Buck Who? Chapter 35

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 35: Finders Keepers

May 24th, 2668 The Resort

            The nanite spectre lashed out, howling like a banshee with each strike. Babs had to turn down the input from her audio sensors to prevent actual damage. The android realized if she had been organic, the effect would have been incapacitating. Quite the nasty surprise she thought. She danced with the nanite creature for several seconds, allowing it to strike at her with no effect. It amazed Babs how the nanite creature appeared to grow more frustrated with each passing second.

            Deep down in her positronic brain, she was analyzing various methods of how to contain even a slight portion of the creature before her. Trillions of possible scenarios were played out in her mind before she settled on one which might work.

            She grinned wickedly at the spectre, which much to her delight caused the nanite creature to pause. “I just figured it out,” she launched a powerful side-kick into the swarm of nanites that comprised the spectre’s body. At the same moment, she activated the magnetic function built into her feet. It was there to allow her to maintain footing during periods where the android’s body would be subject to micro-gravity.

            The spectre shrieked in what sounded like actual pain as part of its nanite swarm was pulled from the body and captured on Bab’s synthetic-flesh foot. She held her foot inside the swarm, amping up the power of the magnet until the spectre began to lose all cohesion, dimming and fading with each passing mirco-second.

            Then it was gone. The entire swarm was coating her foot, looking like a collection of glowing dust-motes. Displaying agility that was strictly in-human, she maintained her balance, opened the collection case, and then scraped off almost all of the nanites into a collection jar. There was so little left of the spectre’s swarm when she was finished.  After Babs turned off the magnetic function, the few nanites still remaining dissipated into the darkness of the ancient hotel.

            If she had been human, she would have been panting with the exertion she had just endured. Babs quickly pulled up a diagnostic which reported the condition of her body. With the exception of some wear and tear, combined with the a little cosmetic damage from the acid, she was in perfect shape.

            “Nanites, talk about maroons,” she spat out the contemptuous words. Nanites were powerful tools when used properly, but really, it all came down to what they were programmed to do. No nanites had ever achieved even remote true intellect, even the massive swarms. They were governed by lines of code.

            She had every intention of using that to her advantage. At least the nanites recognized she was not organic and as such were not swarming towards her. She did not have anywhere near enough ammunition for that. Even if they did swarm her, Babs was confident in her body’s ability to rip through them without sustaining any serious damage.

            Babs looked over her shoulder to the downpour outside the window. There was a fairly strong breeze which brought hitch-hikers of acid and radioactive rain into the room, but little came even within two meters of where she stood. The storm did not appear to be ready to abate anytime soon.

            “Time for some exploration,” she said aloud and stepped through the shattered door into the blackness beyond. Her visual sensors automatically compensated for the lack of stimulus and chose the best visual modes. As it turned out, low light was the best for the current situation and she could see every detail of the hall she was standing in.

            The air was choked with dust and mildew spores, dancing in the slight air current generated from the many breaches in the exterior of the old building. She looked from the left to the right, seeing the nanitized undead slowly converging on her location. They were of little concern, and she decided to make her way through the hall towards the main entrance to the hotel. It was the banks of elevators that interested her the most. They would lead to the basement and sub-levels.

            Why not explore and see if the rumors about fabulous wealth were true or not? She had the time as long as the storm continued to rage and wail outside. That was far more of a concern to her than the myriad of nanitized undead that haunted the walls of this ancient resort.

             She walked with a deceptive casualness towards the looming cavernous main entrance, about twenty meters from where she had entered the hotel. Pools of stagnant water lapped at her bare feet, and her sensors told her the exact temperature of each one, along with the chemical composition. There happened to be a heavy concentration of nanites, both active and dormant. Of course there would be, the entire island was a death-trap for anything organic.

            When she was only a few meters from the main hall, a couple of the nanitized zombies reached for her with desiccated hands. She never even looked as she lifted the barrel of the assault rifle and put a single round through the skulls of each. The zombies dropped to the ground, although not entirely dispatched, for all intent and purpose they had been neutralized.

            It was like every guest in the hotel had turned out to welcome the newcomer to their midst. There had to be at least a hundred or more of the various types of undead creatures milling about inside the massive room. Every eyeless skull turned towards the sound of the barking weapon and although quite a few took tentative steps in her direction, many stood still. The artificial nature of her body confused the nanites just as it had outside.

            She had quite a few samples and decided to destroy as many of the creatures as she could. In a couple of seconds she had swapped out the magazine in her assault rifle, replacing it with EMP rounds as she had done outside.

