by William Joseph Roberts
"See, they need these long dangly thingies like this,” Tiff said,
scribbling a crude design on the corner of a napkin. “They need to be
able to wrap around the player like tentacles and pull them in where it
can start chewing on them.”
“You do realize that will cost extra,” the programmer said with a heavy
Russian accent. “If I have to develop and program new character
features on top of translating this alien code, it could take years to
complete this project. It is do-able, but until I dig further into the
code I will not know what sort of changes I can even do.”
“You’re the top software engineer back on Earth, Ivan. If anyone can
figure it out, it’s you. That’s why I hired you and brought you to
“You put a lot of faith in a drunken old man, little girl,” Ivan said
then blew out a laugh. “I promise nothing, but as long as you pay and
cover the room and board, I will do my very best.”
“Gravy! Let’s get to work then. The Polsians just hooked me up with a
jackport this morning so I can test out the system for myself.”
“What was this software originally used for?” Ivan lit a cigarette,
then adjusted his glasses, looking down his nose at the code as it
scrolled across the screen.
“From what D’urket, our Polsian liaison said, it was originally a
training program developed by the Krubrednu. They adapted it to their
own technology from some long-dead and ancient race so they could
complete training requirements in a fully immersive virtual reality
instead of having to physically lift a finger.”
Ivan looked up at Tiff with a perturbed look of disdain. “I can see why
it would be useful in some situations, depending on the training
required, but you make it sound like they are a race of lazy slugs.”
“Well, they sorta are, actually. Not like, slimy or anything. They just
look like four-foot-tall slugs with this weird tentacle hair and
teeth.” Tiff smiled. “After D’urket and the Luvarian ambassador saw me
kicking ass in an online tournament of “Gunnerworks” they made the
comment that a fully immersive program similar to the video game would
allow their soldiers to train in any environment without the cost of
transport. That’s what spurred my idea to sweet talk Lizz, the Overseer
of Anderson, into letting me bring you onto the payroll. If we pull
this off, not only can we sell it to the aliens we’ve been dealing
with, but we can train our own people and sell it to folks back
Earthside as the hottest new game system.”
“Did they say if there were any side effects to the procedure?”
“They said there was some sort of chance of seizures with this one
particular alien race, but I’d never heard of them before, so no
“Peach. You going to get on with this or what?”
Ivan looked around at the multitude of speakers around the main
console. “Who the hell was that?”
“Oh, shit. I forgot to tell you a few of my gamer buddies were going to
hang out and watch while we test the system.” Tiff tapped at the
console controls and pressed the talk button. “Just hang on one more
second, Dirty. I’m fixing to jump into the system.”
“Just remember Peach. Violence isn’t always the solution.”
“I will, Pskokillz.”
Ivan quirked an eyebrow up at the irony of the gamer’s name.
“Just remember to stay safe in there, Peach. We wouldn’t know what
to do without you on a raid. No one else can pull off a distraction
like you, with your sexy southern voice.”
“Oh my God, guys! I will! Would y’all chill already? Geez! Don’t worry,
Redbeard, I’ll be fine. Promise.”
Ivan turned in his chair, placing his glasses on the workstation.
“Peaches? That’s what they just called you?”
“Yeah, man. That’s my gamer handle. Well, it’s actually, PeAcHyCrEePiN,
but most people who know me on the VSphere just call me Peach or
“Wait?” Ivan scratched at his head. “They are all on the VSphere? We
are light-years from Earth. How is this even possible?”
“The Geek worked his magic awhile back,” Tiff said with a nonchalant
wave. “He came up with some sort of relay network through the fLUX
point so we have a real-time connection with Earth.”
Ivan nodded with a skeptical look on his face. “I did not know such a
thing was possible, but good to know.” He turned, facing the console.
“As far as I can tell the base program has finished loading. If you are
ready, let’s get you jacked in.”
