By Jordan Taylor
The year is 2076 AD. In this time, man has become a docile creature. A creature herded into submission by mechanical law. However, the linear programming that the system machine created to bring order is failing due to one variable the machines cannot compute humanity.
For the past 50 years a small group of people have drawn close and banded together to fight for a change from within the infrastructure. They yearn for a better way of life, a logical existence. Factions have been created and congregate in total secrecy in unknown places. Their purpose is to find the cornerstone. Find the one place that will collapse the entire system, for nothing built stands without a cornerstone. Their anger is only overcome by their will to exist, and nothing could be stronger.
Deep, down deep, in the sewer network of the city, an old man stands below a dim light. The tungsten-lit rooms walls are the texture of rust, and the color of long-dried blood. Gathered around the old man are people sitting or squatting on the cold, concrete floor. The dim light barely highlights his harsh face. His dirty, torn robe hangs about him in folds. He is rigid in form and his face is severe and animated. The people around him are intent to hear what he says, for he is a seer. He has told them of a time when an angel would come to them and be reborn with incredible power and beauty.
"Shes dead, seer! I saw them take her! Hope is lost to us. This is the eve of our attrition!"
"No. She lives. She lives and she will be greater than we can imagine."
In another sector of the vast underground sewer network, one faction has been tirelessly searching for her. To the seer she is "The Angel." To the men and women of 136 AR, she isMaggie.
"Have any of our ground units been able to locate her?"
"Not in the last 48 hours, sir."
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit!"
Captain Lenaburg paced to far end of the room. Rubbing his eyes he realized for the first time how tired he really was. Forty-eight hours ago seemed a lifetime. He stopped and tried to think where he went wrong. What happened during the mission to cause the snowball of bad luck? All the passwords checked out. Everything was working. Simulations and rehearsals had been gone through over and over. It was supposed to be quick and simple. Later he would think of the lives lost. Later. Right now he needed an orange report.
"Squads Alpha and Delta are 7/7, green, green, amber. Squad Bravo is 4/7, green, amber, red. Charlie Rock is 6/7 "
"I know! I know, Maggie is out."
"She may still be alive, sir. Dont give up on her yet."
"Im not. I just have others to worry about, thats all."
A large viewing monitor popped to life in the ready room. The immense, flat screen was flush mounted to the wall. It had no knobs, no buttons. There was only an on/off switch.
"Check this out, everybody! I think its her!"
There is a low electrical hum before an image slowly coagulates on the screen. The hum begins to decode and becomes scrambled jargon. Soldiers push past each other to see what is appearing on the screen; a path is cleared for Lenaburg. Moments pass and the sounds begin to resemble a news report. The image solidifies.
"Whats going "
"Quiet! Its decoded!"
A holocaster female, dressed in pinstripes and a too-short skirt smiles, into the camera. "This is Programming Channel 5 bringing you the latest update on the Maxi-Security Containment Facility breach."
The camera breaks to a massive structure of steel and concrete. Its face flat and riveted like a strongbox. Sirens wail and red alerts flash in the background. Smoke drifts in and out of the camera, occasionally obstructing the view. There are small squads of spider-like machines crawling about in perfect geometric patterns in front of the structure, executing anti-terrorist maneuvers in a ballet of violence.
"We have live coverage and a correspondent at the scene!"
She smiles brightly.
A well groomed, well-dressed reporter steps into camera view, his plasticity shrouded by his winning smile.
"It is mass hysteria down here at the MSC facility, Linda. Only moments ago did this well ordered facility explode into a structure of crumbling chaos! Informants from within the facility have tipped us that the breach was instigated by the one of the factions; however, no claim has been forwarded. An unknown woman from inside protected walls caused the actual breach. She apparently had been apprehended two days ago during a failed raid attempt by a small militant group. Could we roll the clip?"
The screen flickers momentarily. The old image is replaced by the same view of the structure. The image flickers again to another portion of the structure. Another flicker and a view of the rear docking port. Soldiers whisper and speculate. Though there is no sound, the image shakes so much nothing can be discerned from it. The image flickers to a solid wall lined with a concrete patrol path. The image quakes again.
"Maggie?" the captain whispers to no one.
A blonde woman emerges from a gap in a thick steel door. Handfuls of metal collapse under her grip as she stumbles from the ever-widening portal. The woman falls to the pathway. She grasps at her stomach and its contents spill out onto the ground. She reaches for a light pole that seems to melt to her touch and, gathering her feet beneath her, she staggers away from view.