            The massacre began in earnest.

            She mowed the nanitized undead down with single shots, letting the EMP generated from each round to destroy the nanites. The corporeal undead dropped, some shattering into piles of bone after the nanites holding them together were destroyed. Zombie, bloody skeleton, floating torsos, even some of the incorporeal undead fell before her withering fire.

            Babs had to admit to herself there was something very satisfying in seeing the terror weapons of a sick and deranged mind being destroyed once and for all, although she felt bad for the men, women and children they had once been.

            If she had been organic, the thought of her primary mission on the island resort would have made her ill. She was not organic and it still left her with a strange sensation in her emotional protocols. Babs knew what she was doing was wrong, but something had to be done about the Purists.

            The AI turned android dropped out the spent magazine and slammed a fresh one home and pulled back the charging handle. She fired another half-dozen rounds when at last the hoard of the nanitized undead began to pull back, moving at varying speed out of her way. Some stepped outside, others went into rooms, and the seemingly incorporeal creatures just melted out of sight.

            “Holy shit, you’re giving up!” She exclaimed, amazed nearly beyond speech. Something, a built-in survival mechanism was triggered in the hive-mind of the nanites and they finally had enough death and destruction. In less than a minute, the huge entrance to the hotel was vacant and silent, except for the sound of the hail and rain pounding on the outside. Streams of contaminated water poured like water-falls through several holes in the roof, creating miniature lakes on the floor, surrounding and engulfing the fallen undead.

            Unhindered, Babs carefully picked her way across the floor, avoiding the rain and the puddles as much as she could. Already the corpses of the nanitized undead were being eaten away by the acid in the rain, exposing bone or in some cases, cleaning the bones completely of all organic residue. Wafts of smoke arose from the corpses and it was so thick in some places it was starting to obscure her vision.

            It did not matter. Babs finally made it to the bank of elevators and peered into the nearest open door. There was no sign of the elevator, and from what she could see, the shaft led three stories down into the darkness. At the bottom of the shaft there was water, with flotsam coating the surface. She did not want to think of how badly contaminated it was, especially with the way the rain was coming down.

            In the center of the shaft the elevator cables hung in mid-air, gently twisting and moving from side to side. A thick layer of rust coated the metal cables like fuzzy barnacles, and she had to wonder if they would be able to support her weight or not.

            She slapped her forehead when she came to the obvious conclusion. Take the damn stairs! Why bother with Something as risky as the shaft when she could just walk into the sub-levels.

            It took her only a few seconds to find the stairwell. The door was propped open by the long decayed corpse of some hapless victim of the nanite infestation, the clothing all but rotted and the bones strewn about from countless passing feet. A large carry-on bag was blocking the door from closing and when she pushed it out of the way, the door remained in place, the hinges having long since rusted solid.

            The stairwell was shockingly dry and dusty. No sign of rain or water damage at all, unlike the rest of the facility. In her amplified audio sensors she could make out the shuffling of feet coming from both above and below. There were plenty of nanitized undead in the shaft, but they did not concern her.

            With the sample case secured over her shoulder and the assault rifle held at the ready, she descended the stairs. Each step sounded like thunder in her ears and she could hear footsteps retreating from her approach. The meager light coming from the entrance to the stairs was all gone, the darkness swallowing it completely, enveloping it in eternal slumber. She switched to Ultra-violet and the stairs flew into vivid detail, although a blue-tinge coated everything. Babs looked over the railing and could see about a dozen zombies and bloody bones, all crowded up against the door to the second level of the basement. About halfway to the third the stairwell was filled with brackish unhealthy looking water.

            She continued to descend towards the second level, hoping that the supposed treasure might be stored there. Babs would go down to the third level and search, but she did not relish entering the water. Even her artificial body might suffer significant damage from the toxins and contaminants.

            Only three steps from the landing, she lifted the rifle and pointed it at the nearest zombie. With cold efficiency, she slaughtered the entire group with the EMP rounds, leaving only a single bloody skeleton standing. It cringed and tried to back away as she closed in on it, the mouth working in a sick parody of pleading.

            “Shut up, bone-head,” she hissed as she reached out and tore its arm off. It came away with a loud snap of dried tendons parting like elastic bands pulled beyond their limit. A few seconds later, she had removed several finger bones from the hand and deposited them into the sample case.

            Her task complete, she tossed the arm into the black, brackish water below and shot the bloody skeleton with her rifle. It flew apart, the nanites holding it together destroyed by the electro-magnetic pulse.

