Buck Who? Chapter 36

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 36: Yogi?

May 24th, 2668 Near the Resort

            The beach was strangely deserted as Joey sat on an ancient rotted log, staring out over the rocky landscape. He had only visited the beaches near his home a handful of times over the years, as the androids kept him quite busy and he rarely had time for himself.

            Those few times he had sat on the beach and studied the surroundings he found it had been full of life. Waves danced and licked at the shore itself, depositing all manner of debris and even living creatures. Crabs, tiny insects of all types, even small animals were always present, hunting and feeding, or in some cases, frolicking and playing in the water along the shore.

            He looked up into the steel-grey clouds that were so close overhead. The air was thick with moisture and he knew that a downpour was inevitable and finding shelter from the storm would be important. There was a chemical sting to the air and it tickled his nostrils, causing the young man to sneeze violently. He grimaced, knowing that was not a good sign and had his suspicions confirmed when a bolt of purple lightning struck the waves only about a hundred meters from the shore.

            Energy permuted the air and it was growing with intensity every passing second, becoming more intense as more and more flashes appeared, as if Zeus himself was throwing a hissy-fit up in Olympus.

            Growing up with the androids, he had been educated in many different fields, including meteorology, and knew what kind of bizarre storms the final wars had spawned. After so many centuries of being able to study the strange phenomena, the androids were able to accurately predict when one of the storms was going to hit. Sometimes they appeared almost as by magic, giving those outside little warning to the approaching danger. Other times the storms grew over many hours or days, until finally blowing and striking with a ferocity that was mind-numbingly ferocious.

            The storm that was brewing had all the indicators of a chemical storm, probably filled with acid rain. The lighting was also a major concern, as it was growing closer and the mutli-hued bolts were striking the water and ground with exponentially increasing frequency.

            Joey stood and took in the scenery. He had to find shelter and fast. Standing out beside one of the ancient trees would not do him any good; in fact it would put him in more danger. He needed to find something before the rain started.

            It was at that moment that a fat drop hit the back of his hand.

            Joey ignored it for all of three seconds before the pain of the acid mixed in the water began to burn away at his flesh. He yelped and flicked his hand, trying to dislodge the burning liquid. His initial instinct had been to wipe it on his clothing, but he rejected that instantly. It would not help.

            No wonder the beach had been clear of life. The little creatures knew on an instinctual level what was coming and they had the sense enough to get out of the rain. Joey continued to search, almost frantically, as the rain came down in earnest. He would have to use the shelter of one of the trees to protect him but it was fleeting at best.

            Real worry threatened to cloud his judgement.


May 24th, 2668 Near the Resort

            His fur was thick and his hide tough as heavy leather armor. The many scars that crossed his frame were proof of how difficult the old warrior was to injure, let alone kill. The rain was coming down in earnest now, and he stood in it, allowing the caustic fluid to flow over his form. It ran in rivulets down his arms, back and legs until it hit the ground and pooled there. The air was filled with the stench of ozone and burning fur, but if the old warrior noticed, he gave no indication.

            He watched the human on the edge of the beach. The human was little more than a cub, but he carried himself with a practiced ease that the old warrior recognized and admired. The human cub most certainly did not have enough sense to get out of the rain though. He had ignored all the warning signs that each of nature’s creatures recognized and used the time to seek shelter.

            Feeling a slight twinge in his back leg, the old warrior dropped to what was a sitting position for humanoids. His muscular rump was well padded with fur and tough flesh, and even the slightly rough ground beneath him was made comfortable as a result.

            Why had he and the machine come to this place? Why had the machine entered the water and swam towards the island of machine death? Had it intended upon ending its own existence? If that was the machine’s intention, then why had the human cub stayed behind to watch?  It was these questions and more that had kept the old warrior around and watching.

            When the human cub yelped and danced about, the old warrior was amused by his antics. Yes, the stinking water from the sky burned and it would cause the furless creature pain. The old warrior was pleased to see the human cub was trying to find a place to shelter, although standing under the tree was something only the youngest cubs did.

            How had this human cub managed to live as long as he had?  It did not matter, the old warrior realized. He knew that the cub and the machine came from both the nearby installation run by other machines, and the human community in which his girl-cub now lived. Maybe it was about time he approached the humans and offered his assistance. They had fought bravely and hard against the other human invaders. They had suffered many lives lost, but the fighting spirit was something his people would speak about for generations.

            His mind made up, the old battle-scarred warrior stood and lumbered towards the un-expecting human.


May 24th, 2668 The Community

            Max, Tara, Declan and several others approached the gate, where the strange visitors were waiting. They had not dismounted and looked comfortable, despite the heavy armor in which they were clad. The rain was coming down hard and the streets were filled with ankle-deep puddles, which splashed in small tsunamis of brown water whenever a foot landed.

