MLM – Chapter 30

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It was night. Lasko, Sharp, and Tunnel were all asleep. Lasko and Tunnel were sleeping on the same cot as usual. PiRA, or at least her previous body, was outside, working on packing all of the salvage tubes, and her various knickknacks into a format that would be easy to transport. The group would be moving out to their new home in the morning.
Ford, the giant dog, was lying on the ground with its eyes closed peacefully. Then suddenly, its ears perked up. After a while, they relaxed, but almost instantly they perked up again, and this time Ford’s eyes opened.
Then the large dog sat up easily, the previous weakness that he displayed was completely gone. After a few alert seconds, Ford got up entirely, and moved to the door of the hut, sniffing at the air.
Then he began to growl.
No one noticed, the three humans still slept peacefully. But the working robot paused, glancing at the dog. Then looking to the horizon, the robot observed it surroundings carefully.
Ford continued to growl, becoming more aggressive.
The robot, suddenly turned, quickly heading into the hut.
“Wake up!” the robot hissed. Stretching out his small arms, the automation shook Lasko, waking him and Tunnel up immediately. Using its long arm, it shook Sharp’s cot, who rose instantly, with an alert, but belligerent expression.
“What’s going on,” Sharp said loudly, but the robot shushed him quickly, putting a finger to her mouth. The robot quickly plopped the visual reader unto Lasko’s head, which he had taken off to go to sleep.
[My radar has detected a number of people converging on this location,] Pira’s voice rang out urgently, as soon as the helmet settled on his head. Lasko drew a sharp intake of breath. [They are a mile out and approaching.]
What? Who?
“What’s wrong?” asked Tunnel.
“There are people coming this way,” Pira said in a low tone. “Do not panic, but I believe that they do not have good intentions.”
“Vance,” Sharp said grimly. He gave Lasko a glare. “They must have found out where we were staying.” His eyes glinted meaningfully.
He had a point. If they had discovered Tunnel and Sharp in their journey, then they would surely have killed them then and there.
[We don’t have time for this,] Pira said to Lasko mentally. [They’re approaching quickly. They have us partially surrounded, and their encirclement is closing fast.]
“We got to go,” Lasko said, getting up off the bed. Sharp was already packing the rest of their food supplies hurriedly into their pack.
“Tunnel, make sure to stick close to us,” Lasko said carefully. He grabbed his utility belt, buckling it on. He grabbed his bag, helping Sharp pack the rest of the supplies. Half a minute later, they skulked out of the hut. The robot automation followed behind him, carrying all of the salvage that the automation could hold. Ford followed beside Lasko, still bristling, but remaining quiet.
Like a wolf. The thought flitted across Lasko’s mind.
[No time for that now. They’re almost within sight!] A mini-map appeared in his vision, showing a lot of red dots, moving towards them.
Where do we go Pira?
[This way!] A glowing line appeared in his vision.
Lasko grabbed Sharp, who was about to head off in a direction, pulling him aggressively. “We have to move this way.”
Surprisingly Sharp didn’t argue, following him instantly. The boy paused only to slap Tunnel’s hands, which were about to pull out the flashlight. “No lights,” he whispered.
They moved quickly, the odd caravan following closely behind Lasko. Although there weren’t any lights, Pira had activated infrared vision, and Lasko had no problem seeing where he was going.
The odd group kept walking quickly, leaving their hut behind in the distance.
Suddenly, Pira ordered Lasko urgently. [Stop! Stay quiet and stay low.]
Lasko immediately crouched close to the ground, staying still. Tunnel and Sharp imitated him instantly. The automaton simply hunched over and froze in place, instantly blending in with the rest of the junk that surrounded them. Ford, surprisingly also halted, the giant dog laying down next to Lasko without any prompting.
They stayed like that, barely breathing. Then Ford’s head turned slightly, tracking something in the darkness.
Lasko carefully looked in the same direction, and nearly lost his balance. A pair of men with lights were making their way carefully through the junk, just ten meters from the group.
