Jeremey Jones struggled to elevate his tall wide frame out of the control room chair and practically wrestled the tablet from Axel Hendricks.
“Wait Jones, wait. Something isn’t right. Look,” Axel demanded just when Jones took full hold of the tablet.
“What are they doing. Command, main view zoom in,” Jones ordered.
The large display screens locked on to Jack Thorn helping up Cade Biggs.
“Do something, those candidates in there are real robots. They are real Jones,” Axel said.
“What can I do? We’re not in control, I guess that’s humanity’s problem. Always has been,” Jones said and looked to Axel with intrigue.
“Yeah sure, choose a time like now to get all philosophical. Say something to them,” Axel ordered, and Jones cleared his throat.
“Command, enable for announcement please,” Jones said and cleared his throat yet again.
Back in the white room Jack helped Cade to his feet.
“Look I don’t know if I triggered this. But we are surrounded by robot’s in this room,” Jack said.
Cade slowly broke away from his helping grip.
“No Thorn they’ve always been robots,” he said giving Jack a somewhat edgy look.
“Don’t say you’re…”
“No, keep your hands and feet to yourself son. I guarantee I am human, all the way to the bone,” Cade said and stood off from Thorn.
“That’s good then…”
“Attention candidates. There is an issue with the simulation software. Can I ask you return to your designated areas?” The loud voice of Jones announced.
In a circle surrounding Jack and Cade these ‘candidates’ continued to close in.
Jack looked up and all around,
“Uh, that didn’t work Sarge,” he said.
The first woman came closer. She wore a navy type uniform and headed straight to him. He lowered instinctively when she swung a wild club fist. Another uniform moved for Cade and he forcefully wrestled the robot away. They backed up until they were within touching distance of each other.
There was a loud screech of static and another voice barked to them,
“Thorn, Biggs, run! I am going to activate all the simulations. Hide until I can get you out…”
The sound of Hendricks voice clicked off and the simulation buildings all around rose up. The car which Cade had hit his head appeared. Jack jumped up on to it and then offered a him a hand.
“Come on man,” he shouted.
Soon enough the car became fully surrounded. Somehow Cade missed every wild swiping hand.
“Ok so I get being put in this thing with a bunch of robots. Was the malfunctioning thing resulting in them really trying to kill us supposed to happen?” Jack asked.
“As far as I’m aware the answer’s no mate.”
“Guess we better do what the man say’s then…” Jack took a short run up and flipped over the barrage of uniforms, all of them with that cagy unhinged way of hanging their head.
He landed on his feet and watched Cade do the complete opposite. With two legs, he stepped down firstly onto the bumper and then forcefully waded through any robot resistance with powerful kicks. Just as more robots came to him a bright spark flew past his vision making him cower away and duck.
Jack stood with the simulation gun stretched forward. The electrical discharge hit the nearest robot to Cade and brought a vital few seconds.
“I don’t think it does much,” Jack said, and the heavier Cade ran to him.
“Apart from probably piss them off more. Back to times square?” Cade added. They both headed away.
“I’m calling for a mercenary team,” Axel said from his seated control room position.
His hand waved over a desk mounted screen and he pushed at various displays.
“Wait Hendricks, they are getting away. Why don’t we re issue the holographic hostiles and make them tougher. That might give Thorn and Biggs a chance to get away,” Jones said.
“That’s suicide Jones. They have no armour and there are already twelve real life robots after them. No, I’m calling for the Mercenaries, they can clean this up. End the simulations Jones,” Axel ordered but Jones just watched the display. He cradled the glass tablet to his large chest.
“Jones, end it…”
“You call for the Mercenary team and your fired,” Jones said coldly.
“I’m f… You can’t fire me this is the S.E.S. Under what jurisdiction are you going to ‘fire’ me?”
“I’m the one who owns the rights to robot crime fighting, this is my ship. You call for back up and you’re fired,” Jones added firmly then he began to grin.
“Those robots in there wherever you got them from are malfunctioning on the highest level. Hold on a minute, this was your plan all along wasn’t it? You deliberately set up Davidson to antagonise Thorn. This is a damn simulation Jones with real people’s lives at stake. You put real lives inside the shark cage with not one shark, several malfunctioning sharks. What are the odds he even takes down a couple of those robots?” Axel protested.
