Po and his squad and the rest of my men had finally joined me. I heard Po call out my name and turned just in time to find one of the monsters behind me. Before the butt of his canon was able to crush my skull I dropped to my knees and with a powerful swing of my sword removed both his hands. The severed limbs landed with a thud to the ground and he let out a terrible roar as the weapon rolled away from him. I stopped and stood for just a moment and beheld the spectacle before me. It was grotesque and violent. Our enemies were fierce, but the men showed no compassion for them and they deserved none. They deserved to be wiped from the face of the Earth forever. A heavy fog began to manifest and surround the battlefield. It was the cloud produced from the firing of the beasts electrical weapons. More of them began to emerge from within the slave facility. As they did Ideo and Rensa brought their troops from the sides and came rushing in to join the carnage. Ideo broke from the pack and headed undetected to one of the nearby vessels. She was going to use her explosives to immobilize it. An electrical discharge rocketed past my side sending tiny arcs branching from the leader which dissipated around me. It was a narrow miss and one not to be taken lightly. I had already seen the discharges from their weapons turn flesh to char instantly, and was determined not to have it happen to me. I decided it was time to rescue those that I could from inside the facility. Humans were being used as slaves, held in the prison at night and then brought out to help with the gardens during the day. Our purpose was to cripple their production and free our people.
The planetary re-engineering of the Earth was an odious task devised by the aliens that would substantially alter the Earth’s current biosphere into one that would be more suitable for them. It would take generations and many humans would die over the course of this activity, most at the hands of the invaders themselves, others from sheer exhaustion. It was a Herculean undertaking.
It began with a garden.
Tangling puce vines and twisting cerise limbs covered the landscape. Wild flourishing blossoms of gilded lobelia and aster-like herbs could be seen for miles. Enormous trunks of violet erupted from the horizon forming a mass of inorganic efflorescence in all directions. Limbs, that appeared molded out of generous portions of blue clay, seemed to dance in the breeze. It was diabolical in its beauty.
Electricity discharged forcefully from the barrel of the alien canons and appeared as Mjollnir flying from Thors’ hand. The ferocious beasts stood nine feet in height and wielded the fearsome weapons with vehemence. They had a savage presence marked by extreme and violent energy. They kept the humans in utter slavery and with callous disregard. Earthlings were cattle and were treated as merchandise of poor quality. As I made my way into the bowels of the mildewed structure the battle continued outside. I slowly came upon a long room with a single glowing light. I saw a horde of people dressed in rags and bound by the neck with heavy chains. Old and young, grizzled features, depression and sadness emerged from their eyes and tortured my senses. There, all alone, sat a girl in her mid twenties with flowing red hair and the features of a newborn. I stared helplessly at the mechanism by which the solid doors were locked. They would require an explosive to counteract. The irony of the situation did not escape me. I heard movement behind me and realized I was not alone in the prison. The soft steps were not of alien making and I turned to see Ideo glaring back at me.
“You didn’t really think you could do this alone, did you?” Her sarcasm arrested me.
“Stand back.” I rushed the enclosure doors and shouted to the prisoners, “Get back against the far wall and cover your ears!”
Within moments Ideo had mixed her solution and had prepared a tiny ball the size of a small marble which she flung at the doors. The clamorous thunder of the explosion jarred my teeth. The room was filled with smoke and dust that cleared after a moment revealing a large hole. The steel door lay twisted on the floor of the enclosure. She had blown it off its hinges.
A lock is only as strong as the hinges on which it sits.” She stated as a matter-of-fact. She glanced sideways at me and jumped into the room.
I spoke sharply and with much haste to the men and women. “You must come with us now,” I scanned the room and counted maybe forty or fifty souls held prisoner by the aliens, “We are here to help you, but you must move now!” Disoriented and confused most began to move. Some lingered as if too terrified to leave the safety of the cell. I ran to the girl and grabbed her by the arm, “Come on, we have to get out of here!” Her glossy eyes gave no impression that she understood me. “Don’t worry,” I spoke softly, “I will protect you.” She nodded silently in acknowledgment and rose to follow. I put out my hand and she grasped it tightly. We ran to Ideo who was waving us out of the hole where the door once stood blocking the exit to the outside world. I wasn’t sure which was worse, being trapped inside and fed by the aliens or now being free, but consumed with responsibility. I hoped most would choose the latter. We exited quickly and joined the fray continuing outside. I saw the fear in their eyes.
