“It’s about time you woke up,” (2)syl said, straining over the howl of the wind.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t mind a little more sleep, actually.”
“Well, you’re not going to get it. Look,” she said pointing, with a bit of a smile.
He turned slightly, to get a better view of what it was they were headed for.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed, staring at the shoreline that they were quickly approaching. He carefully stood up, yawned, and stretched. It doesn’t seem as windy. We must have slowed down since we’re close to land.
One of his hands casually found its way into a pocket.
“Ow! What the--?” Phoenix exclaimed as he pulled a round, dark-blue, thumb-sized Zannathan scale out of the jumpsuit pocket.
“Oops! I forgot about that,” she said.
“You put that thing in my pocket while I was sleeping?” he asked as he looked it over. It had a smooth, shiny surface, and yet the edge was razor-sharp in parts. Dangerous thing to just slip in someone’s pocket.
She nodded. “Yes. A little souvenir,” she said with a smile. “I saved one for myself, too,” she said, pulling its twin out of her coat pocket.
“Fun,” he said, in a not-so-fun way.
* * *
“It’s hard to swim with your stupid coat on!” (2)syl shouted as she struggled in the water.
“Well, take it off then.”
“Not a chance.”
“You’re gonna drown yourself.”
“No. It’s not that deep. See, I’m standing now.”
“We—well, whattaya know,” he said as he stood as well. The mud alternately squished and sucked at his boots, making walking almost as difficult as swimming.
Well we’re here. The mainland. Well, not completely here yet, but within walking distance, at least. Let’s see….we survived the Zannathan, Momma Z (just what the glitch happened there anyway? I don’t remember much, but didn’t it get cut in half by an energy beam that came from out of nowhere? I’ll have to ask syl about that later), and the hypercurrent. (Well, the boat broke up at the end, but we were close enough to shore to swim.) Yeah, I’d say Lady Luck is still looking out for me. Now it’s time to hold up my end of the bargain. I’m changing my life. I don’t know right now what that means, but I’m gonna do it before death comes knocking on the door again.
“This is more like it. More sand. Less mud.”
Something shiny, half-buried in the sand caught his attention. He reached down to pick it up. Standing up again, he wiped the sand and dirt off of the clear blue rectangle. The letters “SLOT-R” at the top of the brochure waved slowly in the cool breeze.
Pressure and temperature sensors in the paper-thin piece of plastic detecting the presence of a potential customer activated the screen. Moments later, Phoenix found himself watching a presentation from the Robotics Division of SLOT.
Simply put SLOT-R’s, P-Series is the toughest, most advanced series of security droids…period.
Ah, yes. Good old SLOT droids. Reminds me of my Utopia days.
The brochure sequentially displayed holographic images of four different models of droids along with textual descriptions of each.
The Spotter is the all-seeing eye of the P-series.
The ACCUs loved to have those stupid things flying around. I suppose it would have been effective, if the people who monitored them weren’t brainfried, brainwashed vootches.
When you need versatility in a security droid, Sentinel II is there.
I just love reading cheesy marketing. Where can I get a job where all I do is sit around and write this j’aa? I can’t believe that someone actually get paid for this.
Multiple Sonic Stun™ devices, multiple Kill Lasers™, a grenade launcher all come standard with the Centurion.
Excuse me? Kill Lasers? That’s the lamest glitching excuse for a name I’ve ever heard! The genius that thought up this one should himself be shot with a Kill Laser™. I can see why they got so much business from the Nation of Utopia; this j’aa is exactly the kind of stuff that they’d go for.
HULC-S (Heavy Usage, Large Capacity - Security variant)
Ah, the HULC-S juggernaut. The droid that was so big that you could actually ride in it. A good thing too, because that’s exactly how Lattis and I escaped that one time. Now there’s someone I haven’t thought about for a long time. I wonder whatever happened to him. It’s not every day that you run into someone like that.
…our engineers have perfected the four P-Series models, which are truly a cut above the rest.
Well, maybe they were going to be. The O-series was the last series before SLOT-R mysteriously shut down, many years ago. I wonder if the rumors were true.
Phoenix tossed the brochure behind him.
I guess I’ll never know (or care, for that matter).
This beach was probably beautiful in ancient times.
Waves gently covered, and uncovered the garbage that littered the sand. Most of it was metal turned red and brown by the corrosive effects of the sea. Further up, the pieces of junk were joined by small tufts of grass and sickly looking scrub. Further back a giant wall stood, protecting a city, presumably.
“Do you know where we are?” (2)syl asked.
“No place safe for the two of us, no doubt.”
“You manage to save any food substitute packages?”
“No such luck.”
“That means we're out of water, and we're almost out of food.”
“Isn't it great to be alive though?” he said, smiling.
“Glitch you. I suppose you know where we're going from here?”
Phoenix spotted another piece of clear blue plastic, trapped beneath a hunk of metal.
“Now there’s an assumption.”
He bent down to pick it up. It was another brochure.
“Here, take a look,” he said, handing it to (2)syl, “It's sorta educational, actually.”
Another one. That’s weird. Why would there be two of these just lying around here? Was some SLOT-R sales rep. trying to make a sale here?
He pondered this as (2)syl gazed at the holographic images. She was currently examining the Spotter model.
Wait a minute! Wasn’t SLOT-R’s main factory located somewhere around here?
He opened his mouth to relate this new revelation to (2)syl, but something stopped him.
She’s staring at that thing like she’s a little kid…like she’s never seen anything like that before in her life.
He gazed at her eyes, which were carefully scanning the holographic image of a Spotter.
Those eyes. One brown. One black. It makes no sense. Neither does the blue hair. Yet, it all seems to fit, somehow. It’s kind of like--
As he drew and uncollapsed his sais in one swift motion, he cursed himself for not seeing the approaching Spotter sooner.
Glitch! I hate being right all the time.
Digital Trouble [s079-080]
He grinned at (2)syl as he let the lifeless Spotter slide off of his sais.
“We're in more trouble now,” (2)syl said, “Someone, or something, isn't going to appreciate what you just did.”
