Omaha Exclusion Zone
15 Miles from Downtown Omaha
Sunday, February 26, 2051
The Sam Elliot has traversed the outer shell of the Exclusion Zone, avoiding a number of craters and defensive emplacements along with some wildlife ravaged by a mutated strain of the Gen Nu virus. The stolen vehicle now sits at the outskirts of Omaha itself. Ahead is a series of craters, shattered buildings, and rubble-strewn streets; the rad-detectors are already blaring warnings, the outside area dishing out about one rad per hour of radiation. The sealed vehicle provides some protection, reducing it to one rad per two hours, while the radiation suits halves even that rate – but the team’s going to be absorbing a few rads before they finish their task.
The wounded Wormwood has vacated his coveted front passenger seat in favor of Pitbull. “So, Eris, you know best where we’re going – d’you want to drive?” Mac tilts his hat up as he looks at his comrades in their less-than-fashionable radiation suits. “Sounds like a good plan to me. I’d love to be able to walk around this place, but I think all the tourist traps are closed.” Pitbull swings over to the now freshly vacated passenger seat, yanking out and prepping his Reaper from the nook of the driver’s seat as he does so. “Well, Wormy, I was thinkin’ you could do the driving. You really, and I mean really, shouldn’t be in the line of fire. And though I know you can’t use your feet for the peddles, I do also know that Ol’ Sam can be operated by an Implant Jack like any great APC of the Lone Star Nation” Pitbull growls with a burning cigarette clenched in his teeth. Eris starts to go towards the driver’s seat, but stops when Pitbull suggests that Wormwood drive. She looks back at Randall, quirking an eyebrow up at him.
Mac nods. “Yeah, one of the three ladies of the expedition should get behind the wheel. Deathwish, my sis or Eris – any are good choices, but Siri has a bit of a speed bug.” “So, we wanna be fast don’t we, oh genderless droid?” Wormwood says with a warning glower. Mac winces behind a grin. “Not her kind of fast. We want Fast Times at Ridgemont High fast, not Fast and Furious XXI. I never could get the hang of modern cinema. But honestly, I’d prefer you safely ensconced behind the armor in the driver’s seat.” “Fair enough, more over and let me through…but have Siri be ready to take over if we need my firepower.” Wormie swings back into the driver’s seat and plugs his cable-jack into the dashboard. “Damn having no wireless, anyway! Where to, Eris babe?”
Eris points towards past a rubble pile that used to be an office building. “We need to get to city hall. Center of the city.” Wormwood puts the big APC into gear and begins to pick his way through the wreckage and craters, heading towards the indicated destination. Mac grumbles. “If we need more firepower, I’m giving Siri your guns, Deathwish. You’re hardly in any sort of shape for hard combat.” He looks over at Eris. “Ah, the heart of the bustling metropolis of Omaha… I wonder what it was like in it’s hayday..” Wormwood nods at Mac, “Give her Isolde now, then. I’ll keep my pistols just in case.” he nods at his Valkyrie rifle still stashed between the front seats. “Seriously. Worm, you don’t have to jump in front of every bullet. We’re going to run out of tape eventually!” Pacoy teases. Mac reverently takes the gun and hands it to his sister. Why does he have to make guns creepy, too? Naming a rifle? “At least Pacoy can patch me up with a wrench. Right? Or something… Jeez… Do I need a doctor or a mechanic?” “Luckily for you, Mac, I serve our team as both!” Pacoy answers.