As we approached the battle many of the rescued stood as still as sticks. Some grabbed weapons from the dead and began fighting, others scattered. The girl slumped in my arms and I almost dropped her. Suddenly we were surrounded. When faced with the loss of their cargo, the creatures doubled their efforts against Ideo and me, their rescuers. Two of them were almost on top of us when Rensa and her team appeared. I put the girl down for a second, just a second, and raised my sword to attack. I attempted to draw their firepower away by running to join the squad. The creatures ignored me and sought the girl. Backtracking, I grabbed one of them from behind jumping on his back and sticking my sword deep into his shoulder. The creature let out a horrible skreigh, reached back, caught my arm and flung me to the soil. Stunned and dizzy, the sound of the strike echoed in my head.
The creature yanked the sword from his back and tossed it away. He was injured but not defeated. He turned, his mouth filled with blood, and howled at me. His lifeless eyes were frightening. The monster charged me and I watched as his chest opened up exploding its contents onto the ground. Another loud blast sent a bolt firing just beyond my feet. One of his own had discharged his weapon spewing the creature’s guts all over me then fired again and missed. I would not be so lucky a third time.
I scrambled to my sword shouting, “A little help would be nice!” The creature took aim again, “Now!” I watched the charged particles collect and begin to condense into a bolt of pure electricity. “NO!” I shouted then watched as the creatures head blow apart before my eyes.
I turned and saw the girl standing with one of their weapons in her hands. She saved my life. Looking at me with a determined sort of fear in her eyes, she placed the weapon on the ground at her feet. I walked toward her and felt a bit of anxiety well up inside myself. The fighting around me continued, but the sounds became dull, like the faraway rumbling of a storm. The sound of screaming and yelling became muted. It was surreal for a moment, as if I wasn’t there. Her eyes locked with mine as I came closer, yet it seemed we were miles away from one another. I could see one of Po’s men shouting and waving his arms from behind her, obscured slightly by a thin fog. I couldn’t hear his voice, barely made out his face, but he was agitated about something. Every step felt painful as if the life had been drained from me. As I moved closer I heard a terrible faint familiar sound behind me; the crackling of electricity charging up in one of their weapons. Before I could move I watched the beam pass soundlessly beside me. She spun in a circle and fell to the ground in a thud. It happened so fast. Suddenly all of the sounds began to rage again in my head and I ran to her carelessly without even a thought of my own safety.
And when I came to her, she was already laying bathed in her own blood, blending with the soil and plant life–an amalgamation of mud and red. Her arm lied near her, nerves still twitching, fingers dangling as if pulled by unseen puppet strings. I was aghast, she made not a sound, though tears of agony streamed down her face. I had given myself one job to do, protect her, and in that charge…I failed. I knelt beside her and looked at her body frozen in time. She didn’t wail or convulse. I realized that she may not know yet what had happened to her, that her body was dumping endorphins through her brain…that she was in shock.
She wasn’t bleeding as bad as I thought she should have been after having her arm sheared off. She was stunned and stared up at me quietly and in that time we were alone on the battlefield. Her gentle capitulation towards me as I picked her up from the foul Earth was refreshing and tender. She felt like a newborn colt in my arms and clung to me for her life. Her delicate frame submitted to mine and for a moment we must have appeared as one. Her eyes abandoned all desire to focus and she spoke not a word. I could have carried her for ten miles without fatigue and then ten more just because.
The field was strewn with the bodies of dead usurpers and fallen comrades. I maneuvered through the detritus and putrescence carrying her limp body as the Minotaur through the Cretan labyrinth. It was then that he came upon me, a strange man dressed in white adorned with a tiny symbol on the lapel. His hair was cut neatly and parted in a deep trench along the side. He was dry and pale and had no odor. His eyes implored to me, yet he made no sound. He extended his arms and looking down at her ruined body I gave her freely to him; he carried her easily as we walked the field. I had no idea who he was or why he had appeared suddenly, but his interest in protecting the young lady was very apparent, almost as if he were her father. I began to move away from them and take care of the others.
