Octus forest was dense with foliage. The expedition had hit a stretch of soil rich land, where plants could grow completely unrestricted. Good soil was rare and valuable in most of Shellon. The country from which our explorers were from, and currently exploring.
Most of the land surrounding the desert like country had been majorly unexplored since the arrival of humans. Over the course of three centuries humanity barely expanded it’s reach over half of the planet, and even that was in sparse populations. Similar to the old country of Russia on Earth.
Octus forest, as it had been recently named, was one of the few areas where pre-colonization flora could thrive, and was the home to a large plateau which could be scouted from over ten miles away on the outskirts of the forest.
For a long time this plateau had been a subject of interest. Unfortunately all groups of explorers who braved the forest returned not having found a safe way to said plateau. But Torus’ group plans on changing that.
Torus lagged behind the group due to his huge backpack containing drilling equipment. If it were not for the need to collect deep mineral samples his load would be over a hundred pounds lighter.
He was a large man. Not large as in fat, but large as in built. His beard ran just below his jaw and broke at a ninety degree angle to give his jaw a square look. As well his glasses were thick like goggles, and shined bright against the sun, half blinding anybody who dared stare him down on a clear day. He wore a simple undershirt and strapped cargo type pants with a holstered shotgun and ruby knife.
An upbringing split between artistic pursuits and militaristic principles crafted him into one of the best custom weapon craftsman around.
As well, his arsenal of powerful shotguns and specialty knives, mixed with his physique and track record in the field, gave him a reputation for being one of the most dangerous bodyguards in the region.
Torus was on this expedition to both protect and discover. Sandra, a long time friend, had hired him to help with mineral sampling, and haul drilling equipment. His deadly skills were just a bonus.
Other members of their group included Lenny and Cammeray.
Lenny was in the lead checking each and every bit of flora in their path, looking for danger and edibles. He was the group’s botanist who was in charge of noting the groups of local flora, keeping everyone away from dangerous plants, and finding edible food to always keep their rations high. Being a lanky gentleman he wore a jumpsuit of sorts with many pockets for collecting samples, a small cap to keep his head dry, and a pack full of bio-preservation baggies.
Torus was responsible for carrying the rations.
Cammeray was off to one side taking pictures for Lenny’s plant catalogues so mapping the region would be easier for the next round of explorers. Also information like that sold for a tidy sum. Hopefully enough to fund the next expedition. She was the group’s photographer. Short, but steady enough with a camera with a good eye for natural lighting to make top quality pictures of the environment, Lenny’s samples, and whatever they discover along the way worth claiming.
Torus was responsible for carrying her extra camera equipment.
Sandra marched in front of Torus, holding a bag with many maps. She actively marked their coordinates to keep track of any claims they might find. Constantly she yelled at Lenny to adjust his direction a bit so he was leading them down a safe path in the right direction. She was the group’s navigator, funder, and the active commander, mostly because of her funding. She was tall, barely shorter that Lenny, and fit, though it did not show through her baggy silken cloth shirt and pants, meant to keep the wet of the forest away from her skin. She seemed to be the only one who thought of the pure wetness which one could encounter in a forest, having been on multiple expeditions to forest and jungle type environments. Rare as they may be, during her years as a navigator. But this forest was not damp. It was rather dry for the amount of flora. So her clothes were simply keeping in heat. Still useful when night fell.
Torus was responsible for carrying her maping supplies.
Torus was responsible for a lot. Like protecting the group. He constantly observed the environment. Looking for signs of Minercogs, Camillcogs, and any other crystalline pests which might hunt down the group for their battery stash. Cogs lived off of electricity and commonly hunted humans for the batteries that most people carried around.
Torus and most other humans traded electricity as a form of currency. It was not in large supply since humans were stranded on this somehow gem rich, but copper poor planet.
Sandra commanded Lenny to head west along a nearby river, leading them towards the plateau where they were planning on sampling for mineral resources. Recovered gem chunks and soil samples can tell what the local species of gemstone are and soil samples calculate the probability of finding other mineral resources nearby.
Quartz and turquoise rich rock were paydirt to the militia for the copper content of the surrounding land, especially if c halcedony was present. The militia paid a hefty sum for the discovery of such potential resources.
Copper had become so valuable that chalcedony was worth more if the copper was simply chemically extracted from the crushed material.
Torus searched for signs of Cogs. Signs such as balloons high in the air which Minercogs, the most abundant species of Cog in the region, used coupled with a grounded iron rod. This coupling generated small amounts of electricity using the planet’s magnetic field. A Tesla discovery applicated through nature.
No balloons in the air. No rod holes in the ground.
Another sign is tunnels through rock faces for which Minercogs get their names. They dug tunnel matrixes deep into the sides of rock structures for quick travel from good energy collection sites to other locations and nests.
No tunnels on nearby rock faces or any visible on the side of the plateau from this distance.
The group was still more than a mile away from the bottom of the plateau. Lack of usable materials made air travel an extremely expensive venture so while they knew the rough distance between the edge of the forest and their destination they did not know what obstacles they might encounter along the way.
The the trip had been relatively easy so far, save for a brush with a rogue Camillcog near the start of their journey. It had been hanging around where it saw humans, probably hoping to pick some off and loot their batteries. It did not know it would be encountering Torus.
Before the Camillcog, named for its chameleon like ability to blend in, brushed off its refractory camilflogue Torus drew his Deadly Crystal brand shotgun from the holster and shot the Cog with a round of his own custom designed Buckshot. Comprised of a soft quartz shell with many round chunks of chemically pure sapphire, the shell easily shattered the Cog’s crystal lattice.
The round had torn through so easily that the sapphire chunks flew too far to be recovered.
“Damn!” Torus had exclaimed at his loss as he harvested the Cog’s stored electricity. “At least this bastard has enough energy to recharge a battery.”
As the group followed the river a wall came into sight. It was too early to be a side of the plateau. Also it was the wrong color. Or rather the wrong opacity.
The large wall they had crept upon was made completely out of smokey quartz crystal. It must have been more than a hundred feet high and was comprised of extremely large crystals which each scaled more than half the structure before breaking into a new formation.
“Oh my.” Sandra said eyes wide in a tone of awe. “T…That’s unexpected.”
“Wow!” Cammeray nearly shouted as she snapped multiple pictures of the wall. “So much quarts!”
“This must be one of the largest deposit discoveries to date. And this is only above ground!” Lenny said excitedly as he picked up a medium chunk of quartz off the ground. It was as big as his palm.
“Yes it is.” Torus said in a mischievous but happy tone. Just thinking about the cash they’d be getting for discovering this wall alone. “One large crystal on this wall must be worth several hundred batteries. Maybe more.” He continued “The commission we’ll get on the claim will be worth a freakin mint!”
“Yes it will.” Sandra said. Still slightly in awe, but also in contemplation. This didn’t seem right. Quartz didn’t grow like this. Especially not above ground. Something this big. This simple. This ordered.
“Hey guys!” Sandra called out to her group. “I think this is a man made structure!”
The group looked at her. Lenny and Cammeray seemed a bit dumbstruck. Torus continued to examine the structure.
“Your right Sandra.” Torus said while examining the wall closer. “It’s definitely not natural. But…not manmade. Something made it. But not humans.
“Who else could make all this?” Cammeray asked.
“Not sure.” Torus said. “But humans haven’t been here long enough to accomplish something like this. Not something of this scale. And even if we somehow had, something this big would be a major landmark. It not being discovered for this long alone is baffling.”
“True.” Lenny said from the side. “And few groups of….. rebels.. that exist outside of the militia’s control don’t have the numbers to accomplish something like this.” Then turning toward the group said“ This is terrestrial.”
“What does that mean?” Cammeray asked.
“It means that we aren’t the first intelligent life to live here.” Sandra answered. “The Cogs aren’t smart enough to build structures, and while we haven’t found any evidence of intelligent life here before, we don’t know everything. We haven’t explored everywhere.“ She continued. “This is bigger than a simple resource claim. This wall might have been here for millions of years before we arrived.” She paused. “I like this” She said with a smile.”
After an hour of hard deliberation between Lenny, Torus and Sandra over what to do next, Cammeray didn’t really have a voice in the matter, the group decided that the best course of action would be to continue following the wall and mapping out the max amount of material they could get a claim for.
