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 pt22| AB#22

forest in fog

A New Directive

AB#22

A New Directive

The pirate son of Koster City’s most powerful “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,” 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.

ALLYBOT pt21| AB#21

forest in fog

Histories pt.2

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 had learned 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 Kent, some of them only wanted peace if they could control the world.”

“Kent?” Leah interrupted, “Kent 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.

“You’re father was never unclear about his intentions for you.” Beathen explained, “There’s little chance you would ever 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, 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. Kent 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 cities that were spread apart 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 revealed the tattoo 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 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 engaged.  

“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.  

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.” He shouted, “Best give me what I came for, wimps.” 

ALLYBOT pt20| AB#20

six people making faces of surprise
title pic

Histories pt.1

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 dreads 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 know you suspect it’s worth more than Father’s 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.  

          .          . .           . . .           . . .          

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 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 lookded 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 without his usual near-reverence.  The word “it” 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 took two steps and 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. Bethean 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 Bethen’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 incredible!”

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

Trying to contain himself, Beathen turned to Leah, “This is an ancient core from the days just before the Mannah fell.  This is from back when they made powerful cores to 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 had things called cars and trucks.  Automobiles! That’s what they called them. 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?”  

“Originally,” he began while rising from his chair, “they built the quattours’ AI directly into the model.  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 said, “The Mannah fell.”