Day 723

There are two Possibilities. One; humans have given up after a nuclear war killed half the planet, in return, those without money either succumb to the trash or sort it. Two; humans have abandoned Earth, took to their spaceships and gone on the journey to their new planet.

Thea Alderson has a reluctant foot in each one, tasked with the notion of slowly losing her mind in the first, and an invisible, intergalactic foe in the second.

One thing is clear, however; when humanity is involved, nothing is ever easy.


21. Stop Codes


Chapter Twenty-One – Stop Codes

Possibility One


Thea watched the robots advance and they were beautiful like a military march. They went down the hill, towards the Gar Piles and on to the Gutter Madonna territories, soon they would be there at Richer City. Joshua wanted war and he was bringing it to them.

“That’s McQueen, I mean your brother,” Daniel whispered, pulling himself close to the screen. His cheeks lit up in pixel red and green, chaotic static overwhelming his eyes. For all he tried to protect them, he had only forced the Richer’s eyes closer to Joshua and her brother did not help in the slightest.

Thea rolled her eyes, “Yeah, my idiotic brother finally became Ares.” Her brother was just not the man she thought he was, not the same one who would make clay models with her and pretend that they were real people. She pushed away from the keyboard and stood.

“Wait, what do you think you’re doing?” Daniel asked, “Sorry, I didn’t mean that horribly just–“

He watched as she made her way out of the room and out of the corner of her eye she saw him outstretch a hand like he was going to hold her back. He stared at it dumbly for a few seconds before following her.

“I need to get some things from home. Those automatons are coming here, and they will not stop,” she only had two options; to either merge or finally split the two possibilities or find the stop code for the robot’s programming. All of them had a stop code; it was built in their source code, the very essence of what made them.

“You do know how risky that is, right?”

“Yup,” she popped, and she didn’t have time to be weighed down by his indecision, she had to live in the now. They arrived at the Archives and she called to the AI, “Charlotte can you connect with Exe?”

“I am afraid not, I lost contact with him five hours ago and have not been able to regain it,” the AI responded, sounding almost sad.

Thea whirled around to face Daniel, his eyes were focussed on the ceiling, the lines in his forehead indicating the questions stored in his confused brain.

“Look you can either come with me or not. I’m still going, and you have about three seconds to make up your mind.”

His mouth opened ever so slightly, and Thea would have laughed if the situation hadn’t been so serious. Then he closed it with a click and cleared his throat awkwardly. “No,” he drew out the single word as he looked away. His loyalty would always align itself with the Richer’s; Thea should have known.

“Well, those robots are coming here, and they will be powerful. Their core can be defeated by highly concentrated oxygen, wear a gas mask when you fight them because a highly flammable gas will be emitted. Worst comes to worst, attack the cores with all you have. I’ll be back,” she turned to leave, and he opened his mouth as though he was going to say something. But then he shut it with a click, and she had to go. She left him on the front steps and began to run. Time was running out, sinking its teeth into her back.

She knew the route Joshua would take; the quickest. He would cut through the shortest section of Gutter Madonna territory to eventually arrive at the pearly but hellish steel gates of Richer City, he would overcome those easy with the power of the robots and then he would keep marching on. He would never stop.

Her lungs cursed at her by the time she arrived home. First, she went to her room to retrieve the box, shoving the letters and the key into her pockets, then she barged her way into the workshop. What hit her first was the smell, hot peppermint, gun oil and grease. The room itself was cluttered, torn apart in every sense of the word. Amongst stolen knives and guns, which Joshua had had to have gotten from the black market, she searched through his blueprints. There had to be a stop code, it was just basic formatting and Joshua wasn’t stupid enough to deliberately leave it out. But if he had made one he hadn’t written it down, at least not where Thea could see.

She cursed at the empty air, shoving her sleeves down over her hands and pacing, “Think, think, come on Thea, think!” she said to herself, leaving her sanity for the devil to catch.