            The door leading to the second basement level was frozen, the hinges coated with rust, which dripped like blood-icicles. She deduced it must have been because of the close proximity to the water below that allowed the metal to begin to deteriorate, as just a few meters above the floor was pun intended, bone-dry.

            Babs put her hand on the door handle and gave it a tug. Of course the heavy door did not budge a centimeter. Squeezing the handle, she pulled again, adding strength in small increments, as she did not want the door to suddenly fly open and throw her off balance.

            Slowly, millimetre by millimetre, the door began to open with a screech that sounded not unlike the souls of the damned who resided forever in the resort. It took nearly a full minute for her to pull the door open wide enough for her to squeeze her body through, and she paused only long enough to look down the black hall that lay beyond.

            Nothing stirred, although there were plenty of signs of water damage. The walls and floor were concrete and the formerly white paint had dulled over the years. Black patches of mold and streaks from leaks ran down from ceiling to floor in a bizarre pattern here and there. It reminded the AI turned android of an expressionist’s painting, but one haunted by dark and deadly visions.

            Dust motes danced and swirled in the disturbed air, appearing to move, guided by an alien intellect. Nothing came at her and tried to attack her, only her artificial imagination, which produced a plethora of phantom enemies.

            “Oh for the love of Jesus, Mohammad and Buddha,” she hissed quietly. “You’re getting as bad as an organic!”  She stepped on the balls of her feet, and then moved from heel to toe, making as little noise as possible. The floor beneath her bare synthetic flesh was concrete and had a thick layer of dust. She could not see any signs of anyone or anything having travelled down this tunnel since probably the last of the guests and staff had succumbed to the nanites.

            The corridor went on for at least thirty meters, with doors set on either side every five meters or so. Most of the doors she encountered she found were locked, but it only took a slight application of her superior strength and the handles shattered in her hand. The sound of breaking metal and the tinkling of parts hitting the concrete felt appallingly loud to her sensors, but it did not draw any attention.

            The rooms she found were nothing more than storage, filled with all manner of material. Linin, spare furniture, cleaning supplies and other sundries. There was also several offices, which she had to assume were for the management.

            At the end the corridor became a T-intersection, with the right hand corridor blocked by a thick wooden door, warped with age. The left corridor was likewise blocked, but with heavy armaglass doors. A scanner and card reader were inset in the wall next to the door, although both were dark as they had been without power for uncounted years. A sign posted above the key-card reader stated Employees only, no trespassing allowed. She peered through the darkness

            “Well well well, what do we have here?” She reached out and gave the door a push, seeing no handles visible. The glass rattled slightly but otherwise the door did not move even a fraction of a millimetre. She tapped on it, gauging the thickness. It certainly was armaglass, but it was not as thick as it would have been on a military installation.

            “What the hell,” she said and hefted the assault rifle. She used the butt of the weapon and slammed it into the glass. The armaglass thrummed loudly, but other than a scuff-mark where she had struck it, the door looked unscathed.

            “I don’t want to waste an EMP round on this,” she began to say as she swapped out magazines on the weapon. “Better use regular rounds.”

            After charging the rifle, she backed up until the artificial flesh of her rump settled against the cold wooden double doors. She lifted the rifle and fired a single shot. It smashed into the armaglass and cracks began to spread, clearly audible as they raced to see who would be first to reach an edge.

            After a handful of seconds, the cracking ended, but the door remained intact and upright. This did not deter Babs in the least. She fired twice more, and when the second round hit, the armaglass shattered and with a deafening racket, smashed into the floor, the chunks of glass scattering like tiny insects, scurrying everywhere.

            Babs carefully strode past the ruined door, stepping with great care and paying close attention to the sensors built into her feet. She did not want to cause serious damage to the pads of her feet. It was not a matter of pain, which of course Babs could not feel – it was causing damage which could potentially slow her down.

            Other than some minor scarring to the artificial flesh, she made it into the hall beyond. Here she could see small plaques attached to each door. One read security, the next four had names of long-dead management, and two were marked as holding and finally one read hotel safe.

            “Bingo!” She exclaimed happily. “Thank the makers I did not have to go below,” she said aloud as she reached out to try the door, knowing in her artificial heart it would be locked. She reached out and grabbed the handle to the door and gave it a tug. When it opened, she could not believe her luck. Taking a deep breath, even though she did not need to, she opened the door and stepped into the hotel’s safe, probably the first being to have done so in over three hundred years.

