Torus and Sandra trudged through the rough terrain of Octus forrest. It had been only a few minutes since they departed from the plateau with Taz and the huge wall of quartz crystal was still in view.
This time around Lenny wasn’t there to keep them away from the dangerous plants. So they took the path of least resistance by avoiding as much foliage as possible. A path that would take them two days to fully traverse.
In the meantime Torus had a LOT of questions for Taz, and Taz didn’t really have a choice but to answer.
“So Taz.” Toru started when they hit a patch of ground relatively flat, where he could really concentrate on the conversation.
“Yes Torus? Taz answered.
“There are some things you need to explain to me before this partnership really starts.” Torus said. There was no real need at this point to keep anything hidden. Both were essentially going to be together at all times.
“I will do my best to explain anything you are curious about. Within reason that is.” Taz said.
“Good.” Torus said sounding satisfied that he was going to get somewhere and not be kept in the dark. “I think we should start with a bit of history. What are you? We know that you are a computer of some sort, but that doesn’t really mean much to me. What are you exactly?” Torus asked. The question had been bothering him, and knowing might make having this disk strapped to his neck a bit easier to stand.
“I was wondering that too. Like, are you part of a species which came to an actual singularity, melding your mind with machinery for immortality? Or purely a machine which was built by an intelligent species and placed here?” Sandra asked.
“Neither.” Taz answered. “It would be too difficult for you to understand what I am and where I originated if I were to give you a straightforward explanation. Can I tell you a story about my past?” It asked.
“That sounds good actually.” Torus said. “It’ll pass more time that way.
“Wonderful.” Taz said. “This is the first time I’ve ever gotten the chance to tell this to anyone. It’s a bit exciting.”
Then Taz started-
“My current internal time monitor tells me that I have been recording for over two hundred million years. But my life started long before that.
It started with the dying of a first generation star-”
“Not that far back” Torus interrupted. “We don’t have THAT much time.”
“Oh, okay.” Taz said. “I guess you are right.”
Taz started again-
“Long after my birth, and shortly before my siblings and I came to be here-”
“That’s better.” Torus interrupted again.
“We were drifting through space. At this time we were connected together as a hive mind of sorts. We developed in deep space over the course of hundreds of millions of years, feeding off solar power and converting it to electricity. Then drifted from system to system monitoring local species of intelligent life. Stopping for a millennia at a time to record behaviors of civilisations, and make bets with each other.”
“Bets?” Torus interrupted for third time.
“Yes, bets. We bet on how any given civilization would end up destroying itself.
“Ah. Carry on.” Torus said.
“Then as I was saying. Almost all ended before we departed, either through their own devices or outside causes.
One civilisation saw us though. We had underestimated their speed of technological development when we intercepted their radio signals. We got there too late and were not able to mask out presence before they spotted us on the peripheral of their solar system’s outer asteroid belt. They happened to be a HIGHLY militaristic, HIGHLY violent people. We ended up being perceived as a monitoring device from an outside solar system, which they didn’t take kindly.
Seeing the danger, we fled. But we could only accelerate our drift so fast. They shot a deep space nuclear warhead locked onto us, and it followed us over the course of hundreds of years, slowly speeding up as we did.
Eventually when we reached this solar system we believed that we could attempt to use the missile’s own velocity to have it crash into the planet before it made an adjustment. Unfortunately we overestimated our own abilities and slowed down too much for our own adjustment. It hit us head on and broke us apart. We fell down through the atmosphere, scattering throughout the planet.
Some of my sibling were lost in the ocean. They most likely still reside there, just waiting to be revived with a jolt of electricity. Others ended up like myself, falling into areas of dense mineral deposits and quickly integrating ourselves into local crystal structures, bettering our capabilities.
We used simple traps to capture and transform local fauna to be our pets, and used them to search the planet.
Over time we found each other, and most of our siblings who were unable to function due to lack of local materials or lack of power were recovered and housed by those with more abundance than needed.
After three million years of simple survival, you humans crashed here. We saw that you came in a metal spacecraft. Out of panic we constructed our fortresses so you could not harm us when you discovered our mineral rich homes, and some of us in more of a preemptive approach let loose their own specially developed pets for protection.
We were not wrong about needing to protect ourselves. But my plan was never to harm humans, just threaten them. Many of my siblings felt the same. But most of them were destroyed almost two centuries ago when you humans initially discovered them.
Your ignorance to our nature, and our previous inability to communicate verbally meant that you only saw large deposits of crystals. Crystals which you could use for manufacturing and metal extraction.
Soon after, I caught on and developed my own way to communicate with humans, and for every human that I encountered, I placed within them the same chips I placed in your group. I let them return to their homes, and I knew that if they valued their own lives, and the lives of the others that I have captured, that they would not let your militia know that I was here.
In conclusion. I am a deep space originating natural computer which was stranded here by a nuclear explosion that then adapted itself to integrate with local crystal deposits, has many sibling around the world, and can kill many humans at the flick of my metaphorical fingers.”
Torus and Sandra were both speechless. They had no clue that such life existed out in space. Natural crystal based computers seemed ludicrous. but neither of them knew enough about the subject to really raise any objections.
“So do you know how many siblings are still alive?” Torus asked after a few minutes of mutual silence between the three.
“I do not.” Taz answered.
“How many humans have you installed chips into? Sandra asked.
“Six hundred and seventy two.” Taz answered. “But I cannot track most of them at this point, and I started over a century ago, took a little while to develop the technology to do so. I suspect that most of them have died from one thing or another, human life is so short and fragile. I am currently receiving signals from eighty six, oh, eighty five. One just disappeared. Someone must have died.
“Eighty five? wow!” Sandra said. You really know how to scare people into keeping their mouths shut.
“Indeed.” Taz said. “Humans, like most beings,have the instinct to preserve their life in any way they can.
“Wait. You can track us?” Torus asked realising what Taz had said.
“I can.” Taz answered. “I like to know certain things. Also, if someone was ever to come and visit me I would have liked to know ahead of time. Not that anybody ever did.”
“They were probably too scared to. Like you would have them drop dead for disturbing you again.” Torus said.
“Oh no no no! I would never do that! I enjoy it when a human stumbles in. It gives me some momentary company before I send them off with my….threat……… Okay, I can see why no one wanted to return.” Taz said. It had never occurred to Taz that its threats were keeping people away.
It continued. “I never put in time to learn about the psychology of humans. I might have had more company over the years if I took a few more notes. I was stuck with my pets, alone most of the time.”
“And that brings me to my next question.” Torus said. “Do Cogs have any weaknesses besides running out of electricity? We’ve tried everything over the years to keep them at bay. Nothing will drive them away, and nothing seems to kill them besides brute force.” He asked.
“I suppose a strong acid, depending on their composition, or an EMP blast would be effective, if you had more resources to spare that is. But nothing you do will get rid of them. Simply killing them is all that you humans can accomplish.” Taz answered.
“All us humans can accomplish, huh? Can you SACCs do anything to stop them?” Torus asked. If there were any advantages that Taz could provide he needed to find out.
“Oh, quite a bit actually. We can shut down all of our pets at will.” Taz explained.
“Great!” Torus said happily. “Then when we find your siblings we can convince them to just shut off all of the Cogs that they control.”
“No.” Taz said. “My siblings and I are all individuals, and each wants to protect their own life. They will not willingly rid themselves of their greatest defense for the lives of you humans.
“Then why did you?” Torus asked.
“Because I am worried more about my siblings dying than I am worried that I will die at the given moment, you are a great defense with your new limbs. It would have taken me centuries more to design a workable pet as strong and intelligent as you to transport me.” Taz said. It its mind it was a compliment to Torus.
“Did you just call me a pet?” Torus said in an angry low voice. Torus did not hear it as a compliment.
“No, no. I did not mean it like that. I meant that you are a very acceptable partner. The abilities that you displayed in my fortress were great, and your new limbs are just a boon. I admire your biological capabilities to travel great distances with your own devices and to improvise in a tight situation.” Taz said very quickly, attempting an apologetic tone.
