ALLYBOT pt24: A New Directive

forest in fog
shark-style submarine prototype
taken from an article on the U.S. Naval Institutes’ site

ALLYBOT

A New Directive

chapter 23 < > chapter 25

Special Author’s Note

This is the last descriptive chapter before the story really begins to take off. There’s a lot of subtle world-building here with a paragraph about people’s relationship with the Mannah, a little about the relationship of the local authorities with people, and quiet clues about details that will be important later.

I like how Gizmo’s behavior continues to raise questions that Leah seems to be actively ignoring. Imaginge if your 1998 Camry was sitting outside waiting at the curb for you when you left the grocery store. But you’d walked to the store. How would you explain this to your friends? Gizmo was easily the most fun character for me to write.

ALLYBOT pt23: Lamia

forest in fog

ALLYBOT

Lamia

  1.  7 Years Ago

Fear exploded in the old butler’s eyes as Lamia made his way up the long, broad stair to the wide, glass doors on the backside of the McNab mansion.  Lamia was surprised to see only three men on the deck.  Each of them were alarmed, but none so much as the terrified doorman.  The illegitimate McNab passed the butler briskly; not looking at the doorman at all while he ignored the door he’d opened and opened one of his own.  

Father’s fools show fear, he thought, but nowhere near enough respect! 

His father, of course, was not in his study waiting, but would grace Lamia with his appearance when he was “good and ready.”  The fair-skinned lady of the house entered the room and, upon seeing Lamia leaning against the center table, made a face like she’d just sucked a lime and stubbed her toe at the same time.  Just as Lamia was about to bless her with a snide comment, the blond haired, fairly tanned Master MacNab entered the study.  

The master of the house carried the regality of high class like a palpable cloak around his shoulders.  He shot a sideways smirk at Lamia before taking his lady’s hands and planting a kiss on her cheek.  Still not looking at his ill-begotten son, McNab blurted, “What have you got for me?”  

This question filled Lamia with an uncharacteristically mild rage.  “For you!” he spat, “The Southern Seas are yours.”  Lamia was easily a foot taller and a great deal burlier than his father.  Today was not the first day he’d thought of crushing the man’s skull between his fists, “The deep routes are yours.  My men have just taken-”

“My men.” McNab corrected.

Lamia ignored this, “Even the routes through the wide bay that no one up here knows about are yours.” Lamia balled a fist at his father, “I’m here to find out what you’ve got for me!”  

Master McNab sighed audibly and grabbed a glass of fresh brew his servants had prepared for him, “Was I ambiguous with you, Pirate?  You get to roam the open waters with near impunity.  You get to keep an incredible percentage of your spoils.”  He made a satisfied sound as he flopped into the chair behind his desk.  “You get your freedom.”

“Freedom to what?!  Keep to these waters so you can have your profits?  I’m no son or even a servant.  I’m your slave.”

The annoyance on McNab’s face was so pronounced, you could have sold it to a troupe of actors for their practice.  “What you’re describing, Pirate, is your purpose.  I brought you into this world for everything you’re complaining about.”  At that, Lady McNab shot her husband an unsavory glance; the expression melted from her face as quickly as it had appeared.   “I gave you those men,” he continued, “and your authority.”  He sighed and shook his head, “Do you even know what you want, Pirate?”  

Lamia took a step closer to him and the High Chief gave him a warning glance.  “I want freedom beyond these seas.  I want a kingdom of my own, since you will give me no part of this one.”

“Correct!” McNab entered quickly, “I built this one so it is mine.  Really, Pirate you have to learn how to ask for things.  What lies beyond all that you’ve seen?”

“That’s why I want it, Father.” That last word carried a hint of spite, “Whatever is out there would be truly mine, since no one has been there to claim it.”  Lamia was convinced that his father wouldn’t see through his lie.  The High Chief of the Patrician Force was far too preoccupied with his self-proclaimed “kingdom” to really see beyond it.  Lamia had gone farther than his father could have expected.  Much farther!  He’d found lands rich with resources and inhabited with folks who were all too happy to aid him.  The goods he brought were useful novelties to them, and they built towns and farms and made his pirates elites in their culture.  

The one thing Lamia was missing was the key to it all.  The stones his father had been searching for all of Lamia’s twenty years.  He didn’t know exactly why, but he’d learned enough to know that it would give him the power to command both kingdoms…  once his father was out of the way.  

The high lord sat with his fingers pressed to his chin before, “All right, let’s do this.”  McNab stood and sauntered over to his snuff table, “I’ll give you extended leave for a probationary period.  During that time, you’ll scout as far as you can.”  He pinched a wad of snuff, but instead of huffing it sprinkled it into a dried leaf with spiced tobacco in its center.  “You’ll bring me the same percentages of whatever you find, and make secret maps for me.  “He lifted the leaf, and began to roll it gently between his fingers.  “After a year of this, you’ll claim the outer barriers and whatever you find beyond those, and I’ll claim the maps.”  He lifted a slender rod with a handle from the table and struck it against a small block of granite.  The tip of the rod burst into flame and he lifted the rolled leaf to his lips and puffed.  “You will do this, and these are the conditions: you’ll pick up a reserve of raiders I have on the Baha islands, you’ll send one of them to report to me four times a year, you yourself will report to me twice a year.  That gives you more leave than you’ve ever had by far.”  McNab strolled over to his son and offered him the leaf, “It’s a good deal, isn’t it?”  

Years of torturous training flooded Lamia’s mind.  He remembered the fights he had to win to gain his status as captain.  He remembered all the friends that fell on his journey for survival.  He remembered his mother’s pain, and how he’d had to leave her to die.  All because of this man standing in front of him.  A man who had never shed one tear for all of Lamia’s loss.  The man who would have killed him if he hadn’t succeeded.  He took the leaf and pressed it to his lips.  After a long satisfying puff, he said, “A better deal than what I was hoping for.  Give me directions to retrieve your troop and a better cartographer and I’ll be on my way.”  He locked gazes with the master, “Thank you…Father.”

  1.  Lamia

Jumping from the second story of the burning building, Lamia landed upright in the rust-colored, clay clearing facing the St. Johns River.  His legs, rather the hydraulic augments in the place where his legs would have been, dispelled any shock he would have felt from his heavy frame hitting the clay.  He’d had them made years ago when he happened to find three mechanics fleeing the New Republic in a boat hardly bigger than a canoe.  To his great fortune, they were augment mechanics who’d gotten on the wrong side of a wealthy family.  In fact, there were enough people fleeing the NR for him to have cultivated myriad enviable resources. 

Lamia’s quattuor had narrowly escaped a blast from the window it had wedged through.  The bat-like machine was flapping the flames from it’s broken wings ten meters from where Lamia had landed.  Realizing that a missile meant intentional assault,Lamia scanned his surroundings to find a large troupe of armed constables.  In their center, a Patty was holding a voice cone and speaking calmly to Lamia.

“We have you surrounded, sir.  Give us the stone and let’s just make this easy.”  He was dressed in all black with an officer’s cap. In his left hand he held a pistol with an unusually long barrel. A sharpshooter, Lamia thought.  Glancing toward the river, he supposed it was about the same distance between him and his quattuor.   He could successfully make one of the dashes, but not both.  

The patty must have suspected what he was thinking.  He signaled to his men and four officers moved forward with stunning rifles.  “You won’t make it to the river”, he said, “Give us the stone and let’s make this easy, as I’ve already said.”  Lamia figured his quattuor was too damaged to make a hasty escape, and maybe somebody in this group of twenty men would know something about the stone.  There was no sense in running, he already knew where that lapdog mechanic would go.  However, maybe he could do a little damage to his all-powerful father’s name.

A feint, he thought, these men have finally made the mistakes of their lives.  In a sudden burst of movement, Lamia dashed toward the St Johns in a line that closed some of the distance between him and the constables.  The four men holding the stunning rifles fired beams of blue light in his direction, but each was just a fraction too late to hit him.  Half of the troupe moved toward the river to capture him when he fell, but as Lamia closed the distance, he instantly changed directions and pushed himself into an aerial assault, swinging his feet out in a flying kick.  The crack of augments against bone was sickening, and the closest two officers flew backward, knocking other men down.  

As soon as his “feet” hit the earth, Lamia jumped into a spinning leap toward the officers with stun rifles.  Shots fired from the men behind them, but all of them missed the self made missile.  Each of the officers had already fired frantically, but their beams either hit air or other officers.  Stun rifles can do the same job as a stunning rode, but from a distance; the drawback of using them is the recoil and delay before being able to fire again.  These men had let off two rounds in the quickest succession possible, and their rods were smoking from the heat.  

Lamia landed on one of them in the middle.  His feet didn’t touch ground; he used his arms to twirl while kicking outwardly and knocking the closet two away.  He sprung up onto a third, and hurled him backward into the fourth.  He was counting on the remaining men’s hesitation to fire at their own to give him time, but the assault of bullets came before he’d expected.  He was already running in an evasive zig-zag, but one of the bullets bounced off one of his legs and made him stumble briefly.  

At times like this, in the heat of battle, Lamia thought of nothing else but his success.  He was subconsciously aware of everything around him and would use his environment to his advantage.  His stumble hardly slowed him down; he pushed himself from the ground with the tips of his fingers.  He was drawing close enough to see the horrified faces of his attackers.  Several of them were reloading.  One of those dropped his gun and drew a rapier as Lamia drew closer.  

Dipping down onto one hand and pushing his feet forward, Lamia knocked one of them into the air.  The one with the rapier swung at the space where Lamia’s head had been.  The pirate lifted him by one leg and threw him at the Patrician office.  He ducked as the man sailed over his head, rapier and all.  Lamia was close enough for their shots to be effective, and three of them ran out in opposite directions to a more comfortable range.  The closest to Lamia was a man who’d just reloaded.  He pointed his pistol, but Lamia pushed his face in with a devastating jab.  Before the man hit the ground, Lamia grabbed him and hurled him hard into one of them running away.  Their heads collided in what Lamia thought was a satisfying crunch; both fell to the ground limply.  

Four of the officers dropped their weapons and fled. This time, the one closest to him chose to join those that were fleeing, but Lamia scooped him up and used him as a human shield, darting toward the Patty.  The move was another feint; Lamia tossed the man aside and scooped up a heavy branch.  The sound of a bullet whirred past his ear, and he swung the branch at the main officer to stop his firing.  Using the swing for momentum, he hurled the branch at another officer just as he was lifting his muzzle.  Spinning sideways, he snatched the Patty up by his throat and swatted his pisto away.   The man tried to grab another weapon, but Lamia caught him and broke his wrist.  As the Patty howled, Lamia turned to face whoever was left holding the officer high like a trophy.  

There was no one left.  Either everyone had left, or was lying on the ground.  Lamia lowered the officer to face level.  “This was easy,” he sneered, “you would never survive in my world.”  He tossed the officer to the ground while shaking his head, “What were you expecting to do?  Anyway, how did you know the stone was here?”  

Pained chuckles intercepted the Patty’s wails, “How? ugh uughh.  You mean the bright shining golden light?”  It almost seemed as if the officer was desperate to laugh, “Others are on the way, you might *cough* as well… ouhgh, give up the …stone!” He rolled onto his side in pain.  

Lamia put a heavy, augmented foot on his exposed side, “How did you know who’d be there?”

“We followed the stone, fool!  Nobody cares who you are!”  The words came out a rushed moan.

“Oh? Then you should know who I am.” Lamia leaned close to his anguished face, “I’m the pirate bastard of High Chief McNab. Lamia Stormbane.”

The officer glanced at him sharply as if Lamia had said something far more important than his pain, “Impossible!  All high bastards are catalogued.  If he had bastards, we’d know about it.”

