Chapter 1 & 2

Chapter 1: Van

 

The world is growing around me, yet it’s still so ugly here in my prison cell. My cell is the size of a walk-in closet; it simply has a twin bed, a sink, toilet paper, and a toilet. The guards bring us a toothbrush every morning after breakfast to brush our teeth and we shower individually every day, at the time of the guard’s choosing, for two minutes. Right now, I’m just sitting here in my form-fitting bright gray jumpsuit playing with my dark brown hair.

My hair isn’t long like the rich women in the holographic magazines and billboards, but falls to my upper back, which is fine since I can’t cut it shorter myself. The hard bed hurts to sit on. On the other hand, I’ve been circling my cell so much today that my legs are sore, and these thin gray slip-on shoes do my feet no justice, either. My springy bed is the better option because it beats the concrete ground any day of the week. When I’m not fighting with other women in the I.Y., Interior Yard, I spend a lot of time thinking about my life.

My prison name is 22641-0B8, but outside of these walls I go by another name. My name is Vanessa Pheros and I am a smuggler. My last name isn’t pronounced with an S on the end. I grew up in England and, although my country was destroyed during a war when I was seven, my accent didn’t die with it. My mother died on the day I was born, giving birth to me, and my father died in a war that he wasn’t even fighting.

He was a brilliant researcher, or so I had heard. I was only seven, so I don’t know much about what he did nor do I care to find out. His legacy died with him. He left me on a shuttle with our neighbor, then went to try and retrieve some research data that could help win the war. I watched from the window as the missile hit, then, in a flash, he just disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

The last glimpse I caught of my father was his dead body lying face first on the ground as the shuttle caught turbulence and flew off. Both sides lost the war and so did the rest of the world, centering what’s left of us to the safest zone in the United States; Kansas. After that, I took on an angry life of delinquency. Counting the orphanage, foster homes, group homes, mental homes, and prison, I’d been in captivity longer than I’d been alive, metaphorically speaking, of course.

The year is 2086 and I believe my birthday was a couple of months ago in November. That would make me twenty-four, although we don’t have a way to track time in here. I stopped counting about a year ago, but I think I’m past my second consecutive year now. It is lonely in here, nonetheless that’s the way I like it. They stopped giving me cellmates after I beat up my third one. The poor girl should have just not asked me to play cards. She won the match, but I am a very sore loser about things, so I had to win the war.

Every day is the same in this sterile-clean prison: three meals, six hours total in the I.Y. per day, and an option between therapy or school for two hours, but not all three. If someone decides not to choose either therapy or school like I do, then it’s just two more hours in a cell. I use this as my workout time. The prison’s bell goes off signifying dinner is ready. The bell is just a couple of loud beeps, then the cell doors slide open from left to right on my side; from right to left on the other.

It sounds too good to be true; however, it’s not all as it seems. There are automated defense turrets set in place to fire at escapees with electric pulses. The pulse doesn’t kill anyone, though what doesn’t kill them doesn’t make them stronger either. The turret is pretty much a taser that can knock someone out for about an hour. It’s also used to break up fights, which I am very familiar with.

The pulse did make me stronger, though. It only knocks me out for half of the hour now that I’ve gotten sort of used to it. I can’t exactly track the time, but I feel like I sleep less and less when it does happen. The turret is just a square box that’s about one-and-a-half feet all the way around with a barrel on it for firing the pulses. I look at my cell door as it slides open and see two yellow lines sliding past the door, speeding towards the right.

Each and every time this happens, my first thought is “freedom,” but then I eventually see the line of women looking in at me as they slowly walk by to my left; they’re not angry enough to revolt with me so that discourages my thought each and every time without fail. I get up, then step out of my cell and merge into the line of prisoners. I follow the women in front of me to the left, making sure to not cross the yellow border on my right side. I tried to run quite a few times.

Once anyone steps out of the yellow line leading from each cell to the chow hall or I.Y., the turret gives one warning, then fires if the person isn’t back into formation fast enough. The distance is only spaced enough for one person to walk in front of another, but not side to side. My cell block is “B”; however, the highest cell block in the prison is “H”. In the cell block I’m in, there’s just a long hall full of cells.

The block is three floors high, all filled with cells as well as metal staircases that lead up to each floor. There are gates on each level to prevent prisoners from committing suicide. I’m housed on the first floor. We have absolutely no contact with the outside world, and are not allowed to send letters. We can only receive them. Notification is sent to each sender if the message is received by the prisoner.