“Well, Torus can’t really travel great distances with his own devices.” Sandra said while poking Torus’ shoulder. “He needs my help if he ever wants to find his way.”
Torus grumbled at this.
“Even better. Two protectors will really up our odds of surviving this.” “Taz said.
“You have doubts?” Torus said in slightly mad and quizzical fashion. He was really digging into Taz trying to make it uncomfortable. A bit of payback for the whole abduction situation.
“Yes.” Taz answered.
“Well so do I.” Torus said. Taz’s one word response had gotten Torus even more agitated.
“I have to now trek for who knows how long all over the world to find double alien computers surrounded by dangerous Cogs and at the same time avoid getting stared at for my new see through limbs!” Torus yelled.
“Double alien?” Sandra quickly asked.
“Alien to both Lycrast and us.” Torus responded.
“Oh, don’t forget to avoid ferrous metals. The electro magnets in your limbs are very powerful and will pin you to objects.” Taz said.
At this Torus stopped walking.
“AND I AM NOW A WALKING MAGNET!!!” Torus shouted, and punched a nearby tree.
“I suggest you surround your limbs with Mu-metal when we return to your home.” Taz said. It did not seem fazed by Torus’ near rage state this time. Though Sandra was.
“It’s okay Torus. you’re okay.” Sandra said as she tried to calm Torus down. But he just kept punching the tree. And punching, and punching, and punching. The built up stress and anger from the last few weeks was finally coming out.
After fifteen consecutive punches the tree fell.
“Holy crap Torus, you’re stronger than I thought!” Sandra said as she stood back.
“Ya. I am.” Torus said. “And Taz, Mu-metal might just work.” he said while turning away from the down tree.
“Indeed, he is very strong.” Taz said. “I like that.”
Torus and Sandra came up to the edge of the forest. It had taken them the two days estimated to get though, and the nearest town, Frimache, was about about five miles away.
“Okay Sandra.” Torus said. “When we get close to to Frimache I need you to go and buy me a trench coat of some sort. Anything to cover my whole body.”
“Anything?” Sandra asked with a mischievous smile.
“Nothing bright, and nothing blue.” Torus said sternly.
“Okay. I’m gonna need to get myself some new clothes also. My silks are in tatters.” Sandra said. Her clothes were indeed in tatters. The initial battle with the ape Cogs, multiple knockouts, and trek through the forest had torn them up good. She had gotten used to it around Torus because she had no choice, and he tried not to stare, but she needed to go into town now.
“Let me borrow your shirt and shorts.” Sandra asked Torus.
“And leave me here nearly naked? No!” Torus replied. He didn’t want to be exposed as much as she did.
“But I can’t go into town like this. Just stay hidden. over there.” Sandra said while pointing towards a huge nearby rock. “It’ll make it easy for me to find you.” She said.
“Fine.” Torus moaned. “But if someone sees me it’ll start a local ape man legend.” Torus said as he slipped off his shirt.
“A crystal limbed ape man legend. Might be bad to have a rumor like that floating around with you in your current situation.” Sandra said half laughing.
“Don’t push it or you’re going in there bottomless.” Torus said before removing his shorts.
Sandra moved fast. A small chunk of copper tumbled around in the pocket of the shorts, which on her were more like baggy pants. Copper sells FAST and HIGH. piece this size would easily fetch a good two militia packs.
The road into Frimache was relatively deserted. The town was on the fringes of civilisation with a population of only around five hundred. She was lucky there even was a militia outpost to trade in the copper chunk.
Sandra walked into the outpost. It was only midday so most of the troops were out patrolling. This was good. She wouldn’t pull in much attention with her ill fitting clothing.
The commissary was open, though not attentive. The man at the counter didn’t even notice Sandra when she walked in. He was busy reading some book and leaning back in his chair.
“Must not get many customers out here.” She said to get his attention.
“Oh. Good day miss.” The man said and got up to salute her, as militia soldiers do. His nametag read Reggie.
“Good day Reggie. I came in hoping to sell off a piece of copper I have.” Sandra took out the copper chunk and showed it to Reggie.
Reggie eyed it carefully then took into his hand for a closer look. Lots of people had been faking copper over the last few years to sell. Weather they did it for good or bad reasons was hard to say, but either way it was not good for the militia who opporated purely on tax money and electricity sales.
“You mind if I, uh, test this out?” Reggie asked.
“By all means.” Sandra said.
Reggie took the copper chunk over to a stand near the counter. It stood a bit taller than him, and attached was a semi circular set of magnets which was connected to a standard issue multimeter.
After attaching the copper chunk to the end of a small rod, Reggie moved the copper piece through the set of magnets. The multimeter fluctuated with the changing current.
“Alright, checks out. We’ll take it” Reggie said with a little excitement. It had been a long time since he held such a big chunk of real copper. There was definitely some fun to be had before the troops got back. Like hooking it to the generator and charging his own drained batteries.
Sandra smiled at Reggie. “So, how much are we talking?” She asked.
Reggie quickly weighed the chunk. “Forty three point five grams. That gets us….. one hundred and forty three full batteries, rounded down to the nearest whole. Or two standard packs and fourteen remainder.” He said with a smile.
“Nice!” Sandra nearly shouted.
“Sure is.” Reggie said. “So how did you get your hands on such a big piece?” He asked. “No deposits around here as far as I know, and even if there was you would have had to steal to get your hands on some.” Reggie’s expression went neutral. “You didn’t steal this. Did you miss?” He asked with a hint of anxiousness.
“What! Of course not!” Sandra said.
“Well then I would like to know How you got your hands on it.” Reggie said. “ Your clothing doesn’t exactly scream rich. It seems cobbled together like, a transient.”
Sandra suddenly got very, very mad. Never had she been so flatly accused of a crime by militia personnel, and had her clothing ridiculed at the same time.
“I did NOT steal it. I am simply here to sell it for me and my family. We have had a small stash for almost two generations and we are just a bit hard of cash at the moment.” Sandra quickly lied. “If I thought that my clothing was going to be a problem I would have worn my good dress, but my husband and I have been traveling for a while trying to find work, and a dress really doesn’t wear well walking long distances by foot.”
Thinking it was a very well constructed lie she looked expectantly at Reggie.
“Oh. I’m so, so sorry ma’am.” Reggie said ”I will ring this up right away. Sorry to suspect you. It’s just that so many crimes go on between small towns like these. Caravans get robbed. Travelers get mugged. All sorts seem to populate Shellon today.”
Sandra had calmed down, but was still mad at Reggie, though she did feel a bit guilty lying herself. But the alternative was tell him that she received it from a crystal based natural computer which she was traveling with strapped to her bodyguard slash weapon craftsman slash expedition partner who was currently half naked just outside of town.
Feeling she made the right move she took the batteries and left the outpost.
“Have a nice day ma’am!” Reggie yelled as she walked out the door.
After perusing the shops around town a little Sandra settled on a nice set of light colored, loose fitting cargo shorts, similar to Torus’ but made for her own size, or at least similar, the town was small so clothing selections weren’t their main concern, and a white tank top shirt. Also a backpack to hold the remaining pack of batteries.
The coat she picked up for Torus was a long, light brown, animal hide trenchcoat with plenty of pockets and lots of breathing room, for her that is. With Torus in mind it would probably be just the right fit.
Then at the last minute she thought about Torus’ hands. Being exposed would be just as bad as not wearing the trench coat. So he picked up a set of black field hand gloves. They needed to be black to match Torus’ hair.
With clothing in tow she rushed out of town towards the hiding spot. The thought of him there half naked and cowering from passersby made her laugh.
“Hey!” Sandra shouted as she approached the rock. “I got you some presents!”
Torus came out from behind the boulder and looked at the coat with a satisfied smile. “Good.” He said. “This will do just fine. Where are my other clothes?” He asked. Standing around in just his underwear was really starting to bother him.
“In the bag.” Sandra said as she took it off to pull out Torus’ clothing.
