This world is created with each daily #vss365 prompt word. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Join my Twitter talk for updates on the next story.
“I remember the bistro where we had talked all night and laughed. It isn’t there anymore, you know. The Robot Corps changed our city as they passed through. You haven’t laughed the same either.” Naomi set flowers next to his Namestone.
She glanced up and around the memorial with a strong grip on her gun.
Golden skies poked her instincts. Evening sun fell below the horizon. Night-storms were brutal, and mostly, unavoidable. Mama and she needed safety before the stars twinkled above and cold overtook the peace.
She headed back to her armored RV. Her attention drifted over other Namestones; different sizes, different names. No memorial could accurately define the heartwrenching reality caused by the Imperial Accession on this Earth.
This used to be a park. She smiled in morbid thought as she stepped off the grass and onto an unpaved road where old, forgotten drone parts rusted.
The weather held nice, a brisk Spring evening, despite smoke darkening the clouds from a nearby battle in Laumont City. She had grown up in the southern part of the city since the age of twelve. She had met Hal at the age of twenty. Her mind drifted back to those nights in the Knock on Wood bistro three years ago while she walked.
Hal had always ordered a cinnamon coffee cake. He hated coffee but drank strawberry iced tea. They sat at an intimate table next to the front windows. They had held hands resting on the table as the street lights switched off. They had started their days this way for a year before the attacks. Every time they left the shop for their jobs, her breath had stopped until they had returned for dinner.
Now, she started her days with a cold Grievance 350 in her hand.
Hal had surprised her with the extravagant defensive weapon and got captured a week later in this battle on Marigold Hill overlooking Laumont a year ago.
The Imperials had crept up on everyone over a two year period, even their creators. Guilt had motivated the creators into rebellion. The rebellion crumbled cities with chaotic battles. Naomi lived in the aftershock like most of the other powerless people on the planet. They were ill-equipped to take on such a powerful army.
She shook her head out of the memory.
Light flashed from Mama’s g-Tube tablet on her lap in the distance. Naomi focused on the confident voice of Merl Bosenhowern. He reported on the Imperial Accession; where they were headed and what to expect tomorrow. Mama lounged in a fold-n-go chair while she watched her shows.
Naomi’s footsteps crunched on gravel when she circled around Mama. “Mama, lisenen to that doomsday speak is taintin your brain.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with learnin’ currant affairs.”
“Well, bring the g-Tube inside. Nights fallen and those nanite ticks are commin,” Naomi commanded and she climbed into the safety of their iron-plated RV.
The RV housed Naomi, Mama, and two other people. At the front door, two captain chairs flanked a set of four stairs to the main living area. A nice couch and third captain chair led into a full kitchen. A bathroom and a staircase to the second floor bookended a short hallway. A door at the end of the hallway leads to Mama’s bedroom.
The push-outs and rising ceiling helped make the small space more like a land home, but most land homes were great targets for the Imperials and looters.
Naomi placed her weapon in a cubby next to her heavy armor while she remembered the home they had lived in for a short while before the looters had threatened the two women with a fate worse than death. They had taken to the road, embraced each other, and survived for two years without direct contact with the violence around them. Naomi knew her mother couldn’t handle more violence. Truth be told, Naomi’s anxiety kicked when she imagined skulking looters.
They kept away from the cities and suburbs these days.
Mama trudged inside, locked the bolts on the door, and set her chair in a spot to the left. Her show was still playing as she held the g-Tube tablet in her hand. She settled on one cushion of the three cushion sofa.
“Them Imperials are commin, baby.”
“I know, Mama. The nanite ticks are scoutin’ in the storm tonight. They’ll break afore the Robot Corps come and the Imperials follow, you know. We’ll have to set out tommarra before they get here. Been nice visitin’ Hal. Thanks for lettin’ me park for a bit.”
“No worries, baby. We all needin’ closure where we can git it.”
Mama refocused on her show as the storm outside started. Coin sized nanites pinged the iron walls like hailstones. When Mama heard the attacks, she got anxious. Naomi grabbed headphones and jacked them into her g-Tube.
“Here ya go mama.”
Mama smiled. “Thanks, baby.”
Mama had scars on her neck and cheeks from a nanite attack back in the day. Naomi rubbed the marks on her own shoulders from her battle with them a few months back.
If those nanite ticks dug into someone’s neuro systems, well, there were few who resisted reprogramming.
The nanites had sharp feet that cut into human flesh while they climbed towards the spine like baby spiders hungry from nesting. Most went for the base of the neck where a lump of neurotransmitters controlled the human body, but some nanites were happy to drill those feet into a spinal cord without hesitation.
Everyone had scars now from yanking the scab makers off before they hit their marks.