There are no windows or exterior yards; absolutely everything we do is indoors. I look to my left and notice two prison guards standing in front of a cell while a custodian cleans up blood from the cell’s thick glass door. Someone must have tried to bash their way out in the three hours we’d been in our cells between going to the I.Y. and dinner. The guards are wearing their black uniforms with tucked in button-up shirts and “Ori” written on their left chest.

They have full faith in their turret’s targeting systems, so the need for a full suit of armor to protect themselves from prisoners isn’t necessary for them. Just one shot from the taser and they get thirty minutes to take me wherever they want to, be it back to my cell, the warden’s office, or solitary. Unfortunately for us, the turrets aren’t stationary.

They slide freely along metal rails all around the prison at quick speeds to scan for threats. The metal rails are on every floor and every wall. I notice the turrets disappear through a hole in each end of a wall when the last person leaves a room. I figure that’s where they are housed or where they are granted access to the entire prison system. Cell block “B” has been my home block, so I’m not familiar with anywhere else.

The digital yellow line guides us into a single metal door centered on the back wall and into a bright white hallway. This prison stays illuminated so my eyes are very well adjusted to this pale white gleam already. The white hallway has a lot of white doors, yet no windows to see out of or into the rooms on the other side. All that’s visible are the doors’ sliding pulls and the metal rails where the turrets travel. Whatever is behind those doors, I don’t think the turrets have a rail of access to on the inside.

The prison facilities actually have better and more peaceful names. I’m just too much of a criminally-minded person to utilize them. The name of the prison is Ori and the chow hall is called Dining Delight. Entering the chow hall is like stepping into an executive office building. The walls are all white and have a curve around the half circular back wall. The mellow theme instrumental playing above annoys me. On the other hand, it’s meant to bring everyone to peace, so I guess it works for everyone else. The people here are mostly rehabilitated from the world outside already, and are only still here to finish out their shortened sentences for a menial crime. In a place where no one can do harm, they’re all forced into peace.

There are light brown tables where everyone can sit down at to eat. There are also light brown benches set around the chow hall for people to sit and mingle with one another. Food is dispensed as a whole onto a plastic plate. It comes out of machines and onto individual passing trays on a conveyor belt. It’s then served at the end of the belt before it loops back up into the wall. The food doesn’t taste bad at all.

I have no friends inside or out of this place, and I always stick to myself. People try to socialize with me. Fortunately, there have been only a couple of women who have gotten rude when I turned them down. Their attitudes didn’t last that long after I knocked some sense into them. Unfortunately, the turrets always get us before I could ever finish them off. The word spread around, and now everyone stays away from me.

The cell blocks never meet to eat chow together, so I figure they each have their own individual chow halls. The only time blocks have to join is in the I.Y., but that is only two blocks at a time. Life in here isn’t bad, although there is a reason why I hate it here and stay to myself. I just can’t remember what it is. My gut tells me not to trust anyone, so I listen.

We get an hour in the chow hall, then it’s back to the cells for the night. I start eating my food and staring into my tray as I chew. There is no reason for me to watch my back here. The prisoners are all so peaceful and friendly; their smiles and chatty behavior are so unreal. I pictured prison being different, with other angry women fighting all day long and shankings.

That was just what I’d read about in the historic archives at the library. The way things are now just makes me sick, but I know if these people had a chance, they’d revert to their criminal ways in a heartbeat. The bell rings again after the hour and chow is over. As we make our way back to our cells, I glare over into a few of the cells before mine. The cells are drowned in decorations, with holographic pictures of people’s families and friends on the cell walls. A holographic picture is just a small projection dot that spouts a projection of a still image a couple of inches away from itself.

I always know when I’m at my cell because it is just as plain as it was the day they put me in it. I step into my cell and the automatic sliding door slowly closes behind me. I sit down on my bed again and sink into my thoughts like usual.

Most nights, I work out after dinner, though I usually take two nights out of the week to give myself a break, and this is one of those nights. After all prisoners in the block reach their cell, the lights go dim, but not out, and that indicates it’s bed time. The light only dims down instead of turns off so security can maintain a visual of what’s going on in all of the cells. I lie down on my uncomfortable and springy bed then doze off. The next morning, I open my eyes and stare straight up at the ceiling.

