Chimera and the Shrubbery
Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics
Dribbling trickles permeated through the holes dug beneath the ground. Hastily installed light fixtures blinked erratically. To those who had the ability to smell it, fetid liquid flowed from pipes, the type of waste products that were created when guns were molded together, or when old parts were melted for scrap.
It was the sewers, and it doubled up as the jail cells.
Jeremy awoke, and the first thing he saw was unbreakable iron bars crisscrossing all around him. Soon his other senses came online, and he heard the steady dripping and sniffed the refuse. He grabbed his head.
“Awake?” came a voice, blurrily, drifting into Jeremy’s ears.
He looked down to check he still had arms. He did. He carefully made sure to activate all of his touch sensors, and he regained feeling in his whole body. He looked through the bars and saw Sasha, in the cell next to his. She was not pacing about nervously, looking for a way out, as he had half expected. She was sitting in a corner far away from him, staring at him with what he could only perceive to be a look of hatred.
“I don’t remember the past few hours,” stated Jeremy, his modulator fuzzy, as if it had been bashed about. For all he knew, it had. “Did I activate my sleep cycle?”
“Some sort of pulse fried your circuits for a time. Non-lethal. I’ve seen it before: we used it in training.” She looked like she was going to say more, but she stopped herself, and resumed her glare.
Jeremy got to his feet. Scrapes along all his limbs, but nothing serious. “I’m sorry, Sasha.” He walked to the bars and clutched his hand to them.
“Well!” Sasha’s eyes grew narrow. “I expected you’d be far too stubborn to actually apologise.”
“You’ll take a while to get to know me.” Jeremy offered a smile, but it was not received well.
“I certainly won’t, not anymore!” Sasha leapt to her feet and flung her fists through the air. “One day of active duty, and that’s how long it takes you to get me arrested, thrown in a cell. Now we sit and await sentence. This is just too much.”
“I’m honestly sorry, Sasha. I didn’t invite you to come.”
“I only did come to try and talk you and your braindead friend out of it!”
“Maybe if you hadn’t, then the guards wouldn’t..” Jeremy’s voice trailed off. He stopped talking.
“Don’t even go there.” Sasha scraped her hand across the bars angrily, sending sparks out. “One second you’re apologising, the next you’re blaming me?”
Jeremy was at that moment thankful that he had a set of iron bars separating him from the fuming Sasha. He recalled now that the guards in the archive room did enter just after she did. He did not see any plus side from bringing that up though. He said nothing.
He wandered over cautiously to where Sasha had her back to him. “Your wound.. are you okay?”
“What do you care?” she spat, and stormed away, clutching her side.
Jeremy sighed, and cricked his neck. “Sasha. Don’t be such a child. Come over here. Let me see.”
Sasha spun around and screeched. “You do understand what you’ve done, right? Just by being associated with you, I am probably never even going to get to tell my side of the story. What if they decommission me? You’ve had your life, but what about me?”
Jeremy frowned. “You think I want to die?”
“And now you call me a child! You were the one breaking the law!” She stopped and tried to flush the strong emotion from her system. She found it difficult. “What were you doing in that room anyway? Why did you care about the Guardians enough to break into the archives?”
Jeremy shrugged. To be honest, he wasn’t completely sure. It could have been something about that graveyard full of parts, where he’d found Denver’s disembodied head. Or it could have been the staunch nobility from Papa that he somewhat admired. To protect one’s homeland no matter what; it was a feeling he could relate to all too well.
Sasha let her hands fall to her sides, and her spindly body shuffled over to the bars. “I know. They kinda got under my skin too.”
“We were going to be reassigned. Me and you. To another base.”
“I didn’t think I’d have another chance to find out anything about them.” Jeremy moved closer. “They killed my partner, Sasha. I just wanted to know.. why. There has to be more of a reason behind it. I couldn’t just accept the fact that they were just creatures. They are not like us, but they speak our language. There has to be more to it.”
Sasha nodded. “To be honest, half the reason I was going to keep quiet about their existence was not just to cover you. I wanted to protect them. They aren’t bad.”
A thousand memories of Denver appeared at once in the surface of Jeremy’s mind, and he shuddered. “I’ll reserve judgement for now.” He reached through the bars and gently took Sasha’s hand. “Let’s see that wound.” He paused. “Partner.”
She snorted. “Don’t push it.”
The wound was far more serious than Sasha had let on. Her memory and personality was all perfect and intact inside her head, but the hole in her side had disabled much of her fast reflexes, and even moving across the cell was difficult for her. It took Jeremy ten minutes (and much difficulty, given that he was poking both of his arms through holes in the bars whilst Sasha kept fidgeting) to rewire past as much of the damage as he could. At the end, she flexed out her arms and did a quick handstand.
