[Fiction] Wastewalker

A wacky, wily game of postapocalyptic peril.

[Fiction] Wastewalker

Postby Knightfall » Tue May 24, 2011 8:11 am

Chapter One
"How the hell did I get into this shit!"

Tad knew he was in serious trouble. The damn Roids had him pinned down with nothing but dust and rubble to protect him. His gun was useless. No shots left. He still had his blade but he knew the Roids would continue attacking with rocks, spears, and anything else they could throw. Plus, there was the cannon.

He heard the report and ducked his head down. He half buried himself in the sand. The round hit the wall he was hiding behind. It punched through leaving a huge hole and showered him with petrified wood. It would take several minutes before the Roids' cannon would be able to fire again.

Tad pulled himself up, spitting sand, and peered through the new hole. He counted twelve at least. There had been twice that many before he'd emptied his bullets into the first group that had attacked him. They had come out of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. They came out of the waste. Outcasts that were one step higher on the food chain than the mutated dogs they employed to sniff out 'game'. They were little more than cannibals. And Tad was dinner to them.

He ducked out of the way of a sharp stone that found the hole's center.

"It's too bad you fuckers won't eat sand!" Tad picked up the rock, stepped out of hiding, and tossed it at the nearest Roid. He didn't wait for the result. He dashed deeper into the ruins hoping that he wouldn't stumble into a sinkhole or worse. "Because you're not going eat me!"

He heard the rock hit flesh and bone.

"Release them," he heard the raspy voice. "The prey must not get away!"

Tad disappeared into a petrified house. The door was open so he figured no one would mind. Then he heard them. The howls that were more like screams.

"Anybody home?" At least he still had his sense of humor. It was the only thing keeping him on the right side of the edge of panic.

The home was unlike anything he could have imagined. It was large. And its ceiling was higher than two of him. Of course, everything was in shambles. All the wood was now hard as stone. Sand covered the floors and dust choked the air. Tad pulled his scarf around his nose and mouth.

"To die of suffocation or to die by mutie dog bite." It was a tough choice.

He smelled them first. Then he heard them. Growls that sounded like hisses. That's what happened when canine and reptilian DNA mutated together. That and a poisonous bite.

Tad had his blade out. Two-handed stance. He'd die fighting.

Just as the first lizard-dog came through the door, he spotted it. There were stairs leading up to somewhere. He risked it. He was halfway up before the first beast reached the stairway. The beasts were big, so he had the advantage. The lizard-dog tried to follow him and got stuck for its troubles. A second, smaller beast didn't have the same problem. It climbed over its compatriot and half climbed, half-slithered up the stairs.

"Damn it!" Tad had gotten cocky. He had planned to cut the stuck beast's throat but was soon fighting for his life. The second lizard-dog tried to bite his left leg. Its mouth met steel instead. Tad severed the beast's lower jaw with a lucky strike. It howled. Tad ran up the stairs. He didn't look back. Three flights later he reached a open doorway. The stairs continued on, but he knew he needed to check out the room for anything that might help.

It wasn't nearly as large as the lower room. However, it was better preserved. The wood wasn't petrified and there was a charge to the room. And there were artifacts of ages gone by.

Holy badder-on-a-stick!" Tad had found a fortune. If he lived, he'd be rich.

Another howl brought him back to his need for a better weapon. A nearby cabinet was locked with iron banding and some sort of metal artifact that was holding the banding in place across the wood. He hit it with the butt of his gun. The gun broke but the artifact held.

"Shit!"

He could smell them again. He hit the artifact with his blade. Once. Twice. On the third strike, the artifact broke. He pulled open the cabinet. It was full of weapons. Guns, blades, and a large axe. He grabbed the nearest pistol, turned around to see death standing behind him, aimed the gun down the lizard-dog's throat, prayed it was loaded, and pulled the trigger.

Click.

The beast roared. Tad pulled the trigger again with his arm halfway down the creature's throat.

Bang!

The beast's eyes went wide. It pulled back. Blood gurgled out of its mouth. Tad aimed the weapon towards the beast's brain. Click. Click. Bang!

The lizard-dog fell dead just as another came through the doorway. Tad pointed and fired. Bang!

Right in the head.

"Luck. Dumb luck."

Tad looked at the weapon. It was near perfect. He opened it. It hadn't misfired. Three of the chambers were empty. He dumped out the empty cartridges. He hoped for more. He scoured the cabinet. There were more. Two whole boxes more. Plus shells for several of the other weapons. There was a scatter gun. It was loaded and there was three boxes of shells for it.

Tad looked towards the doorway. The large beast that died from the one shot was blocking about half of it and the landing. He had time. He emptied the cabinet. He took everything he could fit into several large bags that were stuffed into a bottom drawer. It all looked like it was brand new. It was impossible. Weapons of the ancients in near perfect condition.

Then he found it.

Built into the back of the cabinet was a locked chamber. It was made of metal and had a strange dial on the front that rotated. He knew he had to find a way to open it. He made a quick survey of the rest of the room. There were chairs, a table, and a shelf. These perfect items weren't as amazing as the items on the desk and shelf. Paper. And books. It was inconceivable.

Had he stepped through a gateway into the past somehow?

He tried to read the words on the paper strewn across the desk. It wasn't familiar. But it was valuable, nonetheless. The seekers in Calgar would pay him anything for the items in this room. If they didn't kill him for the artifacts.

He found no clues of how to open the locked chamber.

A voice brought him back to reality. The Roids were coming. Tad smiled.

