“Before we get going, how many settlements have you been to, and how have you been traveling between them?”
“Oh, dozens! I tend to wander a lot, but only settled down here recently. A lot easier for people to find me if I’m not walking all over the place, you know? Anyways, what’s this thing?”
He opened the door to the cockpit of some kind of vehicle. It was rectangular yet rounded, the rear equipped with a bulky looking thruster, and two wings extending to the front, each embedded with an upward facing turbine.
“Sheesh, I’d expect them to have some other modes of transport other than foot out here.”
“Oh, well none like that! Most of them are simple things such as hoverbikes or motor vehicles, nothing really looking like that!”
“Well, this here is an old retriever cruiser. Get used to vehicles like it, because they’re all over the city.”
She slipped into the cockpit right next to Scott as he was strapping in. He slowly turned his head to her.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing, you overgrown microwave?”
“Well, I am going to be traveling with you, right?”
“I didn’t say you got to ride up front. Big luggage goes in the rear.”
He pressed a button on the console, the vehicle responding with clunk.
“Go on, it’s all opened up for you.”
She hopped out of the seat, noticing the back of the cruiser had popped open. Peering in the newly opened space, she saw a crawlspace almost completely filled with ammo, spare guns, boxes of metallic looking nets, and restraints.
“You want me to fit back here?”
“Yeah, you’re a bot, it should be no problem. Fold yourself up into a box or something, I can toss you in if you need help.”
“That’s no fair though!”
“What’s no fair is the fact that you aren’t being disassembled for the greater good. Now shut up and get in there.”
“…Could I at least keep it cracked open so I can look out?”
“As long as you don’t lose any of my equipment.”
She hopped into the rear, folding her legs in so she could barely squeeze between all of the equipment. She reached up, grabbing ahold of the trunk, and yanking it down, only to the point where a thick slit of light could still shimmer in. The floor around her began to vibrate. Outside the slit, the view of the ground grew further and further away, revealing a nigh endless dune dotted with countless dead trees.
“Is my stuff all secure back there?”
“Yeah, this isn’t too bad!”
“Good, let’s really get going.”
The cruiser jolted forward, Ferra nearly losing her grip and skidding worryingly close to the outside. She quickly took one of her hands off of the trunk, grabbing tightly onto one of the strapped down boxes of ammo. Confident in her position, she peered out the slit once more. From below, a crackling red flame blazed out from the thruster, leaving a trail of smoke behind. The sands and dunes rolled past her, switching to sand-scattered dry plains in a matter of minutes, and making way to rolling green hills several minutes later. The desert she spent her entire life traversing now seemed much much smaller, she realized. Almost an hour of grasslands and forests and valleys later, the landscape made an abrupt change. After passing over a massive steel wall spanning far out of sight, the once grass-laden lands now seemed to be covered in a mass of concrete and steel, buildings of many sizes, structures, and materials sprawling as far as she could and could not see. Roads, highways, and tracks sprawled throughout, above, and around every cluster of building, trains and automobiles busily moving between. Above all the buildings, a small collection of hovering cars moved to and fro, some landing in residential areas, while others headed out of sight. The further into the city they flew, the taller and more complex buildings became. Soon, the roadside traffic was dominated by several buildings that stretched into the sky, a decently thick layer of flying cars covering the view of the streets below. She cracked open the trunk a little wider, leaning her head outside to get every possible view. The cruiser made its way to a shorter building among the skyscrapers, diving down, into a slowly opening hatch in its roof. It descended into a large, poorly lit concrete room filled with several other similar cruisers. Scott’s cruiser parked snuggly between two of them. The engine to his cruiser turned off as he kicked open the cockpit door, climbing out and walked to the back, throwing open the trunk to a widely-smiling Ferra.
“I didn’t know humans developed like, this much! I never thought I’d see this much steel like at all! Although it would be kinda funny if all of humanity created us and you were just holed up in that desert, you know?”
“The outer settlements are mostly outside of our jurisdiction anyways, now way in hell they’d be able to outdo the cities technologically. I swear, I hope we can just upload everything you need to know to your AI unit or whatever.”
He yanked her out of the trunk, Ferra crashing to the floor.