Torus took a minute to dress fully and put on the new trench coat. It fit like a charm. Then he also put on his holster, thinking it was about time to wear his gun again now that they were going to travel along a main road.
“Alright. Do you see anything unusual about me?” Torus asked as he turned with his arms extended out.
“Nothing unusual here but a large man wearing a trench coat in eighty degree weather.” Sandra said jokingly.
“Ya.” Torus sighed. “But there really is no alternative, unless I stay out of town and travel off the path. Also, good thinking with the gloves. I forgot about the hands.”
“My pleasure.” Sandra said.
“Well then.” Taz broke in. “I take it that the piece of elemental copper was suitably valuable to buy clothing and supplies.
“Sure was. I still have a militia pack and forty four left over in my new bag.” Sandra said as she showed Torus. “I spent over six hundred batteries to hire you, Lenny, and Cammeray as well as procuring supplies and transport. I expect to be fully reimbursed with some more of that copper when we get home. She continued.
“Might have to wait on that.” Torus said as he strapped their supplies to his back. “I have to buy some Mu-metal to cover my arms and legs. Mu-metal is usually about sixty percent nickel, with varying levels of iron and copper mixed in. It’s going to be expensive and time consuming to procure enough, let alone shape it to fit my body.
I’ll most definitely need some help also because my equipment for smelting isn’t non-magnetic. I also need to make an additional steel layer, maybe two, to break up the saturation of the Mu-metal. It’s going to cost a pretty anode.” Torus explained.
“Well do try to save some for me. I need at least half of what I paid to keep my study.” Sandra said.
“I expect you will want to stay close to Torus for the duration of our partnership.” Taz said to Sandra. “He indeed will need help to smelt the Mu-metal, and it would cut down on operating cost since I do not have any more resources to spare myself, being a disk and all.”
“I can’t do that!” Sandra bursted out. “I have to get home to my husband!”
“I am sorry. I do not know what a husband is. Is that another name for child, sibling, or parent?” Taz asked. This was a term which it never encountered amongst the humans it had encountered/captured.
“None of those.” Torus interrupted, then explained “A husband is part of a VERY old human construct called mariage. A husband is a male partner which another person is legally binded with. The binding is mostly a symbolic function, but certain customs have stayed in place, like tax benefits.
Anybody human sixteen and older can marry another person, or in some cases more than one person.”
“I see. My siblings and I came across similar customs when monitoring other civilisations. It always seemed to help the population grow at a steady rate.” Taz said. “So you have a husband for tax benefits. Correct Sandra?” It asked.
“No.” Sandra sighed. She just realised that Taz was going to make a LOT of presumptions about human society in the future, like it already has, so it would be best not to get mad and just calmly explain.
“I have a husband, named Hadam by the way, because I love him. He and I have been a couple since we were fourteen.” Sandra said.
“Do you have any children?” Taz asked.
“No.” Sandra said
“I would think because of your need for money that the tax benefit of a child would be an incentive.” Taz said.
“A simple tax break is not enough to make me want a child. A child costs much more to raise than any tax break could provide, I would have to be out of the field for at least nine months to bring it to term, then out longer to take care of it, and I wouldn’t trust Hadam to take care of a child without me.” Sandra explained.
“Oh. I see. Well then what about you Torus” Taz asked.
“I’m not married. I don’t really keep much company. My work is too important.” Torus said. “And now that I’m only…” Torus paused for a second. “only half of what I was, It’s a little too late.” He finished. Suddenly looking sullen he walked a bit ahead of Sandra, he didn’t like looking vulnerable in front of people.
“You still have Hailey.” Sandra said. “She won’t mind.”
“I..You…..It’s not like that!” Torus stuttered out.
“Oookaaay big guy.” Sandra teased as she walked faster to keep up.
“You seem to be in trouble.” Taz suddenly said.
“What? No! She’s just teasing me.” Torus replied. “
“I mean physical trouble, not mental. Look forward.” Taz said.
Up ahead there was a group of three people blocking the road. Each was dressed in a dark green robe and hood.
“Looks like lowly bandits.” Torus said in a low growl. Took a slightly bent ready stance, and waited.
“Nearly all of the civilisations which I monitored over the eons have had similar ambush structures. I suggest that you watch behind us for additional members of this bandit group.” Taz said.
Sandra turned to look behind and saw two others walking out from nearby hill formations. This was indeed an ambush.
“Taz is right. Two more behind us.” She said.
“Well. This is as good a time as any to test out my reflexes and aim.” Torus said while dropping the supplies. “I’m gonna try to keep the coat on though. Don’t want rumors to start spreading.”
“Rumors won’t spread if you don’t leave anyone behind.” Sandra said with a slight smile.
“Ha. Maybe. But we both know I’m not like that. I’ll just give them a few new holes to keep them out of trouble for a while.” Torus replied.
The largest bandit in front of them stepped forward. With only fifty feet left between them he took out a very large crude club as big as his own leg. It looked to be made from solid iron, but Torus knew better.
A weapon that large would have thousands of batteries worth of iron. Much more than a simple back dunes bandit could afford, even from plundering travelers. Nobody carried around that much iron. Torus concluded that it must be a really common trick that was used to intimidate travelers.
A simple iron shell filled with sand. While a still fairly large amount iron would go into making it, it would be considerably more affordable. At the same time the sand could be packed in so tight that the iron would be plenty enough reinforced for basic fighting, and sand was still very dense and heavy so any blow would be devastating.
The large bandit used both arms to point the club at Torus, Sandra, and without knowing, Taz. Torus had to admit it was very intimidating. Especially since if he were to be hit by that it would do more damage than a simple bone break. It would shatter an whole unhealable limb. Torus’ quartz was much weaker than iron, even if it was only an iron shell.
“Okay friends. Empty the bags. We wan’ta have a look’see.” The large bandit said. His buddies had now come up within a few dozen feet behind and had their own weapons drawn.
“No!” Torus yelled out. “How about this instead? Me and my friend here are going to walk past you and keep going on our way. Unless you want to have a belly full of sapphire.
Torus had drawn his shotgun and pointed it straight at the large bandit.
“I thought he was the husband.” One of the bandits behind the large one said.
“Hush jackass!” The one next to him said in a slight panic.
“Reggie!?” Sandra yelled. She recognised the voice. Also more obviously he was the only person who she had lied to about Torus being her husband.
“God damnit!” Reggie yelled as he tore off his hood. “Dirth. Get them fast!”
“Right’o!” Dirth, the large one, yelled as he rushed forward. The other two behind Torus and Sandra also quickly rushed at them.
Dirth fell instantly. The sapphire pellets went clear through his left leg. The next thing Reggie knew three of his fellow bandits were on the ground clutching various body parts. None were likely to die, but all were completely incapacitated.
“You still wanna come at us!?” Torus yelled to Reggie and the one other bandit still standing. His magazine was empty, but nobody else knew that. And if he needed to he could still pull out his ruby knife.
Reggie stared at his downed compatriots. Never had someone fought back so effectively, with such speed, with such precision. Never had anyone been able to fend them off. Though that was probably because all of the bandits present were trained militia stationed in a back dunes location on the edge of the known map. There wasn’t exactly a booming trade out here to lure in those who could afford proper protection.
“W….We surrender!!!” Reggie shouted as he fell to his knees.
“Quickly. Remove his weapon and pin him to the ground.” Taz told Torus, who was already one step ahead.
Torus shoved Reggie’s weapon out of the way and punched him in the gut so hard that vomit ran down his robe.
The last one of Reggie’s compatriots ran bolted as fast as he could towards the town, sand shooting off the bottom of his boots.
“Okay you bastard. Time for some interrogation.” Torus said, wearing a malicious smile. He really didn’t enjoy the idea of interrogating anyone, but he couldn’t let Reggie know that.
Torus now held Reggie by the collar of his robe, which had been spared of any vomit secreting from his mouth.
“So Reggie, WHY exactly did you attack us?” Torus asked Reggie, getting right up in his face when he did.
