Amanda and Rob stared at Ben from their work area. Olivia tilted her head to the side. What happened? What was that on your phone?
Ben twirled his hand in a ‘hurry up’ gesture at Rob and Amanda and said, “Quit gawkin’. Overlord bots spotted in the city.”
Oh. That’s not good. Rob and Amanda seemed to agree with Olivia’s assessment. Rob tossed aside the armor plate he held and hopped to his feet. Behind him, Amanda shut down a hot soldering iron.
“Where are they?” asked Rob as he reached the boxes of guns by the desks. Ben teleported over to join him.
“They were near the capitol building,” answered Miya. She tapped on her phone, a small frown on her face.
“Are they heading for us?” asked Amanda.
“Dunno,” called out Ben over the clatter of Rob and him opening up a few gun cases.
“What are we grabbing guns for, then?” she asked.
“Better to have ‘em an’ not need ‘em than need ‘em an’ not have ‘em. Might not be the only bots in the city, an’ Olivia an’ Miya are on their radar.”
“You got that rifle, too,” added Rob.
“Maybe. But they haven’t given a shit ‘bout that for three years, not sure why they’d start now.”
“They’re here now.”
I shouldn’t just be sitting here. Olivia got up and headed towards the back door. Those robots smelled funky last time.
“You hearin’ anythin’?” Ben asked her.
Olivia closed her eyes as she opened the door a crack and sniffed the air. Hang on. Is that… is that that oil stuff? I think so. It’s not very strong. Distant. Olivia tuned out the sounds of the others behind her. And everything sounds normal. Cars are driving around. I hear at least a couple birds, that’s normal for this time of morning. No metal feet or gunshots.
“I don’t think so, not close by” she answered. I hope. The memory of the robots screaming rang out in the back of her head. She shivered and closed the door.
“Why isn’t there an emergency alert right now?” asked Miya, still on her phone by the table.
“That’s what I’m looking up right now,” said Amanda from the other side of the lair. She had a couple of her monitors on, with the news open on one of them. An error message appeared when she clicked on something.
“Uh oh,” Amanda muttered on her breath. That can’t be good.
“What the hell?” demanded Miya at the same time. “Where did my reception go?”
“The internet’s down for me too,” called out Amanda.
“What?” asked Rob. He and Ben carried a couple handguns to the table, along with spare magazines. Ben already had one holstered to his hip.
“The internet’s down.”
“What?” Rob repeated. “How? Isn’t it supposed to survive nukes or somethin’?”
“Yes. I have no idea what happened, it’s just gone.”
“So why the hell is my phone not working? I don’t have any bars at all,” asked Miya. Olivia rejoined her by the table.
“I tinkered with your phone,” said Amanda. “It should leech off of any available publicly available coverage in the area. That would mean that every cell provider is down.”
“OK, we gotta figure out is what we’re doin’,” said Rob, checking something on the side of his pistol.
“Yeah, all communication goin’ out? Shit’s goin’ down,” said Ben. Chris usually… wait. Where’s Chris?
“Where’s Chris?” asked Olivia.
“This seems like it’s a bit above our pay grade,” said Amanda.
“Yeah, but that don’ mean we’re jus’ gonna sit here an’ take what’s comin’.” Maybe they didn’t hear me?
“Where’s Chris?” repeated Olivia, a little louder.
“What’d you say?” asked Rob.
She took a deep breath. One. Two. Three. She repeated her question.
“He said he was meeting with his parents today, remember?”
“He’s alone out there? When there’s robots out there too?” What if something happened to him? We can’t help him from here.
“Damn it,” said Miya. Her phone clattered on the table as she tossed it aside. “And we can’t call him, either.”
“Well, what do we know?” asked Ben. The lair grew silent for a moment.
“All he said is that he was meeting them for breakfast,” said Rob. “He say anythin’ else when he left?” he asked Amanda.
“Not that I can remember.”
“So he could be anywhere.” The others digested that news in silence. Ben said, “Well, standin’ here ain’t helpin’.” He headed for the door.
