Abandoned Outskirts, Free City of Foundry
Thursday, February 23, 2051
The afternoon has quieted down significantly since the last of the Texans bit the dust. Their reputation for rowdiness is, apparently, well-deserved. However, that still leaves the Lazarus team thirty miles from the inhabited portion of Foundry with destroyed SUV, an APC ran by an AI they probably can’t trust, and several severely injured team members – and with significantly fewer supplies than they started out with.
Wormie levers himself into a seat with a sigh of relief. “Pits, let’s get outa here my brother. Head for Foundry while we see what’s back here, huh?” “Are we looking to keep stuff for salvage/resale, or just taking the plug-ins for the APC?” Pacoy asks, readying his tools as Siri lugs corpses. “We could probably recoup our losses on what the Sarge was packing alone,” Pacoy glances at his injured comrades and amends his claims, “Well, our monetary loses, anyways – plus enough to patch you guys up. But then again, I’m not the kind of guy who feels comfortable ditching a contract, especially one where we are working for THE major media, and will be broadcast looking like a bunch of amateurs that can’t finish a job – Spelling the end for Lazarus, we are supposed to be on a time sensitive mission here.”
Mac drums his fingers against the side of the APC, rubbing at his eyes with his free hands. “We should probably load up whatever we can salvage from the Amur first, and make sure we hitch up the trailer. I’m not much good carrying things unless you pack it into a sling. I can manage going on, but I’d like to see if we can’t get Worm a bit of help at Foundry.” Wormwood grits his teeth, “We’re not chickening on this mission. We’ve blood invested in it now. Good ideas, though. I’d help hitch up but…” he gestures at his legs.
“Right, Pit – can you start consolidating loot while the bot deals with bodies?” Pacoy asks. “Mac and Wormie could use a quick break." As Siri goes about the gruesome task of dragging the bodies and arranging them in positions suitable for quick and dirty postmortem cybersurgery, Pacoy decides to address the concerns Mac has shown about the treatment of Siri since she was added to the group. “Look, Mac, I’m not ungentlemanly – I never disrespect women or treat them like objects, but that’s the thing here: Siri isn’t a woman, she is an object!” Pitbull lights up a cigarette as stands back up from his seat in the front. “Pac, before we get moving, I need you to service this thing. There is at the very least a tactical GPS locator in this thing, and we need it gone. Can you do that?”
“It’s on the List, Pits.” Pacoy answers before turning back to Mac. “It isn’t a She, it’s an it,” Pacoy explains with a sigh, “It was programmed to mimic personality, but that doesn’t make it real – it doesn’t have a soul. Here is a way to look at it: Able has a few dozen personality files, all down-loadable in a matter of seconds – does he have a dozen souls? Of course not: he’s a tragic shell of a man with a series of complex programs able to override his mind. This android has one something similar – complex coded personality, but no human body or mind to get in the way. Putting a computer program, or a cybernetic device for that matter, into a human doesn’t stop it from being human – I’m 100% on that; putting a computer program, no matter how well it mimics life, just cannot turn a robot into a person. Period. Hell, my van has an automated voice response system as well," Pacoy continues, "I don’t apologizes for changing course without warning or offer to buy it a coffee when we pull up at a drive through. The only difference between the Tubik and Siri is the van is useful and Siri looks human.”
Mac fumbles with his pocketwatch as he begins laughing. He makes some remembered gestures at it, sending Wormwood a quick text – “Looks like we don’t have to sweep the Amur for bugs after all, Worm!” Wormwood grins, “They’re not going to attack the whole of Foundry City to get us, Pits. Tone down the paranoia a wee bit. The important things are gather what resources we can and get to the city where we can sell stuff, trade, do repairs and so forth. We can always hire techies in Foundry to jailbreak the new ride if we need to.” He sends a quick text back to Mac, “Not until Eris gets a chance to plant new ones, anyway. Watch her, Mac.”
Mac looks over towards Pacoy. “What is it to be human, pal? Just born into it? The dame feels pain, and she’s got moxy – not half as much as Worm, here, but she’s still plucky, and I ain’t never set no eyes on a robot with pluck. No sir.”
“Gladys has PLENTY of pluck, we bought her like that.” Pacoy points out. Wormwood, woozy with pain and blood loss, laughs, “So robots don’t pluck, Mac?”
