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Chapter 5: Allies

.........-FAIL SAFE 2

Zhaxier tried the door handle. Like a radar echo bouncing from a distant object and returning to its source, the pain of Zhaxier's shoulder hammered through his arteries. He lightly placed his other hand over the wound, flinching only slightly.

The door popped open easily. It was a very different type of door, one which swung open, hanging on hinges. The door made a "zoorping" noise as it swung open. The force field outside dropped the instant the door opened into a twenty foot wide corridor extending right and left out of sight. In a dozen areas in either direction, the corridor was blackened, littered with broken and exploded robot frames. Some of the lights overhead were out in those areas, but other lit areas made up for the ones which were out.

Slowly he entered the hall, moving out toward a large pile of useless junk and twisted metal. He scanned the corridor hoping to find something to pry open the cabinet.

To Zhaxier's surprise, elevator doors opened up not three meters away. Zhaxier froze like a side of beef as seen through the windows of Fuddrucker's ("Best Burgers this side of the Oort Cloud"). The thought of being something's lunch crossed his mind, and suddenly he was very hungry himself. If his blood or scent didn't given him away, the sight of his possessions only partially hidden by his blended hand surely would. His pulse raced, threatening to pop his neck veins.

Claus's gold elliptical eyes and face presented their usual glare of disagreement. Moments before, the mutated cat had been pacing the small room in which he had become trapped. He had entered the room, and a moment later, it had closed behind him. He could not remember much, having just recently fled the clone bank where he had awakened.

When the doors slid open, Claus leapt out into the hall, ready for anything. Directly across the hall, a door stood open, revealing a small room beyond. Approaching the door, he stopped, noticing fresh drops of blood leading out of the room. His acute nose smelled fresh blood very close, almost as if someone was standing nearby, bleeding.

The smell of fresh blood filled his mind with thoughts of food. He followed his nose closer to the smell. His wiskers brushed up against something and his eyes narrowed. He backed away slowly. "I know someone is there. Show your self or I will hunt you down." He looked at the blood on the ground. "You won't make it very far judging by the amount of blood on the ground. You might as well show yourself before I have to get nasty."

"Whoa there, Mr. Cat," Zhaxier tripped over his words as he blended back into the electromagnetic spectrum. He was fully naked and carried only a data pad, a holo projector and a plastic card in his hand. He was also a nervous wreck, and the words (and assumptions) flew out of his mouth faster than a Moonwerk Scout out of dry dock.

"Dude, I'm on your side! Name's Zhaxier something---still can't remember the last name. The real me was a propulsion engineer and is probably dead, or else they wouldn't have activated us. Situation's FUBAR. Robots after my ass and the other clones. God knows why. See what one did to me already?" he turned his bruised and bloodied shoulder toward the cat.

"C'mon, this room here has gun lockers and a first aid kit with my name on it---all behind padlocks. Help me find a lever in this rubble so we can force them open!"

Before the two newly acquainted clones could decide on what to do, a human-shaped robot emerged from behind one of the piles of rubble where it was hiding and approached Claus and Zhaxier. "Don't worry, I'm not one of those robots after your ass. I'm Tinker, formerly Moonwerk General Purpose Technical Support Unit 31454-0265-2." Tinker was battleship gray with a few scattered patches of rust. "Maybe I can be of some assistance?"

Very wary of the robot, Zhaxier and Claus reluctantly followed Tinker into the weapons room. Tinker removed a small drill from a hidden chest compartment, and approached the cabinet that Zhaxier pointed to. Drilling out the lock and opening the cabinet took Tinker but a few seconds.

13:55 SCAN LOCATION HALL 569181-K4
.........-STATUS: 3 INDIVIDUALs IN HALL 569181-K4
.........-FAIL SAFE 2

Inside the weapons cabinet were five pistols, each hanging from a separate hook. At the bottom of the cabinet lay a green bag with a medical red cross on it. Grabbing the bag, Zhaxier moved over to the table, opened the bag, found the injector, loaded a new vial, and then injected himself in the shoulder with it. Zhaxier flinched slightly. The medi-kit held 5 more doses. Tiny nano-bots filled Zhaxier's blood stream and began racing toward any wounded area to repair it. Zhaxier's nasty purple and blue shoulder wound disappeared in minutes, as did all of his other minor wounds. Their duties completed, the nano-bots turned inactive and died. The entire process seemed almost magical.

While the nano-bots did their work, Zhaxier sighed, "Dudes, thanks for not eating or shooting me. What's your name, by the way, Sir Cat? Can I call you Stevens? Like, Cat Stevens, you know? Heheheh. Ah, Crikey, the guy probably died millenia ago ..."