***

May 24th, 2668 The Community

            Tara held Declan as she rocked him back and forth, purring softly into his ear and stroking his back. He had tried to get some sleep after he had returned to their home. The former pilot had lay down and slipped into a fitful rest, tossing and turning almost as soon as he entered the REM state.

            The Tiger-Exotic came over to him and sat down on the bed and placed a hand on his shoulder. His eyes opened an instant later, but he did not see her or the cabin. What his eyes saw were the product of an exhausted and stressed mind, and she was secretly thankful she was not witnessing whatever his thoughts had conjured. Unintelligible words pressed through his tight lips and he thrashed about before finally crying out and sitting up, his body already coated in a cold sweat.

            That is when Tara took him into her arms and kissed him, doing what she could to chase away the nightmares and the fear. “I’m here baby,” she said softly and kissed him again. “I love you, hold onto that and don’t let it go.”

            They sat together, her purring and stroking his back as he held onto her like a drowning man clinging to a life-preserver. After a few minutes his breathing returned to normal and the trembling though his body subsided. He was finally able to draw a steady breath and at last broke their embrace. “Sorry Tara.”

            She stroked his face with one hand, letting it linger on his cheek. “Don’t be, for better or worse, I will always be here for you.”

            “It will help,” he managed to grin. “And of course lots of fucking too.”

            She laughed, but there was still a heavy degree of concern mingled with compassion in her green eyes. “Are you hungry?”

            “Yeah I am, and I could use a beer, or something stronger.”

            “Sweetheart, let’s not go there. I know you’re hurting, but if you have a drink every time you get stressed or have a bad dream, it’s going to hurt not only you, and me as well.”

            Declan knew his wife-to-be was right and he nodded as he stood from the bed. He was wearing a pair of tanned pants but nothing else. The rain was still beating down on the roof of their cabin and it was muggy inside, even though Tara had the windows open to let in the fresh air. “Why don’t we meet up with Ra’naa and Otres?”

            “Sounds like a good idea,” Tara replied and climbed off the bed to join him. Unlike him, she was naked. It was her natural way since her body was covered in fine fur, and the summer heat tended to be too much for the Tiger-Exotic to handle, even with the thin white dressed the women of the community favored.

            If the community had been comprised of adults, she probably would have gone outside without a stitch on. That would have raised not only eyebrows but blood-pressure on most of the members, but she could live with it.

            There were plenty of children. She did not feel like showing off to them, nor did she want to anger the parents. Before she found Declan, she did not give a damn about that. She was a free spirit and did what she pleased, when the urge hit her. Finding the man and falling in love had changed her whole outlook on life and the way she acted.

            Besides, she did not want her son or daughter to catch wind of how she used to act. She wanted her babies not to hear stories that would make them feel ashamed of her. She wiggled her rump suggestively as she strode over to the chest of drawers and pulled out a thin dress. Tara looked over her shoulder to see if Declan would take the bait and come to make love to her, but the former pilot just stood, staring out the window as the rain continued to hammer down.

            Sighing, she slipped the dress over her body and came to stand next to him. Wrapping her arm around his waist, Tara leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed. “Is there anything at all I can do for you? I’m worried about you.”

            “No, I don’t think so,” he told her. Almost reluctantly he reached up and stroked her hair, feeling its softness between his fingers. He loved the way the woman smelled – a mixture of home-made soap and her natural pheromones, a heady combination that was so feral and sensual it almost always aroused him.

            “At the very least, let’s go for a walk,” he breathed out, finally untangling her from around his waist. “It’s hot in here, but the rain feels good.”

            Tara nodded and smiled. “Alright, as long as it will help make you feel better.”

            He reached over to the table that stood next to the entrance and pulled the gun-belt off it and secured it around his hip. There were several magazine pouches attached to the finely tooled leather and each was filled with four magazines for his handgun. He did not bother with a shirt, deciding to go bare-chested into the weather. At least it was comfortably warm and there was no chance he would catch a chill.

            Upon leaving the shelter of their cabin, both were thoroughly soaked to the flesh in less than a minute. The rain felt wonderful as it washed over his body and sloshed around his feet. The ground was sodden and deep puddles covered the road as they walked. He looked at Tara and laughed.

            “What’s so funny?” She asked, without a trace of the usual anger in her voice.

            “You should have just left the dress at home,” he chuckled and pointed at her body.

            Tara looked down. The white of the dress had turned translucent in the rain and clung to her body like a second skin, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. The Tiger-Exotic considered returning to the cabin to put on something a little more appropriate for the conditions and suggested it to Declan.