I feel rejuvenated, but, without time, I can never tell how long I’ve slept. It could have been eight hours, as recommended to children, or ten for hard-working adults. Everyone gets time in the I.Y. and, since we’re not all there at once, someone is eating breakfast for dinner. My senses have fit perfectly with the breakfast bell, so instead of the bell waking me up, I wake up prior to it going off. Seconds later, the bell goes off and I get up to the opening cell door, ready to go eat breakfast.

Everything is dull as usual; just another ordinary day with no breakouts, no suicides, no new arrivals. I pick up my breakfast from the conveyor belt and stroll towards the table in the far back where I like to eat alone. Someone turns from a table and bumps my shoulder hard enough to make me drop my tray. A warning alarm beeps once. It sounds like someone got an answer wrong on a game show. That warning is an indicator that the action was noticed and is being monitored.

The woman nicely commences speaking, “I apologize, and here have–”

I push her tray of food up into her face. Instantly, I feel a sharp pinch hit my right shoulder and everything goes dark. I wake up on my stomach, back in my cell, on the concrete ground. Underneath my bed looks so boring. I roll over and lie on my back. Those turrets are much faster than they look.

I sit up and look into the cell across from me and see a woman staring at me from within her cell. I shape my fingers like a pistol and point at her. She turns around when she sees it, then lies down on her bed. I get up off the ground and sit down on my bed. I don’t like missing meals, but oh well. I use my left arm to pull my right shoulder forward and notice a burn mark on my pale skin.

I hadn’t been in the sun for so long; the only shine we have in here are those white hallways and the chow hall. I hear footsteps walking outside of my cell. The only time that ever happens is when a guard brings mail to someone. I look over at my cell door as the footsteps approach, then move closer to watch him pass.

The prison guard strolls into my sight with a small letter-size envelope then does a sharp turn in front of my cell and states, “Mail.”

I have never gotten mail in here before, and I’m not really interested now. It is probably some kind of holographic message for a magazine subscription or something, which couldn’t happen in prison, so I am wondering a little bit. The mail slot for my cell door slides up on the glass. I only ever saw it when my cellmates got mail. The slot is just a small gap about the height of four fingers put together as one.

Technology isn’t primitive in the prison; nevertheless it’s not fully technological like the outside is. I watch the guard slide the mail through the hole and stare at him as he swiftly disappears from the other side of the glass. The mail slot closes to become hardened glass again. I look down at the letter and it just has my name written on it in black ink. There isn’t a return address or anything on it, nor is it thick like a holographic letter. It’s just a regular old sheet of paper.

My curiosity takes over and I stand up from my bed. I walk over to the envelope, then stare at it like we’re significant rivals. Who would write to me? I bend down to pick it up and then sit back down on my bed. I tear the letter’s right end off, then pull it out from the side and unfold it. There’s an address written on it and a message:

“Meet at this address at eight tomorrow
morning.”

There’s no signature from the sender. I throw the letter on the ground. Whoever wrote the letter isn’t too smart, thinking they’d get a date with me. Being locked in one of the only prisons in the new world isn’t exactly easy to–

The prison’s alarm starts ringing. I quickly snap up at the cell door and see the three cells in my view across from me. The women in their cells rush to their doors, trying to see what’s going on outside in the hallway. The lights go out. I stand up and dash to the cell door, then place my hands on the thick glass and try to see what’s going on at the right side.

The red emergency lights come on and I hear the cell doors start opening from one side to the other. I am watching as the prisoners start to slowly walk out of their cells in confusion. I look back at the letter on the ground, going over what’s happening right now and trying to piece this together. Who wrote it and how can they pull something like this off? I am curious, still the answer goes to being the last thing I care about right now. I just got a pass to freedom and I’m not about to lose it.

I hear a guard shout, “Please return to your cells immediately! I repeat–”

I stick my face closer to the glass to see what’s happening down the hall to the right, since my cell hasn’t opened yet. From the right side, the prisoners are staring as they slowly approach the guards, joining together. The guards continue warning them that action will be taken if they don’t return to their cells. The prisoners start to riot with the nothing they gave us in here; just fighting the approaching guards with their fists.

Since the guards always brought, then took away our toothbrushes, we couldn’t have made a weapon out of those either. The future is rough for criminals like me. I am glad the other prisoners decided to not listen because escaping by myself would be next to impossible. With the power down, the turrets are inactive, so that helps considerably. The civilized prison fell apart as soon as the lights went out and what was a peaceful sanctuary is now an open slaughter for small time criminals who want to see their families.