Claus watched the man ramble on, almost wishing he had atacked first and asked questions later. "I am Claus." His voice resonated with bitter dignity. "You can call me that," he paused for a second in mid-sentence to scratch an itch, "and only that." He turned abruptly to search the other lockers. "I have to find something to cover that annoying man's ugly, hairless body," he thought as he looked into the unopened cabinets.

Tinker was examining the firearms in the open cabinet. "Zhaxier, I'd like to give these pistols a once over, but since you two don't seem to fully trust me yet, please remove and pocket the power cells while I do my job." After Zhaxier took out the power cells, Tinker began to examine and clean the pistols.

"Guys, if you don't mind, I'd like to tag along. I'm getting a little tired of lurking around down here by myself while Asimov-knows-what comes roaring through here breakfast, lunch, and supper. If you take me along, and protect me against moron 'tubecrawlers bearing engineering badges, I promise that I will be most helpful."

"I may be one of your engineer-tubecrawlers!" Zhaxier showed the robot his ID card with his engineering access code, "but since you just likely saved my life, I guess I won't disassemble you for kicks!" Zhaxier grinned widely and elbowed the robot with glee. How his fortune had turned!

"Tell me about these robots that are 'after your ass', Zhaxier. I never know when I'm going to need some spare parts."

Zhaxier took a deep breath, one that didn't hurt. He savored the sensation. "My story is short. Some security robots started chasing me and three other clones after we hatched from this clone bank," he showed the robot the map on his data pad. "The one that winged me (even though I was invisible, the lucky bastard) looked like it had all the options for its class. It also trapped the others inside this forest room here. I was hoping to get back to them somehow. You know any shortcuts?" Tinker shook his head negatively.

Invigorated by the nano-bots and just plain life itself, Zhaxier's mouth ran a kilometer a minute, and he stopped only briefly for breath. Tinker placed on the table another freshly repaired and shiny pistol which Zhaxier promptly picked up. "Supes! How do you use one of these things? How many shots do I have?" he waved his pistol carelessly around the room, sending Claus flying for cover. "Oh, sorry Claus. Heheh. Heh." Claus offered a toothy expression that required no words to convey his lack of amusement. "Wait 'til Chelydra sees this!"

"What you hold is a laser pistol, max range 200 meters, 10 shots per hydrogen energy cell. Not a bad choice."

Zhaxier looked with awe at his first sidearm. "Groovy ..."

Tinker finished cleaning the last pistol and placed it on the table. "Okay, we have here," he said, indicating the weapons on the table, "one laser pistol, a rubber-slug thrower (also known as a conegun), a paralysis dart gun (also known as a pax), and a Mark V Blaster."

"If any of the other lockers hold more powerful weapons, feel free to grab 'em. I for one like the feel of this one, and, as you can see, I'm running out of hands to hold my loot! Say, you see any bags in there, cat?" Claus shrugged.

"If nobody minds, I would like to take the blaster and the slug thrower. Whoever takes point should take the dart gun with him. We should take prisoners whenever possible." Tinker crossed his arms, and managed to give the impression that he was grinning at the duo.

Mark V Blaster

rubber-slug thrower (conegun)

With no objections, Tinker collected the blaster and the slug thrower and added both of them to his tool carrying compartments, filling the empty void between his standard Moonwerk-issued duralloy cutting torch and a small duralloy drill. There had been something else there originally, but Tinker had no memory of what it had been.

"We should pick up as much ammo as we can find," Zhaxier said as he handed the four power cells that he had been holding back to Tinker. After fumbling a bit, he managed to pop the remaining cell into his new pistol. It hummed nicely.

"I'm going to rip this place apart and see if there's anything else here that we can use," Tinker bubbled in a helpful tone and proceeded to drill out the next cabinet's lock. The compartment within the next cabinet opened to unveil two laser rifles, a rubber-slug throwing rifle with a large, thermal-imaging scope, and a shotgun. In the bottom of the cabinet was a box of shotgun shells.

rubber-slug throwing rifle

Claus snatched the slug throwing rifle from its placement, leapt onto the table top, and, with a dexterous hop, vaulted to the door, rifle still in hand. "We got company coming ... lots of armed robots ... I hear them," hissed the tabby nervously. The elevator door across the hall opened automatically revealing an empty chamber. Claus showed his sharp fangs with a loud hiss in response.

.........-STATUS: 3 INDIVIDUALS IN TERRA 239837-E11
.........-FAIL SAFE 2

The wolfpack retreated into the grasslands. Nike felt her muscles begin to relax, but she shivered to think that the pack leader and its remaining cohorts would soon be planning their deaths as surely as some disease. Her skin crawled uneasily at the thought of facing them again.