Then her eyes caught on her father’s journals, tucked high to prevent her from getting at them again. She climbed up, her knees pressing against cogs and wires as she propped herself up against a counter and retrieved the final book. In the final entry, on the very back page, their father had written his own stop code, the one he installed in Exe all of those years ago.

In case of emergencies; familia ante omnia. Their father had said that phrase more time than she could count, and it meant family over all, his motto to them and to himself.

If Joshua hadn’t set up his robots under this stop code at least she could stop Exe, which was her first selfish objective.

She caught her breath for a minute, gathering her courage to go back out into the world. Joshua had fought against the infamy the Richer’s had struck on their family and in Thea’s haste to find her own place in the world she had neglected to see what was happening. She shook her head, made the thoughts disappear and ran back out, the door banging close in her haste.

“Thea, what is happening?” someone shouted and from a barricade of cardboard near the entrance of the Gutter Madonna’s erupted Marlene. She had a smudge of dirt on the bridge of her nose and her eyes were wide enough to be alien. In her hands, she held a metal baseball bat to defend herself with.

Thea slowed and stopped, Marlene looked safe enough, but she wasn’t going to be safe for long. Thea gripped her arms tightly, tempted to shake her, “My brother has constructed an army of robots and is marching on Richer city with them. I’m going to hopefully stop him. You need to stay here.”

“I’m not staying here,” Marlene shook her head, appearing stubborn even when Thea hated her for it, “I feel like I have to come with, I can’t disrupt the powers that be by disobeying them.”

“I have no clue what you are on about.”

“You’re not meant to,” Marlene said and even when Thea tried to race off again, weaving in a way she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t encountered Marlene, Marlene followed her. She matched her step for step and finally, Thea gave in. In both possibilities they would stick together, that was where the pages came together once more.

Up ahead, with both girls out of breath, they could see the automaton army. They had breached the gates and moved the fence barrier like it had been nothing, their strong arms and vast numbers being more than enough to overcome the metal.

Joshua’s imagination and hatred must have thrived for the army to have been produced and for all Thea had seen him create robots she had never seem him create so many. There were screeches being carried on the wind, people running from the buildings and sirens erupted. Richer City was made of many buildings, the business centre named Bird, the medical Spectre, the housing Mercy and Victory, and the Archives. Joshua had no mercy as he marched towards Bird and he lifted a megaphone to his lips.

“You have dominated and corrupted this planet for far too long. It’s time for your reign to end and it will end in metal, the very resources you have used against us!”

Someone screamed and as she looked to her left, near the Mercy building she could see people cowering behind the windows. Joshua had raged war on the innocents as well as the guilty and he would not be disturbed now.

“What’s the plan?” Marlene asked, clinging to Thea like she was a limpet.

“Uh,” Thea stalled, her plan was simple, but Marlene had no part in it.

“You have to have a plan,” Marlene urged, slapping Thea on the arm.

“I do,” Daniel said, emerging from their right. He had a gas mask on the top of his head, the hair flattened or sticking up against it, and in his hands, there was a lighter and a bag full of small oxygen tanks.

Thea felt herself smiling before she could register it.

“Their core, Element 119, is highly reactive with oxygen, release the cap or burn this in front of them and kaboom. It’s been effective on at least three of them,” he looked out of breath, sweat glistening on his skin.

“I was the one who told you that so technically it’s my plan,” Thea said affronted and she swore that she could see a ghost of a grin on his lips. She carried on, “I have a stop code that may or may not work, I just need time and a path to Exe, he should be the leader or the biggest, the most upgraded one.”

“Well, let’s go,” Marlene said, placing her cowl over her nose as Daniel passed her a gas mask from his backpack. They were updated from the familiar old-world masks, extendable from a simple band that covered the eyes to go over the ears, mouth and nose. In some ways, Thea thanked their new world for handling crisis with advanced technology.

“You’ve prepared, just like I said,” Thea said as she fidgeted with her own mask.