“If what Lucius said is right then he is the Maverick. We have nothing to worry about.”
Axel dropped both his hands and flopped down into his seat,
“This is damn suicide. You’re sounding like Clark and do you remember how he ended up?”
“He had a minor breakdown Axel and as far as I know he’s fine now,” Jones said.
“You honestly believe that prophecy of one man against the robots saving us all?” Axel asked.
“Let’s find out.”
And so they did. Jack and Cade broke away from the group of candidates and they faced the holographic robots from their simulation.
“Soft-core closing in at your twelve,” Cade shouted.
Jack faced his first target.
“I’ll let you have the first hit,” Jack said.
The wild simulated holographic robot swiped and made full contact with Jack’s face.
“Oh shit,” he said reeling back into a car.
“That actually hurt,” Jack said throwing in a jab to the gut, he followed in with a sweeping roundhouse kick tripping the robot to the ground. The wild image of a grimaced robot faded to white.
From above came the voice of Jones,
“We have adjusted the difficulty of simulated robots just so they can push back the other candidates.”
“That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen,” Cade said. He followed Jack through several flickering cars.
“Is there any type of plan or are we just running?” he asked.
They crossed into another simulation.
“I was hoping for a troop of holograms to face off with the others,” Jack said and looked up to a high tower type structure.
“I know this, we are on the Brooklyn bridge,”
The could both see the various metal struts and cabling that made up the bridge. He continued his run forward with Cade in tow.
A flickering came from the distance. It slowly morphed into what looked like a line of robots. They were charging their way.
“I don’t think we are gonna stand much of a chance against that lot,” Cade said. They both spun around to see the twelve robot candidates trudging their way in formation, and then the ground began to shake.
“Run!” Jack shouted.
The calamity of holographic robots grew louder and closer. The candidates behind them closed in while Thorn and Cade sprinted.
With a violent rumble the flickering road surface gave way into a white abyss. Pixelated road rubble dropped several hundred feet just when Jack jumped and landed inches from the cascade.
“I remember hearing about this. The First, he did this, he blew up the damn bridge…”
“Thorn!” Cade shouted. He grasped crumbling bridge. His feet dangled over the white hole into the unknown.
Jack threw himself down and gripped the hand of Cade.
“Can you really fall down this in a simulation?” Jack asked out loud.
“I don’t know, just get me, out of here.”
Jack heaved and half watched holographic robots launch themselves across the gaping hole in the bridge. He pulled Cade up and they stood surrounded on both sides by simulated robots and real. The two groups stared at each other for a few tense moments.
Cade slowly backed away and led Jack. His hopes were quickly shattered.
“Kill the humans,” a purely robotic voice said. From the hologram group one robot pointed to them.
“Yeah kill the humans,” a candidate said and both groups charged.
“Guess we are jumping then,” Cade said, and he jumped a barrier. Jack gripped it and acrobatically followed leading to a ledge.
The two groups of robots collided and flocked their way.
“Do we just jump?” Jack asked.
Cade stepped off the side. With his eyes firmly shut he landed only three feet down.
“Ha-ha, son of a bitch, it’s not high man come on,” he shouted and looked up to Jack who became mobbed in robots.
“Thorn! No” Cade did his best to clamber back up onto the bridge framework with this mob charging into the centre of the bridge. He pulled himself up to see the first robot bounce away.
From the epicentre of this hologram and physical robot storm came an angry Jack Thorn. With his fist locked he launched an uppercut to a target that impressively launched back. He continued like a machine with high swinging kicks and powerful punches. His glare, firm and concentrated. The brain of such a man mapped every moving target with a primitive precision. Each robot smashed back with some taking others out. He made quick work of holograms where many faded to white before flopping to the ground.
Just as the numbers thinned and before Cade could get near, the simulation began to fold downwards and disappear. Still the remaining robots came, every one of them meeting a creatively impressive doom, all of them colliding into a fist or boot, all of them sparking out of life. The prophecy was true and this man that stood before them was capable of fulfilling his calling.
