Bullet meat at twelve o clock,” Connolly shouted. He pushed through everyone and began to lead a group of soldiers. They began to fire up towards incoming robots.
“So this is a suicide mission, right?” Jack asked. He knew there probably wasn’t a choice in backing out now.
Garcia wiped the knife on her leg and holstered it.
“Right. As I said your more than capable of this Thorn. Maybe you’ll even earn yourself a star on that chest of yours,” she shouted over more gunfire.
“Like me.” She revealed a covering shroud just above her chest nameplate. It revealed two faded gold stars.
Thorn nodded. He slipped into his own mind momentarily and to a truth where he was a guy in his mid-twenties who never really amounted to anything. The calling he would come to realise faced him. Major Garcia’s words led him out of the brief trance.
“You wanna be someone in this world you gotta work for it. We’ll crush this offensive and then call in an airstrike of extraction gas. That stuff takes down anything that moves within a thousand-yard radius. You run in as the gas drops, place a charge at each gun and get your ass out of there. Jefferson?”
Garcia called to a soldier carrying an armoured rucksack. He looked up to her and Thorn through a set of goggle style glasses.
“Here are the charges. Five in total for five artillery placements.” Jefferson took out a pipe shaped oval ended device from the sack.
“You pull and twist. This red band will light up and indicate it being armed.” He shoved the bag into Thorn who shouldered it.
“Have you got comms?” Jefferson then asked. He gripped Thorn’s left wrist and took a closer look at his robust commy.
“We’re on battle channel ten. Sync your commy and we can talk. When you place the final charge call it in,” he said.
“What do I do then?” Jack asked. He tapped on the commy screen a few times as Jefferson began to usher him forward.
“You run the hell out of there,” Garcia shouted. She charged past him and joined in on the gun fire.
“Evasive forward movement!” She waved for everyone to move over the hill. They began to push back the incoming robots.
“You sure about this Jack?” Steve Franco asked giving Jack that all familiar mischievous look.
“Nope but that’s why we joined this damn war, to do something with our lives.”
Franco nodded and cracked a half smile. This wasn’t the first time their comradery got them through a situation.
“Hey, I enjoyed driving buses back home. If you weren’t gonna do this, I probably would. I guess I can’t always be that semi-coward friend who follows you into all types of shit,” Franco added with Thorn managing a momentary smile.
“Just cover me, you and Connolly are good shots, the others, I’m not so sure.” Jack marched forward.
“I guess that’s a compliment…” Franco waved him off.
Jack rushed out from the cluster of soldiers and up the hill. He looked out towards the next horizon. It stood closer than he realised, and this was happening sooner than he wanted.
“Spread out and cover our man Thorn,” Garcia ordered. She fired towards an unarmed robot.
The soldiers fanned out and took back the hill with Jack running out front. He saw the expanse of a now empty battlefield and in his ear came a crackling from his commy. The incoming audio travelled up his wrist and though the body using advanced frequency to sound like a clear phone call.
“Thorn, this is Jefferson testing comms do you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he said and looked to see Jefferson moving toward him.
“These explosives are inconvenient to carry,” he added.
“Ok that’s the communications link working. I’m gonna go ahead and call in for the air strike,” Jefferson said.
Thorn watched as Jefferson turned.
“…is Jefferson of the second gunnery requesting a strike of extraction gas. Our area code is ‘AOE, and position, silver’. I repeat our code is ‘AOE, and position silver’.”
“Affirmative, target has not moved,” he added. After a moment he faced Thorn and shouted to everyone.
“It’s coming in!” Jefferson signalled to his fellow soldiers who looked up to him waving.
“Make us proud Thorn,” Garcia shouted.
The next horizon seemed further away to Thorn this time and at the very edge were five blocks of grey. The artillery. He looked up to the thick clouds above. A droning whine flew overhead followed by a strike of what looked like lightning. It rained down on the horizon with a flash. A billowing array of smoke began to rise.
“That’s your queue Thorn, go!” Jefferson ordered.
Thorn began to sprint towards the smoke and towards the unknown…