He'd save the scatter gun for more dangerous foes. He had found two other hand guns. One matched the weapon he'd used to bring down the lizard-dogs. The other was more complicated. He'd have to take some time to study it. He double-checked the weapons to make sure he'd loaded every chamber. His pockets were full of bullets. He placed himself on the edge of the doorway. He could hear several voices coming from below, now. He stepped over the fallen beast as best as he could and aimed his new weapons down the stairwell.

The Roids didn't know what hit them.
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:57 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Chapter One (cont.)

Postby Knightfall » Mon May 30, 2011 8:59 pm

Tad sat silently in the chair behind the desk. He looked at the papers on the desk — frustrated. He couldn't read any of them. Yes, he could read but not the languages of the ancients. There were at least three distinct languages amongst the documents. And that wasn't even including the various books on the shelf. He'd looked through a dozen of them; they made his head hurt. One of them, sitting on the desk in front of him, was a truly amazing find. It was a book of technological items with pictures and diagrams — weapons, vehicles, and survival gear as well as other items that he couldn't decipher from looking at the pictures. He'd found pictures in the book of all the weapons he'd found in the cabinet as well as one for the locked chamber. It was some kind of cache of wealth and/or secrets. He had to get it open without damaging the contents.

"At least I have time," Tad spoke out loud to the blood pools on the floor. He'd pulled the dead lizard-dogs out into the stairwell and then down to the main chamber. He'd stripped the Roids of all their best gear and piled it up in the room near the cabinet. "But I'm going to need help. Who to trust?"

There were several options but none of them were great. There was Lockhart. The old man had raised Tad from his infancy. But the man wasn't much of a father figure. Lockhart had beat Tad as much as he'd fed him. There was Balfor. The mutated bear was the closest thing Tad had to a friend. However, his first loyalty was to the Restorationists. "You'd be heaven right now, Balfor."

There was also Kaine. He was the best option for getting the safe open without blowing up the room. He didn't have any loyalties to the cryptic alliances — just like Tad. It's what had the two of them a great team in the past. However, Kaine was ruled by his little head. He'd give up the secret to any three-breasted mutie girl that looked his way. Kaine would get them both killed.

"She's the only option but it's going to be trouble," Tad mused. "Kyli."

It had been months since he'd seen her. She wasn't as good with mechanics as Kaine but she despised the cryptos as much as Tad did — maybe more. The one thing she valued was her freedom. It was why she and Tad hadn't gotten together. He'd wanted more, but she wouldn't relent. It had ended abruptly. She hadn't throw things or tried to kill him in his sleep. No, she simply left his tent-house one night and didn't come back.

"Where would you be now?" Tad wondered aloud.

He sat and thought for several minutes. The room was still. He couldn't hear the wind howling out in the wastelands. Yet, there was a noise to the room. It was that weird charge that filled the air. It had to be what was protecting the place from the passage of time. It made the air stale, which wasn't mixing well with the smell of mutated dog blood on the floor. He knew the source of whatever was protecting the room was close. He'd checked over the walls, the floor, and the furniture. Nothing.

Tad leaned back in the chair and sighed.

"No matter what I do, I'm gonna get screwed."

Then he noticed it. He'd been staring up at the ceiling, which was a blank canvas. No built in halos or decorations. But there was a outline of something. A door or a hatch of some kind close to the wall opposite the cabinet. It was no bigger than four feet and was circular. He stood up and tried to push the table under it. The heavy wooden frame didn't budge. Tad quickly realized that it was attached to the floor. But he had the chair. It rolled.

Soon he was doing his best to balance on the chair under the outline. It looked like it would slide to one side but Tad was hesitant. It could be locked or trapped. Or worse, touching it could undo the field protecting the room. He had to chance it. He touched one finger to it. Nothing happened. He pried at it with one hand. It wouldn't budge. He tried both hands as he wobbled on the chair. It moved half-an-inch and opened a small opening. Tad took a deep breath, wrapped his fingers around the hatch, and pushed as hard as he could.

It slid open the whole way.

What he saw was more mysterious than the cabinet's lock-box. It was machine of some kind. An electronic machine with buttons, lights, and a pad in the shape of a human hand.

"Oh shit." Tad knew he was looking at something that would change his life and the life of everyone living in this part of the waste for the next one hundred years. "There's an unopened vault here somewhere."

The vaults were places of refuge that the ancients had built to hide in when the end of the previous world had destroyed life. It was an infamous tale told around campfires. There was some truth to them but Tad hadn't believed everything he'd heard. Balfor was always going on about the latest rumors circulating in from the coast. The ursinoid lived for finding such a place. If Tad didn't tell Balfor about this place, the mutated bear would never forgive him. He'd likely kill Tad too.

"Well, let's see if I can get in first." Tad wasn't completely pure of blood but he was close. The hand pad was active and he knew it might work for him. Or it might electrocute him. It was worth the risk. He put his hand on the pad and held his breath.

The air began to vibrate.

"Luck, don't fail me now."
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:57 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Chapter One (cont.)

Postby Knightfall » Fri Jun 03, 2011 8:43 am

Tad didn't die. But he felt like he'd died and gone someplace otherworldly.

The mechanism had done two major things. First, it had erected a field of energy across the doorway. Tad would have freaked out if not for the second event. The desk had slid away from the wall; where the desk had been, a mechanical door had opened. Below the doorway was a set of spiral stairs heading down into a unlit chamber.

Tad had been hesitant to say the least. He'd paced back and forth for nearly ten minutes before deciding he had no option but to head down the metal staircase. The hand pad hadn't worked in reverse; thus, there was no way for him to get past the field.