A few inmates remain in their cells, but not enough to save the guards. The prison guards definitely are not equipped to deal with all of the prisoners without the turrets as backup. My cell door finally opens up and then I take off straight out of it and make a right. To the right is a double door entry to the I.Y. which has more entry points than the chow hall, so starting there for an exit is my best bet. There is fighting going on from both sides of me now.

More guards begin entering the cell block from both sides with electronic stun batons; they are black rods about a forearms length with seven million volts of electricity running through them. In order to work one, a person must have a glove on to avoid shocking their own hand. The weapon doesn’t have a handle; it’s just electricity straight through for prison guard’s defense against a loss of the weapon. No prisoner can use it against them without a glove.

The prisoners and oncoming guards clash, fighting each other as I make my way towards the action. I run straight into the fighting, dodging everyone I pass by. One guard in front of me swings his baton horizontally at me. I drop down and slide by him then crash my feet into another guard’s leg, making him flip over me. I quickly get back up on my feet and continue running towards the cracked-open double door leading to a white hallway.

I dodge past the other brawlers and guards, then crash through the door. The hallway isn’t brightly lit like it should be because of the power outage. I whip around to close the door, only to see that I’ve been followed. One guard is too close for me to fully shut it. I try to slam it anyway but the left half of his body gets caught in the doorway, blocking it from closing. He shouts in pain and starts swinging his arm wildly around at me.

The guard is right-handed, so it’s just his ungloved left arm stuck in the door. I step forward and let the door swing open. Once it does, he stumbles into the hallway. I turn and throw a thrusting kick at his chest. With a look of surprise, he falls back out into the cell block. I use both of my hands to slam the door shut.

There’s a metal bar on the side that is used to block the door. I slide the bar down to block it and immediately hear banging on the other side. The rioting from the other side is just faint noise now. I turn around and start jogging along the short dark hallway towards the interior yard. I rapidly skip steps going up to the yard and burst through the double doors. The interior yard is a big octagon-shaped room that looks like an outdoor courtyard.

People can admire the plant-life within and enjoy the scenery. The grass and plants are all fake, though they look believably real. The rectangular structures that house the plant life are high enough for people to lean their butts on to sit down. When the power is on, the room is illuminated with the same color white as every other room.

There are eight doors that connect each cell block to the yard. There is also a ninth door that I have never seen anyone come in or out of, diagonally across to my right. I start jogging straight toward the center of the courtyard to make my way around to the door. Just before I reach the center, I hear a loud bang on the ceiling and, when I look up, see light shine in from the sky outside. I cover my face with my right forearm to get a clear view of what the noise is through the debris falling from the ceiling. Something crashes down in front of me.

The impact from the crash knocks me backwards onto the ground. I quickly sit up and crawl back behind one of the structures closest to me. I poke my head out and watch the dust clear, then I see the back of a white and black Alpha MeBo. MeBo is the nickname for every existing mechanical robot. The Alpha MeBo is a killing machine that’s about the size of a quaint two-story house; this model has two legs, four arms, and is equipped with the best arsenal of weapons-grade armor that aers can buy.

The two top arms are short weapons that just end with a barrel; the two bottom arms are basically pincers. There’s a red “Ori” symbol on its back, though they’re not the actual manufacturer. Unfortunately for me, it’s standing between me and the door to my possible exit. Now I have light to see, which is somewhat good because those things can use night vision.

It turns toward me and I catch a glimpse of its slanted yellow eyes. I swiftly move back into cover so it won’t see me. I stare straight back at the door I came in from, then I hear the mech start taking slow steps away from me to patrol the area. If the guards have an Alpha here, there’s definitely something behind that door that no one’s supposed to see. The strange thing is that no other guards have come out of the room at all to assist with any of the trouble in the blocks; they must have their hands full on every end.

With those stun rods in use against unarmed prisoners, I won’t have much longer to escape. I have to sneak around it. I get up to a crouching position and stick to the wall as I make my way to the right end of the rectangular plant enclosure. I poke my head out when I reach the end and see the Alpha circling the center of the yard. When its back is completely turned to me, I stay in my crouched position and make my way to the next structure.

As soon as I get there, my momentum causes me to accidentally smack my back on the wall too hard and I hear the mech turn. I close my eyes and think to myself “Crap, Van.” The room is in complete silence. The mech has stopped walking and I hear no movement from it at all. The lack of sound in the room makes me nervous.