            “Don’t bother,” he told her as he led the woman towards the walls surrounding the community. “If you feel better, just strip it off once we’re out of sight of the homes.”

            She looked at him and pushed the rain-soaked hair out of her eyes and wiggled her eyebrows at him. “Just want to get me naked, don’t you?”

            “Until we have our kids, all the time!”

            It took several minutes for them to reach the walls and there she stripped off the dress and balled it up. Once they returned to the main street or pass through an area where there were people, she would don the sopping dress, but until then, she was content to walk as nature had intended.

            Two full hours passed as they walked hand in hand. The day continued to grow warmer, even with the rain, but neither complained. Very little was said, even when they passed the gates. The guards nodded and greeted both, but turned their gaze away from her body as they continued. Declan stole a surreptitious glance as they left and found the guards were in fact staring at her beautiful posterior. He could not blame them, as he would have been doing the exact same thing had positions been reversed.

            It was on their second circuit of the wall when she stopped him. They were far enough away from the eyes of the guards and the residents and they made love in the rain. It was slow and sweet, she taking her time and allowing him to finish first without worrying about her own climax.

            The fact she did that was a major surprise to Declan. She had always been quite greedy when it came to her own needs and she always made sure she was satisfied before she allowed him to finish.

            Simply put, it proved to him how much she was worried about him.

            He dressed and they continued, although now he felt relaxed and content. There was still the niggling anxiety hidden just beneath the surface, but at least for the time being, he was in a better place.

            As they approached the gates, they stopped and stared. A small convoy of strangers, all dressed in armor – despite the rain and heat of the day. There were about six individuals and they riding regular horses instead of Brutes. The small band of newcomers was conversing with the guards.

            “Better get dressed,” Declan suggested and Tara did so without hesitation or complaint. Every part of her perfectly rounded and beautiful body was still on full display, but at least the dress offered a degree of decency.

            The closer they got to the gate; snippets of conversation could be heard. “…you can’t just waltz in from the wastes and expect to speak to Max Ahteen on a moment’s notice,” the guard, Jas’nar was explaining to the leader of the group.

            The man on the lead horse was human, at least from initial inspection. He was dressed in well maintained combat armor and had an energy assault carbine strapped to his back. There were other weapons festooned to the saddlebags and from the way his rain-saturated cloak bulged here and there, more weapons were hidden away. “Why is that,” the man had a casual tone, one that was just on the cusp of mirth, but it also held insolence and menace in equal measures. “Is he too busy planning the next step in the war against the Purists?”

            That statement caused Jas’nar to pause for only a heartbeat. “Yeah he is, so what do you want? You and your friend came here to offer your services in the war?” Jas’nar’s tone was pure sarcasm, and he held his assault rifle. The safety was off, and although it was pointed at the ground, he could bring it to bear in a flash.

            “As a matter of fact, yes.” The rider replied.

            Jas’nar was about to reply when he spotted Declan and Tara. A look of relief came over the young man’s face. He lifted a hand in greeting. “Hey, Declan, Miss Baku.”

            They returned the greeting and came to stand next to the young man. “We have visitors,” Declan stated, looking up at the rider and the five behind him. Unlike the leader of the little band, the rest of the riders had rain-proof masks over their faces. Declan figured they must be stifling in the heat, and were quite sure that they had something to hide.

            The rider bowed his head and touched his fingers to his forehead, where a hat would have been if he had been wearing one. “Afternoon,” he greeted.

            Declan nodded absently to him. “I know this really isn’t any of my business, but what’s going on here?”

            Jas’nar quickly filled them in on the strangers request to see Max, and that they were here to offer their services to the war effort. It took only a few scant seconds to bring Tara and Declan up to speed on the situation.

            “Want us to go and get Max?” Tara offered. She raised a hand and wiped the rain out of her eyes and took a deep breath, letting her breasts push against the sheer fabric of her dress. It turned out to be quite the distraction to all the males who were present.

            “Su… Sure, I mean yeah,” Jas’nar stammered. “Would you mind?”

            She smiled. “I wouldn’t have offered if that was the case,” she studiously ignored the growing bulge in the other man’s pants. It was the effect she had been hoping for.

            “Come Declan,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the small gathering and they began to jog. Once they were out of earshot of the strangers, she opened up. “Something is off here,” she said, still holding his hand in hers, still jogging, but keeping it to a pace he could easily manage.

            “Woman’s intuition?” He said, half joking, half serious.

            “Didn’t you feel it too?” If she had been offended by the statement, she gave no indication.