Siri takes the rifle from Mac, smiling at him as she does so. “Someone give Siri a spare cable, for the rifle’s interface. I’m using the one I had spare for driving now.” Wormwood asks. Mac pats his pockets. “No cables, sorry. Didn’t really get into the whole ‘plugged in thing’ back in the day. Odd, I guess. Are the obvious reasons that you were once marooned on an island wiith only your rifle for company? You could draw a face on it with Worm’s lipstick, I guess.” Pitbull finishes servicing his Reaper and jacks himself in. As he watches his H.U.D. light up like Christmas with targeting data and the targeting cross-hair of his Reaper currently pointed at the ceiling of the vehicle. He chucks out his cigarette butt, as he puts in his two cents into the conversation. “I haven’t named my Reaper yet. I’m thinking on naming it Wilson for obvious reasons.” He growls in dead pan. Wormie grins, “I like it, Pits!” “Is that because you are fond of sleeping with it, Pit?” Pacoy chuckles and ducks behind the seat as he starts prepping his own rifle. Pitbull takes on a look like Pacoy struck a nerve, as flash-memories rush through his vision, all of Sergent Wilson himself performing truly stomach churning atrocities on his multiple and unfortunate victims, like the bisecting of a protesting civilian with his field knife, the sadistic recreational torment of a POW, the force feeding and water boarding of another POW… “Guys, I think I need therapy…” He growls, as he returns to the diagnostic and maintenence of his rifle.
Wormwood steers around some more rubble. “Klono, this is slow going! We’ll get there in around an hour, is my guess. I can pick it up some and stand a chance of crashing, or keep it slow and easy. Eris?” “I vote for NOT craching into a radioactive rubble heap, but that’s just me. I’m weird like that.” Pacoy answers. Mac grins. “You’re weird in more ways than that, Pac. And Pitbull, I think we all need some therapy. In our own special little ways.” Eris shrugs. “We’ve been moving through the outskirts at fifteen miles an hour; I’d expect the downtown core to be even slower going, if we can fit the APC in there at all.” Pacoy takes a quick glance at the group: crippled panty-raider, anachronistic android, post-traumatic soldier, and the girls, one of which is a child-like android; being called weird in comparison is surely a complement.
Pitbull turns his attention away from the near finished diagnostics of his Reaper to growl, “Hey guys, do we have any medium chain, para-chord, or anything good for tying shit down in this rolling death machine?”
Wormwood keeps a grip on his irrational urge to drive faster, and continues to slowly and calmly negotiate the obstacles presented. “So, what do you make of those Cyber-Hawks?” He suddenly tosses out. “Think they’ve any chance of making the Cyber-League playoffs this year?” Eris shakes her head. “I prefer a team formed in a time when they didn’t think they had to put ‘Cyber’ before any augmented league sports team names. Besides, the Phoenixes will rip the Hawks to shreds. Have you seen their new bioware?” Mac starts and laughs heartily. “I didn’t know you were into sports, Worm. Are they a Netball team or something? Ugh, I miss when sports were played with wooden bats and nobody had any enhancements…” “Or when sweaty, grown-ass men intimately wrestle and tackle into each other for a rubber ball?” Pitbull growls with a grin as moves into the cab, searching for something, anything to use as a rope.
Wormie snorts. "That was early-century hypocrisy. They should’ve called it the “Steroids League” or some such even then. Anyhow, the Phoenix haven’t got the stamina to win the Manning Trophy. Their bioware will get tired while the metal’s still going." “Juiced up over-paid Neanderthals playing a kids game as a cover for a corporate commercial.” Pacoy mutters. Mac blinks in thought. “Say, Pacoy – we could beat them at their own game. What do you say, Siri and I on a team that you’re the coach for? We’d make some cash that way, right?” Eris laughs. “Yeah, Pacoy, but it’s fun! Come on, who doesn’t like seeing a player jump twenty feet in the air while doing a front flip over the defensive linemen before drop-kicking a blocker and running to the goal?” “At a guess, the blocker wouldn’t like to see that…” Mac muses, mostly to himself.
“Sure, Pac – but Energizer GEC have been pretty good to Night City since the sport went augmented. They’ve done some good stuff in the slums as PR while they’ve been sponsors. Yeah, they’re corporate bloodsuckers like all the rest, but at least some little bit gets done that wouldn’t have.” Wormwood looks sour. “Not like the media corps. If it bleeds it leads, if it’s a lie then there’s more eyeballs watching it.” “There have been a few ‘battle-bots’ shows already, Mac, they tend to cost more to make than they bring in.” Pac answers, “And even the gangs spend a few bucks on local renovations, Worm.” Wormwood nods, conceding Pacoy’s point, then…“hey Pits, is it true the Dallas Jackalopes are going to be sponsored by an actual oil company next season? How fucked up is that? Ancient and earth-killing money in the sport.”