Pitbull shrugs as he takes another long drag on his cigarette, almost to say “good point” at Wormwood’s words. “Alright, guys. We need to cut the chat a bit. Saddling up is a bit more important than wondering if my smartlinked system should have gotten it’s Social Security Card.” Pitbull growls dead pan, as he steps out of the APC to start picking up supplies.
“Hell,” Pacoy continues the comparison of AI to Android, “Madrid gives Worm a run for his money in the creepy-fruit department.” “Hey!” Wormie mock-frowns at Pacoy.
Seranya drags the last of the Rough Riders to the pile of bodies, all neatly lined-up and stacked together like cordwood. She visibly strains as she lifts the Sarge’s carcass with her one hand, placing him carefully on top of one of the others in his unit, careful to balance the remains of his head upon the other’s up-turned feet. She maneuvers the Sarge’s feet to lie on top of the other Rider’s forehead before standing tall, smiling as she walks up to Pacoy. “I’m done! All stacked up.” Pacoy sets about stripping the interfaces from the bodies, not letting the macabre task derail his rants.
Mac grins. “So you’re saying that the AI can be as creepy as Wormwood? I’d say creeping is pretty human, as it goes. What benefit does an AI have from creeping?” He idly toys with his pocket watch, letting it dangle a bit before trying to access some more esoteric functions by memory. He convinces his watch to play back Wormwood’s message in a deadpan-Noir narrator style and starts laughing. “Worm, you got a biting sense of humor.” Wormwood opens his mouth as if to object again, then just shakes his head and starts opening every cabinet or overhead he can reach from his seat to see what they hold. “The AI doesn’t need to get a benefit, someone just programmed it that way. Gladys is sassy, Madrid is fruity, my bots are functional, the General AI is an ass-hat. It’s all programmed for HUMAN interaction.” Pacoy rattles off as he continues his gruesome work.
Pitbull walks back in, the methanol can under one arm and a crate of ammunition under the other. “Creepy A.I.’s keep most of their benefit in psychological warfare. If your A.I. starts chanting in creepy Latin while intruders are in your fortress, the weaker willed intruders will start losing their nerve.” Mac frowns, drumming on the seat. “Pitbull, if you ever start chanting in Latin, I’d lose my nerve. Who chants in Latin anymore? Even for me, that’s old!”
Wormie slams the last cabinet shut with a curse, “Not even a packet of peanuts! But hey, Pacoy, this any use to you?” He holds up a military style crash kit.
Mac scowls. “Finks, the lot of them.” He navigates towards the front passenger seat, hands extended in front of him and begins running his hands over the control panels. Pitbull laughs as he unceremoniously drops the crate of ammo into a corner then gingerly sets the methanol can on the other side of the APC. "Alright Mac, something closer to modern. The Sarge’s favorite was from the 2000’s as his war music, and it was usually creeping epics like Behemoth’s “Lucifer” or Satyricon’s “To the Mountains”, if he was going something he enjoyed. Other times, it could have been his own personal recording of a mass torture session that he supervised the night before, also if he wanted something he enjoyed. I once saw a skirmish grind to a halt at the sound of that shit." Mac grimaces. “I’ll take your music any day, Pitbull. Say, how far out are we from our destination?”
Wormie calls out, “Hey Pits, where would they keep the food on this thing?” Pitbull replies, “Usually on themselves, Worm. We carried freeze dried rations on ourselves, in case we were isolated, or if the APC went red on us. The Sarge’s favorite was to not carry any, saying ‘If we’re going home after this, we’ll be eating their food’.” Pitbull smiled as he turned to Wormwood, dragging off of his cigarette again. “He said it was how Cortez took the big Mayan city, or some shit.” Mac taps his chin as he takes a break from feeling up the cockpit. “Well, hopefully one of his subordinates disobeyed him – that seems to be going around, yeah? Hey, how are we hooking the trailer up to this thing?”
