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D'Arc - Series Intro

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posted on Mar, 18 2017 @ 08:06 PM

D'Arc (Intro)

From around the corner came a soft mechanical hum and
click. Then another.

Blast, Tepa thought as she crouched, back against a crumb-
ling wall. A bead of sweat found it's way past her brow and
rolled into an eye, but she dared not wipe it away, lest the
furtive movement be heard.

“We’ll be best friends,” an unseen voice said.

Fleeing should be the only thing on her mind, a wild run out
into the open where she might stand a chance. But.


The sounds and the voice did not go together. As Greenly,
the most experienced of the Collectors, liked to say: The
times they are a changing.

He was right, and this... she absolutely had to risk a peek.
Glancing back where she had entered, a hole in the building
wall, she calculated. It was about fifteen feet away and led
outside. But there was another wall, cinder block, right
there, so she’d have to hoof it another twenty between
them to actually get clear.

Too far. Too long.

She bit at her lower lip. Not being detected would be pre-
ferable. If she was, well... she had the D’arc cannon. That
would mean unslinging it from her back and bringing it to bear
in close quarters.

A crap shoot either way.

Trembling, she shifted her weight, leaned out, and craned her
neck until she could see around the corner with a single eye.

The room was a disaster. Tattered remains of Prepoc luxuries
were strewn everywhere- mostly trash that no Collector would
bother with, including a battered sofa leaning on two remaining
feet, it’s fabric faded to a fleshy tone that made it appear a
bloated corpse.

Another click and hum.

Right in the middle of the mess, a Player hunched on it’s cords,
spider-like, and scraped through a pile of silver discs. Across sat
a faux furred toy bear, it’s back to her.

As she watched, a disc was picked up, deemed too broken and
tossed. The bear pushed another in front of the device for
inspection, and after finding it acceptable, the Player loaded it
into it’s front slot.

Someone gasped.

Tepa’s eyes widened. Not someone- she had.

The bear’s head swiveled around, body motionless, until it
reached an impossible angle and fixed on her with it’s glowing
but lifeless eyes. “Wanna hug?”

...continued in next post.

posted on Mar, 18 2017 @ 08:16 PM
“Gah!” Tepa swore as she pivoted into the room and, in a long
practiced motion, unslung the D’arc cannon, flipped the safety
and squeezed the trigger. Jagged flashes of energy crackled
out, mini lightning bolts that flicked back and forth, until one
struck the bear, making it emit a squawk and fall over, face

As for the Player, it moved so fast all Tepa could do was wave
the cannon in it’s direction as it leapt onto the ceiling and
darted forward.

Tepa dumped the weapon as the crackling sparks died out. It
would take a moment to recharge. A moment she didn’t

Doubled over, chest heaving, Tepa spun in a slow circle, Blunder-
gauss at the ready, and waited. After dropping the D’arc cannon,
she’d shucked her pack and left it there too. Once through the
hole, rather than skirt the cinder block wall she’d vaulted it, a
possibly she hadn’t considered without the adrenaline coursing
through her.

A minute passed. Two. Five.

Where was it, she wondered.

Spotting any motion was made all the more difficult by a light
breeze; unkempt bushes wavered, overgrown weeds swayed,
scraps of fabric and plastic fluttered from their perches in a leaf-
less tree.

From out of a thick patch of quackgrass, the black rectangular
creature made an appearance, limping as though stricken.

Tepa took aim, waited for it to get in range, but the Player staggered,
fell to it’s side, then rolled over, it’s cords and wires curling up, dead
spider like, and laid still.

Tepa relaxed. What a relief. She’d hit it after all. Still ready with
the double barreled weapon, she nudged the creature with her
booted toe, but it remained inert.

Time for dissection. She knelt, fished out a pliers and flat screw-
driver, intending to split the plastic casing in two. The greenboard
within would yield gold, the wiring other metals, plus there would
be the big payoff- chips (or what the salvagers called processors).

“Wanna hug?”

The question sent a chill through Tepa’s spine. Turning she saw
the bear marching closer. It’s scraggly brown fur was singed and
one eye had gone dark and dangled by a wire.

She spun, reaching for the Blundergauss, but as she did, the Player
came alive, flipped upright, and shot a silver disc out of it’s slot,
clipping her in the forehead.