“Alrighty,” Tiff chirped as she stepped into her game station. The
convoluted seat looked like someone had welded a roll cage to a
dentist’s chair and mounted the entire contraption into a
hydraulically-driven gyroscope. Tiff strapped on the haptic leggings
and jacket before securing the seven-point harness over herself and
plugging in a number of sensory cables. “You’re going to have to jack
me in, Ivan. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that to myself,
Ivan stood and walked over to the rig. “Why is that?”
Tiff picked up the end of a thick cable harness, twisting the end
connection. A short interface spike shot out from the end and extended
a series of thread-like metallic tendrils.
Ivan took the cable, closely examining the connection then looked up at
Tiff over his glasses. “Are you sure that you want to do this? It
doesn’t look comfortable in the slightest.”
“D’urket said it doesn’t hurt. It just feels weird for a few minutes
while your mind makes a full connection to the system.”
Ivan shrugged then blew out a long breath. “If you say so.” He rotated
the end connection, retracting the interface.
Tiff looked away, pointing to a port just behind her left ear. “Just
get it lined up and lock in the connection.”
“Here goes nothing.” Aligning the end of the cable to the port embedded
in the back of Tiff’s head Ivan engaged the interface.
Tiff stood alone on an empty gray landscape that seemed to extend out
to forever in all directions.
“Can you hear me, Mrs. Crowley?”
“Yes, Ivan. I can hear you. It’s like you’re everywhere all at the same
time. And you can just call me Peach. Mrs. Crowley sounds way
too formal and weird.”
Ivan grunted. “Da. Peach it is. It looks like you are now fully
integrated into the system and your vitals are looking good.”
“That would be the base program that establishes the parameters of
the environment itself.”
“Alright, then. Let’s load something and test this thing out.”
“Drop her into the middle of the pit in ‘Warriors’,” Redbeard
said, chiming into the conversation.
“Naw, Dog,” Dirty said. “Put her into a rumble royal in
‘Days of Valor’.”
“Are you kidding,” Pskokillz added. “I want to see what she
can do in ‘MindCrack’ without the restriction of a controller. That has
to be epically cool to be inside an actual game.”
“You know, that’s not a half-bad idea actually, Pskokillz.” Tiff turned
in place, looking for anything to use as a reference point. “Alright, I
gotta have something in here. All of this nothing is starting to make
me sick. Hey, Ivan. Can we only load existing programs or can we start
building our own?”
“If I am understanding this coding correctly, I think we could load
different aspects from other software on top of the base program to
create a custom environment.”
“Hell yeah, then let’s do this shit,” Tiff cheered.
“What should we start with?”
“Mute them if you would please, Ivan. I’m trying to think.”
“Gladly, Mrs. Peach.”
“I think Dirty was right though. We should load the weapons first.”
“One moment, please,” Ivan thundered overhead like the voice of
God. “Here’s something that might be of use. Loading.”
Wooden racks and shelves covered in every conceivable bladed or bashing
weapon suddenly materialized in front of Tiff.
“Freaking sweet, man.” Tiff hurried over to the racks, browsing through
a number of blades, she draped a bandoleer of throwing knives over one
shoulder then realized she was totally nude. “Um… Hey, Ivan. Why am I
“Because we haven’t programmed you any clothes yet.”
“Well, you ain’t’ gotta be mean about it.”
“Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.”
“Could you load something up for me?’
“Is there any way you can pull my last saved skin from Days of Valor?”
Ivan sighed. “Possibly. Let me see what I can do. One moment, my
naked little Peach.”
“Dude, that just sounds creepy as hell when you say it like that.”
“But it is truth. You can not deny that. Here. See how this looks on
A massive golden mirror appeared hanging in mid-air just in front of
Tiff. She turned, checking herself out from different angles. She
smoothed the lines of her digicam trousers over her round rear, then
adjusted the fully packed utility harness secured over her shoulders
and around her waist.
“Damn, I make this look good!”
“Would you like that I should load a frilly fluffy dress for you to
try on next,” Ivan suggested.