“What are you doing?” asked Miya, rising from the table.
“Gotta figure out what the fuck’s goin’ on.”
“And find Chris,” added Olivia, following Ben. The claws of her feet scratched on the concrete floor as she scrambled to catch up.
“Wait, hold up. I’m jus’ checkin’ my car radio. Be right back.”
Olivia waited by the door. What does he expect to get from the radio? It’s not like Chris will be broadcasting or anything. Behind her, Amanda clicked away at a computer. Rob and Miya checked over the guns. Why can’t people just leave us alone? After a minute, she heard Ben shut a car door and walk towards the door.
He shook his head as he reentered. “Nothin’ but dead air.”
“Well, looks like we gotta figure out somethin’,” said Rob.
“How?” asked Miya.
“Like people did before the internet. There’s stores, restaurants, gyms an’ shit. Someone knows somethin’, an’ they ain’t in here. Better than sittin’ around with our thumbs up our asses.”
“You’re just gonna walk around with that out?” asked Rob, pointing to Ben’s pistol.
“Oh, right.” He began unstrapping the holster.
“Are we all going?” asked Olivia.
“Nope. You’re stayin’ here,” said Rob. “Cops an’ Overlord are probably lookin’ for you. No reason to give ‘em a lead.”
“But…” What about Chris?
“I know everyone’s got a big but, but now’s not the time,” said Rob.
“I’m not going to just stand here,” said Olivia, folding her arms. I’m tired of not being helpful.
Ben grinned and stood to Olivia’s right. “OK. Where would you search first?”
“I, um, well…” Olivia trailed off. “Where did he go?”
“If we knew that we wouldn’t have this problem. We’ve been over this. He didn’t tell us anythin’,” said Rob, off to Olivia’s left. Darn it. Stand where I can see you both.
Olivia looked over her shoulder at Amanda. “We can’t find out?”
“The internet is out. And I can’t magically know everything,” said Amanda. Ben coughed and nudged Miya, who’d joined him near the door.
“What the hell makes you think I’d know?” she asked.
“Magic,” he answered.
“Har har. That’s not how magic works, dumb ass.”
“So, with all that in mind, you think you could jus’ sniff him out?” asked Ben, turning back to Olivia.
“Well, maybe.” I’ve never tried that before.
“Maybe,” Rob repeated. “Also, you know it’s broad daylight out, yeah?”
“OK. Fine. Whatever. I’ll just sit in here, then.”
“Why you actin’ like he’s about to die? He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”
“You were grabbing guns. There are Overlord robots nearby. Why would I not be concerned? He could be hurt. Or… or killed.”
“An’ I could get killed by a drunk driver walkin’ down the street,” said Rob.
“I could get offed by some super tryin’ to escape the cops,” said Ben. Stop talking so fast.
“I could get some horrible food poisonin’ from the next meal I eat.”
“I could have a heart attack while runnin’.” Olivia opened her mouth.
“Point is,” said Rob in a rush, “dyin’ could happen any time, murder bots or no.”
“Not much use worryin’ ‘bout it. Can’t control the whole universe.”
“An’ Chris can take care of himself. We don’t know where he is, an’ no way of knowin’. Best focus on stuff we can do, rather than can’t.”
Is anyone even listening to me? “What if we can do something for Chris? I don’t want to-”
“Olivia. If you show up either the cops try an’ shoot at you or the bots try an’ shoot at you.”
“What else am I supposed to do?” She glanced at Ben’s maimed hand. I don’t want anyone to get hurt again.
“Olivia,” broke in Amanda. “I’m in no shape to travel or fight right now. I’ll be staying here.”
“Yeah, best to not leave one of us alone,” said Rob, shooting a finger gun at Amanda.
“Don’ get split from the herd,” added Ben.
Olivia paused. “OK. But we still can’t just forget about Chris.”
“That’s not what we’re doin’,” said Rob.
“What about tonight?” asked Miya. “We can look for him then, and Olivia will be able to help.”
“That’ll work.” Rob raised an eyebrow at Olivia.
Fine. Tired of arguing. Olivia nodded.