Mac sighs and props his feet up, fiddling with his pocket watch computer. “Don’t knock it, Worm – a proper gas powered car can’t be beat. The sights, sounds and smells of an old Deusenberg… It’s a damn shame most of them have been recycled now.” Pitbull finally finds some 2″×150yrd vac tape in the back of the APC. He sits down with the tape and pulls out the metal jaw of Doug Wilson, and starts to wind the tape into a pseudo-rope around both ends of the jaw-piece. “Shit, I dunno. After they tried to say that their current coach was better than Tom Landry, I stopped giving a shit about them. Tom Landry is the god of football, end of fuckin’ story.”
Wormie takes his eyes off the road to glance accusingly at Mac. “And they say I’m a perv. Dinosaur juice? Mac, did you ever see the maps from when Miami wasn’t called the Venice of the New World?” The APC, having traveled a bare two miles through the war-torn streets of Omaha, makes a turn onto a long highway, past the broken remains of an old police barrier. Seemingly thousands of cars sit on the road ahead of them, choking the roadway completely. Mac grins. “See them? I have an almanac in my office! The motorways of our past were fantastic, and efficient, too! A bygone era that I wish I could have experienced…” “Hell, Mac, I’ll research programming the memory in you when we get back, if you like.” Pacoy promises with a grin. “Efficient at raising temperatures and sea levels, you mean, Mac?” Wormwood replies. “I’m happy they’re gone, in that case.” Pitbull frowns as his attempt to strap the jaw-piece to his Reaper does not pan out like he would have wanted it. Throws off the balance too much. Dammit. He thinks to himself, as he makes a quick and simple modification to the pseudo-rope for it to become a lovely but morbid metal-jaw necklace.
Oddly enough, up until now cars have been relatively scarce to see, and as the team look on they begin to notice why. The vehicles closest to them have been broken apart, two of them literally cut in half. The cuts look as if they were caused by great, bit blowtorches, cutting through the car metal with fire and fury. Past these few cut-up vehicles lie countless more, almost untouched – except, of course, for the evidence of blast damage. Wormwood brings the APC to a halt. “Well, I wonder what did that, and if it’ll try to do it to us too?” Mac blinks back, calling up images from his past. “Hey… this… is similar to in Cargotown… the bodies that were sliced in half… That’s not something that happens normally.” “I’m just wondering if it’s an automated system,” Wormwood muses. “I suppose we could pitch one of Pac’s toys in the way and find out.” “That look like damage from a high-powered laser, but that doesn’t see likely. That laser would have to have been orbital, because there ain’ no real indication that it came from anywhere but up. and it would have had to have been one shot. It’s linear like that, and all.” Pitbull grates aloud, a look of genuine concern on his face. Wormwood turns, “Pac can you send one of your bigger drones out on automatic, into the possible field of fire?”
Mac looks concerned. “That’s not going to ruin the radiation protection for you guys, is it? Can we launch those with this sealed?” Wormwood replies, “It’ll ruin the radiation protection more if a fricking orbital cannon tears a new one in the hull, Mac” He nods slowly, like he knows he has a point. Pacoy sighs, “I can run the Harpy out there, but it’ll be a blind duck. An expensive duck. A buzzbot is a lot smaller, but I can have it fly erratically, draw attention to itself.” “It might be too small, though,” Wormie notes.
Mac looks up ahead. “Can we detour? I don’t know if this beast can make it’s way though that traffic jam.” “Maybe,” Wormie replies. “Eris, you have the map, what do you think?” “Yeah,” Pacoy reluctantly agrees, “The Pinbot lights up, but I doubt it’ll draw fire either. I guess a downed Harpy is a better prospect than a downed Sam Elliot. Though technically, Mac is our tallest bot.” Mac looks cross at Pacoy. “I’m not very replacable, though. And Maybe the defense system is deactivated… Maybe we can put a board in front of the APC to act as a cow-come-laser catcher?” Eris frowns. “I don’t know. We could try coming at it from another angle, but I don’t know if that’d be any better. Where were all the cars before this? We haven’t seen a single one on the road here until now.” “You mean someone or something collected them? Good point.” Wormie says. “Maybe some more Macs did it. Maybe they like old cars too, or were using them for parts.” Mac thinks. “I do remember reading about traffic jams. If we can’t make our way through in this… will we have to move forward on foot?” Wormwood coughs. Mac rolls his eyes. “Sorry, forgot… foot and wheelchair?”