Naomi shifted to the kitchen and opened a cabinet where she flipped the switch to her generator. During the storms, the nanites targeted generators knowing there was a human attached in some way, trying to stay alive. Her RV electric systems stored a charge for all night use plus one big surge for the morning.
She closed the cabinet. A framed picture of her and Hal shined among others of people she had loved in the past. Technically, they were still alive. They worked as Imperials with nanites controlling their bodies. Slaves for Progress (SfP), Mama’s news called the captured.
Naomi’s fingers caressed the lines of the picture of Hal and her smiling. They had stolen a date night in the city on their last anniversary, this picture had captured the lovely mood. They were totally different people in that picture. She sighed, tore her attention away from the picture, and glanced at the ceiling.
Ping, ping, ping, the nanite storm has begun!
It was going to be a long night with the nanites testing the iron walls of their RV. Mama and she wouldn’t chance traveling during the storm despite knowing the Robot Corps followed next. They had tried escape once before, but they needed an open window for driving and that became a vulnerable spot while in transit. The danger proved more taxing than waiting for the storm to clear. Naomi rubbed her scars again.
She grabbed her headphones and jacked into a virtual world helmet. It helped pass the nights like this where her loneliness outweighed her drive for preparation. Instead, she headed up the stairs to her room.
Her large bed remained made from this morning. She had clothes in a closet on the far wall. A g-Tube tablet hung on the wall at the base of her bed and she loved the cedar chest she used as a table opposite the closet side of the room. She walked a few feet then dropped onto the bed. After prepping her pillows, she slipped the helmet on.
She couldn’t afford a bodysuit which added total immersion into the virtual world. No worries, her helmet got her what she needed anyway; an escape from the Imperial Accession.
Naomi tore off the helmet and sat up. Her heartbeat quickened in her chest.
“Yeah, Mama, I’m comin,” she said exploding off the bed. “What is it?”
“A man on the security cameras,” Mama called. “He threw an ebomb.”
Naomi hurried down the stairs. She glanced over Mama’s shoulder while they studied the west side camera. Naomi said, “What’s he want?”
Mama laughed. “Inside. Lookit, he’s dead if we don’t let ‘im in.”
“I don’t wanna,” Naomi said ringing her hands. “It’s risky.”
“I know, baby, but I ain’t watchin him die tonight.” Mama said. She looked over her shoulder at Naomi with big blue eyes. “His ebomb won’t last much longer. Those nanites will dig into him sooner than later.”
“Watch your language, baby.”
“Fine, Mama,” Naomi said. “I’ll git him. But if he turns out to be like the last one, that’s on you.”
“Baby, we handled the last one.” Mama smiled.
Naomi fed off Mama’s confidence. She draped her chainmail cowl around her neck and grabbed her loaded Grievance 350. She stepped out a side entrance and into a charged room where she opened a slim outside door. Stairs unfolded from the footboards.
The custom room held an electrical surge she could disperse throughout the silver walls with the smack of a switch. There were two entrances bookending the room that folded in on themselves for closed road travel. Mama had designed the room back in the day for meet and greets eliminating threats of ticks on strangers. The walls hummed with a low charge that would make any nanite jump and try to run. Mama was quite the engineer.
“Hey, Guy, come in here,” Naomi yelled.
The Guy appeared from the RV’s back end. He approached with caution.
“Don’t shoot me an’ I won’t shoot you,” Naomi said.
Guy held his hands up, palms out. His weapon rested crossbody with a strap. He wore a loaded utility belt. His boots were well made and caused Naomi to grip her weapon tighter. New boots were hard commin’, she stepped back. Guy climbed inside and closed the door.
She lifted her finger and made a gesture for him to turn.
She zapped a nanite-tick from his shoulder with her bracelet buzzer, she wore it all the time.
“Damn!,” He said, “Thanks.”
She shrugged. The bracelet buzzer was another of her mother’s inventions. She snagged the acid spray hooked on her waist, nobody went without a small vial on their person, and coated the technological tick with it. The thing smoked as it disintegrated into vapor.
He continued, “My name is Cosmic.”
“Diga,” she greeted. “What are you doin’ out in this storm?”
He faced her and dropped the neckerchief from his face to his chest. “It’s a long story.”
She considered his well-shaven chin, kind blue eyes, and blond hair under a silver hat sculpted cowboy style. He seemed athletically built under his thick jacket. His clothes were tattered but not torn. He had some nice choices of weapons, which meant he was smart.
“Give me the short version.” She said.
“I knew someone captured in the battle here and got caught by the storm while I was visiting.”
Her heart clenched. She narrowed her eyes on him. “When was the battle?”
“A year ago from last Tuesday.” He said. “What’s your name?”
“Naomi,” she said. “Take off your bulky coat.”