Po came up to me, his body weak and his voice hoarse. “We should begin moving back to the compound, we’ve done what we came here to do. Let’s get the survivors and wounded to safety.”
Breathlessly, I agreed. Rensa and Dade rounded up their squads and protected the rear as we made our exit from the area. Quickly, we led them to the rock faces and out into the wastes toward the compound. We continued our hurried pace. After moving like that for several hours, we decided that we had put enough distance between us and them. The compound was still a two day hike through the remains of the forgotten city. Po decided that it would be best if we rested for the night and did what we could for the wounded. We all agreed and set up camp along a thin stretch of bushes and trees. The camp made, we rested.
The man who had come to rescue the girl had been standing for several hours in the dark, his face toward the slave camp. Po and the others were asleep, all I could hear was the wretched moans of the wounded. As he stood above her, I noticed something odd about his movements. They were peculiar in a manner I could not describe. Then it hit me, this man, this strange man wearing nothing but white, wasn’t breathing. I got up slowly and moved toward him. If I engaged him in some discussion, just some casual conversation, I could get close enough to be sure. Perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me. I walked over to him and he turned. Before I could open my mouth, he spoke. His words came out in a gentle tone and he asked if I was alright. His voice disarmed me as he reached toward me and, holding out his hand, touched my arm. He made a slow move for my hand and I allowed him to hold it while he ran his other hand across my arm.
He looked as if he was inspecting it, then he spoke again, “You have a hairline fracture in the upper extremity of the humerus. Do you feel the pain?” There was a sharp sting in my arm, I flinched and drew in a quick breath. “I can help you, but we need to get somewhere safe.” he said and looked to the rest. My only thoughts were of the injured and then of her. Looking at him standing there, I realized a truth about this strange man, with his cold hands and his gray eyes staring so peacefully, without fear. He was one of them, the robots I saw in the compound, only a far more advanced version, a relic of the lost world. I wasted no time.
I went to Po, “We need to leave.” and we gathered our things and continued moving.
We entered the city just as the sun rose on the horizon. The light piercing through the broken glass, along the twisted metal fragments of buildings, created large groups of shadows that hung like veils silhouetting everything. The walk was slow and we were starving. There was barely enough water for everyone. As we walked between the ruins of skyscrapers a storm gathered in the distance. I looked at Po and shouted, “RUN!” A yellow wall of sand came bellowing toward us. We ran inside the buildings as fast as we could avoiding the blast. The howling winds blew debris against everything. We were trapped, scurrying about through the city, nobody knew which direction to take. Concrete and steel fell from the tops of the structures and pelted the ground below. A crooked chunk of metal flew from the sky and landed only inches from me.
We ran through doorways and scuttled behind walls. Clouds of concrete and dust rained down upon us. One of the women screamed and then stopped suddenly. I couldn’t get a bearing on where anybody was. The remaining glass of centuries old super structures fell in huge sheets and crashed onto the ground. We were powerless. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the storm vanished leaving eruptions of anguish in its wake.
“Jake! Jake!” Po shouted.
“I’m here, Po, what about the others?” I called out from an adjacent building.
“We got separated.” he replied. I stumbled out from the structure and met him. The rest began to emerge a few at a time. “Rensa! Dade!” he called out, while I ran from building to building checking for more.
I saw the man in white moving slowly, listing from side to side. He had a steel rod stuck in his leg. I ran up to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Hey, you’ve got a piece of metal in your leg, you shouldn’t be walking.” I said, without knowing exactly what to say. He looked down and then back up to me.
“I’ll be fine. Please check on the others, we need to determine the damage.” I stared at him and then stepped back.
“Jake, over here!” Rensa called to me from behind a thick wall. She had found another injured person.
“We need to gather all the people that we can find, injured and healthy, carry them if we have to, but we need to get back to the compound, we can’t do anything here.” I said and pressed my hand firmly against her shoulder, she nodded. “Po, get everybody together!” I shouted, “Has anyone seen Dade?”
“Over here, Jake!” he responded, dragging another person out of a building. I ran to help.
