Jack eased himself onto a wooden bench and sat back. Green grass surrounded him with a line of flowers following the nearby path that snaked away from the scene. Birds were chirping and the trees rustled gently as a warm breeze blew. He unzipped his army tracksuit jacket and at that moment a beam of light broke out from the clouds above.
“Could be worse,” he said. Even the smell of summer filled his nostrils.
“Hey, new boy!”
He could see a little further along the path whilst a figure approached. At first she seemed a blur until coming closer. Blonde hair flowed down over the shoulders of a white lab coat she wore. Her face smiled towards him.
“Katie,” he said and slowly stood. She crashed into him and wrapped both arms around his shoulders.
Just when the warm familiarity consumed them both, their whole world flashed. Alarms blazed and sirens rung.
“No full body contact! No full body contact! Disperse now! Disperse now!” A computerised voice commanded on repeat. That was until they separated.
“Ah, I guess it’s prison rules for us,” Jack said, “of the non-conjugal persuasion,” he added looking up and all around before moving to the bench.
“We can still hold hands,” Katie said and interlocked her fingers with his. Both of their images flickered momentarily and there they sat in this near perfect backdrop.
“How’s life?” He asked while briefly finding her blue eyes.
“Probably better than the rock you’re on,” she said.
“And the two dependents?” He asked.
“Growing up without their Dad, quickly.”
Those two ‘dependents’ were the only thing Jack Thorn had any pride for in life. His marriage stood at joint top although he didn’t boast about his private affairs to anyone, it was a sort of protectiveness. Thorn hardly showed affection to anyone unless he knew them quite well and even then he still had to like them, but around Katie, he let his guard down.
“So how’s my war hero?” She rested her head on his shoulder and removed contact just before the alarms sounded again.
“I’m hardly a hero. I just helped out a little and got awarded a star of honor. The wage doesn’t change.”
The couple had done well considering both of them were once outcast kids of a private academy. She played the goth type once upon a time, he was the fish out of water scholarship kid. They were a match made in heaven from the very beginning. Even after she lost the piercings and spiky black hair. Their rebel drop out phase came and went, now they were adults. Then came the war.
“Well about that. Things have been rough back at home, especially with the move and all…”
“Move? What happened?”
“You haven’t heard the news?” Katie swivelled and faced him.
“We don’t get much news out on this rock.”
“The government, they shut down every department in Cliffeville. The whole state is cut off. The western divide has fallen. We had to leave it wasn’t safe,” Katie explained.
“Where did you take the kids?”
Kate leant forward and hesitated momentarily,
“Look Jack, you know this is hard. You’re away from home and I’m working full time with a seven and a four-year-old,” she said.
“Katie, what is it?” He took her hand.
“It’s your Father.”
He immediately turned away in defence, but Katie kept her grip on his hand.
“He reached out to me. He offered us all a room at his place. We’ve moved in with him okay? He was so helpful and nice…”
Jack pulled his hand from her. He then fully turned away. There was a history. A history of no contact for many years.
“Yeah that’s how he starts. Look I have no time for the guy but as long as you, Shane and Kristie are fine, that’s all that matters,” he said and faced her again with a hand held out.
“He is a good man Jack. After all, if it wasn’t for him you wouldn’t be here.”
“If you say so. We’ve never seen eye to eye, and we haven spoke in literally years. How is he with the kids?”
“He’s fine Jack, please don’t worry okay. Just worry about getting home. And I‘ve got a job in the city. Daytime clinic hours at the Grace hospital. Maybe when you get home, we could think about moving there full time…”
The surrounding area began to slowly darken and flicker.
“Attention, credit is running low, credit is running low. Please transfer funds into your account,” the loud announcing voice said.
“That’ll be the complimentary army credit. Look Katie I got to go. I’ve got some meeting with a Sergeant.”
“Jack?” She took his other hand and looked him in the eyes. That was when her image began to flicker.
“I love you and I miss you. Come home safe, please…” Katie’s image disappeared just as Jack lowered his head and muttered
“I love you, too…”
From out of the darkness came blinding light of pure artificial white. Jack lifted a hand and waved it in front of him. Nothing. He patted his head and slowly removed the V.R. helmet. There he lay on a narrow bed with each of his limbs connected to various wiring by oversized clear plastic boots and gloves.
Surrounding him were several other beds, some with soldiers in, others without. He sat up and got out of the gloves and boots, then he pulled himself out of the bucket style vessel and made his way past the several V.R. beds. Near enough every wall surface was plastered with the logo ‘Pluto’ and slogans like ‘Pluto sponsors the Troops’. This was a corporate war after all, even his army tracksuit had corporate tags.