I hate just sitting here. Olivia paced the length of the lair, tail swishing back and forth in agitation. Amanda hadn’t moved from the work area. She and Rob had moved their desks and workbenches to form a U, allowing them to easily turn to work on one of the several different projects. Amanda had been rather still since the others had left, remaining hunched over a single project.
“Do you think they’ll be back soon?” Olivia asked Amanda once her pacing brought her back to that part of the lair.
“It’s only been a half hour.”
“Yeah but… I don’t know.” She resumed her pacing.
How long does it take to find a bar or something? Is there anything else going on outside? Olivia poked her head out the door for lack of anything better to do. She looked around and blinked. That can’t be right. “All the lights are out,” she said over her shoulder to Amanda.
Amanda looked up from the innards of a computer. “What?”
“All the lights are out,” she repeated. Seriously, can no one hear me?
“Well, yeah, it’s daytime now,” said Amanda.
“No, there’s always lights and stuff on.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so. Hang on, I can’t see much from here.”
Olivia walked fully out the door. This will only take a second. No danger in that, right? She climbed up the ladder to the roof of the building. I wish I could just fly around. That would be so much funner and easier.
At first glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the late morning city. She craned her neck to get a view of a nearby streetlight. Nothing. No blinking lights or anything. And there’s some super loud stuff moving to the west. They sound heavy. Trucks, I think? There’s a lot of them. Looking around, she couldn’t see any lights at all. Buildings usually had floodlights on the outside no matter the time of day, but Olivia couldn’t spot any.
Right, I should get down before someone sees me. She climbed back down the ladder and rejoined Amanda.
“All the streetlights are off,” Olivia said as she got back.
Amanda blinked. “Oh,” was all she said.
“That’s not good, is it?”
“No. That’s very bad. But there’s a pattern here. I don’t know how, but it looks like Overlord has taken out a bunch of utilities. The only reason our power wasn’t cut off is because we’re off the grid. And… hang on.”
Amanda reached for her phone before stopping.
“Damn it. Forgot. Cell and radio towers have backup power. Even if the station is down, emergency warnings should be going off right now. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be very good as emergency warnings. This has got to be an inside job.”
“That’s not good.”
“But here’s the thing: that’s a lot of inside jobs. Taking down every radio station? And every massive telecommunication company? Either I’m wrong, and Overlord did this some other way, or he has way more power and influence than anyone realized. And even then, what does he have to gain from this? What is he even doing?”
“He does research stuff, right?” That doctor guy took my blood samples for him.
Amanda nodded. “That’s one of the things he does, yes. He might be after sensitive documents. Or the capitol building is a feint for something else at Lockheed or somewhere.”
“Lockheed?” Maybe I can figure this out on my own. Something to do with locks? But what’s the heed there for?
“Lockheed Martin,” answered Amanda. “It’s a massive military contractor. I think they work mainly in aerospace. They might be working on something Overlord would be interested in. But he does way more than that. He was the guy behind the Tzontlis and Freedom Fighter, after all.” Her eyes widened. “And a couple other major cities also had a massive spike in crime since December last year, about when the Tzontlis got started. And he just invaded Venezuela. And the big part of the military got shipped to Venezuela after him.”
“Yeah. There was always a bunch of… I don’t know, crime stuff happening when I first woke up.”
“Yes. I was with the police then. I usually worked in the tech department, but since around December and January there’d been a ton of crimes happening. I’d sometimes hear the guys who patrolled talk about how dangerous it was getting.”
“So he’s… what? Softening those cities up?” asked Olivia.
“Maybe? Yes! No.” Olivia blinked at the sudden reversals. “He’s got to be targeting Venezuela. He’s giving the US problems at home to deal with. Europe has The Mother sitting smack dab in the middle of it. The Russians and Chinese have been fighting the Siberians for decades. The US is the only country rich, fat, and stupid enough to throw its military anywhere in the world after him.”
“Unless it’s busy with bad stuff happening at home?”