* * *
Beneath a bed of murky clouds robot leader the First stood upon the roof of his commandeered base of operations. The large flat building spanned wide and long, much of its slate coloured exterior hidden under the various brown horizons of the planet X43 that surrounded. His vision focused through a pair of binoculars.
“Well the low cloud base doesn’t give much indication of visibility,” he said looking up to the thick grey sky.
“Perhaps this will make artillery interference difficult,” the rough concealed voice of Robot-K said making his presence known.
“Ga… You certainly have a way of creeping up don’t you Robot-K?” The First asked and he turned to the vast all black wearing figure. His eyes focused on the shadow shrouded inside the dark red hood. If he looked close enough the outline of two hollow eyeholes could be seen.
“In case you were wondering I was talking to myself. But you are right. When those shiftmasters land, the pathetic Army of Earth won’t be any the wiser, hopefully,” the First added in his British accent.
“I never base any belief on hope,” Robot-K said.
“Indeed. That’s the humanity in me rearing its disgusting head.”
The First lowered his binoculars and turned again to the large dark shape of Robot-K. He watched the cloak and hood abruptly turn. Another robot sheepishly stood concealed by his mass.
“I was told, I would find you here First,” she said, her uniform in partial tatters and a face showing the signs of burning.
“Yes indeed they sent you to the right place,” the First said. He watched the robot nervously look up to Robot-K.
“You survived the recent joke of our lost artillery placement and you have some information for me yes?” The First asked.
“Yes First. I managed to escape the blast and then the Mercenary attack after. The remaining few of my squad took shelter nearby and viewed the incoming attack from afar.”
“And?” The First asked growing impatient with this beggar.
“I saw the soldiers who were responsible for the destruction of our artillery. They were just that, grunts with no rank. They were awarded with stars of honour by the mercenaries and I saw a name. A name you are perhaps familiar with,” the soldier said.
“A name. Well we are waiting.”
“It was, it was Thorn.”
The First momentarily stared vacantly at the woman’s message. His face grew into anger which boiled inside, and he snatched at the robot. Before he could talk the mass of Robot-K stepped in and a large gloved hand took her out of the First’s grasp.
“Speak?” He roughly barked.
“The soldier’s name was Thorn. He planted the explosives which took down the artillery, please I am just the messenger…”
“And you are the only scapegoat we have for that debacle. Indeed, that name I haven’t heard since, well, since Earth. Is my old acquaintance Clark Thorn of age young enough to enlist in the Army of Earth?” The First pondered almost to himself as he limped a small distance away.
“This was a young man, he could move and really fight…”
Robot-K shook the woman violently.
“The son,” he said, and his hood turned to the First.
“Maybe. Stand down Robot-K. Let the adults speak.”
“There’s a lot of talk going around,” the woman said upon being released.
“Yes well our speech software will allow that,” the First said and moved closer to her.
“That he is what the old Warrior’s before us said about being a Maverick,” she said.
“The prophecy,” Robot-K said.
“Fabricated to groom the solitary bug that humanity could do with fixing. Emotion. I’ve never heard any factual account of this so-called prophecy. There is a reason all those Warriors saw an end, so we could rise. If this Thorn…”
“Jack Thorn,” Robot-K said interrupting.
“If this ‘Jack Thorn’ finds his way to me then he shall perish much like everything else that tried to stop me in the past. Your message has been received and in return and for my inconvenience you will not live. Robot-K make the necessary arrangements,” The First coldly said and spun away from view. He looked into his binoculars again as the woman screamed for her life.
“Please First, spare me…” There came the sound of a long blade scraping its way out from a sheath.
Then came a fatal flame filled slice followed by silence.
* * *
“Spare me!” Anne-Marie shouted dreamily and then she jolted awake.
“I beg pardon?” A robot called the Freak asked. He sat in the back of the old pick-up truck watching Anne-Marie attempt to groggily sit up.
“Uh, where are we?” She asked and parted her now messy blood red hair. Bright sunlight was nearby but they were sat in the shadows.
“Underpass of a mass transit highway,” the Freak said.
“How many years was I out? That’s how it felt anyway?” She asked looking out into the rocky desert. Things chirped and a warm breeze blew.