Removing the last of the interfaces from the militia-men, Pacoy thinks of a witty line about the now-empty skulls of the Texans being fairly standard, but decides against it. “Siri, I’m going to need an extra pair of hands making the APC road-ready: can you handle that?” Siri starts to nod to Pacoy, then stops and frowns, holding up her destroyed stump of an arm. “I can only lend one hand. Maybe Mac can lend the other?” “I’d lend a hand too, Pac, but I’m fresh out of legs to lend,” Wormwood quips, as he levers himself to another chair and begins to search through more storage bins. Mac snorts. “Yeah, I’ll give a hand if Siri can let me know what I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, never been steered wrong by a lady in those circumstances before. What do you want us doing, Pac?” Pitbull shrugs and exhales a jet of smoke. “I’m puttin’ shit on board personally. I can help pull the trailer, though.”
Pacoy holds back a grin at the irony that moments ago he was considering ‘lending’ Siri’s eyes and legs to Mac and Worm as Wormwood pokes at a computer for a bit then looks up, “Hey guys, this thing has the software and mount for a hardpoint weapon, but nothing installed. Maybe when we get to Foundry we should look at getting that MG we looted from those road-warriors up there, huh?”
Mac listens to the timbre of Pitbull’s voice. “Why don’t we pull the APC up to the Amur’s wreck? We’ll be on our way that much sooner.” “A’ight. Got yourself a good point there. Now we need to get the last of the loot on here. Then we drive this tank down to the battle wagon and load the remainder of our supplies. Sound like a plan, everyone?” Pitbull grates as he rolls his neck before another drag off of his cigarette. Mac nods. “As long as you don’t drive off without my bike hitched up, I’m keen. Pacoy, what do you want Seranya and I to do?” Wormwood nods too, “Definitely, Pits. The sooner we get out of this particular patch of the ass-end of nowhere the better, as far as I’m concerned….hey, look!” In an overhead storage, Wormie finds a stash of Texan MRE’s. “Looks like someone ignored the Sarge!” Mac snaps his head back to face Wormwood, his sightless eyes flitting about. “We’ve got grub, Worm? Pass something up here, yeah? I’m famished.”
“I’m going to give a quick look at the interfaces and the APCs systems, Siri, are you able to give a quick mechanical check if Mac helps?” Pacoy asks.
Wormwood hauls down several packages from a box that looks like it may contain several days worth and passes one to Mac, placing it carefully into his sightless friend’s hands. “Pot luck, Mac.” Mac frowns. “Not even going to give me a hint?” He tears into the MRE, not appearing to taste any of what it contains, waiting for Siri’s response.
Seranya nods her assent to Pacoy. “Yes, master Pacoy sir. I’ll see if it’s mechanically sound.” She takes Mac’s hand in her own, leading him around the vehicle like a little girl showing off her favorite toy to a new friend. Pitbull sniggers and mutters something about “BDSM” under his breath as he stomps out of the APC for another under-arm of loot.
Mac drops the empty container onto the ground as he’s exiting the Amur, assisting Siri as best as he can, full of many questions, trying to pry bits of her personality loose as if his words were made of crowbars. “That was good, Worm, what was it?” “Chillied Armadillo, it says on the wrapper, Mac”, Wormwood sends over the team net. Mac licks his lips. “Texans sure can cook, that’s for sure. Say, Siri, you’re not going to get me electrocuted or mauled, are you?” She gladly explains to Mac what she can see, pointing out this or that bit of mechanical technology as she makes her circuit of the vehicle. “See here? These bullet holes? It’s been shot at before. Bigger guns than they ever let me play with.” She touches Mac’s hand to the hole. “Pretty old, though. The tires are refurbished, too. Looks like they were hit by the same bullets and patched back up. I doubt they’ll reinflate any more. Those things don’t usually work so well after the third or fourth time you need to use them.”
Pitbull laughs at Mac. “That was good? You’re the third person who’s ever said that! The beanie weenies are pretty good, but most of them taste like hot-armpit!” Pacoy shakes the mental image of Pitbull tasting hot arm-pits. “TMI, my friend. Keep your kink to your self! And yeah, Mac. There’s almost nothing that can go wrong with spiced meats, beans, and corn tortillas or flower tortillas. Tex-Mex is usually the shit.” Pitbull growls, his stomach now adding some growls of their own to the conversation.
Mac nods, nervously tracing the edges of the bullet holes. “Leave it to the Texas military to skimp on the hardware… Hot dog, Pitbull, I heard that from here. Grab yourself a meal and then hop the APC over to the Amur, yeah?”