“Naomi is a good name. It means pleasantness.” He shrugged out of the partially silver woven jacket and removed his hat. His shirt was mended in a few spots. He wore a sweater-vest and his dark curls fell loose around his head, not quite reaching his shoulders. He had scars on his ears.
“Where’d ya git those boots?”
He considered her from top of head to neck. “I’ve got a friend in the city. He makes nice things. I could direct you to him and he would craft you a pair.”
Naomi opened a cubby door. “Slide your coat and hat in there.”
“Will I get them back?”
“Yeah, I ain’t lootin’ ya. Just protectin’ what’s mine,” she said.
“Fair enough.” He set his things in the cubby and closed it.
“Lift your feet, make sure there ain’t scab makers in your treads,” Naomi said.
He chuckled. “Accurate description.”
When he seemed clean, she dropped her weapon more to her side. “Are you hungry?”
She lifted her eyebrows.
“Like I said, I got caught in the storm. I’m not here for any other reason.” He rested his hands on his hips and glanced around. “I’ll be happy to wait here while it passes. Thanks.”
“We ain’t barbarians,” she said. Naomi opened the door into her RV. “Come on. The storms just startin’. It’ll be a few hours yet.”
Naomi stepped up and into the RV. She removed her mesh cowl and set it in the cubby with her weapon. Cosmic closed the door and smiled at Mama. Naomi said, “This is Mama.”
“Mister Cosmic, was it?” Mama shook his hand. She headed to the kitchen. “Want some sweet tea?”
“I don’t want to put you out, ma’am.” He said, “And it’s just Cosmic.”
“They all call me Mama,” she corrected his ma’am. “Ain’t puttin’ us out none. Gittin some for myself.”
She went to make her tea and Naomi gestured for him to sit on the couch. “Now, tell me the long way of how ya got caught in the storm.”
He rubbed a spot on his shoulder. Blood seeped through the threads of his thin shirt.
Naomi stood, stared at his blood. “Ya got one ya?”
“No,” he said. “It’s from a few nights ago.”
“Caught out again?” Mama said from the kitchen with a shake of her head.
“Not exactly,” Cosmic answered. He dropped his hand and leaned back a bit. His attention scanned the inside of their RV. “Looks smaller from the outside.”
“That’s the point,” Naomi said.
“Imma guessin’ your ebomb stopped emmitin’ electric pulses,” Mama said. “Good thing we got ya in here afore that happened.”
“Thanks for your consideration. I won’t be much trouble.” He rubbed his neck.
Naomi headed to the medicine cabinet and dug out a pain pill. She handed it to Cosmic. He looked at her sideways, she shrugged. “It’ll help with the soreness. Take it or don, but ya got it.”
“If we were tryin’ to kill ya, boy, ya’d be dead already,” Mama said with a giggle.
Naomi smiled. “Or we’d left ya out there.”
“Fair enough.” He swallowed the pill dry.
Mama brought over glasses filled with sweet tea. Naomi took a chair and Mama took a seat on the cushion farthest from Cosmic. Mama handed out the glasses. “Now, who ya visitin’ out here?”
His body stiffened. He lifted his eyebrows at Mama.
Naomi said, “She was lisinin in through security microphones from the silver room.”
He dropped his stiffness, nodded, and drank the tea. He settled more into the couch. “My sister was captured on this hill in last year’s battle. We were out for a walk. I hadn’t seen the stars in a while, living in the city. I only went out during the day when the Corps recharge.”
He yawned. “My sister was almost ten years younger than me. We took a…bus. It was her birthday. She wanted…”
His eyes drifted closed.
“Mama!” Naomi sniffed the tea. “Ya put booze in there.”
“Thought we could use sumethin’ to break the ice, baby.”
“Mixed with the medicine I just gave him?” Naomi shook her head. She swore.
“Language, baby.” Mama admonished.
Naomi woke to her alarm playing If Your Happy and You Know It. She slapped the alarm on her pocket watch. When she blinked into focus, her body jostled. She sat up. The RV was on the move. Naomi yelled, “Mama?”
“Mornin’ baby,” Mama yelled back.
Naomi slid her feet off the edge of the bed and into her boots. She hadn’t changed out of her clothes from last night, fearful of the stranger sleeping on their couch.
“Why are you drivin’, Mama?”
“The regimes came early, baby. Din’t git time to wake you.”
Naomi’s insides stirred. She hustled to the closet where she had a peephole to the outside, enough for a gun. In the near distance, tall white and black robots marched in a row. Their red laser eyes scanned everything within their parameters.
Robot Corps traveled in groups acquiring nanite captures by activating a secondary program in the scab-makers. The secondary program shocked humans into submission and messed with their minds.
Whenever a Robot Corps were present, they overwrote freedom for servitude.