Lamia chuckled at this, “McNab has bastards all over the Democracy…. and beyond!  I’ve called him father on many occasions, and met many of his ‘children’.  You’re alive for this reason.  If what I’m saying is true, wouldn’t the Patties like to know that?”  He spared no more conversation for the officer, but darted back toward his quattuor.  A smoking laser shot past him, and Lamia turned to see three reinforcement officers falling to the ground; smoke rising from their burned torsos.  “Good job, Terygii.”  He hopped onto the thing’s back and rode off to the east: to the secret tunnels and his father’s mansion.

chapter 22 < > chapter 24

Special Author’s Note

This is the last descriptive chapter before the story really begins to take off. There’s a lot of subtle world-building here with a paragraph about people’s relationship with the Mannah, a little about the relationship of the local authorities with people, and quiet clues about details that will be important later.

I like how Gizmo’s behavior continues to raise questions that Leah seems to be actively ignoring. Imaginge if your 1998 Camry was sitting outside waiting at the curb for you when you left the grocery store. But you’d walked to the store. How would you explain this to your friends? Gizmo was easily the most fun character for me to write.

ALLYBOT pt22: A Fight and a Fire

forest in fog
a burning building
taken from Alamy.com

ALLYBOT

A Fight and A Fire

“Lamia,” Beathen started, “this is your father’s business.  There’s nothing for you here-”¶

“You’re a glorified servant, Beathen.” Lamia retorted, “Stay out of this and you won’t be hurt.  How about that, wimp?”¶

I’ve served you father for longer than you’ve been alive,” Beathen spoke as Lamia closed the distance between them, “This shop is his property and under his sigil.  I’ve never so much as repaired one of your augments without his direct order.  If you have ‘business’, it’s with him.”  ¶

Ignoring Beathen, Lamia loomed over his little sister, “I remember warning you about lying to me, Leah.  It was… What?  Not even an hour ago?  You must have quite a short memory…”  Before anyone could react, he swung a massive arm upward and knocked Leah clear over the consoles.  She hit the ground with a loud thud, the crack of the metal in her shoulders hitting the granite echoing through the workstation.  David winced from behind the criss-crossed bars that held him.  ¶

Mitch cried out, “What are you doing, brute!  What do you want with the stone?!”¶

“You just wait over there,” Lamia smiled back, “stay calm in your little cage.”  He turned to Gizmo, “Am I gonna have to break you open, is or Beathen gonna give me what I came for?”  He said this last part while turning his head to glower at Beathen.¶

“Gizmo,” Leah cried, “scene 2!”  Gizmo darted forward and snapped a hind leg backward, sending Lamia flying toward the back of the shop.  Beathen dashed to his consoles and motioned for Gizmo to climb onto the disc.  Leah had collected herself just as she noticed Lamia’s massive quattour squeezing through one of Beathen’s massive windows.  She snatched the remote from Beathen’s desk and hit the button to raise the doors of the cage.  Once Gizmo was in place, Beathen started the sequence to fully integrate her systems with a new core.  By the time Lamia had climbed to his feet, he saw Leah running toward his quattour with a stunning rod, Beathen frantically punching away at his consoles, and Mitch charging toward him with a wrathful glare.¶

On the disc, all purple had faded away from Gizmo’s glow, and her eyes were now shining with an almost blinding golden light.  Gizmo hopped from the disc and ran towards Leah.  The bat-like quattuor had just made it inside as Leah reached its position.  A stunning rod is a tool used on a malfunctioning quattour.  It momentarily stops all motion so that a mechanic can get close enough to do repairs.  She thrust the prongs at the end of the rod at the mechanical beast, and was met with the offensive flap of a wing.  Leah went sprawling sideways but rolled onto her feet.  Just as Leah righted herself, Gizmo came dashing past and sprang into a predatory leap at the machine, pinning it to the wall.  ¶

The things wings seemed to retract into themselves, now replaced by 5 curved blades on either side.  Gizmo barely bounced back in time to evade a swing of them.  In her head, Leah heard a voice suggest, “Scene 6?”¶

“Yep.” Leah darted close to their opponent and retrieved the rod.  Getting out of the thing’s reach proved harder, as she performed a quick series of jumps, ducks, and dashes to avoid the metal blades.  Beside Gizmo once again, the two charged in opposite directions to keep their target between them.  Lamia’s quattour handled opposing attacks impressively, swinging its “wings” in alternating patterns to counter the advances of its opponents.  ¶

“This thing can’t think,” Gizmo sent, “not like me.”  ¶

After a moment of consideration Leah said, “Let’s disable its wings so Lamia can’t escape.  Scene 3.”  At the sound of the order, Gizmo made two backward bounces and brought her tail over her head.  A golden-brown laser shot from the tails endpoint.  Lamia’s quattour dived sideways but wasn’t quick enough to avoid a burning scar midway up its left wing.  Two of its blades on that side were now disabled.  Leah darted at it with the shocking rod for an opportunity while Gizmo circled behind her and shot again.  The thing brought its right wing up, simultaneously swinging at Leah while blocking Gizmo’s blast.  ¶

Leah rolled towards its back, barely missing the wing, and hurled the shocking rod at it.  Unable to block both Gizmo and Leah, Lamia’s quattour dramatically froze in place before falling to the floor.  Leah heard an ominous whirring as a four-foot metal pole went spinning past her head.  If she’d turned any sooner, she might have been impaled through her jaw.  The pole stuck into the wall behind her for a moment before dropping to the floor and leaving a dent in its place.  Gizmo and Leah turned to see Lamia fighting all three of their “guests”.¶

.          .          .         .          .          ¶

 ❡

As Gizmo dashed off to help Leah against Lamia’s quattour, Chris watched Mitch dash into a slide at Lamia’s feet.  Lamia sidestepped the boy and kicked him sliding in another direction.  David was charging the battle while looking to find a suitable weapon; Chris picked up a large, wrench-like tool and followed.  Lamia turned toward them just as David reached him, dodging a punch and pushing David off-balance.  Chris had to jump sideways to avoid being knocked over by David, and ran around Lamia to flank him.  ¶

As David regained his balance, he was gifted a blow to his gut.  Mitch was back on his feet and charging at Lamia with a shout.  At the same time, Chris hurled his weapon and Lamia was hit in the jaw just as he turned on Mitch.  The blow distracted him enough for Mitch to try to throw him to the ground from his waist.  Instead, Lamia landed a crunch grasp on the boy’s shoulder and threw him backward over his head.  Mitch crashed into a shelf of hardware and knocked over a tall bucket of metal rods.  ¶

Chris tried a rising punch to Lamia’s chin while David tried to sweep the man’s legs from behind.  Lamia chopped Chris so hard that he fell to the ground, while David’s own leg met the pain of crashing into a leg that had been completely replaced by metal.  As David rolled in pain, he saw several of the poles Mitch’s crash had knocked over rolling toward him.   Mitch was throwing random objects at Lamia now, and Chris had crawled away.  One of the poles touched David’s fingertips and he grabbed it.  The feel of the smooth rod brought back all of his training, all the memories of swinging similar tools, all the beatings he’d received from the boys of New Dorf.  ¶

Standing, David kicked a pole in Chris’ direction and shot a telling glance at Mitch.  Mitch stopped throwing things, scooped up one of the poles and ran toward Lamia.  David swung first, feinting a blow at Lamia’s face then swinging the rod behind his back and into Lamia’s torso.  Mitch stopped short and thrust the blade forward so hard that he put the cyborg off-balance.  Having recovered, Chris jumped forward and brought his rod down on Lamia with a crash.  Chris’ blow would have put Lamia on the ground, but the pirate caught himself with one hand and pushed himself back upright.  ¶

Suddenly, they were all surprised by the sound of a high beam of energy piercing metal.  As all three looked to see Gizmo melting the wing panels of Lamia’s quattour, the man shouted, “Impossible!”  Chris swung his rod at Lamia’s middle and Mitch came at him from the opposite side.  Lamia snatched the rod from Mitch and shoved the boy’s face so hard that Mitch went sliding backward.  Chris ducked just in time to miss Lamia’s swing before the massive man spun and hurled the rod at Leah.  ¶

          .          .          .          .          .          ¶

Having dodged Lamia’s missile, Leah and Gizmo headed to what was now the main fight.  Lamia was deflecting blows and tossing the boys around the room.  Beathen leapt from a standstill, evading Chris as he slid toward his feet.  All this time, the mechanic had been playing with the frequency on some hand-held device.  “What are you looking for, Wimp?” Lamia flipped David into the air and swung a knee into the teen’s torso, “If you’re trying to activate Father’s control chip, I removed that years ago.”¶

“But…” Beathen was frantically, vainly smashing buttons on his device, “It’s been present in every scan!”  ¶

“I replaced it with a dummy, Wimp!  Gives off the same signal as the chip.” Lamia evaded another attack by Chris, but the boy moved away before he could be grabbed.  Mitch had retrieved another rod and tried to sweep Lamia’s feet with it.  There was a loud “Clang!” and Lamia ignored Mitch’s attack and kicked out to send Chris sprawling. ¶

The Boys’ attacks were enough to hold Lamia’s attention, and David noticed Leah and Gizmo approaching the man’s rear. Leah came at Lamia with a flying kick.  Lamia narrowly dodged, and snatched her out of the air.   Apparently this was part of her plan; she followed up with a punch to her brother’s face that seemed to do more damage than all the boys had done together.  Lamia dropped her and fell backward.  “The round square!  Like we trained!” David yelled.  The other two boys ran to David’s side.  “Now!” the Boys moved in on Lamia.  ¶

The slim mechanic came running up with a different controller, “Wait!”  Lamia extended an arm that swept Beathen off his feet.  Mitch, David, and Chris proceeded to deliver successive blows to their opponent.  Lamia swung his feet up as if going into a handstand and kicked outwardly with both legs to kick Chris and Mitch flying in opposite directions.  Still on his back, Lamia reached for David but the sun-bronzed teen jumped out of his reach and brought his rod crashing into Lamia’s gut.  ¶

Leah grabbed one of the man’s descending legs and tried to hurl him over her shoulder and face-first into the granite floor.  Lamia did go over her shoulder, but he extended his arms, caught himself, and pushed backward with such force that Leah fell to the ground with the pirate on top of her.  ¶

At Beathen’s first window, a small missile entered the room.  ¶

Beathen ran forward yelling “Wait!”, but before he could push the button on his handheld, the missile zoomed past him exploding into the far wall of the shop.  ¶

It was a small explosion, but everyone was moved a little closer to the large windows by the blast.  Mitch was already jumping away, and David was running.  Leah and Lamia slid away together under one of Beathen’s desks and out the other side.  Beathen first fell back, then was pushed further by a heavy shelf sliding away from the impact.  Gizmo also slid backward slightly, claws scratching the granite, before darting toward the McNabs.  Chris was the farthest from the explosion; he too fell backward a few feet.  ¶

Whatever was at the back of Bethen’s shop was burning quickly.  Fire shot up the far wall and nearby debris began to catch.  Everyone in the shop, including Gizmo, shot urgent glances around the room before the whole group shot to their feet and darted for the windows …except Beathen.  The mechanic instead ran to a wide niche in the wall furthest from Lamia’s quattour.  He called to Leah to follow, which caused David to notice and call for the Boys to follow.  Beathen jumped hard into the niche, and a large panel of flooring flapped downward.  Beathen was swallowed by the whole and each other person, except Lamia, followed behind.  ¶

Lamia first darted towards his quattour, but as the orange and purple flakes began to fly into the building,  He made a bee-line for the nearest window.  The newly-crippled, bat-like quattour was already wriggling itself out the window.  Not that the Mannah could do much to it, but it would be entirely useless to its rider if it were covered in aggressive Mannah: uselessness went against its programming.  Just as Lamia lept from the window, something exploded in the shop, sending fragments of debris flying past him as he descended.  ¶

He landed in a roll and pushed himself upright with one arm.  Looking up, he saw that the shop was being completely engulfed in flame.  Leah, Beathen, and the others were nowhere to be seen.  A metallic bat-like thing hobbled toward him like a wounded pigeon.  His quattour didn’t seem to have taken any damage from the explosion, but was in no condition for riding.  A cloud of Mannah swarmed toward the fire, “I have to get out of here!”   ¶

He turned to run, but instead he was faced by local constables and Patrician Lieutenants.  Of course, Lamia thought, his face turning into a sneer, that missile must have been a ploy to force everyone out of the building.  Lunatics! What do they plan to do about the Mannah?  A formally dressed man riding a quattour that resembled a bear lifted a megaphone.  ¶

“That’s far enough, sir!” called the constable jovially, “You’re coming with us tonight.” 

chapter 21 < > chapter 23

Special Author’s Note

This is the last descriptive chapter before the story really begins to take off. There’s a lot of subtle world-building here with a paragraph about people’s relationship with the Mannah, a little about the relationship of the local authorities with people, and quiet clues about details that will be important later.

