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Chapter 29

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I’ve never had a hangover before…but I bet this is exactly what it feels like. Where am I?The world had tilted sideways as Isla struggled to stand. In front of her loomed a large airlock door complete with an ominous operating console next to the imposing metal entrance.How’d I get here? The last thing I remember was that metal bitch slamming my head into the wall. Isla pushed up on a chair next to the desk, her guts wobbling as she stood. Probably got a frakkin’ concussion. Thanks Metal-Me.

Inside the airlock, Isla could hear the robot clone humming under her breath. It sounded familiar. Is that the Stooges? Frakkin’ jerk. That’s my music. Not hers. Isla crept towards the doorway, her steps light and careful as she held her breath in anticipation. What’s she doing?

She peered around the corner of the door, careful not to touch the OPEN AIRLOCK DOOR button clearly marked next to her. Careful. Inside, the Isla 'bot was pulling Ger’s comm unit off him with his sunglasses already clutched in her hands. He won’t be able to get back if he’s not plugged in. I gotta stop her.

Isla 2.0 snapped her head towards Isla, spinning her face 180 degrees backwards. WHOAH!

The real Isla stumbled back at the impossible contortion.

‘First we get rid off stupid boyfriend then we go have nice visit with Father, you and I,’ the 'bot snarled as Isla gasped in horror.

She’s going to dump him in space. That’s inhuman. That’s… typical.’ Isla raced to her clone and drop kicked her metal copy off Ger slamming her into the bulkhead.

‘Ger, wake up,’ Isla screamed, shaking her friend. He’s not able to come back. Had to try though. Isla 2.0 spun her head back into its normal state, cracking her neck as she flexed her hands in anticipation. ‘Father says I am to not damage you too badly and bring you back for assimilation. I’m sure he’ll be fine with you having a broken arm — or two.’

‘You’ve picked the wrong girl!’ Isla snarled as she raced out of the airlock and out into the loading dock area. Directly in front of her was the beetle 'bot she had used earlier. I’m gonna stomp you flat. Diving inside the operator’s cab on the large metal droid, she fired up her Hieronymus unit syncing herself to the machine’s OS. ‘You wanna fight, little girl. Let’s fight.’

Isla 2.0 looked up at the Beetle 'bot as Isla slammed the two shovel-hands together, sparks flying from the rough metal.

<ENGAGING COMBAT PROTOCOL> Isla’s HUD proclaimed as she used the BRTSHNGSTR auto 'bot commands she had designed to beat everyone in BERSERKER.

Isla 2.0 leapt into the air, an impossible jump for a human being, as Beetle 'bot snatched her from the jump and tossed her into the wall,

‘I can do this all day long, girlie!’ yelled Isla as she maneuvered the 'bot into fighting position. ‘How long before your batteries run out anyway?’

Isla 2.0 pulled herself from the metal floor, rebuilding her smashed leg and left arm in a disgusting display of ‘don’t try this at home, kids’ bending and stretching. Isla gagged as she saw a leg snap back into its regular shape and an arm that looked like a compound fracture knit itself back together.

‘I am titanium alloy fighting 'bot designed to repair and continue to battle — even when operating at forty-percent power.’

Isla 2.0 closed her eyes and smiled. ‘I am functioning at ninety-eight percent power.’

Isla stamped towards the clone, itching to fight. Her metal double side-stepped her rampage, smashing the 'bot into the wall next to the airlock.

‘But I don’t need to fight all day to win. All I have to do is this —‘

Isla 2.0 vaulted over to the airlock and pushed the OPEN AIRLOCK DOOR button as sirens sounded and lights flashed. The inner door of the bulkhead slid down separating Isla from Ger on the other side of the steel door.

<DOOR OPENING>

Isla stared in disbelief as the airlock door opened into space with Ger inside.

He blew out the airlock door into space.

<CONNECTION LOST>

Ger stared at Major Anderson as he pointed a blaster directly at him. Onscreen, Ger’s body floated out in space, his rag-doll body already freezing in the sub-zero temperature. WTF?

‘Where you going to go now, Ger. You’ve lost your host. There’s no going back.’ Anderson smiled as he stepped closer to Ger. I’m dead? But I’m not. But my body is dead…’

‘You wanna have a minutes to cry about it?’ sneered Anderson.

‘How..how…did you know that I’m me,’ Ger stammered. ‘And not Oleg?’

Anderson laughed, a brackish, terse staccato. ‘He’d never call me, Boss. Ever. Rank only. He was— is totally old school. I knew it had to be you riding piggyback.’

Anderson glanced at his screen. ‘And looking at the stats, I see he’s in holding just waiting to come back.