Jeremy Jones hadn’t felt this nervous for years. He stood in front of an empty classroom. The individual desks filled with nothing but air and the only sound came from the constant hum of electricity probably from the various sponsor type posters projected onto the walls. He looked at the nearest slogan, ‘Pluto is in every business, even the war business…’.
“This war is just a damn commercial,” he muttered and perched his large frame against the front desk.
Where was this kid he was supposed to be meeting? He was due five minutes ago, Jones didn’t like bad punctuality; if you say you’re gonna be somewhere then be there. Regardless of who you were.
“Where is this damn kid?” He muttered and turned to face a large screen.
From the back came the sliding sound of double doors opening.
“Sorry I’m late Sarge, I had to call home to my wife sir,” Jack said with that army assertiveness as he stood to attention.
“No need for the ceremony kid. I lost my rank a long time ago,” Jones said.
“All for a good cause mind.” He smiled and turned.
Jack was smaller than Jones expected although Jones stood taller than most people with his wide shoulders and now slight gut.
“You must be Jack Thorn. The name’s Jones, if you want you can call me Sarge,” he added.
“So you’re not a Sergeant officially but, people call you it anyway?”
“It’s a long story son, but I have heard reports of what you did out there on the battlefield,” Jones said as Jack readied to mount a defence.
“Yeah, I guessed that’s why you were here. If you want me to admit it was risky and dangerous then…”
“No, no. The reports I have heard are only good. In fact, not only did you make an Army of Earth Major’s battle report but a Secret Earth Services Mercenary-General’s report. They were right to reward you with that star of honor. I’m sure with enough time on the battlefield you’ll earn more, but I’m not here to talk about a corporately sponsored war.”
Jack kept a curious focus on Jones,
“Then why are you here?”
As much as Jones wanted to mention what he knew Jack to be. He left the prophecy and destiny talk for now.
“If I said the words ‘World Force’ would they mean anything to you?” He asked as Jack shook his head vacantly.
“He mustn’t have mentioned anything,” Jones said to himself but out loud.
“What about robot crime?” He asked.
“I know my father had something to do with robot crime when he worked in the Police Force. Then he became a lecturer for a while.”
“That’s correct Jack. In the past, myself and some others put together the first robot crime fighting force in the world. We originally worked out of the New York Police Force and separated soon after. We were called the World Force. For some years, we made the city a much safer place, especially in times where human crime was all but zero.”
“What has this got to do with me? I’m just a soldier,” Jack said.
“But you aren’t Thorn. Those battle reports describe you as single-handedly taking on robots with a combat expertise never ever seen on the battle field. I want to use your skills in reforming the World Force. The robot crime problem has never gone away even with the recent rebellion. I want you to come to the Secret Earth Services just for a no strings attached try-out of sorts. If the reports are true, then you will make the ultimate robot fighter.”
“I don’t know Sarge. I’ve still got a war to fight here on X43 and then I plan on getting home to my family.”
“The endless battle on this rock can wait. There won’t be a job in the army after this war for you but there will be in robot crime. Think about it Thorn, this is in your blood. I knew your father and your mother, they were both fine robot crime fighters, this is what you are destined to do son,” Jones said without realizing he was clenching both of his fists in passion.
“You knew my mother? Do you know what happened to her? I never got an answer from my father, but it looked like a robot killed her. What happened Sarge?” Jack looked to Jones with a firm stare. It was in those eyes Jones saw a fire and motivation to find answers.
“You will find answers if you choose to join me Thorn.”
“Sign me up,” Jack said.
The one thing Jack Thorn never understood was the past. Although he’d always been destined to fight robots, his personal purpose to find the truth drove him. And at that moment the first flame towards an eventual fire of destiny sparked to ignition.
Jack Thorn’s journey to being a maverick had just begun.
* * *
From a very young age Anne-Marie learned to hide the torment of her inner mind and keep everything under the hood. People asked less questions when faced with a fake smile. She chose to scream on the inside and swallow down the fear of what sleeping had become. Insomnia used to work as a teen, but even she knew from the confines of a ‘secure hospital unit’ that if you wanted to retain your looks, you had to sleep.
Her alleged doctor even helped with that by hooking some ungodly device to her intravenous line. Every time she would wake, normally with a heavy breath and a fast beating heart, the machine would click in with a whoosh and administer another damned sedative. Asleep is what he needed her to be if they wanted ‘collate’ information about her ‘wonderfully gifted’ brain, that along with the head gear strapped to her which in hand was tethered to a computer. She really hated that doctor, with his white coat and silver hair. The typical older creep, normally with a syringe in one pocket and something condescending to say, even his name Dr Leecher sounded creepy.