I like how Gizmo’s behavior continues to raise questions that Leah seems to be actively ignoring. Imaginge if your 1998 Camry was sitting outside waiting at the curb for you when you left the grocery store. But you’d walked to the store. How would you explain this to your friends? Gizmo was easily the most fun character for me to write.

ALLYBOT pt21: Histories pt2

forest in fog
six people making faces of surprise

ALLYBOT

Histories pt2

David, Chris, and Mitch were standing at the edge of the cage.  Each of them had their hands on the x-crossed bars that made up the barrier holding them in.  Here, in this alien place, they were learning more about their history than they had in all their lives.  They had begun to learn the reasons their world was the way it was and of the past that got them there.  For these few precious moments, their reason for being in this strange city was forgotten, and all that mattered was the histories.

In the center of the room, unhampered by any cages, the mechanic brushed a reverent hand over Gizmo’s metal frame.  Sighing, he stepped back over to his consoles and plopped onto a rolling stool.  “Back then, nations were a lot like the whole of the New Republic.  Some of them made treaties, some made alliances, some took territories for themselves.  It got to the point that most of the world was divided into major factions.  According to Cole, some of them only wanted peace if they could control the world.”

“Cole?” Leah interrupted, “Cole the butcher?!”

“Um, yes.” Beathen turned to Leah, “He and your mother are part of a…  A guild?  …A group of people that keep the histories of the old world.  They record them and pass them on to others in their group.  That’s why there’s always those scribes at your folk’s mansion.”

“She never told me any of this!” Leah was incredulous.

“For whatever reason, they keep all of this secret. They even swore me to secrecy. Besides, your father was never unclear about his intentions for you.” Beathen explained, “There’s little chance you would ever be able to join their order.”  While Leah puzzled over this, Beathen continued, “The ones that wanted to take over everything were making moves against everybody else, while those that wanted peace were rallying to take them down for good.  But then the scientists of the day were warning everyone that something was coming and that that’s where everybody’s attention should be.  Sure enough, the sky started clouding up with these orange and purple clouds.”

“Mannah.”  David spoke from behind the cave.

Turning toward the cage Beathen continued, “That’s right.  They came gradually, filling the sky at first, but soon began landing on the ground at night.  Most people thought it was just weird until people began dying near fires.  If anybody did anything to harm them, anyone in the area would die.  So the Mannah did end up taking the whole world’s attention.”

“People figured out that if the Mannah were exposed to enough heat, they could be killed.  So some of the dumber nations dropped crazy bombs at night, in the areas where the most Mannah had gathered.  But they soon realized that the Mannah were using heat and light to replicate.  While the blast would kill a lot of Mannah at its center, the Mannah on the outskirts of the blast would populate more quickly.  It didn’t take long before the whole sky was covered in Mannah.”

“The bombs they dropped might have hurt the Mannah population a little, but they devastated the surrounding areas where people lived.  The combination of these two problems neutralized whatever societies were still around.  Cole says that the good thing about the little aliens is that they were eating the chemicals in the sky that were causing us problems.” 

“Wait!” the Mannah aren’t from our planet?”  This time Chris spoke up, “Where are they from?” 

“Who knows.” Mitch chimed in, “They could be from anywhere.”

“Right.” said Beathen, “They’re from… out there.”  He waved his arms in a wide motion toward the ceiling, indicating the vastness of space.  “But anyway, let me finish…”

“Over time, plants grew more readily, animals began to populate.  Things we thought we would run out of began to grow back, there just weren’t enough of us left to do the things we did before.  Little kingdoms began to spring up, but they didn’t last for very long.  I don’t know what happened across the oceans, but here the larger cities began to make up the New Democracy.  My family is originally from across the ocean, but I grew up my whole life here.  By the time my family arrived, Racole had already organized the New Democracy.  Before he died, he created the lords of the states and the Patrician Force.  But there were no real laws preventing them from doing whatever they wanted.” 

“My family was in a bad way being here.  We were abused by the lords in the area.”  He paused to look at Leah, “You’re father rescued me.  He gave my family purpose and work.  We all took his sigil,” he motioned to the Griffen surrounded by flames on his arm, “and I’ll serve him until the day I die.”

“Great,” David said, “but what does this have to do with the stone?” 

Beathen turned his gaze to Gizmo.  “The stone…” he mused, “I’ll bet that Gizmo is a quattour from the time before.”  He stood and ordered Gizmo back onto the diagnostic platform.  “All our technology is borrowed from the time before, so it may be that we overlooked Gizmo’s true age.”  He grabbed a handheld scanner and began scanning the quattour.

“The stone, Beathen!” patience was leaving David’s voice, “What about the stone!?”

“I already told you,” Beathen snapped his head at the muscular teen, “it’s an ancient core with immense power.  It’s not like you’ll be getting your hands on it.” 

“Yeah?” David retorted, “How long do you think it’ll be before someone who noticed that light comes to check your shop?  From the sound of it, there’s lots of people after it.  Why are we even still here, anyway?!”

Leah remembered her surprise visitor, “Beathen, Lamia is here and he’s looking for the stone.”

“What?” For the first time, Leah saw a fearful expression break Beathen’s face.  “That maniac is in town for the stone?  Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

“I just found out he was here.  I didn’t see him until I was coming back with the stone myself.”

“How do you know he’s after it?”

“He stopped me and told me to give it to him.  I told him I didn’t have it.”

“Why would he think you have it?”

Leah hung her head, “It was what my mom sent me to get from them.” Leah pointed at the caged thugs. 

“Wait, wait…  How could Lamia know what missions your parents are sending you on?” 

“Apparently he’s got informants in the house.” 

Beathen’s face flashed with expressions of anger, grief, and incredulity, “How long have you known about this?”

Leah was indignant, “I just found out, Beathen!”

The mechanic ran to the small tower and hit the button.  As the panel opened, he snatched the pouch from the disc and threw his hand into the slot.  As quickly as he could, he stuffed the stone into the sack as strong beams of golden light quickly flooded the shop and faded away.  “Give the stone to Gizmo!”  He shoved the sack into Leah’s hands. 

“Yes, give me the stone.” said the voice in Leah’s head.  She turned to see Gizmo’s eyes pointed right at her. 

“Not you too!”  Leah shouted at the mysterious machine.  Beathen shot a puzzled glance at Leah before glancing at Gizmo.  Leah returned his glance with one of embarrassment.  What is happening?, she thought, I can hear a living quattuor in my head? 

“What is she saying?” Beathen eyed the quattor sideways.

The question shocked Leah as she was momentarily frozen in place by Beathen’s sudden acceptance of all that was transpiring.  “You really believe that she’s talking in my head?”

“Leah, I installed your augments.” Every now and then, the man’s voice could carry an almost parental air of annoyance, “The only thing that surprises me is that you haven’t noticed anything like this sooner.  What did Gizmo say?”

 A smirk of resignation creased her lips, “She said to give her the stone…”

“Right, do that.” Turning to the quattuor, “Open your core drive, Gizmo.”  The thing glanced at Beathen and turned back to Leah as a half-cylindrical deck about 7 inches long and 5 inches high fell open.  Inside it sat a purple cylinder, shining with a dull purple light: the thing Leah had believed to be Gizmo’s brain.  On either side of the cylinder were connector nodes, resembling the + and – nodes on a battery.  Beathen pulled the cylinder free and pulled off one of the connector plates.  Tipping the cylinder, he caught a ragged purple stone as it fell free.  Then the mechanic lodged the stone between his knees and motioned for Leah to give him the contents of her sack. 

Leah gave him a troubled look, when Beathen said, “Gizmo was made for this, Leah.  This is who she was always supposed to be.”  Leah wasn’t sure what to think.  As far as she had always known, changing a quattour’s core was almost the same as changing quattours.  Was the purple stone between Beathen’s legs the thing she had grown so accustomed to?  If she put a different stone into her, wouldn’t that change everything she knew about Gizmo?  She’d have to re-train her quattour all over again.  “Leah!” Beathen was growing impatient. 

Leah lifted the pouch but was stopped again by the fear of the illuminating stone’s likelihood to bring unwanted attention.  The voice in her head started again, “I’ve uploaded all the data I stored in the previous core; it’s ok to install this one.” 

Stunned to hear Gizmo still functioning after her core was removed, Leah sputtered, “How are you doing that?”  She looked the quattour up and down thinking, Maybe I really am going crazy… 

“I have a small reserve of energy, but I need the core.” Gizmo continued, “Without it, soon my functions will begin to fail.”

“It’s your decision, Leah.” Beathen said, unaware of Gizmo’s communications, “We’ve never seen Gizmo’s true potential.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to see it, finally.”  The boys in the cage were silent but rapt. 

“Why didn’t you just install the stone a minute ago?” Leah asked.

“When I said to give it to her, I meant in her secure compartments so she could keep it safe.  But…” He handed her the empty cylinder.  Leah emptied the contents of the sack into the cylinder and replaced the plate.  The room was flooded, once again, with the golden light.  She moved to Gizmo’s middle section and placed the cylinder into the deck. 

Suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of massive wings pushing waves of air, “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…”

A large figure blocked the view from the wide center window on the second floor of the shop.  A large, burly man with a wide, black pirate’s sash around his waist hopped into the opening.  “You better be sure the Patties’ are on the way.” Lamia shouted, “Best give me what I came for, wimps.”  

chapter 20 < > chapter 22

Special Author’s Note

This is the last descriptive chapter before the story really begins to take off. There’s a lot of subtle world-building here with a paragraph about people’s relationship with the Mannah, a little about the relationship of the local authorities with people, and quiet clues about details that will be important later.

I like how Gizmo’s behavior continues to raise questions that Leah seems to be actively ignoring. Imaginge if your 1998 Camry was sitting outside waiting at the curb for you when you left the grocery store. But you’d walked to the store. How would you explain this to your friends? Gizmo was easily the most fun character for me to write.

ALLYBOT pt20: Histories pt1

forest in fog
people in a group storytelling session

ALLYBOT

Histories pt1

Lamia was a muscular man with the same kind of pale-golden complexion as Leah’s father.  His arms, legs, and torso were massive, and he had long bushy dirty blonde hair.  It almost looked as if he were trying to grow dreadlocks and gave up: his hair was a messy tangle of interlocked sections.  As he approached his half-sister, his hair shook stiffly back and forth like a tired pendulum.  He held out a hand as if Leah would just take it with glee as he smiled his wide, toothy smile. 

This was a man who clearly prided himself on his individuality.  No common browns or grays were anywhere on his attire; the only black on his person was the sash he wore around his waist like the pirates of the old Caribbean.  Instead, his hybrid silk shirt was ruffled and Mannah orange.  His trousers, Leah thought, were the ugliest green she’d ever seen: faded as if he’d been covered in swamp algae.  A bandana matching the ugly green covered his forehead, and the brutal pirate wore thick boots like a sailor might wear.

After a moment of holding his hand out, he addressed his little sister informally, “I looked for you for a while, but then I thought I’d just wait for you here.  I have spies in our father’s house, so I know what you’ve been sent to find.”