She turned to check the status of the others, and saw the human female rapidly approaching her position and looking very frightened, but also determined. "So she wasn't in on it," Nike thought, thankful to have cleared that up. She looked up the hill and saw Chelydra, aiming his weapon at a Wolfoid and about to pull the trigger. There seemed to be no other wolves in sight. "Why isn't that one with his pack?" she wondered. Something seemed strange about all of this. The strange feeling was replaced by worry after she quickly checked the surrounding area. Where was Percy?

Nike motioned for the woman to join her as she moved toward Chelydra. She took the comely blonde firmly by the arm (who did nothing more than look at Nike's grip), and led her swiftly up the ravine to Chelydra and the Wolfoid. If the blonde intended to protest the action, she held her tongue instead and let herself be led away.

"That son of a bitch must have got Percy," Chelydra said to himself, "and now he wants a piece of me. Seems to have a bit more brass than his pack mates, so let's give him some lead to go with it." The former security officer's temper blazed white hot at the thought that he may have lost two of his companions. This was not turning out to be a good op. After he put this wolf-man out of his misery, the group was going to have to get its act together fast while there were still a few of them left.

"No wait! It's me, Percy!" the human turned Wolfoid shouted. It came out sounding less like five words of English and more like five growls of wolf-speak. Percy knew as he spoke that he would have to do something more to convince Chelydra not to blast him. As he looked down to grimace at the fact that he had completely changed his form into a wolf-creature, he saw that he was still in uniform.

He looked up, caught Chelydra's focus, and exclaimed, "See my uniform?!" Of course, it came across to Chelydra's ears sounding something like, "Wuauurughghr!"

Fortune smiled on Percy that day, as Chelydra did not fire his weapon when Percy (and his uniform) came into focus. Percy burst into a scoffing laughter when he realized just how serious everything seemed to be, but his laughter subsided as he glanced at the bloodied wrench he still held in his grasp. Externally, Percy felt almost supernaturally powerful. Internally, he felt as though he was masquerading as a man. "I guess we always have to be on the lookout," he added cheeringly (in Wolfoid).

"...And so the ship is lost, and we are lost, and the thought of finding who we are seems even more lost," Chelydra said huskily, fixing blank eyes on Percy, whom he had almost shot mere moments before. "You really ard' to get a damn name-tag, Percy," Chelydra commented, resting the shotgun on his shoulder and feeling somewhat lost himself. Chelydra's words held more truth than not.

Nike approached them and said, laughing, "Well, you sure are different after that encounter, Percy!" They needed some humor in this weird situation, she thought.

Chelydra turned toward the woman next to Nike. "Who are you?" he snapped, bringing her out of her dazed state. She wore a one-piece military green jumpsuit. A patch on the chest of her jumpsuit had a picture of an ellipsoidal ship, the word "WARDEN" above it, and a white box below with "Mat/Rp" embroidered in red. She was a little shorter than Nike, very pleasing to the eye and of a medium build. When she noticed that the turtle-man had spoken to her, she stepped closer to Nike. Her eyes darted back and forth fearfully between Percy and Chelydra.

"Uhmm, I'm Amanda. I've been living here for about a week." Amanda paused, looking back at Nike with a worried expression. "I ... I, I've been staying in a building over there," she gestured back toward the forest, off to the right of where they had recently exited the forest. "I needed a drink. I have some apples there that I could share," she offered. "We should go. It's not safe to be out here in the open." Amanda noticed that Nike was still gripping her arm, and she tried to force a polite smile.

"We need to hole up some place and figure out our next move, and figure out who we are," Chelydra added with a nod at Percy. "Her place is likely our best option for now. But, before we go, I'll check out the bad guys." Chelydra began dragging the bodies into a rough line.

Nike released her grip on Amanda's arm. "Do the Wolfies know where you've been staying," she asked Amanda, "and how to get at you there?"

"No, I don't think they do. Besides, the Wolfies don't enter the forest. In fact, they avoid it." Amanda's fear of everyone, except Nike, was apparent as she spoke, even though she tried her best to appear calm and relaxed.

Chelydra dropped the last Wolfoid next to its fallen comrades and said, "We all came out of the clone pods looking different, but these seem to be of a kind with each other. Are they locals or more clones?"

"They are native here, I believe," Amanda said curtly.

Percy tried not to look at Amanda, who still seemed to be afraid of him. She had calmed down somewhat when she realized that Nike was addressing him as a friend, but to earn Amanda's trust he still needed to assert control over his appearance. After all, it seemed to Percy that she was in the same boat as the rest of them: she was probably a newly released clone, hiding out here trying to survive and make sense of everything that was happening on the ship.

"Ok, I can do this," he thought, closing his eyes. He tried to imagine himself as plain old Percy Jenkins, Warden systems technician. He put his hands to his temples and forced an image of himself into his mind's eye. He opened them, and looked down. He was back to normal, but his headache was suddenly back to the forefront of his list of agitations.

