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Chapter 23

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The second explosion rocked the storeroom as more windows burst inside the room.

Jericho lay on the ground, his chair a twisted wreck of metal. Not moving.

‘You’re our only hope. It’s up to you now.’

<COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP OR WE’RE COMING IN!>

Outside, the metal screech of the flying command tank could be heard powering up. Screams from the restaurant downstairs sounded through the broken windows as Ger shook his head trying to clear the fog. Where’s Isla?

A groan from across the room tore Ger’s focus. There!

Lying underneath a broken shipping container, Ger spotted Isla’s trademark Chucks and legs sticking out. He raced over to her — pulling her out from underneath the broken boxes.

‘Are you okay?’ gasped Ger as he pulled her to her feet. Please be okay.

Wh… Where’s Jer…icho?’ Isla stammered as she looked about.

Ger pointed at the broken chair and huddled body lying on the ground.

‘They killed him,’ Ger whispered. ‘He’s dead… I think.’

Isla gasped.

Stepping slowly to the body, she peeked at the crumpled corpse of the fallen ex-cybernaut.

<THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING. PREPARE TO BE BOARDED>

Outside, the sound of a large mechanical door slamming to the ground echoed through the night. The stomp of metal feet clanging on the ramp rang out.

‘We’ve got company. We’ve gotta go…’ spat Ger as he grabbed Isla by the hand racing her towards the door. ‘We can’t let him find us in here. We gotta get out of here. For them…’

Isla nodded, taking a last look at Jericho, a tear cresting. Faster, faster, faster…. C’mon Isla…

Ger leapt over the debris blocking the rear-service elevator to the storeroom. Glancing down through the wooden shutters blocking the door, he could see that the cage was on the ground floor. There’s no time.

We’re gonna have to jump,’ he screamed to Isla as he shouldered up the wooden safety screen blocking the elevator entrance.

‘Jump?!!!’ yelled Isla as he looked down. ‘That’s like twenty feet or so…’

‘Baby,’ Ger yelled as he leapt out into space, leaving Isla standing behind her. That’ll do it. She’ll jump.

<PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE> thundered the 'bots above them.

Isla crashed into the roof of the elevator, narrowly missing the cable mechanism. Looking up, she rolled just in time as slammed into Ger.

‘Owwww!,’ Ger whined as he rubbed her side. ‘Great landing.’

Upstairs, the sound of mechanical feet crashed through the storeroom.

‘Run,’ Isla. ‘Let’s go…’

Ger shimmied out alongside the service elevator and slid down the side of the cage. A manual lever stuck out from the wall by the steel shuttered door. He grasped it in both hands, pulling it upwards. The metal door rose slowly as he pumped the handle.

‘Isla, let’s go!’ Little hustle, dude.

‘Okay, okay… I’m coming,’ Isla moaned, rubbing her butt. ‘I think I broke my ass.’

The door cranked to its open position allowing Isla to slip out into the street.The alleyway behind the restaurant was empty. Isla flipped down into the street behind him.

‘Run!’ Ger hissed as he grabbed Isla by the arm pulling her off into the night.

 

We are so nuked. We are soooo nuked. What are we gonna do?

Ahead of Ger, Isla ran through the night, terror driving her forward.

‘Isla, wait….slow down… I think we’re okay…’ Ger gasped.

He looked about himself, blind panic having driven them both deeper into the dockland area. Behind them, the large 'bot transporter hovered over the the old Chinese restaurant.

Searchlights played across the face of the building as workers and customers kneeled on the ground being questioned by the robot marauders. Isla slid to a stop, turning to Ger, the whites of her eyes wild.

‘We gotta keep going, Ger! We gotta run.’

Ger gasped, holding his side, ‘I’ve got a stitch — wait, I think we’re okay.’

Isla peered into the distance.  The armed military force small in her sight. Please, Isla. Just let me catch my breath.

Dude, they killed Jericho! They frakkin toasted the entire floor in order to stop him — and us from finding out the truth. That is so frakked up.’

Ger nodded. ‘I know. And, Isla… we gotta talk about this.’

Isla shook her head. ‘No what we have to do is keep moving. Right now. Before they figure out we’re not in that building and expand their search. Okay. Yeah, you’ve got a point. Okay.

Ger nodded. Taking a deep breath, he pushed off after Isla. We are so frakked.

Why would my Dad get me involved in this? How do I know if any of this is true? What is Jericho made this whole thing up? Maybe this is all some kind of trick. I’m so confused…

Isla ignored the coffee cooling in front of her. Ger looked equally lost as the sun rose over the Megacity complex.  Sitting in the all-night cafe, hidden in the back of the room, they both sighed, lost in their own worlds.