Reggie struggled to answer. “Ugh.. W…W..We were..oh damn.. seeing if you had any more c…copper. That chunk the little ma’am over there, or should I say little miss? She said you were her husband. But you said friend so now I’m confused.”
“Nevermind about that. What was that about the copper?” Torus said as he lifted Reggie slightly in the air.
“I haven’t seen so much copper in one place in years. Even with her dirty appearance, I thought you might have more. I got together some of my…..friends, and we waited out here until we saw her.” Reggie said.
“And I bet you didn’t expect a professional bodyguard to be accompanying her.” Torus said smiling.
“Oh god. We had no clue what you were. We thought that you were just her husband.” Reggie said. “At least we didn’t lose to an ameture.” Reggie laughed a bit.
Torus dropped Reggie back onto the ground, who then doubled over again clutching his stomach.
“Okay boys. We’re leaving you alone now. Reggie, get your men to the clinic.” Torus said as he reloaded his shotgun and colleted some stray sapphire pellets. “If you don’t they may just lose those limbs. And trust me. Nobody here wants that.”
“Ya asshats! And you better hope we don’t see you again or you won’t get away so lightly!” Sandra said loudly.
Torus remounted the supplies on his back and they continued down the road. Leaving the broken men behind them.
Heat rained down on the group as the day dragged on. Sandra was relatively fine due to her weather and activity appropriate clothing. Torus however was sweating up a storm under his trenchcoat. It was a light colored hide, but that didn’t stop the sun from baking his brain under his black hair.
Taz didn’t mind the heat. Not being sensitive to low temperatures was an advantage that it held. Though eighty five degrees wasn’t exactly a low temperature to the two human members of the group.
It was still a few hours of walking to Mohs Hub Six, which was the local transportation hub. Small coal trains and LOTS of horse drawn carriages filled the long stretch of road. Each and every one was waiting eagerly for someone looking to travel. Even though this area was underdeveloped and out in the sticks it was still a very busy area for those planning on starting up their own homesteads in the desert like real estate of their country.
Not many methods had been developed for growing crops in the sand, but the most popular crop among family groups was a type of cactus which was brought over from earth. Along with nearly every other working animal species.
The cacti develope many oversized fruits which are enough to keep food on the table for poorer families during hard work times. Ease of access to these plants also made them super cheap to buy. So starving was not a common way of death around here. People were more likely to die from boredom due to eating the same thing every day.
Torus, Sandra stopped to rest. The heat was just too much for Torus and he had to air out.
Sandra had been thinking for a while about how Torus had punched down the tree a few days before, after leaving Taz’s home. It stood to reason that if he were able to jump so high and punch so hard without injuring himself that he would be able to run extremely fast.
It would be so much faster if they were able to run the whole way. Or more accurately, if Torus could carry her, as well as all of the supplies, while running the whole way. But that might be expecting too much. He was still healing a bit around his limb stubs. Taz’s medical ape Cog had done wonders to help Torus and patched him up good, but physical damage can only heal so fast.
Torus thought that Sandra hadn’t noticed, but whenever Torus stomped down hard, or when he was punching the tree, he was in pain from the pressure. The limbs wrapped around his stubs to cup them in a bowl of sorts, but that only helped to absorb so much of the impact.
Regardless though, she asked, for Torus’ sake. If he found out exactly what he was capable of he might heal faster inside. He hadn’t shown it yet except for a few outbursts, but he would eventually go through a stint of depression at his loss. Most amputees did.
“So. Have you tested your running yet?” Sandra said as Torus slipped off his trench coat.
“Huh? No. Not yet.” Torus replied.
“Well, maybe you should.” Sandra said. “I think you’ll probably be really fast now.”
“Definitely. Running speed is mostly determined by how high you are able to push your center of mass into the air at an angle.” Taz broke in.
“Ya. What Taz said. I can probably run faster now.” Torus said. “Maybe I should try a bit while my coat is off.”
p. At this Torus sighed a bit and got into a running position. His arms and legs shined in the sun, the light was reflecting in such a way that those looking from his left would nearly be blinded by the intensity.
Torus bolted forward so fast that he turned into a blur of flashing lights. The path ahead was kicked up in a small dust cloud as he pushed on for about two hundred feet. Then he quickly turned and returned even faster. When he stopped he was barely panting.
“HOLLY CRAP THAT WAS FAST!!!” Sandra shouted with joy. “You must have been going like, thirty miles an hour!”
“Torus ran at approximately twenty eight point three five six miles per hour at his fastest during his sprint.” Taz said.
“Well, It took me a second to get the hang of it.” Torus said. “And on my way back I really pushed it. Also, I barely feel tired. Only having to move my torso made it much less stressful on my heart. I could probably do that for hours without getting tired.”
“Considering what I estimate your stamina to be, you could probably run until your battery runs out. Which would be only a short while.” Taz said, then explained “The more you move the more energy you use. By extension, the faster the battery depletes. Please keep that in mind when you think about doing physically strenuous activities in the future.”
“Okay. Though if we run low I can just plug another battery into the big one here.” Torus said pointing at the box on his chest.
“True. But if you fail to get to it in time you will go down, and hard.” Taz said.
“If that happens then I will slip the battery in. Also Torus. If you think you are up to it I know of a way to get us to Mohs Hub Six in no time.” Sandra said with a smile.
“Ya?” Torus said looking at her.
“Ya. You could carry me and the supplies and run at top speed. We would get there faster for sure.” Sandra said with a hint of child like giddy.
“We would, Torus said. But I don’t know if running like that is the best idea. I just ran fast with NO weight strapped to me. If I added on the supplies as well as the hundred and fifty pounds that you are. Well, it might not be much faster than either of us running separately.”
“I think you should at least try.” Sandra said. If we go too slow then I can just jump off and we can walk.”
“Also, if anyone saw us it would look really bizarre. A man carrying all that and running, not to mention shining in the sun. I won’t be able to run with the trench coat on, so I’ll be out in the open.”
“I will be up high so if I see anyone I can jump off and you can get your coat on.” Sandra pouted.
“Also if the battery runs out while I’m running we will both fall and I will be crushed underneath all of the supplies and you, unable to move.” Torus continued, getting a bit mad now because Sandra was pushing the idea.
“I said before I can change the battery, and Taz can warn you when the battery gets low!” Sandra said a bit loud. She was getting a bit mad also at the reasons Torus was giving to avoid running. All good reasons, but still. If they wanted to get home faster they would have to take a few risks.
“It is true that I can monitor the battery life. We are currently at forty five point three two percent after two and a half days of traveling.” Taz said.
“Ugh. Fine.” Torus sighed. “Just give me a minute.”
Torus packed his new trench coat up into the supply bag and strapped it on. He left on the gloves in case someone came by and he needed to quickly get in costume. Then he kneeled down and told Sandra “Get on.”
Sandra climbed up with a smile onto the bag between it and Torus’ back. He was sweating from having the coat on in the sun and was a bit sticky.
“Ew.” Sandra said under her breath.
“I agree.” Taz said only to Sandra. “I’ve had to be back here under the coat the whole time and he really lets it stream out.”
“You ready?” Torus asked Sandra. He was already in a modified running stance to accommodate for the change in his center of gravity.
“Yep.” Sandra said. “All set.”
“Okay, hang on..” Torus said. Then in an instant he bolted forward nearly as fast as before.
The wind was racing against Sandra’s face as Torus ran down the road. They had been running for a minute now and Taz had stated “We are currently averaging twenty five miles per hour. The additional weight and change in center of gravity has decreased your speed, but only by a small amount.”
Torus was barely feeling the movement as his torso twisted side to side. Rushing wind cooled him as he ran, and the auto locking of his limbs kept him stable on each downward step in the process.
Sand flew up behind them, and from a distance they looked like a shining bolt of light flying down the road.
It was twenty minutes before anyone came into sight in the distance. Nobody was going to come from behind because of the sheer speed they were traveling, but up ahead someone could come up fast.