“Pits, what’s ‘prairie oysters’? They taste pretty weird cold, f’sure” Wormwood sends as he samples one package himself. “Loadin’ the loot’s almost done, so I’ll take you up on that one. And Wormie, they are good, much better hot. Deep fried bull balls and don’t knock ’em ’til ya try ’em!” Pitbull laughs as he ducks out of the APC again. Around his next mouthful, Wormie says, “Well damn, you live and…OK. Looks like this thing has a nifty phased microwave active denial security system, makes folk who get too close feel like they’re on fire I hear. I’ve no idea how to turn it on, and I’m damn glad it wasn’t when I jacked the door. Looks like Sarge stole this thing in the first place, guys – someone fritzed all the usual lock-outs so anyone with a Texas military implant could use it instead of just the squad that usually crewed it,” he continues, “That should make it easier to re-model to our own needs, I’d think.”
Mac taps the nearest bullet hole. “That’ll be good – how long until we’re on the road, you think?” “I can rig our newly liberated interfaces to activate the security measures, Worm. Give me a minute.” Pacoy answers, fishing for the right tools.
Seranya continues her inspection of the vehicle, finally stopping at the engine compartment. “I’ll need your help to open this. There should be a latch that we have to flip, and a switch or something inside the vehicle…” Mac calls out to Wormwood. “Hey, leggy, can you see if there’s a pull to pop the hood?” He begins running his hands around the compartment looking for the latch. Wormwood levers himself by the arms into the driver’s seat and begins looking around. There’s a switch labeled with the usual icon for a popped hood, and he flicks it with his thumb. “How’s that, Mac?” Mac heaves against the engine compartment. “That’ll do it, Worm! What do you see, girly?”
Seranya smiles as she starts to push the hood up with her one good arm, almost diving into the big machine’s engine compartment to see what’s in it. Pitbull walks by Mac and Seranya with an armload of looted weapons. “Enthusiastic little blender, ain’ she?” Pitbull laughs to himself. Mac rolls his sightless eyes. “Aint a blender, hoss – I swear, she’s got as much of a human spark in ‘er that I do! Aint that right, dame? She’s naturally curious.”
Seranya speaks out from under the hood, her little legs kicking in the wind while she investigates. “Ooooh, that’s biiiig. A few hundred horsepower; standard flex-fuel design, though made for diesel; seen lots of wear-and-tear – probably over a hundred thousand miles on her. Should be due for a major service overhaul, but doesn’t look like it was done. Transmission looks fine mechanically, but it needs an oil change – and it looks to use the expensive stuff.” Mac sighs. “Great, guys… we rolled our Caddy and we’ve picked up an old clunker. We’ll need to hook up with a grease monkey before we’re through with this trip.”
Pitbull stops in his tracks after hearing her diagnosis of the machine. He turns back around and walks over to Mac and Seranya, arms still hugging the looted guns. “How far will we get with this, little’un?” Pitbull growls, frowning. Wormwood calls out over the team net, “As long as it can get us to Foundry, Mac – we should be able to get any work done we need to once we’re there.” He swings himself back into the crew compartment, wincing in pain. “Pac, once we get moving do you think I can have some of the stronger stuff?”
“It’s up,” Pacoy says, closing an access hatch and stowing his tools. “Any of us should be able to link to the Interface, which is now tied directly to the rigs computers. We should have full control of everything.”
Seranya drops down to the ground, almost falling out of the engine compartment. “Well, it won’t go more than two hundred miles before it needs to fill up again on gas – the tank looks to be half-empty now. But I wouldn’t go more than two, three thousand miles before completely overhauling the engine. If you wanted her to be like new, she’d need some bodywork, too, as well as new tires, and a few other things. And she’s missing a lot of equipment that I think comes standard on these things, but none of that impacts its ability to move from place to place. You should get an oil change in the next thousand miles, too – I wouldn’t trust that transmission for much longer on what’s in her now. Could damage the engine even worse than it already is, make you have to go with a full replacement rather than just an overhaul.”
Mac nods his head. “Siri, if you decide to come back with us, I know a mechanic you’d get along great with. Can you get me over to the trailer so we can help hook it up when Pitbull brings the truck along?” Mac heads to the trailer. Pitbull nods with a grimace. “Thanks Seranya. And Mac, I’m thinkin’ she’d do better with us. Preferably with Pacoy, since he can service her needs. Especially with another road trip.”