            The former General wore a hat which did little to keep his head dry, especially because of his dragon-like horns, but at least it kept the rain from getting into his eyes. He placed his right hand on the butt of the handgun strapped to his hip as he stopped before the leader of the small expedition.

            “You wanted to see me?” Max asked without preamble. He put decades of authority into his voice as he spoke, trying to put a modicum of intimidation into his words.

            “Max Ahteen,” the leader spoke. “It’s good to meet you. My compatriots have travelled from Scav Haven to offer our assistance in the war against the Purists,” he waved a hand at the other five riders, none of which spoke or even moved.

            If he was supposed to be impressed, Max knew he was not. “That’s good to hear. Who are you?”

            “I am Marcus, a member of the Whispering Wraith’s.”

            The name sent shivers of cold through Max’s bowels. He knew all about the Whispering Wraiths, knew they were a guild of assassins who hired out their services to whoever could pay their often exorbitant fees. He also knew of the origin of the guild, which few people not part of the Wraiths knew. Typically anyone who found out was put to death, as the Wraiths did not like to have their secrets out in the open for anyone to learn. “What interest does the Whispering Wraiths have in this war?”

            The man named Marcus chuckled slightly, a dangerous gleam in his brown eyes. “Why to make a profit of course. We are willing to work for you as scouts and to help you deal with the officers and higher echelons in their organization.”

            Max knew that it was about to get tricky. No one refused the offer when it was made, and it was not like he did not have the funds to pay for their services. He did not want them around however; they were pure poison, literally and figuratively speaking. Max also knew that he had no choice and would accept their offer, but maybe he could make it work out in his advantage. He would want his daughter and her friends with him during the negotiations, as he did not trust the murdering bastards as far as he could throw them.

            “Follow me,” Max ordered and without waiting, he turned and began to walk back towards the lodge. Over his shoulder he called out to the men. “You can stable your mounts behind the lodge, and one of my men will feed and groom them for you.”

            “That is a very kind offer, and we gladly accept,” Marcus replied.

            Was it just Max’s imagination, or was there a sneer or a dollop of contempt in his tone? Probably, or maybe he was just getting old and paranoid. Either or, he figured with a mental shrug.

            Declan fell into step with Max, while Tara walked about two meters behind the two men. His guards fell into place, surrounding the group as they travelled down the sodden streets, the rain coming down so hard now it reduced visibility to less than five meters. The clouds and rainfall were so heavy it was closer to twilight than to full day, and despite all these factors, it was still hot!

            “I don’t like these guys,” Declan said in a conversational tone. The patter and pounding of the rain splashing all around them did a lot to mask any sounds they were making. He reached up and wiped the rain from his eyes, which was nothing more than a gesture in futility.

            “You and me both,” Max confirmed. “Still we have little choice in the matter and maybe we can swing it so this turns to our advantage.”

            “The bastards attacked us while we were in Scav Haven!”

            “I know – the Purists hired them to do that. And now they are here looking to work for us. As much as I don’t like it, I am curious as to why.”

            Declan did not bother speaking the rest of the way to the lodge. As he promised, the six dismounted and several of his men took the mounts to the rarely used stable in the back of the old structure.

            Open entering, they shucked their coats and hung them on pegs next to the main door. A servant was there, waiting with a pile of towels, which everyone took and used to get the worst of the water off their bodies.

            When everyone was sufficiently dry enough, Max led the six strangers and his people deep into the main level of the lodge. He brought them to a huge room, in which numerous chairs, loveseats and chesterfields were carefully arranged around an open fire-pit in the center. The pit was cold and dead, the temperature both outside and in was well above what most would consider being comfortable.

            The former general indicated the various seats with an open palm, inviting the visitors to sit. They did so, and removed their masks and helmets. Max was taken aback at the apparent youthfulness of all the assassins gathered. They were to a person very attractive, the three females having heart-shaped faces, deep blue, green and gold eyes and wore their long hair in pony-tails. All were dark-haired and the shapes of the eyes, despite the coloring, indicated Asian genomes. The men were likewise all dark-haired and youthful appearing, with the same almond-shaped eyes but theirs were all dark brown to black in coloring.

            Not a one wore a smile or even a hint of a smile.

            The group sat impassively, watching and waiting while the leader Marcus declined the invitation and remained standing. He grinned hugely and spoke; “A drink would be in order, don’t you agree?”

            Max felt his temper starting to rise at the audacity of the visitors, but he also knew just how dangerous they were, so he returned the grin. “Of course,” and he nodded to one of the guards, who obediently left the room to fetch the requested drinks.