As she fell the world slipped into slow motion: the shiny projectile,
broken in half, tumbling through the air spraying her blood from it’s
edge, the Player leaping forward and wrapping it’s wiry appendages
around her neck- a powerful choking grasp that immediately made
her tongue protrude.

She didn’t recall hitting ground, but as her arms flailed at the
Player’s casing, across the raised letters that read Blu-ray, her
sight grew dim, and the bear loomed into view and rasped one
final statement.

Bear: “It’s nappy time.”


"Wot's that, Grand pappy?"

"A motorcycle," came the distracted answer.

"Wot's that, Grand pappy," the little girl asked as she pointed at
another picture.

The book in question had been scavenged only a week ago, but
the elder was already beginning to regret it. "A car," he said
after glancing at the page. Then, when she pointed again but
before the question was asked, "And that's an airplane."

"Hairpane..." the little girl repeated as she studied the gaily
colored marvels surrounded by smiling cartoon style characters.

The elder didn't bother to correct her, no point.

Making a decision, the curly haired child stated, "I wanna modo-
sickle, and-a car, and-a hairpane..." She looked up with a raised
eyebrow- it wasn't quite a demand, more a challenge.

"I'm sorry," the elder said, making the little one's face switch from
hopeful expectance to a bitter frown. "Only the Prepocs could
use those things," he continued. "But now, it's all merely junk, or

The little girl turned the page, the final one, and across it and
the inside back cover was a drawing of the Earth, or rather, a half
circle of it; blue water with green squiggles of land. Above, some-
one had added a crude lightning bolt and awkward letters that
spelled D'Arc.

"Wot's that?"

The elder sighed then glanced at the image. "Nothing lasts forever,
sweetheart," he said. "Not even the paradise of the Prepocs."

"Wot happened?"

As his chin drooped to his chest, Grand pappy’s eyes gently closed -
the shock of the world changing event flooded back. He'd been
this child's age when it happened. Afterward, there was no
explanation, only rumors and conjecture- and little enough of that.

In this instance, a simpler answer would have to do:
"It all came to an end," he said, "by a bolt out of the blue."

end intro

posted on Mar, 19 2017 @ 03:02 PM
part one

"You okay?”

Drawing a sharp breath, Tepa’s eyelids fluttered. Around her
stood a blurry group of people. She groaned and rolled over
to her knees, reached for her neck to relieve the pressure
still there and found a single wire which she peeled off with
a grimace.

“We thought you were done for,” another, much younger
voice chipped in. “What happened anyway?”

Her vision clearing, Tepa realized there were only two sets
of legs, and all around them were scraps of plastic casing
and pieces of torn faux fur. “I’m not sure,” she said as she
clambered to her feet and focused on the two men.
“Greenly?” she stammered in recognition.

Greenly gave the slightest of nods, then stooped to pick up
half of the bear’s head. It flapped like an empty bag, all
the techknow gone, so he tossed it to the younger man.

His son, Greenly Junior, caught it, shook it himself, then used
it to point at Tepa. “Someone sure saved you, looks like.”

“Yes,” Tepa agreed. The two creatures had been thoroughly
dismantled. Most of the wires were gone, all of the green-
board, and of course any chips they’d contained. “Greenly.
The two of them, a Player and techknow bear. They were
working together. Cooperating.”

Greenly didn’t react to the revelation, but merely asked,
"Tepa. Where’s the D’arc cannon?” His eyes slid to his son,
and they exchanged a critical glance.

“Gah!” Tepa swore.

They duck walked to the tree decorated with garbage, with
Greenly giving a hand signal to stop while he surveyed the

The house wasn’t much to look at. A two level, mostly wood
with a six foot line of brick around the bottom. The roof had
collapsed into the second floor and a fire had left black streaks
on the back corner. A seven foot high decorative cinder block
fence surrounded it- it’s pattern allowing them to see through
to the hole Tepa had entered through.

Junior sidled over to Tepa and whispered, “Shouldn’t treat a
cannon like that. Last techknow the Prepocs ever made. No
one even knows how many are left.”

Tepa looked away; she didn’t need to be admonished by a boy,
but he continued to press.

“I’m turning sixteen tomorrow. Soon I’ll get my own cannon,
after First Time.” He reached out and stroked the D’arc
weapon slung across his father’s back. “Ain’t no way I lose
mine like you did.”

“Oh shut up,” Tepa snapped as she threw him a glare. “This
is probably as far out as you’ve ever been...”