Pitbull marches back into the APC and scatters the objects in his arms into the pile. “OK, dudes, that’s the last of it.” Pitbull growls as he snags a ration pack – steak fajita and rice – and flops down into the drivers seat. Pitbull stuffs a mouthful of the package’s contents before firing up the engine. Mac snickers. “I don’t know if Pacoy’d be interested in servicing her, Pitbull, I mean, she’s not quite human enough for him.”
Seranya takes Mac’s hand again as they head back to the trailer and the bikes. Pitbull grimaces, then lets a smile creep across his face, as he warms up the engine.
Mac freezes in place, his foot locked in-half step. “Siri, could you stop please, dear?” He appears to be perspiring, and his mouth moves only very little as he speaks, his mind racing a million miles. Survive a massive firefight, get blinded, and now this… “Hey, Pitbull, I think you should take the long way around to get to the bike. And can someone with a scope tell Siri how to walk away from me? And uh Pitbull, how far away is a ‘safe distance’ considering what you know about Texan land minds. Hypothetically speaking, of course. If one were to have stepped on a live cat, how far away does Siri have to get before she’s… safe? I think I found where some of the Texan equipment got stashed.”
“Siri! Can you mark those mines?” Pacoy asks in concern “I need to get to Mac and disarm them without blowing myself up!” Wormwood levers himself up again, grunting with the effort, and into the co-drivers seat up front, trying once more to access the APC’s sensor suite. “Let’s see if this tub has anything we can use to spot others, at least.”
“If Mac had stepped on an anti-personnel land mine, he’d either be dead already, because the mine would have blown up already… or it would be the type designed to waste a bunch of people’s time as they tried to disarm the mine. If it’s an anti-vehicular mine, then Mac’s safe – he’s not heavy enough to set one off, and it would already have gone off anyways!” Pitbull yells through the comms as starts revving the engine to give it the kick needed to be ready to move.
Wiping his brow with a pocket kerchief, Mac’s mind reels with infinite possibilities. “This would be somehow better if I could see what was going on, but I am absolutely… I don’t even have a word for it. Which one do you think it is Pitbull? What do you think that APC was loaded out with? Am I near a place where you’d see a vehicle drive?” “Honestly, we should sweep the area. None of us are heavy enough to set them off, but this thing is our only way out. We can get these fuckers disarmed at least. Or, I can.” Pitbull growls as he lets the engine continue idling. Wormie scans data fast, then sends on the team channel, "Mac, I’m looking at a layout of the area and it’s showing an RFID tag right where you are as well as the ones for the dead soldiers and for Pits. There’s also a bunch of tags for the mines but one mine is missing from that list, number two. The mines are listed as “AVM”, which I’m guessing means ‘anti-vehicle". I think you’re OK but don’t haunt me if I’m not, OK?"
Seranya frowns, looking down at the ground. “Mines? I’m not sure…” She kneels down in the dirt-covered asphalt, brushing her hands against the ground, trying to clear it away to see what Mac’s standing on. “SIRI! NO!” Pacoy Shouts. “We’ve Identified them, DON”T DIG THEM UP!” Seranya stops instantly, holding her hand up as if she just got caught with it in the cookie jar. “I just wanted to see what it looked like…” She looks to be on the verge of crying.
Mac looks back at Pacoy. “Don’t yell at her! She’s got feelings, bo! She was just trying to help.” Mac’s voice seems frantic. “Worm, you think I’m okay? What sort of margin of error are you giving me? Am I mostly dead, or only somewhat dead? Can you guide Siri to safety before I try anything?”
“You can have a robot with hurt ‘feelings’ or you can join Worm looking for a wheelchair basketball league!” Pacoy grumbles frustrated “She was going to blow you up out of curiosity!”