“I’m not sure my chair will fit through either, to be honest. Let’s try bulling through in the Sam.” Wormie says. “Foot and multiple forms of cancer and our future children looking like Swamp Things?” Pitbull growls, chuckling. “I don’t know,” Mac shrugs. “Speak for yourself. Your children with Sheena of the woods will already look like Swamp Things, cancer or no. And my kids will look however I can commission Pacoy to build them.” “Only if Sheena’s genes mean they can grow hair”, Wormie grins.
Pacoy scrunches his face in thought as he looks at the cars “It looks odd for a spare part pile. I’m with Mac on saying it reminds me of cargo town. I think this is some kind of weird cultural sign, and Mac-bots sound like a good source.” “Look, there’s nothing out there a 20 ton APC can’t push aside or crush – and does anyone think we’ll be better off in just our skins, really?” He continues. Mac looks up front. “Well, I might. But I see your point. Do we want to risk that laser being active, though?” “If its active, do we want to see if it ignores human shapes?” Wormie responds. Pacoy spends a quick second manually uploading a program protocol into the harpy, knowing it’ll most likely be the end of the boy, and preps it for launch. “Touche.” Mac sighs. “I’ve already done two minefields. I don’t feel up to a jaunt through a deathlaser.” “Got it covered,” Pacoy answers, “Prepare for launch!”
Eris sits at her computer console, punching in some commands, then unhooks a fly-ball camera drone from the cable connecting it to the computer, ready to release it to watch over the Harpy – and record everything that happens to it. The harpy takes to the air, flying in an obviously non-organic flight path, but keeping the Sam Elliot in view in case it needs to come to the rescue. Once it settles into it’s routine, Flight of the Valkyries blares from the harpy’s speakers. Mac mentally increments the number of times he’s heard that song, while shaking his head. “Did Wagner write any other music?” “Not for the Harpy, he didn’t” Pacoy answers. Pitbull strides up to the console and jabs his Jack in to the outlet. A split second later Judas Priest’s You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ comes blaring into the APC. “I find that to be a bit more appropriate.” He growls as prepares to climb through the hatch.
A few moments later, there’s movement – but it isn’t from above. Something seems to be moving in the street – at first, it looks like it might just be the Harpy’s shadow, but then it revolves into a figure, slowing standing up. The figure is too far away to make out in detail, but it has Mac’s basic size and shape, though it’s gait obviously differs – likely due to the heavy load it carries on its back. [11/20/2013 9:33:52 PM] Langy: Some contraption of steel and tubes lies on the Macdroid’s back, and as it comes forwards it swings part of the object forwards. There’s a large backpack to the device, along with an almost cannon-like piece that hangs downwards, almost like a minigun – Pitbull immediately realizes it’s not a particularly good way to hold a ranged weapon unless it’s much too heavy or bulky to carry in a normal position. No stability and little control while aiming. After the robot takes a few steps, another figure begins to merge out of the ground where he once stood. It takes a moment, but you recognize that it’s climbing out of a manhole. It looks identical to the previous figure, backpack and all. Two more come out after the first set; each group of two robots begins making its way as a team towards the noisy Harpy.
Mac stares. “How many of me are there? And what are those things…? Guys – what do we do? What if they decide to turn those on us instead of the harpy?” Wormie stares. “If those are the weapons that chewed through those cars, we could be in trouble.” He thinks for a fast moment. “If we can’t beat them, maybe we can join them. Mac, maybe you should go out and try talking while Pits covers you.” Mac blinks. “If those things could do that, I wouldn’t mind grabbing one for our own use. I’ve heard worse ideas – I’m game for it.. we’re rabbited unless we can get past them.” He grabs his newly reclaimed battle rifle and steps towards the back hatch. “You good to pop the top hatch if this goes south, muchacho?”
