Buck Who? Chapter 22

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 22: Transcendence

May 8th, 2668, The Installation

The android sat at her workstation, scanning the array of holographic displays all around her. Reaching out, she manipulated commands and entered information with the practiced ease of a world-class pianist. Her day was always spent as such – watching the highly sensitive and wide-spreading network of sensors and camera’s the Installation used for security.

She paused in her work and reached out with one delicate hand. Carefully she swiped the other frames out of the air and then touched one specific image. It brought up a high-cliff face and she employed a small icon in the lower right-hand corner. The image grew and sharpened until she could make out a large nest, resting precariously on the edge of the cliff.

A frown creased her strangely-smooth face. She brought up a small control panel and adjusted the angle of the hidden camera. The frown deepened as she realized the nest was empty. A slight tremor of apprehension caused her to sit back from the displays, all other feeds forgotten. She had been watching the mutant eagles for years now. They had lived in the highest peaks of the mountain range which was part of the Installation’s territory.

No, mutant was not the correct word for the magnificent raptors. They were yet another example of the Uplift virus. They retained the wing structure, as well as the feathers and the magnificent head of the great Bald Eagle, but had grown arms and a humanoid body. The Uplifted raptors were also highly intelligent, as she had long ago noted. The issue was they were still heavily influenced by instinct.

There were old ranger stations and even resorts located in the territory claimed by the androids of the Installation. These Uplifts had stubbornly refused to use any of the possible shelters. Instead they lived much as their ancestors had - high in the cliffs. The pair had mated years before and had carefully crafted the nest. At least in that aspect, they had shown the intelligence gifted upon them by the virus. The nest was in a sheltered location, out of the wind and enjoyed direct sunlight. Although it was high upon the mountains, it was still low enough not to be locked in snow for the majority of the year, unlike higher elevations.

Nearly two years ago, the female had laid two eggs, much to the mutual joy of the mated Uplifts and their secret watcher. The android had watched and recorded the events as the pair nested and kept the eggs warm, and took turns hunting and bringing food back for one another.

Early in the previous spring, the eggs had hatched, giving the mated pair two sons. The android had continued to monitor them as they young eagles grew and learned of the land they now called home. She took an almost maternal pride in watching over the parents and the younglings over the past year.

She would have shed tears when the two young males took to the skies for the very first time, if she had been capable. That was only eight months previous.

As the months passed, they grew stronger, maturing at a greatly accelerated rate, like many of the uplifts that inhabited the lands. Although just over a year old, the younglings were fully capable of fending for themselves at last.

The frown was still in place. The nest was empty, unusual for this time of day. There was no sign of the family of Uplifted Eagles anywhere to be seen and she felt apprehension over that. Something had spooked the Uplifts and had caused them to flee.

She adjusted the controls and zoomed out from the next and brought back a wide range of hidden cameras and sensors. For the next half-hour she scanned all incoming feeds for any sign of the Uplifts or potential intruders.

The work was tedious but she had been designed for such duties. She was always diligent and observant. Few, if any, details were missed by her ever-roving eyes. It helped that she was also linked to the sensors via a wireless node, and this kept the data flowing directly into her CPU brain.

Sighing in a very human-like manner, she was about to put the sensors into standby mode and wait for her relief, when an alert started flashing on one of the southern-most screens. It was a motion detector, set not to scan the ground, but to watch the skies.

Curious, she reached out and pulled the holographic screen towards the center of the mass of information. She used both hands to increase the magnification and turned on additional sensors, including a wide array of visual systems. Infrared, Ultraviolet, electromagnetic all sprang to life, splitting the main screen into several smaller versions, all showing the same location.

Her pale eyes widened in shock when she finally pinpointed the small drone. It was moving at a sedate speed, travelling around twenty kilometers an hour. The device was passively scanning the terrain, recording everything as it moved. This was not good, not good at all. There was no chance the drone was a relic, left over from the final wars. No, this was a refurbished model, fully functional and had been sent to the territory of the Androids with one purpose in mind.

Reconnaissance.

“Awoan, this is Emtwoan, we have a problem.”

***

May 8th, 2668, Scav Haven (need to talk about the injury he suffered as well the potential for poison)

The Rat-monster began to advance on Joey, the blade in one hand, the stolen handgun in the other. Malevolent intent shone like a nova in the creature’s red, beady eyes and the monster made strange chittering sounds with its teeth.

For the first time in his life, Joey felt real fear. He knew his only recourse was to activate the teleporter device and hopefully put enough distance between him and the monster, but it would mean giving up with weapons.

And he had just purchased the blade. He did not want to have to give that up.

The creature raised the stolen pistol casually, arrogantly. He peered down the barrel of the weapon, pointed directly at Joey’s chest.