If the mech is on to me, he’d have been over here trying to smash my head in already. I have a feeling that the mech is just going to wait me out. His battery will last longer than mine, so I have to run for it. After a brief time, in which I sit waiting, the power turns back on. The room brightens up with that white gleam that I’m used to.

I don’t want to take the risk of seeing if the light affected the mech’s perception at all, still maybe I could wait it out now. It may have assumed that something mechanical made the sound of my back hitting the wall. Wait…, the power is back on. I look over in the corner at the turret gap closest to me, hoping that one won’t come out before I make it to the door. Immediately after, one pops out of the hole and turns to me. I say to myself, “Jinx.”

I get up and dart towards the metal rail that the turret travels on. The turret begins shooting at me and the mech twists around in my direction. I look back at the mech, then it starts shooting heated pulse rounds from its arms. I approach another rectangular structure, then quickly vault over it and continue running toward the metal rail. It looks like the turret and I will intersect at the same time so I use the rectangle structure at the wall to pounce up as high as I can towards it.

I reach up and grab onto the turret. The turret can’t look directly underneath itself so it continues traveling along the rail towards the next gap with me hanging under it. It must not know I’m still in the room traveling with it. The Alpha doesn’t let up but the turret is moving fast enough to where the mech can’t get a shot on me. Another turret on the other side of the room comes out and begins firing at me also.

Usually when someone gets under a turret’s field of view, another one appears to back it up by shooting from across the room. The turret is approaching the door fast, and it’s time to get off the ride. I have to be quick to avoid getting hit by the mech’s and turret’s rounds. I let go of the turret at the perfect time to drop just before the door. I quickly stop myself and enter the door, then slam it shut behind me.

I hear the rounds stop hitting the wall on the other side. That was much too close for comfort. I have to keep moving to get out of here. I am in a bright hallway just like the one on the way to the chow hall. It is the exact same, with the doors in it as well. I start to feel confused, like I’ve been here before since the double doors at the end of the hall are closed. That is the only difference; the chow hall doors are never closed.

I start making my way down the hallway toward the double doors. Halfway down, a loud bang on the door I came through startles me, thus I turn around. I immediately hear another bang and see the door bulge, then another bang right after; the door bulges some more.

It’s going to break down, so I dart to the nearest room on my left to hide. I open the door and it’s a lunch room with a small table. It looks like the former occupants were in the middle of a nice dinner and card game when the riot started. The cards are digitized onto the table for easier playing, which is why they’re blue-hued and glitching a little. There is a window that looks out into the hallway.

I’d figured it out a long time ago that they were watching us through two-way mirrors; it’s odd, though because no one can see themselves from the other side. I hear another loud bang as I close the door and then one more, even louder. The sound of the door hitting the ground pounds through the hallway. Another loud bang shakes the hall, Dust poofs from underneath my door and breezes past the window. I duck down under the window, then peek up to see what’s going on out there.

I assume it’s the Alpha and I’m not sure if it would be able to see me. I don’t want to risk getting caught if it can. I can’t see where the door is, but I don’t hear any movement on that end of the hall anymore. I slide back over to the door and bash it open, staying in cover. Nothing happens, meaning it must have gone to look elsewhere. I get up and carefully step out of the room, then look down the destroyed hallway.

There is a big hole where the door and wall used to be. It is split open more around the sides and top, with the left side revealing sunlight from the outside. The Alpha mech was sweet enough to create a shortcut for me. I double back towards the destroyed doorway and carefully stick to the destroyed wall as I make my way to the cracked opening on my left. The Alpha seems to be gone from the courtyard. I shimmy between the broken wall and end up outside of the prison.

 

Chapter 2: Home Stretch

 

When my eyes adjust to the light, I find myself looking at a concrete wall that extends to my right. I look left and realize that I am at the inside crevice of a “V” shape. I must be on the roof between the interior hallways. I feel the heat from the concrete burning through my shoes. I start slowly walking out of the huge “V” shape to a huge gap at the end of the outer hallway walls and see a city off in the distance about twenty miles away. All I can see of the city are skyscrapers and the almost-clear dome surrounding it.

That’s Gharis City, my home. When I reach the end of the gap, I look to my left and get blinded by the setting sun over the desert horizon. I turn my head away from it. Those guards had been tricking us with the time all along. There’s no way I could have been on the run in there for that long, what with the breakfast bell having only rung about an hour ago. I slowly turn back towards the sun to look at the end of the hallway wall. There isn’t a door on it to get back inside.

