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Chapter 24

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I am so tired of this. I just wish that I could get my old life back and forget that this ever happened.

Isla slumped in the early-morning train as it rocketed to Homewood. Not like I had any real choice. Sigh. Where else could I go, really? At this time of the day, her train was nearly empty with only a few nightshift workers dozing fitfully in the car. I hate Ger…but he was right. If we had been picked up together, who knows what would have happened. How can my Dad behind all of this? It just doesn’t make sense.

 

As Isla raced through the wet streets of Homewood, she shuddered at the thought of Jericho dying. But that’s just it. Did he really die? How can I be sure that all of this isn’t some elaborate trick. I wish I could trust — someone. Even Ger is a jerk. I can’t trust anyone. She unlocked her front door, stepping quietly inside hoping not to wake her Mother. How am I going to explain all this to her? Did she see the Amber Alert? The smell of bacon frying led her directly to the kitchen area where she found her mother cooking at the stove. Really?

‘Honey, welcome back,’ Marta exclaimed as she hugged Isla. ‘I missed you so much when you were gone. Did you have a good time with your Father?’

Isla shook her head, realizing that her Mother had no idea what had happened the night before — and was still under the impression that she had only just now returned from her Off-World visit with her Father.

‘Uh… Hi Mom,’ she smiled. ‘Yeah, I had a good time. Everything was Mag. Really chill —’

She slipped into the kitchen, plucking a piece of fruit from a bowl on the table. Two plates complete with napkins completed the table. Isla cocked her head, noticing the set table.

‘Why are you cooking? You usually let the 'bots do everything.

She looked about uneasily, seeing if she could set where they were or if anyone else was in their house. ‘Do you a guest?’

‘I’d hardly call your Father a guest,’ Marta beamed as she transferred the cooked bacon to a drip tray. She broke two eggs into the cast-iron skillet. ‘You know, I’ve missed cooking. I should do this more often…’

‘Dad’s here?!’ Isla gulped.

She stood quickly, moving to the hallway, glancing down the empty corridor. ‘Where?’

‘Right behind you, honey…,’ her Father announced as he stepped in from the garden door. ‘You’re right, Marta. The garden looks fabulous. You’ve done a great job.’

Marta beamed at her husband’s approval, turning to Isla as she continued to cook. ‘Why don’t you get another plate down and join us, dear. We can have a real family breakfast. Just like we used to.’

Isla stepped back in fear, her eyes never leaving her Father. He smiled at her, cold and calculating as his hard eyes drilled into Isla.

‘Why don’t you turn off the stove, Marta and go upstairs for a little while. I’ll call you and tell you when to come down. Okay?’

Marta pivoted to her husband, complying instantly with his request as she stepped across the kitchen.

‘Of course, dear. Call me when you’re ready.’

Isla watched her mother step out of the room without saying another word. What is going on here?

‘Why don’t we sit down, Isla. It will be better if we can talk quietly. So as not to disturb your Mother.’

Isla took another step back. Okay, this is way creepy. What’s up with Mom?

What did..did.. you do to..to..Mom?’ Isla stammered.

Her father slid into the kitchen chair, his eyes never leaving her.

‘The same thing that I’m going to do to you unless we have a little talk…right now.

Okay, I know I said I don’t like dogs. But this is frakkin’ awesome. Inside the covert bunker, Ger flipped from SCOUT to SCOUT checking out the mobile canine operatives that were shelved here. Each of the animals were miniature HT’s with a canine disguise pack emulating real animals. At a glance, Ger couldn’t be sure they weren’t actually real.

Sitting on his bed in the Nagatomi coffin hotel, Ger used the Hieronymus HUD to access the SCOUT animals, confirming their operational status. All were good to go.

Okay. This can work. I stay at the Nagatomi, use one of the SCOUTS to get about and get up to see Isla or meet up with her somewhere. She  can’t be pissed at me forever — and I’ve paid for this room for a week so no one’s gonna bug me. The bunker had eight distinct powered cages lined up against one wall with a workbench and operations center comprising the bunker set-up. Made of cast iron steel, it had been designed to withstand combat conditions, according to the specs Ger had sussed out from the database.

<SO CLEVER, LITTLE SOLDIER. BUT NOT CLEVER ENOUGH>

Ger felt his heartbeat quicken, his mouth dry as he punched up the controls for the SCOUT nearest him — a replica Jack Russell/ Boston Terrier HT designed for urban infiltration.

‘Who is this?’ Ger asked as he slipped into Level 3 control of the dog.

Instantly, his POV changed from his room at the Nagatomi to the ground level kennel of the robotic dog. He nudged the door open switch with his snout as he looked about the metal room.

<WHAT YOU FORGET OLEG SO QUICKLY?> hammered the metal voice of the cybernaut trainer. <IS TIME FOR YOU TO COME HOME.>

Ger stepped out into the bunker, getting used to the quadruped walking of the SCOUT. Just like the HT only smaller. I can do this.