“What? Hell no! I ain’t wearing anything frilly or fluffy or anywhere
close to being a dress!”
Ivan’s laugh boomed god-like, reverberating from seemingly everywhere
all at once.
“Shut up and load the rest of the gear, please.”
“As you wish, Princess Peaches,” he said, chuckling.
Displays of weapons—from simple flintlocks to high-tech plasma
rifles—suddenly appeared, littering a multitude of countertops all
“I trust that this is a sufficient selection for Her Highness?”
“Shut your face-hole,” Tiff said, grumbling under her breath as she
took a selection of weaponry from the deadly buffet. “Alright, you can
clear out all the gear, I think I’m good.”
“What would you like me to load next?”
“How about the environment. It’s awfully, blegh in here.”
“What sort of environment would you like?”
“How about a jungle?”
A lush, tropical rainforest instantaneously appeared all around her.
Bright blue skies peeked through small holes in the tops of the canopy
high above. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Humidity
hung heavy in the air. The sounds of strange creatures echoed
throughout the forest.
“No. How about a tropical underground biodome?”
“You don’t expect a lot, do you?”
“That’s what I hired you for, Ivan.”
“You think you’ve hired me. Remember, I have not fully committed to
this project yet.”
The world around Tiff abruptly shifted to a tropical hillside dotted
with fruit trees and palms of all varieties contained within a
cavernous domed space made up of large hexagonal tiles. Huts of bamboo
and thatch sat next to a small stream that lazily flowed across the
“Wow,” Tiff gasped. “That’s perfect, Ivan.”
“What next, my Peach?”
“How about some bubble gum? I need something to chew on or I get
“Done. Now what?”
“I guess go ahead and load up a mission from one of my game files and
see if you can incorporate it with the Polsian training software. If it
works, we can give it a full test run.”
A middle-aged man in a straw hat and ragged shorts suddenly appeared in
front of the hut nearest to Tiff. He scratched at his bare beer-belly
while shifting his stance at regular intervals.
“Do you see a character standing near you?”
“Yeah,” Tiff said.
“If the rest of the programing code is this easy to understand, then
building our own system should be a piece of cake,” Ivan said. “I
am literally copying code elements from our software and pasting it
into the alien code, then adjusting the syntax as needed. Go talk to
the character to initiate the quest sequence. If all goes well, he will
give you the information after a little question and answer dialog
before the task activates.”
“Alright,” she said, sauntering up to the half-naked pot-bellied man.
“So what’s shakin’ ham and bacon?”
“Greetings adventurer, and welcome to Hudson’s colony, the very first
colony to be established on Pluto. I am Gerald, guide and gardener
extraordinaire, how may I be of service?”
Resting her combat shotgun on her shoulder, Tiff popped a bubble and
chewed loudly as she examined Gerald. “Well, he might look like a
skanky creeper, but he sounds impressive.”
“Ask him a question to start the sequence.”
“Hey Gerald, you got any work that needs to be done around here?”
“I’m so glad you asked,” Gerald said, pointing at her with a flourish.
“I’ve had a terrible time eliminating the recycling slimes from the
agricultural domes. I thought that if I borrowed a few of them from the
waste processing facility that I could boost the efficiency of our
composting, but I fear that I was wrong. And now, they have nearly
destroyed our potato crop. Please help us, brave adventurer, the colony
needs you.” Gerald flashed a mechanically wide smile.
“What game did you pull him from?”
“Something called...Ashadame,” Ivan said.
“Greetings adventurer, and welcome to Hudson’s colony,” Gerald began
“Skip,” Tiff said. Gerald’s expression flashed back to the same wide
smile. “Can you make a note to remove repeat dialog like that from the
“Done. What next?”
“Time to smear some slimes.” Tiff turned back to Gerald.
“Accept,” Tiff said, sliding the pump of her shotgun. “I’ll get rid of
those little buggers. Where them slimy lil’ bitches at?”