With a sickening sensation, Joey realized it was not his chest he was aiming at, but lower on his anatomy. “Oh, come on now!”

The chittering increased and Joey prepared to activate the teleporter. He was about to speak the command word when out of nowhere a voice, filled with confidence and authority, rang clear and true. “Drop the weapons or we will fire.”

He and the rat-monster looked towards the sound of the voice.

During his stay in Scav Haven, Joey had seen the Legion patrols on a regular basis. He knew they kept the peace and acted as the local police force, enforcing the rules dictated by the Scavenger Cartels. He felt giddy with relief when he saw the Legion patrol. They were clad in Powered Armour and one was holding a wicked-looking rifle with a long barrel. Joey instantly recognized the weapon as a magnetic accelerator, or Gauss Rifle. It could fire a tiny sliver or chunk of metal at such incredible velocities the round would punch through heavy armor.

The rat-monster turned and stared at the armored figures. Its tails swished back and forth and Joey could have sworn he saw a look of utter contempt in the creature’s beady eyes. The rat-monster dropped both the pistol and the sword, allowing the weapons of death to fall to the rain-slicked ground. It then placed both hands, or paws, palm out towards the rifle and made that strange ‘come here’ gesture.

Nothing happened.

The look on the rat-monster’s face was so comical that despite the dire situation, Joey burst out laughing. The creature turned and glared at him, its mouth opening impossibly wide and it hissed. The long, pink tongue flew out like a whip and smacked into Joey’s chest.

The man felt as if he had been kicked by a combat Android and he was knocked back several meters. He landed hard on his rear and back and slid even further down the slick road until he came to rest at the base of a building.

At the same instant, there was a high-pitched whine followed by what could only be described as a sonic-boom. He looked up in time to see the upper half of the rat-monster disintegrate into a fine mist of pink and grey. The kinetic energy of the Gauss round transferring to mere flesh and bone was devastating beyond imagination. The pink mist hung in the air above the lower half of the torso. The twin tails twitched, and the legs took one tentative step forward before falling to the street.

One of the Legionnaires approached and looked down at Joey. “Sir, are you alright?” The woman asked. He was a little disoriented to discover the speaker was in fact female. All this time he thought those patrolling the city were male.

“Yeah,” he sputtered. He looked down at his chest where the rat-monster’s tongue had struck. There were several tears in his jacket, caused by barbs, but the armor he wore underneath prevented penetration. To make matters worse, he could see a thick, milky fluid coating where the tongue had struck. “Poison?” He wondered aloud.

The woman offered a hand and he gratefully took it. She effortlessly pulled him to his feet and he wiped the rainwater off his face. “Thanks.”

She nodded. “Did it penetrate your skin?”

He looked down at the mark, the fluid already mingling with the rainwater and sluicing away. “No, my armor protected me.”

The other legionnaires approached, one of them carrying the dropped weapons. “These belong to you?” The lead man asked.

“Yeah, the bastard used some sort of telekinesis to pull them out of my hands.”

The man shook his helmeted head. “They’ve been showing up in the ruins over the past few months and have been causing all sorts of trouble for scavengers. Would you mind giving us a report of what happened here?”

Joey considered declining, but quickly changed his mind. After all, they had just saved his life, well, maybe, he corrected. He was certain he could have escaped by using the teleporter. Still that was not something the Legion needed to know.

After the interrogation was complete, he was pleased to have his weapons returned to him. The squad of guards lingered until another group appeared. This time the Legionnaires were decked out in recon or scout powered armor. It is a lot smaller and light-weight in comparison to the armor the guards were wearing. The group of five men and women dropped into the open sewer grate and disappeared from sight.

Joey realized at once the men and women were heading down to discover where the breach occurred so they could close it off. The Legion did not want any more incursions to happen like this one.

He felt a gaze burning into his back and turned. The old man in the equally ancient bookstore was standing at the window watching him. He held up the mug of tea he had offered earlier and motioned for Joey to enter.

After his most recent ordeal, how could he turn the old man down?

***

May 9th, 2668, Scav Haven

The night was quiet and uneventful. The room Ra’naa shared with Otres had grown cold enough one could see their breath misting in the air. She was not concerned, the bed was warm and the heat the little Uplift generated kept both of them comfortable. Still, she was concerned. Otres had not stirred from his slumber for nearly eighteen hours, even when they waved the fresh treats under his sensitive nose.

Everyone had consumed their fill, and there was plenty left for the little Otter once he finally was released from his slumber. Ra’naa slid out of the bed and dressed quickly. She realized their time in the city was rapidly coming to a close. Her father should be happy with the progress, especially with the weapons they managed to procure. The thought of the damaged firearms and high-tech energy weapons caused her to look at the still form of Otres. Was he causing harm to his body every time he used that strange psionic ability?