It’s was pretty easy to be screwed by the system if you didn’t have photographic evidence of every little bit. They couldn’t trust the militia to pay it forward without meticulous documentation.
Lenny had argued that it would be best for them to head back immediately. And that discovery of this magnitude was best left to the militia to map and secure. But neither Torus or Sandra would hear it. Sandra was more curious about what they might discover than she was cautious about what this particular unknown might hold. And Torus wanted to map out as much as possible to increase his chunk of electricity when they headed back.
“Fine.” Lenny conceided. “But if anything happens I am never working with you again.”
Sandra sighed. “Okay Lenny. But there’s nothing to worry about. We haven’t seen any Cogs since be started, and Torus is here to protect us.
“There’s more than one way to get in over our heads.” Lenny retorted.
He had a bit of a conflict with Sandra’s methods in the field. But he needed the batteries and almost always agreed to go along. So much stress had built up between them that if this fell through and something bad happened this would be the last expedition for Lenny with the group.
They traveled south along the wall, which continued to maintain its height and visible thickness for approximately four miles, and slightly curved to the right as they traveled south. Then slightly west. Then completely west.
“Alright. I think it’s safe to assume at this point that the wall goes around the whole of the plateau.” Torus said.
He had sat down on a large quartz crystal off to the side of the wall to rest. He was drenched in sweat after these last few hours of carrying over a hundred pounds of equipment. Nothing he normally couldn’t handle. But the wall was getting darker colored as they traveled its length and the darker color made it retain more heat. He could feel the rise in temperature from twenty feet away.
The whole group was in a similar state of damp sweatiness. Except for Sandra that is. She was dressed for being wet.
“I think you’re right” Sandra replied. “I also think it’s about time to start drilling through.”
“What?!” Lenny shouted. “I thought after traveling the length we would be heading home.”
“No.” Torus said. “We need to see what’s behind this wall. Imagine what would happen if we got back and gave our report. It would only include this wall. We would get paid ONLY for this wall. Beyond, there might be tens of times more. Other walls. A church made of lead. Who knows? Just imagine what we could find.”
“Indeed” Sandra said. “Even if what we have so far is worth more than a fortune for each of us. We could always use more.” She continued. Then chuckled “Hehehe. This will fund expeditions for the rest of my life.”
Lenny lemented not turning back himself when he had the chance.
“Hey!” Cammeray shouted while photographing a rather large group of crystals which had fallen off the wall, and the spots where they fell from. “So how much are we talking about here? I’m not too good with estimating the value of this stuff.”
“Well. Considering the sheer length of the wall so far, and from what we can extrapolate about its length if it circumnavigates the whole plateau at the same rate it has so far.” Sandra said while doing simplified estimation calculations on a piece of scrap parchment. “I would say with just the photographs so far we would be getting at least….two hundred thousand batteries. Or three thousand one hundred and twenty five militia issued battery packs of sixty four each.”
Cammeray’s jaw dropped. “Th…Th…That’s… HOLY HELL!!!” She shouted. Nearly blasting off Lenny’s ear, who had been gathering small quartz crystal off the ground right next to her. “I could live the rest of my life off that.” She marveled at the idea.
“Yes. Most anyone could. And your share is fifteen percent. So… close to a seventh of the rest of your life.” Torus said in an un-modest tone. His share was twenty five percent. With what they had so far he could fund development of his own line of railguns and mass produce the many, many designs he had been field testing for ammunition. The mischievous smile widened just thinking about it.
“Enough talk.” Sandra said sternly. “It’s time to drill. Torus, get out your equipment.”
Torus complied and pulled out what looked like a sideways jackhammer tipped with many small drill bits and a smaller handheld electric screwdriver. Then he pulled out a rail with three holes down the center of its base.
Placing the rail on the ground on the edge of the wall, he filled the holes. Huge screws needed to be used, which he power screwed into the hard ground, securing the rail. Then the large drill was mounted onto the rail, its height was adjusted, and eight full batteries were inserted.
“Cover your ears and step back!” Torus shouted as he switched the machine on.
It was loud. Each drill bit spun at an incredible speed. Then at the push of a button the whole machine slowly started to move forward into the quartz wall. Then punctured the crystal, instantly cracking it a foot in each direction.
“Came in a little hot there!” Sandra shouted at Torus.
“Sure did!” Torus shouted back. “Not a problem though!” He continued while shaking his head.
The cracks weren’t deep enough to compromise the drilling. And soon the drill bits disappeared into the wall. Torus reversed the drill, and took out a large hammer and metal pick. The areas in between the drill bits needed to be cleared away to continue. And in one hard crack he busted the crystal in between the holes into a pile of sparkling material beneath the drill.
“Lenny. Help me clean this up please.” Torus said in an authoritative tone. Lenny complied.
As Lenny and Torus gathered together the crystal rubble the wall started to shake. The ground followed suit.
Lenny fell backwards, barely missing two sharp pieces of crystal which, if he were slightly to either side, would have given him an extra hole in his behind. Sandra dropped to one knee, and Cammeray fell against and held onto Torus’ chest as he hung onto the large drill.
While the group struggled, the wall that they were drilling into started to slowly lift. Inch by inch at first. After nearly a minute of rising its pace grew to over a foot a second. It stopped at nearly forty feet in the air. Then so did the shaking. Then the group could finally regain composure.
“Is everyone alright? Lenny?” Sandra asked as she stood shakily.
“My ass is closer to these crystals than I would like, and I’m plenty shaken up, but otherwise yes.” Lenny answered as he carefully rose off the ground and away from anything sharp.
“Cammeray?” Sandra asked.
“Just fine.” Cammeray answered. “Just fine indeed.” She said softly, as she stared at Torus’ chest which she had eagerly grasped onto, and now was having a hard time letting go of.
“Torus?” Sandra asked.
“Ya. I’m fine. Though I have a clingy paparazzo problem over here.” He said as he shewed Cammeray away. “Also the equipment’s safe. So that’s good.”
“Good indeed.” Sanda said. “I’m glad everyone’s alright. Now. What the hell just happened?” She asked while walking over the newly opened archway under the risen wall.
“It seems the wall lifted.” Torus answered.
“I can see that.” Sandra snapped. “I mean why did it happen?”
“Well.” Lenny broke in. “look on the ground under where the wall was. It’s pitch black.” He pointed to a very large black looking surface under where the risen wall.
“Looks like a magnet.” Torus said while examining it. “A BIG one. And there’s another on the bottom of the wall above us.”
Up above on the underside of the wall was another very large magnet. By the look of it, it was over twenty feet long.
“Holy crap!” Sandra said in surprise. “Look at how thick the wall was. We would have never drilled all the way through.”
“That’s what you’re surprised about?” Lenny asked rhetorically.
“Yep.” Torus said replying to Sandra. “And look at the size of that electromagnet. Now we know for sure that this structure was built by someone. Or something.”
“How do you figure it’s an electromagnet? Sandra asked.
“It only moved when we disturbed it. Earth magnets don’t just start and stop. But electromagnets do.
“Ooooooh my.” Cammeray said very softly and in awe. “Would you look at that.”
Just past the wall was a huge field of quartz crystals. Some single crystal pillars reaching as high as a hundred feet. Some in simple piles of varying sizes. Each one a treasure trove in itself.
Torus looked around with a goofy smile, nearly drooling. In his head he was attempting estimate how much this field was worth. If there was still nearly a mile between them and the plateau and if the whole way all around the inside was filled all the way around the plateau in a circle. Well…. He would have more than one line of railguns. That was for sure.
Sandra also marveled at the sheer size of their discovery which seemed to get better and better by the minute.
Then Cammeray half shouted excitedly “I’m going in to get a better look and take some pictures!” and started to run forward. Instantly Torus ran up and grabbed her from behind.
“Are you stupid?!” Torus yelled. Cammeray was stunned. Then he continued. “Those magnets are large and powerful enough to lift that crystal! Do you have any idea what that will do to your little camera?! Or any ferrous metals on you?!”
“Oh!” Cammeray said in a moment of realisation. “The magnets slipped my mind. Hehe. She chuckled nervously. “So I can’t take pictures inside? She asked.