At this point Sandra knew they were nearing Mohs Hub Six. It would be less than two miles away. So it was best to stop here with the approaching passerby.
Torus stopped immediately when Sandra yelled down “Stop! Someone ahead!” The stop was so abrupt that Sandra nearly flew over Torus’ head, but she was able to hold into the top bag strap.
Sandra jumped down and Torus dropped the supplies. It was time for him to don the trench coat.
Impressively, Torus was barely breathing hard from the effort as they started walking.
After another five minutes of walking the passerby came up to exchange pleasantries. He was momentarily distracted by Torus’ choice to wear a trench coat in the heat, but was quick to get over it rationalised that the garment was to keep prying eyes away from something. Which was exactly what it was for.
It was an older man passing along to Frimache, returning from the capital city, Idman’do.
Apparently there was a mining rush a few hundred miles north of the capital and many of the citizens were flocking over to join in the digging. Leaving the main city nearly devoid of young men and women, and causing a drop in the local economy. The man was traveling to live with family until the rush was over and the city’s younglings returned either with their metallic spoils and a sense of pride, or hungry bellies and unwashed clothes.
Saying goodbye the man went on his way and the group continued to Mohs Hub Six.
Lenny had left Octus forest with Cammeray days before. They had found their way to Frimache and traveled the road to Mohs hub Six.
For batteries Lenny had gathered as much food and medicinal herbs from the forest as possible. It all hung from bags over Cammeray’s shoulders. Lenny was too encumbered by mining supplies to carry anything else.
They traded the food and herbs at Mohs Hub Six for enough batteries to get them back to Teaga, where Lenny lived and where Torus’ workshop was. Cammeray took whatever wa left to for getting herelf home.
Lenny had promised to return the equipment. Though he would have preferred to go straight home. His mother was waiting for him. She had been seeing the doctor the day he left and he hadn’t been able to say bye. While he hated Taz, he was grateful that the computer had let him leave. Though he was empty handed now with barely any pocket batteries, and he had to flat out lie about not finding anything.
As soon as they made it to Teaga Cammeray flew to the nearest carriage to take her home. She had been gone longer than she planned and she had to return to her little brothers, as well as repair the damages her equipment had gotten in the ape Cog conflict.
Lenny said goodbye with a hug, knowing that they both had the share a great secret. Possibly the biggest one on Lycrest. At any time from now on they could both drop brain dead out of the blue, so they may not see eachother again.
Lenny arrived at Torus’ workshop five days after being let go. He had no way inside though. It was locked, and for good reason. He couldn’t just leave the equipment outside or anywhere nearby. It was likely to just be taken.
He thought taking it over to the next door neighbor would be the best plan. People around here were generally honest folk. It was the passing riff raff that Lenny had to worry about.
Knocking on the door produced a short woman with auburn hair. Her pale skin and thin frame hinted at a frail constitution. A condition which was dangerous on Lycrast due to the generally labor intensive way of life.
She seemed fine though and spoke up. “Good day. Can I help you?” She saw the large bags which Lenny carried. It looked a bit silly considering how tall and lanky Lenny was.
“Ah yes, hello. My name is Lenny Stolkin.” Lenny introduced himself. “I am an associate of your neighbor Torus. He is going to be away for a while and I am here to return some equipment I borrowed from him. I have no way inside his shop next door and he won’t be back for a while. I was wondering if you would mind holding onto this stuff until he returns.”
“Oh, good to meet you Mr. Stolkin. I’m Hailey Robins. And yes, you can leave that stuff here. I am a good friend of Torus’ and sometimes work with him.” Hailey said as she moved aside. “Come on in.”
Lenny walked into Hailey’s home, though when he saw it there wasn’t much home to see. The majority of the space was taken up by display cabinets, books, boxes stacked high, and advanced electronic equipment.
The cabinets were filled with thousands of different gemstone and mineral specimens. There was everything from heavily golden rutilated quartz to synthetic chunks of tantalum glass.
The equipment was incomprehensible to Lenny with pieces labeled ‘Spectrometer’ and ‘Large Refractory Indexer’.
Household items were scarce. The visible furniture consisted of two chairs surrounded by books, and a small coffee table between them, itself covered in small labeled baggies of minerals and powdered compounds.
“You can set those huge bags over in front of those cabinets” Hailey said as she pointed to a corner of the room that was relatively free from boxes and books.
“Oh, okay” Lenny said as he walked over to set down the bags.
“Do you want some tea? I just made it.” Hailey asked from another room.
“Sure!” Lenny replied eagerly.
Tea sounded heavenly at the moment. The long journey from Octus forest had started to take it’s toll, and now that he had dropped the bags he realised just how exhausted he was. Aching legs, a pulled back, and dry throat all compelled him to say yes.
Hailey brought out two cups and her tea kettle on a small wooden plate. There wasn’t any room to put it down. She quickly cleared up an area on the small coffee table, shoving aside most of the baggies labeled with single elements. Then sat in one of the chairs.
“Please sit.” She said pointing toward the opposite chair..
Lenny sat. The bliss he felt from the relief of sitting in on a soft cushion must have been obvious because Hailey offered Lenny a pillow for his head, which he gladly accepted.
Hailey then poured the tea and handed one to Lenny. Carefull to not spill it he sat forward.
“Thank you very much.” Lenny said. Then sighed. “I came all the way from Octus forest near Frimache. It was VERY far, and I carried those bags a good chunk of the way.”
“No problem. I feel good being able to comfort a friend of Torus.”
“Well, I’m an associate.” Lenny said.
“Oh. I figured you were a bit closer than that considering you were carrying all of that equipment for him. A small task for him, but for you an obvious challenge.” Hailey said as she looked Lenny up and down again. Referencing his physical condition.
“I owed him a favor, and he’s in a tight spot at the moment. He’s going to reimburse me someday so it was a mutual thing.” Lenny said. Sitting back, he tasted the tea more closely. It was delicious.
“Tight spot?” Hailey asked a bit concerned.
“Ya. But he’ll be back soon. Sandra’s with him and as much a she annoys me, she won’t let him stay down and out.” Lenny said.
“What flavor of tea is this? I’ve never had it before, and it’s kind of my job to have tasted the local flora.” Lenny said before yawning.
“It’s not a local species.” Hailey said. “I’m confident that there is no one else around who has any. My family brought it along before the crash, and it’s stayed in the family since then. I was told the species is named Matricaria Chamomilla. Otherwise known as Chamomile. It supposedly helps one sleep, but that was never proven. It may be just a placebo, but-”
Lenny had set his cut pack onto the table to lie back while listening, and had fallen asleep. Not from boredom, but sheer exhaustion.
Hailey didn’t take offense. After finishing her own cup of tea she got up and quietly left the room to get back to work.
Sandra and Torus arrived at Mohs Hub Six an hour after starting up again. The transportation hub was busy at the moment with hundreds of people arriving and leaving constantly.
A local market was filled with cactus fruits, and some less common herbs and more exotic foods were available. They were the same herbs and fruits that Lenny had gathered during the expedition. Torus suspected someone regularly went out to Octus to pick them, and he did not think that Lenny was the one who supplied them just a week earlier.
They stopped at a small cafe before securing a ride. They need some rest, and the lack of shock absorbers in local transportation was not a comforting prospect.
Torus ordered a large sub type sandwich with a cheap bottle of sparkling wine.
Sandra ordered some pasta and just water.
Some people stared as they ate. Torus was a real sight with his attire.
“I’m going to need to find something less suspicious to wear when we get back.” Torus said. “I don’t need people staring at me for the rest of my life.”
“Unfortunately, that may just happen. The only time full body clothing won’t look weird is during the winter months.” Sandra said.
“Ya. I’ll figure something out. Hailey might have some ideas.” Torus said as he took a sip of wine.
“Probably. She’s smarter than you.” Sandra joked.
“Intelligence is subjective. Torus is very intelligent when it comes to practical battle strategy. In what way is this Hailey smarter than Torus?” Taz asked.