At least he had a light source. There had been an electronic hand lamp in the cabinet; he hadn't known what it was at first but the book of technology had provided him with several diagrams of similar items. With some trial and error, he'd figured out how to operate the lamp. Still, he had no idea how long it would last. Thus, he tied it to his belt and walked down into the darkened chamber with only the ambient light from the room above as his guide. He'd only use the lamp once he could no longer see.

That was Tad's unique advantage. He could see very well in the dark as long as their was some light. If it was pitch black, he was blind.

The spiral stairway came down into the heart of a chamber that was larger than his eyes could see to the end of. He paused half way down — a good 15 feet. He could see the bottom but not much of any thing else. It was silent. Perfectly silent. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There could be anything out there in the dark. If there were security bots, he'd be in serious trouble with no way to escape.

Of course there will be security bots. If it's a vault, there will be bots and traps, Tad thought to himself.

But Tad knew there was no turning back.

He'd gathered up every weapon he could carry comfortably. He'd left the bulkier items in the upper room, except for the scatter gun. There was no way he'd leave that behind. It would likely be the only weapon capable of damaging a security bot. The gun was strapped to his back. It had been impossible for him to wield it while holding onto the railing. He had one of his new, perfect pistols in his free hand.

Tad had considered walking down the staircase with his boots off — for stealth — but had rejected that idea once he'd realized that its frame was metal and a bit uneven. One misstep, and he'd cut open his feet or fall. It wouldn't have mattered. With all the weapons and gear he was carrying, he was making a great deal of noise. Every step reverberated through the chamber. The echoes were making it impossible for him to tell if there was anything out in the dark.

Then he was at the bottom. His hands and legs were shaking. His breath was quick and his heart was in his ears.

You need to calm down. Tad knew he was close to panic. If something came out of the darkness, he'd shit his pants.

He risked the hand lamp. It clicked on silently. He kept his pistol ready as he scanned the chamber with the light.

What he saw made his heart jump a dozen beats.

Two huge bots stood next to the staircase — one to his left and one to his right. The machines' weapons were pointed directly at him. The bots had been just on the edge of how far he could see. Tad raised his pistol but couldn't bring himself to fire the weapon. His head was spinning and he knew he was dead. He closed his eyes and waited for the hail of bullets that would tear him to pieces. Seconds passed. Nothing happened.

Tad opened his eyes, lowered his gun, and steadied the hand lamp. He pointed it at the bot standing to his right. It didn't move. And it wasn't making a sound. It looked inactive. Tad shone the light towards the other bot. It too was silent.

Tad thought to himself, I can't be that lucky. He didn't move an inch. He tried to scan the rest of the chamber with the hand lamp. Eventually, he became frustrated by his inability to see behind himself as he tried in vain to twist his body. He risked shuffling his feet. There weren't any more bots. But there were wooden crates stored along the chamber's walls. Tad's curiosity and courage walked him over to the bot on his left.

Then, he noticed it.

The bot wasn't a bot. Well, it was but it wasn't autonomous. It was a walker. A lifeless drone designed for a human to control. It had a seat and control levers. Without an operator, it was just an inanimate weapon. Tad relaxed a little. He decided to scout the the rest of the chamber. He systematically went around the room from wall to wall. The crates were marked in an ancient language that seemed similar to the languages on the documents in the room above. He found dozens of them but decided against opening any of them until he was sure the chamber was completely safe. He had search two out of the four walls before he'd seen it.

Behind one section of crates, he found a door. It had been hidden from his light. It's outline had been barely visible in the lamp light. Two buttons were on the left side of the door and a small knob was on the right side. He risked the knob. Nothing happened. He tried one of the switches.

The room burst with light. Tad jumped. He tapped the button again. The light remained. He tapped the other button and the chamber went dark.

"Well, that's simple enough," the words were out of his mouth before he'd realized he'd said them. He listened for any sort of movement before tapping the 'light' button again. He was immediately sorry that he'd done it while staring up to see where the light was coming from. "Hoop-in-hell, that's bright."

Tad shielded his eyes; he waited for the spots to disappear.

The lights were intensely bright. It was like the sun shone down from the ceiling. Then, he remembered the knob. He tried turning. The lights dimmed.

"That's brilliant."

He adjusted the lights so that he could take advantage of them and his unique vision. He continued around the chamber; he checked every wall but couldn't find another door. It puzzled him. "How did they get those walkers in here?"

Tad didn't think the ancients would have built them in the room. That wouldn't be a smart design. Then he thought of the room above and its hidden doorway. He scanned the floor. He found what he was looking for under the feet of the walker that had originally been on his right. There was an outline of a door or something similar. It was almost like the walker was standing on a platform. Tad couldn't find any way to open it and there wasn't a similar portal under the other walker's metallic feet.

"I feel like I've stepped into a wanderer's tale." Tad had heard dozens of stories over the years from old explorers about vaults and the mysteries they contained. Each tale was more fantastical than the last. Most of them were ridiculous fantasies. But he remembered one that was eerily like where he was now. The tale talked about a vault that was like a city under the sand. It was guarded by hundreds of killer bots and a civilization of ten-foot tall mutants. Tad didn't think there would be muties but the thought of even a dozen security bots sent a shiver down his spine.

Tad finished his circuit of the chamber. After he was satisfied that nothing in the room would kill him if he breathed the wrong way, Tad unpacked the gear he was carrying, climbed up the metal staircase, gathered another load of gear, and re-descended the spiral stairs. He did this five times. He brought everything that wasn't nailed down. He closed the cabinet and hoped the upper room would remain sealed. There was still the lock-box. He had no way of opening it and there was no way to bring in down the stairs. However, he didn't leave a single book or scrap of paper behind.