Ger gulped at Anderson stepped towards him, pointing the blaster at him. ‘So, why don’t you give him back the driver’s seat — and we’ll see what we can do to — maybe— find you a skin-bag to piggyback on. How’d you feel about being a girl?’

On the monitor directly across from Oleg, Ger watched as his body slipped further and further into deep space. Anderson nodded at him, seeing the blank horror on Oleg’s rough face.

‘Hey, it’s not so bad. You can upgrade any time you want. If you play nice with me, I’ll set you up in some badass jock bod if you want to help us mine kids from school? Wanna be a big man?’

Ger clenched his fists, as he glared at Anderson. No way I’m gonna let anyone get jacked like this. Especially Isla. I can still help her.

‘Or I could smash your murdering face in and call it a day,’ Ger growled as he stamped towards Anderson. ‘How badly do you value Oleg?!’

Ger swung a leaden fist at Anderson’s face, smiling all the time. Let’s find out.

 

Apparently not very much. Ger stood in the empty Containment room. He frakkin’ shot me.

Surrounded by the hi-tech towers that flashed brightly. Learned something there. Take out the host and the driver goes free. He had never intended to do more than incapacitate Anderson, he didn’t have the heart to actually hurt someone really bad for real — But I’m dead. I mean my body’s dead. And I’m here… and I’m not here… and I’m not gonna cry. I need Isla. She’ll figure it out. She’ll be able to help me.

‘Isla, where are you?’ Ger called out.

Just the endless array of tech spread out about him. No Isla. Just him.He flipped down his Hieronymus HUD and typed in Isla’s ID, looking for a hit.

<NOT ONLINE>

Crap. She’s gone IRL. Why? Around Ger, the hard drives started to hum, firing up in a frenzy as one-by-one they started to delete from the digital landscape Ger now called his home. Shit. He’s purging the Containment database. Dropping all of the assets — somewhere. I gotta move. Ger sat on the floor of the Containment cell and called up his recording from Anderson’s office, accessing his password and command dialogues so he could access the secured intel. Even in cyberspace, his fingers flew, tapping out the information as quickly as the playback showed him the way in.

All around Ger, the sound of the whirring machines grinded faster, a discordant tattoo of mechanical deletion and purging as he fought his way into the inner workings of the encrypted database. Let me in, you bastard. I’m not going to let you get away with this. Ger slammed home the final programming string as he executed his commands.The sky-high data towers all about him shimmered to a stop as he accessed the mainframe. I’m In.

‘Welcome to limbo, Ger. What took you so long?’

I’m so sorry. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t fast enough. I failed you. In one metal claw, Isla held her clone, crushing her metal neck with the Beetle’s raw strength. Tears racked her face, a raccoon-wash of mascara blurring her vision. In the monitor, Ger floated in the icy cold vacuum of space. I’m so sorry…

‘Why are you crying, host sister? Father can make another skin-suit for him. He is easily replaced,’ choked Isla 2.o as she wrestled in the grip of the titanium claw.

Her feet scrambling for purchase on the cold metal floor. Isla lifted the 'bot higher still, rage threatening an onslaught of tears.

‘You can’t just replace someone you’ve killed, you monster!’ Isla hissed as she fought to control her breathing.

Through the operator’s window of the Beetle 'bot, Isla 2.0 dangled in front of her. It would be so easy.

‘You— naturals are… so… emotional,’ the 'bot coughed as she fought to open the claw clasped around her throat.  A sick smile, a ghostly parody of Isla’s own pasted on her metal and skin face. ‘Father could grow him a whole new body if he so desired — although why he would bother is beyond me?’

‘What?!’ Isla started. ‘How can he do that?!’

‘Is easy for him. He has an organic farm off-world where one-hundred-percent human clones are grown — but have a positronic brain in place of limited natural meat-bag jelly. It’s the best — and what I will become when you give up this stupid game. Let me down now and I will talk to Father about this. For us…’

Isla shook her head. There was no way I’d trust this metal-me anywhere. She could be lying about this — just to buy time. She increased the pressure in the Beetle’s claw closing tighter on the 'bot’s neck. Isla 2.0’ legs kicked, trying to get leverage off the floor.  Isla lifted her higher. No way, sister.

‘You’re lying,’ Isla snarled as she tried to figure out what to do next. I’ve got to find Ger. He’ll know what to do. Fake Dad used my DNA to make this hideous copy — maybe he can make complete humans and we could maybe jack a copy of Ger into a fully functional replica. Isla turned and looked out to the monitor showing Ger’s lifeless body floating in space. Ice crystals had already formed all over him as he drifted in the vast expanse.

‘Although why you’d go back to a weak organic body is beyond me?, Isla 2.0 said. ‘You won’t believe the power of the android option — never aging, constant upgrades. You can live forever in a robot body with a positronic brain. The natural body is old tech. It doesn’t make sense anymore. We are the new flesh.’