“Oh no, adventurer, you cannot kill them. The colony needs them in the
waste treatment facility. They must be returned and unharmed.”
“Well, shit.” Tiff slid the shotgun into a holster strapped across her
back and looked around. “Can you at least point me in the direction you
saw them in last?”
Gerald pointed down the hill, toward a terraced plot of garden. “They
were last seen over there, ravaging our potato crops.”
“Alright, let’s check this out then.” Tiff bounced and skipped her way
down the dusty dirt path to the area Gerald had indicated. Three
neon-green slimes oozed about the garden plot, making sing-song
chirping noises as they did so. They didn’t exactly eat the plants,
more like they absorbed the crops as they oozed along, leaving what
looked like glittery lumps of coal in their wake.
“Hey Ivan, give me a bucket.”
“As you wish,” he said, and a small metal bucket suddenly
appeared in front of Tiff.
“Perfect.” Standing over top of the first slime she placed the bucket
over the creature, then drawing her short sword, she used the blade to
hold the slime in place as she rotated the bucket, scooping up the
creature. “Well, that was easy.” She let out a disappointed sigh then
slid the sword back into its scabbard.
“What is wrong?”
“I was honestly hoping for something a little more exciting, not this
level zero blueberry crap. Is there any way you can turn it up a notch?”
“Absolutely, my little Peach. I can turn it up all the way if you
like.” Ivan chuckled.
“Hell’s yeah!” Tiff drew the shotgun from its back holster and pumped
the slide action. “Turn this thing up to eleven and let’s kill some
shit. Survival mode!”
“As you wish.”
The scenery suddenly shifted to burning fields all along the hillside.
Pockets of orange flame showed through the smoke that billowed upward,
filling the top of the biodome.
“Adventurer, save us!” Gerald shouted from somewhere up the hill, but
his voice sounded raspy and strangled.
“This is already looking better,” Tiff said as she sprinted uphill, her
shotgun at the ready.
Beside the burning hut, she could make out Gerald’s form in the thick
Gerald let out a gurgling gasp, then lurched forward, blood pouring
from his mouth. “Help us, Adventurer! You are our only hope,” he
whispered, then his face contorted with agonizing pain. Blood gushed
from his now severed neck as his body fell to the ground and his mouth
worked, gasping for breath. The disembodied head floated forward from
the billowing black smoke, held aloft by the artificial hand of a
“Colony integrity must be maintained. All threats to be eliminated,”
the figure said in a synthesized voice. It dropped Gerald’s severed
head and stepped forward. Its features were formed in what looked like
a molded white plastic, to resemble the body of an average man. Gaps in
the coverings revealed glowing blue-green lights that blinked and
pulsed beneath. “State your function and identification number.”
“Ain’t he cute,” Tiff said, admiring the detail of the robot.
A deeply metallic sound of rejection emanated from the robot. “Invalid
Tiff dove to the right just as an acrid fountain of flame shot out from
the robot's arm. Rolling, she tucked left, bounded high, and landed on
top of a partially burnt wagon. She fired. Pumping the shotgun as fast
as she could, she emptied the magazine into the robot.
Raising its other hand, rounds fired in rapid succession.
Tiff ducked. Rounds chewed into the side of the wagon, penetrating the
aged wood. Tiff rolled onto her back, reloading the shotgun as quickly
as she could, then rose to a crouched position and fired.
The robot fired again, getting off three rounds before its hand
exploded from the impact of a one-ounce slug.
Tiff dropped sideways into the wagon, grabbing at her left leg as it
collapsed beneath her from two rounds penetrating her upper thigh.
“Oh my God, Ivan! What the hell just happened? That freaking hurts,
“Your heart rate and blood pressure are spiking through the roof.”
“No shit, Sherlock, I just got shot, man!” Tiff pulled her hand back to
look at the damage and saw it was coated in blood. “Holy crap, man!.
“Well, you did take damage. Health meter is down by twenty-seven
percent. You have a health potion in your inventory. Drink it and let’s
see if that portion of the program is working.”
