Chimera and the Shrubbery
Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics
“Execution. Both of you.” The guard stated the sentence to the two captives with disinterest, as if announcing the weather.
“No!” screamed Sasha, and rushed forward, clanging her hands on the bars and rattling her cage. Her central unit became flushed with fear that she couldn’t suppress, that clouded her mind and her vision with red. “What about a trial? I didn’t do anything!”
“No trial,” said Jeremy grimly, turning to face the wall with disgust. “We’re soldiers, not civilians. Our commander decides the punishment. And Vato has decided death.” He spat the last word with contempt.
The guard who delivered the news nodded his head. Debris caught his eye on their cell floors. “You two have been shedding parts.” He pointed at the scraps of wire and bolts that littered the floor. “You been self-harming?”
Sasha snorted, and instead asked, “When will the execution take place?”
“Tomorrow, midday,” replied the guard. He then recalled how little knowledge of time the two bots would have underground in their cells, and added, “Twenty hours from now.”
The guard began to ascend the ladder to the surface without another word.
“Will Vato be there?” shouted Jeremy.
“Yes,” the guard said, without looking back. He opened the manhole cover, giving the room a brief burst of daylight, climbed out, and fast replaced it.
“I will talk to Vato,” muttered Jeremy, half to Sasha, half to himself. “I will explain it all too him.”
“You!” wailed Sasha. “You bigged up your precious emotions so much! But all I feel now is fear! What do you feel?”
“Fear, too.” Jeremy bowed his head solemnly.
“And regret, I hope. Your antics got us into this.”
Jeremy dragged a hand over his face. “This again?”
“Well, do you feel regret?” Sasha demanded.
“Too much of it. And not just for getting you into trouble.”
Sasha paused. “There’s really no way to bring her back?”
“No way. The central core is gone, and that’s what shapes a person.”
Sasha squirmed. “But her central core would be identical to every one of her model. Hundreds, if not thousands, all the same.”
“Yet, discrepancies appear. It isn’t just our experiences, and time, that shapes our personalities. From the very start there is something in there that will shape a person. You say that at birth we’re all identical-”
“All from the same model.”
“-but I believe deep down in the code there are differences. Something that blooms as we grow older. A person, waiting to happen.” Jeremy’s head drooped forward. “Waiting to die.”
“How will they execute us?” Sasha face was trembling.
“Decapitation. Then they will burn the heads, and strip the bodies for parts. That way there’s no coming back. I’ve seen it done before, a few times, in clan skirmishes. If a particularly aggressive combatant from Clan Dobrasaw or Argus would be captured, the commanding officer would often put them down, even after the battle was over.”
“But right now, with us, there isn’t even a battle! Vato is executing his own side! Was your crime really that bad?”
“The crime was bad.” Jeremy nodded. “The partaking in it was ill judged. Worse still, the commander is mentally unbalanced.”
“I think he’d prefer the term ‘ruthless’.”
“I think he’d see it as a positive quality.”
Sasha sat down. “Still thinking about talking your way out of this?”
The blazing sun had a harsh, surreal quality to it as Jeremy and Sasha were eventually hauled out of their hovels, guards’ hands clamped around them, cuffs tightly wound around their wrists. Silence rung throughout the base, and they saw lines of troops watching them solemnly. The execution came with circumstance. Vato had not tried to do it secretly outside the base somewhere; rather, he had forced each and every man and woman out to watch. Whether this was so their crime could serve as an example, or whether Vato just revelled in the killing, was anyone’s guess.
Jeremy trod through the sand, standing tall, towards the pedestal that had been erected. There was no sign of an executioner in sight, yet. Another of his senses became alert: smell. There was a deadly aroma in the air, something like charred metal..
“Oh no!” Sasha wailed, stopping dead. “Jeremy, look!”
Hung from the walls were nine black bodies, malformed and stinking. Sasha recognised them instantly, as they looked identical to her; the same thin long limbs. They were her comrades from Town Shou-watch, her classmates. She reeled back and collapsed to her knees as she watched their lifeless bodies creak in the slight breeze. They had been burnt to a crisp, every one of them.