Greenly cut the chatter with a flap of his hand and said to
them, “As I see it, there’s two possibilities. First, there’s
more creatures inside. That seems unlikely because you’d
be dead. Second, there’s a Collector in there, kifing your
gear. Seeing as he hasn’t made an appearance, it’s probably
someone we don’t know. Meaning danger.”

Junior made a show of checking out the abode, bobbling
his head this way and that, then settled down and said,
“Can’t see nothing, Pa. What if he’s done left already?”

“Good point, son,” Greenly nodded in approval. “So.
What do we do in this situation?”

Junior unslung his blundergauss and rested it across his
knees as he pondered the question. A full minute passed.

With an annoyed sigh, Tepa reached for the weapon and
said, “I’ll just-”

Greenly grabbed her wrist. Held it there. And to Junior,

After sliding away from Tepa, along with the gun, Junior’s
eyes lit up and he blabbered his answer, “Send Tepa in first?”

“That’s right,” Greenly answered.

Tepa freed her arm with a twist and made a move for the
blundergauss again. “That’s what I was about-”

Junior pulled away, shaking his head. “Nope. Nuh, uh. Your
gear is inside. Maybe.”

The duo followed Tepa as far as the hole, and after she
disappeared inside, Greenly turned and said, “Always remember
the Collector credo...”

“Look out for number one,” Junior said. Then, once he’d seen
his father’s approval, he added the joke often heard from other
Collectors. “Or you’ll find yourself going number two.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Greenly muttered.

Tepa appeared in the opening, her hands empty. “The cannon.
My pack. Everything. Gone.”

“Too bad for you,” Greenly said as he stood upright, pulling
his son with him. “I suggest you spend some time searching
the area. As for us, we’re overdue at Silo.”

“Overdue? For what?” Tepa asked.

Greenly flipped a thumb at Junior. “His first time is coming
up. And I have a feeling there’s going to be a vacant Collector
position in the very near future. Good luck.”

Lips pursed, Tepa fumed as she watched them go. Greenly
could be right- D’arc cannons weren’t owned, they were
loaned. Same for the blundergauss, though they weren’t
nearly as rare.

But there was no way she was wandering around unarmed.
One more quick look and she’d head back herself.

Disgruntled Silo authorities be damned.


Much later in the day, Junior sat by the fire and used a
small stick to tease the coals in it’s deepest parts. They had
started out heading back to Silo, but after an hour they’d
taken a sharp turn south without his father saying why.

Normally, the detour might not have meant anything unusual,
but once they’d settled and build the fire, Greenly set about
inspecting and cleaning all of the guns and gear. All the while,
Junior’s stomach began to clench, tighter and tighter.

Junior: “We’re not going back, are we?”

“Nope,” Greenly answered as he polished the field glasses.

“But you told Tepa...”

Greenly gave one more rub to a lens then put it back in it’s
case. “Remember son, the whole world is still in competition
with itself.” He stared into the flames for a moment then
continued. “Dreams can still go up in smoke. Imagine if we
stumbled on a great find, and someone, like Tepa, followed
our back trail. What would stop her from claiming it herself
first chance she got?”

“So, say one thing, but do another?” Junior asked.

“Good boy,” Greenly said. “Besides, I already spoke with Bo
from Silo- we’re doing your First Time a day early.”

Junior had been sitting cross legged, but now he drew them
in and wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked gently.
At the moment, they were surrounded by countryside not
dissimilar from what Junior had grown up in. Fields and fences,
leafy trees and bushes, there was even a farm visible in the

Tepa had been correct. The broken down house had been
as close to the remains of the Prepoc world as he’d ever
been. But in less than a day, just hours even, he’d be
headed straight into the middle of it all.

It was a strange feeling, knowing that the previous civil-
izations wonders lay out there for the taking. Exhilarating
even. Too bad it was tainted by the techknow horrors that
lurked there.

“Pa, I’m afraid.” Junior whispered.

end part one

edit on 19-3-2017 by shlaw because: corrections

posted on Mar, 25 2017 @ 02:41 PM
part 2

Greenly's eyes snapped open the very instant he heard
the mechanical click, despite the fact he’d drifted into
a deep slumber. For one terrifying instant he thought
he had faltered. He’d left Junior to guard, but they
were much loser to danger than the boy knew.