“Why would you tell me that?” Leah snapped, “You know I’ll tell father.”

“After I have the stone, it won’t matter.  Our father won’t have any control over any of us.  You’re like me, Leah.  You’re wild at heart.  wouldn’t it be nice to escape his overbearing control?”  Lamia stepped a little closer to her, “Give me the stone, Sister.”

“If you have spies in the house, then you know I don’t have the stone.  I’ve already reported to Mother-”

“She’s not my mother, and too foolish to see through you.  You’re too smart to just hand it over to them.  I suspect you know it’s worth more than Father’s futile machinations.  I thought I’d give you the courtesy of seeing things my way before I searched your apartment.”

Leah feigned an incredulous gasp, “If I did have it, I would never be stupid enough to hide it there.  Anyway, the Patties are already deep in the look for it; that’s way out of my league.”

“Our father is the Head Chief of the Patrician Force, little cat.” As he said this, he tipped his head back in annoyance, glaring at the stars, “There’s nothing that’s ‘out of our league.”

Leah looked down, grimacing and grinding her teeth, “I. Don’t. Have it, Lamia!”  She looked up and glared at the pirate. 

The burly brother gazed into her eyes for a long moment before looking away again, “Where are you headed now?”

After a moment, Leah relaxed visibly, “To Beathen’s.  Why?”

“I’m taking your word for now, but if I find out you’re lying to me…” Lamia’s speech slowed to a menacing crawl, “You’ll suffer the same wrath as Father.”  He brought his gaze down and met her eyes.  Even with the moon high, Leah stood fully in the terrible shadow of the towering brute.  She could all but feel the seething anger under his calm demeanor. 

“Search my place if you want.” Her voice was calm, but not cowed, “Search anywhere you want ‘brother’, you’d be better off starting with the Pats.”

Lamia’s face broke into a most wicked grin, “Come now!” he turned and walked back to his monstrous quattour, “I’ve already paid them a visit.  It was pretty bloody.”  He mounted the bat-like machine and took off into the night without another word. 

          .          .          .           .           .           .           .          .          .         

Finally back at Beathen’s shop, Leah found the mechanic running diagnostics on the boys’ DNA.  “What’s going on?” Leah asked as she peered at his screens.

“You were right, they have no augments.” Beathen said, “They’re not related to any of the major houses either.  I’ve tried questioning them, but they won’t talk to me at all.”  He had been looking at his screens while he spoke, but now he suddenly snapped his head up, searching the room for Gizmo, “Gizmo, come here please.”

The cat-like quattour approached Beathen and sat in front of him.  “Do like this,” Beathen said as he raised one hand in the air.  Gizmo raised a corresponding paw.  “Go into the diagnostic unit.” He ordered, and Gizmo complied.  The quattour stood on top of the disc as if awaiting further orders.  Beathen looked at Leah, “Leah… Why is your quattour understanding me?”

“What?!”  Leah glanced at him surprised, “This isn’t exactly crazy behavior for Gizmo.  What about all the other times I’ve come here, she alwa-”

“I thought you were doing that, Leah.  No.  Gizmo understands me.  How can it understand me?”

Leah realized that that was the first time she’d heard him refer to Gizmo as an “it”.  The word was said with such intention that it gave her pause, “Beathen…  What are you saying, exactly?”

“You’re quattour is behaving as if it is alive, Leah!  As if it has a mind of its own.  I’ve always registered higher CPU functions from her, but I’ve never imagined anything like this.  All that time… she was complying on her own.”

“Beathen, you said that quattours are designed to intuitively anticipate their owner’s intentions.  Over time, they get better and better at it, right?  Gizmo and I have been together for more than three years!”

Beathen turned his attention sharply to Gizmo, “Gizmo, come here.”  She hopped off of the disc and approached the mechanic.  “Jump once, Gizmo.”  She did.  “Jump twice.” Once again, the quattour complied.  “I’m not linked to your quattour at all, Leah.  How is she doing that?”

Leah slumped into a rolling chair near Beathen’s desk.  In her head, she heard the same voice from before, “I’m with you, Leah.”  The teen shot a stare at the metallic replica of a tiger’s skeleton.  Concern and confused anger washed over her face. 

Beathen was glancing between them and suddenly blurted out. “Where is the stone?!” 

Leah could hear the anxiety in his voice.  She grabbed at her waist and pulled the little sack loose.  “What do you think it is, Beathen?”

“Give it to me.”  Beathen snatched the pouch from her hand and half-ran to his diagnostic consoles.  Pressing a button, he opened a small slot in a short tower near the large disc.  As soon as he opened the sack, however, a great, golden-brown light flooded his facility.  Everything was illuminated!  The tiniest dark corners of his workshop were suddenly filled with light.  Beathen stuffed the stone into the slot and pressed the button to close it.  As the small door closed, the light receded from the shop, until it was lit only by the few lamps Beathen had on. 

“You have it!”  The voice came from the cage in the corner of the room.  Beathen and Leah ignored the outcrier, rushing over to the screens to see what the mechanic would discover. 

“Leah, I’ve been with you most of the night.  I know you’re a good person.”  The voice was clearly coming from David, but the two continued to ignore him.  “Let us go and give us the stone.  You can save lives tonight.”

All sorts of numbers and figures were flashing across Beathen’s screens, and Leah was having a hard time trying to keep up.  From what she could understand, the stone was actually a core like the one inside Gizmo.  “Is that it?” She asked her friend, “It’s a quattour core?”

Looking over at him, Leah found Beathen enraptured by what he was viewing.  After a few moments, the skinny mechanic leaned back, clapped, and threw his hands into the air, “It’s not just any core, Leah!  It’s the core.”

Confused and bewildered, Leah didn’t know what to make of her friend’s attitude.  “Well what does that mean?” 

Trying to contain himself, Beathen turned to Leah, “This is an ancient core from the days just before the Mannah.  This is from back when they made powerful cores that could hold all the information in the world.  Back then, folks made all sorts of machines that were gradually bringing doom to our planet.  People got scared and made things that would help them survive, but some of them made things just in case they didn’t.  This was right around the start of quattours, before that people only had vehicles like cars and trucks.  Automobiles!  Like the ones you’ve seen in caravans.  They were fast, but they were also some of the machines causing a lot of damage.  Quattours were invented to replicate the efficiency of animals while negating the need for harmful machines.” 

“To power these new machines,” Beathen continued, “they made cores that drew in sunlight and stored it for centuries.  They got so good that some of the later cores could last indefinitely.” His speech suddenly took on an air of wonder as he gazed back at his screens, “This core is a super-advanced one.  Little more than a hundred years old.  The power it holds…”

Leah glanced at the boys in the cage as Beathen trailed off.  All three of them were staring at them, fully engaged in everything the mechanic was saying.  “Why aren’t there more of them, Beathen?  If these things last forever, then why are we using the crappy cores we are today?” 

“Only a handful of them survived. Over the years, I’ve heard rumors of one being on our continent. This is it, Leah. This is the core.” The mechanic pushed himself across the floor in his rolling chair. He came to another computer console and brought up images of bustling cities decades gone. “Bak then, Koster City was called Jacksonville. The place where we live was called Florida. …Before most of it was flooded. The wars between people made that happen, believe it or not. Part of the plan for quattours was to make vehicles that allowed people to move across the water, but all that was halted when the societies ended.”

“Originally,” he began while rising from his chair, “they built intelligence directly into the quattour model.  They called this artificial intelligence. The cores they used were only a power source.  But someone figured out how to incorporate information storage into the cores.  From there, it was only a few simple steps to build full-fledged computers into them.  People stopped using quattours with in-built AI systems.  They thought they were too hard to control back then.”  Beathen approached Gizmo and put a hand on her metallic skull, “With the “brain” in the core, they could just eject the core if they were unhappy with the thing’s behavior.  Today’s models are just what you know, shells with removable brain-cores” 

“Even though people were making smarter and more efficient machines, the world was still threatened by wars.  Portions of the planet were being devastated, and just as the wars were getting to their worst point,” the mechanic hung his head in melancholy wonder, “the world suddenly ended.”

“What?” Leah blurted, “What happened?”

Beathen took a glance at everybody in the shop, then shrugged his tattooed shoulders, “The Mannah fell.” 

chapter 19 < > chapter 21

Special Author’s Note

As the writer, I had been waiting for this chapter for a long time. This is probably the beginning of “Act 3”. A lot of information is packed into this chapter, which raises a lot of questions. I struggled a lot writing this one, hoping to balance the deluge of information without creating a feeling of shameless exposition.

As a reader, I have trouble with wondering how neither Beathen or Leah were more suspicious of Gizmo’s behavior and demeanor. I really don’t know; I feel like I’m too close to the story. I’d love your thoughts on this. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

ALLYBOT pt19: 5 Months Ago

forest in fog
a convoy of trucks moving through the wilderness
taken from Alamy.com

ALLYBOT

5 Months Ago

The end of fall was approaching and the Mannah were thick on the ground.  Jake’s group had built little, covered fortresses against tall rocks at some of their camps, so Mannah couldn’t fall in those areas.  Fire pits were put in, and thus, they were able to enjoy hot food at night. The process of securing these locations was painstakingly tedious since if even one of the tiny flakes were to enter, it could mean death for someone even outside the camp.

Once, someone had tracked in a small a cluster after dark. The aliens flew at the fire and were quickly consumed by it. Outside, however, Mannah swirled fiercly and threatened to bring down the fortifications. Three people outside on sentry had died. Since then, entering the camps anytime besides during the day – when the Mannah were high off the ground – was generally prohibited.

There (of course) was a “shake off” area for those approaching camp after dark in an emergency.  Those who performed the tasks of checking for the tiny flakes took to their task with the utmost seriousness.  Tey even performed these checks during the day just to be sure. Jake was near the fire waiting for David, who was just finishing being checked for Mannah. 

Approaching the fire and sitting next to Jake, David began, “It’s the usual stuff.  The caravan split into two and is making its way around either side of the Hamilton Hills.  Their plan is to head south and avoid the Great Forest…”

“The Osceola?” Jake interrupted.

“Right.  We’re planning to catch them after they meet up – between the great ponds – before they make their way into McClenny.”

“Hmm, that’s risky.” Jake mused, “It would take a while to get the group into position, and there’s no guarantee that they would choose the path between the ponds.  Better to wait until they make their way to McClenny, then my group will be able to help you.”

“Sure, I’ll let the boys know the plan.” David stood to make his way to his troupe.  Other troupe leaders were beginning to line up to report to their red-vested commander.  David would have time to talk with Jake casually later, but now it was time for business.  He was one of Jake’s personal friends, but that didn’t grant him any special privileges.  He was required to do regular duties whether he was good at them or not. 

Although he had a hard time with many of the daily duties around the camps, David took to combat and battle strategy naturally.  Before long, he was in charge of his own small troupe.  Because of his strength, he was usually required to do things that required heavy lifting.  That was just fine for David – better for him than quilting or braiding. 

It just so happened that his personal troupe was composed entirely of boys.  This was so unusual, that everyone just called them “The Boys”.  Caleb had stuck with him throughout the recovery of his leg and personally requested to join the Boys.  He became David’s second in command by default.   Caleb was the first to get up as David approached the group, “What’s the plan?” he inquired.

David motioned to indicate he was addressing the entire group which included Caleb’s brother: Chris, “We’ll track them for a few days and wait until Jake’s group can reinforce us.  We’ll probably catch them close to McClenny.”

Chris was smiling, “I knew he’d say that.”

David grinned back, “It’s better than being neck-deep in the ponds…”  They all laughed.

Typically, Jake’s renegades preferred to perform their raids far enough away from the cities to be too inconvenient for the constables to want to pursue.  The group’s previous leader had been killed after a raid that had been too close to Koster: a city frequented by merchant caravans.  He died holding off the constables so the rest of the group could escape, but not before handing his red vest down to Jake.  The raid they were planning was unusually ambitious, so they hoped to catch as much of the caravan as possible to acquire the best booty.  Tonight the boys would rest, tomorrow they would hunt.