I question myself, “Great, now what?”

I don’t want to look over the edge of the circular dome I’m on. There clearly isn’t anything on the other side of this wall so there’s surely nothing below; nonetheless, just for kicks, I walk slowly towards the edge and look down beneath me. There is a long concrete slope that leads down to another drop. I can make the slope down if I take my time and very carefully spider crawl down.

The steep slope looks familiar, like the inside wall of the chow hall. What’s beneath that will be the bigger problem that I don’t want to find out about. The slope runs all the way around to the left and right; I’m stuck on a waterless island. I turn around and see a helicopter on top of the interior yard’s roof. Since there is no door to exit on these dead-end walls, that means the door inside must lead to stairs that go up to the helipad.

The helicopter seems to be the only way off the prison so far, but I’ve never flown anything before. I’m certainly going to learn today because I’m at freedom’s doorstep and the last thing I’ll do is stop now. I take a couple of steps back away from the edge and turn around. As soon as I do, the prison starts shaking very lightly. An earthquake?

The Alpha crashes downward through the outer wall in front of me. I duck down to avoid the wall’s debris and metal from a now destroyed staircase flying towards me. The Alpha comes flying out with it and reaches out to grab me. I jump towards it, then land flat on the ground and start crawling past its thick, toeless feet. Once I get behind it, I hurriedly stand up and bolt towards the broken wall so I can climb the stairs to the helipad, but the stairs are completely destroyed.

I hear the mech behind me twist its waist around towards me. It shoots a missile past me at the wall and I freeze. When the missile hits, it blows up any remaining wall in front of me and I get sent flying backwards to the right of the wall. I am breathless from the unexpected explosion and land on my back. I am trying to maintain my consciousness; missing that meal isn’t working in my favor at the moment. I should have eaten the guard’s lunch when I had the chance.

With the wall and stairs to the helipad destroyed, I have to search for another way up. I feel the mech start walking towards me. I haven’t moved, hoping to make it think I’m unconscious. It can’t see my open eyes to tell that I’m not. When it reaches me, it stops moving, then I feel the air from its heavy left foot breeze through my hair. I hear its arm reach down, and as it does so, I roll towards the mech’s feet.

The mech lifts its right foot up and I quickly throw my legs back then use my hands to spring myself up to my feet. The mech just barely misses me when it slams its foot down. It lifts its left foot and I do a cartwheel to get behind the mech. It slams down at me again. The mech lifts its right foot straight out then starts to spin its bottom half backwards in my direction. I do a back handspring to dodge his fast-swinging foot then run around the mech to the left.

Out of options, I swoop up a step of the broken staircase from off the ground and run towards the slope. I jump straight off the ledge with the stairs’ step, as the mech starts shooting rounds at me. I slide the stair underneath myself and use it to slide down the slope like a sled on the snow. I look up behind me and see the mech jump out, following me. It clearly underestimated the slope because it falls straight down then starts barreling uncontrollably down the slope.

Pieces of the mech begin breaking off and falling down toward me. I use my hands on the sides of the stair to tilt and shift from side to side, trying my best to avoid the huge falling pieces. Failing at that, big pieces flop around and over me to where I have to dodge with my actual body. The slope is coming to an end. The mech turns its body, then digs its hands down into the concrete, bringing up concrete chunks of rock and slowing itself down.

If I don’t manage to slow down as well, I’ll fall straight to my death. I turn the stair diagonal to try and slow down. It’s not working. I carefully leverage my body upward on the step like I’m surfing, then dive back towards the mech. Stopping isn’t working for the mech at all, even though it’s digging its two usable arms and feet into the concrete. I land on the tip of the mech’s right leg then start to climb up towards its back.

The mech’s body begins sliding off the edge, so I grab onto one of the wires connected on its left leg to hold myself in place. The mech grabs the ledge and I am left dangling from the wire. We are going over any second because the mech has no fingers to use to hold onto the ledge. I’m not sure if the mech knows that I’m back here. Its hands gradually start sliding off. I gaze down and see a drop of about two hundred feet underneath my toes, straight into concrete. Oh crap!