"Mother of God, thats Maggie!"
"It cant be! No one could "
"Shes so big "
The file footage ends abruptly and the reporter returns to the screen.
"We now have word that the woman has eluded the <enforcers>, and has fled the area. Much damage has been sustained by the facility, from the inside out, and quite a few civilian and system casualties have been accounted for."
The camera pans across the destroyed landscape. It shows images of mechanical bodies strewn across the grounds of the facility. Pieces of the robot enforcers have been thrown about. Craters pockmark the ground in a one hundred-meter radius in front of the exit Maggie forced.
"The system lords have allocated reinforcements for the tracking, apprehension, and custody of the unknown superwoman. We have been informed that two Hunter/Killer modules have been issued for the task."
The camera moves to a close view of the docking port. The large doors lumber open to reveal a dark portal. One of the units nurses gasps as a metal leg emerges from the dark cavity of the building. The ground sinks under its weight. The H/K module slips into the light. The bi-pedal design is surprisingly nimble as it negotiates the debris lying about the ground. Its egg-shaped, armored mainframe swivels, allowing the tracking eye to scan the area thoroughly. Two arms remain tucked to its body. Each carries an array of energy cannons. The camera follows as the two modules step through the crowds of onlookers and demonstrators.
"Now that these two H/K modules are on the scene, we will hopefully see an end to the violence, and our city will sleep in safe comfort tonight."
The reporter smiles.
Images from the facility continue to feed into the monitor. The live coverage of the event continues to be transmitted for everyone to watch. The sounds from the area are still clear and chaotic. Demonstrators outside the facility enhance the madness with their shouts of support for the small victory.
The camera continues to follow the H/K units search. Over the noise and cacophony of the crowd, another riot control unit issues commands to the hostile congregation.
"For your safety, please clear the perimeter. Failure to comply will result in your prompt arrest."
She rushes into a dark alley at incredible speed. Discarded paper and refuse, scattered by her passage, now falls about her. She breathes shallow and quick as another wave of nausea rushes up into her chest. Her knees fail her. Garbage is strewn across the alley floor. The only light creeps around the corners of several variegated structures. Maggies eyes look over her body. Her uniform is stretched and, in some places, torn over her now expansive form.
"How did this happen to me?" She asks no one in particular. The pain, that feeling of sand moving through her bloodstream, is finally leaving her. In its place, there is only energy and power. Maggie gathers her feet under her again and takes a deep breath. Her uniform strains and creaks over her.
The sirens grow louder.
"I need to move." she whispers. "Maybe I can outrun them. Wait I just did. I know I can!"
Maggie feels confidence swell inside her. With it, her strength presses out, filling her. She traverses over the megalopolis with tenacity and stealth, constantly aware of the watchful monitors of the Securitron system. The visible red glow of the camera is clearly conspicuous for one purpose, to maintain order. Everyone knows that they are under surveillance at all times.
Maggie is forced to take flight underground. She propels herself headfirst in a dive through the concrete surface. Breaking through, heavy rebar and cement tear away at her clothes, leaving her mostly bare to the cavernous cold of the sewer lines. She is beyond care. She looks about at her surroundings. Seems the only refuge I can find is among the refuse, she thinks to herself. The sounds of police drones and helicopters are nearly inaudible, though she realizes its only a matter of time before they catch up to her. Maggie proceeds onward despite her odds.
Lenaburg paces the command center floor. The hours pass and he is at his breaking point.
"No sir. Securitron has locked us out now. To make things worse, we cant tap into the feed. The only way we could know is to go get her."
He loves her. He always has, but rank and protocol have kept things strained between them. Never has he had to decide between himself and his men. His men have always come first. He loves her, though.
"Attention, everyone, I need your attention. Lt. Maggie Young is out there somewhere. We all saw the vid feeds from earlier. Unfortunately, weve lost contact visually and her tracking mech is out. Securitron has locked down, so thats not an option left to us. The only one left to us is to get out there and find her, bring her home. Now, this is outside of mission parameters, and Ill probably lose my job over this, but Im going. I cant ask you to join me, but I could sure use the help."
Mazey looks around at the group.
"Sir, we thought youd never ask."