.          .          .          .           .          .          .

After four days of tracking the caravan, they were all nearing the valley’s opening onto the McClenny plains.  A messenger had arrived from Jake’s group to help coordinate the attack.  Jake, himself, had gathered several troupes to aid in the ambush.  It was a medium-sized caravan they were after, so Jake thought David’s plan was a bit overkill.  After another night, the Boys, Jake’s troupes, and the caravan were all in position.  Jake sent the signal and the Boys rushed in.

.               .               .

Frank hurried back to his canopied truck and barged in on his wife.  “Look!” failing entirely to hold back his excitement, “I’ve got it!”

Francine glared at him, and the object he carried, nonplussed, “It’s a rock.”

“It’s not just any rock, Francine, it’s a powered stone!” The Stone he held was about the size of a palm and almost seemed transparent except for the pale blue light that glowed from its center.  “They use these to power quattours.  This could probably get us two property coins alone.”

“Frank,” she was cocking her head and making a most annoyed expression, “does anyone in this whole camp have a quattour?  No.  Are we heading to a city where many people have quattours?  Yes.  Is there any reason to think someone would pay us even one prop coin for something they could get at the market? No, Frank.  No.”  She stood and removed the stone from his hands.  Holding it up to his face, “This. is. a. rock.”

Frank’s countenance had fallen significantly,  “You’re like a hired hope killer, you know that?”

“Yes.”

“Raiders!” The alarm had come from outside their truck. 

“Raiders!”  “Raiders!”

The couple glanced at each other briefly before Francine rushed to the deep end of the wagon.  Throwing back a blanket, she uncovered a full quiver and tossed it to her husband.  Frank had already grabbed his bow.  Catching one strap of his quiver with one hand, he slung it around his back and slid his other arm into the other with the kind of expertise that only comes with experience.  The powered stone glowed silently next to his wife and he pointed at it, “Don’t lose that.”  Frank leapt from the wagon.

.               .               .

David’s troupe charged the front left side of the caravan, while another charged the front right.  Once most of the caravan’s guards and fighters were rushing to the front, Jake led 4 troupes at the caravan’s rear, while a final troupe came over steep hills and charging from the caravan’s right.  The troupes in the front executed well-timed flurries and retreats while the rest completely overran the rest of the caravan.  Within minutes, most of the caravan’s able fighters were neutralized and Jake began leading the actual looting.  The bands in front began binding whatever opposing forces were left.

.               .               .

Frank rounded his truck to see a group of about 8 young men giving the front guard a run for their money.  As he watched, several men from the side and rear guards dashed past him to aid in the melee.  Seeing more brutes coming over the hills, Frank went back around to the other side of his wagon to make his way up front that way. 

He’d hoped to put a little distance between himself and the conflict to give himself time to get off a few good shots.  Before he could clear his own truck, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a much greater force quickly overtaking the rear.  What was left of the rear guard was being overrun like fools trying to net a swarm of locusts.  A much closer group of 5 boys was charging the middle of the caravan: towards his wagon, his wife, and his newly acquired stone.

.               .               .

Jake had the looting organized into two, spread-out groups.  The first were those actually pulling goods from the wagons and carts.  They would hand off their booty to boys from the second group who would run off with the goods.  As the second group dwindled, more from the first group would replace their function.  This meant that Jake’s forces were steadily dwindling.  As the loot-leader, Jake jogged along the caravan lines to scout trucks he thought looked interesting.  Running between them, he paused and backtracked a few steps, distracted by an odd blue light.

.               .               .

Frank chose not to join the main conflict, but to move in circles around the caravan’s middle.  He wanted to protect his wagon and his wife at all costs.  Going a small distance unnoticed, he spied three boys making their way from the front to the middle.  Dropping to one knee he pulled back, and in a single smooth motion, aimed and let loose.  He missed.  The arrow had struck close enough for the thugs to take notice, and the three of them rushed his position. 

Frank had no hope of running away, he pulled and loosed again, hitting one of them in the knee.  Again.  He hit another in the shoulder.  The third was already upon him, so he flicked the bottom of his longbow upward in a sharp motion, striking the boy on the cheek and making him stumble.  Frank rammed the arrow in his hand into the boy’s side and rolled away from him.  Glancing back toward the caravan, he saw a stocky, black-haired boy in a red vest peering into his wagon.

.               .               .

Francine was shaking in her socks as the eerie-eyed boy grinned at her.  His expression was surprisingly harmless, but Francine found that all the more terrifying.  She eyed her surroundings for something to swing at him.  She picked up an empty kettle and waved it up over her head, “Don’t you dare come in here.”

The teen at the wagon’s entrance seemed to not think he was in any danger.  “What’s that?” he asked as he pointed to something beside her.  Francine glanced down to notice the seemingly blue stone at her side. 

“‘That’s… none of your business!” she yelled, “Get out of here!”

The red-vested boy at the wagon’s edge sighed heavily.  His face was the epitome of comical annoyance.  Each motion and expression was so exaggerated, that Francine knew the boy was mocking her.  “Will you toss it to me or do I have to come in there?” he said, “It’s all I want, I promise.”

“You want it?” Francine ground her teeth, “Then take it!”  She picked up the stone intending to throw it at his face, but her sleeve caught on a utility hook hanging from the side of the canopy.  Her arm fell short, and the stone tumbled across the floor until it was right in front of the bandit. 

“Thanks!” he said as he plucked it from the floor, “You don’t need to see the rest of this.”  Then he zippered up the canopy’s flaps halfway and was gone.

.               .               .

As soon as Jake turned away from the caravan, he heard the sound of something sharp hitting the wood bracings behind him with incredible force.  He jumped and turned to see an arrow in the place where his back just was.  Jake ducked, looking around frantically until he saw his sniper only a small distance away from the caravan.  One of his boys was writhing in agony near the archer.  Jake dashed to the other side of the caravan, using the trucks as cover.  Before he could round the next truck, an arrow grazed the back of his left thigh.  Drops of blood sprayed onto the ground and he stumbled, but quickly pulled himself together and sprinted toward the front of the caravan. 

.               .               .

Frank could see that the red-vested raider was making off with his stone.  The sun was on the other side of the caravan, casting the boy’s shadow under the wagons as he ran away.  Frank ran to his truck, unzipped the flaps, and peered in at his wife.  “Are you alright?”  Francine was curled up at the back of the wagon and clutching a blanket.  She hurriedly nodded her head, staring at her husband. 

Frank zipped the flaps back up and dashed back around the truck, determined to catch that red-vested thief.  A strange sound went up, like the loud caw of a bird, and the raiders began to retreat as quickly as they had come.  Ducking along the shadowed side of the wagons, Frank held his bow low so it wouldn’t be noticed, and hurried toward the front of the caravan.

.               .               .

As soon as Jake reached David’s group he gave the order for a full retreat.  David was expecting this and had one of his boys holding a horn.  As soon as the sound went up, Jake’s bandits began retreating in every direction.  This was a regular part of a strategy to prevent the whole group from being followed in any direction.  Unless they posed a threat to the group’s escape, any of the opposing forces still fighting were to be evaded at this stage of the raid.  Jake called three boys and ordered them to run a circle around the caravan to make sure that that archer wasn’t sniping his troops.  Then, he began his own retreat with David’s group. 

.               .               .

There he was.  The red-vested boy was running with his back turned to Frank.  There were other boys with him, but Frank barely noticed them.  He dropped to one knee, pulled back, and loosed.  The arrow hit the bandit squarely on his left heel.  Might have got a tendon, Frank thought as he pulled back again. 

In front of him, he saw the boy crash to the earth; from the corner of his eye, he sensed another boy approaching him fast.  He glanced to the side to see his approacher raising a club to strike. Frank poured all of his concentration into his shot.  With the sun in his eye, he loosed his arrow just before he felt the crack of dense wood against his temple.  As his body arched to the side, Frank watched the world around him fall to black. 

.               .               .

Jake crashed to the ground with a yelp of anguish.  The other boys skidded to a halt, and David dashed back to his friend.  Jake yelled at them to not pull the arrow from his heel as David tried to lift him to his feet.  None of them heard the hum of the next arrow until it was too late. 

The bolt arrowhead punched through near Jake’s shoulder blade to exit through his chest.  Jake was thrown forward so forcefully, that he and David both fell to the ground.  David didn’t realize what was happening until he noticed the shaft protruding from Jake’s vest.  Jake was struggling to roll onto his side as he grunted in pain.  Chris and David helped him, and Jake took hold of David’s collar and pulled him close.

“Take care of them!” blood appeared around Jake’s lips, “Take the vest!”

“No!” David shouted, “Chris will help you… Chris!” David looked up to see Chris helping Jake out of the vest.  He lunged forward and pushed Chris away, “No!  Come on, Jake.  Not now.  Let’s go back to camp.  Not now, Jake!”  Two of the Boys pulled David away by the armpits as Chris helped Jake out of the vest.  The blonde-haired boy wiggled violently until the others lost grip on him and he crawled back to Jake, “Jake!”

“Take care of them, David.  We’re counting on you.” 

Several boys dashed past them all with the last one screaming, “Let’s go!”  David looked toward the caravan to see several men running towards them with weapons in hand.  He reached for his spear, his anger and grief spurring him into action.  Chris jumped in front of him pushing a worn and bloodied red vest against his chest.

“That’s not what he asked for,” Caleb shouted from behind him, “we need you now more than ever.”  David stared hard at his second in command before his head began to clear.  Glancing back at Jake, he saw that his friend had grown unbelievably still.  He’d seen that look before.  Memories started to flow into his mind and his anger began rising again.  The “woosh” of a spear alerted him to the three men who were closing the distance with them.  David held up his spear and cried, “To me!”

All the raiders within earshot of David rushed to his side.  David, Chris, and the rest of the Boys worked harmoniously to disarm their attackers and put them on the ground.  David gave hurried orders to have Jake’s body carried away as he and the Boys gave cover for their escape. 

.               .               .

It was sunset before they were gathered in one place.  They’d lost five members today, including Jake.  An extremely high number for them.  Chris handed Jake’s vest off to those who would clean and mend it and went to be by his friend’s side.  Unlike previous tragedies in his life, David didn’t have the luxury of losing himself to his grief.  There was simply too much to do and too many people asking things of him.  It was now up to David to lead the group in mourning and make better plans to protect the whole community in the future.

chapter 18 < > chapter 20

Special Author’s Note

So now we know how David came to be the bearer of the iconic red vest. Originally, I had the caravan comprised of wagons, but thought that didn’t make much sense when society had advanced beyond cars before the Fall. I changed it to be a caravan of canopied trucks thinking that individual quattours would be costly to for the average traveling merchant. Besides, trucks could probably carry more mre efficiently. While it’s safe to assume there were some quattours in the group, it didn’t seem important enough to the story to mention.

I actually like the appearance of Frank in this story. It was fun to write the discourse between him and Francine, however short. I felt like Frank’s additions gave more meaning to the story of the raid. Ultimately, I think it made the story of Jake’s demise more interesting and meaningful.

ALLYBOT pt18: Catharsis

forest in fog
 a slim girl in a martial arts fight with a young man

ALLYBOT

Catharsis

Glee was written across Leah’s face as she watched Chris fly through the air sideways.  The shortest of the boys charged her from behind, while David was failing to parry her attacks. She dipped low and spun her left leg out in 360 degrees, upending the short boy.  In maybe the smoothest motion ever, she scooped him mid-air into a tree with her right foot.  The boy landed spread across two branches with a loud “Ouof!”. 

Chris had recovered and was aiming for Leah’s grounded foot, but she hopped up and swung her right foot back with enough force to send him sprawling again.  “What was your plan?” She grabbed David by his elbow and slung him hard over her shoulder.  The boy went rolling and crashed into Chris, “How will you find your thief if you get on my bad side?”

