Sandra’s police training kicked in, and she immediately dropped prone to the floor, as the sizzling hot beam of light singed the air above. She arched her head upward, and beheld, stomping towards her, the silhouettes of three Lurge assault bots, the barrels of their cannon-arms glowing orange and already charging up for another barrage. Sandra glanced around wildly for cover. There was a stack of crates some yards off to her left, and she began to scramble for them, though she knew she was unlikely to cover the distance before the volley hit, and instinctively closed her eyes, bracing for painful annihilation.
At that instant, she felt a powerful force seize her by the back of her jacket, lift her off of the ground, and, with a speed that felt as though she were being hurled through the air, deposit her safely behind a stack of metal boxes. The next thing she was aware of was a hand sweeping across her torso and seizing her pistol from its holster.
Falling on her hands and knees, gasping, Sandra looked up to see, silhouetted in the nearly-blinding blaze of the laser beams, the figure of Venus, in a perfect combat stance, and returning fire with her pistol. At first, it seemed suicidal; surely she would be cut to ribbons by the deadly beams. But then, a translucent mist shimmered into view around Venus, deflecting the energy away from her, and she stood her ground, firing again and again with calm control. Sandra could not see over the boxes, but she could hear the rounds hit home with repeated metallic thuds. Shortly, the clanking of the assault bots ceased, as did their cannon fire. Venus lowered the weapon, turning to look at Sandra.
The two stared at each other for a moment, breathing heavily.
“Military cyborg enhancements,” Venus said finally. “They gave them to me when I was in the Service. Experimental; top secret thing. ‘Operative of the future,’ they said. Then, a couple years later; new government, new priorities. They RIF’d me, and outlawed all weaponized robotics. So I couldn’t get work anywhere—nobody was willing to hire me and risk all the lawsuits. So,” she said furtively. “That’s my deal. Sorry I didn’t tell you. I just didn’t know if I could…”
“Don’t apologize. Ya’ll just saved my bacon. Thank you.” said Sandra. She paused. “And. . . that was awesome.”
“Anytime. You hurt?” Venus by now kneeling beside her and gently prodding her torso for injuries.
“Whoa, this is so hot,” came the voice of Charlie, who was standing in the doorway of the stairwell, peeking out at them.
Venus rose, turned, briskly crossed the yards between them, picked the young man up by the waist, twirled him around over her head blindingly quickly, and plunked him down unceremoniously where he had stood.
“Thank you again,” said Sandra. “Now we need to figure out what the hell is going on with these robots. Didn’t chucklehead say,” Sandra nodded at Charlie, “that these things had to be activated from the main office—where he just was?”
Venus leveled the pistol at Charlie.
“I swear, I didn’t do it!” he protested. He had been shaking his head to try to clear it, and now raised both hands in the air. “I didn’t touch a thing! Maybe it activated automatically when you logged in as Mr. Lurge!”
“Why on Earth should that be?”
Charlie made a motion halfway between a shrug and a twitch. “How should I know? All I’m saying is, I didn’t do it, okay?”
Venus glanced at Sandra, but kept the weapon aimed at Charlie’s chest.
“Tell ya what, Chuck,” Sandra said, a slight smile curving one side of her mouth. “As I recall, you said something to the effect that, even when the robots are activated, they respond to the voice of Lurge personnel, isn’t that so?”
“Uh, yeah… yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, then, I reckon you can lead the way , and talk down any more of these things that we run across.”
Charlie swallowed hard.
“She’s right,” Venus added. “I can hold my own against these things, but I can’t cover the both of you at the same time. If we run into a bunch of them, we’re in trouble.”
“It’s our best bet for getting out of here. C’mon, let’s go find that back door that Lurge used.”
Reluctantly, and still shaking his head, Charlie followed as they walked towards the rear of the factory. They stayed close together, with Venus in the lead, pistol drawn. The distant percussion of more infantry bots patrolling echoed all around them, making it difficult to tell from which direction the sound came. They kept close to the walls, creeping between different points of cover.
“Okay, we’re coming up on the door,” Venus hissed at last. “And there’s seven, no, eight of the damn things guarding it.”
“How—?” Sandra began, squinting into what appeared to her to be complete blackness. “Oh. Retinal enhancements, right. Dumb question.” she muttered.
“Okay, Charlie,” Venus said as they moved closer to the door, concealing themselves behind a stack of scrap metal. “Do your bit.”
Charlie took one glance at the pistol in Venus’ hand and swallowed hard. He peered hesitantly over the pile of metal, and called out to the lumbering machines, “Attention! Um, attention! This is Charlie Bradler, ID number 410-D.”
The machines all turned as one, the red cores of light that glowed within their metal-mesh skulls pulsating ominously.
“Um, that’s right. Charlie Bradler. 410-D. Please stand down and assume passive stance for human inspection, please,” he said, trying his best to strike a tone of authority.
The machines did not obey the command however, instead raising their arm-mounted cannons and firing. Venus leapt in front of Charlie as he dove behind the metal pile, raising her arm to again create a barrier.
“This won’t hold up long,” she said. “Start running!”
Together, the three retreated back into the factory, dodging stray lasers as the infantry bots mounted a pursuit.
“What the hell, kid?” Sandra shouted at Charlie as they clambered and scrambled across ancient manufacturing equipment.
“I don’t know!” he cried, “It should have worked!”
Venus continued to fight a delaying action as best she could, but soon the pistol ran out of ammunition.
“You got any more ammo?” she called to Sandra, blocking a laser blast with a flick of her free hand.
“In the car,” Sandra replied grimly.
“Damn. Okay, let’s make a break for it,” Venus ordered. Quickly, she closed the gap between herself and Sandra, striding across the floor with incredible speed. She raised her arms as if holding an invisible shield behind the three of them, and then gripped both by their collars. Lifting them off the ground, she accelerated, hurtling through the maze of boxes, machinery and roaming assault bots. The gargantuan machines tried to draw a bead on them as they sped by, but Venus’ moved much too quickly for the powerful but lumbering battle platforms to deploy their weapons accurately. Errant lasers struck walls, stacks of boxes, and even other robots, but none hit the three fleeing people.
At last, they came in view of the door by which they had entered, and Venus was beginning to slow down. Her grip on the other two slackened, and they stumbled on their own feet the last few yards—Sandra managing to slap the control panel as they slipped through to shut the door behind them. All three collapsed to the floor beside Charlie’s desk, Venus from exhaustion, Sandra and Charlie from motion sickness.
“Must… recharge…” Venus panted.
“We can’t stop here,” Sandra said, gasping for air herself, and trying to desperately to keep the contents of her stomach down. “Those things will get through the door eventually. We need to get to the car.”
“We can’t!” Charlie groaned.
Sandra shot him a look. “What do you mean?”
“Look!” He gasped the word, pointing a shaking finger towards the glass doors and into the parking lot beyond.
At first, there seemed nothing noteworthy about the scene. But as they watched, they perceived the light of the lamps seemed very weak. Only about half were lit at all, and soon, these too began to flicker and die out.
“It’s the Eidolon!” Charlie whispered. “It’s coming!”