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Chapter 31

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Isla, it’s me, Ger. I think I can help. She held onto the spinning wheel lock of the door, straining to keep the homicidal 'bot at bay on the other side. Sparks shot through the cut being carved by the arc-welder of her clone.

‘Ger, where are you?’ Isla gasped as her hands, slippery from sweat, slid on the twisting door lock mechanism. ‘I can’t hold her much longer. Help me!’

‘Check your right. The console here. I’m inside the system. I ported from the Beetle to the door lock mechanism. How’d you get so good with the Beetle 'bot, anyway? This thing’s tough.’

‘Focus, dude,’ Isla snarled. ‘We kinda got a situation here.’

’10-4, good buddy,’ chirped Ger through the speaker of the computer inset on the door. ‘On my count, boot it away from here, heading across the gantry and turn on your Hieronymus unit so I can port to you. Okay?’

Isla shook her head. This is crazy. ‘She’s gonna get out! This is a stupid idea.’

The dull metallic clang of steel deadbolts sounded as Ger activated the battered door’s mechanism. ‘Not if I lock her in. It buys us time to haul ass. 3-2-1, GO!’

Inside the locked corridor, Isla 2.0 drew back her laser-cutter and smashed it directly through the portal at Isla’s face.  Inch thick safety glass burst about her as she whipped her head away. When you’re right, you’re right. Time to GO!’ She fumbled with the comm link as she raced off along the gangway high above the transport rocket below.  Behind her, the continued struggle of the disembodied tech beat continued, the door now hammered with blows, denting the thick metal hide.

<ONLINE>

Isla slid her glasses down, eyes scanning ahead as Ger popped up in her upper-right vision screen. He looked hollow, an ethereal version of himself, grey ghost in color.

‘Hey, GNGR,’ Ger smiled. ‘Good to see you. Crappy timing, huh?’

She couldn’t help but chuckle under her breath as she raced along the gangway. ‘Where are we going, Ger? How are we gonna get out of here?’

‘Below,’ Ger sounded in her head. ‘We’re gonna take a ride on the transport there.’

Isla skidded to a halt, quickly checking her six for the clone 'bot. Nothing.

‘Who’s gonna fly that thing? You?’ Isla panted, her adrenaline levels having tun the full course. He’s cray-cray.

‘I wish… The auto-nav will get us out okay and back to Earth. All the heavy lifting is done by the onboard. All we have to do is get onboard and strap in.’

‘And you know this how?’ Isla asked, leaning forward trying to catch her breath.

Behind her, the dull roar of the metal assault continued.

‘Just get on the elevator at the end of the hall and travel down to the main floor,’ Ger explained. ‘It’s gonna work.’

 

Inside the elevator, Isla listened as Ger outlined the way that he could now access any of the digital components within the ship once he had access. All Isla had to do was get onboard and he could do the rest. I gotta trust him. I’m sure he’s right. But…

‘What about Anderson? Or whatever he is,’ Isla sighed. ‘He’s not going to let us leave? We can’t leave. Not after everything he’s done. We have to stop him, Ger. Somebody has too.’

‘And we will, ‘ Ger answered. ‘After we get off this rock and get you to safety. I don’t want anything to happen to you like happened to me. Okay.’

Onscreen, Isla could see Ger’s hangdog look, genuine concern etched on his too-thin face. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. Oh, Ger.

Isla nodded. ‘This sucks, Ger. We gotta pay him back. Get him to make you a new body — something?!’

‘One step at a time.’ Ger smiled as he reached out to Isla onscreen. ‘I just don’t want you hurt.’

Isla’s heart ached as the boy she had found herself falling in love with kissed his fingertips and held them up to her. #Melt.

The door slide open. Outside, Major Anderson stood, his blaster in hand, glaring at Isla.

‘You have cost me a great deal of time and money, young lady.’

Isla screamed as Anderson pulled the trigger on his weapon, a bright yellow light washing over her.