Pitbull pops the hatch and raises his gun, as if in reply to Mac. “I got over-sight in this crow’s nest. Go and chat with your people, Macky Mac.” Pitbull growls. “Hey, Mac – just remember, Siri calls her guy ‘Master’, it’s a good litmus. If your maker is the “Grandfather” from the photo, these Mac-Bots seem to hint he has some kind of major ego issues.” Pacoy warns. “Or that he’s into BDSM.” Pitbull adds to Pacoy’s words from the hatch. “Maybe I should’ve talked to them instead, then,” Wormie laughs. Mac nods at Pitbull and pops the rear hatch, stepping out to greet his self-likes. Well this is interesting… He motions for Siri to close the hatch behind him. He waves his free hand at the other androids, leaving one hand holding his rifle. “Hello there, brothers. I have returned!”
Before Mac even speaks, the robots begin to ignore the Harpy after looking at it for a few minutes. They begin approaching the half-destroyed vehicles in front of the APC, only stopping when Mac speaks. All four robots turn to look at him, and Mac sees that he’s facing an army of identical siblings – except for one crucial difference. Whereas Mac’s skin is mostly blemish-free, aside from the occasional scar from an explosive device, these android’s skin… isn’t. It looks almost aged, with both wrinkles – and blisters. Their skin is splotchy, with red spots here and there, and even what look like some open sores leaking a synthetic equivalent of pus.
Mac winces internally. Damn… maybe a rad suit wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. “You guys have seen better days, haven’t you, brothers? Can’t Master patch you up? Does the tunnel up ahead lead to the city hall? Is the radiation bad there? Can I get a situation report?” He glances over his shoulder at where Pitbull should be, wondering how much he’s seeing, wishing that their sub-net worked for communication. I hate feeling so exposed and alone like this… Which, I suppose is Irony… being alone when being with multiple copies of myself… And fear of being alone, from a PI? I am a basketcase…
The robots turn to each other, not saying anything – or making much in the way of facial expressions. One of the two robot couples turns away from the encounter with Mac entirely and faces the remains of a car. Each of them grabs their big cannon-like items and points them down at the vehicle. Moments later, you’re presented with a flare of light much too bright to look at directly as a stream of electrons pours out of the devices in their hands, cutting straight into the car before them. They take their time, cutting in a clear effort to create manageable chunks of metal as they slice the vehicle into multiple pieces.
“So,” Pacoy ventures, “Wanna bet whether they are Urban Renewal or just Scrap Collectors?” Mac blinks as it dawns on him what’s going on and he moves back towards the APC. “Pitbull? I’m not sure how safe it is up ahead – can you pass out a geiger counter? I think I can get to the tunnel and check how bad it is. I suspect they’re clearing the streets, a few cars at a time.. I think to make more of me, possibly.” He takes a few tentative steps to either side, feeling eerily watched as his other selves track his every motion. As he looks at the efficiency of the cutters, he looks back towards the APC. Sometimes the old ways are best… He calls up to the APC, “Hey, I’m going to try and get them to move away – get ready to nurse the APC forward, yeah? We’ll push some cars aside.” Wormie nods, unseen by Mac, and revs the APC’s engine. Pitbull also nods, and ducks back into the APC. “Someone pass me the Geiger counter so I can chuck it at Robo-Capone.” Pitbull growls, smiling.
Mac takes the counter and walks towards his look-alikes patiently, cautiously, walking in front of the APC, motioning to it and speaking the words, and all synonyms for, “Precious”, and “Let pass”, as well as “unharmed.” Wormwood cautiously moves the big vehicle forward, at a slow walking pace, ready to stop at the slightest adverse reaction. The vehicle moves forwards, slowly at first – and then more slowly when it reaches its first obstacle, a broken-up old car that’s seen many, many better days. The APC has no trouble in pushing it out of the way – but the robots seem to take an inkling of dislike, as they begin to approach the big vehicle.