            “What a lovely home and community you have here,” Marcus commented as he wandered around the large chamber, looking at the trophies and paintings that adorned the walls. He even stopped and admired the massive flat-screen monitor and the entertainment equipment that were nestled into alcoves in the wall beneath it. “You’ve done well for yourselves I see.”

            “We get by,” Max replied in a carefully neutral tone. “Name your services and the fee you want.”

            Marcus turned, one eyebrow raised and a slight look of annoyance on his youthful face. “Getting to business so soon? We haven’t even had a chance to try your refreshments.”

            “I’m a busy man and as you said, I have a war to plan,” Max shrugged and still managed to keep his tone neutral but pleasant. He really did not like the man or his companions, and wanted nothing more than to kill the six of them and be done with it. Doing so would end up destroying his home and his people, and that was something he did not wish to do.

            Marcus was about to reply when the guard returned. His hands were filled with nearly a dozen bottles of a dark liquid, which he set about handing out to the assassins and then to Max and the others. The youthful assassin twisted off the top of the bottle and took a long pull, his eyes closed in pleasure as the liquid coursed down his throat. He smacked his lips in appreciation. “Damn good beer, is it one you brew?”

            “No,” Max said. “We import it from Banff. There are several breweries located in the old resort town.”

            “I’ll have to get the name of the brewery, we have excellent beers in Scav Haven, but nothing like this. Thank you.”

            Max bowed his head slightly. “Your fees?”

            “Right,” Marcus said, seeming put off by the talk of business. “We will offer our people as scouts and for reconnaissance, and can strike at the enemy from afar. We can take out officers and the upper echelon command structure.”

            “That’s nothing we can’t do ourselves,” Max stated truthfully.

            Marcus shrugged and lifted his hands in a ‘what can you do gesture’. “True enough, but it will cost you a lot more in lives and material if you do it on your own.”

            The former general scratched at his chin, resisting the urge to stroke his horns. He was able through sheer force of will to keep his tail from swishing side to side. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Tara was not so restrained, and she looked out and out pissed. Max felt anger at the insult as well, for that is what Marcus had meant. It was veiled but it was there – the member of the Whispering Wraiths did not consider Max’s people skilled enough to meet the challenge.

            “And what if I refuse your offer?” Max asked, almost wincing at the reaction from his guards.

            “Then we will instead offer our services to your enemy,” Marcus smiled and shrugged. “They will be willing to pay our prices, and you will end up dying at our hands.”

            One of the guards bristled and his hand went to the pistol at his hip. Max was fast and barely managed to keep the man from drawing. He knew if that had occurred, he would be burying another one of his people.

            There had been too much of that recently.

            “Stand down, Jesse,” Max ordered, staring the guard straight in the eyes, his hand holding the other man’s, preventing him from drawing.

            The guard named Jesse knew better than to argue with his leader and as such he relaxed his posture. “Yes sir.”

            Max withdrew his hand and turned to face the gathered assassins. “Name your fee.”

            “I knew you would see it our way,” Marcus practically sneered. He named the price.

            Tara gasped and even Max frowned. It was a king’s ransom even before the final wars. Fortunately he had more than what was asked for, plenty more. It would hurt, but what choice did he have? The Whispering Wraith were extorting him and it was a slight he would not forget anytime soon.

            And he had a long life still ahead of him. The pup making the demands on behalf of the guild would be moldering bones and Max would still be drawing a breath. One way or another he knew he would be able to recoup the losses he was about to take. “Alright, you and your companions can wait at the gate; it will take some time to gather your fee. We will bring it to you within the hour.”

            “Excellent!” Marcus exclaimed and held out his hand.

            Max looked at the offered hand and felt revolted. He did not want to make contact with the hands of a man who had so much blood on them. Sure, there were plenty of humanoids who died at his hands who deserved it, but there would be ample blood of the innocent as well. It was nothing new though and he took the man’s hand and shook it. Max had to make deals with the devil before and he would do so again.

            Moments later he was showing the six assassins out the door and once they were gone he blew out a pent-up breath. Max was feeling stressed and he wanted to punch the nearest object, which just so happened to be Declan. The former pilot looked at him curiously and Max shook his head from side to side. “Bastards,” he muttered.

            “That’s a shitload of gold,” Declan agreed.

            “It was that or face am attack,” Max told him through half-closed eyes. Max was doing his best to calm his nerves and relax his stance, as he was ready to fight.

            The Tiger-Exotic placed a palm against his cheek and stroked his face. “You did the right thing Max, as you always do. We had to fight one of those bastards in Scav Haven and just one nearly killed us all.”

            “I know how dangerous they are, believe me. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a run in with those killers,” Max took her hand in his and pulled it away, looking pointedly at Declan.