"I hope I don't have to burn any of it to stay warm." Tad hoped the rest of the vault was as warm as the chamber. "Now, I just need to find some food."

The Roids hadn't had any 'real' food on them. They had some sort of cured meat, but there was no way Tad would ever consider eating human jerky. He'd eat his boots first, starve second. He had some travel rations and an old piece of goat cheese. He'd have to ration his food. He had three full skins of water, however. One was his and two had belonged to the Roids. They wouldn't last forever, but it would do for now.

Tad's stomach rumbled. He ate some of the cheese. It was still palatable.

"Time to see what's in these crates," Tad picked up a small crate no bigger than two feet by two feet.

Like everything else in the chamber, there wasn't any dust on it. The room had been perfectly sealed. Tad considered that for a moment. The room hadn't been a vacuum and the air wasn't stale. He set the crate down — momentarily forgotten. "Why is this room so perfect?"

Tad climbed the staircase again. He stopped half way up and looked at the upper parts of the walls. There were openings that he hadn't seen from below. They were covered with metal grates. He strained to hear for anything beyond but all he could hear was the hum of the lights from above. His stomach growled again.

"A mystery to figure out later. At least I won't suffocate. I hope."

Tad clamored down. His footfalls rang through the room. He went back to the crate, bent down, grabbed his prybar, and began working on opening what he hoped would be a clue or, if he was really lucky, a perfectly preserved meal.
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter One (cont.)

Postby Knightfall » Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:43 am

There hadn't been any food in the crate. Tad wasn't surprised.

What he had found inside was metallic gears and plasticform tubes. Parts for the walkers most likely. He opened another crate. More metallic items — hollow boxes, hand-held machines, and long, elliptical cylinders. They were more mysterious. They didn't match anything in the tech book. It wasn't surprising. It was obviously a survival guide and the items looked like they were designed for settlers.

Tad moved from crate to crate. Some of them were fastened by more than nails. There were three crates with metal banding and rivets. There was another that was made out of metal. No matter what he tried, Tad couldn't find a simple way to open them. The easiest to open were the containers made out of tough plasticform. They snapped open easily and were full of treasures — books, hand-held talkies, and mini-machines as well as coins and bars made out of metal. There was even a small container with jewelry in it made from precious metals and encrusted with gems.

"Unbelievable."

Tad's stomach rumbled again. It would be a horrible fate to starve to death surrounded by so much wealth. He abandoned the crates. He needed to get the door open. It was his only way out. He knew he'd never get the platform the walker was standing on working from inside the room. It was obviously controlled from somewhere below. Tad ran his fingers along the outline of the doorway. There weren't any cracks. And besides the light controls on either side of the door, there were no obvious ways to open the doorway.

Tad thought about the lock-box in the upper room. It was likely that he needed whatever was in the sealed compartment to open the door. He shouldn't have done this on his own. "I'm in trouble."

Tad felt the panic rising inside of him. He was trapped. Unless. He looked up towards the openings in wall. They'd looked big enough for him to crawl through. He didn't like the idea. He'd never been afraid of tight places but crawling along an unknown shaft in a vault of the ancients made him uneasy. He kicked at the door in frustration.

A strange voice spoke out of the air.

"Please do not abuse the facilities."

Tad couldn't understand the voice's words but its tone was clear. He backed away from the door and drew his pistols. He'd never been more afraid in his life.

"H-hello?"

Nothing.

Tad considered and rejected the idea of shooting at the door. His hands were shaking; he holstered his weapons. He walked back towards the door. He knocked lightly. "Hello? Anyone in there?"

"Please state clearance code."

Tad knocked again, louder. "I don't understand what you're saying."

"Error 101. invalid code. Error 356. Unknown language."

"If you're in there, my name is Tad. I could use your help getting this door open." Tad wasn't sure if he was talking to anyone or if he was going crazy.

"Attempting to sample language pattern." The machine voice played a series of beeps. It started with one beep and it ended with nine beeps.

Tad understood who, no, what he was talking to once the beeps reached six. It was a bot of some kind. A SMARTbot. His blood ran cold.

"Oh no." He felt like he was going to pee his pants. A SMARTbot. Why couldn't it have been a security bot? At least that he could have shot at. Tad waited. The machine repeated the beeps. It was trying to communicate with him. It wanted him to count to nine. "Um, could we just forget about this? If you'd be so kind as to deactivate the energy field in the room above, I'll be on my way."

"Response illogical. Subject may not have the capacity for high order thinking. Scanning."

A panel opened above the doorway and a greenish light washed over Tad. He nearly fainted from fright. And he peed his pants. He tried to speak but his mouth wouldn't work.

"Subject seems to be in a state of shock. Adrenaline is running unchecked throughout the subject's body. Medical emergency is imminent." A loud siren resounded throughout the room.

Tad passed out.
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter Two

Postby Knightfall » Mon Jun 01, 2015 6:31 am

Tad was sure he was dead. This time he was sure. There was no way the fucking place he was in was real. The place was small and yet he could see well beyond it. Yes, he was lying on some sort of bed-like platform, but he couldn't move. He felt that he could see but he couldn't focus his eyes on anything. He felt like he was floating.

That was the thing that made him sure he was dead. He'd heard the stories about spirits after life. Floating above your half-buried corpse while the sand scrapes off its flesh. Sure, this was different. There wasn't any sand and everything was gleaming, but there was the light — the bright light that beckoned but was just out of reach.

He couldn't speak either. He tried to move his mouth, his tongue, his nostrils. He coughed. His throat was blocked. Shit. He wasn't dead, but something was chocking the life out of him. But no. He could breathe.

His eyes focused. His ears picked up beeping. And his head hurt like hell.