“Yes. Something like this? The government will absolutely double down on homeland security. The main thing I’m concerned with now is how he has this much manpower to pull off one and a half invasions.” How is this surprising? Everyone always talks about him like he’s a big deal.
“Well, what’s the last thing he did?” Olivia’s ears picked up a deep, distant rumble. What the…
“Define thing,” said Amanda, bringing Olivia back to the lair.
“Um, big. A big thing. Like, um, didn’t he own Iraq or something like that?” He can do stuff like this, right?
“Yeah, until ‘96, so about seventeen years ago. Oh, I see what you’re saying. He’s had seventeen years to prepare for this.” Oh, that wasn’t what I meant. But sure, why not. Amanda nodded thoughtfully, tapping her chin. “I guess that makes sense.”
Olivia heard a car pull into the driveway. That sounds like Ben’s car. “I think they’re back,” she said for Amanda’s sake.
Hurried footsteps crunched the gravel outside. Someone pounded on the back door. “Hey, it’s just us,” said Ben. He rushed in, followed closely by Rob and Miya.
Before Olivia or Amanda could say anything, Ben said, “Radio came back up a couple minutes ago. Kinda. All it said was ‘stay indoors.’.” They joined Olivia and Amanda around the work desks.
A small bit of plastic on the desk rattled. The rumbling grew closer. Does no one else hear that? Wait, what am I saying? Of course they don’t.
“What’s that rumbling outside?” asked Olivia.
“Rumbling?” asked Amanda.
“What? Oh, that’s just a tank out there,” replied Rob.
“A tank,” repeated Amanda.
“You didn’t think to lead with that?” Yeah, wait a minute. You didn’t think to tell us that?
Ben grinned. “Hey, did we mention the tank is a tank?”
Amanda pursed her lips for a moment. Her eye twitched. Ben, don’t be mean. “Why the hell is there a tank here?” she asked.
“Oh, lemme jus’ ring up the Pentagon and ask ‘em.”
“No, jackass. How is the military here already? Weren’t the bots spotted, like, an hour ago? Tops?”
“I’mma go ahead an’ repeat myself. ‘Lemme jus’ ring up the Pentagon and ask ‘em’!”
Amanda rolled her eyes. Olivia swatted Ben upside the head with her palm. Stop being mean.
“Did you guys find out anything else?” asked Olivia as Ben nursed the back of his head. Rob snickered.
“Not much,” responded Miya. “There were some cops patrolling, telling people to go indoors. Everything was closing down, and all the streetlights were out. We figured the cops would get suspicious of anyone outside soon.”
“Yeah, we noticed the light thing,” said Amanda.
“So we’re stuck here?” asked Olivia.
“Nah. Like we said before, we should wait for tonight,” said Ben.
The harsh spotlight beamed down on the road, sweeping back and forth. It had been patrolling the area since sundown twenty minutes ago. Stupid thing. They’d spent the whole day hunkered down in the lair. Ben had tried to leave a couple times, but each time had run into a police or military vehicle and turned back.
It hadn’t helped that tanks and other huge vehicles had passed by all day. Olivia never heard any gunfire, but the engines and treads of massive blocks of steel were more than loud enough for her. Chris had better be OK. He’s probably with his family. He wasn’t alone. The spotlight drone made another pass. Ben and Olivia withdrew from the door.
“What was that about waiting for tonight?” asked Amanda as Olivia shut the door behind them.
“Tha’ was before a cop surveillance drone showed up,” responded Ben.
Wait, did he say cop drone? “It sounds wrong,” said Olivia.
“It sounds wrong. Too high pitched,” replied Olivia. You guys didn’t… oh, right.Olivia shook her head to clear it. How long has it been since I slept last? She fished her phone out of her pocket and used the side of her claw to turn it on. A whole day?
“How do you know that?” asked Miya.
“I’ve heard them before. The normal ones. This one is different.” It’d be better if I could actually see the stupid thing.
“New model?” asked Rob.
Ben threw up his hands. “Military’s actin’ weird. Either cops get new hardware the day this happens or Overlord has his own they can’t find. What the fuck is going on?”