            “No,” he shrugged as they continued to jog. “I did find it odd that they were wearing face-masks in this heat.”

            “There was that,” she nodded. “I’m not a mutant, but I got a very bad vibe from that group of people. I think they’re up to no good.”

            “I’ll trust your instincts,” Declan said in full support. He thought back to the brief encounter with the strangers but could not place anything other than the masks as being out of place.

            In a few minutes they reached the lodge and Tara asked the guards if they could see Max. The man disappeared into the building and returned a few seconds later, indicating they should enter. The led them through the impressive old structure to Max’s office. One man stood there waiting, with towels in his hands and he indicated they should take a second to dry off.

            Max Ahteen was sitting at his desk, going over several pages of a file. He looked up, one eyebrow raised as the two entered. “Declan, Tara, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

            Before Declan could reply, Tara spoke. “You’ve got some very strange visitors at the gate.”

            The leader of the community paused and then put the page on the desk. He leaned back, looking both interested and casually calm at the same time. “Strange in what way?”

            Tara described the men and the way they were dressed and armed. She also told him about how they wanted to see him right away. “I don’t know about them, there is something really off. Call it instinct, but I doubt they’re here to talk. I get the feeling they’re here to make an ultimatum.”

            “Think they could be with the Purists?” Declan managed to cut in.

            “No, I doubt it. I have the feeling if they were, they wouldn’t just ride up to the gate and ask to speak with me. They’d probably plan a raid like they did with the Androids and try to take us all out at once.”

            “Who are they? Any idea?” Declan scratched the stubble on his chin, all the while his other hand rested on the butt of his handgun.

            “Not a clue,” Max confessed as he stood. He adjusted the gun belt on his hips and came out from behind the desk. “I guess we are about to find out.”

***

May 24th, 2668 The Compound

            Bradly’s eyes snapped open and he found himself lying flat on his back. The room was dimly lit and when he tried to sit up, he found he had the strength of a newborn kitten. He could barely lift his arm, let alone the rest of his body. The room was filled with scents that were starting to become annoyingly familiar. There was the ever present antiseptics, mixed with the cloying scent of strong bleach, and the sickeningly sweet odor of cooked pork.

            “Mr. Travis, it’s good to see you’re finally awake,” a soft voice said from out of his line of vision.

            “Wh… why… what?”

            “Easy Mr. Travis,” the voice soothed and then a woman dressed in white appeared at his side. She was one of the nurses, one of the few professions that women were allowed to join before his father made the sweeping changes. “The healing drugs are working, but you’re still weak. You are very lucky to be alive.”

            He recognized her, even if his addled brain could not place the voice. “Sarah, right?”

            See looked pleased that he recognized her. “Yes sir. How are you feeling?”

            “Shitty,” he blinked and somehow managed to lift his arm. When he attempted to wipe his eyes, he found his hand was swaddled in bandages. A soul-deep fear washed over him and Bradly had to fight the urge to panic. “What…”

            “You suffered extensive energy burns on your arms and both hands. Don’t worry,” she smiled down at him and stroked his forehead with a damp cloth. “You didn’t lose anything, and the regeneration drugs are working perfectly. You’ll be up and about as if nothing happened by this time tomorrow.”

            He continued to stare at his hand, amazed to see it covered in such thick bandages. At that moment, Bradly realized he did not feel any pain, not even a dull ache, just weakness and exhaustions. Looking up at the nurse, he had a nice eye-view of her cleavage. Half-expecting his member to stand at attention, there was not even so much as a slight stirring. “How did this…”

            “Happen?” The nurse finished wiping his brow and straightened. “Someone was not happy with the way the raid on the androids turned out and he tried to kill you,” her tone was so matter of fact; it was as if she was discussing the weather and not his near-demise.

            At her words, the incident came rushing back and he had to close his eyes. It was almost beyond comprehension that one of his loyal men would attempt to assassinate him. “Was anyone killed?” He asked, his eyes still closed as he relived the moment.

            “Just the man who tried to kill you, a couple of others suffered wounds of varying degrees, but you caught the brunt of the blast.”

            “Lucky me.”

            “Yes, you were incredibly lucky,” she said. Her hands were busy as she disconnected an IV bag and replaced it with another one, filled with a clear fluid.

            “I’m thirsty,” he said, realizing his throat felt like parchment and it was all he could do to swallow. Some water would be greatly appreciated right now, to help clear the dust from his mouth. When Sarah did not answer, he opened his eyes and saw she was looking at his father. The elder Travis looked calm outwardly, but he could see the fear and dismay in the older man’s eyes. “Glad to see you’re finally awake.”

