Written by Matt Ochs | Layout by John Kimmel
100 by 13 Jotside
“Solomon, should I comply?”
Solomon looked at the barrel of the cell shooter trained on him, and then into the eyes of the man who held it, before he spoke. What he saw was enough to make up his mind.
“Yar. Do it.”
A hatch materialized in the square of Argus’s back, and a plate slid up to reveal a slender metal cylinder the size of a grown man’s forearm. An odd buzzing noise came from his robotic companion as the cylinder rotated, and emerged from its back. The cylinder stopped, then a loud POP sounded as it sprang from Argus’s back, landing on the ground with a dull metallic clink.
One might think that a machine would slump, as it goes off to wherever it does when it powers down, but no, Argus simply stood stock still where it was and motionless. It looked everything like another lifeless wasteland relic, marooned in the desert.
“Now yer turn.” Solomon heard the woman’s voice behind him, and then a crack of pain before everything went black.
Furtim Braccae watched the scene unfolding from about a klick away, shrouded in darkness. The woman and the man who carried twin guns had turned on the one called Solomon after he had complied with their demands and surrendered. They demonstrated deceit, and though he was now a machine he felt a gripping in his gut that reminded him of an emotion called rage.
How treacherous these humans were, even to their own kind. It was no wonder they couldn’t be trusted.
Furtim watched as the woman approached the man in the long coat as he holstered his two blasters. She flashed him a wide smile and he tipped his hat back. The easiness of the movements they shared and the pleasure on their faces resonated in a forgotten corner of Furtim’s cerebrum. He watched them and felt a pang of - he quashed it. Whatever it was, he didn’t care. Anything evoked by humanity was to be loathed. Man and its tiny progeny were a sick parody of machine life, born flawed and incomplete. Humans were as prone to turn on one another as they would a hated enemy, each working for their own selfish and petty goals. They were nothing but feckless cattle to be culled from all of Sularia.
Without moving he focused his telescopic optix, training it on the large metal behemoth looming next to the two humans. He had been following it and the human for days and was still puzzled at its creation. It was purely inorganic life, but it resembled no known Synthien for which the Red Eye possessed knowledge. Its form was completely alien; smooth polished silver, with minimal trim lines, and bulky, almost elliptical, curves. It was at odds with the stark Spartan geometry of the Synthien, that which emphasized function over all else.
As he looked at the lifeless hulk, Furtim wondered if it were a salvaged relic from antiquity. It followed a man, so that would explain much. Regardless of its origin, it was a machine and kin to his kind, and though it allied itself with a human it might be worth salvage.
Furtim returned his view to normal magnification and rose from his crouch to stand at the edge of a precipice. He was unsure if he should, or would free the machine from its bondage, and return it to the empire, but a plan was forming.
Solomon’s world was a splitting headache. It ripped his mind in half and blurred his vision. Even the meager light coming from a lone lume was enough to send jolts of pain down his spine.
Gods and demons, what had happened to him?
He had been walking with Argus, and then… It came back to him –
“The wasteland girl!” He blurted, happy simply to recall the smallest of details.
“An’ her gun totin’ friend.”
Solomon blinked wide eyed, cow like. That voice was maddeningly familiar because –
“Ya stumbled onto my lands, strange-ah.”
It was a woman’s voice that spoke to him; it was hers.
“Wha- wha-“ Solomon struggled to form a simple question, but the fog in his head and the pain were too much.
“Sorry, hadta knock ya out. No tellin’ the sorts that wander these wastes - and their intentions.”
“Arg- Argus.” Solomon managed.
“Is that yer metal friend? I’ve never seen’a machine an’ man walking hand-in-hand like that. All th’ machines I know would rather rip yer arm off an’ wear it as a trophy.”
Solomon collapsed back onto the meager cot that had been laid out for him. It felt like it had been made with rocks.
“We- we were… lookin’…” he trailed off.
“Aye ya were, and ya found us. But for what were ya lookin’ for?”
Solomon exhaled, “supplies.”
The woman laughed and Solomon cringed; to him it sounded like a shriek.
“Nunna that ‘round here,” she said in between chuckles, “’cept for what’s mine. An’ I don’ plan on partin’ with it. You weren’t plannin’ on stealin’ from me, were you?” She said leaning closer.
“No. A’course not.”
“I didn’t think so. I can handle myself, but just in case, I’ve got ole’ Johnny to watch my back.”
As charming as her story was, at the moment Solomon couldn’t give a damn. His head was splitting and with the woman’s constant yacking, it was only getting worse.
“Oh, right. Sorry ‘bout that. I had to brain ya to be on the safe side. Ya live out here long enough an’ ya learn not ta trust strangers.”
She laughed and Solomon gritted his teeth.
“Get some rest cowboy.”
He heard boots trailing off, a large metal door slamming, and a latch sealing. Rest was all Solomon wanted to do, and soon sleep overtook him.
“Rise an’ shine.”
Solomon cracked his eyes and took his first look at his cell. It wasn’t much of a cell, really, more of a store room with shelves shoved to the side and a cot crammed into the corner. There wasn’t a window in sight to let in outside light, so Solomon couldn’t be sure of the time. Frankly, he still felt like hell and couldn’t care less.
“Ah ther’, he’s awake.”