‘Hey Igor, howzit hanging,’ Ger laughed as he flipped through the SCOUT’s HUD, orienting himself to the operating system.

<OLEG, NOT IGOR. YOU KNOW THAT>

‘My bad,’ said Ger as he looked about the space. He’s not here. Ger flipped back into his physical body in the coffin-room suite. He was just as he left moments ago.

‘Hello? Anyone here?’ Ger asked.

He pulled off his Hieronymus glasses and peered out into the gloomy, vacant corridor.

The hallway was empty.

Ger ported back into his SCOUT mini-HT and padded further into the room.

‘Where are you, buddy?’ he called out, his short neck craning from side to side.

<AM EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE,> Oleg replied as Ger felt the man’s voice resounding inside his brain. How is he doing this?

<HOW DID YOU GET LEVEL 3 ACCESS TO OPERATING SYSTEM? WE NEVER GAVE YOU THAT?>

Ger said nothing as he located the small metal door designed to release the SCOUTS out onto the street above. He moved to the retinal scanner located next to the hi-tech doggie door, allowing the laser to scan his metal face.

<GIVE UP NOW AND YOU WON’T BE HURT. IF YOU DON’T, THERE WILL BE TROUBLE.>

‘Hey, I heard that before. ROBOCOP, right? I used to love that vid’ Ger joked as the small metal door slid open.  He looked out into the tunnel leading up to the street.

The tunnel was empty here too. A long metal straightaway leading above ground.

<YOU ALWAYS A JOKER. PLAYTIME IS OVER. IF YOU NOT COME OUT, I COME GET YOU>

Ger scampered out into the long, dark tunnel, racing upwards towards the city exit. The tachometer and speed control on his SCOUT racing quickly upward as Ger maximized his speed. Whoah, TURBO! I could get used to this. This is AWESOME!

‘You’ll have to catch me first,’  Ger yelled as the SCOUT honed in on the street door. Please open automatically, please open automatically.

The metal door slid open expertly as Ger bore down on it. Knew it!

He burst out into the street, paws pin-wheeling as he hit the tarmac. A giant metal hand reached down, grasping Ger as he tried to escape.

Ger looked up to see a mechanical Axiomm Assault Bear holding his lithe metal form, his paws scrabbling frantically in space. Designed for deep forest infiltration, the combat ‘bot had little purpose on the streets of Megacity One.

<I GOT YOU NOW, LITTLE DOG>

Ger twisted in the paws of the humongous metal attacker, trapped.

I wish Ger was here. He’d know what to do.

Isla slid into the kitchen chair opposite her Father as he plucked the cooling bacon off the sideboard. Munching happily, he offered the meat to her.

‘You want some bacon…?’ her father asked as he devoured the meat.

‘Dad, you’re a vegetarian,’ Isla said as she stared at her father. ‘You don’t eat meat.’

Major Anderson shrugged, popping the first strip into his mouth. His lips smacked in pleasure as he swallowed the salty food.

‘I never understood how vegetarian’s could give up meat. How can you give up things like bacon — or steak — you don’t know what you’re missing.

A cold pit opened up in Isla’s stomach as she watched the man eat a second piece of bacon. You’re not my father. OMG, you’re not my Dad.

‘You figure it out yet?’ Major Anderson asked as he smiled, flecks of the bacon trapped in his teeth and beard.

‘Where’s my real Dad?’ Isla asked as she eyed the man across from him. I have to get out of here. I have to find Ger.

Major Anderson swallowed the second strip and patted his waist. ‘Got to be careful. Can’t overdo it. This body’s prone to getting fat…’

Leaning back, he stretched and cracked his knuckles above his head.

‘You’ve replaced him, haven’t you?’ Isla asked in a quiet voice. Her lips trembled. ‘Did you do the same thing to my Mom? Is she a — replacement?’

Major Anderson laughed and nodded. ‘Soon as I got here. She was so happy to have me back, very happy and I had Marta 2.0 all primed and ready so, I figured I’d take care of some housekeeping while I waited for you and make sure that we had her under control. We figured it would make it a lot easier in case you ended up taking longer than we wanted and I had to go back out searching for you. Did you like the Amber Alert? Clever idea, wasn’t it.’

Isla felt numb, her limbs wrapped in cotton, her eyes wide in fear as she tried to understand what was happening.

‘Where’s my Dad — and my Mom?’ Isla asked.

‘Well, your Mom is in containment. That’s a storage facility for persons that will eventually be ported over to mechanicals — or can be reinstated once they’ve agreed to certain terms or conditions.’

‘Is that where my Dad is too?’ Isla asked. ‘What’s happened to him?’