I don’t care who or what else would appreciate it, but I was hoping at least you would. You’re welcome, too. But you’re right. We won’t be left alone after this. I know where we are now. I didn’t believe it at the time, but they said that something went wrong in SLOT-R’s factory one day, and all the robots just went berserk. I wonder if the other stories are true too?
Uh oh. Sentinel II’s. Glitch that was fast! They’re here already!
* * *
Sais still in hand, Phoenix looked over the smoking, sparking wreckage of several Sentinel II’s that had fallen victim to his sais. Satisfied with his handiwork, he made his way back to (2)syl.
I’m sure she took care of herself with that sever-whip. Still, I wish we weren’t forced to split up like that.
"Well, that was fun. I'm glad you're not dead."
"Glitch, yeah," (2)syl said, looking off towards the nearby wall surrounding the city. "What is that?"
"This...could be good...or bad." Depending on what’s really true about this city.
"What is it? You know what this city is don't you?"
They say that they just took over the surrounding city, killing its occupants…or worse. This isn’t exactly where I was hoping we would wind up. I don’t really know what to believe.
"Now's not the time for a history lesson."
"Glitch that! This is current events!"
Well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let her in a little bit on the Eiech we might be facing.
"The city's actual name is over a million characters long, but I've always heard it called 001010011010. It's the city of the Slaughter Droids."
Danger In Numbers [s081]
None of the rumors I’ve heard about this city are good, which is why we need to get out of here as fast as possible.
"What we need is some new transportation. Getting wherever we're going will be easier if we can find something to speed us on our way."
Just where are we going? Away from here, at any rate.
He glanced toward the city, looking for possible modes of transportation. But in fact, he already had something in mind.
"Wait, you want to steal something from inside that city, don't you?"
You catch on fast.
“This city is miles long; we can start walking east again, but if we encounter more Sentinels or some of the bigger droids, we'll be forced to fight them with the weapons we have on hand. As much fun as it is to go hand-to-hand with droids and their lasers, I'd like to avoid it as much as possible. Besides, it scratches the finish on my sais."
"And we wouldn't want that,"
"Hey, they're collector's items!" Well, they’re important to me, at least.
"This is glitched up! I'm--"
By this time, (2)syl’s voice had dropped to a low growl. Head lowered, back arched, fists and teeth clenched, she seemed like an animal ready to strike. Phoenix could only stop and stare at the spectacle.
"I'm...tired, Phoenix," she breathed finally, her body relaxing a bit. "Okay, What's your plan?"
"We steal that thing over there," he said simply, pointing at a lumbering HULC-S droid, which stood motionless next to the factory.
"That is a big droid."
"And best of all, it'll take passengers--two in fact."
* * *
Phoenix swiftly swung up and into the HULC and barked at (2)syl to follow. Not waiting for her, he sat down in the pilot’s seat and glanced over the controls.
This model is a lot different from the HULC-R. Then again, I wasn’t the one who was driving. And Lattis wasn’t even using the controls; he was jacked straight in. Gotta be a fast learner, I guess. Even this armor isn’t going to keep those droids out for long.
Beside him, (2)syl was settling down in the other seat, while he tested several buttons.
"Why aren't we moving?"
"I'm working on it!" Geez! So demanding!
"You mean...you don't know how to...ah, glitch! You can't pilot this thing! And I thought--"
“Glitch it! At least I got it powered up!"
(2)syl made some remark about it being the big red button. Phoenix responded with an expletive. A few more biting remarks were exchanged, but a few moments later, Phoenix was, indeed piloting, and (2)syl was manning the HULC’s weapon systems.
But their exploits had not gone unnoticed. Hundreds of droids were now swarming the lone HULC. The HULC lurched to one side just as (2)syl mowed down a pack of nearby droids with several blasts of energy.
“Not bad!” Phoenix remarked, glancing over at (2)syl.
“Thanks. Just keep your eyes on the road.”
Phoenix scowled and bade the HULC move forward, its large legs effortlessly kicking a few of the smaller droids out of its way.
“Not bad yourself,” (2)syl said.
Phoenix was about to make a remark about keeping her eyes on the droids, when a metallic scraping, clanking noise started coming from the ceiling.
"What the glitch is that?" he asked, not really expecting a response. “Ah, just great, they took out our external optics," Phoenix said, glancing at a now darkened video screen. "We're blind."
"The monitors aren't out,” (2)syl said after a second. “Those are just close-ups. We've got riders. They've jumped onto us."
Without warning, the HULC’s hatch was torn open, revealing a vicious-looking droid now making its way into the cockpit.
Slaughter Of Droids [s082]
The HULC shuddered as gunfire erupted from one side. Then, as quickly as it started, it was over, and through it all, somehow (2)syl had managed to destroy the intruding droid with the HULC’s array of weaponry.
“Glitch! I want to say that was a little on the excessive side, but it worked. I just hope you didn't use up all our ammo,” he said.
"Sorry 'bout that. I flinched."
"Well, if you don't mention the fact that this j'aa bucket is still moving sideways, I won't bring it up again."
Phoenix was almost jolted out of his seat when the HULC suddenly slammed to the side.
That was no laser blast. Something hit us.
A quick glance at a monitor showed droid after droid jumping onto the HULC. Another monitor showed more HULC-S droids in hot pursuit.
"Okay," said (2)syl, "let's kick the arguing out the hatch. There are too many droids. Can you make this thing go any faster?"
"I'll try. Keep firing, okay?"
(2)syl answered by firing off another volley at their mechanical pursuers.
A seemingly retaliatory explosion rocked the HULC again, bashing in part of the cockpit.
"Ah glitch! That hurt us," Phoenix said. "Controls are sluggish now."
Silence from (2)syl.
Oh glitch! Is she hurt!?
"Cosmic glitch! This can't be!" she exclaimed, finally.
"All our weapons are offline! They must've hit something extremely critical with that shot!"
“Glitch it! Well, at least you're not hurt…” he trailed off, realizing that he was talking out loud.
"Don't worry," he managed to say, as the HULC was rocked once again, "I'll keep us moving."
(2)syl said something, but Phoenix was too focused on trying to keep the vehicle moving to respond. Glitch it! They’re getting tangled up in the legs. Not good.
