4 of 4 | Chapter 6


“Well, I hope it was worth it,” sighed Pat.

“Yeah, me too. Too much dough got burned up out there,” said Jeff, vexed.

Arch darkened the room and switched on a large two meter monitor. The huge video file was ready to run, stored in the computer's memory. One click and the film was running in RealLife Definition mode. An incredibly sharp image leaped onto the screen, the resolution so high that it even showed the wisps of ground mist clearly. Then the towers came into view.

“Look at this surface,” said Arch, pointing out the black matte platform that Patricia had zoomed in on. “It is rather unusual how it reflects the light. What do you think it might be made of?”

“Good question,” said Pat.

“I really want to know what those vehicles were that we saw on the test track,” said Jeff.

As if Jeff had actually commanded it, the picture shifted and showed the strange prototypes moving along the high-tech track. The optics that had been fixed on Blue Thunder had been able to clearly enlarge the objects, even from one and a half kilometers away. The track must have had billions of sensors built into and countless thin rays of light followed each vehicle as it moved above them.

The camera view slowly moved back to the platform and showed the disastrous finale to their surveillance mission; the rough shaking and vibrating spin flashed across the giant screen. Arch turned down the sound as the helicopter noise became too loud to bear and the image spun faster and faster. Slowed, the sequence became less nauseating.

Arch halved the speed, and use the software to make minute corrections to each frame. With the film now in slow motion, they were able to make out how many figures were on the platform, though the image still was too fast to be a comfortable viewing experience.

As the sequence approached the crash, Arch slowed the recording still further, improving the picture quality with a few corrections. The rendering process gobbled up processor resources and in addition to the liquid-cooling system, more fans switched on.

Eventually they were watching the film frame by frame, every second another picture appearing on the monitor. The last few meters of the devastating crash took about ten minutes to watch.

Pat shifted uneasily in her seat.

“Come on! What's takin' so long?” she demanded, impatiently.

“What do you expect?” asked Jeff.

“I dunno. There is something weird about those guys. When they got out of the chopper… I felt something strange,” she said.

The other two loved it when Pat had a strange feeling because it usually meant that something exciting was about to happen.

A frame showed the mysterious figures from above, then in the next frame the figure standing to the rear of the helicopter looked up. The hood on his head slid back, blown by fierce gusts from the rotors.

“What the hell is that?” Pat gasped. “Flip that picture the right way up!”

Arch rotated the picture on the screen.

“What is it?” asked Arch.

“I saw an orange flash on the guy's head” said Jeff.

“Jeez, can't you see it?” Pat burst out. “It's NOT a man!”

“What the hell is it then?”

“It's a fucking ROBOT!” Pat was shouting by now. “Look at its head. It's metal or something. It looks like it's made from the same material as the platform.”

Jeff and Arch weren't expecting such incisiveness from Pat! They both stared at the monitor, looking at the figure in the trench coat, trying to make out the shape of its head under the hood. Matt black skin and some sort of dark light seemed to emanating from within its cranium.

Their blood froze.

“What the fuck is it?” Arch started to panic. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

“Shut up Arch!” said Pat.

“Sooo, what do we do about it?” Jeff leaned back.

Arch looked at them wide eyed.

“We could destroy it,” he suggested.

“Yeah, right Arch, nice one!” said Pat sarcastically.

They sat in silence, their brains ticking over. Fear mixed with excitement and caused the adrenalin to flow, pushing their minds into overdrive.

Then a sound broke the silence: the squeal of door hinges.

They turned in panic.

“Your friend was right,” a strange voice said.

All three of them jumped. Arch almost fainted, but Pat squeezed her friend's hand in an iron grip, bringing Arch back to life.

“Destroy it!” Steersman ordered.

One of the trench-coated figures towered over them. It was massive and they could see it looking at them, giving them the chance to observe every tiny detail of the robot's face.

“I'd stand aside if I were you,” said Steersman, again in a cold, almost inhuman voice.

They stood aside without a word.

Waves emanated from the robot's hands and they crushed the computer. The monitor went black.

The robot left the room without a word and Steersman turned to follow. Pausing, then turned back and said, “as you were!” He looked around the room. “Nice work!”

The uninvited guests then left without a sound, the same way they had arrived, and the car that had been waiting outside the Pineda house disappeared.

Arch fell back into his armchair.

Patricia was surveying the dark corridor through a crack in the slightly opened door and Jeff was nervously pacing around.

A heavy silence filled the room.

Someone was shuffling along the corridor, getting closer.

Mrs Pineda appeared in the door way. ”Do you want some Crema catalana?” she asked.

“No, thanks, Mrs Pineda,” Pat replied politely.

“Mom, have they gone?” asked Arch.

“They? Gone? Who?” She looked at the three of them, confused.

“The robot and the …,” he stared back at her, baffled, but didn't finish the sentence.

“You spend too much time with your gadgets,” said Mrs Pineda a little irritably, and she left the room.

Arch did a quick damage assessment of his equipment.

“They're all fried,” he sighed. “The plastic, metal, even the paper in the server casing is screwed … not totally, just enough to make this whole system useless.”

“Looks like we touched a nerve, didn't we?” Patricia said thoughtfully.

“You don't say,” said Arch sarcastically. ”We have nothing left, so you could say that, yes!”

“Did you hear what he said when he left? ‘Nice work’. What the fuck did he mean by that?” Jeff brooded.

“Dunno,” answered Pat. ”But what he did here was a bit over the top, wasn't it? Willful damage, trespassing … shit!”

“Yeah, but what can we do about it? We were hardly angels either. Trespassing, spying, not to mention damage caused by negligence,” said Jeff, pragmatically.

“I think he knows damn well that can't go to the police, or anyone else, and tell them what happened,” said Arch.

“Well, he certainly clarified the rules of the game,” Pat said, smiling.

“Shut up with the know-it-all crap, Pat,” Arch grumbled.

“What do you mean?” Jeff asked her.

“What I mean is we got in his way, but he didn't want to harm or threaten us. At the same time, he reacted to our move, like chess. We attacked, but he won the battle, no hard feelings. It would probably be for the best if we play smarter, though. Otherwise … check mate.”

Arch looking at her, wide eyed. “What do you mean check mate?”

“I get what you're saying,” said Jeff. “I think it'd be better if we went underground for a while.”

Arch and Pat looked at him, questioningly.

“All right… I mean, just until we figure something out, okay?” Jeff finished.

“Okay, let's do it. Anyway, I've been neglecting my studies lately. Let's forget for a little while,” suggested Arch.

“Alright,” said Pat. “But this is so not over.”

Arch sighed.





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