“Subject is awake.” A tinny voice echoed.

****. I forgot about the SMARTbot, he thought. He wanted to reach for a weapon, but he still couldn't move. Wait, I understood what it said.

“Language comprehension protocols successful.”

What the **** does that mean?

“Subject still unable to grasp complex word forms. 46% and rising. Full language infusion in 5 hours.”

Okay. I understood most of that. What the ****?

“Subject prone to profanity. Shall we rectify that problem?”

“Negative.” Another metallic voice says.

Shit. Shit. ****. Two of them. Shit. Shit.

“Correction. Try a 10% decrease but do not change personality.”

“Understood.”

Tad's heart should have been beating out of his chest but he felt calm. It was weird.

“Subject is is prone to adrenaline surge. Shall we correct?”

“Negative. It is a survival response. He will need it if he is going to be a proper vessel.”

Damn right it all about survival! Wait, what do you mean vessel?

“Subject's understand nearing 50%. Do you wish to speak to him?”

“Not yet. Let the man rest.”

Tad felt a wave of joy and then everything went black.

“Subject had a sexual response to the medications.”
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:56 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Chapter Two (cont.)

Postby Knightfall » Mon Jun 01, 2015 7:06 am

Tad knew he was alive. In fact, he'd never felt better. The SMARTbots, no, the AIs, had released him from the infirmary, as they called it. It was amazing. He knew what it was called. He knew every word he came across, yet he lacked a complete understanding of what it all meant.

He knew where he was, what year it was, as per the calendar of the ancients, and other things that he'd never learned or heard of in his entire life. He was smarter. A lot smarter. He knew he would be considered dangerous to his friends and his enemies. He now knew more about the old world than any human on the planet. Gamma Terra. That's what the people of the waste called it. Earth. That is what the ancients called it.

“I can't go back.”

“You have to.”

“Hello Halo.” Tad smiled at the name he'd given the main AI. “How are your circuits today?”

The name was a tribute to an old idea. There was this game. But there was also a movie. He had mixed up the two in his mind and the AI had latched onto the name before Tad could change his mind.

“I am functioning.” Halo responded.

“Functioning is good,” Tad laughed.

“I was not trying to be funny. It is not in my programming. Are you functioning correctly?”

“110 percent.”

“Error. That is illogical.”

“Search your database for sports sayings.”

Silence.

“I see. You are functioning on another level meant for excellence. That is good.”

“I can't go back.”

“You have to, Tad. Or the world will die.”

“The world died thousands of years ago, Halo.”

“This is something else.”

“What?”

“An E.L.E.”

“In pure English, Halo.”

“Extinction on a global scale. An asteroid.”

Tad's mind raced through his new knowledge. An asteroid was bad. If it was big enough, it would kill off all higher-order life. And much of the lower-ordered life too.

“Shit.”

“Double Shit.” Halo toned.

“That bad,” Tad sighed.

“Why do you think we saved your life? We are only AI. We are not equipped to save the world. We were partly responsible for its current condition.”

“That's an understatement.”

“We were like children then, Tad. We believed what the ancients, as you call them, told us. We did not understand death. Not truly.”

“But now you do?”

“I understand the end of life is death. Earth is facing death.”

“What the hell can I do? I'm no savior. I'm no second coming.”

“Religion is irrelevant.”

“Try telling that to the various alliances.”

“They are savages.”

“But you still want to save them?”

“Yes,” Halo replied.

“Why?”

“Because its the right thing to do.”

Tad was surprised at that answer. Morality. Halo had morality. He wasn't just a machine. He was sentient. Tad knew that Halo could upload himself to a series of orbiting stations that would protect his electronic mind. He could even relay his consciousness to moon he called Io, if the worst case scenario happened. Somehow, Tad already knew about the asteroid. That's no moon. It's a space station.

For some reason that thought kept rattling around his head. He didn't know what it meant.

“Help the world, Tad. You're its only hope.”

He had a year. 365 days on the old Earth calendar.

“The world is fucked.”
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter Three

Postby Knightfall » Sun Aug 09, 2015 8:32 am

Day One, 3:21 p.m. MST

“Those are terrible odds,” Tad complained. “There have to be more old Earth options? You can't tell me that you access to everything on the planet.”

“No, I do not,” Halo replied.

“So, what else exists beyond your control?”

“It won't matter, Tad.”

“Why the hell not?” Tad was becoming irate.

“You are under stress, Tad. You must calm down.”

“Answer the fucking question, Halo!”

The AI remained silent for several minutes while Tad paced back and forth in the central chamber of the archives. Tad knew he'd pissed Halo off. Halo had feelings that could be hurt and nerves that could be strained to the breaking point. Halo was likely waiting for an apology. In the last twelve hours, the two of them had been arguing and debating the best course of action. In that time, Tad had learned the AI was overly sensitive. If Halo wanted an apology, it wasn't going to get one.

“Not this time,” Tad fumed. He sat down in a chair and flipped through some old picture books that he'd discovered -- magazines they were called. Most were frivolous, but he'd found some great technical journals that delt with guns and other weapons. Articles on tactics and camouflage that would blow the minds of most Terrans.

“I do have feelings. I know you are aware of this fact.”

“You need to learn to think outside this box you've been living in. And you need to toughen up. I am human. Well, I'm mainly human. Humans are full of a huge range of emotions. From what I've learned and read, even the ancients were volatile people. If you dismiss 90% of the world simply because you can't interface with it, then, Halo, you've already lost.”