If you hurt her, I’ll kill you. I mean it. Nothing will stop me. Ger watched in mute terror as Anderson strapped Isla into the Hieronymus main station, her body limp in the chair.

She was still breathing. Only stunned. She was lucky. Asswipe had the blaster on stun, I guess. Good to know. Anderson completed his work, racing to his console, firing up the transfer protocol. From inside Oleg’s workstation, Ger watched. What am I going to do? I gotta do something.

‘Here is stupid 'bot,’ Oleg grumbled from the doorway as he stomped into the room.

He held the broken head by its spider-legs, the positronic brain portal open. ‘I had to shut it down. It needs a complete wipe.’

‘Pull the brain and salvage what you can. Delete all memory and set it aside for later assimilation. The vats will have another skin cooked and cooled in four-hours. We can do a transport then. They have a facility here? Where? Amaze balls. I can get a body maybe?

‘Dah,’ Oleg nodded as he slammed the robot head onto the table next to his own computer. His thick, gnarled hands deftly connected a data cable to the positronic brain’s port.

’Any trace back on the boy?’ Anderson asked as he continued to type. ‘We can’t have him wandering around in here. If he’s even alive.’

‘SPYDERS are on his trail. Shouldn’t be long. Is no problem.’ Spiders?

Ger gulped as he looked at Isla. He’s gonna jack her consciousness and dump it into a clone. I’m gonna lose her. Think, Ger, think…

<CLONE ONLINE>

Ger watched in mute terror as Oleg initiated the mind wipe of the homicidal clone. I could port to her — it — when he’s done… and then what? Even without a body, Ger could feel his mouth dry and pulse pound as Anderson initiated the uplink between Isla and the Hieronymus machine.

‘Twenty minutes, she’ll be uploaded and we can get rid of this husk.’ Anderson remarked as he turned his attention to another monitor plugged into BERSERKER.

Snap. He knows where they went!

“Did those idiots really think they could port offa here without me knowing?’

Oleg grunted in agreement as he typed commands into his computer.

‘I gotta give ‘em credit though. It’s an ingenious idea using the non-combative players to hide the native intelligence of our harvests. I never would have thought of it.’

Anderson turned to Oleg.

‘That’s why these kids are the future, Oleg. They think outside the box, have their own language — hell, this network alone has ten million active players and that’s just in Megacity One alone. You do the math with the nine other cities and we’re talking one hundred million plus.’

‘At ten thousand credits apiece, that’s a big payday, ‘ Oleg agreed as he finalized his work on his computer. ‘Okay, link is established, brain has been wiped, the brain is good to go.’

Anderson nodded. ‘Okay, take it offline and let’s prep it for this transfer. Might as well.’

Ger gulped. Okay — three choices. Skin jack Oleg, Anderson or Isla’s robot head. Might as well start at the top. Ger typed into his virtual keyboard <ANDERSON, MAJOR> and executed the protocol required to transfer him into the Major’s body. And where he goes after I take over, who knows? An alarm split the air of the laboratory as Anderson jumped to his feet.

‘He’s here. That damn kid is here. He’s trying to jack in.’

Oleg laughed. ‘Fool me once, stupid…’

Ger snapped back from the neural link he had tried to establish with Anderson.

<ACCESS DENIED> flashing in his virtual HUD. Blockers. They’ve got blockers…

‘Locating access portal. Instructing SPYDERS to delete. He’s toast,’ grinned Oleg.

Ger took one last look at Isla, snoring softly in the neural transfer machine and made up his mind. Go big or go home, right?  He ported out of Oleg’s computer, his eyes closed, heart pounding wildly. This better work.

I can’t feel my body.…………….I can’t feel my body. …………………….I’m not breathing. ………………..I’m not breathing.

Inside the Hieronymus mainframe, Isla felt herself being slowly erased from existence.

A cold, metal icepick slid slowly through her head, severing all of her senses.