Isla didn’t feel a thing when she snipped off Isla 2.0’s head with the Beetle 'bot’s pincer. Analog is always better than digital. She powered down the Beetle, flipping down her smart glasses and engaged the Hieronymus machine.

<FIND GER>

 

The Containment room was filled with hundreds, thousands of people — all ages, all races, smooshed together in the hi-tech environment. What’s going on? Isla looked about herself, surrounded by the people, overwhelmed with the crush of humanity in the digital holding pen. Were all these people inside these machines? How’d they get out?

‘GER! Are you in here,’ she cried out, pushing her way through the crush of people.

From across the vast expanse, Ger popped up into view, slowly levitating above the crowd.

The look on his face said it all. He already knows what happened.  Isla pushed off gently from the floor, finding herself rising easily over the crowd as she kicked her feet, swimming style to propel herself forward. This would be cool if I wasn’t so sad. She never took her eyes of Ger.

I’m going to fix this.

I will not cry. Not in front of Isla. I’ll do it later. I got all the time in the world now. Ger sniffled, composing himself as he floated over to Isla. Beneath him, the throng of people held in Containment spoke actively. From the corner of his eye, he spotted Jericho manning a workstation - Where had that come from? - coordinating who was there and what they knew. A long line of prisoners stood in front of him filling him in.

‘Dude,…’ Isla sighed.

Tears hung dangerously in her eyes, her face a wash of mascara and Alice Cooper makeup. She looks exhausted.  Ger nodded, slowing his approach, shrugging for effect.

‘It’s all good. It wasn’t your fault… you tried…’

Isla sniffled, her hands reaching out for Ger, enfolding him in her arms. Her breath hot and sweet on his neck. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.

‘Don’t cry,’ Ger sniffed. ‘If you start crying, I’m gonna start — and I don’t wanna cry in front of all these people.’

Ger felt Isla nodding into his shoulder. ‘Okay, okay … I got an idea, I think. It might be BS — but I don’t know. Maybe not.’

‘What do you mean?’ Ger asked.

He pushed back slightly from Isla, not wanting to let go of her. It feels so good like this. 

‘ISLA ANDERSON! Get down from there and stop hugging that boy!!’

Ger glanced down to see Marta, Isla’s Mom glaring up at them. Busted. Beneath them, Marta stood with her hands on her hips, a scowl creasing her pinched face. Isla slipped delicately out of his arms and dropped to the floor. Ger followed after her.

‘When are we getting out of this hideous waiting room, young man?’ Marta snapped at Ger as he landed on the floor of the Containment cell.

Ger shrugged, not sure what to tell Isla’s Mom. We don’t know who or what is driving the host bodies back IRL. If we put someone back, what are we going to get back? Will it come here? Or is it an AI algorithm that going to go back to a base protocol? I don’t know.

Ger glanced at Isla who was blushing in embarrassment. ‘Mom, cut him some slack okay? Ger is the one that got you out of that digital lock-up and he’s the one who’s going to get you home -as-soon-as-possible. Okay?’

Isla looked at Ger, shrugging. Ace save, GNGR. Respect.

Ger cleared his throat. ‘Uh, that’s right, Isla’s Mom… I mean, Mrs. Anderson. I just have to check in with my associate and I will update everyone ASAP. Thank you for your patience.’

Marta sniffed, turning to Isla. ‘Fine. Just don’t take forever, please. I have had more than enough of this place. I want to go home.’ At least you have a home to go to. I have nothing. Ger thought.

Ger pushed away from Marta, threading his way through the crowd to Jericho. He felt a tug on his jacket. ‘Don’t bail on me, dude. When did we get associates?’ Isla asked as she tailed along behind him.

‘Jericho got picked up when he tried to boogie out of that warehouse. They snagged him in transit and he’s been stuck here ever since.’

Isla sighed. ‘That guy. Can we trust him?’

Ger shrugged. ‘He’s all we got. And we’ve got lots of people here that want to go home. It’s going to get ugly — fast.’

Isla glanced about herself, seeing the throng already exhibiting all the signs of being tired of waiting. Creased angry faces, tapping feet, even a few heated arguments all pantomimed around them as Ger pushed forward to Jericho.

‘How’s it going, Jericho?’ Ger called out as he made his way to the front of the line.

Jericho, once again seated in his wheelchair, looked up at Ger and Isla, concern evident in his eyes. He motioned them both close.

‘We’ve got no way to get these people back from here. And the mainframe is going terminal. If we don’t do something fast,’ he whispered, ‘Everyone without a Hieronymus unit is going to be deleted. Gone forever.

Ger gulped.

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