Royce did the best he could with the robots and rushed back up the hill, only to see that nothing was happening. The building itself was silent. Long minutes passed as Royce began to think of the possible outcomes of the combat he’d seen. When he saw a robotic glow walk out of the building, he breathed a sigh of relief. When he turned off his computer sight, however, he saw that the woman was escorting a young boy at gun point.
Royce absorbed the information as calmly as he could. He could only think of a couple of reasons why she would be threatening to kill a young boy. Chief among these was maybe the boy was a criminal of some kind, but the small physique of the boy left that hypothesis tattered. He didn’t have enough information. Sliding back down the hill towards his machines, he decided to track her and see what she would do.
The machines had finished building themselves, and positioned themselves around Royce. All three of them were about four feet tall, with three legs and a solitary blue-green core glowing at the top, encased in plating. The plates were oddly misshaped and brown, having been built from using nearby rubble and metals. The plates were relatively unimportant, however, since the cores formed the thinking part of the machine. Each one scanned the terrain, maintaining a near perfect circle of observation around him.By lightly tapping into his arm’s systems he could see what they saw, give commands, anything. The perfect bodyguards.
They clicked up to Royce and stood by, waiting for more commands. Royce moved to follow the woman along the ridge of the hill, just out of sight, and see what she would do.
After walking for about thirty minutes, the two stopped by an old, dead tree. The surrounding area was deserted, a flatland of dust and larger ruined buildings. The wind blew about, chilling Royce. Down where the sun didn’t shine, the cold was an actually significant problem.
The woman knelt, and then pulled out a weapon. A pistol, which she aimed directly at the child. Royce’s brain rattled with the question of why. He couldn’t think of a single reason why this woman would shoot a child. She was going to make a terrible mistake. He ran down the hill, commanding his robots to follow him. His feet felt like they were flailing down in front of him, windmilling as they tried to keep up with where he wanted to be. His guards made their way as quickly as possible, but their spidery legs couldn’t move very quickly. That was a design flaw to fix later, he thought, but right now I have to get her attention.
He grabbed his pistol, aimed to the sky, and fired. One problem he’d never managed to fix with this type of weapon was the sudden expansion of the air where the pistol fired, which caused a very loud, obnoxious, and explosive noise.
A crack echoed over the landscape, and he got the result he wanted; both the woman and the boy turned to look at him. What he didn’t expect was to face down the barrel of her pistol. His heart caught in his chest, and his legs jerked to a sudden stop. This caused him to trip face first into the dirt, the taste of deadened ash and old soil filling his mouth.
“What the fuck? Royce?!” The woman’s voice carried over the distance, which wasn’t so large now. She lowered her weapon and ran over. The boy, bewildered, simply started to sob to himself. Royce got up on his knees and spat the taste out of his mouth, while his drones formed a protective group around him.
“Royce, what the fuck are you doing down here?!” The woman seemed angry, or shocked. Honestly, Royce couldn’t tell. “And what the fuck are those?”
“Didn’t receive a message in some time. I…” He couldn’t think of a good reason why. “I was coming to see what had happened. I needed a report, you see. Nothing out of the ordinary. As for these, they are my guard. I made them myself.”
“That’s nice. So long as they don’t shoot me, I don’t care. Do you have any idea what it’s like down here?” She helped him up. Royce could see her looking him over, making sure he was alright. “I almost shot you, idiot.”
“I realize that was a bit abrupt, but I saw you from a distance with that boy.” He pointed to the sobbing form on the ground not too far away. “I didn’t understand why he needed to be escorted away, much less killed. I need more information.”
The woman’s face stayed cold, indifferent. “There’s too much backstory. Too much ‘information,’ Royce. I was going to do the boy a favour.” The deadness of her voice hit like a splash of cold water, chilling Royce to the core.
“He is a child. I still don’t understand why…”
“That’s my point! You don’t. You won’t, not now. Fuck!” She paced back and forth, looking at the boy, then back to Royce. “Now we’re short on time. You could have heard that sound for kilometers.”
“That was my intention.”
“Great job. You really have no fucking clue what it’s like down here.” She turned and started walking the way she had initially come by. “You better follow me, we won’t last long out here if you don’t.”
What choice did he have? He commanded his droid to follow, and started to chase after her when she stopped abruptly and walked to the boy. Royce stayed where he was, and watched as she spoke, too softly for him to hear. The boy nodded, and she put her hand on his head.
Suddenly, he sensed a buildup in energy from her hand. Before he could stop her, the prosthesis flared with powerfield energy, the blue glow crawling all along her arm until it arrived at her hand. Helpless and unable to stop what was happening, Royce stared as his baby, the arm he spent so long working on, squeezed the boy’s head. In an instant that seemed to take forever, the boy’s head was crushed and scorched before blowing outwards, and if the woman had squeezed an egg. Blood evaporated off the machinery, and the lifeless corpse teetered over, falling into the dirt.
“How… Why….” Royce couldn’t understand.