Another click followed by a metallic ping- and as he lurched
up to a sitting position he let out a sigh of recognition and

“Sorry, Pa.” Junior said. In his hand was Greenly’s coveted
lighter, a zippo collected two weeks ago. Junior flipped it
closed and after a few seconds flicked it against his trouser
leg, like he’d seen his father do, once to open, the second
to light.

Annoyed, Greenly held his hand out for it. He had no idea
how long the relic would last. “Don’t waste it, boy.”

Reluctantly, Junior returned it, but not before taking one last
look at the etchings on either side: In God We Trust, and on
the reverse a dollar sign.

Junior: “Was that their God?”

“I suppose so,” Greenly answered as he tucked it away.
“Didn’t do them much good, did it?” He got to his feet,
stretched, took a good long look around, and after deciding
the threat level was low, started to gather his things.
“C’mon. Rusty Road awaits.”


Much to her chagrin, Tepa found herself returning to Silo
empty handed.

When she got to the top of a meandering ridge line, the fort-
ress came into view below. Actually the installation was
completely underground; what gave it away was the gaggle
of carts and tents crowded around and above.

The tantalizing scent of cooking meat wafted up, along with
the not so tantalizing stench of sweat, beasts of burden, and

Tepa let her gaze drift across the horizon. Past the milling
crowd, over the bushes and fields, to the hills and what lay
hidden beyond.

Maybe she should just keep going, Tepa thought. There were
other Silos. Places one could start over again. She let out a
long, glum exhale. Had she made a mistake? It was ill advised
to collect in such close quarters, but she’d done it before.
Sometimes the best relics were found where others dare not

She kicked a lump of dirt and swore. Right now Greenly was
probably telling Junior how terrible she was at collecting.
Like he never had any mishaps along the way. He never even
listened when she told him the creatures had teamed up on

She swore again, then headed down. At the very least she
should inform Lambert. The times were indeed changing.

Falling in beside a trundling cart, Tepa looked up to see a
girl’s curly blonde head peering at her over it’s wooden side.
Small fingers appeared and wiggled a greeting.

“Hi, Tepa.” Lux said.

Her father, Beeyar, tugged on the reins, bringing the mule
and the load to a stop, and after shifting in his seat, said,
“You look a tad light.”

Her face turning almost as red as Beeyar’s hair, Tepa grimaced,
then said with a shrug, “Got cleaned out. Long story.”

“Always is,” Beeyar said. “Guess I won’t ask if you have chits
to buy a bag of my apples or turnips.” He flicked the reins
to get underway again. As the cart clattered by a turnip and
two apples fell off the end. The gir, Lux, put a hand over her
mouth, an oops gesture, then waved before climbing up beside
her father.

Tepa scooped up the gifts then waved back, grateful she still
had at least one friend.

After making her way through more than one curious stare
and the odd accusing glare she approached Silo’s trading post.
This was not one of the traveling traders, nor one of the
regular stalls, it was where Collectors cashed in their finds,
or gained access to Silo itself, or reported any important
news. Such as the loss of a cannon.

“Where’s your D’arc cannon?” were the first words out of Bo’s
mouth. He was a portly middle aged man, grizzled and un-
kempt, which was odd for a Silo denizen. Like most here, he’d
never done a day of collecting in his life. Tepa resented the
tone of his question.

“Gone,” Tepa grumbled. “I was jacked.” The small lie wouldn’t
matter. Bo was not the one to be concerned about. It was his
brother and installation overseer, Lambert.

“Oh, Lambert’s going to want to see you,” Bo nearly chortled
as his belly bobbled.

“Fine.” Tepa snapped. She headed for the sunken stairs that
led to the massive entry door.

“Whoa,” Bo said as he stepped around the counter and laid
a hand on her shoulder. “He’s busy with Big Brain right now.
You wait.”

Tepa brushed of his hand then settled down into the dirt
right there. If previous experience was any indicator, she
might be here for a while.


"Incredible," Junior gasped.

A long line of rusting vehicle husks snaked before them,
down a long stretch of dust coated asphalt. There must be
hundreds, Junior marveled. Thousands. In some spots the
metal skeletons lay only two deep, but in others, six.

The curious scene reminded him of the many small hills at
which he’d spent many an hour, just staring. “Ants, Pa. The
Prepocs. They traveled together like ants.”

“I suppose they did,” Greenly said. “We call this the Rusty
Road. If you look hard, you might spot the once mighty bridge
that leads to Shard City.”

Junior raised a hand to shield his eyes, and traced the line to
where it vanished in the distance. “Can’t see nothing, Pa.”