Daniel tugged down his own, his eyes just visible through the glass holes. He had fitted a leather jacket over his turtleneck and laced up sturdier boots compared to fancy oxfords. When he spoke, his words came out metallic but still audible, “I listened to you because I knew you weren’t messing around, I also warned my boss.”

His boss was his father, who from the twisted and uncomfortable stance Daniel took, was estranged from his son.

He pulled a satchel around to his front and handed out hammers with bulges to it, “I had Charlotte master up some disruptors, strike them with this and it should either inflict an EMP on them or install a virus. It’ll give us an edge.”

“You’ve been busy since I was gone,” Thea said as she took the hammer, why hadn’t she thought of grabbing something like that?

“I had to do something.”

“I need to locate a particular automaton, should be slightly different to the others, more rustic and a bit bigger,” she said as she loaded up with weapons/ There was a chance she would either get burned or get high from the oxygen and chemical mix, but it was a chance she had to take.

“The robot you’re on about is at the front, we have a while to go before that,” Daniel mentioned, taking a step towards the fray.

“Let’s go,” Thea motioned, and they were running towards the battle. The robots did not attack them at first, only when they noticed that the group was trying to slow them down. She lost herself in the hiss of the canister and the ducks she had to perform to avoid awry fire. The robots cranked, and their cores cracked as soon as the oxygen was introduced to them. Since there wasn’t many Richer’s about, just those brave enough to fight, the robots aim was to destroy the buildings. At least Joshua had turned to a more peaceful approach than just outright murder.

A man stepped out of the Bird Building, a suit clinging to his shoulders and a gas mask covering his eyes. His stance was relaxed, his hands in his pockets and he walked with confidence. Somewhere near her Daniel’s head turned suddenly to face the Bird Building and his movements stilled for a moment. Then he returned with fervour for pushing his way to the front.

The man was his father.

“I see the great and criminal McQueen has graced our doors,” he said, and all of the robots ceased to move when Joshua put up his hand.

“So, you’ve heard of me,” Joshua cockily said, going to the front of the pack, he put his hand on a familiar shoulder; Exe decked out in new shades of silver on his padded armour. Thea’s heart panged. He had ruined Exe.

She stood there in the middle, the only humans in a sea of mechanics, Marlene was somewhere to her right and Daniel was slightly in front. She held her breath, the next few minutes could go either way.

“I ask for a simple thing, you change your laws to admit all, just like my father planned, or I’m going to storm into every single one of your buildings and tear them from their foundations. What would the world do with its Richer Base suddenly destroyed?” On cue the robots whirred, and their arms split into guns and swords and energy charges. Element 119 had forged only the deadliest weapons for Joshua’s army.

“Mr Alderson, we do not listen or negotiate with terrorists,” Daniel’s father said and withdrew a gun from his pocket. He was quick to point it at Joshua’s head and fire.

Thea cringed, her chest collapsing, and his name lodged its way in her throat, begging to be let out. But she didn’t let it.

Exe moved in front of Joshua like a bodyguard and the bullet bounced off his collarbone. Thea didn’t need her eyes to know that her father’s label, the name he had given the robot after his mistake and after he said it was a joke, was eradicated, bent out of shape and chipped off.

Exe lacked an identity, which made sense because Joshua then ordered them forward. Exe would never be offensive, never want to hurt or kill a human soul. But Thea knew that when Exe stalked towards Daniel’s father, that was the intention. He was no longer just Exe, but a tool to be used.

The robots moved to crowd around Daniel’s father and Thea lost him in the whine of bullets and heavy machinery. His chances were low however since four automatons coalesced on him all at once.

She heard Daniel roar from behind her, even though he didn’t get on with his father, he was still his blood.

“You don’t touch Harry!” He yelled, and the battle continued.

Thea wanted to close her eyes, admit that this was all a dream, or rather a nightmare, but she knew that if she closed her eyes it wouldn’t do any good. 


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