The war was coming, and they needed every weapon they could lay their hands on. She knew her little friend would do everything in his power to help, but Ra’naa did not want him to burn out doing so.

Dressed, she stood over at the window and looked out into the streets. The sky was still overcast, but at least the rain had ceased. The streets were still gleaming with moisture, and the city was alive once again. She had to admit there was a certain frenetic energy to the city, but she much preferred the quiet and peace of the community. She was missing home.

A light tapping at the door broke her reverie and she crossed the room. Tara and Declan were standing there, holding a pair of trays. “We got some breakfast for you two,” Tara pushed past her and entered the room.

Ra’naa glanced at the tray in Declan’s hand and he offered it to her. “Is he awake yet?”

She shook her head. “No, and I’m getting concerned. He used a lot of energy repairing that body for Babs. Did you two have any luck in locating the hardware you need to initiate the transfer?”

“We were going to head out after breakfast. I spoke to one of the staff here and she… he… it? Suggested a couple of places we could look,” he told Ra’naa. She took the tray and stood aside so he could enter.

Would you keep the noise down to a dull roar? Otres complained sleepily in their minds. When Ra’naa heard his telepathic voice, she looked over to the bed. He was sitting up on his haunches and was in the middle of vigorously rubbing his eyes. Everything about the little Uplift screamed exhaustion. “How are you feeling?”

Really tired, but otherwise I’m fine. He looked about and blinked. His whiskers began to twitch and he licked his lips, smelling the cooked food. That smells great!

Hearing his projected voice, Tara placed the tray beside him on the bed and removed the cover. Steaming fish, muscles and other food, bounty of the Pacific Ocean, was revealed. Otres took one look at the offered food and practically dove into the waiting feast.

Babs stared on in amazement. “I’ve seen Piranha’s with better table etiquette,” she quipped.

Declan laughed, causing everyone to look his way. Even Otres, his mouth filled with fish and sauce dripping from his chin and whiskers, looked up at him. “Sorry, Babs is just being a smartass.”

So when are we going to do the transfer? Otres asked, resuming his meal.

“We need to pick up some hardware first, but once we have it then we can begin,” Declan told him. “After we’re done here, Tara and I will be heading out to purchase what we require.”

Do you need me to come with you?

“No,” Declan said. “Stay here and get your rest, you’ve done enough for us, for Babs, as it is.”

Okay, but I am happy to help. Otres said. He paused and licked one paw with his pink tongue.

“Really?” Babs stared down at the little Uplift, who went back, muzzle first, into the remaining food. “That’s just disgusting!”

Declan chose to ignore her and instead grabbed Tara’s hand. “Let’s get going, the sooner we purchase the equipment, the sooner we can get Babs into that body.”

***

May 9th, 2668, Scav Haven

Business had been brisk the past week. With the weather cold and damp, many men and women decided to stay indoors, avoiding Mother Nature as best they could. At least the brothel was warm and comfortable, and there was not an empty room in the entire structure.

The man with Arleen was a disgusting pig of a man. He had to weigh in excess of one hundred and fifty kilos and the rank stench of unwashed flesh wafted off his form in waves. This was typical of the type of clientele she had been forced to copulate with since her ‘sisters’ had suspected she was turning tricks for free.

The weight of the man was nearly suffocating, and he had difficulty entering her tiny body. She was thankful he was as small, so it did not hurt as he thrust into her time and again. And he was quick. The tub of lard lasted only about thirty seconds before he released and rolled off her.

He dressed and tossed a handful of gold chits on her dresser before leaving. She looked down at her body. The fur was matted and his oily sweat clung to her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and went to the small bathroom.

Arleen stood under the water and rinsed her body clean of every trace of her latest John. She growled the entire time as she scrubbed with handfuls of soap and cleanser. She could not take it anymore. She had to get out. The clients she had been entertaining were growing worse by the day, even if the money was good.

Andy had tried to speak to the head madam, but the older prostitute would have none of it. She argued that Arleen needed to pay for her transactions, and would not broker any hint of the young woman’s innocence.

The fat, sweaty, reeking man was the final straw. She knew today would be the day she would finally leave the brothel, the only home she had ever known, and try to strike out on her own. She really hoped she could locate the Uplift she met and convince him to take her with him. The way her life had been going since that fateful night? She did not hold much hope.

A few discreet questions passed on by Andy had garnered a few kernels of information though. Arleen had discovered that Otres had arrived with a human and two exotics from the north. No one knew exactly from where they had come, but rumor had it they were in the city to purchase weapons and garner allies.