“Nice call, Mama.” Naomi closed, locked, the cubby hole. She headed down the stairs surprised Cosmic remained knocked out on the couch. “He might’ve someplace to be.”
“Ain’t back there right now,” Mama said as she shook her head. “I’m hopin’ he was alone, or whoever was with him, got outta there.”
“Me too, Mama,” Naomi said. “I’ll make some coffee and take over.”
“Sounds good, baby.”
Mama had a few hours of driving in her, but Naomi knew the RV better and drove most of the time while Mama chilled. Sometimes Mama read to Naomi while she drove. Those were the best times, listening to her voice. Freedom was a gift, not an entitlement.
Naomi made a mental note, they needed more coffee. That meant a scouting trip to the city. She sighed while she poured water into the maker. The idea of scouting for supplies made her skin crawl but she couldn’t send Mama into such a dangerous situation. All the people looting made Naomi sick to her stomach.
She started the coffee maker and tied her hair into a bun at the base of her neck. Today they needed to find a new campground. The Imperials moved from site to site, like everyone on the road. Avoiding them seemed like a full-time endeavor lately.
Mama started talking, she couldn’t drive long without having company. “Remember a time when ya could go outside n play, baby?”
“Yes, Mama.” Naomi didn’t hate the stories. She struggled with the reality that it all had changed in such a short time.
“Nun us knew what those engineers were up too…” Mama started saying when Naomi glanced at the couch where Cosmic remained sleeping. Naomi couldn’t understand how the man slept through the jerking and swaying of the RV.
Cosmic awoke at the point Mama hit the epoch leading to robot domination.
“…just cause we could make ‘em smart robots don’t mean we shoulda.”
“Technology does a lot for us, Mama. The Imperials are edge cases.”
“Are we running for fun?” He asked.
The RV jerked, Naomi stumbled on her feet. Coffee flew everywhere and Cosmic, on the couch, unfurled.
“Hold on, baby,” Mama yelled from the driver’s seat. “We got contact!”
Naomi glanced at the security screens. She gasped at a new type of robot beside them.
“What is that?” Cosmic said from the couch staring at the monitors.
A robot with six legs, multiple bubbled eyes, and a metal scaled body clung to the side of their RV.
“An upgrade! Reach for somethin’,” Mama said right before she jostled the wheel.
Naomi and Cosmic toppled in the RV as Mama tried shaking the upgraded robot off. Cosmic fell to the floor, Naomi landed on top of him. Wind knocked from her lungs and she gripped the cloth of his shirt into her fists. His blue stare locked with hers for a brief moment, awareness in her chest jumped. She snatched her hands back and shoved off him. When Naomi regained her senses, she glanced at the monitors again.
She said, “Mama, it’s gone.”
After a moment, a silver spike breached the floor from beneath the RV.
Mama said, “Nope.”
The RV floor wasn’t iron-plated and the robotic claw tore it apart. Mama lost control of the wheel as the RV separated. Naomi screamed, spun into the opening.
Her fingers grasped for something strong. Cosmic’s grip wrapped around her palm. She glanced at him before their hands slipped apart and she tumbled into a metal cradle. The robot claw let go of the RV right before it closed a wall, capturing her alive.
“Nice trick!” she yelled.
Her fist banged against the metal walls around her, sweat built on her forehead, and she hated that her bare feet scratched along the metal cocoon. Her heart beat faster when the cocoon fell. She imagined the robot let go of her RV, there wasn’t room for one more.
She grabbed her belt buckle and unfolded her metal cutters. The sharp nose-tip might cut through the creature’s walls. A hearty stab at the capsule resulted in pain radiating along her arm and shoulder for no gain.
Something burned her bicep. She shrunk away from the red flash of heat. Her breath uneven, she watched the red flash move down the side of her body. Panic ran her mind into the wall of being captured. Her luck from an inevitable reprogramming as a worker for the Imperial army finally ran out.
The red flash finished where it started and flamed out.
“Kick it through!’ A muffled voice said.
Not needed more direction, the relief of escape, she kicked the plate with all her might. It took three solid kicks and the metal flew off revealing a smiling Cosmic. He offered a hand which she took. With his help, she sat on the outer rim of the creature’s backside.
Cosmic grabbed her arm. “Jump!”
He nudged her, she exploded off the robot and rolled on the ground. She glanced back.
Cosmic rolled a few feet from her until he stopped.
The robot continued on its way as if it hadn’t lost the catch in its belly.
She shoved off the ground.
Cosmic hurried to her side and said, “That was close.”
“Thanks,” she said. She kissed his dusty cheek. “How did you get me out of there?”
He lifted a hand torch, folded it back into a belt buckle, and snapped it onto a plate at his waist. “Never leave home without it.”
“I got to git me one of those!” She smiled. “Now, how ‘bout that coffee?”