            “You have?” Declan and Tara said in unison.

            “I have,” Max confirmed. “I’ll tell you the story over dinner,” he sighed and twisted on his heels, his long tail nearly knocking Declan over but the other man managed to dodge out of the way.

            “Time to get them their blood money.”


May 24th, 2668 The Resort

            Babs knew all about the alien races which had contacted Earth before mankind rained destruction down upon the cradle of life and civilization. She knew all about the embassies that had been built in various cities across the globe, and several in the outer colonies, including Mars.

            She had never seen an alien.

            Until now.

            The body under the blanket was small, about the size of a teenager, maybe meter and a half at the most in height and it could not have weighed more than forty kilograms when it had been alive. She instantly knew the form under the blanket had to have been one of the Tuatha, as the body held all the classic features. A thick halo of blond-white hair surrounded a fine-boned face with large eyes, a small nose, thin lips and elf-like ears. Babs could tell that the Tuatha woman had been very attractive in life, if and she had to laugh at the thought, alien.

            “What are you doing here?” She asked aloud, but did not expect to get an answer from the corpse. It was obvious that the Tuatha had been dead for a very long time, but unlike the human, she had not suffered such heavy degree of decay. It could be the microbes that helped in the process were incapable of consuming her body? Who knew? Babs was not a scientist and all she could do was speculate.

            “Why were you not in one of the embassies elsewhere?” The AI turned android asked the dead alien. “Surely you could have made it back to the embassy in Vancouver,” Babs pulled the blanket the rest of the way, revealing the body of the Tuatha. She was dressed in a sharp pant-suit, which Babs instantly knew was formed out of the finest Asian silks. The woman was not dressed in the typical manner of one of her kind; instead she was dressed like a human. Curiosity took hold and on a hunch, Babs lifted the Tuatha’s left hand.

            A thick gold wedding band was on the ring finger. It had several diamonds inset and it looked like it would have cost a small fortune. She brought the woman’s hand up closer to her face so she could get a good look at the jewellery. The craftsmanship of the band was breathtaking and Babs felt the urge to remove it and take it with her.

            “What the hell has come over me?” She asked as she removed the band from the corpse’s finger and stared at it as it lay in her palm. “Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad I’ve become a cursed adventurer!”

            As she laughed at her own silly joke, she mused on how true that had been. Going through the Tuatha’s pockets, she found nothing else of interest, although the woman was carrying a small purse. Without thinking about it, she picked it up, opened it and dropped the ring in, then threw the strap over her shoulder.

            Babs spent the next thirty minutes exploring the room and visually cataloguing everything she saw. Maybe she could return, maybe she could bring more androids with her. Better yet, now they had samples, they might be able to produce a series of attack nanites and let them loose on the island. That would destroy the nanites creating the undead and make it possible for organic life to step foot on the resort.

            It would take a lot of work, but maybe they could restore the old hotel and turn it into a base or even a new community.

            Finally she collected enough data and decided it would be a good time to see how the storm was faring. Hopefully it had run its course and she could return to the mainland and meet up with Joey. She hoped the young human managed to find shelter and had not been exposed to the terrible radioactive and acidic rain carried by the chemical-laced clouds. She placed the handbag as well as the briefcase into the canvas bag she found, and then spent more time loading it with other items that she figured would be of interest. It was not long before the bag was weighed down with treasure.

            The route back to the surface proved to be free of the nanite undead. She encountered not a single creature as she left the basement of the hotel. Not a single zombie, bloody skeleton or any other of the creatures had set foot into the stairwell and when she re-emerged into the main entrance hall, it was empty.

            “Bunch of pussies!” She hollered, amused by the strange echoes her artificial voice made in the cavernous hall. If the creatures heard her challenge, they were not offended, or more likely they did not care. “Thanks for making it easy for me to go home!”

            The rain was still coming down, but the wind had died down and the chemical stench of the acid had been replaced by a cleaner, more wholesome odor of pure water. Babs strode over to where water was coming in from a large hole in the roof. Carefully she reached out with one hand and let some of the rain hit her exposed plastic flesh.

            It remained whole.

            Now she did not need to worry about collecting samples, Babs left the ruined hotel and jogged through the waist-high undergrowth until she hit the treeline. There she zig-zagged through the trees, occasionally spotting one of the nanite undead here and there. The android had her weapon ready and it was still filled with EMP rounds, but not once did the creatures attempt to approach her.

            She reached the shore in record time and stood there for a minute, so she could admire the storm. The worst of it had passed, although she could see the maelstrom off to the west, the steel-grey sky occasionally broken by a rainbow hued slash of lighting. The ocean itself was a roiling, angry beast, lashing out against the waves, as if trying to destroy the abomination the resort had become.