We didn’t appear to be this high at all and I instantly begin to regret this decision. Instead of hoping for the best, I start climbing up toward the ledge, where my life would be in my own hands. When I reach its back, the mech loses its grip and we start falling fast. The mech is trying to use the wall to slow itself down; it works until we get closer to the bottom, then its foot gets caught on the piece of broken wall it made.

The mech unintentionally rotates as it falls backwards away from the wall. This thing needs to continue rotating faster because it looks like we’re going to land back first and I’m on the wrong side of that equation, meaning I’ll be a pancake in seconds. I’m still hanging on for my life as the mech continues to rotate backwards to a dive, then barely reaching a belly flop position. Before we pick up too much speed, we hit the ground with the mech landing downward on its chest plate and flat on its stomach. The force causes me to bang my head on the mech’s back. I roll off, landing on the ground next to it.

I wake up to the sound of wires sparking and lie there for a second attempting to regain my focus. My vision clears up as I lie on my back facing the sunset. I wasn’t unconscious for too long because the sun is still going down, but it is darker than it was earlier. I try to sit up, although I can’t quite move my left arm much. It took a pretty bad hit when I crashed down on the mech. My arm isn’t broken and the pain is bearable, so I use my arms to help me sit up anyway.

I feel a tickle on my forehead that feels like thickened sweat. I wipe my hand across my forehead then look at it and see blood. It’s getting dark and I need to reach the city. I look over at the MeBo sparking to my right. The mech is down, but not out. Using it would be the fastest way for me to reach the city without dying along the way from dehydration or starvation.

I get up and look at the damage to the mech; this thing is in horrible condition and more than just a few screws definitely got knocked loose during the crash. I’m lucky it fell on its chest plate, though because the circuit panel is on its back and there is no way I’d possibly be able to roll it over to gain access. I start stretching in order to work out the kinks in my body, then climb the mech and get to work on fixing it. My smuggling runner days granted me some experience with wiring, and I can’t picture this being any harder than hot-wiring a vehicle.

After changing the mech’s targeting system and reconnecting a few of the busted wires to more powerful slots, I am just about done with one remaining wire. I rip the wire from the tracking system then use it to replace the last wire and finish the repair. The mech automatically powers up and springs straight up to its feet, causing me to fall off it. As soon as I hit the ground, I quickly get up and take a defensive stance. That fall hurt pretty badly, nevertheless I can’t recuperate with it still after me.

The mech quickly turns around to me then points its left cannon in my face and arms it to fire. The targeting repair didn’t work and I don’t have the firepower to take this thing down head on. I put my hands up until I can come up with a plan. A mech won’t tear me to pieces if I surrender. The mech puts its arm down then starts to circle around me to my left; I don’t make any sudden moves as it does so and I tilt my head down when I lose my peripheral sight of it.

The mech completes the circle then ends up back in front of me and I raise my eyeballs up to look at it. It stops walking, then a panel on its left leg slides up to reveal a pulser rifle and a pulser pistol. I guess the repairs did work and that was its way of asking me if I had a weapon. I approach the panel then grab both weapons out of its leg and the panel closes as I put the rifle on my back. A cyber strap appears, attaching the weapon to me.

The cyber strap is an ultraviolet colored strap that appears and disappears when the weapon is at a specific part of the body. It is used to keep a weapon more tightly attached to the body. It works much better than the primitive models that just hung loosely with the weapon dangling freely. With these models, the strap disappears as soon as someone touches the weapon for quick, untangled use. Every weapon has one, and is meant for a specific placement on the body. It can also be toggled invisible after it connects itself to the holder, for stealth purposes.

I connect the pistol to my right thigh then toggle both of the ultraviolet glows off and look back up at the mech. It puts its left arm out. Are we supposed to hold hands or something? Or maybe it knows I need a ride? I walk towards it and it lowers its hand to the ground. I step onto it, then it lifts me up and stops at its shoulder. I step off its hand and onto its shoulder then sit down next to its head.

 

I command, “Gharis City.”

The mech starts rapidly walking across the open gap towards the city off in the distance. The gap is only concrete until about forty feet away then it turns into desert. A forest of green can be seen in the distance on the left side of Gharis. This is going to be a long ride.

 

I mention, “So, you need a name. How does the generic name Alpha sound?”

The mech shakes its head from left to right. I didn’t know these things came with a personality, too. It probably doesn’t like it because its entire class is called Alpha. I know for sure now that it can’t talk, but the other types of mechs can.