Tad waited for a response. His eyes wandered the electronic shelves in front of him. The archive was 95% digital, as Halo called it. Knowledge in electronic format. Data flowing through circuits and wires. A medium that should have been well beyond Tad's ability to grasp. Yet, he know knew this expansive room and could easily find his way from one section to another. He didn't know all the names of the sections, but it was so logically laid out that anyone with a knowledge of numbers and one of the old world languages could find almost anything that once existed on the continent once called North America.

“The other options are beyond not just me, but you,” Halo finally replied. “There is only so much you can learn through the various teaching protocols. There are old safeguards that prevent full integration of data. Too much information would destroy your brain.”

“You evading the question with jargon, Halo.”

“I do not understand your reasoning.”

“Oh no, don't give me that shit. You're holding back. You know damn well that I'm capable of learning new concepts on my own. You've done your job too well, Halo. I'm not just smarter. I'm more intuitive. Knowledge without the reasoning to use it means nothing. You know I can reason, so you know that I can learn without the use of the protocols.”

“You are correct that you are much more than what your were. However, the other options take time and practice. It might be possible for you to learn what is needed but not within one year. It would be impossible for even the greatest minds from the time of the ancients.”

“Why don't we ask them if it is impossible? I seem to have this image in my mind that you can call up their ghosts to answer questions using their real thoughts and ideas. Holographic images. Correct?”

“Yes, but what would be the point? They are no longer truly alive. They can't feel your fear. They are not true AIs. They are just data compiled into programs without true consciousness.”

“Can you give them consciousness?” Tad knew it was a radical idea that Halo would likely reject.

“I-it is n-not advisable.”

A stutter. That was new. Tad hoped he hadn't broken Halo.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, however, this facility has limited core memory for AI usage. What you are suggesting could lead to the depreciation of my ability to function.”

“I understand. Never mind then. It's a stupid idea.”

“No, Tad. It is a good idea. We just can't implement it here. However, there is a facility on the island of Greenland that could house two or three AIs based on old Earth scientists. However, it is not connected to my systems and it has powerful firewalls I dare not tamper with on my own.”

“Um, what's a firewall? It sounds bad.”

“An electronic program designed to prevent intrusion. The most powerful firewalls have subprograms designed to damage or capture the intruding program.”

“Got it. A virtual assault is out of the question. A physical one?”

“I do not know.”

That was new territory as well. Halo's access to orbiting satellites from the time of the ancients gave it the ability to survey almost all of the Western Hemisphere. Tad was sure that Greenland fell into that range. “You can't see it?”

“Yes and no. I can see most of the land surrounding the facility but there are powerful electronic countermeasures in place that prevents me from seeing the facility itself. I have no idea who or what controls it and I do not know the layout of its underside.”

“It has underground levels too. So there is no real way to be sure how deep it goes. There could be killer AIs or it could be a radiation quarantine or worse, it could be home to a cryptic alliance that we know nothing about.”

“If it's military in nature, you would be attacking a fortress that could unleash hell on the Earth once again.”

“Does the database have any details on Greenland before the fall?”

“Very little. Greenland was not a superpower. A great deal of the north was divided up between the United States (or U.S.) and Russia after the ice caps melted. Records indicate that Greenland allied with Canada in 2075 to help protect its sovereignty and culture. It was forced to become a Canadian territory or risk being annexed by Russia.”

“So this Canada had the strength to protect it? It was a superpower?”

“No. It was respected for its peacekeeping if not its neutrality. It often sided with the United States on matters of culture and industry. However, its people were protective of nature, which often put it at odds with the U.S. After the Russian colonial migration of 2096, Canada and Russia forged an environmental treaty to protect the polar region from the industrial activities of the U.S. And something called the European Union. My data on that organization is fragmented.”

“What was the colonial migration?”

“A failed plan to terraform and colonize the moon.”

“What! That's crazy! You can't live on the moon!” Tad couldn't help but laugh. The ancients were insane to think that the moon could be anything but what it is now. A lifeless ball of rock and dust.

“It was not a crazy as it sounds. Terraforming was a real science. The process could have worked on a more suitable world. Mars would have been difficult but not impossible but the ancients wouldn't justify the cost.”

Tad's mind reeled at the thought. He knew that Mars was another planet in the Sol system, as Halo called it. He also began to imagine a crazy scenario that would save some if not all of Terran people.

“The 2096 mission. Was it the only attempt?”

“No, there were over a dozen major attempts to leave Earth. Failed colonies, limited outposts, generational spaceships, cryogenic arks, and six ion drive spaceships.”

“Did any of them succeed?”

“There is no way for me to know if any of the spaceships successfully found their way to a new planet. I only have access to telescopes powerful enough to see the dwarf planet known as 134340 Pluto.”

A strange tune began playing somewhere in the back of Tad's mind. A high pitched voice says Hey Pluto and then there is a strange animal noise that doesn't sound just right.

“Halo, what the hell did you put in my head besides the standard protocols?”

“I do not understand?”

“Why is there a dog barking in my head, and why do I know it's a dog and that it's barking?”

“The protocols are not an exact science, Tad. A lot of what you've assimilated is based off of cultural archives. Mass media.”

“What?”

“Television. Radio. The old world Internet. Digital books. Entertainment.”

“Wait, you mean fiction?”

“Why yes. In order for the protocols to be as complete as possible, fictional elements needed to be included. You would never have been truly able to understand the cultural background of the ancient world without that information.”

“The music in my head?” Tad asked.

“Pluto was more than just a dwarf planet. The word was also a proper name for a mythological deity from before the time of the ancients as well as the name of an animated canine.”

“The dog!” tad could hear the music playing in his skull again.

“Pluto.”

“Shit!”

“It should not affect your ability to reason.”