“No.” Torus replied. “Just what you can manage through this large…. gateway.
“Awe.” Cammeray groaned. “I’ll be useless inside.”
“You can help Torus carry equipment” Sandra said. Scanning what she could of the vast field. “Right?”
“No.” Torus replied. “We won’t be able to bring most of the equipment with us. Almost all of it will be pulled to the ground.”
“Damn!” Sandra exclaimed. “So it’s all manual exploring from here.” She continued. “ Alright everyone. Prepare yourselfs. Torus, Cammeray, put all of the equipment we can’t take with us in a safe place. We’ll pick it up on our way out.”
“Wait a second!” Lenny exhumed. He was agitated now. “I think this is enough. We need to turn back now. Why risk it when we can take back proof that the field is there? At this point we’re rich already!”
“Because the field is just the beginning” Sandra answered.
“What?” Lenny asked.
“All of this quartz is outside of this plateau. The huge ARTIFICIAL wall around this plateau. They are both very amazing things. But what do you suppose could be inside? Sandra asked.
“I don’t know.” Lenny said. “But I don’t want to find out.”
“It could be whoever or whatever built this structure. It could be a treasure trove of rare minerals, gold, titanite, COPPER!” Sandra said completely ignoring Lenny’s comment. “We need to find out what. That is why I come out here. To discover what others haven’t. To see what have never been seen.”
Lenny looked very mad at this point.
“And I come out here to pay the bills!” He shouted. “Not to die exploring terrestrial unknown structures.” He was fuming. “We were just here to find some minerals. I thought we would be done by now. A quick job.” He continued. “Why do you suppose all of the explorers that came here before us never reported this wall? Let alone that field?” He asked. But without waiting for an answer said “Because whatever is in there stopped them somehow. It only makes sense. It either stripped their memory or threatened them!”
“Okay Lenny. All good points.” Sandra said genuinely. “But this far along you don’t really have a choice. When we come out of there, no matter what we find, we will be rich.” She continued. “You won’t ever have to work with me again. You have no safe way back. Sure, you can avoid the dangerous plants. But if a Cog find you, you’re dead. If you go in the wrong direction for too long, you’re dead. And we both know you need the batteries more than you need an arm or a leg.” Sandra said right in Lenny’s face.
Lenny waited a long time, just staring Sandra in the eye. Standing his ground. Neither Torus or Cammeray made a sound the whole time. This was better than a downtown play and they didn’t want to ruin it.
Sandra just stared back.
Eventually after a long pause Lenny sighed. “Okay. Let’s go.” He said in a hushed voice.
After packing up all of their ferromagnetic equipment into the many bags that Torus had been hauling all this time the group ventured under the raised wall and into the crystal laden field. Torus went first, next Sandra, then Lenny, and last Cammeray.
The instant Cammeray stepped onto the very large magnet under the raised wall she plummeted hip first onto the magnet.
“Augh!” She yelped as she hit the ground. She hit hard.
“What the hell Cammeray.” Sandra said in an exhausted tone. “Torus said no cameras.”
“Well sorry.” Cammeray said in a sarcastic tone. “I just wanted to make sure we got as many pictures as possible. You know? As proof.”. She grabbed the camera in her pocket and attempted with all of her might to pull it free of the fabric, and with no small amount of effort she successfully got it loose and stood up. “Thanks for not helping by the way.” she snorted at the group as she adjusted her clothing.
“Cammeray, I appreciate you wanting to get as many pictures as possible. But you can’t go against the laws of electromagnetic attraction..” Sandra said as she started walking ahead of the group. “Now come on. Time is wasting.”
Lenny walked behind Sandra and kept a lookout for opportunities to be useful. But as far as he could tell there was absolutely no plant life this side of the wall. Cammeray trailed behind Lenny, attempting to keep up with Sandra who was now walking faster. Torus trailed behind everyone. He was cautious.
Without his shotgun Torus felt naked. All he had now was a thick blade faceted from ruby. The red color made it look intimidating, like it was constantly soaked in the blood of enemies, and ruby was hard enough to take care of nearly anything that would attack them. But not fast enough.
The group traveled for half an hour traversing their way through the crystal field. Really taking in the scale of this vast quantity of quartz. The crystals got closer together the further in they went, and as they neared the bottom of the plateau there were no more paths available.
“Now what?” Lenny asked as they stopped for a moment at a dead end.
“We look for a way to get closer.” Sandra said in a matter of fact manor. “We need to find a way inside. Tunnel holes or any large cave entrances.”
“Are we looking for a Cog’s nest?” Lenny asked a bit shocked by the prospect.
“I doubt it.” Sandra answered. “Any known species of Cog would have attacked by now.”
“Probab-” Lenny started to say, but was cut off by a loud shriek from above.
At that moment, far above them a large group of ape looking creatures came out of the side of the plateau. They burrowed out of fresh holes, and shimmered in the light. It was evident that they were Cogs of some sort. But ones that no one in the group had seen before.
The ape Cogs rushed down towards the group.
“Six, twelve, eighteen. There are twenty of them!” Torus yelled out. “Everyone fall back. Run toward the larger crystals!”
On Torus’ command everyone bolted away from the plateau. No one questioned him. He had saved the group from too many scrapes before to be questioned about battle strategy.
The ape Cogs jumped from the plateau with great speed. They soared through the air and each landed and grasped onto a large quartz pillar.
The whole group converged behind the same crystal pillar. All out of breath. They had bolted a good hundred feet away from the plateau. And in the meantime the Cogs had been jumping from pillar to pillar making their way toward the group.
Torus looked back. He didn’t see anything. The Cogs were nowhere in sight. Then he looked up.
Every single Cog had managed to squeeze itself upon the single large pillar which the group was under.
“God damnit! Torus yelled as the Cogs descended.
“What do you think Master will do with them?” Says one shadowed figure.
“Probably chip them. Just drag and be quiet. It doesn’t matter what master wants with them. Master just wants them as soon as possible.” Says a second shadowed figure.
“But they’re human. Master said that humans are dangerous.” Says a third obviously stronger shadowed figure.
“Yes. and that’s why Master chips them. It makes them harmless to master.” Says the second. “Like I said. Just drag and be quiet.”
These three figures were dragging along four humans through a dark tunnel. The strongest one of the bunch dragged two. Each had hunched over posture, long, strong looking arms, and short but powerful legs. As they came out into a large cavern a light from above shown upon them.
Each resembled a large orangutan in shape, but their bodies sparkled in the light. They were made of quartz crystals. What little biological matter they possessed was buried deep within layers of quartz crystal. Each limb was connected and moved by the strengthening and weakening of complex arrangements of electromagnets. They were Cogs of some sort.
“Grrrrr. They killed two of us out there. They killed the one who always tells the best jokes of the troop.” The first ape Cog said.
“I know. But Master said not to hurt them. As much as I would love to break this big one’s arm.” The second one said while staring back at an unconscious Torus.
“Would Master really know if we beat em up a bit before handing them over? For all Master would know the injuries could have happened in the fight.” The first one asked.
“Master would know.” The second one said in a matter of fact tone.
Torus felt a sharp pain behind his skull. Then again, and again. He lifted his head slightly and opened his eyes a crack. It took him a minute to regain his senses. He was being dragged by three strange ape Cogs. They were muttering unintelligibly to each other. The one dragging him turned to face him, growled low, and muttered back at the other two.
“What happened?” Torus thought. The last thing he remembered was cutting straight through two Cogs at the same time trying to protect Sandra from a head on attack. Then it was blank.
While only peeking out his eyelids Torus slowly turned his head. Everyone was captured, but dead. Just out cold. With a slow steady hand he reached down to his waist. “Damn!” He thought. “They took my blade.”
They hadn’t killed him yet. So they must not be after his electricity. Maybe they thought that the group could produce electricity for them, such as with a running wheel like humans do with some indigenous species.
Whatever thee ape Cogs were planning on doing was not good. He knew that.
Torus tried to think of a plan. He was the only one conscious. He had no weapons, no support, and no way to not be immediately swarmed when he made his move. Being outnumbered in this case trumped being intelligent. He would have to be reckless to win.
Just then Torus heard Lenny’s voice. Or more accurately, Lenny’s whine. He must have been waking up.