“Not unusual,” Greenly observed. “There’s a fire in Shard that
some say has been burning since D’Arc. On a bad day the haze
is quite thick.” He shifted his pack, double checked that the
cannon was charged, then said, “C’mon. You haven’t seen
nothing yet.”

Even the skeletons had skeletons.

Junior crept up to a car frame and peered at the human
bones inside. Nary a scrap of flesh or strand of hair remained,
and this one’s skull was laying in it’s bony lap. He tentatively
rested a hand on the flaking metal door, and when he lifted
it, found a red brown streak across his palm. After wiping it
on his pants, his eyes went to the next car, and the next.
“So many,” he wondered. “All alive and the next moment...”
He snapped his fingers to finish the statement.

Greenly didn’t answer back; his own wonder had died many
years ago. Not only that, but somewhere nearby, he could
hear a rasping sound, like a twig rustling against the window
of their cabin. But, rather than sounding random, this sounded...

With a sharp wave, he caught Junior’s eye, gave the signal to
be ready for anything, and the two crouch walked between the
husks, searching.

end part 2

posted on Mar, 25 2017 @ 10:02 PM
bah... sorry about the mistakes guys.
I really hate the limited edit window.

posted on Mar, 28 2017 @ 09:16 PM
Part 3

"How's" it dangling, partner?”

Bo looked up from the box he’d been rummaging
around in, saw his friend, Chockler and returned
to rummaging. “Not funny. Cords and wires...”

“...are explicitly banned from Silo,” Chockler
finished for him. “I know. I know.” He brushed
his hands against his pants, though why was hard
to say for sure- Chockler was the terminally dirty
type. He poked his nose into the box. “Whatchoo
got there?”

“Prepoc treasure,” Bo confided with a wink. He
drew forth a plate, it’s edge slightly chipped,
and waved a hand across it, presentation style.
“Feast your eyes on the King of the Prepocs.”

Chockler let out an impressed whistle. Painted
on the plate was a picture of a man with an overly
coiffed hairstyle. He appeared to be singing.
Above the portrait was a name- Elvis - and below
him, a declaration- The King.

Bo wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulders
and reeled him in close. “And because we’re such
close mates, I’m willing to let you have this one
of a kind relic for a mere twenty chits.”

“Gee..” Chockler mused as he admired the offering.
It was an awfully good price. Making up his mind,
he dug out a twenty chit piece and handed it over
with a grin. “Done.” He huffed a breath at his
prize then rubbed off a smudge with a much too dirty

Bo: “No refunds.”

Chockler: “Refunds?”

Bo dug out another plate, identical but with it’s
own assortment of chips.

“Hey, you said this was one of a kind,” Chockler

“It is,” Bo insisted. “And if you want your investment
to retain it’s value, you’ll ignore the other nine I’ve
got in here.”

“Right,” Chockler said, though his puzzled look indicated
he was still wrestling with the logic. Out of the corner
of his eye he spotted one of the traveling merchants
approaching, a regular named Ash. “Here comes a mark
now,” Chockler whispered.

“Gentleman,” Ash said as he pushed up his wide brim hat,
and nodded at the two friends. He adjusted the sack slung
over his shoulder then motioned at the box. “Anything

“Nope,” Chockler said as Bo stashed the box behind the
counter. “But feast your eyes on this.” He presented
the plate as Bo did moments ago. “Looky, it’s the king
of the Prepocs. A rare thing this. You ever see the

Ash, unimpressed, cleared a nostril with a rough sniff.
“Why yes, indeed I have, chap. Twelve hundred of them
as I recall. Salvaged from one of those huge rectangular
metal boxes Prepocs used to haul stuff around.” He
kicked a heel against the other, knocking off a bit of
dirt, then added, “One on it’s own might be worth a few
chits, but with that many floating around... have to say
it ain’t worth chit.”

Chockler: “Ah, chit.”

Bo winced at the assessment, then said, “You’re not
staying around for long, are you?”

“Nope,” came the satisfying answer. Ash hefted his
sack onto the counter and it landed with a metallic
clink. “Just came to sell this vintage piece of
techknow, if the price is right.” He upended the bag
and a silver toaster plunked out trailing a three foot
black cord, it’s plug end still intact.

“Gah!” Bo and Chockler both swore as their hands went
up in terror.

“Kill it before it mates,” Chockler yelled.