Phoenix glanced at the monitor again. Swarms of droids filled the screen, attacking, climbing on, and getting in the way of the ailing HULC. Earlier, (2)syl’s laser blasts were blowing some of them away, but now, with the HULC’s weapons off-line, there was nothing to stop them. Just too many. Too many to fight. Too many to outrun on foot. I wonder what’s gonna happen next. What does Lady Luck have in store now, I wonder.
Then suddenly it changed. Phoenix wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but he felt something was different. He eyed the scene as a shower of droid bits started erupting off to one side. Even if the weapons were working, that’s too efficient to be syl’s handiwork. Several times, Phoenix thought he saw glints of blades in the center of the commotion, but it was all happening so quickly that he couldn’t be sure. "What's happening? What in the glitch is that?"
Many of the droids turned their attention to the new disturbance, only to be blown to bits moments later. Phoenix immediately took advantage of the new distraction and guided the HULC toward the wall—towards safety, or at least less immediate danger.
"Well, whoever they are, they're helping us, I think," he responded to himself, since (2)syl didn’t. "Regardless, let's not ignore Lady Luck when she's smiling at us. We're getting the glitch out of here."
Haven Hell [s083]
I never thought I’d be so happy to see a Haven.
He looked at the Haven door in front of him, and then over at (2)syl who was softly sobbing.
Guess that goes for the both of us. A day of traveling in this God-forsaken, droid-infested city without another living creature in sight is really getting to me. I need a break.
A few steps inside, Phoenix was visually scanning the room. His weapons were drawn, even though he realized that they were of limited use due to the Haven’s jamming field.
Not a soul in sight. Dirty, though. Very dirty. Abandoned, maybe? I wonder what—
It was not the fact that (2)syl gasped, but the fact that it was a gasp of pleasure that intrigued him enough to glance at her. For a moment, (2)syl’s face wore an expression of sheer ecstasy—eyes half-closed, mouth half-opened, blue eyebrows slightly furrowed.
Before Phoenix had a chance to ponder why, (2)syl’s arms were around his neck, pulling herself into him, burying her head in his chest.
"Don't say anything. Just shut up."
What in the glitch she doing? It’s just a Haven, and not a very good one, at that.
Phoenix, not sure what to say or do, gently half-slipped an arm around her back in a non-committal sort of way. She didn’t seem to mind—either that, or his touch was so light that she didn’t even notice. Silence, for once seemed to be the best option. After a brief moment, (2)syl released, with a sigh.
Phoenix glanced around for something to change the subject with. "Maybe they have some water here,” he said, finally, failing to spot anything of interest. “We need to scrounge whatever we can."
This Haven is quite a bit smaller than the one on the island. It’s a lot less crowded too. In fact, it seems to be abandoned. He quickly glanced down at the bird-shaped scar on his hand. He shuddered inside, briefly, at the memory of Sahris. At least I won’t have to worry about anyone leaving me a note in my own blood here. There was no way that techtrash could have made it out of there alive.
"The Sanctuary there is what we want," he said, pointing down the hallway, past the doors on either side, to the room at the very end, "but it doesn't look like anybody's here. It's just as well. Any intelligent Guardian-8 would've left this glitched city long ago. Not that they're known for abandoning their Havens..."
* * *
Phoenix felt sick to his stomach. The sight before him was a horror that nobody could have expected, and yet, there was more.
The naked bodies of five people—if that’s what they could still be called—were suspended from the ceiling with colored optical cable. Not just suspended, though. The cable wove through their bodies, binding their flesh to each other, mutilating their exteriors, disemboweling their innards, and pulling their various extremities in many inhuman directions, into horrific and obscene poses.
(2)syl groaned. Phoenix stared in silent horror at the mass of decomposing human flesh. Who…who did this?
It was then that he noticed the writing beneath it all in dried blood…
I TOLD YOU, I SIMPLY WANT TO KILL YOU.
Oh, glitch, no! The words echoed in his mind in the voice of the dark-hooded man—the scythe-wielding specter of nightmares, named Sahris. His mind raced back to their encounter with him. He said that then, didn’t he? It can’t be! A coincidence—yeah, that’s it. Nothing but glitching coincidence! This has nothing to do with Sahris. He’s dead.
(2)syl mumbled something about a family, then quickly turned away, groaning again.
There is no such thing as a coincidence, something said inside of him. Then the laughter. Raucous female laughter.
“No,” he whispered, as he wiped his forehead. He lowered his hand, now slick with sweat. As he did, he noticed the now-faded bird-shaped scar. His mind flashed him the two other bloody messages left, presumably, by Sahris.
There is no such thing as a coincidence.
“Leave me alone, glitch it!” he grunted, firmly planting both his sais into the wall.
“We can't stay here. It's dangerous,” he finally said, regaining his composure.
“We have to get them down,” (2)syl said, making eye contact with him for the first time in at least ten minutes, “bury them,” she said, firmly.
“We have to do something. We can't leave them like this. I'm not going to leave them like that. I could use your help, but I'll do it by myself if I have to.”
Phoenix forcefully pulled his sais out of the wall and played with them for what seemed like an eternity. Weighing his decision.
In reality, it’s probably more dangerous out there…It would definitely be easier to protect her here…Or, I could just leave her…
He continued his pondering, complete with more sai twiddling.
“Okay, you're right. They need to be buried. We’ll spend the night here. It’ll be safe…more or less.”
Rest For The Weary [s084]
Ain’t no way he’s taking us here…
Phoenix thrust both of his sais forward into an imaginary Sahris.
I don’t care if you only want to kill me; you’re not doing it tonight!
His pistols were out now, as he confronted multiple imaginary attackers. His mind replayed his encounter with Sahris on the island. This particular Haven had an EMP field that rendered his pistols useless, but in his mind, they were blowing large bloody holes through his attackers. Now Sahris was accompanied by a group of Slaughter Droids. Somehow Aran got thrown into the mix too.
I’ll have to admit, you were pretty quick back there, but you won’t stand a chance this time.
His sais were back out, twirling at blinding speed. Thrust after thrust into the air. His injured body cried out in pain, but he refused to listen.
I won’t let you take her. Not then. Not now. Not ever!