<Do you want anything else to drink?>

Isla jerked up to see a battered 'bot server hovering by their table. A small blinking diode blipped on the flat face of the well-used droid.

‘Do you remember who you were?’ she asked.

<Do you want anything else to drink?>

The ‘droid hovered by Ger and Isla waiting for their order.

‘Forget it, Isla. It doesn’t remember anything,’ Ger said, slipping his hand over hers.

Isla snatched back her hand, glaring at Ger. ‘He — or she was a person once. It’s horrible that— it’s horrible.’

<Do you want anything else to drink?>

Ger shook his head at the droid who rolled away from their table moving back behind the counter. That was a person.

‘Shit,’ Ger whispered. ‘Check it out.’

Onscreen, on the muted monitor behind the counter, photographs of both Ger and Isla figured prominently.

Underneath a legend was burned brightly - <AMBER ALERT: KIDNAPPING IN PROGRESS. HOMEWOOD TEEN TAKEN BY RENEGADE. ALERT AUTHORITY FORCES ON SIGHT.>

‘Oh no,’ Isla gasped. This is so f’d up.

They both watched as onscreen their pictures were replaced by the still-burning fire at the restaurant. No mention was made of Jericho’s body or the onslaught by the metal attackers. They’ve covered it all up. ALL OF IT?!

‘What are we gonna do?’ asked Isla.

Ger sighed.

I still think this was the best idea. What other choice did we have. I know Isla’s pissed now — but it will work out. I hope.

Ger flopped down in his coffin bed, exhausted by the events of the night.

After they had seen the news broadcast on DNN and the AMBER ALERT, he had decided to bail on Isla immediately, making sure that she knew they’d meet up later that day. There’s no point in getting arrested. We don’t know how her Dad is gonna spin this.

He flashed back to her standing on the dockside street, the train station just a few meters away.

 

‘What am I going to do at home?’ Isla sulked. ‘There’s no point in going back. I’m not sure what to do… help me, Ger.’

Ger shrugged, determined to help Isla make the right choices.

‘You can’t hang with me, it’s too dangerous,’ he had said. ‘Go home and we can hook up on Level 2. Go back to the Ellison, maybe. Different avatar’s, of course.

Isla sneered at Ger, clearly upset at how little choice she had in all of this. Ger understood. He knew what it was like to have limited choices. Or none.Now, he regretted still the decision he had made. It was the only decision to make. It was a good one. Blowing her off was the right thing to do. It was the only thing I could do to keep her safe.

‘Look, at least you have a place to go to. I’ve got nothing. Go back to Homewood and have dinner, maybe do some rich kid suburban thing. I don’t need you anymore slowing my roll.’ Ouch. Ger flinched as Isla unloaded on him. I set her up for this. Just take it. You deserve it.

‘You know what your problem is, Ger? You think that you’re so hard done by. That you have it much worse than me… I hate living in Homewood, being seventeen — I have no rights and options other than to be a good little girl and do what I’m told. I can do anything I want!’

Isla flipped out her Hieronymus glasses, careful not to activate the machine in fear of being apprehended. ‘I can do anything with this tech. Anything at all…and I don’t need you — or anyone — especially my Dad to tell me what to do — or when to do it. Later.’

Isla stomped off, her shoulders hunched against the rain that had started to fall. Ger sighed in relief — saddened by what he had pushed Isla to do. It was the right decision — even if it did suck.

 

His fingers flew over his Hieronymus comm link knowing that he wouldn’t have long before he was traced to the Nagatomi. Not unless I send them on a little chase first. Having the Administrator protocol meant that he had free-range access across the AI of the advanced machine — and he was maxing out his skills as he quickly set up a relay homing bounce signal listing his GEO location as far to the south in Megacity One — and moving.

Fifty-four seconds. Hopefully that was fast enough to put them off me. It better be. Ger broke open a protein bar and gnawed at the cardboard meal as he continued his examination of the Hieronymus working system. What I need is a link. Some kind of access to the tech we used on the satellite. Something smaller than an HT. People will lose their minds if they see an unescorted HT just wandering the streets. It’s gotta be smaller, faster — easier to hide.On his HUD, a map of caches set about the city were highlighted. Flipping quickly through the locales, he rejected various depots due to security strength, ease of access — or just plain location. Amazingly, the cybernaut program had some HT’s and armed transport carriers available — but not exactly what he was looking for. He tapped into a smaller cache located on the outskirts of the city, shaking his head in wonder at his latest discovery.

Oh, this is perfect.

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