“We should throw him out for the buzzards. ”
Solomon hadn’t heard that voice since – the recollection took a moment, but it came back to him. It was the voice of the man with the steely eyes and the twin cell shooters; the same that had cut off their escape. Solomon squinted and climbed to his elbows and was able to move his legs freely. Neither had deigned it necessary to tie him up. Who were these people, anyway?
“Where’s Argus?” Solomon managed, reaching behind to feel the lump on his head.
“And talkin’! See Johnny, I told ya all would be fine.”
“You say so now, Harp.”
So their names were Johnny and Harp, that was a start at least. Solomon cleared his throat.
“Oh right, yer machine friend. He’s safe an’ sound,” – and deactivated she didn’t add.
So, Argus was somewhere in the complex. Though he knew it was short-sighted, Solomon felt relieved. If he could find a way to reach Argus and reactivate him, then they both stood a real chance at escaping. The memory of how fast his machine companion moved that fateful day at Lehner’s base repeated itself in his mind. Thinking of it still gave him shivers. Nothing that big should move that fast.
But Solomon couldn’t deny that he would need that speed now and the incredible strength that Argus possessed, if they wanted to make it out of their current predicament.
Still, first things first, he would have to escape the room he was in – which held both of his adversaries.
“Hey, stranger. What do we call ya?”
It was the woman – Harp – again. She looked at him with large brown eyes framed by sharp locks of unruly black hair. She wore garb not common amongst the outland folk, even those notorious for their odd dress. She was clad head to toe in studded leather. A large glass bulb rested on her chest, underneath a raised black collar and just above her bosom. The orb was dark, but something told Solomon that it would blaze to life, given the right conditions; though he had no idea what that would bring.
“Stranger? I asked you a question.”
She leaned in now, frustration now creasing her brow and making her eyes glow with a terrible ferocity.
“Fayd,” Solomon stammered. He wasn’t one to broadcast his family name, especially to strangers; never mind one that had already brained him from behind.
Harp’s eyes widened and she leaned back, shooting a furtive glance at her gun toting partner. She flicked her head and the two retreated further into the storeroom to whisper in private.
Solomon didn’t know what his captors’ newfound anxiety meant, but he wasn’t going to waste a minute. He looked around the room with new eyes. The construction was a mishmash of techcrete and foraged steel, gathered from the gods knew where. It was a typical wasteland dwelling, unfinished and Spartan, except for a massive amount of thick black cables, bundled and run along the walls to disappear into the ceiling and floors. That must be what carried the massive amounts of energy required to power Harp’s vast broadcasting network. Now if only he could use that to his advantage...
Solomon’s mind whirled and ached with the possibilities; most of which typically ended with him gunned down by the quick draw of the gunslinger Johnny Cache.
Besides, now the pair were returning, having come to a decision about whatever they were in such hurried discussion about.
It happened in the blink of an eye, so fast that Solomon, even when reflecting on it later, still thought it had been a trick of his mind. The reality, however, couldn’t be denied. Just as his captors passed before the room’s sole exit, the door, along with a huge portion of the wall surrounding it exploded in a hail of twisted metal and spinning fragments of techcrete. A silver blur flew through the doorway and smashed like a wasteland twister, careening into the shelves and stacks of supplies before it, flinging cans of preserved food, medical equipment, and even something Solomon was surprised to see – photo books from Sularia’s antiquity. The metal behemoth raised itself from the wreckage and Solomon was speechless to see Argus rearing up from the mess.
Neither Harp nor the gunslinger wasted a second, diving for the open doorway and making an escape from the rampaging machine. Solomon himself almost stumbled for the door, having regained his feet. His head cleared and he regained his senses, this was no Synthien on the loose, it was his companion and instead of diving into the waiting sights of two cell shooters, he came up short and took shelter by the nearest wall.
A hail of blue blaster fire exploded into the room and Argus raised a thick metal arm to deflect the worst of the gunfire. The pair didn’t linger, they ran deeper into the hideout as Johnny launched his fusillade, and rightly so. Argus spun and launched himself at the open doorway, striking out with one of his giant fists, and taking out another giant chunk from the wall.
“Argus!” Solomon yelled.
“Yes, Solomon,” the machine replied as impassive as ever.
“How in all th’ hells-“
“I do not know, Solomon. I was deactivated and then suddenly regained full operating functionality.”
“Well, let’s not cross our blessin’s. We need to get th’ hell outta here!”
“Affirmative. Follow me.”
Furtim Braccae watched the chaos from a distance. The gunslinger had done everything in his power to hold back his machine adversary, but it wasn’t enough. The human and it would both make their escape.
He smiled. They would probably thank him, at least the human that called himself Solomon would. It wasn’t benevolence that moved Furtim to restore the machine called Argus to functionality. In fact, it was the opposite. Furtim only felt malice towards both. Had he not intervened, the two he pursued would likely have made an alliance with the broadcaster and the gunslinger. But now, that was an impossibility. The broadcaster would revile the name Fayd and the gunslinger would mercilessly pursue the pair in the travels to exact vengeance.
Furtim’s smile widened. The gunslinger might even kill them and end his mission.
No. He wouldn’t allow that. Solomon would suffer. The gunslinger would suffer. The broadcaster would suffer. All who drew breath would suffer just as he had, and then, he would have his revenge.