“Now Mitch!” David shouted as he pushed himself onto his knees.

Turning toward the one stuck in the tree, Leah saw him aiming something that looked like a tube at her.  Instinctually, she jumped away, but too late, because a small device suddenly hit her on the shoulder.  A pain like a thousand needles rushed through her body in waves.   As the electricity coursed through her, Leah’s body stiffened and she fell to the ground paralyzed. 

Her sensory augments seemed to flicker on and off as Leah tried to make sense of what was happening. At once she could hear nothing, then all the sounds of the surrounding night seemed to boom in her ears instantaneously, then silence again. Then sound! Then silence. Then a quieter sound. Then a muted noise…

Her eyes slowly focused on two muscular objects approaching her. They were saying something but Leah couldn’t make any sense of it. Her senses were quickly returning to normal when she realized she was thrashing limply on the ground. Dormant Mannah jumped off the ground and crashed against her body in response to her movements. The two boys drew closer warily as Leah began to make out what they were saying…

“…we expected to find people with augments.  I mean, we described our thief to you.”  David said as he reached her side, “Oh, wow.  Green eyes.”  The shock had thrown Leah’s systems into default, and she could no longer keep up the ruse of having brown eyes.  Looking back at his boys, David mused,  “Red-haired, green eyes, augments, and a quattour?  I think this might be our girl.”  Chris was smiling with relieved wonder.  Turning to Leah David said, “Just tell us who you sold it to or where it is.  We just need the stone.”

“I… tried to help… you!” Despite her breathless panting, Leah made her voice rich with indignance, “So I have red hair, what makes you–”

“You claim a spot on a high roof in the poorest district, you have all the physical qualities, and you certainly have the augments…” Chris interrupted.

“You kicked me into a tree!” The boy apparently known as “Mitch” was letting himself down. 

David smirked briefly at Mitch, then opened his arms toward Leah in an appealing gesture. “Come on, Pal. Why hide your eye color if you didn’t know who we were? After everything that’s happened today you can’t really believe we’d think you were just a random thief.”

“You kicked me into a FREAKING. TREE!!” At Mitch’s outburst, Chris and David glanced at him and began to chuckle. 

Feeling was returning to her limbs, and Leah began to wriggle.  Mitch pressed a button, and her body was frozen again with the shock of electricity.  “We were prepared for you,” David said, “Now, where is that stone?!”

Mitch was suddenly thrown forward and fell face-first into the dirt.  David suddenly went sprawling back towards Chris, who tried to catch him when they both tumbled over.  Leah saw the falling device Mitch had been holding hit the ground.  If only I could…, she thought.  A robotic paw came down hard on the device, and it broke into pieces.  Gizmo!  Her wide, purple eyes were focused on the three thugs, who were now bunched together on the ground.  Gizmo put herself between Leah and the boys while Leah tried desperately to flex her muscles. 

Though Leah was the last of all of them to recover, none of the others moved as Gizmo kept watch on them.  The quattour stood with its back arched; purple eyes glaring at the three teens. Fortunately for Leah, the boys seemed much more terrified by Gizmo’s strange behavior than they were of Leah. She looks like the big, wild cats from the books, Leah thought, …like some kind of ferocious predator. Was this the “Gizmo” she knew?

Standing to her feet, “I won’t be watching my back because of you jerks!  Who do you work for?”

As usual, David spoke for the group, “We want our stone, and we’ll be on our w–”

“What would you even know about some stone if someone hadn’t hired you to get it?!” Leah snapped, “What house are you working for?”

The boys all glanced at each other for a moment before David continued, “We don’t live in this city.  We don’t serve any houses.” His voice growing in a crescendo of exasperation, “That stone could mean life or death for us.  We need it!”

“Need it?  Is someone blackmailing you?” Instead of an audible response, all Leah got were concerned looks.  “Come with me!” and Leah decided to take them to Beathen.  Gizmo moved to their opposite side and a strange growling sound emitted from her exoskeleton. The three seemed to take Gizmo’s meaning, and started into a trot behind Leah.

. . . . .

At one point, Mitch tried to dash away, but Leah quickly caught him as Gizmo pinned the other two to the ground.  She was tempted to give Mitch a hard slap to the face, but his eyes told her that he would be compliant.  Throughout the journey back to Beathen’s, Chris’ face showed no emotion while David seemed as calm as if this was his plan all along.  His quiet demeanor almost seemed to be masking some sort of excitement.

Entering the shop, Leah was happy to find a light still on upstairs.  She led the group to the lift and, when they were upstairs, saluted Beathen with a friendly gesture.  As soon as the slim mechanic noticed the strangers, his face snapped towards Leah, “What do they know?”

“Nothing.”

Beathen visibly relaxed a little before, “It’s nearin’ on first hour of the morning, Lass.  I’d like to get some sleep at some point.”

“I hope you have something that can hold these guys for a few hours.  I need to do some investigating and I can’t have them roaming around.”

“Yep, I have something just for that.” Beathen pressed a button on his hanging remote, and a cage began to lower in the far corner of the shop.  A single door allowed access to the caged area, and Beathen unlocked it electronically.  “We used this to cage our goods before we installed the bay doors.” he said, “I haven’t used these things in some time.  Still, I kept the joints oiled just in case.”  Standing up, he motioned at the three bandits, “In ya go!”

At that, Gizmo nudged David hard in the direction of the gate.  Beathen gave a sideways glance to Leah.  The three boys made their way into the caged area, and Beathen hit the button for the door to lock.  “That will hold them, Leah, but what’s this all about?  Do they have augments?”

“Not physical ones, at least.  I was mopping the forest with them earlier.  They’re in town looking for some sort of glowing brown stone.”

Beathen was walking to his desk, but stopped hard when he heard mention of the stone, “Brown you say? …With a glowing light?”

Hesitantly, “Yeees.  Do you know about it, Beathen?”

“Have you seen it?”

“I… I might have found it…”

“Leah! you hafta bring it here.”

“Why? what’s so special about this st–”

“If it’s what I think it is, I need to see it now.  Can you get it tonight?

“Um… Sure…”

“Get it.  Bring it here now.  I’ll wait up for you.”  The intensity in the mechanic’s voice had grown tremendously.  He practically pushed her out the window to get it, “Take Gizmo with you.  Hurry!  I’ll keep an eye on them.”  He said that last part while motioning to the three caged strangers.

. . . . .

With Gizmo beneath her, Leah was able to make it back to her apartment within 15 minutes.  Tuning her augments, she listened for anyone nearby before entering through her window.  Retrieving the sack holding the stone as quickly as she could, she went back out and up her favorite route atop the ruined buildings.  Preparing to slide down the Zellwood hill to the industrial district, she goaded Gizmo into a monstrous leap to the highest building. 

Their momentum was stopped short when they saw what blocked their way.  A large, bat-like quattour with a lizard-like tail and tyrannosaurus-like arms.  It was perched atop the far edge of the building with its wings fully extended; in front of it was Lamia.  Leaning against the chest of the quattour and flipping a coin in his hand.

“Hello little sister,” he grinned wickedly, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

. . . . .

chapter 17 < > chapter 19

Special Author’s Note

It’s probably not hard to guess that this was a fun chapter to write. This is also the first time we get to see Leah with a smile on her face. As always, my favorite pieces are writing in Gizmo’s uniqueness. Also, for the careful reader, my hope is that they noticed that David never unsheathed Jaspeada.

We may finally be about to get some real information from a trusted source. Beathen’s excitement is certainly telling, if not entirely ambiguous. What in Heaven’s name is the deal with this shiny brown rock?

ALLYBOT pt17: A Trek With the Boys

forest in fog

ALLYBOT

A Trek With the Boys

Gizmo sent a picture of where she was perched to Leah’s ocular augments, but that wasn’t necessary as Leah was discovering that Gizmo was now like a beacon in her mind: she could always find her.  Beathen is awesome!, Leah thought, and silently leapt between high branches before descending a massive tree to the thick branch on which Gizmo lay.  Effortlessly moving along the branch, she whispered, “Have they done anything weird?”

Gizmo turned its head, almost no light came from her eyes “They’ve just been waiting there.”  No words came out of the thing’s mouth but Leah could “hear” them just the same.  She turned towards where the three muscular teens were waiting.  They were playing a casting game with sticks and stones, but without the usual cheer and banter one would expect from young men engaged in friendly gambling.  Instead, the boys seemed to be loosely focused on their game. 

Leah lept to a distant branch and deftly dropped to the ground.  Allowing her steps to be heard, she rounded a large tree and made her way toward the boys.  They looked up as she came into view, each of them standing and dusting the dirt from their trousers.  Each of them wore a small backpack and David had a leather-sheathed dagger strapped to his waist.

Their leader stood on the far right of the three.  He approached Leah first and held out a friendly hand.  Drawing nearer, Leah glanced down at the hand nonchalantly and moved past him.  “What have you found out?” David said, smirking, “Do you know where our thief is?”  

“Ha!” Leah chuckled, You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

“I was hoping for something from you,” David raised a hand to his head in frustration, “two property coins is nothing to scoff at.”¶

“I want to see the coins first.”¶

David raised a hand, signaling one of the boys to come near.  The young man produced a rather shiny property coin from a pouch at his waist.  “See this!” David said, “You can see the other when I’m sure of your information.”

“Leah chuckled again, “Then how about this?  There’s a girl who lives in the upper side of the market district.  The family she lives with is wealthy, but she’s adopted.  She has green eyes.”

“What makes you think a girl who lives in a wealthy house is a thief?”

“She’s adopted!  Who knows why she really lives there.  Those kinds of people are always up to something sneaky.” 

“I’m not convinced.  There’s no reason why I’d just go up to her and demand what was taken from us-”

“Of course not.” Leah retorted, pouring on the feigned exacerbation, “Your description didn’t give me much to work with.  I want to show you the most likely candidates, and she was at the top of my list.”

“The top huh? How many ‘candidates’ have you discovered?”

Leah put up a chastising finger, “One at a time, Friend.  If this one isn’t your one, then we’ll move on to the next one.”

David thought about this for a second, then said, “Fine, where can we find her?

“She likes to visit a pub in the gardens. Likes to slum it up with the rest of us poor folks. I saw her there earlier tonight,” she lied. “She gets really drunk, so that might give you the chance to ask her some questions.”

“Well, then we better not waste this chance.”

David began making his way to the eastern edge of the forest; the other two boys followed him.  Leah started at a swift pace to catch up with David.  “If you talk to her, and she is the one you’ve been looking for, what are you going to do?”

The tall teen in red didn’t break pace, “Ask her kindly to return our things, of course.”

Leah thought his grim smirk was all too telling, “And if she doesn’t?”

“Then we’ll have to convince her.” Glancing at Leah, “What’s it to you, anyway?  You’ll get paid either way.”

“Not if you get yourself into enough trouble or get taken away by the Badges.  …Or worse, the Force.”

“The force?”

“The Patrician Force.  If they lock you away, the last thing you’ll be worried about is some stuff some thief took.”

“The Patrician Force…?” This time, one of the other boys spoke up.  Leah recognized him as Chris from the conversation on the rooftop.

“They’re an elite group of constables run by the wealthiest families of the New Republic.” Leah said, “They stretch all across the cities and townships in the NR.”

“I know who they are,” returned Chris, “why would they care about anything we’re doing?  I doubt the local constables would care…”

Leah took a quick moment to review the things she’d said.  Did she give away anything that might suggest she knew more than she’d said?  They were making their way slightly north, along a path that led into the Gardens District.  Thick trees made the moonlight spotty on their path.  She could sense Gizmo nearby.  If she focused, Leah could get visions – like moving snapshots – of Gizmo’s perspective as she followed them silently through the trees.  “I don’t know what you guys are into,” Leah interrupted, “I just want to know I’ll get paid.”  She glanced at David to notice that he was watching her.  “Is something wrong?” she poured on the sass.

