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Chapter 19

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You got to be kidding me?!

Isla was furious. Standing in the brutally cold loading dock, she glared at the fighting 'bot she’d been assigned by Oleg.

Standing in the large warehouse area, Oleg patted a small, dirty yellow loader 'bot known as a Beetle. Squat, with long lifting arms and two pudgy legs, the troll-like machine was dirty, slow and not the lean fighting avatar she had dreamt of all night. She had slipped off to much-needed BRTSHNGSTR sleep imaging her elf warrior as a real robot — hoping that her 'bot the next day was at least a police-style machine like Ger was piloting.

He had already slipped in through his neural link to Lucinda and sat compliantly next to Oleg looking at Isla. If that damn dog smiles at me one more time…

‘Most weapons or tools you will access will be everyday automatics — like the Beetle — or worse. Your job is to make them solid battle 'bot and not be all stinky pants about what you have. Cosmonauts adapt. Adapt, Isla.’

Oleg folded his ham-like arms across his broad chest and pointed out to the warehouse space.

‘Today, you learn to pilot and battle. Ger, you have the advantage with Lucinda so you will take down Isla as quickly as you can. I want no hesitation and zero restraint. You understand?’

‘Da,’ Ger barked as Lucinda through the onboard speaker.

Oleg shook his head and pointed at the Beetle. ‘You Isla get onboard now and start to walk about room. Extend arms and assume battle combat position.’

‘Will it hurt to fight?’ Isla asked. Not that I’m a wuss or anything but I wanna know if this crap 'bot is gonna give me an electric shock or something once Ger takes me down.

Oleg shook his head. ‘No. Is totally painless. In Level 3, you assume the physical identity of the target — but not feel any pain. You are in control — but you can run machines down to the core and you feel nothing.’

‘What about humans? Could you get them to do things they wouldn’t normally do? Or even hurt or kill them by mistake?’

Oleg’s brow narrowed as he glared at Isla. ‘Da. You are pilot so you can make skin suits do anything. You control all of their motor functions and can — break or kill your host body if not careful.’

‘Where does their consciousness go? Their self?’ asked Isla, her own brow knotting as she puzzled out the location of a person’s ‘being’ during all of this.

Oleg shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It just — goes somewhere and then come back when the operator returns control of the body to the original host. I’m just a soldier. Not philosopher.’

Isla’s lips pursed as she looked at the Beetle and activated her mini unit. She too had configured her glasses earlier in the morning to allow herself a more personal Isla touch.

Hovering in her HUD was a direct link to her BRTSHNGSTR character from BERSERKER and all of her battle moves and tactics now lived in the root directory of her Hieronymus machine. Let’s find out if this Beetle knows kung fu. Or wants to learn it at the very least.

She ported into the Beetle, her back instantly cold as she shivered in the new metal shell. The HUD of the lifter droid was designed for simple cargo stacking duties which was easy for Isla to shunt aside as she overlaid her new battle dynamics she had cribbed from her leader board winner. Let’s show Ger a move or two.

With slow, ponderous steps, she piloted the droid out to the middle of the warehouse space and turned around, facing Ger and Oleg.

Bending slowly bent forward she assumed a classic fighting pose, fists raised and her head tucked down into her metal shoulders. I think they’re both going to be surprised.

Oleg wants me to kick Isla’s butt. No way I’m doing that. But if I totally dog it, hahaha, what will happen? I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do. FRAK!

Ger padded on steady metal paws towards Isla opening up a comm link for a private side chat with her as they battled for Oleg.

Their trainer stood impassively behind them, setting up their ongoing fight demands.

‘Today is Day Two. Last day. Here you win your Level 2 Codes or we have to reassess your training. This is 'bot combat training using Level 3 interface. I want Ger to take down Isla with extreme prejudice and no restraint. Ger — you are to exploit every weakness and bring Isla to her knees.’

‘What about me,?’ Isla asked. What do I do?

‘You try and stay upright. Okay? BATTLE ON!’ Oleg thundered.

Ger heart pounded in his chest as he glanced back over to his body sitting comfortably in a chair far removed from the action. Isla sat next to him equally focused on the task at hand. I think. We look like we’re asleep.

<Hey, GNGR,> Ger texted, <This is gonna be fine. We can communicate here and Oleg won’t know. I’m gonna take it easy on you. Okay?>

Isla’s response blazed across Ger’s HUD as he navigated Lucinda into battle position.

To the outside observer, the HUD was a terrifying metal attack dog circling the battered loading 'bot.

The loading 'bot swiveled to track the marauding dog a full 360 on its hydraulic centre.