After a few hours of bringing the wounded out into the open and gathering everyone together, we decided to eat what remained of the food. The provisions were spartan and barely fed the group, but it was enough to sustain us for the journey home. We would be weak, but we would make it back. The wounded we put on makeshift stretchers, which amounted to little more than slings that we dragged along the ground. As the sun began to set we stopped beside a row of empty vehicles. Their skeletons served as temporary resting places for the night.
“Had any more headaches?” Po asked me.
“No, I can’t say that I have.” I answered. Not since we left the compound had I experienced one.
“Jake,” he paused, “have you thought about what we’re going to do with these people when we get back?”
I was hoping to avoid the question. “I thought they would just become members of our society, Po.” I casually replied, “Helping to increase our numbers and build our army.”
He didn’t look at me as we spoke. “We don’t have an army, Jake, and I’m not sure what we would do with it if we did.”
I thought about that and said, “I’m sure that once the time comes, we’ll know what to do with it. Po, war is coming, after what we just did, you can be sure of it.” I mulled the thought around in my head before falling to sleep.
“Jake, wake up!” I awoke to Rensa screaming my name. “Jake, hurry, it’s the girl!”
I sat up abruptly and banged my head on the steel frame of the automobile I was sleeping in. Disoriented, I moved toward the sound of her voice. She was laying on a sling, her head covered in sweat and dried blood. The man in white was kneeling beside her, the steel bar still stuck in his leg.
“We still have a day’s hike through the desert before we reach the compound, even longer with the wounded.” my gaze went to Rensa for help.
“Jake, you should take her alone, you can travel much faster without us.” she said and began to give me her supplies, “Take the water. You can use these clothes for bandages.” I tried to stop her, but she insisted, “No, now go, if you hurry, you can be there by nightfall.”
“I’ll come with you. You can use my assistance.” The man in white was calm and reassuring. Looking him up and down, this man was in no position to be making a long trek through the desert; he’d be a burden on us. His leg was in horrible shape, but I instead I replied, “Alright, just keep up.” His steel gray eyes gazed at me, “I will keep up with you.” he then reached down and pushed the metal back into his leg.
It wasn’t sticking in, it was sticking out — a metal rod that must have been his leg bone, or something similar. Was he going to heal? To a human it would have been a compound fracture, to have a bone like that sticking out of your leg. I watched as he picked the girl up and cradled her in his arms. I began to doubt who was going to have to keep up with whom.
“Well alright then, we leave now.” and I grabbed my pack.
We left them behind and I and the man in white headed east back to the compound. For a robot with a broken leg he moved very quickly across the sand and rocky terrain, all while carrying the girl in his arms.
“We need to stop and rest for a minute.” I huffed.
“I do not need to rest, Jake.” he said.
“Well, this is a little unfair. You’re a robot and I’m a man. I need to rest.”
He turned to me, “Then we stop.”
As we stopped, I dropped my pack and perched myself on the edge of a rock, took out my water and began to drink. He stared back at me, lowering the girl to the ground.
“What gave me away?” he asked.
“You mean apart from the fact that you have metal for bones?” I noted.
He gave me a nod and glanced sideways, “You knew before that, what gave me away?”
“Men have fear, and you don’t.” I said, and gulped the water.
After a few quiet moments, he asked, “How far is it to the compound?”
“It’s a bit past that mountain ridge in the distance, the one shaped like a camel’s hump.”
He looked away and nodded, “I have to ask you something, Jake, and I hope you take me in the most serious manner.” He was genuine, and I hoped that by his question I might get some answers of my own. “Who were those creatures?”
I wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Well, all my life they’ve been here, I can’t imagine a time that they haven’t.” I started, “I was raised in a library with many other families. We huddled together and protected one another. And we avoided them. Then one day, they found us and killed everyone. I ran away and have been on my own ever since.” I paused and said, “I don’t know who they are, or where they came from, I just know they’re not from here.”
He was quiet for some time after that. Then, he knelt to pick up the girl and looked toward the mountain ridge, “We should be going now.” I agreed and gathered my pack.
“What is your name, if you have one?” I asked.
He looked back and with a crooked smile said, “I am a ROGER, a Robotic Genetic Engineer.”
I heaved my pack onto my shoulder, “How did you get here?”
He looked at the girl in his arms and said, “She brought me.”