“But why can I feel it? My leg is killing me, Ivan.”
“It probably has something to do with the full immersion. You aren’t
only seeing, hearing, and smelling things within the program, you’re
fully experiencing it because the stimulus is being fed directly into
“Can you do anything to shut it off?”
“No, sorry. I don’t think I can. At least not without some in-depth
research into the program. It looks like it is part of the core
“Then why can you change all of this other stuff?”
“How do I put this properly? Hmm… I only add garnish to an already
excellent dish. It’s nothing more than window dressings, you see?”
“Well, put that at the top of the list to fix.” Tiff reached into her
pocket and produced a small foil-wrapped ration bar. She shrugged then
tore open the package and ate the health bar.
“That boosted your health by twenty percent. Your wounds should be
Tiff looked down at her leg to find the bullet wounds had turned from
bleeding holes to scabbed over scar tissue.
“Wow, that worked crazy good, Ivan.” She poked at the wound. “Still
hurts a little and itches, but otherwise nothing like it was.”
“State your function and identification number,” the synthetic voice
said as a robotic hand ripped away the side board of the wagon.
“Oh crap! Almost forgot about the murder-bot!” Rolling to the side, she
drew her short sword in one smooth motion, placing the tip of the blade
between the robot’s eyes and through its head.
“Compliance... is…,” the robot said, its synthesized voice stuttering
before it collapsed to the ground and dissolved into nothing, leaving
behind a small laser-edged kitchen knife and a power cell.
“Hu,” Tiff grunted, then lowered herself to the ground. “Don’t know
what these are good for yet, but loot is loot.” She reached to open her
belt pouch when a translucent screen appeared in the air in front of
her. “Well, I’ll be damned if that isn’t cool.” She dropped the items
into her inventory, then paged through her stats.
“This isn’t half bad, Ivan. I think this will do just what we want and
make an amazing training program."
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Ivan said with a chuckle.
“Alright then, I’m over it. Pull me out and we can start going over the
full layout,” Tiff said, closing her inventory. She sheathed her sword
then retrieved her shotgun from the broken wagon and holstered it.
“This is odd. I do not see an option anywhere to end the scenario.”
“Do what?” Tiff brought up the options page and searched for the save
and exit. “Oh crap, Ivan. I think we’re screwed.”
“I only work here. You can not blame me for doing what I’m told.”
“Okay, fine. I think I’m screwed, how about that?”
“That works perfectly fine for me.”
“Uh-huh… Well, I think I remember D’urket saying something about once
you go into survival mode that you had to complete the program.”
“That would make sense, considering I do not see a way to get you
“Can’t you just disconnect the jack link or something?”
“I have no idea what it might do to you.” Ivan let out a
frustrated sigh. “For all I know, it could kill you, or leave you
as a vegetable.”
Tiff kicked the side of the wagon, letting out a frustrated scream.
“Alright, fine. What do I have to do to get out of here then?”
“You have to make your way through both of the agricultural domes,
colony hub, and water treatment facilities to the power generation
plant in order to shut down the robots.”
“Then let’s get this shit started. Which way?”
“You should see a series of waypoints that I’ve set in the distance.
You can also see their locations via the map.”
“How do I access the map?”
“Just look down at your wrist-mounted data unit. Tap on the screen
to enlarge the display.”
“Let’s get to it then, shall we?” She pulled the shotgun from its
holster, slid the pump action, and sprinted downhill. “How many of
these things are blocking my path?”
“I count twelve active units spread out across the complex. The
first of which is just ahead of you at the bottom of the hill.”
Through the smoke and flame, she could make out the blue-green internal
glow of another murder-bot. She sprinted down the path then pushed off
in the low gravity. Leaping into the air, she flew the final distance
in a high arc, her shotgun poised, ready to fire. She fired two slugs
downward into the murder-bot. It stumbled with the first round then
fell backward with the second. Tiff landed with her knee crushing in
the chest plate of the robot.