“Okay, you’ve done a pretty good job,” she said, padding around on her hands. “Why didn’t you become a doctor?”
Jeremy rubbed his nose, embarrassed by the compliment. “You know how it is these days. Either you sign up for the draft, or you live your life as a second class citizen. It doesn’t matter how much good you do as a doctor, an architect, an engineer.. if you aren’t a soldier then you get no respect.”
Sasha returned to the right way up. “Some of us don’t even get a choice,” she hummed. “I was built for war.”
“What else would you want to do?”
Sasha paused. “I never thought about it.” She shrugged. “And before you get any ideas: no, I don’t forgive you yet.”
“‘Yet’ implying that you will forgive me in the future. Right?” Jeremy grinned, proud of his work.
“Only if we don’t both get executed.”
“Okay. I can work on that. As long as I get to speak to Vato before any rash decisions are made, I can talk our way out of this.”
“Would you stake your life on that?”
Jeremy pondered. “No. I wouldn’t. As much as Vato respects and likes me, he is an unpredictable old sod. Hell, he’s reckless. I’ve only been under his command for the past couple of years, but that’s long enough to be able to tell. He is always trying to make a name for himself, as some kind of war hero. He doesn’t care who he gets killed along the way.
“You know, I remember a week ago, when he first announced that he was moving his entire army down south to set up a new base in new territory. We thought he’d lost it. We thought he was acting against the High Council.”
Sasha scratched her head. “But he must have had Council approval: because the Council sent me and my classmates down as reinforcements.”
Jeremy nodded. “Yes, I suppose so. But my point is, I can’t rely on him to spare our lives. We might just have to escape.”
“Another of your secret schemes!” Sasha said, attempting to sound disapproving. But, against her will, her mouth formed into an excited smile.
They started by exploring every cranny of their cells. The bars had been thrown up, as jail cells were standard part of any base. The reality was that placing their own soldiers under arrest was something that commanders almost never did, aside from the night in the cells that occasionally came when petty squabbles turned into fistfights. However, despite how little use the jail cells were thought to see, they were built impenetrable. Not even a construction automaton, built for hauling huge girders, would have the strength to tear through the solid bars. The gaps between the bars were large enough to reach an arm through, but that was all. After picking away desperately at the floor and walls for an hour, both robots collapsed to the floor, exasperated.
“Where’s your friend, Beetlebum, anyway?” Sasha said after a few minutes of silence.
“You tell me.” Jeremy glanced around at the few other cells in the underground hollow, but all were empty.
A short gust of water came gurgling down the river of sewage and off, coming from the darkness on one side of the room and dribbling away to the other side. Moss had already started appearing on the newly paved ground.
“So.” Jeremy got to his feet, trying to keep focussed on escape. “We have no satellite access down here. Probably a cheap jamming device. Better than the alternative, which is cutting us open a ripping out our transceivers. Good thing they didn’t do that, as they’d have to get past half of our basic systems to do so.”
“You really know a lot about .. innards, don’t you?”
“It comes in useful now and then.”
“But it’s not useful now.”
“Just then, then.”
Another fresh wave of green liquid rolled down the stinking river. As the water washed away, it deposited a small object on the muddy shore. A black slimy ball of hair sat quivering, drenched in a tar-like substance. Slowly, carefully, the ball unfurled.
“Rascal!” screeched Sasha, running over. “Dear me, you look awful! You need a bath.”
The tiny mole scampered up to the bars and stuck a red tongue out at Sasha in defiance.
“What a smart animal!” Jeremy extended an arm and tickled underneath the creature’s chin gently. “And so far from home! How did you find us?”
“No eyes- he must make up for it with other senses.” Sasha looked on jealously as Jeremy hogged the attention of the animal. “He certainly likes you, Jeremy.”
“He’s got good taste. Say, what’s that the little guy is holding?”
Rascal eagerly held out his paw and proffered a tiny metal cylinder.
“Looks like a backup battery.” Sasha regarded the item with bewilderment. “Where’d you get that from, eh, Rascal?”
Rascal hopped and squeaked in reply.
“The sewers must directly connect to the spare part assembly line,” Jeremy guessed. He contemplated, his parts vibrating with excitement. “Say, Rascal, can you understand me?”
The creature whistled and nodded his head.
Jeremy turned to Sasha. “He must’ve picked up the basics of our language from those Guardians you’re so fond of, Sasha. But if our furry friend can bring us an item or two, I might just have a plan!”