It amazed her how much information Andy had found and shared with her. She rinsed the lather off her fur and stepped out of the shower and toweled her body dry. Arleen was once again pleased that the fat man had not been larger, or had not possessed serious staying power. She was still tender from the two previous clients the night before and it made walking an unpleasant chore.

She gathered up the payment and took her share. She looked around her small room and then lifted a loose board from the floor. There she removed an intricately carved box. She opened it to reveal a heavy pile of gold, silver and even a few slivers of platinum.

The coins went into the box and she then wrapped it up in one of her many scarves. Standing up, she took one last look around the room. Though she was still in it, she was already missing her bed and the few luxuries she had procured over the years. Arleen shook her head sadly and went over to the chest of drawers.

Opening the first drawer, she looked upon the thin, sheer and lacy under-garments. They were more for show than anything else. She remembered one of the older prostitutes saying it was like being a Christmas present. All decked out in pretty wrapping and bows, to be peeled away to reveal the gift beneath.

None of the garments would be suitable for her impending trip. She sighed and slowly closed the drawers. The only garment she had which was suitable for travel was an ankle-length cloak. It was what she would wear on the few times the Madam would allow her to go to the streets. She could close it to cover her naked body beneath, so it would have to do.

Arleen was just reaching for the cloak when the door opened. She sighed and rolled her eyes, expecting to see another client. As she turned she hoped it would not be another fat, disgusting example of whatever race fancied her. “Andy?” She blurted, surprised.

“Hello, doll,” the big bouncer smiled. “Are you just about ready?”

She stared at him, her little whiskers twitching and her tail moving back and forth. “Ready for what?”

He beamed at her and closed the door behind him. She then realized he was dressed for a trip into the city. He had on a heavy pair of jeans, work boots, and a flannel shirt. A rain-poncho was draped over his shoulder and he held a small ruck-sack in one hand. He tossed the sack on the bed.

“Arleen, it’s killing me to see the way you’re being treated. I did everything I could to spare you from the assholes they’ve been sending you, but no one believes me,” he said in a low voice. He knew better than to whisper, since a whisper would travel further than a low murmur. “I’m getting you out of here, as you wanted.”

“What?” She squeaked. “How did you know?”

He gave her a sad smile. “I’m actually a mutant. I possess a low-powered form of Telepathy and I am also a full empath.”

“You look human!” She gasped, her hands coming to cover her mouth.

“Looks can easily be deceiving, sweetheart,” Andy told her. “Why do you think I was always first on scene whenever there was trouble? I can literally sense it coming, almost before the person about to get violent even realizes they’re going to do something stupid.”

Then it dawned on her. She stared up at him with those big, brown, soulful eyes. “Did you say what I thought you said? Are you personally going to take me out of here?”

He nodded and placed one hand on her shoulder. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he squeezed softly. “You were never cut out for this line of work, and it’s going to end up killing you. Some of the girls,” he waved at the door with his free hand. “Some of them enjoy this life, selling their bodies for money. Others, like you,” he stated, “are not for this. It’s the only life you’ve ever known, but you’re not happy.”

Arleen nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving his. “I was happy before,” she began.

“No,” he shook his head slowly. “You weren’t. You were living a lie, trying to make the best of a situation you had no control over.”

She bit her lower lip and her tail slid from side to side. Arleen crossed her arms under her small, furry breasts and thought about what he had said. It was true; she finally had to admit to herself. “What’s in the sack?”

He grinned at her and gently pushed her towards the bed. “Proper travel attire. That cloak will help, but once we’re out of the city and in the wilds, you will need to be clothed.”

She reached down and opened the sack and stared in. There were shirts, modified pants, sturdy boots and sensible underwear. She choked back a sob. No one had ever shown her such kindness before. Her shoulders began to shake as she tried to hold the emotion in.

Without speaking, Andy stood behind her. He touched her shoulders and turned her around, wrapping his big, strong arms around her. Arleen buried her face in his chest and let it all out. The pain from the beatings was bad enough, but the pain of betrayal from those she considered her sisters went soul deep.

They stood there for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality were only a handful of minutes. Andy silently stroked her head and whispered words of encouragement towards her. Arleen finally pulled away and looked up at him. “Lay with me,” she said. This was the first time she ever had wanted to have sex with another man. To enjoy his touch, to use her body to pleasure him out of love and not for monetary gain.

“Sorry sweetheart, I won’t,” Andy stated with a sad smile.

“Why? I’m offering myself to you!”

“Two reasons, dear heart,” he said. “First, you are like my little sister. I’ve always tried to look out for you and I’ve loved you almost from the minute I first saw you, but not in a sexual way.”

She stared at him, listening and comprehension starting to dawn on her furry face.