“Death from above, bitchboy!” Racking the slide of the shotgun, she
aimed one-handed at the murder-bot’s head and fired.
“Well, hell, that wasn’t so bad.”
“Need I remind my little Peach, that that was only one of twelve
currently active bots,” Ivan said with a smug, know-it-all tone.
Tiff collected another power pack and box of shotgun shells then opened
“Five more of those power bars, a power protein shake, and one medkit.
I think I’ll be alright. They shouldn’t be that much worse.”
“It’s your funeral.”
“Naw...” She popped a huge bubble with her gum then reloaded the
shotgun. “Ain’t nothing but a thang, man.”
Checking her radar, she turned in the direction of the next target and
sprinted into the second agricultural dome.
Three murder-bots marched along in her general direction, their
flame-throwers belching liquid fire onto everything surrounding them.
Firing on the run, Tiff nailed the first of the three bots. It
staggered backward from the impact of the shotgun slug. Pumping two
more rounds into the bot as she charged through, she ducked, sliding
past the other two. Turning as she slid, she fired upward into the bot
to her right.
The top of the bot’s head exploded in a shower of electronics and
plastic. The bot spun as it fell, engulfing the second bot in its still
"Harumph,” Ivan grunted. “That was almost impressive.”
Tiff stood, dusting herself off. “I’ve been gaming for so long it
better be impressive.”
Checking the map, she moved to the tunnel connecting the agricultural
domes to the water processing facility. Four more indicators showed on
the map moving about the facility. The overhead silhouette of what
looked like water tanks stood out on the map.
“On the map, it looks like a main corridor runs right through the
processing facility. If it is, I might be able to bypass these guys.
They are all off on one side of the complex.”
“It looks to me like it might be a catwalk that spans the length of
“Even freaking better, man.”
She continued through the water facility unabated, turning down the
primary access tunnel leading to the hub center of Hudson’s colony.
Tiff skidded to a halt at the main pressure doors leading into the hub.
A harsh beep sounded as she pressed the activation key on the door
access control panel.
“Access denied? What the hell, Ivan?”
“We may have a little problem.”
“Oh really? I hadn’t noticed,” she said sarcastically. “Any chance you
can open the door?”
“Yes, but you’ll need to hurry. A countdown timer just started at
“What’s it counting down?”
“If I knew that, I would have already told you.”
“Then hurry up and open the door so I can get moving.”
“Already on it,” Ivan said as the pressure seals released with a
hiss and the doors slowly slid apart.
Bodies littering the entranceway blocked most of the corridor. Most
were dismembered, bullet-ridden, charred husks.
“Oh my God, Ivan. That is just brutal!” Tiff dry heaved. “Oh my God,
“You need to hurry.”
“I know, I know!”
Leaping over the first pile of bodies, Tiff continued into the hub
center. Shops and offices lined the sides of the commons, surrounding a
burning park area in the center. She turned, sprinting through the
statue dotted park.
Automatic gunfire erupted from overhead. Diving, she skidded for cover
behind a low stone wall landing on top of a body.
“Dude is so freaking squishy, too. OMG, this is uncomfortable. I must
be laying on a rock or something.” Tiff rocked to the side and reached
under herself, pulling out a grenade.
“Freaking sweet!” Pulling the pin, she threw the grenade in the
direction of the gunfire. In response, countermeasures in the form of
liquid fire poured down over the top of her, covering the lower part of
“Ivan! Oh my God, it hurts! Make it stop, Ivan!”
The grenade exploded, silencing the hail of projectiles.
She kicked and writhed, spreading the oily flames to her hands and arms
as she attempted to wipe it away.
“There’s nothing that I can do! Treat it as a real flame. Roll
around to try and put it out,” Ivan suggested. “Cover yourself with a
blanket or something if you can find it.”