“Hey, watch it! Still gotta extend my legs!”
“You can take a bit of scratched paint, can’t you?”
“Well yeah… but-”
He slammed the trunk shut.
“Get up and let’s get going, still some business we need to get done. Make sure to stick close to me. I’m probably the only one who won’t turn you into scrap metal at the sight, all right?”
“Sheesh, and I was going to ask if your robo-hostility was just you…”
“Keep your mouth shut no matter what as well.”
He grabbed ahold of her wrists and slapped metal restraints on them.
“Hey what’s the big idea? I thought we had a deal!”
She stared down at the restraint for a moment, before extending out her hands. She quickly dropped them down along with smashing her knee straight into the center of the restraints. With a loud snap, the restraints broke from the center. Scott gawked for a brief moment before reassuming his usual annoyed demeanor.
“Well… Look, it’s all about how it looks all right? Walking around with an unrestrained bot is a surefire way to get caught.”
He took out a small key and unhooked the broken restraints from her wrists, followed by putting her in another pair.
“Ohh… So I’m like your pretend prisoner? You should really explain this beforehand you know.”
“I already explained beforehand your status with me: You work for me now, else you’ll go to the nearest research center as a box of parts. Right?”
“Hmph. As long as I can get connected with somebody who can still help me, right?”
“Yeah yeah, enough stalling, let’s get moving already.”
He put on another set of restraints, and tugged her through a doorway. The two entered to a gray-walled, white tiled room, poorly decorated with only a few fake potted plants and beaten couches lined against the wall. Against the wall in the center of two elevator sat a small receptionist’s desk, manned by a secretary mindlessly typing away at a computer. He glanced up.
“Ahh, Scott. You brought back one back intact this time?”
“Yeah, for once it came along peacefully. The only issue is that her memory unit is corrupted and several of her parts are unregistered. I’m taking her back to my office to have Lucile take her apart so we don’t get fussed at for another improperly registered bot.”
“Hey, wait a minute! I thought-”
Scott jabbed his armored elbow into her chest, knocking her back a few inches.
“She’s been very cooperative, so once it’s all done, I can drop her off at the internment center the moment the work is done.”
“All right then, make sure to get it to me soon then!”
“I’ll have it on your desk tomorrow morning, so don’t be afraid to close up before I’m done. See ya then.”
Dragging Ferra by the restraints, Scott mashed at the elevator button until it finally arrived, yanking her in and mashing another button on the inside. The doors soon closed as the elevator descended into the earth.
“What was all that for? You trying to trick me or something?”
“Of course not, our deal is still on. I just gotta make it convincing so I can make everyone think you’re where you belong.”
“Uh… Won’t they know by me not being there?”
“What, do they not have paperwork where you came from?”
“No actually. Everything is digital in Axios-”
He quickly raised his hand and gave her quick whack.
“When did I say you can say that word again?”
“I thought you believed me!”
“I said you at least have evidence that you aren’t one-hundred percent lying to me. Now still keep your mouth shut.”
The elevator jolted to a stop, the doors sliding open to another dim tiled hallway, this time with quite a few doors lining the hall. He yanked her down, passing a few doors before stopping. He opened another compartment in his armor, pulling out a ring of keys, unlocking the door and shoving it open. Inside was a curiously spacious office. In the corner closest to the door was a well crafted wooden desk with a mess of wires pouring off of it, each wire connected to some computer, telephone, or other gadget on his desk. Beside it was a wastebin overflowing with crumpled paper, and behind was a large glass gun cabinet, displaying a collection of robot-hunting weaponry. On the other side of the room was a large metal table with restraints embedded into it. A strange collection of tools including screwdrivers, an electric saw, wire cutters sat atop of it. To one side was a printer, and on the other a cheap metal desk with nothing but a mug full of pens and pencils and another computer. Behind it were several file cabinets. Leaning back in the desk chair with legs kicked up on the desk sat a girl with neatly arranged short brown hair, wearing a button up dress shirt and dress skirt, along with a pair of glasses in front of her sleeping eyes.