“That was—” (2)syl said, interrupting his concentration, in the middle of a particularly difficult technique. He glanced at (2)syl, who was wearing a brand new skinsuit. One sai slipped out of his hand, making a loud crack as it bounced off the wall. Pain shot across his stomach.
“Glitch…” he started, as he rubbed his now reopened stomach wound.
When did she slip in? And when the glitch did she slip into that?
“I guess I’m not ready for the tricky stuff yet.” And I’m definitely not ready for that.
He stepped past (2)syl to pick up his wayward sai, glancing at her as he passed, nearly tripping at what he saw. She sported a brand-new white skinsuit, with black trim. Her hair was neatly arranged and free from blood and Zannathan goo. Only a few cuts marred her smooth, clean skin.
Holy glitch! What an eyebuzz!
He grabbed the sai, stealing another quick glance at (2)syl. The white skinsuit seemed to have been molded perfectly to fit her body. It sported lines of black ribbing as trim. One line ran swiftly down each of her sleeves. Twin ribbings started at her neck, and gracefully trickled down her body taking brief detours to gently embrace her breasts and caress her hips before continuing to flow down her leg.
The image from back on the boat flashed into his mind. (2)syl stood with water dripping off of her naked body.
“You shouldn't be doing that yet,” (2)syl said firmly, with a note of irritation in her voice.
His heart skipped a beat. She caught me staring at her! Wait…maybe not….
“I'll keep that in mind when the Slaughter Droids bust in here,” he ventured, “You can do all the fighting.”
“Nothing's coming in here. The EMP field, remember? We're safe.”
“That family probably thought the same thing.”
That was a close one. She’s right, though. I shouldn’t be looking at her like that now or ever. That’s what got me into trouble the last time. What someone looks like has nothing to do with how much you can trust them. Look at me—I’m about as untrustworthy as I am good-looking—a lot. Same with Maia, except worse. At least I limited the lying and the conning to everyone else. I shouldn’t have, though. I should have sold her out before she could do it to me. I won’t make that mistake again.
His eyes locked with (2)syl’s for a moment, then slipped away.
* * *
Pulsing red means angry.
Phoenix lay on the floor.
It’s not like it’s my fault that she put on that stupid skinsuit. It’s also not my fault that it happened to be one of those skinsuits that changes color with the emotions of the wearer. It’s not like it’s even the whole suit—just the black ribbing. It’s true, I was looking at her, but it wasn’t my fault that I was the one who happened to notice it. Besides, what’s wrong with a moodsuit? Those things should be standard-issue for women, anyway.
She’s in the Sanctuary right now. Probably the best thing, although, I wouldn’t want to be in that room after what happened earlier.
His mind flicked back to the gruesome, mutilated family that they had found there, complete with a bloody calling card. He shuddered.
Must have taken an hour or two for us to bury them in the back and clean the mess up. I almost threw up several times. And now she’s back in there. Apparently, she’d rather be back there than here with me. That’s fine. We’ve spent every hour of the last two days together on that stupid boat and then fighting off droids…and Zannathans.
He gently touched his stomach wound. (2)syl had been pestering him earlier about trying not to reopen it. He knew from experience that his body healed itself very reliably and very quickly, so he hadn’t really paid much attention to what she said.
We could use some time apart. Not that I really want to be together…ever.
Something jabbed him in the side as he switched positions. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the offending object—the colored cube.
And just what the glitch is this thing? (2)syl said it was a braingram. A message straight into someone’s mind. Jazon gave it to me, so it’s for me, right? Then why won’t it do anything? He tapped his forehead. I’m not getting any messages up here. Maybe it’s broken. Wouldn’t that just figure. Well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Now, let’s see if I can get to sleep before (2)syl gets back.
Hunted Beings [s085]
Two lone humans shuffled slowly through the town, trying to keep to themselves as much as possible, avoiding the robotic chaos that surrounded. The maniacal mechanical beings did unspeakable things to each other and themselves. Even though they were machines, some had human likenesses, which accentuated the horror.
A woman-shaped droid stared at them from across the street. It was clothed in rags with holes that went through cloth and skin, exposing her wires and inner workings. One half of her head was bald, while the other had a buzz cut that was sloppily spray-painted blue.
Suddenly, she lurched toward them. A look of torment crossed her face, mouth open in a silent scream. Phoenix readied his pistols. That proved to be unnecessary, however, as it was intercepted by another female droid. This one had long blonde hair and wore an old evening gown. It seemed to be entirely intact except that it was missing a face.
(2)syl watched on with a horrified look as the second droid attacked the first. With her bare hands, she beat her until she was motionless, and then proceeded to rip off the face and gently place it into her own head. After a few seconds, she turned, cocked her head, and mechanically grinned at Phoenix who responded by blowing her head off.
Yellow means annoyance.
"Would you stop doing that to every droid we run across that even remotely resembles a woman?" (2)syl said, her skinsuit ribbing suddenly yellow.
He holstered his pistols. "Why? Are you afraid that their boyfriends are going to get upset?" he taunted.
"Maybe they won't, but I just might."
"Ah, come on. It's fun! Besides, it takes my mind off of my stomach." Phoenix winced, hand at his abdomen, trying to rub away the dull aching.
"Well, if you'd just be caref--"
"It's the food substitute--I just can't stand it any more. I gotta get me some real food one of these days."
(2)syl rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Stop for a second and let me have a look at that."
"I just want to make sure."
"I'm telling you, it's fine. Worse things have happened to my body, and I'm still here, aren't I?"
(2)syl stopped in her tracks. "I'm not moving until I check it," she said firmly.
Now it was Phoenix's turn to roll his eyes. "Well, I suppose I just can't leave you here," he said with resignation. Phoenix unzipped the top half of his new jumpsuit. He had two more in his backpack along with some food substitute, extra bandages, and an AquaSucker--all of which (including the backpack) were acquired at the Haven.
I'm surprised they had so much--and in good condition too. Havens rely largely on the generosity of donors, and people just aren't all that generous. Neither are droids.
(2)syl reached in and peeled the bandage off partway to examine the wound left by the Zannathan's bite.
"Well, how does it look, Miss Street Doc?"