Tiff struggled to roll. Exhaustion slammed into her hard. She laid back
and watched the thick gouts of smoke billow upward, roiling as a great
cloud at the top of the chamber, obscuring the lights. “It feels so
warm, man. Like it doesn’t hurt any more, it’s just kinda warm and
“Listen to me closely, Peach,” Ivan said, panic lacing his
voice. “You need to open your pack and eat one of those power bars
or something. Your health meter is dangerously low and I do not know
what will happen if you die within the program.”
“Die?” Tiff laughed. “How could I die, Ivan? It’s just a game.”
“A game that I have spliced together on top of a piece of alien
software that I don’t completely understand. Remember, you are jacked
into the system, which is why you can feel, taste, and smell everything
on top of sight and sound.”
Tiff opened her inventory, selected the power protein shake, and
immediately felt the extreme pain return to her legs. Looking down she
watched them go from desiccated husks to scorched, bleeding flesh, the
clothing all but burnt away.
“I don’t understand, Ivan. Why does it hurt again!?”
“Because you are only partially healed. Your legs were almost gone
just a moment ago. Eat something else or use the medical kit. See what
Pulling a power bar from inventory she devoured it then selected the
medical kit. Opening the small white box with a green plus sign on its
side, her wounds were automatically bandaged and her health meter
climbed a few more notches.
“Does that feel any better, Peach?”
“Wow. That’s hella crazy, Ivan. It’s like those gunshots from earlier.
It all still kinda aches and itches, but otherwise the pain is pretty
much gone.” Tiff rubbed at the bandages wrapping her legs like
“Well, you are inside of a video game. Healing doesn’t have to take
“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” she said, peaking over the edge of the low
stone wall. “How much time do we have left, Ivan?”
“Less than two minutes remaining,”he said, clearing his throat. “If
you hurry, you might be able to make it. The power generation facility
is only a few hundred feet down the next corridor, past the Constable's
“On it!” Tiff hurried to her feet, sprinting in the direction of the
“It looks like there may be two bots just inside the loading bay of
the power facility. It’s hard to tell for sure. It almost looks like
they are standing on top of one another. It doesn’t make sense.”
“It does if you take the third axis into account. That means there must
be a catwalk or one of them is on another floor. Just keep an eye on
them and let me know if anything changes.”
Continuing down the mined-out corridor, she dodged around disabled
carts riddled with bullet holes and heavy lift equipment whose frames
were warped by super-heated fire. Bodies lay scattered about in all
forms of mangled dismemberment. As soon as she reached the power
generation facility, a klaxon belched, followed by an abrupt warning.
“Self-destruct sequence activated,” a digitized voice announced.
“One minute to self-destruct.”
“Dammit, Ivan! You didn’t tell me it was a self-destruct sequence.”
“How was I to know what it was? All I saw was a countdown without a
warning of any kind,” Ivan defended.
“Fine! Fine! I’m sorry. How far is it to the control center?”
“Fifty or so meters to the right of the entrance.”
Drawing the two pistols holstered at the pit of her back, she tapped at
the door’s control console then took on a ready stance. Smoke billowed
into the corridor from the opening as the doors slid slowly apart. Red
lights flashed in time to warning alarms.
Gunfire erupted from the obscuring black cloud. Tiff dove left and
rolled, landing on her feet at the edge of the entryway. Ducking low,
she waited for a break in the gunfire and slipped inside the entrance
behind a pallet of shipping containers.
Gunfire resumed, pelting the containers with rapid automatic fire.
Tiff rolled her eyes, letting out a frustrated huff. “Come on already.
You gotta reload some time.”
Crouching low with her back to the containers, Tiff waited again for
the lull. Diving to the right, she rolled, charging forward in the
direction of the shots. The murder-bot’s arms recoiled from the
reloading mechanism with an audible click. It turned, looking in her
direction, then aimed.
“I don’t think so, circuit breath!”
Dual-wielding the autopistols, she fired, walking her shots upward with
the recoil of each previous shot. She placed nine rounds in the robot's
torso and five into its head. The gun in her left hand clicked, the
slide locking open. She stepped under the robot's right arm and placed
the pistol in her right hand just under its chin.