I ask, “How about Nex? That’s kinda new age and cool.” It shakes its head again. “Well, aren’t you picky?” It nods its head from left to right and I quickly respond, “What? No, I’m not calling you Picky. Forget it.” It nods its head up and down then I shake my head from left to right as I reply, “I can definitely think of cooler names than that. For now, you can just be Taxi or Cab.” It looks over at me and I quickly correct myself, “Okay, I’m kidding.” It looks away again, then I add, “We still need a new name, though. How about Gear?” It looks at me again and I conclude, “Just for now. Later we can put our heads together and see if we can make up a better one. Deal?”

It nods its head in agreement. I’ve been out of jail for about an hour and my first friend is one of the most dangerous robots in existence; that says a lot about my character. For now, this thing is just my ride to the city. I’m sure eventually it’ll become a problem for me when its owner shows up to get it or when I come riding up to the city border-crossing perched on its shoulder.

I ask, “Can we go any faster?”

Gear starts bolting forward. I almost fall off its shoulder with how fast it’s sprinting. I grab onto its shoulder plate with both hands and hold myself down to it. The breeze is hitting me in the face pretty hard as we brush through the desert sands almost fast enough to kick up whirlwinds.

I squint my eyelids down as low as possible while still being able to see where we’re going. I look at the desert around me and back at the prison where I see a light on top of the dome. I can’t make much of it, though it seems to be moving towards us and getting brighter. The light shifts over to the side and I see an attack helicopter heading towards us fast.

I inform Gear, “We’ve got company.”

Gear spins its head completely around as it continues bolting forward. The helicopter starts firing missiles at us and Gear makes evasive maneuvers to dodge the missiles. There is no spot for seating on an Alpha MeBo, so it’s naturally becoming a bumpy ride for me as missiles come crashing down around us. The missiles are keeping up at a turning pace, so they must be guided by Gear’s heat signature. I look forward and, in the distance, see the forest again just in front of the city. I’d been through that forest many times and can tell we’re not far out now.

I shout to Gear, “We can try and lose them in the forest!”

Gear speeds up; however, the helicopter is getting desperate. It starts shooting heat rounds and missiles. Gear reaches its arm around behind it and shields me. I jump forward off Gear then spin and grab onto its chest plate, but Gear can’t avoid the assault with me still hanging on. It gets hit with loads of heat rounds and a couple of missiles, causing it to slow down drastically in speed.

The heat rounds are lethal rounds that dish out heat upon contact; the smaller hand-held weapons use them as well, but in smaller doses so as not to be lethal and to stop any bleeding with the burning. The intention is to keep the target alive. Gear is in very bad shape as it struggles to continue running towards the forest. We are very close now. I look up at the helicopter and watch it as it fires another missile.

I shout, “We got one more incoming!”

Gear continues pressing on as the missile gets closer. I’m not sure what I can do to get us out of this. My weapons are no match for the helicopter, although I can try to take out the missile. I let go of the chest plate with my right hand and use it to grab my rifle from behind me. I aim over Gear’s shoulder at the missile. I use Gear’s shoulder to rest the rifle, then squeeze the trigger. Small heat rounds start spewing out of the barrel. My aim is a little off because of the fast running, but I continue to try and hit the missile anyway because we’ll both be toast if I don’t, literally. Just before the missile gets too close, it explodes.

I express excitement, “Yes!”

The explosion covers the sky behind Gear between me and the helicopter, then another missile pierces through it, moving fast towards us. I start firing at the missile, but it’s unavoidable now. We are feet away from the forest when Gear scoots its lower right arm under me and brushes me forward, pushing me towards the sea of trees. The forceful push causes me to drop the rifle. I hear an explosion as I soar between the trees. I hit the ground, tumbling wildly through the forest.

I smack, back first, into a tree and shout from the pain. Am I broken in half or what? That robot has a heck of a push. I look up ahead of me and see the fire from the wrecked Alpha outside of the forest. It’s not completely destroyed; however, it’s unsalvageable for me. Those Alphas are nearly impossible to destroy and, if it weren’t for me being in its way, that attack helicopter wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Now I have to walk. What a bummer. I hear the helicopter off in the distance, flying away. It seems that they think I died in the explosion and didn’t see the Alpha mech lob me through the trees. Once I hear the helicopter’s noise completely fade away, I stand up and dust myself off. Eventually the Regs will show up to examine the wreckage for my body, so it’ll be a good idea for me to get out of here. I turn around and start walking through the forest towards the city’s dome.