Maggie is alone. Worn and ragged, she rests nearly naked body against a wall. The bricks buckle under her strength, but she doesnt notice. Hours ago, she felt she could run forever. She even thought she might run to the Outer Zone miles from the city. She has been running for so long. Running from the grasp of the H/K units, and evading the scope of Securitron for as long as she can remember.
"My situation isnt looking so great anymore."
A mechanical whirring sound is heard from the end of the sewer channel. Maggie raises her head with a start. Her damp hair clings to her face. The shadows of robotic spiders creep along the wall, their metallic feet tapping against the old brick.
"Time to go!"
Maggie straightens herself up and, looking the other direction, she runs. The passage winds out ahead of her. They close in faster. Her soles have long since worn under her weight and now the ground cracks beneath her every stride. Yet, the spiders close the gap. She gasps as one attempts to press its metal talons into her skin. The prick shocks her and she stumbles into the shallow water. Agile, she rolls to her back. The spider crawls to her stomach and she watches in helpless horror as the drill presses into her abdomen. Sparks blind her in the darkness, but the lack of pain is surprising. She looks curiously as her eyes adjust and another spider joins the first on her thigh, each robot adjusting to find a weakness, but finding impregnable skin. Snapping out of her curious reverie, she swats one away. Then her world becomes a ball of fire, sound, and pressure. The explosion knocks her further into the ground.
"Mmmmm. I forgot they did that. Not that I mind," she says while feeling her stomach. The tapping sound swells forth in a wave from the tunnel behind her. She looks up at the spiders and they stop.
"One of these things is not like the other " she sings and smiles.
They charge at her exploding her into a symphony of moaning and screaming. The walls crumble inward bringing the street above crashing on top of her. After the onslaught everything is still.
The pile moves. Massive blocks of cement shift as Maggie, covered only in dust, emerges.
"That rocked!" She smiles.
She leaps to the surface streets. A cold wind shear blows over her skin. She doesnt notice. Her focus is in the distance. Listening she hears the machines. She recognizes the sounds of the city. The machines are miles away. She has time. She breathes and true exhaustion sets in. Maggie finds an abandoned building to rest herself in. As she falls asleep on the cold, flat floor, she thinks about Jonathan.
Men and women soldiers alike assemble in the holding area. Each one takes their turn looking each other over. Lenaburg waits for the squad ready reports impatiently. Giant space heaters roar to life to keep the chill outside. He looks over to see the windows iced over. He wonders if her new form can survive the low temperatures out in the open air. A quick look at his watch comforts him. The sun will be up within the hour. He remembers a day when night movement was always preferred. With the machine technology, it was a mute point. He called the squad leader over.
"SP is in 15 minutes. Im leaving, with or without you. Move out."
"Yes sir. Okay people, light a fire under yer ass! Move!"
Eight minutes later, they are in formation. Lenaburg gives the command and they stand easy. All eyes watching him.
"Thank you for being here. I know what youre all thinking. 'Why the hell did I get out of bed this morning?'" Laughter lifts the heavy silence.
" I know why I did. Because I had to. So did you. You refuse to be weak, to remain locked inside the fear, inside the machine that perpetuates humanitys ignorance. We fight for those who cant fight. We fight for each other. I promised every one of you that I would never leave any of you out there alone. Today Im keeping faith with that promise. Maggie needs us. Lets go get her."
Maggie awakes and stretches. The sun warms her from a high window. Her dirty, naked body still graceful and strong as she stands. She notices a public restroom and goes to wash the muck and dust from her skin. She begins to feel stronger as her mind wakes. The metal door is slid aside as if it was a curtain as Maggie steps through and starts the water in the sink. She splashes it on her face and chest using paper towel to wash away the dust and soot. Somewhat clean, she looks at herself. Strong, solid muscle drapes over a taller, unfamiliar frame. Her face is the same, if not more beautiful. She smiles and grasps the steel sink. It seems to melt under her touch as she rips the appliance from the wall. As planned, water pours forth from the exposed pipe. Leaning down, she bends the pipe around and molds a nozzle that forces the water to spray her head to toe. She bathes herself happily.
Sirens are heard once more and Maggie leaps out of the high window. She feels the welcome rush of strength as if the sun itself feeds her. She thinks back to the hours and wonders how she ever survived in such a weak form. Luck, she supposes. Maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, I dont need anymore. Now I can truly help, she thinks.