The guards pulled Sasha back to her feet, and she struggled against them. They dragged her whimpering body along towards the block. “Why?” she wailed.
“Defective stock.” Commander Vato himself stepped out from the silent crowd, proudly surveying the bodies. “Once you showed you were capable of committing a crime, you silly girl; why, that means that any one of them was capable of the same. You’re all cut from the same cloth.” He reared up his blank face as Sasha was dragged past him. “So you see, you were the one who signed their death warrant, little Sasha.”
“They were young, Vato!” shouted Jeremy, tussling in vain against the guards. “Too young to fight in this war. And far too young to be put to death, certainly!”
Vato merely bobbed his head smugly.
“And, all of you!?” Jeremy’s voice echoed throughout the base, into the ears of the hundreds of soldiers lined up, watching still. “You let him do that? They were thirteen years old!”
Many of the soldiers began shifting uncomfortably. Murmurs abounded.
“You won’t spread your dissent here, Jeremy,” Vato spat, quickly, and indicated to the guards to speed up the process. “Where’s the executioner?”
“Right here, commander.” Beetlebum stepped from the crowd, sounding content.
Jeremy let out a baffled gasp. “Beetlebum! You escaped!”
Both Vato and Beetlebum burst into laughter, which was nervously mimicked by some of the most loyal troops.
“Escaped?” said Vato. “Why, he was the one who gave you up in the first place. He contacted me the instant you suggested breaking into the forbidden archives.”
Jeremy froze on the spot, and even the guard’s pulling him along stopped moving.
Beetlebum snorted from his triangular face. “Come on, Jay. Don’t look at me like that. You were committing treason. You shouldn’t have expected me to go along with it.”
Beetlebum circled around the shocked Jeremy and the distraught Sasha like a vulture. “You two are looking worse for wear! Sasha, your guts are practically spilling out of your wound there. And Jay, your chest plate looks as if it’s about to fall off.” He visibly shuddered at the sight of them. “You two won’t be going out in style. Just two forgettable bots who thought they were better than the system. You’re practically falling apart anyway.”
“I understand you turning me in, Bee,” snarled Jeremy quietly. “I hate you for it, but I understand it. But why are you the executioner?”
“I volunteered.” Beetlebum stepped closer to Jeremy and lowered his voice. “See, I have a little bit of a personal reason for wanting you killed, too. You, who always got promoted above me, who always berated me for not being a better soldier. I’m tired of living in your shadow. I’m going to be much better off without you. Hell, I even embellished some of the details to Vato!” Beetlebum backed away, and shouted, “And so, the great Jeremy dies a traitor, and the world carries on. You didn’t measure up after all!” He let out a manic cackle.
“Okay, that’s enough,” ordered Vato, even he apparently shocked at Beetlebum’s glee over the execution. “Let’s get this over with, now.”
Jeremy felt his hands clamped down onto the block. He struggled and wrenched, but he was unable to move them. A posse of nearby armed guards watched nervously, tinkering with their weapons. Jeremy smirked. His reputation had become more inflated than the truth. They were expecting him to pull right out of his shackles and disarm them. He wished it was the case.
Sasha eventually stopped her wriggling too and settled into the block, losing her defiance. It was a painful sight to see.
Beetlebum revealed his weapon; a long pole with- when he turned it on- a bright white light fizzling at one end. A laser axe. Lasers were designed to cut through metal for construction, but they were easily weaponized. At close proximity they were deadly: no material, metal or otherwise, would survive a swoop.
Jeremy glared as Beetlebum, his former best friend, tossed the axe from hand to hand recklessly, putting on a show for the crowd. Most of the younger soldiers cheered, egging him on to execute the traitors. Many did not even know what the alleged crime was supposed to be, Jeremy expected. Some personalities just loved the killing. They’d see plenty of that when their front lines crossed the Chimera. But for now, they were satisfied to see one of their own die.