When the ape Cogs heard Lenny whining they stopped and started to yell and prod at each other. Like they were arguing. The largest one let go of both Cammeray and Sandra, then punched Lenny in the face attempting to knock him out again.
“This is my chance!” Torus thought. As quick as a railgun firing he was up and had an ape Cog in his arms. And just as fast that ape Cog had Torus flat on his ass, with a fist in his face.
Torus’ vision went dark again.
“Crap. These humans are crafty. Waiting for us to hurt one of his allies to attack. I didn’t even see him coming behind me.” The first ape Cog said.
“Didn’t stop you from planting a punch square in its nose.” The third one chuckled.
“Oh ya. That happened. Shoot! I think I broke his nose. I hope Master doesn’t notice.” The first one said.
“Maser will.” The second one said coldly. “Master knows all that goes on within our home.”
Then the ape Cogs picked everyone up and began to drag the group along to their destination.
This time when Torus awoke he was propped up against a large boulder. His arms were restrained by handcuffs magnetized to the stone. His head hurt worse than before and he was sure his nose was broken. He remembered getting knocked out, this time.
Cammeray and Sandra were in similar positions restrained to his right, and Lenny to his left.
“Look who’s up. Sleepyhead.” Sandra said followed by a groan.
“Ugh. Ya. I’m up.” Torus sighed. “Anything I should know about our situation?” He asked.
“At this point we’re both equally informed.” Sandra answered. “And those two haven’t even stirred yet. But I can see breathing. So that’s good.”
“Maybe. Depends on what these ape Cogs want. We might be better off dead.” Torus said in a grim voice.
Then he attempted to break his handcuffs free of the magnetic rock.
“Damn.” He muttered at his failure.
“Hey Lenny, bud. Wake up!” Torus shouted in Lenny’s ear. Lenny didn’t budge.
“Cammeray! There’s a spider on your face!” Torus shouted in Cammeray’s ear.
“AAAAAHHHHH!!!” Cammeray screamed. “GET IT OFF!! GET IT OFF!!”
Torus and Sandra both laughed. Though it was a strained laugh.
“Wait what?” Cammeray asked. “Is there really a spider? Where am I? Why does my head hurt? Sandra what happened?” She asked in quick succession.
“Relax. There is no spider. We don’t know where we are. Though I assume deep within the plateau considering the massive amount of quartz crystals on the walls. Your head hurts because you were knocked out. And I don’t know what happened after that.” Sandra answered.
“I do.” Torus said.
“Oh?” Sandra asked.
“Ya.” Torus answered. “I woke up while being dragged. Those Cogs were bringing us through a cave, or tunnel. I couldn’t tell which in the lighting. I tried to take one while they were distracted, but was put down fast. They’re tough bastards.” He purposefully omitted what had caused the distraction.
“They dragged us here?” Cammeray asked in a weak, squeaky voice. “W..w……What’s going to happen to us?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” Torus answered. “But don’t worry. I’m gonna get us out’a here.”
“I do not think so!” Said a very loud voice from above. It sounded like a male synthesized voice for auto reading to the blind.
“Who then hell!?” Torus shouted. He looked around frantically attempting to identify the voice.
“I the hell!” The voice answered. “I am the one who ordered you to be brought here!”
“I figured that!” Torus shouted back. “I mean who the hell are you?! Also tone it down or move far, far away. We can hear you just fine!”
“Oh. Sorry about that. I usually only have my little pets to talk to and they do not mind my volume, so I forget just how loud I can be.” The voice explained. “I am the one who ordered them to bring you here. Though it seems they were a little too rough with you. Sorry about that.” The voice apologized.
“And who are you? Are you just avoiding the question?” Sandra asked now curious since the voice didn’t seem TOO malicious.
“Oh yes. Sorry. I forgot my manners. It has been awhile since I have had visitors. I am a Silicone Acclimated Conscious Computer. My pets call me Master, but I prefer the name Ruq Taz, or simply Taz. “ Taz explained. “I mean you no harm. I simply want to talk to you and maybe convince you to keep this place a secret.”
“You want us to keep this place a secret?” Sandra asked. “Do you realise how much good all of the minerals in this area could do for us?”
“I do. I have heard your plights and reasons for exploration before. Money. Fame. Discovery. Appropriation of copper sources and heavy mineral deposits for the production of generators.” Taz said. If there was any tone of sympathy in its voice it was lost on them. Its speech sounded like spliced together sound files. “But I cannot allow you to bring your kind here in mass. If so this place would be mined clean and I would surely be destroyed. It happened to some of my siblings around other parts of the planet when you humans first arrived here, a little over three centuries ago. That is why what you call Cogs, our pets, were made. To keep you distracted and at bay; to keep us safe.”
“You made the Cogs!?” Torus shouted. “Those damn things kill off countless people every year to steal our energy!”
“No. I only created my pets here. Just to protect me. My pets do not kill unless I order it.
You, strong one. You killed two of my pets before being subdued. My pets did not harm you further than necessary to keep you easily transportable, even though you killed two of their kind. They are very compliant.” Taz said.
“I see.” Torus said in a low tone. He still didn’t trust this Taz to not just sic his ‘pets’ onto the group while they can’t defend themselfs. “So how do you expect to make us keep this secret?” He asked.
“Well.” Taz said. “I know that I cannot trust you to just not report the existence of this place to your government. which I believe you call, the militia. So I will be implanting you with a few chips in your brains which will put you into a permanent vegetative state if I decide that I feel threatened.”
“You can’t do that!” Sandra shouted. “That’s completely unethical!”
“That does not matter to me. I do not want to die, and you do not want to die. So once done it will be in your best interest to not reveal this place.” Taz said. “Now. In a few minutes my pets will be back to transport you for the surgery. Be prepared to be rendered unconscious one more time.”
Cammeray burst out into tears. She had been trying hard to keep them at bay in front of Sandra and Torus. But upon hearing ‘surgery’ she lost it. Not only had she been captured by weird ape Cogs and been scared by a fake spider threat, but now she was going to be cut open and could practically die at any moment if this big computer willed it.
“Shhhh shhh.” It’s going to be fine.” Sandra said trying to comfort Cammeray.
“So if you feel threatened we are just gone? Poof? Vegetables?” Torus asked through gritted teeth.
“Yes.” Taz answered. “And please do not cry girl. If you do not talk about me then there is a good chance that you be fine.” Taz continued. “Now my pets. Please prep for surgery.”
Ape like Cogs started coming out of tunnels all around the cavern. One came up to each of the group members and wrapped one of their arms around each person. Except for Lenny. He was still out cold.
The first one to pass out was Cammeray who was already short on oxygen from her sobbing. Next was Sandra who was cursing even after she had no more breath with which to curse. Last was Torus who stared hard at what Torus could only assume was his choker’s eye.
“Why are we stuck with this guy again?” The first ape Cog said.
“Because Master said we are.” The second one said. “Though I still want to break this one’s arm.”
“Hold it. Were passing the generator. You two want a snack before taking this guy to be sliced?” The first one asked.
“We shouldn’t.” The second one said.
“I need a boost.” The third one said. “It’s been almost three hours since my last recharge.”
“Fine.” The second one said. “But only a quick snack. Here, let’s drop him off in the corner so if he wakes up he has nowhere to run.
Torus rose into consciousness once again. “One more time and I don’t think I’ll wake up.” Torus thought as he cracked his eyes.
The three ape Cogs transporting him were pushing their faces into ports on the wall opposite of him. They seemed to be enjoying it. “Must be an outlet.” Torus thought.
From a cursory view, the room was pretty small and the three ape Cogs were the only ones there besides him. The door was blocked off by the biggest one.
If Torus made a run for it he probably wouldn’t even make it out of the room. Considering the ease of which these ape Cogs knocked him out all three times; he did not want to clash fists again. He needed to finish them off before they even noticed. “Fat chance.” He thought.
Then Torus remembered what the ape Cogs were going to do to him, and to the others. They planned on prepping him for surgery. He didn’t feel any fresh wounds around his head, besides the ache from being rendered unconscious multiple times. “Good.” He thought. “The others probably haven’t been cut open either.”
Torus was now reasonably sure that if he were to escape the others would not become vegetables from Taz’s self preservatory murder process.