Bo ducked under the counter and came up with a D’Arc
cannon stashed for just such an instance.

“Whoa, whoa,” Ash said as he pushed the weapon’s barrel
away. “Take it easy. I’ve checked it out. There’s no
greenboard. No chips. Just sweet, sweet, techknow.”

“What is it?” Chockler asked as he poked it sharply
and just as quickly drew his finger back.

“Don’t know,” Ash admitted. He worked the lever on
the side and added, “Look. You push this down and
the wire mesh in the two slots narrows.”

“Hmm,” Chockler hmm’d. He wiggled his fingers, weighing
the threat, then stuck his hands into the two slots.
“I figured it out. They’re electromittens! Boy those
Prepocs were smart.”

“Huh,” Bo said at the revelation. He narrowed his eyes
at Ash. “I’ll trade you nine Elvis plates for it.”

Ash: “Don’t even...”

"One hundred chits,” Chockler crowed after Ash had
taken his leave. “What a steal.”

“Well, we’re the only ones with working power sockets,”
Bo reminded him. “What else was he going to do with it.”

“We should try it out,” Chockler suggested. He glanced
around furtively. “Where’s Lambert?”

“Tending to Big Brain,” Bo said. His eyes slid to Tepa,
still sitting in the dirt not too far away. “Hey, you.
Watch my stall. We’ll be back in a bit.”

Tepa: “Gah...”


Back at his rig, Ash walked completely around it, looking
for any sign of mischief. Everything appeared in order
and in it’s place.

The four mules hitched to the front of the reclaimed tow
truck shuffled restlessly. While the vehicle was a mere
skeleton of it’s former self, it was still very massive,
which was perfect. Such a heavy rig was less prone to
being boarded and galloped off by would be thieves.

As for the so called electromittens, he wasn’t concerned
about trading them away. He’d found something much more
interesting last trip. And that was locked away in the
metal box that was welded to the back of the cab, under
the makeshift canvas canopy.

He climbed into the back, rubbed his palms together, then
unlocked the chest and peered within. An instant later
his face was lit by a soft glow from within.

The how, what, or why, he didn’t know, but one thing was
for sure- the times were indeed a changing.

end part 3

posted on Apr, 13 2017 @ 07:06 PM
Yeah, OK shlaw, I'm glad I took the time to read this. I love it - you got me hooked.

I hope there's more coming! What does Ash have? What happens to Tepa?

You have a great drip-drip style that keeps me reading for the next nugget of the story. Nicely done so far!

posted on Apr, 13 2017 @ 08:52 PM

originally posted by: PrairieShepherd
Yeah, OK shlaw, I'm glad I took the time to read this. I love it - you got me hooked.

I hope there's more coming! What does Ash have? What happens to Tepa?

You have a great drip-drip style that keeps me reading for the next nugget of the story. Nicely done so far!

Thank you for the read and comment, glad you like it!
I have good news and bad news.
Good news is there's over thirty parts already written and waiting
for re-edit to comply with ats terms and conditions.
Bad news is I'm working on a different project for the next couple
weeks, so until it's complete there will only be a trickle of updates
for D'Arc.

Thanks again!

posted on Apr, 14 2017 @ 08:44 AM
a reply to: shlaw

Mornin' shlaw - I can wait. I'm a pretty patient guy, most of the time.

posted on Apr, 14 2017 @ 10:25 AM
part 4

After polishing the apple, Tepa took a bite and instantly
regretted it. She was stressed, not hungry, but if she
didn’t finish it would go to waste.

The foot traffic into Silo was constant: Traders, Guild
members, Officials from abroad. More than a few were
curious newcomers paying to see the last still working
wonders of the previous world.

As a Collector, Tepa didn’t need to pay to get in, and
had seen it all many times. What she did appreciate was
the creature comforts within- running hot water, flush
toilets, actual lights instead of candles or fires.
And then there were the beds. The one Tepa had slept on
still had a label on the side that promised it was like
sleeping on a cloud. She believed it.


A drumming of fingers on the wood counter broke her out
of her reverie.

Standing impatiently at Bo’s stall was another Collector,
Soot. Though Greenly was considered the best and most
experienced, Soot was the oldest and one of the first.
Some said he was also the end result of collecting for
a living: Crazy as a loon.

Tepa grimaced as she got to her feet. If true, it wasn’t
something she looked forward to.