            “Dad,” Bradly began but the elder Travis held up his hand.

            “It’s alright son,” Martin placed a hand on Bradly’s shoulder. “You’ve been through a lot over the past few days. How do you feel?”

            He decided to give the same answer he had a few minutes ago. “Shitty.”

            Martin nodded. “Yeah, I can believe it.”

            “I’ll be back and ready to train tomorrow,” Bradly assured his father, figuring that is what the older man wanted to hear.

            “I’m not worried about that, I’m more concerned to find out if you recall anything that has happened since the assassin tried to blow you up.”

            “Like what?” Bradly could not keep the confusion out of his voice.  

            “Did you remember a man entering your room and threatening you with a hypo-spray?”

            Now the older Travis had his full and undivided attention. “No, not at all, when did this happen?”

            Martin looked at the nurse and then motioned with his hand towards the door. She obeyed instantly and left, closing the door behind her with a soft click. The elder Travis returned his gaze to his son. “It seems your friends from the Whispering Wraith have offered their services to us.”

            Bradly groaned and closed his eyes. He covered them with his bandaged hand and shook his head. The slight movement caused waves of vertigo to wash over his mind, making him feel as if he was falling while hanging upside-down, though he was lying flat on his back. “Shit,” he half-whined.

            “That’s for damn sure,” Martin sighed and tightened his grip on his son’s shoulder, but not painfully or angrily. “They forced me to accept their terms.”

            “What? How?” Bradly pulled his hands from his face and looked at his father. The older man looked as if he had aged ten years in the past few minutes. “What could they have done to force you to bow to them?”

            “They threatened to use a mutagenic compound on you,” Martin filled him in. “And as such I would have been forced to kill you.”

            You could have heard an ant fart in the room it had gotten so quiet. A moment later, Bradly cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t have to, I’d have killed myself.”

            His father shook his head and sighed heavily. “It’s one of the reasons we have kept you here and unconscious. You could have been awake sooner, but we wanted to make sure they did not follow through and inject you.”

            If Bradly felt scared before, he was terrified now. A cold hand of dread clamped around his heart, squeezing with each second until it felt as if it would implode. An involuntary shiver ran through his whole body at the prospect of a hated compound re-writing and altering his pure human genome into something less and unworthy. He finally found his voice, but it came out as a mere whisper. “And did he?”

            “You’re still breathing and I still have my son,” Martin said, tears gleaming in the older man’s eyes. “I don’t know if I would have been able to pull the trigger if you had been altered.”

            Thinking back to the attack he had suffered, he was certain that there would have been a lineup of men who wanted the honor. “Thanks, Dad.”

            Martin did something he rarely ever did. He leaned in and hugged his son so fiercely Bradly thought his ribs were going to crack. They held the embrace for nearly a minute before Martin finally let his son go.

            Bradly lay on the bed, thinking and then spoke. “Dad, maybe we can use the bastards. They threatened us and effectively stole from us, but why not use them?”

            “I was thinking the same thing,” Martin smiled and wiped his eyes. “What are you thinking?”

***

May 24th, 2668 The Resort

            Her eyes took in every detail as she scanned the safe. The air was bad, mainly a mixture of carbon dioxide and several other chemicals. Unlike outside, the humidity was at zero, but it would change over a few seconds as the stale atmosphere was replaced by the air in the halls. There were dozens upon dozens of bags, briefcases, and even some crates and boxes. The safe was quite substantial, measuring fifteen meters long by five meters wide. Each wall was covered in varying sized safety deposit boxes, each with a single biometric scanner built into the door. The floor, what she could see, was white stone, probably marble, and the overhead was a solid mass of alloy, interspersed with light-strips.

            “Why the hell would you need such a massive safe?” She wondered aloud. She was impressed, that is for certain.

            She walked slowly into the room and continued to scan it with her sensors. From the looks of it, at least one person, probably more, had tried to remove items from the vault during the resort’s final hours. The room was a chaotic disarray of personal belongings and garbage. She had travelled about halfway down the vault when she came to a sudden stop. A pair of legs was visible, sticking out from behind a stack of suitcases. She looked and could see a dark stain on the safety deposit boxes and did not need a forensics’ team to tell her want it was.

            The figure had been a male, hundreds of years ago. Now he was a mummified corpse, the dried skin pulled tautly over his bones, pulling his mouth into a rictus grin which looked more like a scream of pain.  He was dressed in a NoRuCom officer’s uniform and Babs found the insignia. The figure had been a three star general. She crouched and looked at him a little more closely. “What were you doing here?” She wondered aloud?”