As she eludes the enforcers, she enters another old building. It is dark, cold, and deserted. There is a ray of light piercing the darkness from above. The light exposes rows of old, wooden seats. One row on either side. In the shadows, behind the light, she can see a statue of a man, hanging vertically with his arms spread out from side to side. She knows this image, but its been so long since anyone has seen it. Its visage comes back to her from a childhood memory. She contemplates whether it was a myth a legend of some sort. As Maggie approaches the figure, she views the colored glass on the walls, and the paintings of men with glowing halos adorning their heads. Now standing adjacent to the statue, she extends her muscled arm with a curious hand to touch the tired-looking face of the forgotten man. She looks to the base of the statue at the old engraving. "Lest we forget the lost "
Maggie raises her head to the mans face. The sunlight dances in her blonde hair and clings to her naked skin. She turns to the door and, as she walks away from the hanging figure, she glances back over her shoulder. The dampness in the air appears to be affecting the statue; the beam of light is now hitting his face. Its as though he has been weeping. She looks at the colored glass again. An image of a female angel battling with demonic creatures seems to brighten slightly. Her great sword is held high over her head as the creatures fall at her feet. Maggie looks back to the statue and smiles.
"Yeah, I get it."
"Shit, how far did she go?"
"I dont know. You saw how she moved on the feed, though. She could be anywhere."
The commander raises his palm to the squad. They take to their feet and follow point. With the command element safe in the middle, the group moves, each one staggered to the left and right sides of the city street. The radio asks for a sitrep.
"Were green, command. Give me a feed of the area. Something isnt right."
"I hear you. Its weird. Theres nothing around you. Its like all the machines have up and left town."
"Or theyre all in one place. Now Im really worried."
"Sir! You need to see this!"
He makes his way to the front and stops short of a large crater in the middle of the street. The cold keeps the smell from overpowering their nostrils. Despite the freeze, the water still moves. Large slabs of street have been tossed about.
"You think its her?"
"Could be. I dont know what anything is anymore. Wait, whats that?"
Lenaburg orders a soldier down into the hole. A few moments later he ascends.
"Lemme see that."
"Its ours. Thats our unit patch."
"I can see that." Lenaburg scolds. "That means its gotta be hers, but how? How did this happen? For God's sake, whats going on?"
She races through the streets blowing over people as she passes by. Maggies feet break the asphalt beneath her at every step. The high inner wall comes into view and she abruptly stops, her body snapping into place at such a halt.
"I can make that." She confides herself. "I think I can make that."
She takes a couple of steps back to look up at the high wall many feet above her. The wall separates the humans from the central station inside. Beyond, there is no life.
"I have to make it."
Three large strides carry her to the face. A fourth bound propels her upward. Once again elated at her newfound strength, she giggles. The giggles cease when the wall comes to an end and her jump doesnt. Her feet kick wildly as she begins to see the tops of buildings. Skyscraper windows continue to pass by as she ascends further. Eventually, even they bow to the new goddess.
"Beautiful oh shit!"
The goddess falls. The building caves under her. Those industry machines that are able to clear before they are crushed. The rest join her under the tons of rock and steel. She is the only survivor.
"Okay, that was embarrassing."
Maggie wades out of the rubble into the street. She looks to the large spire at the center of the city. Another look back at the wall, and she turns to her goal.
"Sir! I got her."
"What?" Lenaburg looks to the RTO. "Get over here! Say again, command."
"We were able to press our way into the system. We werent able to fix on her, we didnt want to get tracked, but I know where she is, generally."
"Generally? What do you mean generally?"
"There field of merit is 3, sir."
He sighs and shakes his head. "I guess its better than nothing. So where is she?"
"Shes inside the wall, sir. Shes moving toward the system base."
"Then thats where were going. You hear that, men? Were going inside the wall. If you want to go back, go now!"
No one moves.
"Take us to our objective Alpha team!"
Maggie takes another plasma blast to the shoulder and thigh. The spots glow brightly before dissipating into her body. Small enforcers continue their advance toward her. The crawlers try their drills, which simply wear to a nub on her skin. They explode against her skin, but she doesnt bother to move.
At first she had fought. She had crushed them under her bare feet. Their now fragile bodies had been tossed about like plucked daisy pedals. A group of crawlers were crumpled into a ball-shaped missile to destroy another group of crawlers. They kept coming, however. Large tank like vehicles belched their flames of protest at her. She bathed in the attention. Plasma fire lanced at her face, her breasts, her belly, but she allowed it. She just walked. She would not be stopped, but she knew fighting was pointless. They could make more machines, but they couldnt harm her anymore.