<BYTE ME. YOU’RE GOING DOWN!> All Caps. Really?!? <We can’t get hurt, let’s party>

Ger leaped into the air at the Beetle 'bot, jaws wide and front paws fully extended.

Razor flechette blades popped out of the front paws aimed directly at Isla’s 'bot’s torso.

Isla batted Ger away with a deft side swipe knocking the HT dog into a pile of nearby shipping containers.

<WTF?!> Ger texted. <How’d you do that?

The yellow 'bot took a step back and leaned all of its weight onto its front leg. Lifting its domed head as high as it could, Isla leaned forward and rotated her wrists simultaneously in a whirlwind display of power, both metal hands spinning blender-like only to slam to a stop at the same time — middle fingers exposed, flipping off Lucinda and, by extension, Ger.

Ger laughed. He couldn’t help himself. Okay. Two can play that game. Anticipating today’s lesson, Ger too had been busy before this initial match and he accessed his own root folder to find his BERSERKER files. He had remapped the biped controls to quadruped knowing that he would be using a four legged animal today — but he still had a few trick ready that he thought Isla might not anticipate.

Just like when they were fighting online. Only this time it was IRL and the avatars were real. As Ger flipped into battle mode, Isla launched herself at the HT machine using the retro rocket attachments afforded all lifter 'bots. The machines often had to work outside or in zero gravity conditions so they were standard operating procedure. One that Isla put to ample use.

She rocked across the space catching Ger’s ride directly in the face with one extended fist, bringing another crushing forearm blow directly across Lucinda’s back knocking the robot to the floor.

‘Focus Ger, you are getting beaten by a little girl,’ Oleg screamed from the sidelines.

Isla’s Beetle snapped a hard look at the trainer as Ger took the opportunity to recover.

Glancing at his HUD, he could see the results of Isla’s attack. He had lost power partially and was experiencing circuit malfunctions across the board. Time to lay the beatdown on.

Pushing up against the metal floor, Ger elevated Lucinda to a full standing position and executed a whirlwind katana pose and assumed a human stance — using the metal dog’s body. Applause sounded from Oleg. ‘Now that’s good. Adapt. Or die..’

Ger’s dog knows kung fu. How cool is that?

Isla initiated her BRTSHNGSTR matrix of commands using her terminal command window and raced towards Ger. Let’s see how you do now, buddy.

Ger raced towards Isla, upright on his two back legs as he pushed up over the heavy beetle at the last second, turning in mid air and grasping the maintenance handles on each of Isla’s machine shoulders. Flipping the loader 'bot over using its own weight and his momentum to bring it down. Ouch. I think?

Isla’s HUB span in dizzying circles as it attempted to reorient itself.

She shut her eyes, feeling nauseous with the sudden whirling effect.

Ger’s text message burned into her vision display.

<Had enough? Look, we can just be cool. Throw a couple punches or something. Do some foot-sweeps. What do you say?>

Isla shook her metal head, seeing her own physical body perform the same basic motor function of the sidelines. Oleg was pacing the seating area, glancing at his comm link unit, checking on the time elapsed.

‘Keep fighting, you two. This is real deal. You must beat each other down to get codes. Only winners get codes. Losers get nyet.’

< NO WAY > Isla texted as she rolled on the floor pushing up with her strong metal arms. She activated the booster rockets on her forearms to help get the Beetle back on his legs and cocked a taunting hand at Ger. Waving him towards herself.

<COME ON!>

The room shook as Ger howled at Isla using the urban pacification siren designed to quickly disperse mobs or striking rioters.  Isla had seen this technique used during the food shortages a number of years back. She juat had no idea how LOUD it was in real life.

Oleg winced on the sidelines, throwing his hands up over his ears.

‘TOO LOUD!’ He bellowed pointing at Ger. ‘Warn us if you use that. You want to deafen us all?’

Isla watched with some satisfaction as she saw Ger slink away from Oleg, his metal tail between his legs and ears lowered. Just like a real dog.

‘This is stupid,’ Ger called out from Lucinda’s onboard speaker. ‘I don’t want to fight Isla. She’s my friend. What is this proving anyway?’

Oleg stormed over to Lucinda and screamed at the metal dog. ‘You think you know what is best?! Stupid boy. I’m trying to teach you to be combat ready. This is best way. You got another way you think is better?’

Isla marveled at Ger’s bravery as he stared down the heavy Russian. Even though the HT outweighed the man by hundreds if not thousands of pounds, Oleg was right up in Ger’s face pushing Lucinda back as if she was a lightweight. This guy is so intense.

‘Whataya think Isla? How much are we really learning fighting each other?’ Ger called out.