“Just the one night. I was under strict instruction not to wake you unless you woke yourself. Well Anne-Marie, do you wish to share with me what visions that caused you to awaken so abruptly?”
“Call me Rouge. It was just a dream, with a mind like mine they mean nothing. Where is he?”
“Very well Rouge. Your tall and dark friend isn’t far, and neither is my large friend F.G. I believe they are looking for a base of operations or a safe haven for you to stay…” The Freak continued to explain as Rouge phased out.
They’ll find me no matter what, they always do. It doesn’t matter how many times my Warrior guardian takes me away, they always win. Them and their creep of a Doctor, Leecher.
“Now this mind of yours, what do you mean about such visions meaning nothing?” The Freak questioned, and she tuned in on the conversation.
“My mind is a damn curse, it always has been. They all say the same thing, ‘you’re gifted’ and ‘you’re special’. Right now if it would stop those bastards from chasing me, I would cut my own brain right out…”
“But you are special,” the commanding voice of the Warrior said. He appeared beside the truck. F.G trailed behind with a large greasy take out bag.
“Warrior,” Rouge said and reached out a pale hand. He gently took it.
“You slept well?”
“Comatose since last night. We were just talking about finding somewhere safe to stay. I take it these guys’ place is compromised?” Rouge asked looking to the Freak.
“Right now you are sitting in our place young lady,” the Freak added.
“We found a place, looks promising but we got to approach it right,” F.G said and quickly noticed Rouge looking at his take-out bag.
“Oh and I hope you like burgers, I got you three, might be a lot for a small lady and it’s not like us three can eat so I didn’t want to raise suspicions.” He threw it her way and she dived straight into the bag. Without any words she had bitten into the first burger.
The three looked at her for a response.
“Oh, thanks. I, didn’t get your names,” she said quickly chewing and nearly completing the first burger.
“This is the Freak, and this is F.G. We can trust these two robots. They have seen a lot in their past, they have experience,” the Warrior explained.
“You guys are welcome to stick around as long as the burgers keep coming. Wasn’t there a robot rebellion a while back? Us ‘patients’ don’t get much news,” Rouge asked. The two robots looked to her already moving on to the second burger.
“We managed to avoid the rebellion. In fact, we went the complete opposite way, Cliffeville still offers opportunities for robots so this is where we came,” he said.
“So you guys broke me out and we got away. What’s next?” Rouge asked and looked directly to her guardian.
“We have found somewhere suitable to stay for now,” he said.
“It’s a diner not far from here. Hence the burgers. They are offering work for accommodation, well, a trailer out back. There’s a bunch of them,” F.G explained.
“Work?” Rouge asked as her eyes lit up. Never had she experienced anything other than confinement, maybe this would lead to a normal life.
“You mean I could get a job? Maybe have my own place, our own place? This is wonderful. Take that Doctor creepazoid Leecher,” she said and stood with half a burger in one hand. She looked up to the grey of underpass but to her it was blue skies.
“I believe ‘creepazoid’ to be an absurdly inappropriate forename for a member of the medical profession,” the Freak said as Rouge smiled down to him.
She could see for the first time in her life possibilities of normality.
“This is all I have ever wanted, just to be a part of the world. I’m gonna get me a job and be good at jobbing or whatever it is,” she said.
“Waitressing in a diner,” F.G said.
“I’m going to waitress in a diner, serve customers pie and have a normal life. I could even go out on a date with a boy, go out on lots of dates with a boy. Maybe with someone who I am probably better than. This is great,” Rouge added.
“Now Rouge, we must remain focused on staying away from the people who want to take you away,” the Warrior said.
She held out a hand to the Freak and gently pulled him up.
“Will you be joining me Mr Freak?”
“Well if it is required. F.G is there a job for me? It’s barely robot crime fighting but it’s a start,” the Freak said.
“Pot wash or flipping burgers,” F.G said.
“And I will be nearby watching over you,” the Warrior added.
Both F.G and the Freak had seen more action than a roadside diner but they knew this girl called Rouge was more than just a potential waitress. The Warrior knew this also. For now they would let her realize what her real calling in life was because for the first time ever she felt something inside, human happiness. The days of medical research torture seemed far behind in the rear-view mirror.