I can’t………… taste anything. I can’t…………….. see. I can’t……………….. hear…. anything. This machine is…………… deleting me. This machine is……………. eating me. I………. don’t……………… want………. To………….. die. I…………. Want………… my…………… Mom. Ger, where are…………… you? I don’t…………… want to…………. go. Please, please, please…….. I— don’t— want— to— die. Don’t———— let—————— me————————————————— die………………………………………..

 

<UPLOAD COMPLETE>

<REBOOTING>

Ger smiled as he assumed control of the severed robotic head.

He rifled through the OS, checking protocols and how to activate all of the assorted weapons available to him in the advanced 'bot. Okay, this thing is pretty sweet. Time to lay down the pain.

What damn good are these SPYDERS if they can’t even locate one boy?’ Anderson thundered.

He stomped over to Isla, checking the transfer link between the unconscious girl and the Hieronymus machine. Get away from her, you A-Hole. Ger brought the drone head online, activating the laser welder he had seen it use to dismantle the airlock door. Raising up on the thin, metal legs that allowed the machine to move, he fired a blast of green, brilliant light at Anderson. The bolt missed him and struck the Hieronymus machine attached to Isla.

NO! Ger screamed as he dropped down off the work table, sprawling on the floor.

He scrambled to get the control of his legs under him as Oleg kicked him across the room.

His vision swam as his new 'bot head spun in the air before striking Anderson’s terminal.

‘IDIOT!,’ thundered Anderson as he raced back to his computer. ‘It’s him. Inside the head. Get rid of him.’

Oleg was already racing toward Ger who skittered backwards trying to gain better control of the robot. This is always so much easier in games. He stole a glance at Isla strapped to the table. He couldn’t tell if she was still breathing. If I killed her…

‘I crush you with my bare hands,’ roared Oleg as he lifted Ger into the air.

He slashed down with his metal arms, lacerating Oleg’s face. BAM! Oleg dropped Ger onto the floor, falling backwards holding his ruined face. A ruby red blaster beam struck the metal floor next to him as Ger skittered backwards. Above him, Anderson had his blaster pointed at Ger, acrid smoke drifting from the barrel of the fully-charged weapon. Not on stun anymore.

Ger activated the laser welder and burst a pulse of red-hot energy towards Anderson who ducked below his computer workstation. Pushing backwards, Ger staccato-tapped across the floor, racing towards Isla to check on her. If she’s dead, I…

He draw close to Isla, still unable to see if she was breathing. Ger pushed himself up into the air, clambering up over Isla’s prone body as he slammed a mandible into an access port on the Hieronymus machine. As he had feared, the machine the broken. <SYSTEM SHUTDOWN IN THIRTY SECONDS>

Ger’s voice crackled to life from Isla 2.0’s desiccated voice box. ‘Wake—up, Isla…Wake up —.

A blast of red energy smashed into the control panel Ger was leveraged on. Toppling him onto the floor.

‘Don’t shoot —‘ Ger croaked. ‘You’ll hit her. Don’t shoot…’

Anderson poked his head out from underneath his desk. A slick, POS grin on his face.

‘It doesn’t matter if I do, kid. She’s already gone.’

WHAT! NO!

Ger raced up over the control surface, looking at Isla.  Seeing for the first time her slack face, her still chest. She’s not breathing. She’s dead. I killed her. It’s my fault.

‘The only hope she’s got Kid is me,’ Anderson gloated. ‘You do what I say and I’ll bring her back. Without me, you’ve got nothing. She’s gone. She won’t EVER come back.’

Ger could feel tears brimming in the robot head he commanded, his absent heart broken by the horrible truth of Anderson. Unless… He slammed the thin metal leg into the Hieronymus machine’s access portal.

<SYSTEM SHUTDOWN IN TEN SECONDS>

Hey Ho, Let’s Go.

Ger ported into the dying Hieronymus machine.

I’ll never let you go, Isla.

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