She suddenly jolted awake, falling backwards in her chair and crashing into the file cabinets. She climbed back to her feet with an irritated look on her face, rubbing her head as Scott chuckled. At the sight of Ferra, she threw her head back and let out a sigh.
“Oh God, you want me to disassemble and log all that don’t you…”
Ferra suddenly broke her restraints once more and hurried over to Lucile, hand extended.
“Heya, my name is Ferra Jane. Nice to-”
Scott whacked her on the head once more.
“Quit breaking my equipment! They dock that from my pay you know! Now then, Lucile, how easily can you fabricate a report on her? One of a bot that’s already in an internment center?”
She let out a breath of air, smiling.
“Oh that shouldn’t be too hard, I could really easily copy one of the older papers, change around a bit of the names and parts here and there, I can get it done in ten minutes tops.”
“Good, do it. For builder, mark them down as unknown, and say her retrieval location was from the Radi Desert.”
“All righty, and thank the gods!”
She went quickly opened up the file cabinet behind her, fingering through several of the tabs before pulling out a few sheets of paper, each one covered in several bits of writing and a picture of a rather generic looking android. She turned on the computer, clicking away, until she suddenly paused.
“Wait a second… I don’t know what’s stranger, the fact you’re asking me to commit a federal crime or the fact that you want this robot alive and unaccounted for. Mind filling me in?”
“It’s none of your business-”
“Well, basically, I’m from Axios, and long story short, things have gone totalitarian over there, and I need help to free my people-”
She suddenly turned to Scott holding his fist up.
“Oh yeah uh… I’ll stop saying that…”
“Hold on, Axios? What kind of information did your creator fill you up with.”
“Honestly, no clue. Oh yeah that reminds me, also get a general information package ready to upload into her data core. She’s clueless about everything outside of the settlements.”
“Not till you let me in on what you’re up to!”
“Fine, I’m going to use her to make a little bit of extra cash. I can give you a small cut if you want.”
“Huh, figures.” She opens up a drawer to her desk shuffling through a mess of cables. “What AI core does she run on?”
“A Turing 1.0.”
Lucile froze for a moment, before slamming the drawer shut.
“Small problem with that… That’s some insanely old hardware. They don’t support data mods of any form.”
“You gotta be shitting me… I’m gonna have to teach this bolthead the old fashioned way?”
“You do realize what that means about the Axios-”
“I swear to the gods, don’t say that word again.”
“Well… About what she said, you do realize in order for that to be true, she’d have to be truly convinced she were… in that city… Which would mean zero human interaction, right?”
He tapped at his chin a bit as a grin grew across Ferra’s face.
“Could it be a bug?”
“It’d be one oddly specific bug however. You sure you’re using her for just a bit of extra money?”
“There’s a bit more to it than money. He said he could get me connected with your government to help liberate A-… my city. It’s kinda why I was created you know.”
“Can we cut the crap and get these papers all done? After that, feel free to ask allll the fuking questions you like, all right?”
“Fine fine, sheesh. Give me ten.”
She adjusted her focus to the computer screen and began typing away. Several minutes passed of nonstop typing, glancing at the document, and glancing back at the computer. It wasn’t long until she backed out of the desk. The printer began whirring, printing out the falsified documents. After stapling them together, she held them out to Scott, who quickly swiped them from her hand.
“Now then, I think I deserve to know what exactly you got going on.”
“Well, you see, Ferra and I here made a deal: We’d go out bounty hunting together in the settlements, between doing my regular retrieval missions, and earn a nice hefty amount of cash on the side. Good enough?”
“And what about me? Just gonna leave me here to rot in here, skimping me out on money as well?”
“Not like you’d be helping earn it anyways.”
“Look, I just committed a federal crime, half out of boredom, and half just to sate my curiosity. If there’s a more entertaining way to pay my tuition, I want in.”
“I already said this is none of your business, and thats all the involvement you’ll have.”
“Well, what if I pointed out that these documents about Ferra here were copied, what are you going to do then?”
“Dammit… Fine then, you fucking win. We’ll split the money 75-15-10, all right? That’s ten percent of the cut to you Lucile.”
“Good enough! Hold on, let me change out of this crap uniform, I have proper gear for this.
