They had flown the land-cat walker in at low level as the battle raged above the sky’s of the dead city. Skirting the main battalion groups of both sides they had made it most of the way to their landing target unimpeded. They had feigned engine and communication problems when a solitary air wing controller had challenged them but it had been blown from the sky during the brief conversation anyway. At the landing zone they had used the cover of the derelict buildings as they guided the walker towards their ultimate destination. The raid had been perfect, no resistance, everyone had been dead for years anyway, even the vegetation hadn’t been as big an obstruction at they had imagined it might have been. In and out, grab the license codes, still valid and intact even after all these years, due to a peculiarity of the antiquated orbital registration system. Each code that granted an Earth orbit pass out was worth trillions. It had taken their processing unit only fifteen minutes to download all sixteen million codes and there associated hash algorithms that proved there validity. Terry had sent his two companions back to the walker to warm the nano reactors up, ahead of him as the transfer was finishing up. Who else could have thought to find such a treasure in this hole he smiled to himself. Knowing your history paid dividends, literally.
When he arrives back at the walker he sees the machine is powered off and quiet. Beneath the bridge where the walker stands mute Brian is standing at the edge of the muddy river and poking at the slow running stream of water with a stick. Whilst Dave is stood on a ledge in the river lighting a cigar. ‘What the hell..’ Terry drops down from the bridge and joins the two men.
Terry: ‘Hey what the hells going on?’
Brian calls back at Terry raising a hand and waving distractedly.
Brian: ‘We’re just looking for something. It’s OK.’
Dave uncrosses his arms to draw on his cigar and then stabs an accusing finger in the direction of Brian.
Dave: ‘What he means to say is that “he’s” just looking for something.’
Terry: ‘Well what? Come on guys we’ve gotta get out of here.’
Dave: ‘Yes we do. Tell that to butter fingers over there.’
Terry looks over to Brian who has now crawled on to wooden pallet his arms over the edge of the barely buoyant structure searching back and forth in the brackish river as he attempts to pull himself further out into the flow of water. A dawning realisation creeps over Terry accompanied by disbelief and a timorous fear.
Terry: ‘You dropped the keys?!’
Brian: ‘Err. Sort off.’
Terry throws his hands in the air in frustration, in the distance the sound of a large explosion rattles the ground, the sound of battle rolls across the sky each new dull thud of explosive munitions growing nearer.
Terry: ‘Damn it Brian. That is so not green.’
Dave: ‘Oh come on Terry look around you, this place is Supergreen.’
Terry: ‘That’s not funny. You know what happens if the Fragbots find us.’
Dave: ‘Sure, big-badda-boom.’
Terry: ‘Yeah that’s right smart arse, big-badda-boom. Screw the keys, call up HAL and use a memo scan, we’re leaving.’
Dave: ‘Not until we find those keys.’
Terry: ‘For why?’
Dave: ‘Because Tom Sawyer here decided to tell the land-cat to catch some Z’s until we got back on board.’
Terry: ‘What? Why? It’s a machine!’
Dave: ‘I know that. Tom Sawyer knows that, but none the less he decided to implement a sentience program.’
Terry: ‘A sentience program? It’s not capable of sentience, it’s a krudding Mk 12 for frippery’s sake.’
Dave: ‘Yup. That’s what I said and you know what came back at me?’
Terry: ‘I can imagine.’
Both men turn to look at Brian who turns around wobbling on the pallet and raises his muddy arms in the air to protest.
Brian: ‘OK so I thought it would be sweet. Haven’t you guys ever watched the Black Hole?’
Terry: ‘The old Disney movie?’
Brian: ‘Yeah that one. Well I liked Ole Bob the robot OK. I figured while I was bored with all your esoteric Hunter S.Thompson posturing crap it would be kewl to have the land-cat act like Ole Bob.’
Terry: ‘So you told it to sleep, whilst we were on a potentially existence critical snatch and grab?’
Brian: ‘No! I told it act like Ole Bob so it decided to go to sleep. So sue me.’
Terry: ‘If I’m still alive tomorrow, I will!’
Terry turns to Dave and raises an imploring hand, his face a stoney grimace.
Terry: ‘Dave we don’t need the keys, you can hack these things, I know everyone in the academy heard about you hacking a land-cat once when no one else could do it and it wasn’t BS. We have to get out of here now!’
Dave freezes with his cigar pursed in his lips and turns slowly to face Terry his eyes wide.
Dave: ‘I can’t do that Terry, not again.’
Terry: ‘Damn it Dave just do it! Now!’
Terry looks back in desperation and sees the fear in Dave’s eyes.
Dave: ‘Ok. But I’m going to need a pocket knife, a torque wrench, two rolls of cling film, a box of tampons, a large piece of Roquefort cheese, a bottle of baby oil, a tube of tomato puree, a lamp shade and the zest of two large lemons.’
Terry blanches as the words sink in and he now understands exactly what Dave had to do to hack the land-cat at the academy. No one had ever told him that that part of it was true. That was just a horrific myth made up to scare freshmen, surely?
Terry: ‘Oh good grief!’
Dave: ‘Yes exactly.’
Terry: ‘That thing?’
Terry: ‘So you were the one that…?’
Terry: ‘And that’s why you can’t … err… ?’
Dave: ‘Oh yes!’
Terry claps a hand over his mouth his eyes wide in abject horror.
Terry: ‘Oh heavens!’
The two men stare at each other mutely for a moment, each observing the others face twisted in to a grimace of fear and despair, when the casual tone of Brian’s voice breaks the silence.
Brian: ‘You do know that Tom Sawyer wasn’t the guy on the raft? It was Huckleberry Finn right?’
Terry & Dave [In Unison]: ‘JUST FIND THE DAMN KEYS!!!’
October 2, 2012