The next couple days went by in a flash. The hammock got done, and honestly, it was more like a trampoline than anything else. The kids spent the better half of a day jumping on it, it was only after that Sharp accidentally jumped too high and actually ejected himself through the still open ceiling to the ground outside that Lasko had to put an end to the shenanigans.
It was extremely comfortable, and best of all, there was plenty of room. Unfortunately, that had not made the slightest difference. Tunnel still wanted to sleep right by Lasko. What made it even worse, is that the dog also wanted to join them, encouraged by the excited Tunnel.
Lasko woke up a few times with a mouthful of dog hair, after the giant dog Ford readjusted itself. After that, Ford wasn’t allowed on the hammock anymore. And the dog received a very thorough bath.
The ceiling on the home eventually got done, along with the tank, which was mounted to a structure above the house, and shielded from the light with a thin metal curtain that PIRA had knitted.
Not only that, but PIRA casted a sitting toilet, which was then dipped into a vat of molten aluminum. Pira said that this would have to replace the glaze. Lasko didn’t care that it was shiny, as long as it flushed.
Sharp and Tunnel both loved it.
The toilet flushed to a buried septic system some fifty meters away from the house, and Pira had set it up the waste to be processed aerobically, before getting sterilized, and stored. Lasko figured that once they had enough, they could maybe grow some grass. He’d have to find some seeds first though…
It was an amazing feel to have a fully functional bathroom and shower. Lasko overdid, taking a shower three times in one day. He had to convince the boys to take even one shower daily; they had not seen the point. It was simply inconvenient. Lasko told them about the terror of sickness, viruses, and bacteria, but the two boys only tilted their heads in confusion. Apparently sickness wasn’t something that holding boys went through.
Maybe disease really had been conquered in the 30th century, even though poverty and crime hadn’t been.
After the major construction projects, PIRA instructed the drones engage in scouting and material collection duty. Although the chances were small that they could be found by Vance’s men, the possibility was still there. After all, Vance had found them once before after all.
After a couple days, Pira had constructed a wide observation network that included audio and visual feeds to Lasko’s helmet. In other words, Lasko could see and hear what was going on in a ten mile radius.
Lasko felt much safer. This time, they would have plenty time to address any invaders.
Pira had created a storehouse, located some distance from the house, where the AI was storing all of the accumulated materials.
At least he thought that’s what she had in there. It was dark, unlit. Whenever he asked on the contents of the warehouse, he received a vague, roundabout answer. He didn’t push her. It would not be good to get on her bad side, especially now that she was singlehandedly supporting their constantly improving new lifestyle. A lifestyle that the three humans were very much enjoying.
There was just one thing that weighed on Lasko’s mind…
Food. They were slowly running out, with no prospects for renewal. They still had plenty, but with the addition of the extra mouth (Ford), the rations had begun to decrease at a noticeable rate. Lasko figured that at most, they had a week before they would need to go and seek another food source.
But there was a big issue. Vance and his goons were no doubt on the continual lookout for them. Lasko had suggested that they go to another hex to obtain supplies, but Sharp shut the idea down immediately. Vance was the biggest gangster in five hexes, and even if he wasn’t in some, he definitely would have eyes there.
But frankly, that might be their only option. Perhaps, swing into town in disguise, and try to get back out without getting discovered. It was dangerous, but it might be their only safe option… Lasko’s eyes drifted over to where Ford was playing with the two boys. A thought flickered into his mind. We could always eat the dog…
As soon as he thought it he shook it out of his head.
[You are gross.] Pira said disgustingly. [A total savage.]
I didn’t really consider it! Lasko protested. He knew PIRA knew that, but it didn’t stop her from making things difficult for him whenever an odd thought popped into his head.
Suddenly a bright red alert appeared in Lasko’s vision.
!!! Pira, what is that?
[Something’s triggered our sensors. A man suddenly appeared in our observation coverage. It seems like he came out from underground.]
A small video appeared. An old man was picking his way through the trash, carrying an impossibly large backpack.
Leonard. That crazy guy somehow found them in the middle of nowhere. After the initial shock, a glimmer of hope appeared. Could the merchant be bringing a shipment of food for them? The old man might be their salvation.
[You know this guy?] Pira asked skeptically. The glaring red alert slowly faded from his vision, as if Pira was reluctant to discount the man as a security risk.
This is Leonard, Lasko explained. You might consider him… a benefactor of sorts…
[A benefactor?] Pira sniffed. [Looks more like a beggar.]
It was true. Leonard’s normally lively face look worn, even defeated. Very quickly, Lasko realized that things may not have turned out very well for Leonard.
Was he running away? His appearance clearly wasn’t a casual visit.
[How did this guy find us? Statistically, the chances of him just randomly finding us out here are extremely low…]
Let’s just ask him. Let’s go pick him up. Lasko asked Pira.
[With the rover? I can have a drone drive it over. No need for us to go ourselves.]