            Babs took a minute to make sure everything was secured inside the canvas bag. She hoped the salt-water would not damage or destroy anything she was taking, but it was something that could not be helped. The saltwater would destroy any nanites that decided to come along for a ride.  After a few minutes she secured the heavy bag to her back along with the weapon and then dove headlong into the churning waves.


May 24th, 2668 Near The Resort

            Cursing, Joey frantically looked for shelter. The rain held the chemical stench and he nearly lost control of his bladder when he realized what it held. There was plenty of deadfall around, and he hoped that some of it would end up providing him enough protection against the storm.

            He could barely hear himself think over the crash of thunder and the howling of the wind. Leaves, small bits of debris and dirt clogged the air and pelted him in an un-relenting fury as he searched the treeline for a safe haven.

            The ground was rough and the stones loose under his footing and when he slipped, he went down hard. A sharp pain shot up from his right ankle and seemed to paralyze his entire leg. Even his knee felt like it had been wrenched out of place and when he tried to put his weight on it, he cried out.

            Then the beast was there.

            Joey, who was flat on his ass, stared up at the incredibly huge mutant bear. It had to be four meters tall and was covered with matted fur. It stood there, looking at him curiously. Joey could not help it, he cried out in terror, even as he struggled to get his weapon up.

            Cub I not hurt you. I help.

            The sudden and even more unexpected telepathic contact stayed Joey’s hands. He still had the weapon gripped but he felt paralyzed as he looked into the eyes of the mutant bear. The creature had talons like daggers and they looked not only strong enough to slash steel, but sharp enough to remove his head from his shoulders. Then there was the fact the bear had spoken mind to mind with him.


            No afraid, cub. The bear lumbered closer to him, without breaking eye contact. Meeting animals in the wild was always a dangerous proposition and here Joey was face to face with one of the biggest members of the bear family he had ever seen. “Uh…”

            The lips split apart to reveal long, deadly looking teeth and Joey could swear the bear was attempting a smile. He almost felt his bladder let go right then and there. “Uh…”

            Peace, human cub. If I want to hurt or eat you, already done. I no spend time mind-touch.

            “Uh…” Joey’s vision began to tunnel the flight reflex was so overwhelmingly powerful.

            Close mouth cub, you eat bug.

            That was it, Joey finally broke the paralyzing fear and he brought the weapon up, his finger already curled over the trigger and firing. The rounds exploded from the barrel in a gouts of flame and spent powder, and the mutant bear jerked in surprise, his already large eyes going all that much wider. The bear moved with speed that was beyond comprehension and one paw struck out, taking the gun and wrapping the talons around it. Instead of pulling it, ripping or tearing it from Joey’s hands, he held it steady and away from his body until the magazine was spent.

            See cub? No hurt you, you no hurt I.

            “What do you want?” Joey finally stammered.

            Cover from burning water. The bear telepathically said and then leaned over so that he was sheltering Joey from the radioactive and acidic downpour. The bear positioned its body so the human was out of the wind. Better?

            The urge to run was still almost overpowering and Joey badly wanted to give into it. Yet the bear had not tried to kill him when he brought up the weapon, and now the animal was covering him and protecting him from the downpour. Joey looked up into the eyes that were the size of small plates. They were deep brown and were unsettlingly human-like. There was no denying the intelligence that hid behind the eyes. The mutant bear was probably the deadliest predator in the temperate rain-forest; Joey could see concern and compassion mixed in with the intellect. “Yeah, better. Thanks.”

            Cub welcome. Why you out in burning water?

            For only a second Joey considered lying, but what would be the point? The bear could read his mind and would be able to detect any lie the second Joey considered it. The truth would be the better choice, of that he was certain. “Waiting for a friend,” he waved a vague hand in the direction of the ocean. “And isn’t the acid and radiation hurting you?”

            The bear lifted his head, which was almost as large as Joey’s torso, and looked in the direction indicated. That rock of… dead but alive things. No – fur and meat strong, burning only itch.

            “Yeah we call it the resort, and the dead but alive were made by tiny machines that you can’t see. My friend is collecting samples for study.” Joey tried to keep his words as simple as possible, not knowing if the bear would understand or not.


            “Do you know about the war?”

            What war?

            Joey decided to try another tactic. “Do you know about the big fight that took place a few light and darks ago?”

            Yes. A big fight with lots of fire and tiny hurtful rocks. A fight with meat and meat that looks like meat but isn’t.

            Joey did his best to fill the big bear in, explaining that the meat that looks like meat but wasn’t were in fact his people, the androids. The others were humans and only humans who wanted to destroy all mutants, uplifts and other life that did not match their own. He still felt fear as he conversed with the bear, but it was fading with each passing second.