"Like Eiech...but not any worse than last time I checked. You haven't reopened it, amazingly."
"See, I told you it was fine."
"Hush. What about the one up here?"
One of (2)syl's hands pulled his jumpsuit open wide, while the other slid from his stomach up to his chest, sending a chill up Phoenix's spine. A small bandage covered a minor scrape near his shoulder. He wasn't sure how it got there. The only reason he had put a bandage there in the first place was to keep the blood from soiling his jumpsuit.
(2)syl peered under it for a moment, her head closer now, hair lightly brushing against his chest.
"Let me guess...that one's fine too, right?"
"Yup," she said, backing away while continuing to stare at his bare torso, "It's all...fine." A hint of a smirk crossed her face before she turned quickly away. She started walking again.
"Let's go, Mister Everything's Fine," she interrupted without turning back around.
What was that all about? Was she just…staring at my chest? Is that why she keeps checking my wounds? Some nerve!
Phoenix shook his head and followed (2)syl. As he did, he gazed at the single ribbing on the back of the skinsuit--a trickle of a waterfall starting at her neck, falling straight down her spine until it reached her bottom, where it split into two, hugging the curves of her body, accentuating them. The ribbing momentarily flickered red.
Red meant anger earlier, but she's not angry now. In fact, I thought I caught her smiling a second ago. How does that work? Glitch, what I wouldn't do for a color key for this thing. Glitch, I shouldn't even be looking at her like that. The moment you start noticing women is the moment you stop noticing other things--little things--the most important things.
* * *
I think there's someone following us. Not sure, though. Don't want to get (2)syl all worked up over a false alarm.
* * *
"It's just like the island here," (2)syl whispered, "only with droids instead of humans."
"What do you mean?"
"Man's creations follow in his own footsteps. Like creator, like creation. All this technology was designed to help mankind, but it failed, and now it's back for revenge. It's sad and scary at the same time. Mostly scary though."
"So, I shouldn't be surprised that man's machines have turned out the same as man himself...um, or as uh, herself?"
"Yeah, don't be surprised," (2)syl said, turning away, slightly.
"More and more, I'm becoming used to surprises. Pretty soon, the world could catch fire around me, and I'd just have to yawn and roll over."
"I wish I could say the same." (2)syl took a sip from her AquaSucker before continuing. "I'm always surprised. I can't seem to keep up with everything that's happening. It's surviving, but I'm always playing catch up, struggling to cope with the latest development I'm being thrust into."
"And here I am, caught right along with you," Phoenix said, glancing off to the side. Glitch it, we're definitely being followed.
"Well, it's a real glitch to be you, isn't it?" (2)syl's skinsuit suddenly became yellow.
Glitch, she's annoyed. I didn't mean for it to come out like that. "Hey, it isn't all that bad being me." I'm really starting to like this moodsuit business.
Out of his peripheral vision, Phoenix noticed their stalker moving again. He got a better glance at it this time. It was another human-shaped droid. It carried a displacer pike.
"Listen, about last night," (2)syl started. "I--"
"syl," he interrupted, "about surprises?"
"What is it?" (2)syl asked, as the ribbing of her skinsuit faded to a cool blue.
"Keep moving, but here's another surprise to add to the list," Phoenix said, grabbing (2)syl's arm, "We got a tag along. But more than just that it seems."
The two increased their pace, trying to put more distance between themselves and the droid. Phoenix glanced at a large cracked window across the street. The droid in the reflection was speeding up as well. Glitch.
"Something's different about this one," Phoenix said. "It's definitely a predator. Yeah, we're being hunted."
Phoenix and (2)syl hastily made their way down the street, dodging trash and discarded droid parts strewn about.
Running. Always running. We ran away from the island. Then we ran away from the Zannathan. Then we ran away from the Slaughter Droids. And now we're running again. But what else is new? I've been running my whole life.
Dad and I ran for thirteen years. Then he died. I ran to Nation of Utopia. Then Lattis and I ran away from them. I ran by myself for almost twenty years. Then more running with Maia and now with (2)syl. That's my whole life. Always running. I wonder what it would be like to stay in one place for more than a day or a week or a month. I wonder what it would be like to not run. I wonder what it would be like to lead a normal life. It would probably be boring.
Phoenix initialized his internal map. "Mapping system's a little fuzzy here. It's either some sort of interference or it's still recovering from being exposed to that EMP field in the Haven. Anyway, there might be a street coming up. Can't be completely sure, but it could lead us out of the city. If we're lucky, we'll exit on the northeast perimeter."
Blue means fear.
"And if we're unlucky?" (2)syl asked, her skinsuit ribbing a steady blue.
"It'll turn out to be a dead end, and that j'aa eater back there will end up being impervious to my pistols, my sais and your sever-whip. Actually, that's not us being unlucky; that's us being dead!"
Phoenix, taking long strides with his long legs, found himself having to slow down at times to allow (2)syl to keep pace. You know, I could just let her fall behind. If you and a friend are trying to outrun a droid, you don't have to be faster than the droid--just faster than your friend.
He glanced back at the droid, which was clamoring over the rear assembly of a hovercab. A shower of sparks exploded as the tip of the displacer pike grazed the frame of the cab. What a horrible way to die.
He glanced at (2)syl's face. Her skin looks so soft. Let's face it; I'm not going to leave her. I'm going to protect her. But why? Why am I doing this?
Phoenix checked his map, sections of it flickering on and off in his mind's eye. Glitched map. Work, glitch you! Finally, the map came into focus long enough for Phoenix to make out the street they were on in relation to the rest of the city. Looks like if we hang a right, it'll lead us all the way out of the city.
"This is it," he said, pointing to a small street ahead and to the right. Moments later, they found themselves running down the rather narrow street. The street was bordered on both sides by tall buildings all mashed together with no gaps between them--no intersecting streets--no alleyways.
"We're trapped!" (2)syl exclaimed
"Not yet. This way leads out of this glitch hole. We're going to make it. Trust me."
"You didn't tell me this street had no exits!" (2)syl exclaimed. "Since we're not going to confront the thing back there, we only have one direction we can run! What, no Plan B on this one?"