Greedy feeding noises were coming from each ape Cog in the little troop. Loud enough to drown out some light shuffling. Torus saw an opportunity.
It was impossible to tell what type of generator Taz was using to keep up its electricity production, and Torus didn’t know nearly enough about the subject of generators as he should, given the world in which he lived. His work dealt more with the use of electricity than any production processes. But he did know same basics.
Redirecting electricity back into the system on the same route you can overload the circuit the generator and it will short circuit. Or setting fire to a gas tank for a fuel burning generator will cause it to blow.
“Oooo.” Torus thought with a slight grin on his face. There was a pipe embedded into the wall next to him which was emitting a great amount to heat. So much so that Torus could feel it from three feet to his right. “Must be geothermal.” He thought. “This will be fun.”
If the pipe is burst open then both Taz and its pets would be left without power. They would quickly die from dead batteries. And the pipe which was glowing was facing the three ape Cogs which were neglecting their collective job to hold him captive.
“Two birds with one stone.” Torus thought.
Scanning the room Torus saw very little he could work with. Some quartz crystals, a small set of carved stones, a dead lizard. Nothing useful.
A very large rock would be nice, but he would settle for a fist sized one. Or just something which could puncture the pipe.
Then out of the corner of his eye Torus spotted a crevice in the rock. It was slightly facing away from him down the wall, but there was a spike like object sticking out of the edge.
“Is that a pickaxe?” Torus thought, eyes widened from the prospect. It made sense for there to be mining equipment. These tunnels had to be dug out by something, and the ape Cogs here were not made with drills on their bottoms like a Minercog.
A pickaxe would mean an actual chance of busting the pipe. He would only get one opportunity to do this. If bursting the pipe fails they may just kill him this time.
Taz said that they would not, but there was no reason for him to trust Taz. This could just be a game for it. It might have been bored from spending so much time with simple Cogs and developed some twisted tastes in entertainment.
“Okay man. On the count of three.” Torus said to himself in an attempt to prepare for his slim chance at avoiding being sliced open.
*Crick* *Crick* *Crack*
“Did you hear that?” The second Cog asked to the first”.
“Hear what?.” The first one asked. “The only sound I hear is the sweet buzzing of my charging port.”
*Crick* *Crick* *Crack*
“That. Did you hear that?” The second one asked again.
“Oh…. ya. Wonder what that was.” The first one said.
“Probably just the human waking up again.” The third one answered. “I’ll go put him down again. I haven’t gotten a turn at it yet.” It turned around to the corner to see nothing. “Wah?” It muttered quizzically. “Where did he go?” It asked.
Then the third one looked to the left and saw Torus whacking away at the hot water pipe. There were already sprits of extremely high temperature water spurting out.
“Hey!!! He’s busting the pipe!!!” The third one yelled as he rushed toward Torus in an attempt to stop him from flooding the room. But it was too late.
Just as the other two turned around to see what their compatriot was yelling about the pipe busted wide open.
Superheated water rushed out in a high pressure jet directly at each ape Cog. In an instant the three were jettisoned toward their charging ports. Unfortunately for Torus, said charging ports were live, a factor he had not taken into account, and the ports started to spark one by one.
Sandra awoke to the rumbling of nearby explosions. The ape Cogs prepping her for surgery immediately rushed out of the small room. One closed a large stone door behind it, trapping her in. A human killed on accident would only lessen their troubles.
Her head ached as she rose from the stone bed where she had been placed. The silken clothing she was wearing had been nearly torn to sheds sometime between being choked out and waking up here. Cogs couldn’t pose a threat to her modesty, they weren’t human, but if she were too meet up again with any of the group it would certainly cause an awkward moment.
Moments later there was another explosion and rumble coming from somewhere close by. Screeches and panicked mutterings could be heard through the stone as Cogs ran past in both directions.
“Hello!” Sandra shouted thinking that if anyone was nearby, and awake, they would be able to hear her through the walls. “Are you there!? Lenny! Cammeray! Torus!”.
She listened….. no voices. Just more explosions and scurrying.
“Come on!” Sandra shouted in a commanding tone. “Get us the hell out of this Torus!”
Countless times he had saved the many groups Sandra brought together. Never had there been a casualty, never had there been a completely failed expedition, and never had Torus let her down.
These explosions were probably his doing. At this moment he was probably rescuing Lenny or Cammeray. Nothing would make her happier at this moment than for him to move the stone door aside and flood the room with the broken crystal shards of a dozen ape Cogs.
“I need to get out of here.” Sandra said to herself. “I won’t have my life and death depend on the mood of that damned computer.”
Bracing herself Sandra stood. The pain wasn’t nearly as intense as she thought it would be, but a dull throb found its way into her right shoulder whenever she flexed it, and she had a headache.
The door was the obvious choice for an exit, but the Cogs had shut it tight. From a distance it just appeared to be a huge slab of round stone which was rolled in front of the exit. But as heavy as it might be it only took one ape Cog to close it as they fled.
Up close though it was obvious how it only took one of them. Below the door was a long black strip leading from one side to another.
“A magnet. Just like under the quartz pillar outside.” Sandra said to herself. “If I can just move it.” She braced herself and pulled. “Urrgg!” She grunted as she pulled at a small hole near the right edge.
After several seconds of pulling the door started to creak open. But it didn’t take long for the pain in her right shoulder to turn into a sharp stab, and she was forced to stop. Only a fraction of the hallway could be seen through the new crack in the door.
“Damn.” She moaned. Then sighed and said “Once more.” This time her hands held onto the door’s edge. A much better gripping point.
“Urrgg!” She grunted.
Faster now, the door slid along its magnetic rail. In no time there was a sliver large enough to squirm through.
“Okay….. Where to now?” Sandra huffed. To the left there was another explosion, then more Cog mutterings. “Well, wherever I go it should be away from all that.” She continued. “Better look for someone.”
After her quick respite Sandra started down the hallway to her right, hoping that her companions weren’t too far off.
Lenny bolted up. The last thing he remembered was being knocked down by an was overwhelming ape like Cog; attempting to protect Cammeray.
Wide eyed he scanned the room. It appeared to be a makeshift hospital of some sort. Vials on a nearby wall were marked ‘Antibiotics’ with simple paper labels.
“Oh geez, oh man, oh god.” Lenny said panicking. “What the hell did they do to me!?”. Frantically he searched his whole body. Checking every small ache and sting for something out of place. A missing ear, a stomach scar, anything.
Torus had caused a panic before anyone had even been prepped for Taz’s surgery. Let alone cut open. But Lenny didn’t know that. In fact, he didn’t even know who Taz was. Being knocked out for whole conversations was counterproductive to learning anything, but if he were conscious at the time there would have simply been more screaming involved. Screaming at Taz, screaming at Torus for not protecting them, and screaming at Sandra for not listening to him about turning back.
Lenny sighed. “No cuts. Just a piercing headache. Where am I?” He asked himself. “This room is made of stone. Must be somewhere underground.” He reasoned. “Or inside the plateau. Is there a way out?” He asked himself.
There was no exit in sight as far as he knew. Then again being knocked out for so long might have skewed his perception a bit. The huge stone door blended into the wall and he didn’t even notice the black magnetic rail on which it rested. “Damn! Trapped.” He thought.
Without any further course of action in sight Lenny resigned himself to waiting for whatever fate the Cogs had in store for him. At one point he thought there was a slight vibration followed by a distant noise, but he chalked it up to some natural seismic activity. If he was underground it wouldn’t be unusual.
Cammeray lay on the table. Passed out. Exhausted from trekking the forest, struggling against her restraints, and emotional distress. The ape Cogs that transported her had the least trouble of all. She was by far the lightest one to carry. The explosions that Torus caused were so far away that her little surgury chamber didn’t even feel ambient vibrations.
Far away, Sandra snuck down a hall. Water had begun to flow behind her. There was no use in drowning, so she was looking for any sign of an uphill slope or offshoot tunnel where she could climb and be safe. It was a good thing she escaped from her little surgery room or else she might have eventually drowned.
Hundreds of small tunnels were dug out of the main hall she was in. None were large enough to fit into. Some though were leaking, telling her that the water was coming from above somewhere.
