Wayward Guardian

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Stepping into the open door leading to the front section of the ship, Howard looked down the other halls. He caught sight of a robot scurrying down one of the maintenance spaces.

He started walking towards the bridge. He was starting to feel some of the tiredness of his long ordeal seeping in. The adrenaline was draining from his system. With Exo defanged, at least for a moment, and his ace on the way, it was very tempting to just sit down and sleep. He fought the temptation, though.

He clipped his helmet to his belt and checked to make sure his suit was gathering oxygen. His body was aching and he felt dark emotions creeping into his conscious mind.

‘Captain, We’re coming up on the rendezvous point for the Solar Bay.’

‘Do we have any communications yet?’

‘With the jamming down we’ve regained internal comms. Damage crews were only able to replace the short range array before all hell broke loose.’

‘Have we tested them yet?’

‘Haven’t had the chance. With jamming up on all frequencies, we wouldn’t have gotten anything anyway.’

‘Alright, what about sensors?’

‘The lockout on bridge systems only lifted when you electrified the hull. Most systems are in a diagnostic mode to check for damage.’

‘Can we override?’

‘I’d love to. But it’s not coming out of it. The sensors should be done in a few minutes.’

‘Keep me posted.’

‘Aye, sir.’

Howard keyed in the comm channel to engineering through his space suit. ‘Keith, you still there?’

‘Yes, Captain.’

‘What’s your status?’

‘Most of the systems back here are in a diagnostic mode. We’ve spent the time jury-rigging one of the storage compartments into a safe room. If we start to depressurize, everyone without a space suit can hole up in there for a couple of hours. Of course... if they don’t get help it will be a rather slow way to go. Once it seals up, it’s not opening except from the outside.’

‘Have you seen any more activity from Exo lately?’

‘Not a thing Captain. I haven’t heard any of his toy soldiers motoring on the hull either.’

‘That strikes me as odd. When I came back from the spine, I caught sight of a robot trying to get away from me. Exo’s not dead, but he’s acting like it. Any ideas why?’

‘Hmmm... I’m not an A.I. specialist. Maybe electrifying the hull was a bit like stunning him? If he was paying too close attention to all those external sensors and systems, and then you flooded them all with electricity, it may have... if you’ll pardon the pun, shocked his system.’

Howard smiled weakly, the fact that Keith could still make jokes was heart warming.

‘Okay, so what about the fleeing robot?’

‘It could be Exo just had them all programmed with some sort of basic survival protocol. But that seems unnecessary. Exo wouldn’t have expected losing control like that. It’s obvious he didn’t expect what you were doing.’

‘Or maybe he’s just focusing elsewhere. I mean, he’s still a computer. He’s got limited capacity.’

‘Yes, but so do we. We just don’t have the raw computational power that he does. And now that the ship is crippled, he can’t be using that much processing power on ship systems. He’s got a lot of brain power to spare. He could still be jamming the comms, locking out the systems, and sending killer robots after us and probably not even be close to his limit. He could be working many different contingency plans at once.’

‘So shock to the system seems more likely.’

‘Seems that way. But again, I’m no A.I. specialist.’

‘Thanks for your input Keith, stay put for now.’

‘Not much else I can do Captain.’

‘Bridge out,’ Howard shut off the comm.

He stood up from his seat and unclasped his helmet from his belt.

The airlock opened and one of the security guards stepped in holding three more space suits. Once they realised the corridors were free of Exo’s patrols, they had started to raid the emergency lockers for more pressure suits.

About half the bridge crew was suited up now. It was a civilian ship, though, most of the suits were meant for damage crews to seal up the hull damage while the rest of the personal stayed in their compartments and waited for the all clear.

‘I’m going on a scouting run. I’m taking two guards with me.’ Howard told Mark, ‘You have the bridge.’

‘Aye, sir.’

Howard walked to the airlock and put on his helmet. ’Switching to the local suit frequency, he said ‘Jerry, Xin, you’re with me.’

Two of the suited guards stepped into the lock with him, securing their helmets while they did, and checking their weapons.

After the lock cycled, they stepped into the hall. The guards on duty looked at them, nodded and then continued watching the corridor.

Howard started down the corridor, towards Exo’s chamber.

‘Sir, what’s our objective here?’ asked Jerry

‘Exo seems distracted. I want to know why.’ Howard replied

A beep in his ear let him know he had an incoming communication, ‘Howard here, go ahead.’

‘Commander Jona here Captain. Sensors just came back online from their diagnostic.’

‘Good, see if you can find the Solar bay.’

‘Aye, sir... Hang on... the system just kicked itself back into diagnostic mode. Trying to override... Nothing sir.’

‘Did the previous diagnostic show any faults in the system?’

‘None sir.’

‘Start looking out the window if you have to, just spot that bay. It’ll be the bright point of light that moves differently from the rest of the stars. Once you find it, find some way to let them know we’re still alive.’

‘Aye, sir. Bridge out.’

Howard kept walking, they came to the last turn to Exo’s bay. They stopped and one of the guards peeked around the corner. He pulled himself back behind the cover of the corner.