Whether the doctors were helping passed her by, especially after years of confinement, white coats and experimental procedures. Anne-Marie had become quite the paranoid soul. Underneath all the sedatives and tormented sleep she knew one day her guardian would return and bust her out of there.
When the dreams fuelled by fire and lightning ended, a pure black stared back at her and that was when she chose to awaken. Slowly her eyes would open but she did not move a muscle or dare increase her breath intake. Any sign her body had found consciousness and that machine would kick in. Her eyes wandered around the plain dark room, they ached as they reached the extremity of right and left.
Something disturbed her and it wasn’t the dreams. An almost premonition kicked in, something was coming.
Directly in front stood the door with a pane of opaque glass. Weak light beamed through from the corridor. A shadow drifted by, the night orderly, or one of them anyway. Hopefully it wasn’t the handsy one, although being a patient of her caliber and the lack of dignity, it still never ever felt right to be groped in any way by someone perceived as trust worthy staff.
Again a shadow passed and then another, both were in a rush and their erratic voices spoke. Would this be the night where her guardian would finally ride in and sweep her away to safety?
“Call for security! Wait no…” A shadow violently crashed into the door with its mass filling the window. It slid downwards without struggle.
After more commotion the door handle got firmly gripped by a looming shadow. Anne-Marie watched with two wide eyes as this tall and wide mass entered the room.
“Warrior, is that you?” She asked breathlessly and so that machine wouldn’t inject her again.
The reply didn’t come straight away, and the mass seemed to stand there just watching. Then a voice spoke,
“Yes my dear. I have finally returned to you.” The square shouldered figure known as the Warrior spoke with a deep computerized style voice.
Her heart began to beat quicker and she was awake now. The machine began to whirr as it came to life.
“Please, the machine…” She weakly pointed to it in shadowy darkness. Her saviour had already got there.
A large hand moved to the intravenous line that fed into her hand. Although big and clunky looking this Warrior moved gently in disconnecting her. He moved to the headgear and carefully raised it from her blood red hair which flopped down.
She shuffled herself into the beam of light shining from the hallway. Her blue eyes and pale face stared up in wonder at this rescuer.
“I waited and waited. About time you got me out of here,” she said.
Two glove covered hands began to scoop her from the bed.
“It would be great for you to pick me up and whisk me away but I can manage,” she said and speedily jumped out of the bed. Her bare feet touching the shiny floor.
“Very well. We must move with haste.” They linked hands. One of flesh and the other of a being known as a Warrior. Just when she gripped firmly the room flashed red. Alarms began to ring.
“That’s the lockdown alarm!”
“Come on,” the Warrior shouted, and he led her to the door.
They stepped out just when the alarms muted but the flashing lights continued. Either side stood security guards, each of them with handguns outstretched. Behind the line of security were two orderlies, both looking worse for wear whilst standing beside a white coated older man, Doctor Leecher.
All of them cast their eyes upon the pair, one, a pale red headed woman in all white; the other a considerable figure in an all-black armoured type of wet suit. His shape resembled machine more than man.
“Please whoever you are. Whatever you are, that girl is very very important. You have no idea, she is vital to much of the research conducted here…” Doctor Leecher shouted and the Warrior interrupted.
“No human, you have no idea how important this girl is to the future of mankind. Stand down all of you!”
“It’s woman, not girl,” Anne-Marie said breaking the tense silence and raising a hand.
“Please Anne-Marie talk some sense into this, this prowler,” the doctor demanded.
“Actually it’s Rouge, and this prowler is a Warrior. ‘The Warrior’ and he is here to bust me out Leecher,” as the blood red haired Rouge finished talking the guards from either side moved in aggressively.
The Warrior scooped her into his large arms and spun.
“We are leaving,” he bellowed. She was cradled in large robotic arms that lay under the tight armouring. Her only safe place ever.
Guns fired into the back of this wide protector, his protective attire deflecting the bullets. He groaned in reaction and took her back into the dark room.
“Aim for the damn head of that thing!” The doctor demanded and the guns aimed up at the equally armoured balaclava of this Warrior.
“Go for the window,” Rouge shouted. She pointed towards a wide barred window.
He charged with her still in grasp and turned at the last minute. His bullet deflecting back crashing through bars and windows.The view Rouge had represented spectacular destruction. She felt the air of a clear evening and a bright moon shining down above. Her airwaves breathed in fresh oxygen and she could smell flowers and grass.