Wormie swallows, “I’ve no certainty at all, Mac. I think AVM means anti-vehicle and I think you’ll be ok if you move. But it’s your call, it has to be”. He uploads his own visual data and dumps it to everyone else over the net. “See what I mean, folks?” Pacoy takes careful notice of the marked tags, and sets out very carefully to help Mac out of his situation. Mac grimaces, screwing his eyes shut. “Siri, can you carefully make your way back to the APC? I don’t want you getting hurt if this goes south – Pacoy means well, and I know you weren’t trying to hurt me.” “Yeah, guys, that’s anti-vehicle. We can map a course to get around them.” Pitbull growls into the comm net, as he re-enters the driving-pit.
Mac swallows. “Right – if they’re Anti-vehicle… I can move off of it, yeah? Let me know when Siri is clear. Otherwise, I’m going to be a strange looking statue standing here for the rest of eternity.” “Yeah Mac! You and Siri are no where close to heavy enough to setting them off!” Pitbull yells into the comm net.
Seranya stands up, facing Mac for a moment as he sends her away. Before backing up, she reaches up and hugs him, kissing him on the cheek. It’s not the most comfortable hug-and-kiss ever – the bare metal of her face brushes against Mac’s own – but the thought is there, and as she backs away and Mac begins to open his eyes, he finds something astonishing before him – a blurry shape, indistinct at first slowly comes into clarity as the senses that had left him come back. His eyes burn in pain from the new/old sensations, but then they focus on one thing right before him. A little droplet of water, reflecting the light of the sunset. It’s almost like his very own rainbow, falling off the cheek of the mechanical girl as she backs away from her friend – maybe for the very last time.
Mac feels a tear of his own fall down his cheek, pattering into the dust below, lost in the scrub surrounding his foot. He sees Seranya retreat back to the APC – he begins counting in his head. “If I don’t make it through this, guys, it’s been a pleasure.” He steels himself, reaches his target number and then lifts off.
Within Mac’s mind, time seems to slow to a virtual stand-still. The instant Mac’s foot steps off the mine, he hears a barely audible click. His mind, in hyper-attentive detail, tracks that sound and those that follow it, building up an almost three-dimensional image in his head of what’s happening mere inches below the ground. The weight of his body now off the pressure sensor, a circuit closes, and a small pin falls. On its head is a small dot of primer, and it falls through its tunnel until it reaches just fast enough to strike the block of explosives under it. There’s a flash and a bang, nothing more than that in a gunshot, but it’s just the precursor to the main event. That little bang roils around in its steel cage, agitating the molecules of a much larger block of explosive. The RD-9 explosive, developed over fifteen years ago by a now-extinct agricorp as a hideously mis-designed fertilizer, reacts predictably, its chemical bonds breaking at a supersonic rate, creating a shockwave fast enough to send a small dog halfway to orbit. The shockwave reaches up, but strikes the solid armor-plated sides of the land mine and bounces off, shaped by the design of the casing to focus the entire blast up the only channel available. A metal plate, deliberately placed, sits in the middle of that channel and is instantly liquefied by the force of the blast. The molten metal streams upwards in one swift, powerful blow, shooting straight upwards into the sky.
Mac’s legs churn as fast as he can, faster than he’s ever moved before, but they’re not quite enough. The shockwave strikes him right in the back, and he goes flying, landing in a heap on top of Seranya, who holds tight to him as she lies on the ground.
Wormwood starts as the mine explodes, uttering a wordless cry of grief – then sees Mac lying smoldering atop Siri but obviously not dead. The pain in his own leg wounds, the stress and emotion of the day, finally overwhelm him. “You lucky, lucky, bastard,” he breathes – then passes out. Pitbull sighs as he lights another cigarette. “He is indeed Worm. Damn…” Pacoy stares in shock, he was on his way to disarm the mine!
Mac’s eyes open up briefly, eliciting a pained laugh as he finds himself looking into Siri’s eyes. “Hi – do you always fall for guys like this?” He groans before his head droops to hit the ground, “Hey guys, I don’t feel very lucky – I think my jacket’s on fire.” His eyes shut as he slips towards unconsciousness.
“…that still leaves the Lazarus team thirty miles from the inhabited portion of Foundry with destroyed SUV, an APC ran by an AI they probably can’t trust, and several severely injured team members – and with significantly fewer supplies than they started out with.” Oh, is that all- and then there is even more injury…
Great work, as always…
Yep, KVP, the team are by now heartily sick of looking at the Foundry landscape and looking forward to getting out into the deep wasteland, where it will surely be less dangerous…