She quickly bolted out of the door.
“Hey Scott, who exactly is Lucile?”
“She’s my intern, she dissects and basically gives robotic autopsies to verify parts, and then properly registers them all. The funny thing? She’s working this job just for money. She’s studying with the Arcane Society.”
“A what society now?”
“You at least understand how magic works, right?”
“Yeah, I even killed a demon before you found me. It has something to do with making pacts with demons or pledging to certain Gods, right?”
“That’s how mostly everyone sees it, but not the Arcane Society. Long story short, they take a more scientific approach to magic, believing it’s actually some kinda thing that every human naturally has and can be utilized with proper instruction. Nothing on par with what partnering up with Gods or Demons, but still mildly interesting to be frank.”
Lucile threw the door open, now in a different uniform. She now wore a more typical light blue skirt with a matching long-sleeved shirt with a patch that showed the insignia of a staff in front an open book. Around her waist was a belt with several pouches and a hollister which held onto a long staff with a blue jewel embedded in the top. Lastly, she was wearing a rather large backpack which was partially filled near the bottom.
“I’m all ready to get going?”
“Yeah, let’s all walk out past the secretary together, that ain’t going to be suspicious at all.”
“Oh yeah, uh… how long until he leaves?”
“We got a few hours.”
“Well I think I know a good way to pass the time.”
She walked over to her desk, pulling her chair out to the center of the room, and plopped herself down in it.
“Ferra, what’s your story?”
“First, can I say Axios safely?”
She looked over at Scott, who was rubbing his eyes.
“Finally, it only took one year but something interesting is finally happening in this forsaken office…”
“II was only given a quick rundown before I was flushed out of the city, but here I go. Our leader, Tronus, constructed something called the Axios Overmind, and what it does is that it monitors a large amount of the population at a time, to make sure we don’t think any thoughts of dissent at all. I think the best word to use for what happened to Axios is… Totalitarian. There’s nothing we can really do about the Overmind from inside the city, so that’s where I come in! I want to get help from your government to get an army or something to attack and help free Axios from the oppression of Tronus and the Overmind!”
“That’s very noble and all, but good luck finding anybody who’ll sympathize with your plight.”
She looked to Scott.
“Did they ever tell you why Axios was constructed? Hell, did you even question why we’re shoving androids into internment centers?”
“Well now that you mention it… I’d like to know the answers to both of those.”
“News flash, it was thanks to Tronus and his buddies that ninety percent of the android population up and left to create Axios because they felt as if we weren’t treating all of them right, ungrateful shits. As far as I’m concerned, you’re all getting what you deserved. There, answered both of them.”
“Well if that’s the case, I think I have every right to apologize on behalf of all of the separatists!”
“An apology won’t fix the shit you all caused. Even if you were to somehow get connected with somebody part of the military, we currently have a non aggression pact with the droids.”
“You’re right, an apology won’t fix anything. That’s why I’m going to show you all we’re worth saving. Why else did I become a bounty hunter?”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’ll work out just fine for ya.”
Lucile turned to Scott, smiling.
“Hey don’t be rude. She introduced herself properly, and now it’s your turn.”
“Come on, do I really gotta do it?”
“Well she is your new partner. Loosen up!”
“All right then. I’m just some washed up shit who wants to make more than enough money to live comfortably. There.”
“No need to be a dick about it you know.” She extended her hand out. “Pleased to meet you Ferra!”
Ferra extended her hand and shook it.
“Nice to meet you too! It must be interesting… dissecting robots?”
“Well I can tell you it certainly isn’t fun. Mr trigger happy over there usually brings them back in scrap pieces and I have to figure out what they looked like before.”
“You can do that? Then why are you studying magic?”
“Engineering isn’t as fun as I expected it to be. Magic seems more appealing.”
Ferra let out an audible huff.
Scott walked over to and sat in his desk chair, kicking his boots up onto the desk.
“Lucile, if you can do me a favor, take Ferra on the internet for a while, get her up to speed on the do’s and don’ts of society so she can at least somewhat blend in. I’ll buy her a trenchcoat later or something to hide her. We got about an hour before we can all head out to the outer settlements, all right?”