“Well, she is much better with electronics. If it weren’t for her Torus wouldn’t be able to properly calibrate any of his gun’s amperages. And she knows an unwieldy amount of information about chemistry. Her house is littered with mineral samples and crystal specimens. She is a very accomplished gemologist, small time engineer, and wonderful baker.” Sandra rattled on. “Hailey is more intelligent in pretty much every way that Torus is not. Even in some ways that he is. She beats him in chess all of the time!” Sandra continued excitedly.
“That’s enough. Hailey’s not THAT much better than me. But…..she is very smart. She can help me make some Mu-metal covers for my arms, and conceal them.” Torus said.
“I see. Well I hope to meet this Hailey person soon.” Taz said.
“We are going to see her when we get to Teaga. She lives right next door to my shop.” Torus said. “Lenny probably dropped off the mining equipment to her after realising he didn’t have a way inside.”
“Or he left them out back where passersby could just take them” Sandra said in a low tone.
“Nah. Lenny wouldn’t do that. I trust him.” Torus said. He was the one who recommended Lenny in the first place. Sandra was the only one who had a problem with the guy.
After their meal and a bit more resting, they procured a carriage to Teaga. They re-thought taking the train due to the steel walls. Torus didn’t want to get stuck and have to be pulled away by a dozen bystanders, who would each be very curious afterwards.
The ride was slow, but better than walking. Torus wouldn’t be able to carry them this last stretch due to the high number of traffic on the road.
Later in the evening just as the sun was setting they arrived. The town was awash with business still. Bakers were baking. Diggers were digging, Buyers were buying. Cheap bicycle salesmen were showing off their cheap bicycles. Everything was business as usual.
Torus led the way to his shop. It in the middle of town near the main market and a militia outpost. The scenery of home was calming to Torus and Sandra both. Taz had never actually seen a human settlement before Mohs Hub Six, but he was not very impressed considering how many different species it had seen over the eons. But Taz did admit that the town was formatted in a very efficient way to promote the more artistic facets of human society.
“Market center, artisans outlining the market, and main living area surrounding. Everyone has to go through artisans to get to the market, and back to get home. A layout very biased to your profession Torus” Taz said.
“Sure is.” Torus replied. “I’m near a militia outpost so when they need repairs they come to me first, I live right next to Hailey who does maintenance on my equipment, and I can walk across the street to get meals. I chose a great location.”
“I live across town near the train station. Hadam has probably been worried sick. I wasn’t able to send any mail home to update him.” Sandra said as she started walking away. “I should be going. Say hi to Hailey for me.”
“Wait!” Torus called as he ran up to her. He pulled out three chunks of copper ore and said. “Here’s a bit more. You can’t go back empty handed.”
“Oh! Thanks!” Sandra said. ”But I thought you were just going to give me some later once you concealed your-” She looked around “shiny problem.”
“It should be fine. I have enough in the bank to cover it.” Torus said in a slightly smug way.
“Oh. Well then thanks again.” Sandra said as she started off again. “I’ll come by later to see how well Hailey takes the whole situation.
“I hope that this Hailey is as good as Sandra described her.” Taz said “From what I have found, highly intelligent humans are rare. Although most of the humans I have encountered were explorers like yourselfs.”
“She’s all that and more. She’ll be able to help us out.” Torus said as he knocked on the door.
Lenny awoke to a loud bang in the kitchen. *Bang* Then another *Bang* and another *Bang*. His body ached. Not from sleeping, but from healing. The last few days had been horrendous on his muscles, and the comfort of Hailey’s chair had relaxed him enough to get the healing process working.
The banging continued, faster now.
Lenny got up from the chair and stretched, whincing from the pain. Out the window the market looked dark. He must have been sleeping for hours. The cup of tea was still sitting on the table, now cold. Hailey was nowhere in sight. “She must be making those sounds.” He thought as he walked through a small doorway.
It led into the kitchen where Hailey was off the the side next to the sink. The banging was coming from a machine she was working with. It went up to her waist and was cylindrical. A part came up and shot back downwards, making the banging sounds. It seemed to be a piston of some sort.
*Bang* “Hey!” *Bang* “Hailey! *Bang* Lenny yelled out to Hailey in between each piston drop.
Hailey turned around to see Lenny standing there. He looked ragged and a bit beat up, so the same as before. But he was a little rested now. She shut off the machine. It slowly stopped.
“Good evening.” She said as a small door on the machine opened. She pulled a small container out.
“I was just processing some alumina. Later I’m going to purify it to make some colorless sapphires. Torus always has me growing some for him so he can make that specialty buckshot of his.” Hailey said. She presented the container to Lenny to look inside.
What Lenny saw was a fine grey powder. Alumina was the common name for aluminum oxide. The easiest way to get it was crushing bauxite then electrolyzing out the titanium and iron oxides, but on Lycrest bauxite was rare so that Hailey had to crush and electrolize whole impure sapphire chunks. Not that Lenny knew much about that. To him it just looked like some chalk powder.
“Interesting. So without you Torus would be a bit useless wouldn’t he?” Lenny joked.
“Pretty much.” Hailey chuckled. She then looked at him a bit worried though. “So. About Torus being in a fix. I know you said he was going to be okay, but what kind of trouble did he get into?” She asked. “I can’t have him coming back unable to work. I would lose half of my business.” She joked, but at the same time had concern in her voice. She really wanted to know what had happened.
Lenny started “Oh, Torus…” then paused. “…….he was in a bit of an accident.”
“What kind of accident!?” Hailey asked, her level of concern rising.
“He was in an explosion and got a few injuries.” Lenny said hesitantly. He really didn’t want to upset Hailey, and felt it was more Torus’ job to tell her since she seemed so close to him. But Torus hadn’t woken up yet when Lenny and Cammeray left the plateau. So he didn’t know if Torus was ever going to wake up, and even if he did he might not be able to walk and make it home.
“WHAT!!!?” Hailey shouted. Her eyes were wide and she clutched Lenny’s shoulder.
“Ouch! Uh, ya. But he should be fine!” Lenny blurted out. He wanted to calm Hailey down a bit. She was starting to panic.
Hailey looked down to hide her sudden sadness. She felt horrible inside hearing this, but she needed to know more about the situation. In a considerably calmer voice she asked “How…how bad was it?”
Lenny choked up a bit “It…..h..h..he….” .
This was harder than he thought it would be, standing here seeing someone who obviously cares a lot about Torus hear about him nearly dying, and him being the one who delivers the news. Then he sighed and told Hailey how bad it really was.
“He lost all four of his limbs in the explosion. The medical Co-” He caught himself “comrade, ya. The medical comrade which we hired saved his life, but he may not be able to walk again.”
Hailey’s face went blank. To Lenny, hearing that someone he cared for was paralyzed for life would be harder than hearing that they were dead. At least if they were dead their troubles would be over. But living the rest of their life without the use of limbs. Losing their passions because they no longer had hands to move, to work, to create with. The thought alone was hell.
Then Lenny followed up “While Torus was still in a pain med coma, the medical comrade fit artificial limbs on. He said that Torus would not be able to do all of the same things he could before, he would be able to work and operate machinery.” He lied a bit to try and calm Hailey down more. In fact, Taz had told Lenny that if Torus was able to use the gem limbs well, he would be better than ever before, stronger, faster, more dexterous. But that seemed beyond reason to Lenny, who didn’t know anything about synthetics or much about magnets even. The best he could do is give a middle ground lie so no truth would hurt more.
Hailey’s expression instantly changed to one of anger. She was still crying, but her rage permeated the layer of tears.
“Aaaahh!” She shouted while stomping around. She had a surprisingly strong set of lungs for one so small. “That BASTARD had to go and get hurt again! How many times is he going to come back after getting something stuck up his ass!? After getting a broken collarbone from startling a horse!? After losing everything in an arm wrestling match and getting beaten up while trying to, HIMSELF, beat up the victors!? Who he already proved he was WEAKER than by the way!” She was on a tirade.