The battery doubled in effort. Bombs fell from two machines resembling helicopters. She bit into one like a piece of fruit as they detonated. The flame engulfed her completely. She emerged from the maelstrom unscathed. To show the flying apparatuses her love she blew them a kiss that had them fighting turbulence beyond their engineering. Mines dotted the road under her feet for all the good it did. Maggie marched forward and smiled. She could beat them and not lift a finger.
She stopped in front of the faceless building. Two massive doors slide open into shadow.
"You dont give up easy do you?" she sighed.
"You sure this leads inside!"
Crawlers line the walls of the sewer duct. Rifle fire echoes inside the cold chamber. Crawlers fall dead into the shallow swill.
"This is it! Keep moving and shut up, were almost there!"
"Bravo, blow the hole behind us! Alpha, take us to the surface! Show me light!"
Maggie stumbles back. The first H/K lowers one of its many weapons at her and fires. The blast melts everything in a radius around her. The other machines scurry away useless. Maggie falls to her knees. The heat has made it nearly impossible to breathe. For all her power, she still needs oxygen. One the giant pods raises a foot to stomp her into the ground. Refusing to fall so easily she raises her body to brace her back into the machines massive weight. Hydraulic muscles strain against her own. Hoses pop and mechanical ligaments bend as the machine fights its losing battle. A wave of pain presses into her again. Maggie gasps and falls once more to her knees. The weight becomes too heavy. The ground pounds into her. She feels her body being compressed against unforgiving walls of rock and steel.
" Rock and a hard place " She strains.
Getting her hands under her she pushes up. The machine topples. Renewed, she looks up to see the second H/K swing around one of the missile pods. Faster than its sights can track, she is on top of the beast. Pieces are torn away as the robot stumbles. Having no true arms, it can do nothing. The first one, now up and alert, brings to bear its cannon. At the last second, Maggie jumps clear of the line of fire. She watches as the first H/K annihilates the other to slag. Her victory is short lived. The first ignores his brother and turns to her.
"I guess you didnt like that, huh?"
"Please surrender yourself and you wont be hurt," it drones.
She stands tall in front of the machine, naked and powerful. The H/K sights in its weapon at her. She hips her hands and stares the cold machine down.
"Bring it on," she challenges.
The whirring signals the weapon charging up. Maggie refuses to move. Without hesitation, the robot fires. The blast washes over her as Maggie stands in defiance. The heat presses into her skin, but she will not be moved. The beam shuts down.
"Use a little too much power on your buddy?" she mocks.
The H/K aims lower and fires. The more concentrated beam pushes at her stomach. Maggie remains unfazed. Tired of the game, she approaches the still firing cannon. Grabbing the hot barrel, she squeezes it shut. The backwash blows the weapon clear of the monsters body. Maggie uppercuts the machine sending it flying into the nearby building wall.
She rubs her chest. "God, that hurt."
Maggie turns to the faceless building. Placing her hands under the thick wall, she pulls with all her new strength. Muscles bunch along her back and arms. Her body tightens hard and her skin stretches tight. The audible sounds of her muscles straining like rubber bands pushes her to double her effort. The building moves. Her confidence builds as her does the power inside her. Her effort is rewarded as the structure begins to rise. Her legs power upward and slowly, triumphantly, the building topples over. The quake is felt all the way to command. Maggies scream of victory is heard for miles.
Their firing now ragged, Lenaburgs team surfaces. The machines have become scarce, but they still keep them at bay. Tired, he wipes his eyes. The aged warrior, who has relied on his eyes and ears his entire career, now wonders if they can be trusted.
She turns to see Lenaburg running up the war-torn street. Face to face, even as she looks down at him, she smiles at him.
"About time you got here, commander."
"I did the best I could."
"I know, Spence."
"You look good."
"Thanks. I think Im going to just take a nap "
Lenaburg moves to catch her as she falls into safe arms.
"Things are going to be a bit different from now on, huh?"
<Your report was very interesting, commander.>
<Im glad you think so.>
<You know theyll want to meet her.>
<Im aware of that.>
<You dont approve? You know why-.>
<Look, just be sure shes treated right. Shes not a lab rat.>
<Shell be treated fine. Besides, if what you say is correct, well be at her discretion.>
<You have no idea.>