Mac puts his hands up and approaches himselves. “I’m taking them to Master. This is important.” Wormwood stops the APC and awaits a signal from Mac. The robots glance at Mac, but then continue their slow plod towards the APC. Pitbull swaps out his current clip with APHEX, the Reaper, now dubbed Wilson, auto-cocks in sympathy with the concern knotting in his gut. “Wish Mac gave us a signal or something to fire. It’s always shitty to have to decide to fire when they start drawing weapons.” Mac starts looking increasingly worried and pointing at the other cars at the end of the street, approaching the moving drones. “Task Cancel! Redirect! Stand down! Power Off! Pitbull, I’m going to pull a Sam Elliot! Get me one of those patch cables!” He holds his hand out expectantly in the direction of the APC. The robots continue moving, heading towards the side of the APC that made contact with the car.
Mac waves Wormwood back a bit, hoping for a cable to come into his hand. “Synthetic off! Siri, can you speak machine code?! Tell them to stop!” Wormwood calls out “Pacoy, throw him a cable. Pits, if they fire up that cutter, down them!” as he reverses some 20 yards. Without a word, Pacoy hurries to toss the requested cable. Siri hears Mac’s call and moves to put her head out of the second hatch. She shrugs at Pitbull, but then does as Mac asked as best she can. What comes out of her mouth is a disjointed scrambling of an old 1990s era phone modem, a strangled cat, and a truly horrendous rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by an artist using copious amounts of autotune. The noise, despite being prodigous in its volume and convolutedness, doesn’t seem to dissuade the robots, who continue on their course without change – even after the APC moves backwards. They continue making their way forwards – towards the area the APC had been. They don’t follow the APC itself.
Mac snatches the cable out of the air, slotting one end into his interface jack and attempts to locate the jack on one of his clones, intent on jacking himself in. I’ve had better ideas.. Mac finds the other robot’s jack in the expected place – the base of its neck, same as his own. Actually accessing it, on the other hand, looks like it may take some work. The robot continues its movement, lifting the big electron beam cutter into place once it reaches the car the APC shoved out of the way – all movement that makes it a little difficult to Mac to insert his cable into the robot’s jack. Mac persists, attempting to leverage the robot’s innate stillness when it gets the cutter into position, slotting the jack into place. The cable slots into place and, for a moment, nothing happens.
And then Mac’s mind seems to open for the first time. It’s as if a supernova just went off inside his skull, a cascade of ones and zeroes trading places faster than even he can track. The pain, and there is pain, is indescribable – by far the worst headache he can ever remember. Mac falls to his knees, screaming as lives flash before his eyes – not just his own, though there is that, too, but others as well. Its as if a thousand identical minds were switched on at once and inserted themselves right into his brain, a thousand different minds all interacting with each other, all making their way through life. The experience is, in a word, indescribable.
For the first time, Mac sees his own birth, and the birth of a thousand like him. An automated factory/laboratory, somewhere deep underground. A singular presence, always guiding him, showing him what to do and when and why. An excursion into the outer world, an experiment viewed by dozens of observers – and then a hi-speed databurst, a warning. And then silence, the presence gone, a flare of light and heat and radiation soaking the ground; the pain of the electromagnetic pulse, the destruction of his kin. The sole survivor, wounded, internally scarred – and with the knowledge that he needed to hide, that if he were ever found out to still be alive something would be coming for him; that survivor locked his memories away, disconnected himself from the broken systems within him – and made himself believe that he was human.
Mac’s travels since then flash through his memory, but barely register; it’s the Other, the memories of his kin that he focuses on the most. What were once a legion were now but dozens, the factory a shambles – but the Mother still functioned, still knew her duty. Over the proceeding decade, she guided, directed, built, and defended, those like Mac becoming the instrument of her grace. The factory was repaired, production began anew – and the Omaha Automated Defense Network rebuilt itself, readying itself to welcome an attacker in open arms – and strangle it when they came closing back in.
Before he finally blacked out, Mac saw the future as his Mother saw it – a valiant struggle between two digitized Gods, whose war raging across the heavens either destroyed Mankind or was its salvation.