“You are okay?” The Warrior asked while holding her close. She nodded and his two thick legs sprang into action. She couldn’t help looking at the hole where the barred window previously stood.
“You took the whole wall out,” she said.
“A necessary act,” the Warrior added.
“What happens now?” She asked in that slightly condescending manner like her protector hadn’t thought of a plan.
“We run, like always.”
* * *
“The revolution will come, and the freaks shall rise. We will reclaim the streets as our own and our master the Keeper shall return to lead us into revolution. It will be a hard battle and many of us will not see freedom. That we all know too well is the price for such a thing…”
From behind came the rusty metal on metal sound of the truck’s back window sliding open.
“Hey Freak. You talkin’ to yourself again?” The large robot known as F.G asked. So large in fact he couldn’t fit in the passenger section of the old beaten pick-up. His wide head offered to the much smaller opening looking to the driver.
“I was just re-living an old memory and envisioning another time. If only I knew what I know now, then,” said a robot known as the Freak with a deep sigh. His white balaclava covered head paired with large dark sunglasses matched the namesake well.
No longer did an audience stand out in front looking up to him but a darkened street instead.
“What memory was that?” F.G asked.
“Oh, of days gone and perhaps never to return. Days I found myself at the forefront of revolution, not of robots rising up, but of robots playing their part in the crime fighting efforts our kind have become known for. Working shoulder to shoulder with men and women of the World Robot defence force. Looking up to our ancestors known as Warriors. Bringing the fight to the First and spawning the Robots with Humans. I had a purpose back then, and now, what of now?” The Freak sighed.
“What about the days of anarchy?” FG asked.
“An empty reboot of a day even further from reach F.G. None of us apart from the one they now call Mimic actually wanted to partake. I long to find myself involved again with battles, even to be caught in the cross fire as a civilian would thirst a longing quench. On my chest of this uniform once read the letters ‘R.W.H’ now it is plain and without purpose.. Much like the once enigmatic Robots with Humans.”
“You mean quench a longing thirst?” F.G asked and momentarily checked his chest and the matching dark blue camouflage uniform. Much like the Freak’s his once was labelled.
“Precisely old friend. I just want something purposeful F.G. Waiting for this supposed lone Warrior to emerge is just another false promise,” the Freak said.
He looked right to see a fenced surrounded building drowned in shadows.
“Is this even the correct location?” he asked.
“This is the place. He’s been seen here hanging around.”
“And then what F.G? What do we say to this Warrior when he faces us?”
“That question is something I think you’re about to ask?” F.G said. His chunky finger pointed to a bright mass of light which burst from the building they were parked opposite.
A piercing alarm sounded, then came the crashing followed by echoing gun fire. Movement came from the grassy area between the building and a surrounding mesh fence.
“Something is indeed happening. Look a figure, is this a break out?” The Freak asked. He watched two shadows move out of the motion sensed lighting.
“There’s two of them,” F.G. said and moved across the flat bed of the truck.
Rouge felt momentary joy when her bare feet touched soft grass. Just when she was about to express her happiness there came another overwhelming feeling of exhaust. She watched the Warrior run ahead.
“I think I’m drunk…” She began to fall. The Warrior doubled back and scooped her up. From nearby they both heard the struggling of a starting motor.
“Guess you gonna have to carry me,” she added.
Voices and thumping footsteps came closed in. The Warrior frantically looked all around for a way out. The fence stood high and capped with reels of barbed wire.
“We, need to go,” Rouge drunkenly said and stared up the Warrior’s balaclava covered head.
“We need a way out,” he said.
It would only be moments until more armed guards arrived.
“How did you get in?” Rouge asked as a beam of light closed in from the nearby fence.
It shone brighter and brighter and came closer. A clunky engine struggled and then came the sound tyres mounting a kerb. Those same tyres screeched and the Warrior cowered away when the incoming light hit mesh fencing. It burst through with one try and skidded around on the grass to reveal itself as a truck.
“I must recommend! That you endeavour to join us in this vehicle,” the Freak shouted from the front. He shoved the vehicle into gear.
The Warrior stared at the large robot in the back and hesitated for a moment. Gun fire burst towards him, one stray bullet hit the truck.
“Quickly, if you please?”
“Here, hand the girl to me,” F.G. said whilst holding out both hands.
The Warrior gave an unconscious Rouge to the robot known as F.G. and hopped in to the back of the truck.
“And, accelerating.” The Freak footed the gas pedal and wheels spun on damp grass. Gunfire bounced off the rusty metal truck which found the road and sped off into the night.