            War means fight? You and androids fight humans who want kill not humans?

            “That’s the way it is,” Joey confirmed and shrugged.

            Stupid. Fight for food, for mate, to live. Not because different.

            “I couldn’t agree more,” Joey said.

            The time they had spent communicating proved to be useful. The chemical sting to the air was fading as the storm passed, the heavy, contaminated rain giving way to cleaner, fresher down-pouring from the sky.

            Joey stuck his hand out from the protection the bear was providing and let the rain hit his open palm. It was warm, but did not start to burn. He brought the liquid up to his nose and sniffed, smelling only uncontaminated water. “Chemical storm has passed.”

            Burning done, the bear agreed. Water cools, pain no bad.

            “You’re one tough bear,” Joey had to laugh as he walked out from the shelter the bear had provided. “Thank you.”

            The mutant bear lifted one paw and waved it in a very human-like gesture of dismissal. I wait. Want see friend and what took from island of dead but alive things.

            “There won’t be anything to see,” Joey stated as he slowly crept away from the mutant bear. “You can’t see the machines that bring the dead back to life.”

            Then how you get?

            “She will have taken parts from the creatures on the island.”

            The bear considered his words, actually putting a paw under a heavy chin as he looked up into the slate-grey skies above. I not like.

            “Seems to be going around,” Joey said in a dryly sarcastic voice. “What is your name?”

            The bear’s paw dropped and he considered the young man. Old one. The bear stared at him, waiting.

            “I’m Joey.”

            Joey, Old one thought, testing or tasting the name in his mind. No hard to say. He dropped to all fours and lumbered over to the treeline so he could see the roiling ocean. Water mad. What name friend?

            “Babs,” Joey informed the bear. “Yeah, the water does look unpleasant. I certainly would not want to be trying to swim in it.”

            Old one lifted a scarred and scabrous muzzle and sniffed the air. A second later he violently sneezed and shook his head, then rubbed his nose with his paw. Burning stink strong.

            Although Joey was still wary, he was starting to warm up to the mutant bear. The only other creature he had ever encountered who could communicate through telepathy was the little Uplift Otres. This was a novel experience and he honestly believed that if the bear wanted to hurt him, he would have done so. Why would the creature move to protect him from the rain if he meant to kill and eat him? “So… uh, how long have you been watching me?”

            Long? What mean?

            “Time, about how many minutes were you watching me?”

            What time? I saw you sitting there and watched. That all.

            Great, a bear who had no concept of time. Joey waved a dismissive hand. “Never mind, it’s not important.” A second after he finished speaking a figure emerged from the water. She was covered in seaweed and was carrying a heavy canvas ruck-sack that she did not have when she originally swam to the island. Babs stood up and slowly made her way to the rocky shore, her artificial body buffeted and slammed side to side by the powerful, churning waves. When her head came up, even from the meters separating them, Joey could see her head snap up in shock. She swung the assault rifle around and was in the act of bringing it up when Joey stood before the bear and waved his hands frantically.

            Babs stood in the water, the waves lapping and slapping all around her as she looked, dumfounded. Joey could see her mouth moving but the roar of the waves and the crashing of the surf on the shoreline drowned out all possible communication.

            Meat that is not meat tries throw tiny hurtful rocks at me? Old One asked as he stood next to Joey. Even on all fours, the mutant bear was still taller than the young human. It was more than a little intimidating.

            “No, she won’t shoot, not since I’m standing next to you and I’m not in any danger.”

            It was a struggle, but finally Babs made it to the waters edge. She gingerly stepped over and around the many stones and bits of flotsam littering the shore, keeping the assault rifle held at the ready. “Doc… what the hell is that?”

            He could not help the grin that appeared. “This is Old One. He was kind enough to keep the acid rain off me while I was waiting for you.”

            Babs kept the weapon lowered as she approached. “Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad that is one big-assed Yogi bear!”

            The bear lumbered forward, his nose held high and his eyes never leaving Babs face. She fought the urge to step back as he closed the meters until they were close enough that he could touch her with his nose. She stood there transfixed, as the bear took in a deep breath through its nostrils.

            Babs had to admit to herself the sight of those cavernous nostrils, filled with hair and mucus was probably one of the more disgusting things she had seen. “Are you done yet?” She hissed through clenched teeth. The smell was nearly over-powering to her sensors and she had to lower the sensitivity.

            Old One continued to stare at her and Babs knew that the mutant bear was memorizing her scent, her features, and every aspect of her being. To what purpose she had no idea. After a few more seconds, the mutant bear stood up and crossed his front-legs in a very human-like gesture. He then looked over at Joey, who shrugged.

            “What?” Babs demanded.