‘The real Major Anderson? Well, he wouldn’t agree to our terms so he was — reconditioned.  I’ve been riding herd since.’ My Dad’s gone? Dead?!

Major Anderson nodded to Isla, reaching out a hand to placate her. She snatched back her hand quickly.

‘It wasn’t as if we didn’t try. It was thanks to him that we were able to make the breakthroughs that we did with the the tech behind all of this. But once he found out about the 'bots and the harvesting we did to power the positronic brains — well, things went kind of sideways.’

Sideways?

Isla stood, her legs trembling, her face flushing in anger.

‘You’ve killed my father — and taken over my mother — and you’re telling me things went sideways?!’ Isla’s fists bunched in fury as she glared at the man before her. I will never forget what you’ve done. EVER!

Jericho was right. All of this… the positronic brain, the 'bot building… you’re a MONSTER!’

’Things can always be worse, Isla,’ her false father said as he air-typed a command code. ’New neural linguistic links. Perfect for covert ops.’

Isla felt her arms pulled together from behind as impossibly strong metal hands grasped her elbows, pulling her back into a tight embrace. She pivoted away from the attacker, only to find herself facing the reflective glass doors leading out to the patio. Gotta get loose!

In the reflection, Isla could see her mirror twin, identical in face and size, holding her captive. Frakkin Frak. That’s me?!?

‘Isla Anderson, meet Isla Anderson 2.0.’

Good doggie, nice doggie. Give me something to fry this bear’s face. Ger twisted in mid-air, trapped in the massive paws of the old Soviet fighting bear.  He had seen pictures of these behemoths in action and their ferocity was matched only by their brute strength. Slow though. I need to find an option. Ger sped through the operating system menu reviewing in micro-speed on the SCOUT’s HUD.  Already, he could see from the readout, that his internal circuits were overloading as Oleg applied pressure to his body. He’s gonna squish me flat if I don’t find an option.

<NOT SO FUNNY NOW, LITTLE DOG> Oleg bellowed from the robot bear.

Inside the SCOUT, Ger frantically plotted the next step - the only step - he could take. He knew that he couldn’t outfight the lumbering mechanical — but he could outthink.

Got it. Ger smiled as he accessed the retro-rocket terminal for the dog.

‘Fire in the hole,’ Ger screamed as he activated the canine’s chest rocket boosters, firing the jet engines directly into the face of Oleg’s 'bot. The results were — dramatic.

Oleg’s screams of anger resounded through the quiet street Ger had found himself on as he melted the optical circuits of the giant robot. Smoke and flames burst from the optic nerve portals as he blinded the mechanical menace. Back in his lair, Oleg must have been blinded himself with the kajillion of foot-candles put off by the boosters. Oleg dropped Ger to the cement as he pinwheeled about, shaking his head, trying to clear his melted eyes.

Ger landed nimbly at the feet of the giant robot, plotting his exit strategy. If they’re onto me, they gotta be doing worse to Isla. Me sending her home was a stupid mistake. I’m an idiot.

<WHEN I FIND YOU, I WILL CRUSH YOU> bellowed Oleg as two discreet radar cones emerged from the side of the killer machine. The bear swiveled its head towards Ger, pinging him through echo-location sonar as he roared his frustration. Time to go.

Ger shut down the booster rockets on the SCOUT and ran off into the night leaving Oleg lurching behind him. You gotta catch me first.

 

Inside the Nagatomi, Ger pulled off his headset, quick checking his coordinates on his comm link. He’d secured the Scout not far from the depot, using the cover of a nearby Off-World settlement for disguise. Hundreds of unhappy former space pioneers milled about in a shanty-town under the bridge leading to the docks. Cover was plentiful here with a warren of makeshift homes, tents and shipping containers used for temporary and some not so-temporary residences.

‘Wow,’ hissed Ger as he started to gather up his meager belongings.

He flipped open his Messenger bag stuffing his Hieronymus machine, smart glasses plus other small personal items he’d kept from his life with his Mother. His coffin-room monitor flipped to life showing Oleg, clearly still on the moon satellite, his eyes red. Oh-oh.

‘Very clever, Ger. You think fast. You and Isla would have been great assets on our team. Too bad you had to go over to the other side.’Crap. Oleg knows I’m here.

‘Hey, Oleg. Howzit going? Sorry about that whole mixup with the bear. I hope I didn’t hurt it too much?’

Onscreen, Oleg scowled at Ger, his face red with anger, and his jaw grinding hard. This is one dude that does not like loosing.

‘I told Anderson you two were worthless. That we would have been better off getting rid of you than tricking you to follow our plan. You most of all.

‘Well, I’d love to stick around — but I got places to be.’ Ger said as he flipped out of his coffin-room bed, racing down the corridor.

Behind him, the tiny hotel suite exploded in a blaze of fire. Concussive waves of heat, debris and burning walls smashed into Ger.

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