“The second reason is you would be giving me your body out of gratitude, and that is not something I would want. Yes, I like both men and women, but I want it to be given freely,” he sighed. “I don’t want it out of some misguided sense of it being owed to me.”

Suddenly, Arleen felt deeply ashamed and she crossed her arms under her breasts, incapable of meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry,” she breathed.

“Nothing to be sorry about, sweetheart,” he told her. “I want you to stop feeling ashamed. I said you are like a little sister to me, and I will take care of you and protect you.” He smiled and continued. “Until you can find someone to spend the rest of your life with.”

Arleen knew she could not speak, if she did, she would burst into tears again. Instead she pulled out the offered clothing and began to dress. The pants were modified so she could wear them without her tail getting in the way, and the rest of the clothing fit perfectly. In moments, she was dressed and lacing up the boots he had provided.

He watched and nodded his approval. “Gather your cloak and anything else you want to bring with you,” he waved a hand around the room. “As soon as you’re ready, we’re out of here.”

She looked all around. Other than the stash of silver, gold and platinum she had amassed over the years, she had next to no personal possessions. She had her grooming brushes and other items, and those she did not want to leave behind.

Without being asked, Andy began to gather up the items she had been contemplating and he placed them inside the ruck-sack. She stood up and grabbed the cloak and put it on, cinching it tight so it hid her completely. With the hood up, no one would see her unless she wanted them to. “How are we going to do this?”

Andy gave her a confident grin. “I’ve already talked to Alvira and said you wanted to go and get some new brushes and perfume. She was quite adamant that I accompany you, fearing you would try to run away.” His grin grew into a wide, mischievous smile. “I promised I would not let anything happen to you, and I would watch your every step.”

She sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her hand, the looked at the mess and rubbed it off on the bed. “Thank you,” she said, her voice filled with sincerity.

He nodded and then opened the door, giving her the space to pass. She paused in the doorway and looked back at the last vestiges of her former life. Strange, she thought, I feel like I should miss it, but I don’t. The melancholy was quickly replaced with a sense of wonder and hope for her future.

***

May 9th, 2668, Scav Haven

With the evening came a break in the nearly constant rain or drizzle. The cloud cover finally began to break apart, allowing shafts of warm, golden sunlight to play across the sodden streets.

It had taken the better part of the day, the search for the equipment they needed. Declan had been ready to give up but Babs pushed him to try one last shop. He was tired and feeling just a little cranky, but he decided to do as she requested. At long last Declan and Tara had found the equipment they required and Babs was ecstatic.

After purchasing, which used up nearly all the remaining gold they had between them, they raced back to the hotel.

“I guess you found what you were looking for?” Ra’naa grinned as they burst into the room.

Declan was nearly breathless from the exercise, but Tara looked cool and unfazed. “Yeah, we did,” Tara said. She looked around the room and her eyes lit upon the motionless figure of the android. It really did seem out of place, a relic of a nearly forgotten past, standing in the room with them.

Babs stood next to the android. Gone were here usual trappings. Instead, she stood naked, her pink fur glossy and gleaming, as if she had just stepped out of a bath. She looked at Declan, her face a mixture of fear and anticipation. “I’m kind of scared.”

“Why are you naked?” He asked. Tara shot him a withering look.

“It just feels right. Humans are born naked; they come into the world helpless, screaming and unprotected. It just… feels like I should do the same.”

He shook his head and grabbed the small leather satchel from Tara. He walked over to the android and placed the satchel on the ground. In a matter of a few moments, he pulled all the hardware out and was inspecting each piece.

Otres, having recovered from the ordeal of fixing the android body, crouched next to him and chittered excitedly. He squeaked a few questions and Declan explained what the equipment was used for.

Babs kept pacing around the room, never standing still for more than a few seconds at a time. Declan groaned and shook his head, closing his eyes. “Babs, would you stand still for the love of Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad!”

“I can’t!” She practically cried. “I’m scared! What if the transfer goes wrong?”

Declan, with Otres’s help, began to attach the wires and leads to the android’s body. “Nothing will go wrong. Soon you will be awake in this new body.”

Tara was likewise pacing, but hers was more like that of a hunting cat. She was agitated and Declan could fully understand why. She was about to come face to face with another woman, a rival for Declan’s affections, despite his assurances he would stay with her.

The entire time, Ra’naa stood off to the side, her arms crossed under her breasts as she watched Otres and Declan prepare for the transfer. Her tail swayed slowly from side to side and her breaths came in rhythmically and steady. She was lost in thought, and was not ready to share them with her friends.

When the last transfer cable had been inserted into the back of the android’s skull, Declan wiped his hands on his pants and stood back. “We’re ready.”

“Is there anything you need us to do?” Ra’naa finally broke her silence.