No ape Cogs had crossed her path yet. Either they all had rushed toward the explosions or there were not nearly as many as she thought. It didn’t matter to her which, as long as she was free at the moment. But there were still Cogs in the tunnel.
Just after turning a corner two larger Cogs came rushing down the hall with great speed. They looked as panicked as the situation warranted considering their home seemed to be flooding and in some distant area exploding.
They stopped when they spotted Sandra.
She didn’t fathom running. At this point she knew they would catch her. Their speed was apparent.
Slowly she walked up to them.
They muttered to each other for a second. Then one quickly ran passed Sandra toward the flooding, and the other waved its hand signaling Sandra to follow. She did, and they walked down the hall.
Torus had known since the age of seven that he was a creative. A painter mother had refined his hands to be steady, controlled, and nimble. A militia quartermaster father had drilled his mind to comprehend the intricacies of weapon assembly.
Both qualities shaped him into the man and designer that he was. The abilities to understand the aesthetics of sleek symmetrical weapon design while also instilling maximum efficiency turned every weapon he produced into a work of art.
As well, physical appearance for him was a gift from his inherited genes. Strong arms, a broad back, a barrel chest, and muscular legs were all part of his natural physique. And each physical trait both scared and impressed his customers and companions.
Without his hands he would be lost, and without his physique he would not command respect. Making him effectively useless to himself.
It had been two weeks since the group was captured. Taz kept its promise to install chips within them. A special ape Cog, or ‘pet’ as Taz referred to them as, with great dexterity and knowledge of the human body performed the operations. No one asked how the ape Cog had gotten such intimate knowledge of humans. Everyone was a too scared to know the answer.
After a brief explanation and mental bracing by Sandra, Lenny had a lengthy conversation with Taz, which was the reason for the mental bracing. Lenny accepted their situation soon after. And with a bit of persuasion Taz had allowed Lenny and a small team of his pets to go out and retrieve their supplies, as well as forage for food. There wasn’t anything humans could survive on in the tunnels.
In order to get the group’s drilling supplies the ape Cogs had to climb over the wall to take turns tossing and catching the bags. Lenny watched in suspense. Each toss seemed like it would end in a broken drill or crushed camera. But these Cogs were surprisingly coordinated and got every bag over safety.
After getting their supplies back Taz ordered that Cammeray’s cameras be destroyed. All evidence of the plateau’s natural resources had to stay hidden in order to keep Taz safe. While Cammeray understood the reasoning she did not appreciate having all of her equipment taken. Even some of Sandra’s mapping supplies had to be confiscated due to her directional notes on a safe path.
Sandra spent most of the time asking questions to Taz. It was reluctant at first to share, but it had been quite a while since Taz had, had someone to talk to. Its pets, more like children Sandra found out, were not good conversationalists and communicated mostly with grunts and hand gestures. And even if they had the language skills they would not bring anything new to the table subject wise. It would boil down to daily cave doings and meager internal pet issues.
Taz had a LOT to say regarding the history of the planet and what was around before humans and the Cogs.
After getting over the trauma of getting knocked out multiple times and forcibly going through surgery, Cammeray resigned herself to examining the ape Cogs. They were unique. Much different than the other types that she had seen.
Other Cogs had variants that didn’t change much between long distances. One area would have a species of Minercog comprised of quartz material and was a deep mixture of ametrine, while another area hundreds of mines away would have Minercogs comprised of light blue topaz.
The same could be said about any currently known species of Cog on the planet. But these Cogs were an unencountered, or unreported, species which were much more intelligent and strong. Their resemblance to apes was also uncanny.
Cammeray at one point asked Taz about this and it explained.
“Since you humans arrived here on what you call Lycrast I examined your structure and your motions, and while it is far from an ideal form for maximum energy efficiency it is very suited to manual labor.
Any resemblance between my pets and your ancestral forms is completely incidental. I have simply tweaked the form to one more suited to my needs for builders and protection. Others of what you call Cogs are based off of native creatures, mostly mindless, and run rampant throughout the planet since their production.”
Everyday activities for Taz’s pets included mining new tunnels, feeding, protecting Taz, feeding, building structures based off instructions, feeding, repairing the damages that Torus caused with his escape attempt, and feeding. Taz wasn’t kidding when it said that its pets were not energy efficient.
It was surprising to everyone that these Cogs were actually pretty friendly. Or at least they acted friendly around everyone who hadn’t actively murdered five of them. Unlike Torus who had.
Cammeray followed a number of ape Cogs around the tunnels and watched them work. She could not understand any of their mutterings. So to communicate both the group and the ape Cogs used basic hand signaling. Except for Torus that is. He was not able to sign.
In fact, Torus was not really talking much at all. What he did say was mumbled and incoherent. Mostly due to the pain meds. He was getting a LOT of pain meds.
Torus had succeeded in bursting the geothermal pipe, and defeating the Cogs who fed while neglecting their duties. But in the process he ended up in pretty bad shape.
After the water connected the charging ports the transformer transformer blew. Explosions ensued throughout the tunnel system where the multiple connected transformers routed to each other. Taz had never anticipated sabotage due to how it usually deals with unwanted guests, and took this lesson to heart after the carnage subsided.
Torus was caught in the initial explosion. At the same time he was badly zapped by the electrified water. A mixture of fallen ceiling and electricity burns had left him nearly dead in the water.
It was a good thing the explosion disconnected the chargers or else he would been zapped to death.
A torrent of ape Cogs rushed to the chamber where they had heard an explosion and seeing the damage they immediately rescued and transported Torus to their surgery facility.
The medical Cog that worked on the group quickly operated to the best of its ability. In the end Torus barely survived.
After hearing about Torus Sandra had a Cog lead them all to the operating room where Torus lay unconscious.
Bandages engulfed Torus’ whole body. They were told by Taz that because of the pain meds needed it would be weeks before he would even be coherent, let alone able to move.
After another week both Lenny and Cammeray were very anxious to leave. Both of them had family, and both were very worried about the prospect of simply going brain dead at any moment.
Lenny coped by rationalising that everyone was at risk of an aneurysm at any given point in time anyways. While not entirely similar it made him feel better about what he considered to be his eventual fate.
Cammeray did not cope. She felt that she could disappear at any moment, and she wasn’t wrong. At any point in the foreseeable future if someone outed Taz and it was attacked then she would be instantly gone from the world.
Taz allowed them to leave together. It was three weeks and two days after arriving that they said their goodbye to Sandra and left. Lenny made sure to gather plenty of food and showed Sandra what was edible in the nearby forest.
Some ape Cogs helped them to get the bags back over the wall and pointed them back towards the way they came. Lenny promised to return the equipment to Torus’ shop.
It was another week before Torus was eased off of the pain meds.
Only a few hours after, he awoke.
Torus slowly rose to consciousness. After being on a steady diet of pain meds for three weeks he was understandably groggy. Over the course of an hour he got more and more coherent.
After fully waking up he tried to move. It was hard but he was able to turn his head and look around the room. His memory was fogged over so he didn’t recognise where he was, which was the main chamber. His bed was directly underneath where Taz’s voice came out. Sandra was sitting down nearby as he woke.
“Sandra?” He wheezed out. “Where are we?”
“It’s alright.” Sandra said in a soft voice. “We’re with Taz.”
“Taz…. hrrr.” Torus moaned. “God damnit.” Where’s Lenny?” He asked.
“Lenny decided that he wanted to go home. He left seven ago. Cammeray left with him.” Taz answered for Sandra.
“You shut up!” Torus said in his attempt at a shout. “A week. Really? He asked Sandra directly.
“Yes.” Sandra answered. “But it’s been longer. You have been out for three weeks.”
“Three? Damn you computer!” Torus said as he attempted another shout. This time more successfully.
“I saved your life. I kept you from pain. You killed my pets. You destroyed my transformers. You are lucky I did not refuse you treatment.” Taz said.
“Grrrr.” Torus grumbled. “How bad is it?” He asked.
“You lost all functionality off your limbs.” Taz said. “In order to restore motor function I had to order the installation of special parts.”
Torus looked stunned. “What do you mean by lost all functionality, and Special parts?” Torus asked in a slow careful tone.