            “He wants to talk to you, but can’t, since you’re synthetic. His telepathy only works on organics.” Joey filled in with a helpless shrug. “I guess I’m going to be your translator. He understands English well enough so you can just say what you want to say.”

            Babs tapped her lower lip with one hand and nodded. “I got it.”

            Both the bear and the young human stared at her expectantly. After several seconds Joey rolled his eyes. “You have any questions?”

            “Oh I have tons, but we really need to get back to the Installation. Your people need the samples and I need some repairs.”

            Want see dead but alive parts.

            Joey passed the request on and Babs emphatically shook her head no. “If I open the case, the nanites will escape into the woods. They will infect you and the deadly machines from the island will spread here. We can’t have that.” Babs tried to explain as patiently as she could.

            Nanites? Infection? Old one cocked his head and swivelled his round ears in her direction. He waved at the android with one hand. No get.

            Babs understood the bear. She realized he had no concept of nanotech and probably did not comprehend most machines. It was like speaking to a young child, and she resisted the urge to sound condescending, as it would more than likely insult the mutant bear and start something she did not want to face.

            “Have you ever been sick?” She asked instead, coming up with a way to explain the technology.

            The bear nodded. Many times. Bad meat, bad water, glowing sick. Why?

            “You were sick because of tiny life,” she explained. “You can’t see it with your eyes, but they live everywhere and sometimes they get into your body and try to inhabit it. That is what we call infection.”

            Joey stood off to the side, his arms crossed as well, listening. From the look on his face, he was impressed with the way she was handling the encounter.

            Sick caused by tiny life. Okay. The bear nodded. Else?

            “Nanites are machines so small you can’t really see them, but they are like the tiny life. These get into your body and infect, and then use your body to make more. They kill you and turn your body into a weapon that can be used to spread the infection and make more of their kind,” She patted the sample case.

            Why take?

            Babs knew it was about to get tricky. The mutant bear was an animal, although intelligent. How the creature would react was something she could not begin to guess. She could lie, and there would be no way that the telepathic uplifted bear could tell if she was lying or not and that gave her pause. Babs looked into the gun-metal grey sky and sighed in a very human-like manner. Truth was the best action.

            “Because we are going to use it as a weapon against our enemies.”

            Joey did a classic face-palm and groaned aloud. Babs shot him a withering look and watched the bear for his reaction. What she saw filled her electronic heart with dread. The lips had curled back from the teeth and there was a deep, almost subsonic rumbling coming from the creature’s chest. She could almost feel the ground vibrating beneath her feet the growl was so low.

            “Not good,” Joey exclaimed and began to back away from the bear.

            Old one turned his baleful stare towards the young human he had in effect rescued and the growl became much more audible. You want make more dead but alive? It kill all meat everywhere! The bear dropped to all fours and turned his back on Joey. He was looking straight at Babs, murderous intent in his so-human eyes.

            “Wait!” Babs put up her hands in a purely defensive measure. “Hear me out!”

            Despite all instinct demanding that the dangerous weapon be destroyed, Old One stopped, although the growling did not abate.

            “We are going to change the nanites so that they will only attack the people we want them to attack. Our people can change them enough so they will not threaten the world by changing all meat into dead but alive,” her words came out in a rush, so fast that even Joey had difficulty following. Would Old One understand?

            The bear stood perfectly still on all fours, staring at the android. After several eternities, it glanced over its shaggy shoulder at the young man. True?

            “Yes,” Joey stated, feeling the cold wash of adrenaline rushing through his body. He was in fight or flight mode and definitely wanted to flee. “We need an advantage to use against our enemy.”

            You no strong to fight?

            “We are strong, but we’re not fighting just for ourselves, but everyone who is not a human like me,” Joey was beginning to feel emboldened so he approached the bear. He emphasized the last part of his sentence by jabbing his chest with his thumb.


            “Our enemy, they call themselves the Purists,” Joey began and outlined the mission of the group to kill anyone who was not a pure human. Which included all uplifts. When he was finished, he spread his hands, exposing his chest and throat to the bear. “I speak the truth; you and all non-humans will die, and if you think I’m lying, kill me. I won’t try and resist.”

            What the hell has come over him? Babs watched in fear-filled wonder. As Joey had been speaking to the bear, she had dropped the canvas ruck-sack and held her assault rifle at the ready. Knowing that the creature would probably be able to shrug off the rounds fired, she selected full auto and was ready to empty the magazine into the bear’s thick hide.

            Old One remained on all fours, studying the young man. After what felt like years, but was in effect only a few minutes, the bear nodded. Believe.

            “Oh thank the creators,” Joey muttered and blew out a breath, feeling the giddy rush of relief replace the adrenaline in his bloodstream.