Oh, man. Here we go. Isla swiveled the heavy loader 'bot towards Oleg, stomping over to the pair holding up her hands, showing her willingness to negotiate. ‘Let’s talk about this calmly okay. No need to get nasty.’ Oleg glared at Isla’s beetle, waving her away as she lumbered to a halt.

‘No, stupid know-it-all boy is right. You both talking to each other over neural link. Oleg knows.’ Busted. ‘Let’s do this right. Stay in unit. I be right back.’

Oleg stormed off through the warehouse door leaving Ger and Isla alone in the cavernous space.

‘Nice going.’ Isla said.

‘Well, what do you want me to do. I felt stupid trying to attack you. You’re my friend. Pretty cool moves though. Was that BRTSHNGSTR code?’

Isla’s Beetle nodded.

‘What do you think Oleg’s gonna do?’

A loud CRASH sounded from the doorway as a fully loaded KILLDOZER army Bear 'bot clanked into the room. both Isla and Ger looked up — way up to see the face of the attack unit that was the state of the art military combatant.

‘Okay, smart children. New plan. You both fight me. You bring me down, you get codes. You fail. You go home. No chicken dinner.’ Oleg’s voice rumbled from the KILLDOZER.

FRAK!

You know, it’s hard to believe I named my BERSERKER avatar after one of these…

Ger watched in awe as Oleg smashed his robot’s massive titanium fists together.

Standing eight feet tall, the KILLDOZER battle 'bots were one of the biggest fighting machines available — and judging from Oleg’s deft manipulations, he knew how to use it.

<Hey fan boy. Enough drooling. Let’s take him down.> texted Isla as she smartly rolled up the arms and legs of the beetle 'bot. She reversed, spinning backwards at high-speed as Ger snapped to attention.

She’s right. The only way we’re going to take Oleg is if we work together.

‘Hey, Isla,’ Ger screamed from Lucinda’s onboard speaker. ‘You go downstairs, I’ll go up!’

‘Copy that!’ replied Isla as she tore ass towards KILLDOZER aiming to strike the metal behemoth at foot level, knocking him down. Ger lopped towards KILLDOZER at maximum speed, bristling with an electric blue charge across Lucinda’s flanks and shoulders.

He leapt up into the air — only to be caught by Oleg mid-attack.

The giant robot clutched the HT in its over-sized arms and threw Ger away into a neighboring pile of plastic waste removal battles.

Isla fared just as bad.

No sooner had Oleg spun Ger away, he deftly side stepped the marauding Beetle and drop kicked it into Ger, struggling to find his paws in Lucinda’s battered body. They both went down in a heap.

‘Rule number one,’ thundered Oleg. ‘Don’t announce attack strategy in open air. Always keep intel to a minimum. Share nothing. Work out prearranged battle plan ahead of time and switch up as needed. Otherwise, the superior fighter will intercept your attacks and make you pay for it. Like now.’

A rumbling laughter spilled out of KILLDOZER’s speakers like gravel.

Isla popped up her Beetle’s head post and swiveled to Ger.

Lucinda was groggily shaking her metal head.

<Okay. We got this. I’m going to run BRTSHNGSTR AI protocols through the Beetle. Use your BERSERKER fight moves on KILLDOZER and we got this,> texted Isla.

<10-4>, texted Hans. Initiating BERSERKER protocols.

Oleg moved into the centre of the loading dock and waved both of the fighters to him.

‘I promise not to hurt you too bad, little baby cosmonauts,’ sneered Oleg as he dropped his shoulders, angling sideways to present a smaller target mass.

<BERSERKER PROTOCOLS enabled> flashed Ger’s terminal as Lucinda raced out to fight the KILLDOZER machine.

Blue electric energy arched across the torso of the streamlined attacker as Ger rose up on his hind legs and began aiming a series of blows towards Oleg in lighting fury.

‘What this jam needs is some tunes!’ Isla cried up as the Beetle 'bot scrambled to its feet and used its retro-rockets to fire itself at Oleg. Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas blasted out of the tinny onboard speakers on the Beetle.

Ger throw a lightning fast flurry of combination punches and coordinated kicks at Oleg as Isla attacked the large robot’s midsections. Both of them threw devastating power punches to Oleg at the same time blasting the larger army 'bot of its feet and into the side wall.

Shaking its metal head, Oleg nodded to the combatants as they waited for the large robot to regain its footing.

‘Better. You should be beating on me, tiny humans. Why are you not beating on me? Identify the target and take him out. What is the real target?’

He’s right. We’re going about this all wrong. We’re fighting the wrong battle here. I know exactly what I’m got to do.

Ger turned tail, racing out of the warehouse as Isla watched in disbelief.

‘Hey, Ger?! Little help?’ Isla cried.

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