“We’re following you, right?” He was wearing that insufferable smirk as he spoke. Leah half thought that he wielded the expression like a weapon.

 The walk to the Garden District’s series of pubs was short, and Leah identified the one they were heading for.  It was one of four small buildings set apart from any others despite being surrounded by L-shaped plazas.  It was obvious that it was a pub, because of its large gray and red sign with “Nabila’s Pub” in green lettering.  Cheap and common quattours sat around its entrance, each in a sleeping state with its eyes dulled. 

People were coming and going from the feudal-styled, wooden building and a large burly man sat at its entrance like a sentinel.  Leah hoped that she’d find the woman she was thinking of inside.  Cameron of the Bricks was here so often, Leah had bet on the possibility of finding here with confidence.  Still, if Cameron happened to not be here tonight, she had a few other options for their wild goose chase.

Although she didn’t frequent this particular bar, her line of work kept her aware of who was generally where.  She recognized the pub’s bouncer, though she didn’t know his name, and her party entered the pub with little more than a curious glance from him.  Inside, the place was less crowded than usual, and Cameron was easily identified sitting at the bar. 

“There she is,” Leah said, “at the bar.”  She pointed at the pale-faced auburn-haired woman dressed head-to-toe in black, skin-tight cottons.  David moved past Leah to approach the woman, but Leah grabbed his arm, “She only respects people who are direct.”

“That’s something I can handle.” David waved for Chris and the other boy to take seats at a table near the bar and went to sit by Cameron.  Her hair was long and pulled back in a single braided ponytail.  Four empty glasses sat in front of her and she sat with her head face-down on the bar between her folded arms.  David spoke softly, “ I need your help.”  She didn’t respond.  After a moment, David tapped her on the shoulder.  Cameron started, and her head shot up and groggily turned to look at David.  Her deep, green eyes were the first thing David noticed on her face.  She was in her late twenties, but her facial lines expressed a face that had seen many hardships. 

“Who are you?” Cameron blurbed. “I’m not going home with you…”  She turned as if getting ready to flop her head back down. 

“I need you to help me find a stone.  The pay is good.”  David gave her two hard taps on her shoulder again.  “It’s really important to me.”

Cameron froze, staring at the wall on the other side of the bar.  Finally, turned back to David, her head seeming to clear, “How valuable?”

“Extremely.  It’s a brown stone that glows with a strong light.”

“What?!”  Cameron looked genuinely confused? “Like a gem?”

“Well, yes. …it looks more like a ragged stone.  But you wouldn’t miss the glowing light.  Haven’t heard of this, huh?”  David was eyeing her carefully, she didn’t seem like someone from a high family.  She was dressed like someone who wanted to move freely and go incognito from place to place, but didn’t get David the impression that she was the one he was looking for?

“I don’t understand… Is it a stone, or is it a gem?  And why wouldn’t I just sell it if I found it?  What is it, some kind of energy source?”  Cameron was interested.  To David, all her questions seemed to be genuine.  This wasn’t who he was looking for, and he was afraid he might be giving away too much with his questions.  He raised a hand to get the bartender’s attention.

“Two for us,” David motioned to indicate himself and Cameron.  Turning to Cameron, “If you hear anything about it, you can meet me at the edge of the Zellwood forest at 11 at night for the next three days.”  He threw a few foodcoins on the table, downed his drink, and walked out of the bar without another word, and his gang mates followed immediately after him.

Leah was seated at a table in the far corner of the room.  Besides coming in with the three strangers, she didn’t want to associate herself with them any more than she had to.  Due to her augments, she could clearly hear everything they’d talked about.  It was clear that David had determined that this wasn’t his thief, but she was surprised to hear him mention – even describe – the stone.  That could draw unwanted attention, especially from the Patrician force headed by her father.  She waited for a few moments after the others exited, then left the pub.

The thugs were waiting outside near a small patch of trees to the left of Nabila’s Pub.  When Leah approached, David greeted her with a grimace, “She’s not the one, how many more do we have to go through?”

“It’s like you said,” Leah replied levelly, “there can’t be too many green-eyed thieves even in a city as big as this.  There’s only one more I know of with green eyes; the last has gray eyes, but we may as well check if Tamilan doesn’t work out.”

“Tamilan?”

“She’s a really poor thief, that’s why she wasn’t my first choice.  Let’s get this over with.”  She started back for the main road, but David caught up to her and grabbed her by the arm.

“Can she scale a building and creep through a room of people without being caught!?” David’s voice was angry and impatient, but not loud, “Does she have some way of getting miles outside of the city within a few hours?!”

Leah shook herself loose, “I. Don’t. Know!  You’re the one so sure of all the details…”  David glared at her hard before stomping back towards his companions.  “Are we going or what?” Leah was getting impatient fast.  The three teens ignored her as they whispered to themselves.  Then, they stopped and trudged toward her with dejected looks on their faces. 

“I’m sorry about all this,” David’s expression was truly sorrowful, “we need to find that stone. You can’t imagine how important it is.”  Before he was finished, Chris and his companion darted to opposite sides of Leah while David charged her swiftly with arms spread in a combat stance.  Fools!, Leah thought, and instantly rolled to her left and closer to Chris.  Surprised, he threw a mild punch in her direction, but she ducked it and jabbed his side hard with her elbow.  Chris stumbled backward in pain but recovered quickly.  His companion tried a more carefully directed punch and received the same treatment.  David tried to dive for Leah, but he was much too slow to catch her.  She spun to the side and leapt backward as he crashed face-first into the dirt. 

Chris tried to sweep Leah’s legs but she stepped over his attack and kneed him into a clumsy roll. From a prostrate position, David tried to kick her legs from under her as the other came at her front. Leah spun sideways and pushed the boy tripping over David’s body. She backed up a few paces and assumed a fighting form as they collected themselves.

All three boys were eyeing her warily while Leah danced deftly in a boxing stance.  Normally, this would have been when she would make an escape, but the thrill of tossing these arrogant strangers around was exhilarating.  Leah was having fun.

chapter 16 < > chapter 18

Special Author’s Note

These guys don’t know what they’re getting into. They are grossly outmatched, not even counting Gizmo. My hope was to begin to physically illustrate their desperation and resolve. How will either party be able to turn these events to their advantage, and what part will Leah’s half-brother end up playing in all of this.

Also, where is Jake?

ALLYBOT pt16: 7 Months Ago pt.2

forest in fog

ALLYBOT

7 Months Ago pt. 2

In the morning, David awoke to the thickest Mannah fog he’d ever seen in his life.  In the first few moments of opening his eyes, he could hardly make out the people near him in the small clearing where they’d slept.  The boys had treated and fed David well but he slept more warily than he had any other night since he’d left New Dorf.  Apparently, not warily enough.

“Look at this thing!” A girl David had never seen was holding Jaspeada up, unsheathed, in front of a small group of other young teens. She began waving the dagger around as if she were cutting magical figure eights in the fog. The others drew closer to have a better look while they rewarded her with “Ooh”s and “Wow!”s. David was just shaking the fog out of his mind when a commanding voice came out of the alien mist.

“You’re not playing with our guest’s things are you?” Jake was awake and approaching David with a steaming bowl in hand.  The Mannah swirled around him as if escorting him through the fog.  At the sound of Jake’s rebuke, the adolescent girl resheathed Jaspeada and dropped her near David’s waking body before the group scattered into the fog.

Jake placed a small bowl of cold wet grains next to David.  The former resident of New Dorf pulled himself into a sitting position, took the bowl, and began eating with his fingers.  It would be well after David finished his second bowl that he would wonder why the cold grains were steaming.

The meal was delicious.  David expected the grains to be somewhat crunchy, like hard-baked grains left in water overnight.  Instead, they were firm enough to grab but melted in his mouth.  The cereal had a buttery taste with more than a hint of sweetness.  Soon after David had begun, he finished the entire bowl in moments.  Jake returned just as he was finishing, and David could see that the young man was wearing a bright red vest. 

“We’ll be moving before the fog has lifted,” Jake began, “so you’ll wanna pack up if you’re coming with us.”

“Where are you going?”

“There’s a caravan coming through the south passes west of here.” Jake smirked mischievously, “We’ll need to grab some items from them.”

“You guys are bandits…,” David began accusingly, “that’s why that guy was after you.”

“That’s how I take care of these guys,” Jake said waving his arm in a wide fan. David looked around but saw only invisible voices coming out of the mist. “We get jobs, we complete ‘em, and we get to keep little things on the side.” 

“Jobs?” David expressed sarcastically, “You mean you rob merchants and poor ‘ol travelers.”

Jake held up his hands, causing swirls of tiny orange and purple aliens to dance in the air, “We get our jobs from wealthy citizens who cut us in on the profit.  They work with us because we don’t harm anyone too much and leave people with enough stuff to make a profit.  Trust me, the folks we get jobs from consider themselves more important than the folks we rob.  Keeping these contracts with them keeps us safe.  How many lawmen you think they’d send after us if we were out here on our own?”

After a moment of thought, David said, “So what are you guys? …a bunch of fugitives?”

“Some of us, yes.  Some of us were abandoned without a home.  Some of us just don’t want the stuffy hypocrisy of city life.  Whatever.  For us it’s freedom. I’m the one that they look up to, so it’s my job to make sure they’re taken care of.”

“And it doesn’t bother you that some rich snobs are taking advantage of you all.  That they’re basically holding your lives for ransom so you can commit their crimes?  How is that freedom?”

Jake plopped down on the thick grass next to David with a heavy sigh, “There’s really not a lot for us out here, David.  For pretty much all of us, this is better than what we would’ve been facing.  I mean, you’re here in the middle of nowhere, right?  Why?  Where did you come from?”

David sat silent for a moment, remembering the family members that he had lost.  Jake watched him as he pondered what might have happened if he’d stayed in New Dorf.  Finally, David said, “I might’ve had a good life.  …If I’d stayed…  It…  It just wasn’t my home anymore.”  As he stared off into the distance, he noticed that he could begin to see across the clearing.  Shapes of busy people were coming into view like ghosts materializing from the mists. “My whole family is gone.” He continued, “The place that I called home… that’s not what it was anymore.”

A few moments passed before Jake broke the silence, “That’s what I try to offer, David.  A home for the restless and a family for people like me.  I don’t so much care ‘bout what those pompous rich snobs want.  I just want to take care of my family and keep them safe.”  He stood to leave but turned to David first, “If you want something like that, I’ll welcome you, David.  Even though you’re a lizard man.”  He smirked and walked away. 

. . . . . .

Hours and many miles later, David discovered that the group Jake was referring to was many more than those that had saved him from that strange man on the hill.  There were at least thirty teens and preteens that they’d joined up with.  He also discovered that the red vest Jake wore was seen as a sign of leadership to the group.  When he asked Jake about this later, the leader said that it was just a coincidence that no one else had joined the group with a red vest.  The group didn’t live in one place but had very well concealed “camps” over a large expanse of territory.  Using various routes, Jake’s group had access to every path anyone could use to get to the nearby cities.

Of all the things David was discovering, he was most surprised by how little he wanted to see the surrounding townships.  Even realizing that he could access so many of the great cities he’d heard about in books and lessons, he felt no pull to discover them now that they were finally accessible.  Perhaps it was because he saw no real chance that life in them would be any better for him.  Jake’s group welcomed David like they had so many lost boys and girls, and he was given every provision he could need.  Jaspeada and Stever’s spear were the only things that really belonged to him; the group shared everything else. 