"Ok, sorry, I guess we got off to a wrong start. We all did, I presume!" he said, mostly to Amanda but addressing Nike and Chelydra as well. "I'm Percy Jenkins. This," he added, indicating the other two clone bank escapees, "is Nike, and that's Chelydra." He offered his hand, pleasantly pale in color and wolf-hair free, in an attempted greeting. Amanda reluctantly shook his hand, but released it quickly, no doubt wishing the entire situation to be over.

"We're clones, activated today, and chased here by some crazy killer security robot. And we're trying to figure out what the heck is going on." Percy's eyes rose and his eyebrows arched. "Waaaiitaminute---you've been here a week?" he laughed. "That makes you the tour guide! These Wolfy folk and you don't seem to be getting along! What's the story of this environment bay anyway?"

"I don't know," Amanda answered him.Tears appeared in her soft brown eyes, more out of fear of Percy than his questions.

Recognizing her sensitivity to him, Percy stopped his questioning and stood impatiently as Chelydra finished his examination. He had gathered four crude spears and a large hunting knife, but discovered nothing to tell him more about the Wolfoids, or from where they came. Chelydra stowed the hunting knife safely in his web gear and gave the spears to Percy who went back to his hiding place for the bag that he had left there. The spears fit inside, but the ends stuck out a bit from the draw string opening.

"Amanda, maybe you should lead us into your ubiquitous tangle you call home?" Nike asked with a slight smile. She touched Amanda on the shoulder as she spoke. Amanda simply nodded "yes."

Walking together in a tight group, the four of them entered the forest. They walked a good distance before arriving at a small, square, windowless building attached to the duralloy wall that circled the entire environmental bay.

A small, leather pack sat on the ground in front of the solid metal door. Amanda picked up the pack, dug into her pocket and removed a key. Using the key, she unlocked the door and everyone entered. The door automatically closed and locked behind them.

.........-STATUS: 3 INDIVIDUALS IN TERRA 239837-E11
.........-FAIL SAFE 2

Amanda's chamber was a mostly empty, very clean five by five meter room. There was a blanket on the floor in one corner of the room; a desk, a computer console, and chair in a different corner; and on the back wall, another windowless thick metal door. Lights in the ceiling illuminated the entire room.

"Here, take these." Opening her small pack, Amanda gave each of them an apple and a fist-sized loaf of homemade bread.

Nike looked around the room with much curiosity. She found it odd that Amanda had bread---where did she find bread in the environmental bay? Apples she may have found on a tree, but bread? She wanted an answer to the question, but Amanda seemed a little fragile after her ordeal, and she didn't want to freak her out. "That's the last thing I need," Nike thought, "a freaked-out blonde!"

Still, the room felt safe enough, and they all needed some rest and a chance for a communication session not rushed by necessity.

Nike walked to the door on the back wall of the room. "Your key wouldn't happen to fit this door too, would it Amanda?" Amanda shook her head. Nike noticed that the door didn't have the normal keypad beside it---there was just a key hole in a plain, handle-less, duralloy door. Two air vents in the ceiling were only hand-sized.

Percy was silently listening; an expression of impatience creeping over his face. When he couldn't stand the wait any longer, Percy bit into the sweet apple and approached the vid-sceen, sitting down comfortably in the chair. With a few clicks, the full color vid-sceen lit up. "That's better," Percy commented out loud. The screen displayed a partial map of the environmental area. The entire enviro-room was perhaps dozens of kilometers on a side and maybe even longer. The odds that human inhabitants lived somewhere within this environment were definitely good. Finding them would be a challenge. "We must be down here where it says 'Control Room'."

Nike peered over Percy's shoulder for a moment to examine the map before she approached Amanda who was sitting on the blanket in the corner. Nike sat down in front of her sighing slightly, noting how clean the place was. There was not even a speck of dirt anywhere. Nike glanced at the apple and loaf of homemade bread that she still held.

"Why don't we all sit down, eat a bit, and get to know one another. Then maybe we can exchange all that we remember from our respective pasts and bring one another up to speed. Sound good?" She tried to sound upbeat to encourage the motley crew.

Percy swiveled in his chair to look toward Nike and Amanda. Both were very lovely looking women. Chelydra double checked the safety on his shotgun, walked a few paces from the door and then stood it against the wall. He slid to the floor, leaning against the wall and ate hungrily. His apple was mushy on one side but he didn't let that fact bother him. "At least it isn't food cubes," he thought.

"Where did you get the food from, Amanda? Even I know you couldn't make the bread," Chelydra asked pointedly.

Amanda looked somewhat nervously at Chelydra. "When I first came here, something left the key for me. Now when I leave the empty pack outside, it returns the next day filled with food."

"Something?" asked Chelydra.

"I thought I saw something once. The air seemed to ripple almost as the thing moved. Maybe I imagined it," Amanda shrugged, looking at Nike.

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