Luckily, they weren’t shining the lights around, focused only on their path, otherwise the group could have been easily exposed with just an errant glance.
He looked back towards where they came from. In the distance, he saw a number of similar lights, slowly making their way towards the hut.
There was no time to dwell on it.
[Move now!] Pira’s order got them moving again, this time at a quicker pace.
[Where are we going boss?] Pira asked Lasko.
Panic set in a little bit. Where could they go? Then he remembered that they had a new safe location. They would be safe there, right?
Pira was reading his mind though. [Not going to work, they’ll just chase us down before we can get there. I’m detecting a number of high heat signatures a couple miles east… their transportation. They must have driven here, and then approached on foot not to attract our attention.]
Vehicles? Lasko had an idea. Pira, are there any people keeping guard over their vehicles?
Pira pondered. [My sensors aren’t good enough to get a detailed read this far away, but using a combination of methods, I extrapolate that there are two men in the vicinity.]
Quickly Lasko made a decision. We have to head over there. Show me the way.
The path of light in his vision altered, showing a different path to their new destination.
[Are you sure this is a good move? May I remind you that I am unable to harm any person. And no offense, but these men look like they could grab your neck and do bicep curls.]
I have to agree with you. Those men are frighteningly large.
[Then what? Are you going to sic the dog on them? I know it’s big, but it’s not exactly trained in assassination…]
Clearly Pira hadn’t seen Sharp in action before.
I figure that if we take them by surprise, we might have a shot. Sharp can take one, and I can take one down. Lasko was trying to sound bold and confident, but Pira saw through him right away.
She sighed. [Although I can’t hurt them, I can probably use a nanite injection to render them unconscious], Pira said unwillingly.
Yeah, that plan sounds better, he thought, relieved to be off the hook.
[We’d better hurry. Any second now they’ll be realizing that we’re not home…] True to her statement, angry cries rang out behind them.
The group quickened their pace, rushing down the new route that Pira had given them.
[The vehicles are just ahead.]
Pira’s former body quickly overtook the group, headed to the front.
“What’s going on?” Sharp asked, but Lasko put a finger to his lips.
A screen popped up in his vision. It was a camera feed from the robot, as it headed towards its unsuspecting victims.
Two men showed up in the camera feed. The large brutish men were leaning against a rugged rover, talking loudly and laughing coarsely. They hadn’t even noticed that their comrades had not found what they were looking for.
One of the men heard something, and looked up, frowning.
“What is it?” his companion asked, looking into the darkness.
“I dunno. Maybe another rover?” The first man shined his light into the void, revealing the four legged mechanical robot approaching quickly.
“What the fuck?” He whipped out a gun, and began to fire at the approaching robot. The second man drew a weapon as well, but upon seeing the robot, his face paled and he quickly began rummaging inside the rover behind him.
A gun! The first one I’ve seen in the future. Lasko was immensely glad that they didn’t go with his first plan.
The robot shielded its torso by coiling its third arm in front of it as it approached. Bullets ricocheted off of its metal frame.
“Shit!” The gun ran empty, and the man dropped his gun, and turned to run but it was too late, Pira was there.
The long third arm reached out, and with a burst of gas, a spray of dust enveloped the man.
!! The man held up a hand in shock, but continued to scramble away from Pira.
“What’s happening!?” Sharp grabbed Lasko.
“Pira’s taking out their guards.” Lasko, focused on the scene unfolding in his vision couldn’t say anymore.
The second man finally finding what he was looking for, had pulled out a large tube. Pointing it at Pira, he activated it.
There was a bang, a black fluid exploded out of the canister and splattered over the robot’s body. Pira’s third arm was untouched, however, and it quickly sprayed the fine mist at the second man as well.
By this time, the group had arrived within eyesight of the two men. As the group approached, the first man that was sprayed, staggered, and falling to his knees, completely passed out.
Soon after, his companion followed him.
When the second man also keeled over, a mental message was sent to Lasko.