He shook his head in the negative. “Not a thing. Just give me a minute and it’ll be over.” He looked at the end of the cable in his hand. Reaching up to a point just behind his left ear, he felt around until a small flap of artificial flesh opened to reveal a port. He took a single, deep breath and then stuck the cable into the port.

At first, nothing happened. He blinked and felt the strange sensation of the plastic and metal cable mating with the port. Then he could feel a slight hum building in his skull. It was not a sound per-se, but more of a vibration. The feeling of power building and coalescing began to increase in speed, almost exponentially.

“It’s started,” he announced. He stood next to the android and kept his eyes open as the transfer initiated. Numbers, computer symbols and strange geometric images flashed before his eyes.  He blinked as a wave of anxiety crawled from the pit of his stomach, all the way up this spine and into the base of his neck. When Babs had transferred from her hard-drive onboard his fighter, he had never experienced anything like this.

“Declan?” Tara asked - her voice filling with concern.

He must have been wearing a worried or worse expression on his face. He waved a hand as the patterns became more and more complex. The colors he was seeing were breathtaking in their beauty and complexity. “I’m fine,” he managed to choke out. “Babs, are you okay?”

The avatar of his friend was standing in front of the android body. She became insubstantial and he could make out threads of light, or at least that is how his mind interpreted the sight.  The threads joined with the android, linking the avatar to it. With each passing second, she faded from view.

“I’m fine,” she told him and there was just the tiniest of whispers from the android.

Declan was not certain if he had imagined the voice or not. The unusual visions passing before his retinas appeared to increase in speed exponentially with each passing second. He was beginning to suffer from vertigo and nearly collapsed, only to have Tara grab hold of his arm and steady him.

Nausea welled up, making him wish he had not eaten such a large meal before returning to the hotel.

Then it was over. The images disappeared and his vision returned. He glanced around at the room as Tara let go of his arm. Everyone stood, staring at the body of the android. It did not move. There were no tell-tale sounds of actuators or servos. It looked utterly lifeless.

“Babs?” Declan whispered. “Are you in there?”

No response.

Otres placed one hand on the hip of the android and closed his eyes. A second later he opened them and shook his head in the negative. I can detect no damage; the body is in as good a shape as it was when it was first built.

Declan stood before the android and placed his hands on its shoulders. “Babs, come on, don’t mess around here.”

A faint glow appeared in the black eyes and the head tilted a few centimeters so it was facing him directly. Declan pulled his hands away as if scalded as the internal motors and mechanics came to life. The eyes lit up fully, bathing his face in a soft, green glow.

“Declan?” An androgynous voice echoed from the mouth. “Is it over?”

“Welcome to the real world,” Tara grinned as she shifted her position and wrapped an arm protectively and possessively around Declan’s waist. “Now stay the fuck away from my man!”

***

May 9th, 2668, The Installation

Emtwoan decided to stay on duty. The appearance of the drone was not mere coincidence. The longer it stayed over the region, scanning the terrain, the odds of it locating the installation grew.

Being an android, she did not require sleep or rest for that matter. It had become habit to switch to a more human-like schedule, relieving workers every eight hours. At least staying on duty did not consume resources or cause distress to the carefully monitored budgets.

Over the past twenty hours she had been careful to monitor the drone and its movements. She pulled up the specs on the device and instantly knew what type of sensor arrays it was equipped with. The range, power and capabilities were all at her fingertips. She used the knowledge to keep a steady eye on the device, using the appropriate measures to ensure they remained undetected.

That is, as long as the drone was equipped with the standard sensor package. It could have been modified by the users, or may have undergone modifications before the cessation of the final wars.

There was simply no way of knowing.

During its flight over the range, she knew it had been sent there on purpose, and she also knew who controlled it. The Purists.

Somehow the mere human programmers and technicians managed to successfully wrest control of the satellite they had worked so hard to regain. It was a matter of pride that she, and her fellow androids, worked hard to regain the ancient recon device. They knew all about the AI, Guardian, and figured he was instrumental in taking back the satellite. Fortunately they were able to install back-doors and other ways in, and were actively seeking to take it once again.

Emtwoan blinked her pale-blue eyes and wrung her hands before her. She was neither tired, nor was she feeling peckish. Her internal power-source provided her with all the energy she could ever need. Still, the drone did awaken a seldom felt emotion. She knew she was feeling the equivalent of anxiety.

It appeared to have increased a tenfold when the drone suddenly veered off the projected course it had been following for hours. This occurred at a little after seven in the morning and it shot South and West, towards the coastline.

Upon its departure, she instantly contacted Awoan and reported the situation. The leader of the installation agreed with her assessment. The drone had finished its reconnaissance of the area and was returning home.