What an obnoxious little…
"We didn't really have time to discuss it, now did we! I'm open to suggestions! Give me a Plan B, C or even Z if you can! Besides, I told you my mapping system is fuzzy. Stop giving me grief!"
Great. Her skinsuit's going red again--and it's definitely anger this time I wonder what it meant earlier when she was smiling at me?
The street seemed to stretch forever forward, and to the two, it seemed to take an eternity to traverse.
Finally, they reached the end of the long, trench-like street.
"Oh, infinite glitch! Techtrash glitch!" Phoenix yelled.
"Rule #2 comes to mind right about now!" (2)syl retorted, "I know your mapping data is glitched, but shouldn't you have noticed this?!"
The street opened up in front of them into a large, walled cul-de-sac.
Glitch! No way out!
"Is this the edge of the city?" (2)syl asked.
"I think so," Phoenix did, mentally sorting through his options. Can't run any further. Nowhere to hide. Don't think we've got the energy to double back and run back the way we came (assuming the droid would just let us slip by). Can't talk to it…or can I? Why not? Just got to be careful about it. "…careful." Phoenix murmured as he tried to think of something to say.
The droid slowed to a stop and hovered at the opening to the cul-de-sac, blocking the only possible escape route. The droid's limbs were thin and rusted, and it's entire hunched-over body was blanketed with large pieces of what appeared to be human skin--at least, that's what the part of it looked like that wasn't covered by a black hooded cloak.
The droid shuddered, due to some sort of mechanical problem.
Phoenix, too, shuddered, his head feeling dizzy and stomach starting to churn.
Nothing good ever comes in a dark hooded cloak. Sahris wore one, and so did….
"Two for me. More for me. All for me," it said suddenly in a high-pitched, obviously synthesized voice.
"Glitch that," said (2)syl.
"None for you, buddy," Phoenix said, one hand pointing a pistol at the droid, the other wiping his nose. "Me for me, and her for her. We don't like to share. I know, I know; I was brought up wrong. Parents, what can you do?"
"One female. One male. My two fleshes," he said, pounding the displacer pike on the ground.
Okay. Well, talking may not work, then.
"Negotiation time's over," Phoenix said, aiming and firing at the droid. The silver beams flew from the guns toward the droid, but were suddenly diverted skyward prior to reaching their target.
"Glitch it all. Shielding. Guess that's not a surprise." Something clicked in Phoenix's mind. "And glitch me if it doesn't have something else too. I'm getting a headache, and my nose feels like it wants to run. As a bonus, my stomach isn't feeling too well either. Either it's broadcasting a disruption field or I'm pregnant."
He glanced at (2)syl. She wasn't smiling. "It probably can't take us both at the same time," she said, "Let's rush this glitch of a g'ekk."
"You up for that?" Phoenix asked, wiping his nose again. Blood covered his hand, making the bird-shaped scar stand out. "Just great." It looks just like that glitched jumpsuit now!
"Yeah, I can do it."
The droid's voice crackled again. "Weak and weaker still. Male is weaker. Female goes ill."
"You know," Phoenix said, "insulting me and threatening her isn't very nice. You're hurting my feelings, and you're scaring her."
"Stop talking to it!" (2)syl shouted as she charged, not waiting for whatever Phoenix was going to do or not do "You can't run its energy core down that way!"
"It's worked before!" Phoenix said, starting to run too. Fine. We'll do things your way. "Watch the tip of that pike!" he shouted, leaping into the air, sais ready to strike. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the glowing plasma wire of (2)syl's sever-whip flicking into action.
Phoenix thrust with his sais. One here… and one here should be enough to…
One of the sais pierced the droids leg, and the other sliced through its cloak. Phoenix landed with a thud.
Well, that didn't work. How could I miss? It must have a special disruption field that makes you miss. Yeah, that's it. See, (2)syl didn't do any better. At least I made contact.
The droid faced (2)syl, it's glowing displacer pike dangerously close to her face, it's glow reflected by her eyes and her soft skin. Phoenix struggled to get up. His vision started to fade.
"Pain and blood. Blood and skin. You will give me these, now."
Glitch it! Can hardly move. Can't let her die. Must stop--
Calamity Carl [s087-089]
The air suddenly ripped apart, with a zip, or at least that's how it sounded to Phoenix, who was still struggling under his own weight. The droid flew apart into two large pieces, each half landing quite a distance from where he and (2)syl were.
What just happened?
A new figure stepped up to the two, as if answering his question. Phoenix glanced up. The newcomer had spikes covering his entire body--the only exception was the crown of even bigger spikes on the top of his head. With a disturbing grin on his face, he was staring at (2)syl, who was still hunched over on the ground, blood on her face.
Who the glitch is that?
"It's only been a little while since we saw each other last, but I just have to know one thing. Did you miss me?"
These two know each other?
(2)syl glanced up. A look came over her face that Phoenix could only interpret as, "ah glitch!" As Phoenix's headache subsided and his stomach began to feel better, he found himself taking some amusement in (2)syl's expression.
Standing up, or even sitting up still seemed to be out of the question. Phoenix shook his head several times. The dizziness continued to linger.
"Well, did you? Please tell me that you missed me, Blue Beauty!"
(2)syl seemed to ignore the question, and instead, crawled over to Phoenix.
"Friend of yours?" Phoenix finally asked. "Even if he's not, it was real nice of him to help us out."
Never trust people who help you out. They usually want something in return.
Leaning on him for support, she took something out of her backpack and brought it to his face. He involuntarily recoiled a bit, but then allowed her to gently wipe his face with the cloth in her hand. Glitch, I'm glad you're not dead, he almost said out loud. The previously white cloth was now stained crimson. Glitch, I didn't realize I was bleeding so much.
"No, he's not a friend. That is a rivot bot. That is Calamity Carl," she said, taking Phoenix's hand, pressing it to the cloth, letting him go, while tended to her own blood-covered face.
A rivot bot! I thought those things were just legends! Then again, I thought the same thing about eoas before a few days ago. They say that rivot bots are really…dangerous…
Phoenix whipped out a pistol.
"Now, that's a little rude!" the rivot bot said. "You're not giving me an answer, Blue, and your mysterious boyfriend is pointing a pistol at me. I may think twice about saving either of you next time!"