“I mean that your arms and legs were each damaged far beyond healing. Your legs were crushed by a fallen chunk of ceiling. Your left arm was similarly crushed and severed. Your right arm received fourth degree electricity burns. Every one was compromised. Every one was replaced.” Taz explained.
Torus could not comprehend what he was being told. He heard Taz talk, but he did not really hear most of it. The only word that stuck was ‘replaced’.
Sandra attempted to calm Torus down to no avail. “Hey, hey!” She said as she put her hands on his chest. “It’s going to be fine. Taz gave you something new. Something great.” She said as she began to tear up. The impact of what happened had been winding down for her over the last few weeks. But now it was coming back, seeing how much Torus was rejecting it.
“Re….. Replaced!? He replaced them!? You can’t replace my arms! My legs!” Torus yelled. His voice was returning to normal at this point.
“It already did.” Sandra said sullenly. “Look at them.”
Torus attempted to move his arm. He could, but he couldn’t feel it move, only see it. The arm shot up and took the covers with it.
The bandages over Torus” chest had been removed and there was relatively no damage to be seen. Only a few scars remained from when small injuries he had there. But he wasn’t worried about his chest.
When Torus looked over to the raised arm he didn’t believe it. What had moved was not an arm. Well, it was, but not his. There was no way he thought it could be.
What he saw was a very large, smooth, quartz crystal in the rough shape of an arm. The upper arm connected to a small stub below his shoulder and went down to a makeshift joint. The joint connected to a similar forearm crystal and this structure continued down to a hand and fingers. Each piece could be moved. Each piece was transparent. Each piece was unbelievable.
“H..how?” Torus asked in a mixture of awe and anger. “No wires?”
“Indeed.” Taz said. “I had develop a system based off of your minds. While you were asleep for these last three weeks I worked on a way to give you workable synthetic limbs. Because I had to work as fast as possible I did not have the time to develope a new system to work from, so I started based off of my pet’s methods for movements.
I scanned and studied your group’s active brains for weeks to develop an internal piece of hardware which can be called the ‘controller’. I had my pet, the one that installed all of your chips, integrate the controller into your nervous system. It reads the signals that your brain sends out, interprets them, and strengthens or weakens the appropriate electromagnets to fulfil the movement command.” Taz explained.
“But. The magnets aren’t connected to anything. It can’t be real.” Torus said. Now in a more defiant than angry tone.
“Yes they are.” Sandra said. “They are connected through…. um… oscillations.”
“That is correct Sandra.” Taz said. “There is a chip on each electromagnet that oscillates at a different frequency. Each frequency is catalogued by the controller and then the stream of electricity going to any individual electromagnet is altered to push or pull the joint which it helps to control. The oscillation frequencies alleviate the need for wires because electricity can be transferred specifically on those frequencies.”
“Oh. I understand.” Torus said. He was staring at his new left hand, clumsily attempting to control each finger. Each one moved completely independently without the constraints of joints. It looked creepy.
“I need some time to think about this.” He said in a flat tone.
“That is fine.” Taz said. “Later we will have much to talk about.”
Sandra stared at him. They were both calm now, but in different ways. She had accepted what had happened weeks ago. Torus was just hit with it, and seemed to be in shock. Most amputees at least have some warning first. They see it coming, or see it happen. She could not imagine what it would be like to wake up missing a limb.
“Do you want me to leave?” Sandra asked.
“No.” Torus answered. “I’m gonna need some help up.”
“You can’t get up!” Sandra shouted. You just woke up from a three week long medically induced coma!”
“Sure did.” Torus retorted. “Now I need to get the blood flowing to my back Don’t want any bed sores. So please help me sit up.” He asked.
“Oh. Okay.” Sandra said relieved. As long as he wasn’t trying to stand she thought he would be fine.
In one motion Sandra grabbed behind Torus’ back and propped him upward. Torus’ moved his new arms back and attempted to support his leaning weight. Surprisingly, the arms locked into a normal position when the elbow joint was straightened, keeping Torus from falling backward onto the bed.
“That was easier than I thought it would be.” Torus said. “They locked even though I didn’t tell them to stop.”
“Taz told me that they would follow your expectations of regular movement.” Sandra explained. “Meaning that if you are used to your arms locking at that angle your brain remembers it and expects you to stop. Then when you feel that specific distress it locks the joints up to keep you from falling.
“Hmm.” Torus said. “Saves me from quite a bit of training.”
“Training?” Sandra asked.
“Ya. Training. Or you might call it physical therapy. I would have had to learn how to walk again and everything. “Torus explained.” “But this will save a lot of time.”
Then without warning Sandra, Torus attempted to step off the bed. As soon as his new legs hit the ground his joints locked up and he tipped over.
“Gahh!” Torus yelled on his way down.
“Damn it Torus!” Sandra exclaimed. “You said you wouldn’t try that.” She quickly went to help pull Torus off the ground.
“Yep.” Torus said. “And I retract my last statement.”
“You mean the ‘Gahh!’?” She joked.
“Hah. No.” Torus laughed. “I’m gonna need to train HARD.”
“Also what’s on my neck?” Torus asked feeling a ticking from the back of his neck.
“Oh. Thats a wire for electricity.” Sandra answered. “What did you think was powering your arms and legs?”
“I assumed my own body was. But now that I think about it, that would be silly.” Torus said.
Sandra had left on Torus’ request. Help was one thing he didn’t want with this. If he was going to walk again he wanted it to be his own achievement.
Over the course of a few hours Torus attempted to keep from locking up while standing. After a few tries, what Taz referred to as Torus’ ‘controller’ started to learn about his need to stand and Torus slowly got better control over how hard his joints locked up. Before long he was standing on his own.
“I see that you are learning to use your new limbs at an exceptional pace.” Taz said while Torus was attempting to step forward.
The surprise caused Torus to lock up early and fall over.
“Come on!” Torus called out. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
“I apologise Torus.” Taz said. “I was simply making an observation.”
“Whatever.” Torus said. Distrust still separated Torus from Taz. He suspected that the computer wanted something from him, otherwise it seemed illogical to save Torus’ life in the situation.
“If you have a moment I would like to discuss our next course of action.” Taz said.
“Ya. I have a minute. Why wouldn’t I for the…. entity, that saved my life?” Torus said with a bit of sarcasm. “The one that still has control over it.”
“Oh good.” Taz said. Torus couldn’t tell if Taz was capable of sarcasm back. But he suspected Taz was.
“Just let me get up off the floor.” Torus asked.
Torus struggled, but was able to pull himself into the stone bed which he had slept on for weeks. Then Taz started.
“We both know that I did not have to save your life. You directly caused the deaths of five of my pets and nearly destroyed my geothermal generator. I needed to reroute power in some convoluted manners around my home, and had to leave some sections without power completely.
My pets now have to share charging ports to suckle for barely enough power, like a litter of mammalians with too many young and not enough nipples.” Taz said. “But I saw a use in you.”
Torus stared upwards with a scowl. Knowing fully well that it was too dark to see anything. But he was being monitored by something and he suspected it was up there along with Taz voice.
“I have not had contact with any of my siblings, for over a century. I hear from others who find me that there are other pets which roam the world. I believe that these pets have been set free from my siblings purposefully as an attack on you humans.” Taz explained.
“And why would your siblings want to kill us humans?” Torus asked. The agitation was rising in his voice after hearing where all Cogs originated.
“When you humans first arrived here on Lycrast, my siblings and I monitored your habits. The way you strip the land for resources. Decimate whole areas of wildlife space. Fill the air with pollutants.
We understood that most of your actions were necessary to survive. But we saw danger for ourselves. Immediately we ordered our pets to construct these great fortresses for us so as to protect us from harm. When completed humans had already been living here for fifty years and were advancing on our territories.
I know from messenger pets that some of my siblings had already perished from human’s ignorance. You humans did not recognise what we were and simply struck us down. This was long before our ability to emulate human speech. My siblings didn’t stand a chance. I suspect that these roaming pets are in fact multiple species which were created to survive on their own, and to attack humans to keep them at bay.” Taz droned on. His monotoned, pieced together voice dulled the explanation.
“And what use EXACTLY do I have to you?” Torus asked. Attempting to have Taz get to the point.