Emtwoan requested permission to trigger one of the many SAM or Surface to Air missile launchers they had control of. The weapon was still within range of the drone, but with each passing second the distance grew. She would need confirmation within fifteen seconds to activate, lock onto the drone and launch.

Permission had of course, been denied. She understood Awoan’s reasoning, as destroying the drone would have proven their existence to the Purists. Still, a tiny part of her CPU wished to activate the weapon and blow the intruders offending drone out of their airspace.

She had remained at her post, keeping her eyes on all holographic displays, searching for any sign of the drone’s return. It was now a little after eight in the evening, thirteen hours after the drone had suddenly left for parts unknown. Staring at the monitors for such an extended period of time was just now becoming tedious. Emtwoan was just contemplating asking for relief so she could attend to personal hygiene and a little bit of recreation when one of the holograms began to flash.

“What is this?” She wondered aloud and grabbed the display even as she swept the other displays aside. The android spread her hands until the display took up the entire area she was working in. It took a microsecond for her to spot what had set off the alarm.

The drone had returned.

And this time, the drone was not alone. It was accompanied by two more, and each was carrying a payload. She pinched the air on one of the drones so the view zoomed in and what she saw would have caused her heart to skip a beat. If she had a heart, that is. The two drones were carrying bombs. To make matters far, far worse, they were EMP weapons.

She instantly activated an installation-wide alarm.

***

May 9th, 2668, Scav Haven

It really did take Joey by surprise how long he had spent with the old man. The battle with the rat-monster creature and the subsequent rescue by the Legion had been taxing. As it turned out, the old man had welcomed him into his shop to resume where they had left off.

It was well after midnight before Joey had finally said his farewells. Originally he had planned on staying for an hour, two at the most, but it turned out the old man was highly intelligent. Not only that, he knew a great deal about the past and the history surrounding the ruins of Seattle.

“Stop it,” he chided to no one. “His name is Hawkins.” Roger Hawkins, and he was nearly a century old. For a man his advanced years, he was shockingly spry and capable. Over the hours he spent with Roger, he watched as customers were looked after with grace and speed.

Roger, as it turned out, was also a master chess-player. He had trounced Joey over several games; all played over hot tea and fresh cookies and other goods. Not only had they played chess against one another, another game of sorts was being played out at the same time. Both players did their best to wheedle out what they could about the other. After only a few minutes it had become quite clear what each was attempting to do, and the fun really began.

It had taken hours, but Joey finally learned he was a widower, his wife having passed on nearly forty years previous. His three children, all girls, were married and had families of their own. What really took him by surprise was how well travelled the man was. He had lived on the East Coast, down towards the Florida Peninsula. He had been near the ruins of Dallas in the former state of Texas. Finally, much further south towards the former Mexican and California border.

When pressed, Roger Hawkins confessed he had been part of the Legion, and had even shown Joey the faded but still legible tattoo. His daughters were living in either Texas or California and he had not seen any of them in nearly twenty years.

His heart, although not used to the emotions, went out to the old man. He was terribly lonely and wanted companionship the way a plant needs water to survive. More than once Joey nearly let it slip where he had come from and the people he lived with. Well, the people and the androids.

Towards the end of their long visit, Roger had begun to nod off. It was obvious the old man had exhausted himself, staying up as late as he had entertaining his young visitor. When his head finally slumped forward so his chin rested on his chest, Joey got up and searched the shop. In the back he found the kitchen and a neat bedroom.

With great care and gentleness, Joey picked the old man up and carried him into his room. He pulled Roger’s shoes off and then placed him under the covers and made sure the old man was comfortable. For long minutes Joey stood over the prone, sleeping figure and just watched him.

Emotions strange and nearly forgotten flowed through him as he watched the man sleep. Would his father have been like this man? What about his mother? It was a tragedy the old man had not spoken to his daughters in so long. Did he have grandchildren?

At long last he left the shop, carefully locking the door from the inside. The streets were completely empty, not sign of the patrols anywhere to be found. Joey found the solitude in the chill night air to be refreshing as he made his way back to his rented room.

Shaking his head, he knew he should have ignored the man and continued to follow the stranger he had spotted earlier that day. There was something wrong with the stranger, and he knew deep in his heart the man was up to no good.

On the other hand, the time he spent with Roger Hawkins had not been a waste, it had been quite refreshing. It was funny how the fates tended to maneuver lives as if they were pieces on a chessboard.

Well, if he was meant to encounter the stranger again, it would happen. He returned to his hotel with that thought firmly in his mind.

***

May 9th, 2668, Scav Haven

Shadow flowed into shadow as the figure slinked across the rooftops of the refurbished structures. It blended seamlessly into the darkness, avoiding the stray pools of light, which sprung up like beacons in the night.