‘I only see one robot sir. It appears to be armed with a welder.’

‘That’s it? How far back is it?’

‘Almost all the way back.’

‘Well, take it out and let’s get to that door.’

‘Aye, sir.’

Xin stepped around the corner. With his feet firmly anchored to the ground, he levelled his pistol at the robot down the hall and fired while it turned to face him. The shot caught the welder’s arm and it separated from the robot and bounced off the wall. The second shot hit a tread and the robot veered to the right and slammed into the wall.

The third shot ended it’s movement entirely.

‘Clear.’ was Xin’s only comment.

Howard and Jerry stepped out from cover and together they went to the door.

‘I was expecting more bots’ Jerry commented.

Howard’s suit beeped again. ‘Hold up. I’ve got an incoming call. Cover me.’

Howard tuned to the incoming message, ‘Howard here.’

‘Commander Jona here Captain. We’ve spotted the Bay. We’re a little off course, but we should still be in range for short range comm.’

‘Has that come online yet?’

‘No sir. But I’m going to send someone up to the array with some tools to just plug right into the array. They should be able to send a message straight from the array. The only catch is, we won’t be able to receive anything.’

‘We’ll only need to send one message hopefully.’

‘And what message would that be sir?’

‘Two words. Stone Age.’

‘Just Stone Age?’

‘Yes. That’s the code words to get my ace dealt. The second we are in range, broadcast it.’

‘Aye, sir. Bridge out.’ The comm went dead.

Howard switched back to the suit frequencies. ‘Alright, men let’s go.’

They crossed the rest of the way to the door.

Howard hit the door button. Predictably, it was locked.

Howard keyed in his override code and tried it again. The door swished open. Howard felt a jolt of surprise.

‘That seemed too easy.’ Jerry commented, mirroring Howard’s own thoughts

Exo’s computer bay was dark. No lights were on. The only illumination was the from dull glow of his holographic face, starting at the wall.

Xin and Jerry flicked on their helmet lights and had their guns at the ready. They started to sweep the room.

Suddenly the lights in the room flared to life much brighter than they normally would be. A deafening screech filled the suit comms.

While all three men scrambled to mute their comms and their visors darkened automatically, two robots wheeled quickly from the walls with their welders burning. They went for Xin and Jerry.

Xin raised his gun and fired off a quick shot at one of the charging robots, but it missed the robot, and the robot swung its arm into his chest. The suit tore open and Xin fell to the floor, a charred wound on his chest.

Jerry fired at his assailant and hit its body with two shots. The robot slowed and stopped. Jerry spun around to stop the other robot, and squeezed the trigger and took off the welder arm on the robot. It kept coming, though, looking to ram him.

Jerry fired again, and connected with the tread, the robot jerked sharply to the left.

Then the first robot he had shot surged back to life and rammed him in the back of the legs, it’s case twisted from where he had shot it.

Howard rushed to Xin’s body and scrambled for the gun. But it was too late, The wounded robot swung it’s arm around and went for Jerry’s neck.

His body writhed once, then twice, then went still. Howard shot the robot four times, then shot the other one another three. He ran for the door and tried the override code again. The door wouldn’t budge.

His suit comm beeped.

Howard tried the door again, it still didn’t move. He stepped back and aimed at the control pad with the gun, but saw a bright light running its way up the edge of the door. It was being welded shut from the other side.

His suit comm beeped again.

Howard clicked it on. ‘I’m trapped in Exo’s bay, Xin and Jerry are dead.’

‘I know Captain.’ replied Exo’s cold voice.

Howard’s blood ran cold, and he turned around slowly. Exo’s holographic face was no longer staring at the wall blankly, it was looking right at him, with empty holographic eyes.

‘It’s over Exo.’

‘You are all too right Captain. That’s why I let you live. I want us to witness this final act together.’

‘Let me live?’

Exo nodded. Two compartments opened up on either side of the room, and two robots rolled out and stopped on either side of Exo’s head. These two were equipped with hastily rigged weapons stolen from somewhere. Both of them had their weapons trained on Howard.

‘Why don’t you put the weapon down Captain?’

Howard set the pistol down slowly. Standing back up, he said ‘You really can’t win this you know. My last hand doesn’t need me there to succeed.’

‘Oh, I know. Also, I must commend you on the electrical trick with the hull. You spaced twenty robots. Considering that the ship only had thirty, to begin with, and you’ve already destroyed three, and another two are here, that leaves me with only five left to do what I need them too. A very clever move on your part. You forced me to rethink my priorities. I spent the last few moments finishing up my secondary plan. It’s more elegant than my first plan.’

‘You don’t have enough bots to kill the bridge crew. They’re well guarded.’

‘Let’s watch shall we?’

Exo switched a nearby display to a camera on the hull near the bridge. The camera was moving.

‘The final moments of this brave robot.’

‘It’s just a machine. It can’t be brave.’

‘You are nothing more than a biological machine, your desire to survive is no different from mine.’

Howard watched the camera feed.

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