            The name-tag on his right breast read Wilson. She had known of a Major Wilson, but then again it was such a common name.  Still, the corpse had her attention. Pure platinum cuff-links adorned his wrists and Babs saw a wrist-watch attached to his right arm. What struck her nearly dumb was that the watch was still working, even after all these centuries. On his left wrist was a handcuff, linked to a small brief-case made out of Duralloy or another similar substance. There was a large-caliber handgun dangling from the fingers of his left hand. Little remained of his skull, as the kinetic energy transfer from the round had all but blown the man’s head apart.

            Babs continued to study the figure, trying to replay his last moments in her mind’s eye. She had no idea how long the man had been here before he had taken his life, but it must have been at least several days. There were empty bottles scattered around him, all had been either water or expensive liquor. A neat pile of empty cans lay stacked against the wall, nearly thirty in total, all of canned fruit and vegetables.

            It was obvious the General had been locked in or had used the vault as a safe-room when everything had gone to hell. He had been lucky enough to have survived without contracting the nanite infection, but no hope of rescue. She could almost feel his despair and horror of his situation, especially food and drink gone and the last of the air running out. How terrified he must have been in order to want release from it all.

            And he had done so.

            The dead held no taboo for her, unlike so many other organic life-forms. The remains were nothing more than a by-product that would be consumed by something else, be it bacteria or what have you. The matter would be recycled into the environment. Babs knew if she had been born an organic being, she would have a different view.

            Her mind was made up in a micro-second. Still crouching next to the body, she took hold of the left arm and snapped the hand off at the wrist and slid the handcuff off. She then removed the still-functioning watch as well as the cuff-links and then dug through his uniform until she found his wallet. It contained identification as well as all manner of credit cards and even paper cash. Quite a bit as she counted it, finding the general had nearly five thousand.

            Babs wanted to get the brief-case back to Max Ahteen. There had to be important information inside, considering that General Wilson was in possession of the case at the time of his death. She wanted to give the information to those she knew and trusted explicitly. The fact the androids sent her on such a mission did not sit well with her, and depending on what information was stored in the briefcase…

            Standing she continued to scan the room. There was so much to see and go through, but she knew her time was limited as she consulted her internal chronometer. One hour, six minutes and twenty-two seconds had passed since she arrived on the resort island. That gave her just under fifty-four minutes to continue searching the room before she had to return to the mainland.

            If the storm continued to rage, that would buy her more time, and she planned to return to the upper levels in exactly thirty-five minutes to see what the weather looked like. In one way she hoped it was still storming, so it would buy her time. Another part of her wanted to get the hell out of the resort and back to the mainland. She felt the death and horror of the hotel weighing down upon her and it was quite the disconcerting sensation. It was like being watched and yet knowing you were alone.

            The weight of the wrist-watch felt heavy in her hands and she looked at it and then held it up to wipe some of the grime that had accumulated on its face. “I hope you’re going to like these Declan,” she said. Looking around for something to carry her newly acquired loot, her artificial orbs fell upon a large duffle bag, which appeared to be half-full only a meter or so away. It was sitting on a small table, one of several that were scattered around the room.

            Placing the items she acquired on the table next to the bag, she unzipped it and peered inside. It was half-full with clothing, most of it designer labels from before the end of the war. Babs was not up to date on the fashion trends of the ancients – her people really when she thought of it, but she knew they had to be worth a small fortune. What the hell, she might as well keep it for herself, as she placed the other items inside the duffle.

            That task complete, she continued to search the room, going through the bags and luggage strewn across the floor. She took choice items, typically clothing, jewellery and even found quite a few bricks of gold, platinum, and silver. There was hard currency to be found everywhere, but it had no value in the current era.

            Reaching the back of the room, she stood and stared at a small stack of bags and luggage, stacked against the far wall. There was something odd about the configuration of the stacking, as if it was used to conceal something from casual viewing.

            If Babs was anything, she was curious. It took her only a minute to shift the luggage out of the way to reveal what had been hidden. On the floor, there was a small shape, covered in an old comforter, obviously having been taken from one of the rooms. A small, humanoid figure was visible under the covering and Babs sighed. It must have been a child, having found its way into the vault and sealed in against the terrors that destroyed the resort.

            Reaching out, Babs gently took hold of one corner of the blanket and pulled it down to reveal the figure beneath. Despite being artificial, Babs gasped in surprise, not expecting to find what lay beneath the ancient blanket.