"Don't bother with the weapons," said (2)syl, pulling out another cloth. "If his arrogance is any indication, he's invincible to anything smaller than a tac nuke."
"Actually, those too," said Calamity Carl, "but I'm not here to talk about me. No, no, no! Nobody ever wants to hear about Calamity Carl and his life! And I'm not supposed to tell anyway!"
"Glitch off, bot. What do you want?" (2)syl said harshly.
The girl's got guts. I'm not sure I'd do that to a rivot bot.
"Give that back," she demanded.
Calamity Carl was fiddling with something. Her sever-whip. "This is a very dangerous weapon, Blue. Very dangerous indeed! I'm impressed that you should come by one so easily...and so soon."
What is that supposed to mean?
"You like it don't you?" continued Calamity Carl, ignoring (2)syl's outstretched hand. "And I'll wager you're good with it. Yes, I can see it in your eyes. And why...wait, you haven't... Oh, my! Yes, you have! You've spilled blood with it! Tell me. Who was it?"
"It was a Dokk. He tried to rape me, so I took his sever-whip. Then I took his head. Don't glitch with me; you knew that already. Somehow, you knew. Listen, cut the g'ekk j'aa and just tell me what you want."
That's right. (2)syl told me about the Dokk.
"You took his weapon from him?" Calamity Carl laughs, wiping at his eyes. "Oh, this is too perfect; you wouldn't believe how perfect! If only you knew! You killed him and took his weapon! Just like you're supposed to! Cosmically perfect! I know it's your way, your blod (eth), but...you don't even remember... Oh, just too perfect!"
"Interesting friends you have," Phoenix said. They're almost as much trouble as Aran's friends. "Looks like he fell into a scrap pile and came out wearing what stuck to him."
"You're not halfway wrong," Calamity Carl said, glancing at Phoenix. "But you're not the important one here, even if you are a son of The Circle of Silence. She is. She's the one everything rests on. She's the one I'm here for."
The rest of whatever Calamity Carl was saying was lost on Phoenix. What did he just say? How the glitch does he know about The Circle of Silence?
Phoenix shot back some sort of cutting remark.
And what does he mean by son of The Circle of Silence? Sahris said that too. I have nothing to do with them. I guess my parents did, though. But how in glitching Eiech could he possibly know about that? I only just found out about it the other day. Never trust people who know secret things about yourself.
"I've got a new secret for you, Blue."
"After the island detonated, after that wave...was it you? Did you put me on that boat?" (2)syl asked.
Good glitching question. Maybe he's better at coming up with answers than (2)syl is.
"I can't be everywhere, Blue," Calamity Carl says. "I'm not the Devil or God, just the servant. And soon, the only servant! That was the deal."
"This is insane!" Phoenix said. "He's insane! Not even the Nation of Utopia is as bad as this!"
"But enough about me!" Calamity Carl said. "All my other secrets were worth hearing, weren't they? I told you about the blue spark, didn't I? And I was right, wasn't I?"
"And about the wirewitches and the eoas! I was right again, both times! Oh, I'm so good at what I do! I really am!"
Blah, blah, blah.
"And about how much pain you cause others! And will cause! Oh, and how can we forget the island? Poor, poor island. So sad to see The Universally Cosmic Circus of Amazing Wonder go out like that!
Phoenix winced. The Circus. That's where it all started with Maia. Why did he have to bring that up?
"Still, that secret's not quite over with so you can rest assured, you have more people to kill. Many, many more. Poor, poor them!"
This coretrash is soaring!
"Just tell me!" (2)syl yelled, her skinsuit flaring red. "Just tell me your glitched secret and get the glitch away from me!"
Phoenix placed a hand on her shoulder. She seemed to shiver at that. Steady, girl. Let's not get this guy too upset. He seems to be more interested in talking than harming us, so let's just let him talk.
"It's not that easy, Blue. You'll be seeing me again, even after I leave you this time. There's nothing I can do about that. Like I said, I'm the servant, and I have a job to do."
"Just...tell...me...and...leave," (2)syl whispered.
"Blue...here's what you need to do," Calamity Carl says. "When you leave this place, this city, you must travel west. You must travel through the Free States until you reach the barren desert of Black Vale Six and the city of Driftfane's Sin. Once you are there...well, you'll know what to do. That's it. That's the secret. Simple and clear this time."
This time? Does he just go around harassing (2)syl because of this? What if it's true? What if he really does knows things, that she doesn't know about herself. I guess it is possible, if she can't remember anything about her past. Never trust people who know secret things about yourself.
"You must do this, Blue," Calamity Carl said. (2)syl's skinsuit flickered blue momentarily before going back to red.
"She doesn't listen to me," Phoenix said, toying with the idea of drawing a sai. "And we've given each other mouth-to-mouth. What makes you so special?"
"Maybe you should ask that question of yourself," Calamity Carl retorted with a grin. "Oh, I just thought of something! A secret for you! Are you ready?"
Great. That's lovely.
"Leave him alone!" (2)syl protested.
Protective? Of me? Don't worry, girl, I’ve got everything under control.
"A secret? What could you know about me?" Let's get this over with, brainfry, and then you can go back to the "special" Haven--the one with padded walls where you're not allowed to leave.
"Oh, but Carl knows so many things about so many people! About her, about you. About them. The Circle of Silence. They're looking for it, you know. You might want to find it before they do."
Ooookaaay…noted, for what it's worth--probably not much, coming from Calamity Carl. Still, how does he know about them?
"Oh, enough about you!" Calamity Carl said. "You asked me a question, and well, here's your answer: Carl is special because Carl is a rivot bot. You don't see too many of me. Especially now that I'm the last one, you know. That was the deal. Now, Blue, come here. I'll give you your weapon back."
(2)syl extended her arm to receive the sever-whip. "Don't--" Phoenix started. Glitch it! Be careful, syl!
"This skinsuit! It's great! You put the 'Beauty' in 'Blue Beauty!'"
Well, it's hard to disagree with him there.
"And, oh, it changes color! Even hides your back much better than that last thing you were wearing. Cosmic!"