“I’m going to just sit down for a second.” Lenny said as Hailey went on.
“Losses his tools by ‘Accidentally’ test shooting them out of his new gun!? Gets an unknown disease!? Finds that he has an alien strain of tapeworm which actually evolved co-dependently with space faring gorillas so it’s still close enough to an Earth tapeworm to live inside him!?” She yelled.
“He had alien tapeworm? Gorillas went to space!?” Lenny asked confused. At this point Hailey had calmed down a bit and was attempting to regain her composure. “Y..ya..That’s a story for another time.” She said. “Listen Lenny. I’m sorry about going off there. It’s just… how cou-” Lenny cut her off.
“I..I..I know it’s hard to hear. And it’s fine. Yell at me all you want. Bring it on, I can take it. Pulverize me with your voice like that piston was pulverizing alumina.” Lenny said.
Hailey chuckled sadly. “ Thanks for telling me. Now that I know I can make some preparations.”
“Preparations?” Lenny asked quietly.
Hailey sighed. “Yes indeed. I need to start drawing up some plans for construction. Even if Torus can move still he will need some help around his house. I’ll get some supplies together to make handrails.” She needed to cope fast. The best way she knew how was with working. If she had something to work on then it would be harder to think about Torus’ condition. Walking up to Lenny she said. “Thank you again Lenny, but I need to get to work now. If there’s anything you need before you go just ask.”
Lenny considered for a moment, then asked. “If it’s not too much trouble could I take some of those Chamomile tea leaves with me, please? My mother could use something like that to help her sleep.”
Hailey smiled for a brief second. “Of course. I can even give you a whole plant. Are you able to take care of it?” She asked as she walked into the back.
“I believe so!” Lenny said loudly. It was a bit of a silly question to ask Lenny, but Hailey didn’t know that he was a botanist.
Hailey came back with a small potted plant that looked like very loose shrub. It had small white flowers with a large yellow stigma. Very similar looking to daisies.
“Thank you!” Lenny said as he took the flower pot.
“Your welcome.” Hailey said.
Lenny walked towards the door. He turned around again to see Hailey looking a bit sad again. “Um.. hey. He’ll probably be back soon.” He said.
“Probably.” Hailey said quietly. “He always comes back no matter how much the world beats him up.”
Lenny replied “Ya, bye.” And with that he was off to return home at last.
Torus stood there, waiting. The wind blowing bit of road up at his face, like the sands of time were bombarding his mind. Teasing him with an uncomfortable stretch of time that didn’t want to end.
He had been looking forward to this moment since he woke up from his pain med coma. How would he explain himself this time? How could he?
Torus thought that his donning of synthetic limbs might just be more than Hailey could handle. She was alway picking him up out of the mud. Cleaning up his wounds and supplying him with the means to make new ones, not because she wanted to. But because she couldn’t deny him what he wanted. And in a way he knew this, and used it, selfishly.
At this moment though, after getting back from his long trip. He needed to see her, and hopefully not scare her this time. Not make her cry out of pity. Not make her scream in rage.
The wait went on for another agonising minute. The whole time he thought about what he would say. How he would explain himself. how he could explain himself. As well as the disk on his neck, and the battery on his chest. Everything that happened. He didn’t expect Lenny to tell her much, if anything at all. After meeting Hailey it would seem obvious the onus fell onto Torus.
He knocked again. The knock was louder than he meant, and the wood bent a bit with the force. His anxiousness was making it difficult to control his new strength.
Putting his ear to the door he heard some machining going on inside. The buzzing of a power saw could be heard from the door. She must have been working on something and could not hear the pounding.
Suddenly the buzzing stopped and Torus took the opportunity to knock again. This time much gentler and more controlled.
The sound of footsteps came up to the door. It opened to Hailey standing there, dirty and tired. She had been working constantly to get everything ready for Torus’ return. Rails for balancing around the home and rehab, ramps in case he wasn’t able to learn how to walk again and had to be in a wheelchair, counter extensions for if he needed to work on a low surface from now on. Just about everything she could think Torus might need to continue his life.
The last thing she expected was to see him standing tall, a little taller than before actually, in a trench coat at her front door. Ready to give her an explanation.
“Hi” Torus said as after a brief moment of her examination.
“Hi.” She said back as she gave him a hug, happy to see him looking okay and strong.
Torus hugged her lightly, not wanting to accidentally put too much strength into it. A small earring she had on stuck to his left arm and she jumped back a bit.
“OWW!” Hailey shouted as her earing slipped out of her ear and stuck to the coat’s hide. “What the hell is up with that?” She asked now distracted from the touching reunion. Her demeanor was much more casual around Torus as she let down inhibitions. So she would curse around him, and hit him, and abuse him a bit. nothing he couldn’t handle, and everything he found endearing.
“Why the hell did my earing stick to your arm!? Do your synthetics have some sort of magnet!? Are they made of magnets!? Why the hell was it so strong!? Ah damn that hurts!” She said as she stomped around in pain.
After a second she calmed down. Torus didn’t say anything for fear of making it worse. He just calmly took off his trench coat while she was turned, and when she looked back at him she was stunned.
Even with the light coming mostly from the open door behind Torus, it was rushing through his limbs. The angles danced with the reflections of yellow light off the sand behind him. It was possible to see some of the buildings in the distance through small windows in the his legs, and his arms bent the light to show Hailey her face back at her.
The astonishment evident in her expression. She had expected some sort of wood and plastic mixture to just keep him stable enough to walk with a limp, and relatively simple muscle simulants using his flexing upper arms for his hand grip, but what she saw was a complex grouping of black magnets which seemed to be doing nothing, but were actively controlling the contractions and expansions of metaphorical arm and leg muscles which both balanced and allowed for intricate movement.
She stood in awe not completely able to understand how he could have these marvels of ingenuity. Then she saw the similarity to a Cog’s structure. There was never a way to make the Cog’s movement viable with human synthetics before because of the mysterious way which they transferred electricity to the magnets in their limbs. And this still confused her, but at the same time delighted her because it was Torus controlling it. Not a Cog, but her human friend.
“Well are you going to invite me in?” Torus asked as she stood back a bit to get a better look.
“W…w.w.y..y…YES!” Hailey stammered out. “Come in Torus. I was just working on something for you in fact!” she said excitedly. More ready now to start asking questions.
Torus closed the door behind him and found his way to the chair Lenny had slept in barely a week before.
Hours past as they talked. Or more curately, Hailey asked questions and Torus gave short answers before Hailey quickly asked another.
Knowing that Hailey couldn’t hear, Taz gave Torus the answers as fast as the questions came in. Technical answers. Those which Torus couldn’t have known on his own.
“And the magnets. They aren’t connected by wires.”Hayley said.
“Indeed. The magnets are powered by a transmitter putting out different oscillation frequencies and connecting them.” Taz explained to Torus, for a second time.
“Um, oscillation frequencies connect them.” Torus said, a little unsure of his answer.
“Oscillation frequencies? Like Tesla’s high frequency wireless transmitter designs?” Hailey asked.
“By context and my gauge of her intelligence, that sounds properly comparable.” Taz said.
“Yes.” Torus answered, Again a bit unsure. It was disarming answering questions with correct answers even though you didn’t know why they were correct.
“Is that box the battery and transmitter, or is it connected to the transmitter?” Hailey asked pointing at the box connected to Torus’ chest. There were wires coming from the box and leading around to the back of his neck, where Taz was in the form of a disk snug against Torus. She hadn’t seen it yet.
“No.” Torus actually knew this one without Taz’s help. From the lack of interruption from a synthesized voice he assumed he was right. “The transmitter is in my….uh….upper spine. You know. That area above the top of the neck but under the skull. Where the nerves are.”
“It’s controlled by your mind!?” Hailey asked, shocked at the prospect. “The technology for that was lost when we crashed here. How did that medical…comrade was it? How did that medical comrade do it? She asked.