“Holding the reins are you?” Soot cackled as he hefted
two sacks up. “Well step up then, I’ve got trading to

Reluctantly, Tepa stepped behind the counter as Soot
set a sack in front of her with a clunk then leaned
forward, resting his gnarled forearm on the rough wood.

A satisfying description of Soot had eluded Tepa for
a long while until, in a moment of inspiration, she
decided he resembled a dying tree, including the bark.
He was the walking definition of gaunt, with knobby,
knot like joints, and his skin... well that was the
bark part; scabby, peeling, with red blotches over
all. What remained of his gray hair was, of course,
the bird’s nest that had long been abandoned.

She set the half eaten apple down and peeled down
the edges of the heavy bag to reveal... rocks.
Half a dozen of them, each as big as her fist.

She looked up, an eyebrow raised, and said, “I don’t
think Bo buys rocks, Soot.”

“Good,” Soot said as he slapped the counter. “Cause
I ain’t selling them. I’m storing them.”

Tepa: “You want to pay to store rocks?”

“You’re dang right I do,” Soot snapped. “Otherwise,
some wise acre will kife them, and what will that
leave me with? Nothing!”

It was a fair point, Tepa had to admit. Soot had lost
his cannon and other gear years ago. Stolen by some
miscreant, but he’d refused replacements, and now did
his work with next to nothing, which was as good as
nothing as far as she was concerned.

She sighed. Another thing to look forward to.
“Fine. Ten chits.”

The payment was made and the bag stowed, then Soot
pointed at the apple. “Don’t mind if I do.” He
stowed it in a front pocket and after patting the
bulge he grinned. “Be some good pocket cider in a
week or so.”

The other bag came next and landed on the counter
with a wet and disturbing plop.

Tepa winced. Something was terribly wrong. A tentative
peek inside confirmed her fears. She twisted away and
with a loud bark expelled the little bit of apple she’d
managed to eat earlier.

“Bo does not buy...” She flapped her hand at the bag,
as she fought back what would likely be a dry heave.

“Well aren’t we prissy,” Soot said. “It isn’t just...”
He flapped his hand as Tepa had, then continued, “There’s
greenboard and chips too.” He raised his voice so any
bystanders could hear his wise declaration. “I’m not
going to walk around with a bag full of loot, just to
have it kifed. The safest place for it is right here.”
He patted his gut. He leaned in again. “Now me and
Bo have an understanding.”

Bent over, wiping her lips with a sleeve, Tepa spotted
the box with the plates. She’d overheard Bo and Chockler’s
conniving earlier, even flinched when the electromittens
had been presented. As far as she could tell, the plates
within were worth crap.

“Have I got a deal for you,” she said.


Greenly swore under his breath. They’d chased the
noise along the line of gutted cars, heard it grow
louder as they got closer. Then... it just stopped.

Both of them were filthy from leaning against rusty
metal, and though Junior showed no sign of tiring,
Greenly’s knees were on fire.

Time to quit fooling around.

He stepped into the open, between two of the reddish
husks. Not much moved. Junior joined him and for
a long moment they just stood there, waiting.

“Weren’t nothin but the wind, I reckon,” Junior
said, his voice soft, just in case.

“Not the wind,” Greenly disagreed. He pulled a lever
on the side of the D’Arc cannon, and when the green
charge light turned a flashing red, he said, “Now pay
attention- usually this takes a few seconds to recharge,
but it can be put into overcharge mode for a short time
when needed.” He motioned for his son to stand clear.

Greenly swept to and fro with the gun, walking as he
did, making sure to hit every vehicle as he went.
Fingers of energy crackled out, somewhat more subdued
than a regular shot, and traced their way all around
until disappearing.

After a half dozen shots, covering over thirty or so
vehicles, the weapon’s light flickered and went out,
and it’s high pitched hum diminished to silence.

“Huh,” Greenly muttered. He’d been sure there was
something lurking...

“Hey pa!” Junior called out from further up the road.
“Look what I found.”

Greenly trotted over and crouched down beside his
son, who had a bright grin on his face. On the cracked
pavement was a small pile of loot: Bits of gold chain,
a couple gold rings, even small chunks of broken up

“My first haul,” Junior crowed. “You never told me
collecting was this easy.”

Greenly shifted uneasily, his boot heels grinding loudly
on the ever present grit. No sign of another Collector.
No sign of a struggle. No nothing. And no sign of the
sound they had pursued either.