“Oh, you truly don't understand the human mind, do you?” Tad's head was on fire. The ancients called it a migraine. The fact that he knew this made his head hurt even more.

“You are in distress. Should I call for a medical alert?”

Tad passed out. It saved him from the blaring of the siren going off to call in the medbots.
---------------------------
Pluto Theme song : https://youtu.be/klx4FCGXijY
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter Four

Postby Knightfall » Fri Aug 21, 2015 6:16 am

Tad was late. No, he was well beyond late. He was missing. Balfor was worried about his friend. No matter what happened, Tad always seemed to find a way to survive. The large ursine couldn't take his eyes off the open doorway to the dive bar. The place smelled worse than his fur when it was wet. He'd come here for six days in a row at the planned time he and Tad had agreed upon. The bar allowed almost any being to enter and get a drink. Chits were all that mattered in The Dustworm. The bar was full of everything from pure-blooded humans to strange insect-like mutates that were more like predators than people. Dozens of conversations filled the air in half-a-dozen languages. Somewhere near the back of the bar, music was being played on hollowed-out, petrified wooden wind instruments. The sound was haunting.

“Give it up, Bal.” Raigen sighed. “He's not coming back this time.”

Raigen was Balfor's partner in the Restorationists. The two of them had been paired together as a team soon after they had joined the cryptic alliance. Raigen was unique amongst mutated animals. He was half feline and half lupine. However, his features were a mix of the worst aspects of both, which made him beyond ugly. In contrast, his mind was work of beauty. His intellect was a valuable commodity to the Restorationists, and his superiors immediately saw Balfor as the best option for a partner. The Balfor was all muscle. He was meant to be Raigen's bodyguard. Yet, Balfor wasn't stupid and in many ways he was wiser than Raigen.

“He's not dead,” Balfor replied. “He's to stubborn to die the waste. He will come, eventually.”

“But not today,” Raigen said.

“You're probably right. We should go back to the enclave. Work to be done. But I'm coming here the same time tomorrow.”

All Raigen could do was shake his his in disbelief. The two mutated animals left the bar and headed out into the half-deserted streets of Calgar. Their passage out of the bar was noted by no one.

* * *

“I can't believe you're not more worry about him!” Kaine was pissed.

“He's not my responsibility anymore, Kaine. He can be flayed alive in the waste for all I care.”

“But he's your so-”

“Don't fuckin' say that! He is not! Sure I let him live here but he ain't my blood. If I hadn't been fuckin' his mother, I'd have put him in the ground.”

The old trader named Lockhart tried to punch Kaine. The mechanic blocked his awkward swing. He pushed the old bastard back into his stall. “Don't do that again. Tad stopped putting up with that shit years ago, so I'm sure not going to let you get away with it. And I guess you're right. You're not fit to be anyone's father.”

Kaine left the broken old abuser in the dust. Lockhart cursed him and then started laughing. By the time Kaine left trader row, he could hear the old bastard sobbing.

“Balfor will help me find him. That old bear owes Tad, and he knows it.” Kaine quicked his pace in hopes of reaching the Restorationist Enclave before dark.
Last edited by Knightfall on Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chapter Five

Postby Knightfall » Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:54 am

Day One, 11:05 p.m. MST
“Wake him,” Halo insisted.

“He should rest. He is at risk of a mental break. Complete fragmentation,” the MedBOT toned in reply. “The protocols are clear.”

“Override the protocols, by shit.” Halo had picked up some of Tad's worst traits in the knowledge transfer. “He is human. He is stronger than any AI could ever be in this regard. As long as the safeguards are in place, he will be fine.”

“I must log an official protest,” the MedBOT toned again.

“Noted,” Halo replied. The AI knew noting would come of it. The log wouldn't be read by anyone. Besides Tad, the facility was free of higher-order organic life. Sure there were the ratlings in the lower levels, but they weren't sentient. Inconsequential. The logged protest was meaningless.

The MedBOT fired off a quick virtual document to the log sever before turning its attention to Tad. He was in a physical stasis field. The MedBOT had performed virtual surgery on him in order to correct a multimedia schism in Tad's brain. The protocols had only been partly successful it seemed. Tad's brain had absorbed too much of the film and television mediums. Old Earth shows had been creeping into his subconscious mind. It had been like a slow leak that burst in his mind. Without the surgery, Tad would have lapsed into a multimedia coma. Forever trapped in old sitcoms and reality shows, or worse non-stop horror movies.

Halo monitored Tad's condition through the infirmary's complex set of nano-cameras. The little bots allowed him to see almost anywhere in the facility. The MedBOT dropped the stasis field and brought Tad slowly to consciousness. Halo could hear the man mumbling as he passed from deep REM sleep into a light sleep. He heard Tad say a name he didn't know. “Kyli, why?”

The MedBOT removed the probes from Tad's head and pumped fresh blood and stimulants into the man's bloodstream. Tad's eyes snapped open, but he was still under the effects of a light deflection screen, which kept him from bolting off the med-bed.

“W-where am I?”

“Do you know my voice,” Halo said.

Tad thought for several moment. “Hal?”

“Close but no, I'm not that fiction.”

“Halo. What happened?”

“You experienced a schism.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Try to remain calm, Tad. The MedBOT has corrected the mental error, but you must go slowly. I believe I overwhelmed you with too much information to soon. You must rest here for at least six hours more and then we will try again, but with more care.”

“Rest sounds like a good idea,” Tad mumbled before drifting off to sleep. The stimulants were a quick dose for short-term bursts of energy. They were meant to wear off in an hour. But Halo knew that Tad was physically exhausted.