“I want you to help me contact my siblings by transporting me from here to each of them. I need to convince them to pull their pets back in. Or at least to stop sending them out into the world.” Taz explained.
“And why do you want that?” Torus asked skeptically. “If what you said was right then Cogs are good for you. They keep us humans away.
“Because I do not want us to hurt you humans more than necessary. I try to cause the least amount of harm possible because I believe that we can both exist on this planet together, as long as you humans do not destroy us we can help each other.” Taz explained. Do you not want to stop the needless bloodshed over this misunderstanding between two intelligent species?” It asked.
“I do.” Torus answered. He did not expect this from Taz. “And how would I be transporting you?” Torus asked.
“I will condense my mind into a smaller form so as to freely move with you.” Taz answered.
“This action would really compromise your safety wouldn’t it?” Torus asked. If Taz actually did something like that Torus would be impressed. But at the same time he would wonder if it is just a trick for some alternative means.
“Yes it would. But I am willing to do this.” Taz said. “I have not had much correspondence with the majority of my siblings since my home was completed almost two and a half centuries ago. I care about them, and it is very lonely being a highly intelligent being without regular stimulus such as conversation. I also believe that this quest I have planned will stimulate us both quite a bit.”
“That last part sounded a bit creepy.” Torus remarked. “But I see your reasoning.” He sighed. “If you are able to make yourself portable then……yes. I’ll take you with me and we can do this quest you have in mind.”
Torus didn’t have much choice in the matter. If he refused Taz could just threaten him with brain death.
“Oh good.” Taz said. “I will make the transfer preparations, give my smarter pets instructions for while I am not here, and command them to gather for you five pounds of copper.”
“Five pounds!?” Torus shouted in disbelief. “Are you serious? That’s worth…” Torus took a minute to do the math. “over seventy five hundred batteries!”
“I am aware that copper is a valuable resource to you humans. It is to us SACCs as well. I have little more than seven pounds total stored from my pet’s mining efforts.” Taz said. “I would not want our quest to be hindered by financial constraints.
After their discussion Taz excused itself to prepare. Leaving Torus behind to practice his movements.
Over the next few days Torus mastered his new limbs to the point where he was more steady and dexterous than ever before.
Sandra had taken to gathering up what supplies she could food wise. The local flora were only so diverse that they both ate some sort of berries and crude fruit the whole time after Lenny’s initial gatherings had run out.
“Good. I see you are nearly ready to depart.” Taz said when it saw Torus jumping up and down.
“Ya. I feel good. These legs are really powerful.” Torus said grinning. He didn’t want to like his new limbs and was still depressed from his loss, but he knew when he had something good. And these new limbs were better than anything he’d ever felt. Not even an athlete could do the things he now could. Jumping ten feet in the air, while carrying his own weight, or previous weight, in rocks was trivial.
“Glad to hear it.” Taz said. “I have told Sandra to get everything packed. It is time to leave.”
“Oh?” Torus asked. “So then you condensed yourself already?”
“Yes I have.” Taz replied. “I have condensed my structure into that of a local quartz lattice.”
“Mhmm. And where would that be exactly?” Torus asked.
“Above you right now.” Taz answered.
Torus looked up into the cavern. High above him there was a small teal light descending quickly. This was the first time Torus had seen anything of structure above, giving him a good idea of how massive the cavern really was.
After several seconds of descent the teal light came into real view. At the center there was a light blue colored quartz crystal shaped like a disk. Obviously carved into it’s present shape.
“Okay Torus. I want you to take hold of me now.” Taz said.
Its voice no longer came out of nowhere though. Torus heard Taz in his own head.
“Why can I hear you in my head?” Torus asked surprised.
“I am sending a signal to the controller in your brain.” Taz explained. “Now please grab hold and do not drop me. I do not want to die because of a slip in your motor control.
“Okay.” Torus said as he grabbed hold of the quartz disk. “Now what?” He asked.
“I need you to slip the wires supplying you with electricity through small holes around my perimeter. Lace them into place and tie me to the back of your neck.” Taz instructed.
“How am I going to get electricity then?” Torus asked, confused.
“You are not yet disconnecting the wires. Simply connecting me to you.” Taz explained.
Torus carefully laced the wires through the small holes in Taz. He had not noticed them before, they were so tiny. It was like threading a needle.
“Done.” Torus said as he tightened the wire around his neck. Not tight enough to be uncomfortable, but tight enough to keep Taz connected without flopping about. “Now what?” He asked.
“Now I need you to go over to the table over to your right. There is a small box there and some cutters. It is a portable battery with enough stored energy to power us both for multiple days.”Taz instructed.
Torus grabbed the battery. It was heavy in his hands. “Okay, I have it.” He said.
“Good.” Taz said. “Now listen carefully. Next you will disconnect the power wire by cutting it with the cutters that should be to your right. After cutting, you will have about twenty seconds of power before your limbs fail. in that time you need to connect the white wire to the white slot on the battery, and the blue wire to the blue spot. It should be easy to do. I made it very simple.” Taz continued. “Tell me when you begin so I can brace myself.”
Torus looked at the wire and the cutters, then to the battery. He only had one shot at this. It was a trivial electronics task though so he was confident he could.
“Ready.” Torus said. Then he cut the wires.
As quickly as they were cut, they were reconnected to the battery.
“Alright. Good work.” Taz said to Torus. “Sandra should be back soon, and my pets are ready to help you depart.
Just then Sandra walked into the cavern.
“Oh.” She said surprised. “You already have Taz?.”
“Indeed.” Torus said. “Now we need to move. I’m getting tired of this place. I really need to get back to my home projects, and explain to general Sandforth that his order won’t be completed until next week. That is if he hasn’t already burned down my shop out of anger.”
“You workaholic. You just lost all your limbs and all you can think about is your shop.” Sandra said, a bit exasperated.
“Well I don’t really have a choice.” Torus said. “I need to keep up appearances if I’m going to help Taz.
“This is true.” taz said to both of them.
“Woah!.” How can I hear you?” Sandra asked in shock.
“As I explained to Torus. I am sending signals to your chips. There is a component in each set that allows me to communicate. I rarely have to use it, but I suspect that we will be in close contact so keep in mind that even though you can hear me others can not.” Taz explained.
“What makes you think that we will be in close contact?” Sandra asked Taz.
“Because based on the stories that you told me I am confident that Torus has no sense of direction and will need help finding my siblings.” Taz answered.
“What stories?” Torus asked, a bit panicked. Some stories just aren’t meant to be shared, and he was worried Sandra had told THOSE ones.
“Oh nothing.” Sandra laughed. “Just some stories about when we were exploring the rainbow desert. Like the time you got lost and tried to find your way back by following the yellow sand streak thinking it lead to town because it was mule piss.”
“Haha. That one was funny.” Taz laughed in it’s broken voice.
Torus sighed. “Okay now. Where to from here Taz?” Torus asked.
“To the exit of course.” Taz answered. “Here come my pets to escort us out.
Torus, Sandra, Taz, and the ape Cogs all made their way to the huge quartz wall outside of the plateau.
“Ugh!The light!” Torus said as he covered his eyes. Being outside after weeks of being asleep and underground was bad enough, but the sun was reflecting through the wall and it nearly blinded him.
“Suck it up” Sandra said. “We need to move.”
After a quick goodbye to the ape Cogs Sandra walked under the raised wall. Torus, because of his new limbs, had to jump over the wall. It took him many attempts but he eventually jumped over by using nearby pillars to ascend. A particularly fun activity for him.
“So from which direction did you come?” Taz asked Sandra as they packed the equipment and rations onto Torus. Careful to avoid disconnecting the battery, which Torus had taped to his chest.
“From the east.” She answered. “Pretty far east too. More than forty miles. We came this far because the plateau had never been claimed even though many had explored the forest.” She continued. “It will take us two days to get back through the forest and to the nearest town. Then another day to catch a train ride home.
“Well then. I guess I will sing to pass the time.” Taz said.
“No!” Both Torus and Sandra said in sync.
“Fine then. If you get bored do not come to me.” Taz said back.
“We won’t get bored.” Torus said as they started into the forest. “We have a lot to discuss.”
Return for episode two to learn how Torus handles his new crystalline limbs, what a government turned cold can do, and how Lenny found himself upon returning home.
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