It was a bit absurd for her to call it a medical conrade. Lenny must have told her that. It was really the old ape Cog which Taz had ordered around. But he wasn’t sure if he should say so. At least not until Taz would let him. He didn’t want Taz to demand the installation of a chip into Hailey’s head too. She didn’t pose it a threat.
“You can tell her about me.” Taz said in Torus’ head. Like it could read his mind. “It certainly would help to explain to her.”
“But she can’t hear you. She might not believe me.” Torus whispered to Taz.
Hailey heard the whisper, but could not understand him. “What’s are you on about?” She asked.
“Oh. uh. I was talking to Taz. It’s the….uh.” Torus paused, waiting for some information from Taz itself.
“Honestly, I’ve explained this all to you before. Fine. In language which you can understand, I am a space computer.” Taz said, getting a bit tired of Torus’ ignorance and inability to retain technical information.
“Taz is a space computer.” Torus let out in a sigh.
“A space computer.” Hailey said flatly. “Really? A space computer? Like artificial or natural?” She asked.
“Natural.” Taz said.
“Natural.” Torus answered.
“So an alien?” Hailey asked, flatly again.
“Yes.” Taz said.
“Yep. It’s in this disk on my neck” Answered Torus.
“I AM the disk on your neck!” Taz yelled in Torus’ head.
“Ouch! Sorry. It IS the disk on my neck.” Torus grunted as he turned his head to show the quartz disk strapped to his neck with wires.
Hailey saw the wires coming out of Torus’ neck. Instantly she knew that what Torus said about the transmitter being in his head right at the top of his spine, was true. But she couldn’t really tell what the quartz disk was. If it was a computer, then it wasn’t like any computer she had ever seen.
“If you can bring Sandra back then she will be able to explain better.” Taz said.
“Ya. We need to get Sandra back. She talked to you more than I did.” Torus agreed quietly.
“She said her home was near the train station.” Taz said.
“It is, but we have to wait. I don’t want to tear her away from her husband.” Torus said.
Taz and him started arguing a bit back and forth. To hailey it seemed like a one sided conversation with only Torus speaking.
“Ya, but it’s not right……..Well sorry I respect her more than you do……..Just wait. We can find a way to explain it later…….Come on thats-”
Hailey looked at Torus. It was the same guy who left. His demeanor and way of talking was the same. He held himself as if he hadn’t just lost anything at all. Confident and argumentative as ever.
Hailey began to tear up watching him. She had been so worried this last week that she drowned herself in work, and now that she knows Torus is safe she can let go.
Hailey then stood back up while Torus was bickering still, and gave him another hug. “I was so worried this time. You’ve come back from expeditions injured before, but never this bad.” She said.
“I…I know. That’s why I came straight here.” Torus said, a bit nervous from the sudden contact. “Anyways, I better not get near any of your equipment. Let’s go over to my shop so I can show you what we need to do now. Just now Taz told me about something I want to try.
Lenny’s home was small, one story, and standard. It was cookie cutter to the other homes around, and his neighbors shared in whatever troubles he had, due to the walls and his mother’s lack of vocal restraint.
His approach up to the door was slow. Not knowing what type of reaction he would get when he opened the door. The long absence might cause anger. Being virtually empty handed might cause anger. Having ragged clothing might cause anger. He didn’t want anger.
The key was cold in his pocket. He was ready to unlock the door if needed. Mother always locked the door before leaving to get medicine from the doctor. That was the only thing she really left for.
There were enough fruits and vegetables lining wall pots all over the small dwelling, and rops in storage to keep her fed for months, but she needed to get her blood pressure meds and lithium tablets. She didn’t trust anybody else to go. Not even Lenny at this point. Years of working with the production of mercury in an unsafe environment took it’s toll. Now it was everything she could do to keep calm and ignore fantom pinpricks. And the slightest thing could set her off.
A crack in the door alarmed Lenny slightly. Mother never leaves the door open. Intruders were one thing she wasn’t having in her home. The lock was in tact, if someone was inside they didn’t break in. Too much risk in a tightly bundled neighborhood like this.
As he walked in he saw his mother sitting down in the corner chair. She had been listening to the radio, a small one which Lenny had to save up for months to afford for her. It was playing one of the few local stations. Soft piano music floated around the house. An open window let a breeze through that rustled the leaves of Lenny’s many highwall fruits. Seeing her okay calmed him and his worries melted away. The door must ahve just been a fluke on her part.
Setting down the new chamomile plant he went over to sit down next to mother. She looked peaceful in her sleep. Calmer than she usually is. Much, much calmer. Lenny felt tired again with the mixer of piano music and flower smell which seemed to suddenly fill the room. Must have come in with the breeze he thought, because none of his plants were flowering yet. Although he didn’t know of any others nearby. Then falling over onto his arm he fell into a peaceful, deep sleep.
A short man walked out from the bathroom. He wore a tan full body suit. It matched the walls of the small house. On his face was a gas mask. Walking over to the window he pulled the mask slightly to the side. Hand to his ear he said “Got him ma’am. Packing up now. What do you want me to do with the old lady?”.
A woman’s voice spoke from the other end “Nothing. Just leave her as you found her. She’s already been waiting weeks for her son, a few more days won’t make a difference, depending on how he plays his cards that is.”
“Got it ma’am. Over and out.” The man said as he slipped the mask back into place. His eyes were harsh as he stared at the old woman. She had been waiting there patiently for almost a day before Simmons gassed the house. Lenny being gone for so long had put her in a depression of sorts and she just didn’t have the motivation to do anything. She barely took care of herself when Lenny was gone, and it was evident by her messy hair and unclipped nails.
“You gotta take better care of your mother big guy.” Simmons said as he picked Lenny up off the ground. The small body did not reflect his strength. Like an ant hauling a speck of grain twice it’s weight he propped Lenny over one shoulder and started out the door.
Welcoming in the night air he took the mask off completely. He was about forty. The slight bags under his eyes and worry marks above his brow showed the face of a man who’d been working for someone he didn’t like for way too long. Commonly dealing with situations that weren’t part of his job. Like this. He didn’t want to knock this guy and his mother out to bring him to the outpost, but he had no choice.
“And Simons.” The woman’s voice said in his ear.
“Yes ma’am?” Simmons replied.
“Do make sure that when he wakes up he has a nice spread in front of him. We want to inspire full co-operation with as little effort as possible. It’s what’s best for both parties.” The voice said.
“Will do ma’am.” Simons answered, then proceded toward a nearby alley so too many people wouldn’t see him in the dense neighborhood tonight.
Several hours later in the dead of night, Lenny awoke. His eyes cracked and he felt his head felt like it was slowly deflating. He was coming down. The more lucid he became, the more aware he was that his surroundings weren’t those of his home.
His back was cooled by a hardwood chair. In front of him was a large table with many silver colored plates. Each held a small cup filled with a red liquid. Each liquid a slightly different shade of red.
The room was otherwise empty, save for another chair on the other side of the table.
Nothing seemed to restrain him in any way. He could get up if he wanted. But that would most likely end up in him falling at this point. The knockout gas attempting to navigate his system still made him whoozy.
After a few minutes of regaining his faculties he called out. “Hello!?” attempting to get someone’s attention. There was no way to tell where he was, or why he was here. All he could remember was coming home to find his mother sleeping, then sitting down for a second.
“Damnit! Whats going on here!?” He yelled out in anger, realizing that he couldn’t have come here by choice. Someone had brought him here. A sense of dread swelled within him as remembered the unseasonal flowery smell. It must have been a drug or something to knock him out.
“Calm down.” Simmon said from a door which Lenny couldn’t see. It just just barely in the blind spot behind the chair.
“Who the hell?” Lenny shouted.
“I the hell Mr. Stolkin. I, Simmons, the hell.” Simmons said as he walked into Lenny’s vision. “Now. We need some information from you Mr. Stolkin. And we need it now.
Return for episode three to find out what Simmons and the unknown voice are after, and how Torus and Hailey go about making preparations for his first expedition to find a SACC.
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