The figure was dressed in a black suit, which covered its small frame from head to toe. The suit absorbed any light which touched it, swallowing and trapping it like a fly in a web, refusing to relinquish.

It paused, moving deeper into the darkness provided by the overhang of two ancient structures. Below a patrol passed. The members of the Legion were heavily armed and were carrying a variety of sensor suites. They played the sensors across the buildings and the alleys, paying particular attention to the numerous manholes scattered about.

The figure was confident that even if the scanners were played across its body, it would not register. Stealth was one of the most important tools in the figures vast arsenal of skills and abilities. One did not survive long in the Whispering Wraith organization without acquiring the experience to excel. Those who failed to learn, or made mistakes, rarely survived to repeat their errors.

Ahead, the figure spotted what it had been sent to find - the hotel where the target was staying. Unlike the incompetent members of the Purists, the Whispering Wraith had tendrils everywhere. A few chits were exchanged and they had all the information they needed.

Moving with liquid grace, the figure leapt and crossed the rooftop in a matter of a few seconds. The clouds were spotty at best, and anyone looking in the figure’s direction, they might spot a silhouette against the backdrop of the night.

Across the street, the figure peered through the gloom and located the room in which the quarry waited. The thought caused the figure to smile beneath the light-absorbing mask. The quarry had no idea he was waiting to die. Of course, how could the quarry even have an inkling at what waited out in the darkness.

What the assassin saw caused it to pause. The lights were on in both rooms. That was not supposed to be. They had paid enough gold to learn the typical patterns of the quarry and his friends. Brows furrowed above cold, nearly soulless eyes. Then, with a shrug, the figure settled back into the shadows to wait.

Another lesson learned was if one did not alter their plan of attack to fit any unexpected changes, one would not survive to see another attempt. This assassin knew the value of patience’s.

Hours passed and the sky grew cloudy yet again. The assassin did not mind, as the added cloud-cover took care of any possible light which, although remote, could still reveal. Another hour passed and the assassin checked the chronometer it carried. It was a little after 2 in the morning.

Patience, the assassin thought silently. It is only a matter of time. As if it was a mental cue, the lights went out in first one room, and then the other. A smile crept over the unseen face, twisting the sides of the lips up in feral anticipation.

The assassin had scoped out the area well in advance and knew exactly where to go as to cross the street and not be seen. Sliding down the side of the building, the figure crept along the shadows, as rain began to pelt down from the heavens.

Another Legion patrol came around the corner of the alley just as the assassin was about to step out. The figure froze as solid as a block of deep-shadow. The clothing worn blended perfectly into the background and one of the legionnaires passed within a half meter, nearly touching.

The technology worked, the assassin remained undetected in the darkness. A total of five minutes ticked slowly past, moving with near infinite slowness. The progression of time was having an effect on the assassin, whose patience was finally worn to the breaking point.

Shaking its head, the assassin darted from the shadows and flitted across the street. Moving fast, anyone spotting the figure would have expected it was nothing more than a figment of a sleep-addled mind.

The shadow cloaked figure slid into the side-alley and shimmied up the rough exterior wall of the hotel. As with staking out the location, the assassin had also managed to get a general layout of the interior of the hotel. It cost a few gold, but information was all but priceless.

Skirting the lightened windows, the assassin climbed and scuttled across the roof, making less noise than the rain, pattering down all around.  Mice and other vermin made more sound in their passing than the figure.

At the rear of the hotel, there was a stairwell. It had a large window, which could easily be opened and closed. Hanging upside-down, the assassin pulled out a small canister and squirted a liquid around the window. It then placed its hands on the slick glass and gently tugged. The window slid up without so much as a squeal of protest.

A second later, the assassin was inside the hotel. The coast was clear, and due to the time of night, it would be a surprise to run into anyone. Still moving without a sound, the assassin crept down the hallway. It found the door it had been looking for and tested the handle. It was locked, as the assassin had expected.

Pulling out a small gun-like device, the assassin first waved a hand at the lights, drowning them in pools of the purest blackness. The hall was plunged into the abyss of night. A few silent, deft clicks of the trigger and the figure felt the lock disengage without a sound. It was more like a sensation, a tiny vibration sent through the device.

With the same aerosol canister, the assassin squirted the liquid around the doorframe, ensuring to soak the lock mechanism and the hinges. As slowly as a spirit returning to the grave, the assassin opened the door.

Pausing, the figure waited at the entrance, listening to the slight snores and the steady breathing of those inside. They were asleep and one would remain in that slumber for all eternity.

A predatory, evil grin split the face of the assassin, hidden beneath the mask as it glided into the room, towards the bed.