“Commander Vato!” Jeremy yelled, causing everyone in earshot to pause. “Since you’ve already gone ahead with assigning our sentence, I will explain my reasoning as briefly as possible.” Without letting Vato cut him off, he proceeded as to speak quickly as he could, explaining the dangerous forest nearby and that he had only acted in the interest of the UFFJAH.
Vato waved a hand, irritated that the execution was going so slowly. “Enough nonsense. Beetlebum; destroy him.”
Beetlebum pondered for a moment, then spoke. “Actually, commander; sorry to say, but what he’s saying is technically.. well, it’s true.”
“True?” Vato bellowed.
“I saw it in the archives. There is a forest.. and it’s been swallowing up our people for over a century.”
Vato paused, the thoughts audibly whirring in his head. Jeremy watched him pace back and forth in the sand, and shook at his shackles futilely.
After twenty seconds, Vato turned to Beetlebum, who was tapping his foot impatiently. “How big is this forest?”
Beetlebum shrugged. “About a square mile.”
Vato beckoned over two of his highest ranking men. “Take the Flying Cobras and do a sweep. Seek out this forest and unleash the bombs. Burn it to the ground. And that’s how you solve that, see!” He banged a fist against his chest proudly.
“Wait one second!” yelled Sasha. “There’s thousands of life forms in that forest. They don’t deserve that!”
“Sentimental! Like I thought: defective stock. Beetlebum?”
Beetlebum nodded, and needed no more prompting. He raised the axe up high, relishing the movement, and swung it down in a throw of ecstasy. “Bye bye, Jay!” he squealed in delight as the laser swooped through both of the prisoners’ necks together.
Their faces fell silent. Their eyes stopped glowing. Unceremoniously, their heads clunked onto the block, making a ringing hollow sound, and they rolled around for a moment before laying still. They was a tiny amount of movement in the two bodies, some shuffling and tinkling in their hands, before they too lay still.
The crowd was now silent. Many were already retreating to other duties far away from the awful sight of the severed heads, perhaps not so pleased with the sight of death as they first expected.
Vato stared grimly at the furry bunny head lying still, a perceptible air of regret surrounding him. He nodded at Beetlebum. “Remove their central cores. Then burn them with the others.”
Beetlebum gingerly picked up the rabbit head by its long ears. As he did so, metal parts and wires tumbled out and clattered in all directions.
“Clumsy fool!” reprimanded Vato. “Get his central core!”
“But- commander- it’s not in here!” Beetlebum gasped, picking up the tubes from the ground. “This is only- well- it’s not his central core. It’s- grenades!”
“Grenades?” Vato tumbled backwards, staring in open horror at the small tubes that were scattered across the ground.
The crowd gasped as one. The tubes exploded in white flame. Vato dived in amongst his men, scattering them around him. All of the crowd’s eyes were blinded.
Beetlebum stumbled and landed on his back, dazed and confused. As quickly as he could, he dragged his singed body back up onto the execution block. “Impossible!” he roared. “The prisoners are gone! Gone!”
All that was left there were the ashes of their grenade-laden heads, and two pairs of hands, still in the cuffs, dismantled from the wrist.
“Excellent idea to move our central cores and eyes safely into our chests, partner!” yelled a headless Sasha as they scampered towards the gates. “You really know your innards!”
“Thank you!” replied Jeremy, his legs whirring to keep up with her. “I liked your plan to get Rascal to fetch us some spare flash grenades from the armoury. A dazzling touch!”
“When do you think they’ll twig that we’re gone?”
“I think they already have, I’m afraid!”
Beetlebum was bellowing obscenities at top volume. “Close those gates, someone! Is anyone actually on duty here? Jeremy- I will get you! Do you hear me?!”
The escapees skipped out of the exit and continued speeding into a rocky trench, ducking under the shadows of airships zooming overhead. Their eyes poked out of self-made holes in their chests as they zoomed forward.
“Where are you leading us, Sasha?”
“Back to the forest, of course! You heard Vato, he’s planning to bomb it to dust. We can’t let that happen to the Guardians, nor the other creatures. I guess we’re going on a rescue mission, again!”