            You save girl-cub, Old one ordered. Purists no kill.

            “Wait, what?” Joey asked, confused. When he relayed the message to Babs, she looked just as confused.

            “What girl cub are you talking about?” She asked.

            Old One shifted his attention to the android. Girl-cub live in big den. Human care for her. Watch her, keep alive.

            As he had been for the past several minutes, Joey relayed what the Old One said and at first, she was confused.

            Then it hit her.

            Momma Rathbourne and the young girl she had been caring for over the past couple of months, the strange girl-child. “Wait, hold on a minute here, are you telling me the very human-looking girl with Momma Rathbourne is your daughter?”

            Old One cocked his head in a quizzical manner. Daughter? No know mean.

            “Girl cub,” Joey said helpfully.

            Yes, my girl-cub. Mate died during big meat-fight after fire from sky hit ground.

            Joey mulled it over as one hand idly caressed the handgun at his side. “Sounds like when Declan’s fighter crashed.”

            Not knowing what was being communicated, Babs stood there with her arms crossed under her nearly non-existent breasts. “What?”

            Joey explained and Babs shrugged. Maybe, Declan was totally out of it by then, and we had to eject before the fighter crashed or we would have been killed. “Okay we promise to take care of your girl-cub. Don’t you want to see her? She probably wants to meet her daddy.”


            “Father, sire, maker, you know…” Joey said, barely managing to keep the exasperation out of his tone.

            She afraid. No look like.

            He repeated Old One’s words.

            “You never know,” Babs put in after listening. “Maybe she will know deep down, every child needs a parent, a real parent. Momma Rathbourne is good to her and loves her, but she’s not the girl’s real mother. Maybe you should see her.”

            The mutant bear looked from Joey to Babs and then growled in what was clearly frustration. Babs felt her knee actuators go a little weak and feared the creature was about to attack her when it shook its head.

            I go near, humans throw tiny stones that hurt, I die.

            “Not if you’re with one of us,” Joey told him and then did something that Babs would never have had the nerve to do. The young human reached out and put a hand on the bear’s shoulder. Old One stared at the appendage, almost as if he was going to take a bite out of it, and then accepted the gesture for what it was. After all, the bear had protected Joey from the acid rain.


            “Why not?” Joey said, slightly confounded by the mutant’s reaction. “Your baby would like to see her dad.”

            The bear stared at him, neither moving nor speaking through telepathy. It was then that Joey realized something that nearly caused him to laugh out loud… the bear was afraid of meeting his own offspring. “I have a suggestion.”

            Both Old One and Babs watched him intently. After a few seconds of the young man not speaking, Babs threw up her hands in annoyance. “C’mon Doc, don’t keep us in suspense ya maroon!”

            “In eleven sun-rises we will be having a big meeting. There will be people from the human hunters, Exotics, Gaian’s, Mutants and Uplifts like you…” Joey patted the bear on the shoulder. “You can come to that and speak, and we will arrange for you to meet your girl-cub.”

            Old One appeared to be considering the suggestion and then he sat on his haunches. What meet for? No see prey and man’s come to gather.

            “We need allies in our war with the Purists, and since they want to kill anyone who is not human, we are trying to gather all these people together to fight and destroy the Purists. After all, that’s what they want to do to us.

            The mutant bear considered the words. Will think. Will find and tell.

            “It’s all we ask.”

            With that, the mutant bear stood up, turned around and rambled off into the woods.

            After several minutes Babs broke the strained silence. “That was different.”

            Joey wiped the water from his face and flicked his hand, sending the droplets flying. “Yeah, it was. I thought the big fella was going to eat me. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be friendly.”

            “It’s a pretty messed up world, Doc,” Babs laughed, with only a slight edge of near-hysteria in her voice. “Nothing like this ever happened back when Declan and I were in the military.”

            It looked as if Joey was going to ask more, but instead he stared pointedly at the canvas bag. “How many samples did you manage to gather?” He caressed his chin with one hand and stared at the bag. “And what’s in there?”

            She knelt and opened the bag to reveal the sample case, the briefcase as well as the other items she found. Pulling out the sample case, Babs patted the side and named off the various nanite undead she had gathered samples. Babs also told him about all the creatures she had dispatched using the EMP rounds for her weapon, and the discovery she had stumbled upon in the basement of the old hotel.

            “After our people are able to reprogram the nanites, we can brew up a batch to infect the undead. We can cleanse the island of the nanite swarms entirely and make it safe for organics to return to it,” Joey sounded intrigued and excited at the prospect of being able to explore the forbidden island at long last.

            “Once we have won the war, Doc. Don’t forget that.”

            Joey nodded and together, they made their way back to the installation, prize in hand.