So despite all the stories of his youth, and how he and Elise would imagine themselves in those places, David avoided the big cities.  He felt valuable for how he could improve the group’s makeshift tents and shelters.  His strength and use of the spear, however, made him invaluable in the group’s commissioned raids.  David made friends easily within the group and Jake assigned him a few sparring buddies.  These little groups of three or four did everything together: eating, sleeping, scouting, and keeping watch.  The not-so-final surprise came when, within a matter of weeks, David began to feel like he had a family again. 

chapter 15 < > chapter 17

Special Author’s Note

Jake’s group began to grow on me in this chapter, even though I still didn’t really know anything about them. From the sound of things, the group is comprised almost entirely of adolescents. That raises a lot of questions that I would eventually think it was important not to answer. David is experiencing a life reset that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to.

I grew up in a family that traveled often. I experienced many dramatic life resets but many of them were through the aid of literature. Learning about different walks of life – fictional and non-fictional – helped me to imagine myself in situations that altered the way I interpreted reality itself. Of all the chapters in this story, I feel like I can relate to this one most intimately.

ALLYBOT pt15: 7 Months Ago pt.1

forest in fog

ALLYBOT

7 Months Ago

David had grown used to the wilderness north of New Dorf.  It was a long stretch of swampland to the nearest town; that stretch was interrupted by long overgrown paths that used to be roads.  He was able to keep dry most of the time; occasionally he would be forced to trudge through some marshy grass or deep puddle.  Making impromptu tools and weaving wild materials wasn’t new for him.  Experience from his work in the fooderies, the use of his spear, and a basic net were enough to keep him fed.  

The late spring days were hot and uncomfortably humid, even for native David.  Each night was full of stars, noisy with the creatures of the swamps.  Songs of crickets and various croaks drowned out the sounds of his dreams when he slept.  He dreamt of his sister and the hope that she’d grow up to be independent and strong.  He dreamt of making his late parents proud as a craftsman or with a career in the fisheries.  He dreamt of Ol’ Ephraim toppling backward out of a window.  Down he would fall into the murky waters, but David would never hear the portly drunk’s splash.

Of course, members of New Dorf had sent folk out to find him, but David had been able to avoid all but the third.  One week after he’d left, he was surprised by Stever.  The intimidating man had been waiting for him on the other side of a thick pass between two big marshy pools.  Emerging from the brush, David found Stever sitting casually in a small shaded clearing.  They talked for a while and Stever made several appeals to David. 

After much discourse over the matter, he finally said, “Come home, David. You’ve got Dr. Leah worried sick.  She fought hard for your life in New Dorf, and now,” he motioned to the great outdoors around them, “you seem to be throwing it away for this.  What would your sister want?”  

“My sister is dead!” David growled without shouting, “There’s no home for me in New Dorf… Not anymore.”  His head was bowed in seething grief that put Stever on alarm.  “My whole family is dead.  Besides Lukas, I barely knew anyone else.  Dr. Leah is kind, but…” after a long moment, “I don’t want to live there.” 

The clearing they were in was at the top of a long hill and overlooked the tall grassy slope in David’s way.  He trudged to the edge of the clearing and gazed out at the wilderness he had yet to cross.  “I don’t know what’s out there, but it’s the only thing ahead of me.  I can’t go back to New Dorf.  I won’t!”

Stever shrugged his shoulders slowly as he let out a long sigh.  His face was bathed in sad understanding.  His own past had caused him to leave an old life behind and start a new one in New Dorf.  He kicked a torso-sized leather pack over to the teen, “Take that,…”.  Then he reached into his dark brown, leather overcoat, “…and take this.” 

The Stone Leader pulled out a dagger from it’s homemade leather sheath. He held out the long, granite blade that had been hilted in triple-bound leather.  It was serrated like a scimitar and was colored a dark, marbled charcoal.  Instantly, David realized that it must have taken months to edge and sharpen the thing.  He looked at Stever with disbelief.    

“Stever…  That’s way more than I need-”

“It was in Lukas’ belongings.” Stever interrupted, “He left a note saying that he wanted me to have it.  …I can’t   …I can’t keep it.”  Stever held an expression that looked to David like defeat.  He lifted the hilt toward David, “Please, take this off my hands for me, will you?”  Stever pulled one of David’s hands onto the hilt, “I can’t keep it anymore.  If you are really going far from here, take this thing with you…?”

After thinking of Lukas, and the family that left him behind, David closed his hand on the hilt and took the blade from Stever.  It was then he noticed the words engraved on the blade: “JASPEADA.”

David glanced up at Stever, “It has a name?”

Stever shrugged, “I guess… I never looked into it, but the blade was supposedly passed down through Lukas’ family.”

Lukas was one of the last of his own family.  He was taken by the swamps, like so many villagers before him.  Holding the blade, David felt a certain sense of obligation to carry it with him, in memory of his fallen friend.  

     .          .          .         .          .          .          

It had been weeks since David had seen Stever, and no Seeker after him had managed to find the teen.  He kept to whatever high ground he could as he used the positioning of the stars to make his way north.  David was hearty and determined, though his only goal was to find some other life for himself so the old one could die in the quicksand of forgetfulness.  He figured he’d traveled further than anyone from New Dorf would have searched until he heard the sound of wood being whittled and a familiar song being hummed.  

It was near the middle of the day and the sky was cloudless – except for the Mannah.  The sun shone brightly, and the sky was abuzz with a faint purple-orange tint.  David had just made it over a steep, rocky hill and dreading the pathless forest he was about to enter when he heard the sounds.  The melody was a folk tune – one sang all the time in New Dorf.  Why would a seeker be out this far, he thought, No one is paying good coin for my finding, I’m sure of it.  

The sounds were coming from behind a grassy boulder not far from David’s right.  The teen’s first instinct was to freeze in his place.  He thought of the forest ahead of him.  This guy must have been waiting for me to cross the hill to catch me before I entered the forest.  Sweet Mannah!  How obvious are my movements?! 

Even if David did sneak past the boulder and enter the forest, the Seeker would be able to see exactly where he disturbed the brush and track him.  I’ll sneak around and enter the forest from another place and hope he doesn’t notice.  This seemed like a good enough plan to David, so he began to crouch and softly scoot away from the boulder.  That’s when his foot caught on something soft and tough.  He tripped and fell to the ground with a surprised yelp.  

Pain shot up his leg.  David rolled onto his back and pulled his left leg towards his chin.  Peering at it, he saw that his leg had been deeply scratched from near his knee to his ankle.  Blood was seeping from the wound more and more quickly; he braced himself against the ground and ripped off a torn portion of his shirt.  It wasn’t enough, but he quickly tied it around the center of his leg anyway. 

He was halfway finished when he noticed the large wooden stake jutting out of the ground.  The beam was as thick as his arm with several long, menacing-looking points at its end.  David marveled at the slim margin by which he’d avoided the business end of the stake – well, mostly avoided it.  Despite the throbbing pains he was experiencing, the long gashes on his leg were an easy trade for his life.  

Remembering, suddenly, that he’d been trying to avoid someone, David shot a glance toward the boulder and saw a tall man walking toward him.  He was pale-skinned with pink blotches on his neck, arms, and legs.  All he wore was jet black: his gloves, boots, skin-tight leggings, shirt, vest, and bandana.  Besides his leggings, everything on the man fit loosely and there were no laces on his boots.  As he approached he called out to David, “You wouldn’t be Jake, would ya?”

David sat up to look at him and noticed the man had a strong limp on his right side.  His stature and style were nothing like those he’d known in New Dorf.  It almost seemed as if the stranger were supposed to look menacing, but instead looked… goofy. He wears his bandana around his wrist!? David thought Nobody does that!  David’s thoughts shifted like the trajectory of a school of hunted fish.   I must be close to another town, he thought.  I just have to make it through this.  The strangely-dressed man began to loom over him, staring at him intently.  

“You ain’t Jake!” He shook his head in disappointment, “Where are you camped out, kid?”

David shook his head in return, “I’m traveling through.  I’m going north in search of another town.”  Forgetting the throbbing pain spiking through his leg, the young man began reaching for Jaspeada hilted at his side.

“Another town?!” The strange man made a face that suggested he was confused by the very idea, “Don’t nobody live south of here but the swamp folk.  Them folk aren’t real but fairy tales.  Now tell me some’n true.”

“I’m no fairy tale,” David retorted, “I’m from a swamp town myself.  I guess I’m one of the swamp folks you’ve heard about.”

“With all that proper talk?  And you ain’t got no gills!”  The man was reacting as if David were trying to scam him.  “No!  You ain’t no lizard-boy.  I’ll give you but one chance.  The sun is hot and ain’t to be out here all day with your bull-talk.”  He pulled out a long wide machete with a strong dent in the middle of the blade.  “Where are the rest of you boys, now?!  Where–?”  

The limping man’s last question was interrupted by a whirring sound and something round hit him hard on the back of his good knee.  He fell onto his other knee with a cry and was hit next on his right shoulder blade.  He twisted in agony and hurled his blade at David.  David was so startled he was already scrambling away from the man.  The blade missed his left ear by inches.  Suddenly, a dark-haired, tanned boy was standing behind the strange man.  Before David could realize what was happening, the boy brought the club down on the man’s head, causing him to quickly go limp.

David was still trying to make sense of what was happening when four other boys came running from the opposite side of the hill.  Two ran straight to the one with the club, one slid into a crouch over the strange man, while the last slowed to a careful walk as he approached David.  David eyed that last one warily until the boy with the club called out to him, drawing David’s attention.  “Don’t you worry,” he said, pointing at David, “no one’s gonna harm you.  We’ve been trying to catch this guy for weeks.”

The boy crouched over the limp man stood up and adjusted his thick-lensed glasses.  “He’s ok, but you brained him pretty good, Jake.”

“You’re Jake?” David hissed.  All of the boys seemed to freeze in place as they turned their stares at David.  He immediately felt more vulnerable than he ever had in his life: in an alien place, surrounded by violent strangers, and with very few resources.  He began looking around frantically.  In the debacle, his spear had rolled away from him to some unknown place.

The boys shared glances with each other before bursting into infuriatingly confident chuckles.  One of them held up David’s spear, “Are you looking for this?  You’re lucky I saw it rolling down the hill.  The one with the glasses was already inspecting David.  Their leader seemed to be the tall, dark-haired boy holding the club: Jake. 

He took the spear from the boy to his left and addressed David. “Didn’t I say you didn’t have to worry about us?  What would you do against all of us anyway?”

“I’ve had to fight meaner guys than you,”  David said.

“Is that so?” Jake said.  He looked the spear over for a moment. “These markings are strange…  Where are you from?”

“The south.”  At this, the boys broke into full-out laughter.  

“Sorry our trap hit you…,” Jake was trying to compose himself.  

“It seemed to have only grazed him,” said the one with the glasses, “he’s got a serious scratch, that’s all.” 

That’s all! David was thinking, that thing almost impaled me!

Jake looked over the spear one last time before tossing it to David’s side, “I guess a scratch won’t keep you from swimming with the lizards.”  The other boys broke into smirks and giggles again, but David was too confused to retort.  “The least we could do is offer you a meal for the night,” Jake extended a hand to help David up, “we’ve got plenty for the next week.  Caleb will patch up your scratch.” Jake indicated the glasses-wearing boy, then motioned to David,  “Come with us.”  To David, it sounded more like a command than an invitation.

Leaning on his spear and with one arm around Caleb, David followed the boys to a small clearing blocked by a circle of bushes and made camp for the night.

. . . . .

This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.

chapter 14 < > chapter 16

Special Author’s Note

It’s fun rereading this chapter because it’s a good example of my not knowing what would happen in the next paragraph. I made up “Jake” when I wrote the bounty hunter coming out of the woods. Even then, I didn’t know he would be the group’s leader since I had no real details on the group. When the boys come rushing out of the woods, the characters really took over and showed me what kind of group they were.

Even the blade David receives, Jaspeada, was made up on the spot. Eventually I retconned other parts of the story to include it because I thought it was a cool and unique item. In the first few versions of Allybot, the dagger didn’t even have a name. Ultimately, the blade’s name hints at Lukas’ family heritage.