“Just the tip, baby.”
The murder-bot’s head jerked backward, drawing its body along with it
in a slow arcing fall.
“You need to hurry, Peach!” Ivan warned. “You have less than
a minute left!”
“You should see a flashing indicator.”
Looking around she found a flashing red arrow at the top of the stairs
to the right of the entrance. She sprinted, taking the stairs three
steps at a time in the low gravity, then followed the arrow into a side
corridor that looped around to the right. She leapt left, running along
the surface of the wall she stepped from the left side of the corridor
to the right then left, she leaped continuing down the path ninety
degrees to the right.
“There! Just ahead of you is the control center,” Ivan said. “You
should be able to deactivate the self-destruct from there.”
Firing her last round at the access panel, the door opened just as Tiff
slid through the opening. Automatic gunfire erupted from her left,
peppering her torso with rounds. Doubling over in pain, she dropped the
“I can’t do this, Ivan,” she gasped.
“You can, my little Peach. You can and your will! Use the remainder
of your healing bars and finish this!”
“But it hurts too much! This is worse than a freaking kidney stone, man!”
“Then you are what I feared,” Ivan growled disappointedly. “You’re nothing more than a loud-mouthed wannabe.”
“I don’t think so, buddy!”
Accessing her inventory, Tiff activated the remainder of her power bars
then drew two of the throwing knives from the bandoleer across her
The murder-bot’s arm guns jerked, reloading.
Tiff chucked both throwing knives at the bot then tucked and rolled to
the right, drawing two more. Leaping high and to the side, she pushed
off from a control console, flying headlong into the murder-bot,
impaling both knives into the back of its head.
The robot shook violently, its head wobbling out of control. Automatic fire sporadically erupted as it fell over backwards.
“That’s right! You like that?”
Ivan cleared his throat. “Need I remind you of the self-destruction in progress?”
“Crap!” Tiff sprinted for the control console she had pushed off from,
pressing the disable self-destruct sequence. “Hell yeah, man! Woot!
That was freaking intense.” Her leg arched around like a kicker kicking
a field goal as she landed a steel-toed boot to the side of the
murder-bot’s head. “Take that you freaking walking toaster!”
“And just in the nick of time as well.”
Tiff looked over the screens and noticed two seconds remained on the
countdown timer. She laughed. “If that ain’t by the skin of my teeth
then I don’t know what is.”
“The option to exit is now available. I can disconnect you from the system any time you are ready.”
“Hell yeah. Pull me out of here.” Tiff stood straight and closed her
eyes. The world lurched around her suddenly. It felt oddly disturbing
when the jackport disengaged from the side of her head. When she opened
her eyes, she was back in the lab, Ivan lingering over her.
“How do you feel, my little Peach?”
“That was freaking wild!”
“I’ll delete what we have and start with a fresh set of code in the
morning,” Ivan said as he looked down the bridge of his nose at the
Groggy, Tiff pushed herself upright and sat on the edge of the seat.
“Hell no, you won’t. I love it just the way it is! We’ll need to do
some tweaking, but that’s alright. Save that back and let’s build on it
tomorrow. Right now, I could use a shower and a nap.”
Ivan grunted. “If you say so. What should I name the file?”
Tiff tapped a painted nail to her lower lip as she thought. “How about, Dark Star?”
© 2020 William Joseph Roberts
Bio: In a previous lifetime, William Joseph Roberts was an F-15
mechanic and Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He has
traveled the world and experienced many things in his few years. During
his tenure in this lifetime, he has been called a Jack of all trades, a
Renaissance man and insane squirrel wrangler by his peers. Since his
enlistment ended, he has perused careers as an industrial and
architectural designer, design engineer, and now, eclectic writer.
William Joseph Roberts currently resides in the quaint southern town of
Chickamauga, Georgia with his loving wife, three freaky smart nerd
children, and small pack of fur babies.
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