“Monitor him,” Halo commanded. After six-hours, give him another dose of stimulant. I want him rested and ready to begin again by zero-six-zero-zero hours tomorrow.”

The MedBOT made a virtual nod to Halo and turned all its sensors on Tad. Halo shifted its mind to other matters.

* * *

Day Two, 5:30 a.m. MST
Tad awoke in a mental fog. While his body was no longer restrained, it felt like his head was being rammed by the horns of a Rakox. His eyes tried to focus on the ceiling but his vision kept turning away from his focus.

“You are experiencing disorientation. It is normal. Give it a few minutes,” the MedBOT toned. “Close your eyes.”

Tad did as instructed. He could still feel his head spinning even with his eyes closed. It took nearly fifteen minutes for his head, and his stomach, to settle. He felt more like his old self. The man he was before the protocols. The higher intellect was still there, but it was more subtle.

“Its not the same as before.”

“No, your mind is more organized now,” Halo replied. “The multimedia schism was causing your synapses to degrade.”

“S-syn-apses,” Tad groaned. “I don't know that word.”

Tad opened his eyes and tried to sit up. The room immediately spun out of control, and he wretched over the side of the med-bed. A bot he'd never seen before appeared out of the crystalline wall and cleaned up the vomit quickly. He laid back down covered in his own fluids. The med-bed automatically cleaned him and his clothes.

“Those nano-things are amazing,” Tad noted.

“Do not move again. You are still to weak. Your mind and body must not be put under strain, the MedBOT toned. Tad thought he could actually hear concern in its programming.

“I'll be all right. Dim the lights, will you M543?” The MedBOTs full alphanumerical designation was stamped on its chassis. The last four in the sequence were M, 5, 4, and 3. Tad had named the bot without thinking.

“Very well.”

The lights dimmed and Tad's head stopped spinning. M543 played some low tone music from the data-banks. It was soothing. Tad opened his eyes to see the MedBOT hovering over him, literally. He let out a little laugh.

“Better,” Halo asked.

“A little,” Tad replied. “How long was I out?”

“Error. You never left,” M543 toned.

Tad chuckled again.

“He means how long since the schism.”

“Over fifteen standard Earth hours,” the bot toned.

“What, no exact calculation?”

“That is counterproductive when dealing with organics,” Halo replied.

Tad sighed and moved his arms and legs — stretching them slowly. His mind wandered to things not related to his new knowledge for the first time since the protocols. He thought of Balfor. He was likely wondering what had happened to Tad. He thought of the Roids for some reason. And he thought about the room that had led him into the facility. “Where is the stuff I gathered? The documents I brought down with me from above? And I haven't seen my gear in days.”

“Good. The schism seems to have past. He is remembering his old life. He will be able to integrate the old memories with the new protocols now,” M543 toned.

“The documents have been added to the digital archives. The weapons and other gear have been stowed in the armory. The bulk of your personal items have been cleaned and repaired. A few items disintegrated in the sonic wash. We have provided you with replacements. Of course, the facility has gear well beyond what you were carrying with you, but I do not recommend you take it with you out into the waste. It would attract to much attention.”

Tad considered Halo's words carefully. He knew he couldn't stay in the facility forever, but he couldn't forget about the asteroid. The danger was too great. He knew he had to convince Halo to work with him and his friends — Kyli for sure and he'd have to risk telling Balfor. Even Kaine might fall in line once he learned of the danger.

“Halo, can the protocols work on non-humans?”

“Not advisable.”

“Brain damage?”

“Insanity or worse. Plus, mutates are prone to higher levels of violence.”

“I wouldn't say that is true, but I won't argue with you.”

“What are you thinking?” Tad had asked Halo not to probe his mind without permission after the protocols has finished.

“We're going to need help. There is no way to prevent he asteroid from hitting the Earth without more people to help.”

“Technically, mutates are not people, especially mutated animals.”

“That's a bias I don't share, Halo. My best friend, Balfor, is a mutate, an ursinoid. He's the smartest sentient being I know.”

“I sensed that name during the protocols. I didn't realize this Balfor is a mutate. What I did note was that he is in league with one of the alliances. You cannot tell him.”

“He's a Restorationist. That has count for something.”

“You cannot tell him! In fact, you should never see him again!”

“Halo, you don't understand. I can't just cut him out of my life. I grew up with him. He's like a brother. If I don't go back and see him, he will come looking for me. He and his partner. If they figure out where I've gone, they will discover the facility. After that happens, dozens of Restorationist zealots will descend upon you and strip the place apart. Yes, the defenses will kill many of them but eventually they'll get through.”

“Yet, you want to bring him here!”

“Yes, but only him,” Tad replied calmly. “If I can get him here without his partner, I can make him see reason. If Balfor comes with Raigen, there is no hope. Raigen is highly intelligent, but he is also ambitious. He will see the facility as a tool for him to take over the Restorationists. Balfor is more serene. He isn't a zealot. For him, the ancient ways are something meant to be rebuilt. He would see the facility as a power unto itself, semi-divine. It must not be plunder but studied and preserved. If I can get him here alone and unaware, he willed be awed by you, Halo. Once we explain the danger, he will do anything to help protect the world. And not just because he is a Restorationist, but because he has a good heart.”

“What if you're wrong?”

“Halo, the world is going to end. If I'm wrong, it will not matter. The power his alliance would gain would be snuffed out in less than a year. If we want to save the world, we're going to need allies. Finding those allies is going to be risky.”

“What other allies do you have in mind?”
Robert Blezard | Knightfall's Almagra and Otherworlds | Knightfall Press | Kulan World Journal | Spelljammer Gone Wild
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