"Give me my sever-whip and leave us. I don't want you around anymore. I don't want to see you again."
"And you probably don't want to be around when she gets that sever-whip back in her hand either."
"That's not up to me," said Calamity Carl, "What the marionettes want makes little difference to the puppeteer. They must dance at his or her whims. We will see each other again after I leave. Besides, you'd miss me if you never saw me again wouldn't you, Blue! C'mon, admit it!"
Suddenly, he grabbed (2)syl, pulling her into him. Phoenix took aim at Carl's head. I don't care if he is a rivot bot. If he tries anything with her, I'm gonna--
"No! It's okay."
"This close, you smell...like female sweat. So clean though; cleaner than any woman I've ever--."
"You're foul to me. Give me my sever-whip," demanded (2)syl.
Calamity Carl touched his fingers to (2)syl's lips, wiping something off.
"Blood. It doesn't suit you, Blue. You're one of the last Pure, you know. You shouldn't be, but you are. Sometimes, things work out like that. Ironic, when you think about it."
Did he just say…Pure? Where have I heard that before? Oh, that's right. Greasy and the mechanics. (2)syl's one of them? Well, that figures. They're all so glitching clueless…Then again, they're all Aran's friends, so what do you expect.
"Give me my sever-whip," (2)syl said firmly. "Right the glitch now!"
"Uh, see her skinsuit, Carl? Shouldn't you take a hint?"
"Oh, you are too much, Blue!" Calamity Carl exclaimed with a laugh.
Fine, just ignore me.
"I love it! I love you! Your spirit! Your skinsuit! Your smell! You're just the best! I'm gonna think about you when I leave, and I'm gonna miss you until I'm allowed to see you again!"
Calamity Carl handed the sever-whip to (2)syl, who immediately activated it.
"You're perfect, Blue!"
"Leave," (2)syl said, glowing plasma wire snaking along the ground, threateningly. "You're through here."
"Oh, and here I thought you might want to know how to get out of this city alive."
(2)syl stopped and stared.
"Yeah, Carl thought that'd get your attention! You really should listen to Carl when he's speaking."
Calamity Carl turned, walked a short distance away, and held up his arms in front of the sloped wall. Impossibly, a doorway started to appear, as if the wall was stretched apart. Strands of black energy filled in the slowly-widening opening.
"How--?" Phoenix started.
"Sorry! Not gonna tell. Whatever you think, it's not magic--well, mostly not magic--but it is the only way the two of you will make it out of this city alive."
"You sure about that? I don't know. This place sorta grows on you. I'm not sure I'd want to actually live here, but I might not mind setting up a small summer home. Something with a basement maybe..."
"Interesting friend you have here, Blue," Calamity Carl said, once again ignoring Phoenix. "He's quite a talker. Quite an eyebuzz too, not that I'm interested. Besides, he's not as much of an eyebuzz as you are."
Well, she's definitely an eyebuzz, at any rate. Glitch it, this isn't the time to be thinking about that!
"Are you finished?" (2)syl asked, "We need to get moving."
"Unfortunately, yes. No more secrets for today."
"Good, we're gone. Let's go, Phoenix."
"I don't trust him." Never trust people who help you out. "That doorway is dangerous."
"Oh! Intelligent and handsome! You pick 'em well, Blue!"
Stop ignoring me, glitch it!
"And he's absolutely right; it's extremely dangerous! Deadly! In fact, no organic material can pass through it! Far better than that clunky pulse shielding everybody uses!"
Clunky!!?? It kept Sahris from killing me, not to mention a few other people!
"How do we get through, Calamity?" (2)syl asked, rolling her eyes.
"Calamity? You never...well...I don't recall...you never called me that before. You called me Carl before, but never Calamity! I-I don't know what to say here. What changed? Well...well, never mind! Carl likes it! And just because you're you, I'll let you call me that anytime you want!"
That's just sweet.
"Blue, you can go through first. You might want to deactivate that weapon of yours though. I can't guarantee what'll happen if you try to go through with it on."
(2)syl started for the door.
"syl, wait!" Stupid girl. What is she thinking? "Maybe you should--"
Without hesitation, (2)syl shoved the sever-whip into the portal--so far that part of her hand went in as well. Then, the energy in the doorway stopped.
It's just a regular old doorway now. How did she know to do that?
"Uh, syl? I think you broke it," Phoenix said.
"You sure did, Blue! Carl was not sure at first, but now Carl is proud of you!" Calamity Carl said.
"How comforting," said (2)syl. "Come on, Phoenix, it's safe now."
Phoenix glanced at Calamity Carl. I still don't trust him…but (2)syl seems to.
"We won't see each other again for awhile," said Calamity Carl. "Not for many, many months. Are you gonna miss me, Blue? Please tell me that you will?"
"No," said (2)syl, flatly. She stepped into the portal and disappeared instantaneously, leaving Phoenix alone with Calamity Carl.
Well, I don't know if she made it or not.
He glared at Calamity Carl.
"What's the matter? You don't trust Carl?"
"No. No I don't."
"You should. Carl saved the both of you from all those pesky droids."
"Yesterday, when the two of you tried to escape inside of another droid. Didn't fool them. Didn't fool them one bit, and that's when Carl stepped in."
Is that true? How could he have known about that?
"Enough talking. You'd better hurry up. She's waiting for you to come. It's your turn to go through, pretty boy. Pretty girl, pretty boy. An eyebuzz couple. Carl is a bit jealous," he said, picking up the displacer pike.
Phoenix glanced at Calamity Carl and then back at the portal. I don't like it, but I'm sure not going to stay and chat with Carl--like I've got a choice about it. Besides, (2)syl trusted him.
"There's no need to be," Phoenix said quickly and stepped into the doorway.
Phoenix found himself suddenly transported to a location beyond the city wall.
I'll be glitched. I wish I could make doors like that.
"Well, Lady Luck got us through that," he said. "We're still alive, and we even have supplies."
"Yeah, we do at that. Maybe you're right. Let's go," said (2)syl.
"You're not one for taking a moment to rest are you?"
"I want to get as far away from this place as fast as possible. Can we do that?"
Glitch, syl. Your friends are worse than Aran's.
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