The woman got up slowly, bowing her head. “You don’t get it. This was mercy, compared to what would have happened if I’d left him.” Her eyes glistened with tears, the first time that Royce had seen her cry. “We have to go now. Bye, kid.” She wiped her tears away and strode up to Royce. “Royce, trust me, we have to go now.”
“I don’t have enough data to make sense of this.” His mind, for the first time in a very, very long time, had gone completely blank. He was at a complete loss of words and things to say.
“We really don’t have time for this right now, Royce. Let’s go-” She grabbed his arm, only to discover that it was hard, and metal. She backed away. “Royce, what happened to your arm?”
Still his mind reeled, but some part of him took hold. His conscious mind took hold, and put the thoughts and feelings of the moment in another compartment to deal with later. For now, the data suggested that this area was not at all safe and he needed to find shelter. Shelter the woman knew to where to find.
He turned to the woman, his indifferent gaze and dispassionate features conquering his whole face. “You wouldn’t understand. Now, we need shelter. I hardly trust you right now, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. So, please lead the way. I’ll be right behind you.” His drones followed the queues of his unconscious mind and turned directly towards the woman, their cores glowing from the inside.
“Please,” he interrupted, “we don’t have all day and as you said before, ‘we won’t last long.’ so for both our sakes, I suggest you lead the way.” The cores on the droids glowed brightly.
Rick waited in the temple for Skie to come back, his anxiety for her growing minute by minute. The longer she stayed out there, the lower her chances of getting back alive. She knew that, and yet it was taking her far longer than he had anticipated.
The temple itself bustled with commotion. Community members had worked on patching up the holes the Lamb had made in the walls, others still organized the space they had into living spaces. Cat had said there was enough space for everyone to live relatively comfortably, although some things like sanitization and hygiene would be an issue in such a closed area. Not to mention housing the old Lamb members.
Some of them talked as if the entire experience had been a bad dream, and expressed deep regret. Others cried silently refusing to speak. Some few continued to spew their dogma, however, and these were the troublesome ones. Cat had no idea where to put them, or even how to detain them. When Rick asked her why she didn’t just influence them, she said that she’d ‘be no better than the horrible people who did this in the first place.’ Fair enough, he thought, but don’t get comfortable around them anyway.
Just as he was starting to think of different ways to deal with them, the front door pushed open. Rick jumped to his feet: silhouetted in the doorway was Skie, which meant that everything had gone according to plan so far. What he didn’t expect was Royce walking in behind her with three robots in tow.
“Hello, hunter. I decided to check on the work you’ve done.” He stared at the people who had stopped to look at him and his robots. Many of them nervously clutched at nearby weapons they had taken from the Lamb. “Tell me,” he continued, “what you are doing, exactly.”
Rick sensed a cold hardness in Royce’s voice he hadn’t heard before. Although Royce loved to talk, it was a soft hum usually, an almost deliberately controlled tone that was metronomic, pedantic. It was still constant, but a cool defensive undertone made the voice a threatening one.
“Royce, you mind telling me what you’re doing here, exactly? You’re supposed to be in the new city.”
“I hadn’t received a message in quite some time, hunter. I was worried that my faith had been misplaced in you and the woman.” He looked around the room. “So far, I’m quite unsure as to what is happening, and I’d like some answers. Especially after the debacle I saw outside.” He locked his glare on Skie’s back, who had been standing entirely still the whole time she had walked in.
“Debacle?” Rick wasn’t sure he wanted the answer, but he made his way to Skie. “Skie, what happened out there?”
Skie looked at him, her eyes watering. “I… I didn’t think the kid should die all by himself.” Her voice was a whisper, barely loud enough for Rick to hear. “I killed him. I made it quick, so he wouldn’t feel a thing.”
Cat moved forward. “Skie, you showed mercy when we would not. I cannot say I’m pleased with this, personally, but I think you made a correct choice out there. May He pass fair judgement unto Damien.” Cat then looked at Royce.
“I believe you are here because of these two?” She gestured towards Rick and Skie, who had visibly relaxed after Cat spoke to her and turned towards Royce. “These two saved us. Do not be angry with them.”
Royce had never experienced Cat’s powers before, and Rick could see him completely change. He had no idea that his thoughts had been tampered with, infected with the positive energy Cat worked into him.
“Well, alright then, That makes-” suddenly he gripped his head and fell on his knees. “What is happening?!”
Cat continued to move forward slowly, her hands outstretched. “Be calm, friend. There is no need to panic. You are safe here.” She was so close he could touch her.
“No, this… this wasn’t what I was thinking! It doesn’t make sense!” He was shouting, angrily trying to throw off the powerful suggestions Cat was trying to make. Unfortunately, this caused Cat to falter, and a wave of fear and panic pulsed outward. In that moment, Royce broke off the wisps of suggestion, and grabbed Cat by the neck with what appeared to be a robotic arm. The three droids suddenly flared to life and glowed menacingly at Cat as she was picked up off the floor.
Royce brought her close to his face. “What are you doing to me!?” He spat through clenched teeth.
End of Part 25