Cool! Self-driving vehicle! After thinking about it a little, Lasko couldn’t help but chuckle. He couldn’t wait to see Leonard’s face when he discovered the driverless car.
Two hours later, a ragged, somewhat angry Leonard was sitting across from Lasko and the boys in their newly built house.
Lasko rubbed his nose and sighed. Trying to pick Leonard up in the empty buggy had turned out to be a mistake.
Detecting the buggy’s approach from quite a ways away, Leonard had assumed that the buggy was one of Vance’s. (Last he had checked, Lasko, Tunnel, and Sharp had NOT been in possession of a vehicle.)
As a result, the old man had taken evasive maneuvers, but was taken aback as the buggy inconceivably was able to track his every movement. Driven to despair, Leonard had decided to preemptively strike, and consequentially opened fire on the vehicle, much to Pira’s dismay.
It took some time, and many broadcasted reassurances from Lasko’s voice, before Leonard was able to stand down.
“You could have said something earlier. Or just come your damn self,” Leonard said angrily. “How the hell was I supposed to know that was you, and not Vance coming to kill me?”
[Well, it was a remote control driverless vehicle, so maybe the fact that it was unmanned would be given a clue.]
“I’m supposed to believe those dumb broadcasts you made? What if they were faked or recorded?”
[Senile old man. If you had set up a line of communications to begin with, instead of just bugging us without our knowledge…] Pira muttered.
Lasko coughed and did his best to ignore the obviously angry AI’s rude comments.
Leonard had apparently placed a super-secret tracker in Tunnel’s teddy bear. Which made total sense, Tunnel was completely attached to that stuffed animal. Hell would freeze over before he was willing to just let it go. It was a sure fire way of eventually locating them… but apparently Leonard hadn’t thought out every scenario.
Lasko finally spoke up, interrupting the old man. “Sorry, sorry. At least nothing bad happened right?” he said, trying to appease the angry man. “But what happened? What are you doing all the way out here? Did something happen back at Gate?”
Leonard spit out the open window scornfully. “You could say that. It’s Vance. He made his move.” Leonard slowly shook his head, the anger fading from his face, but it was replaced with a bitter hatred in his voice.
“I knew it was coming. It was just a matter a time, so don’t go blaming yourself for anything.” Leonard shot a sharp glance at the trio. “Vance had been putting the pressure on for years, and it ramped up in the past few weeks. Trying every trick in the book to put me out of business, but none of it worked. I’m too good at what I do to be undercut by an amateur.”
Leonard sighed. His eyes became downcast and sorrowful. “So Vance did what he did best. He bombed my warehouse.”
“What?!” The three listeners exclaimed.
“Yup. He decided to just erase me off the map. I figured that he would do some drastic, but I never thought he’d be willing to just destroy everything… Brought all his artillery, right outside my range and began firing. If that drooler knew the treasures that I had in my warehouse…”
Leonard laughed a bit now, and shrugged. “Unluckily for him, he won’t get any of it. I’ve been prepared for this for some time. I escaped using the tunnels with some of my necessities…” Leonard patted the giant backpack that was seated on the floor next to him. “And as for the warehouse… I blew it up.”
Tunnel stared at him with an opened mouth, while Sharp sat back with a dazed look on his face. “All of your stuff…” The scavenger side of him was having a hard time accepting it.
Lasko was also stunned, until he saw Leonard gave him a wink and a reassuring grin.
“What that drooler Vance doesn’t know is that I have a storage container far below the surface, under the warehouse. All my most valuable things, and my units are all in there.” The old man chuckled again. “When all of this blows over, I’ll just go back and collect my belongings.”
Wow. A lot of the pity that Lasko had been feeling vanished, and he felt the vestiges of lightheartedness approach.
Leonard rubbed his hands together, and looked around. “This is quite the cozy set up you’ve got here. A nice building, running water.” Leonard’s eyes took on a familiar glint. “And all those robots in the yard…” The old man looked at Lasko quite suspiciously. “This is quite the amazing accomplishment, for a man with zero units…”
Lasko coughed, not sure what to say. They were caught. Leonard knew that he had units, and that he had a lot of them. He guessed that he could always give the units back.
To his relief, Leonard didn’t say anything more. Instead he began unpacking his enormous backpack. “So, where do I sleep?”
“Oh.” Lasko hadn’t even thought about it. “You can pick any of the free rooms I guess.”
[What?! You’re just going to let him freeload here?] Pira exclaimed disapprovingly.
Um… what can I do? He’s helped us out before, and he’s down on his luck. We should help him out.
As if on cue, Sharp walked up to Leonard and stuck out his hand. The older man looked down at him in confusion. Sharp looked him straight in the eye, with no hint of hesitation.
Leonard was flabbergasted, along with Lasko. Pira laughed, her beautiful voice ringing in peals of amusement.
[I like this kid.] Pira said approvingly.
Yeah… You and him definitely have some similarities, Lasko thought to himself.