[It seems that I cannot move.]
[This black fluid that has been sprayed on to me seemed to have hardened. It is restricting my movements. This liquid polymer seems to be a DVG. It is being powered by some kind of device, but I cannot reach it…]
Lasko did some quick decision-making in his mind. “Sharp, there’s some kind of device on the robot’s body that is stopping her from moving. Destroy it.”
He turned to Tunnel. “You and I are going to break all these vehicles, except for that one.” Lasko pointed at a vehicle at the far end of the grouping of rovers.
Sharp, obeying immediately, ran to the robot’s body.
Lasko, taking out his cutter, began to slice through the vehicle tires, rendering them useless. Tunnel, upon seeing Lasko’s example, began to do the same.
[Hurry], Pira said urgently. [My sensors indicate that they are headed in this direction. You have maybe three more minutes.]
Lasko quickened his pace, going one way, while Tunnel went another.
Lasko was almost finished cutting his way through one of the last vehicles when he heard a voice behind him.
“Don’t move.”
He froze.
[My fault.] Pira said mentally. [I didn’t notice her.]
A screen flicked on in his vision, showing him what was behind him. It was a beautiful woman, with long hair and blue eyes. More importantly, she was holding a gun straight at Lasko’s back.
“What do you want?” Lasko asked carefully. He could hardly believe that Vance’s minions would include this gorgeous creature.
The woman didn’t answer him only moving closer to him until he felt the gun barrel on his back. He gulped. The woman’s cold expression scared him.
“You’re coming with me,” she said flatly, and grabbing Lasko’s collar, began pulling him backwards, keeping the gun trained on him.
Suddenly Tunnel came from around the corner. “Lasko, I’m done, what do we do next-”
He cut off short at the sight of the woman and Lasko. In a flash, the woman pointed the gun at Tunnel.
[Pira, time delay, now!] Lasko said urgently.
Suddenly, everything slowed down. Lasko desperately tried to distract her aim, but already he could tell that he was too late, and was moving too slowly. The woman’s aim was already in line with the wide-eyed boy.
In horror, Lasko watched as her fingers began to tense on the trigger.
No! He mentally winced, expecting the gunshot any second, even as he reached for her wrist.
But it didn’t go off, her finger remaining tense on the trigger.
Glancing at the display, he saw an oddly complicated expression on the woman’s cold face. Her hesitation bought him just enough time to grab her wrist, pushing the gun off-target.
BANG. The gun went off, narrowly missing Tunnel.
Grappling with the woman, Lasko held on to her wrist with both hands, lifting the gun up into the air. The woman was strong, somehow stronger than him. “Help!” he cried out, trying to hold on.
[We’re coming!] Pira shouted.
There was a snarl, and then a dark blur flashed past Lasko, and the woman gave out a cry of shock and pain, as the giant dog latched on to her shoulder, gripping her flesh and bone with Ford’s powerful jaws.
To Lasko’s utter horror, the woman still didn’t let go, tenaciously holding on to the weapon. Lasko felt himself losing the power struggle.
Then suddenly Lasko felt the woman stiffen, an expression of shock on her face. Her grip went slack, leaving the gun in Lasko’s hands, then slowly, she knelt to the ground, and finally keeled over. A knife handle was sticking out of her back.
Ford held on for a bit, even shaking the woman’s limp body back and forth before losing interest, and releasing his grip.
Sharp and the robot body arrived, looking down at the woman’s prone body. The black fluid was gone from Pira’s frame.
“Nice throw.” Pira complimented Sharp.
You compliment him? Lasko wanted to complain, but frankly, he agreed.
“You ok?” Sharp asked Tunnel, who joined them.
“Yeah, I’m OK.” Tunnel looked at the woman. “Is she a bad guy?”
“Yup.” Sharp reached down and yanked the knife from the woman’s back. The woman made a gurgling noise as blood spurted out of her mouth. She glared up at Lasko, the light in her beautiful eyes dimming fast.
Lasko looked down at the woman, complicated feelings running through his brain. He felt very uncomfortable.
[What’s with you?] Pira asked.
Weren’t you supposed to not be able to hurt anyone? Lasko accused her, trying to displace his odd feeling of guilt.
[I didn’t hurt anyone. I had nothing to do with Sharp stabbing this woman in the back. Contrary to what you seem to be thinking, while my core personality makes me unable to physically cause harm to someone, I have no qualms when someone who deserves it gets the knife.]
The man watched the blood gush out of the woman’s back. He felt sick.
“Heal her,” Lasko said out loud.
“What?” [What?] Sharp’s and Pira’s voice came out at the same time.
“Pira. Heal her. Quickly. She’s dying.”
“Are you sure you want to do that? If you recall, these people are trying to kill you.” Pira’s voice sounded incredulous.
Lasko shook his head. “This woman wasn’t trying to kill me. And she didn’t want to kill Tunnel either. She hesitated, and didn’t pull the trigger.”
Sharp looked at Lasko like he was crazy, but in Lasko’s head, Pira sighed. The robot moved its large arm, and gently released a stream of shiny fluid directly onto the motionless woman’s bleeding wound. The blood flow almost instantly stopped.
[She should be fine with this. The nanobots can even restart the heart as long as her brain cells aren’t dead. We have to go, we can’t waste any more time. The others are almost here.]
Backing up Pira’s statement, Ford’s ears perked up, and the dog looked in the direction of the approaching angry shouts.
“Let’s go.”
Not wasting anymore time, Lasko ran to the last undamaged vehicle, followed by the rest of the group. Sharp made it point to trod on the woman as the boy passed.
He helped Tunnel into the back, while Sharp dove into the passenger seat. Ford leapt into the back with Tunnel, while the robot simply attached itself to the rear of the vehicle using its third large arm and four legs.
Hopping in the driver’s seat, Lasko looked for the ignition. It wasn’t there. To his complete horror, there wasn’t even a steering wheel. His heart sank as he realized the major flaw in his plan.
Pira, do you know how to drive this thing?
[Don’t look at me. They were still using pedals and gear sticks in my day.]
There was a shout, and Lasko turned to see a number of men running towards them. Panicked, he turned to Sharp, who was staring at him with a confused look.
“Sharp, can you drive?”
Sharp’s look turned to anger, and he grabbed Lasko’s shirt, hurriedly yanking him out of the seat. Lasko inwardly berated himself for losing the confidence that the boy was starting to attribute to him.
Sharp placed his hands in two holes that Lasko had mistaken for air vents. The vehicle suddenly turned on its headlights, and began moving forward. It sped up, pulling ahead, just as the nearest man was only meters away.
The men began firing their guns at the disappearing vehicle, but they were quickly stopped by a vocal command from their leader. They entered their other vehicles, but as the cars started, the wheels that Lasko and Tunnel had damaged fell off, sending their vehicles into lopsided positions, unable to move forward.
Tunnel looking back, laughed at the men’s antics, and the vehicle quickly left Vance’s men in the darkness, moving completely out of view in a matter of seconds. Lasko couldn’t help but feel a little proud at their handiwork. That was quickly shut down by Sharp’s grumbling.
“Can’t drive a car. Almost getting us killed. Breaking our stuff. Wasting our food on pets.”
Tunnel giggled. “We made it!” The kid said, waving his hands in the breeze. He didn’t seem to care about the reasons for their dilemma, only that they were now safe.
“I’m sorry,” Lasko apologized to Sharp. “Thanks to you, we’re alive.”
Sharp scratched his nose. “Well, it’s not all bad” he conceded. “We made it out, safe and sound. Plus we got this nice rover too!”
Lasko laughed. “That’s true,” he said. He leaned back into the chair, and breathed deeply, letting the wind blow away the tense atmosphere of yet another narrow escape. “Where we headed?”
Sharp grinned, the first time the man had seen the boy smile at him.
“To our new home!”