“It isn’t,” he said without elaborating; no point in
splashing cold water over his son’s elation because
of a gut feeling.

Greenly: “Consider this a freebie, son. Stow it, and
let’s get moving.”

end part 4

posted on Apr, 15 2017 @ 06:48 PM
part 5

“Wot you got ‘dere?”

Ash slammed the lid to the metal box, slid the latch bar
through, then turned, expecting the worst. A curly blonde
haired girl, maybe seven or eight years old, looked up at
him over the edge of the flatbed. He let out a sigh of

“Nothing,” he said as he slid over and eased himself down.

“There was light,” the adolescent pressed.

"Uh... I lit a candle in that there box." The lame explanation
hung in the air like a rancid fart, so he attempted to clear
the air a bit. "I like to read. Stories. Inside boxes. Very
private. Can I help you with something?"

"You're weird," his visitor said, her face scrunched up. "Can
I pet your horsies?”

“I don’t see why not,” Ash said as he slid off the flatbed and
rested a hand on her shoulder. “As long as you introduce your-
self. They don’t like strangers.”

Once at the mules, the girl ran a hand along one’s flank and
upon reaching it’s head she said, “Hi mister horsey, I’m Lux.”

“That is an unusual but very pretty name,” Ash said.

Lux moved on to caress the lead mule. “Everyone calls me
Lux. Except for my parents. When they’re angry.” She
turned to face Ash. “Then it’s... Electrolux!” She waved
her arms wildly in the air. After returning to the mule, she
added, “My mom says she got it off some prepoc thingy.”

“Well it’s pretty nonetheless,” Ash said. He glanced around
the sparse crowd going about their daily routine, but couldn’t
spy anyone looking for a lost child. “Your parents nearby?”

“Pappy is selling our apples and turnips,” Lux said as she
pointed at a large red headed man several stalls down. “It’s
boring,” she huffed.

“I’ll bet,” Ash said with a grin. “Look, I have to take care
of some things. You can keep the mules company as long as
you like. A guard will be along shortly to keep an eye on my
stuff. I’ll make sure he knows you’re allowed here. Okay?”

“Okay,” Lux said with an innocent shrug.


Bo’s instructions: Make sure Lambert’s still with Big Brain.
Then meet Bo back at his quarters. No problem- Chockler
liked to think spying was his specialty.

Doing his best to act nonchalant, he hummed a nonsensical
tune as he descended the curved metal stairway, one of
many that hugged the interior wall of Silo. “And a good
day to you, too,” he said to someone going up past him.
She hadn’t said anything to him as she approached but now
looked back in suspicion. Oops.

He casually made his way to the center safety railing and
leaned against it, then took a sudden interest in the dirty
chipped nails on one hand, and raised it for further
inspection, strategically placed so he could peer between
the fingers at the door in question.

The door was closed, but a razor thin line of light leaking
through the gap at the bottom indicated someone was
inside. Unfortunately, there was a guard standing to the
right of it - and staring right at him.

He dropped his hand, tucking them both behind his back
and started to hum again. He could feel the guard’s
eyes boring a hole through him. Worse, Chockler felt
his pulse quickening, beads of sweat forming on his
brow... soon panic would take over... he had to pretend
to do be doing something.

He grabbed the metal railing with both hands, thinking
hard, then came up a brilliant idea: a safety inspection.
He craned his neck to look all the way up, then all the
way down.

There were twenty levels to Silo. All of the rooms and
quarters were built into the wall, accessible by the series
of curving metal stairs that led to each level’s metal walk-
way. The center of the installation was just a big hole
from top to bottom, so each landing had to have a safety
rail around said hole.

He wiggled the railing in his grip, then inched his way
around, testing, until he reached the door. A few of the
sections had felt a little loose, but hey, he was pretending
to do the work, not actually doing it.

“We having structural issues, Chockler?” the guard asked.

“Nope,” Chockler beamed a little too brightly as he dusted
his hands. He thought the guard’s name might be Simmons,
but he wasn’t sure enough to use it.

Might be Simmons: “Good to hear. Mind taking over for a
minute? Have to take a leak.”

Chockler gave a jaunty little salute, then took up the man’s
position as he jogged up the stairs. Once Chockler heard
another door open and close, he edged up to his target and
rested an ear against it.

Voice: “I’m afraid you misunderstand, my good sir. I’m not
saying you’re going to die today. I’m only inquiring as to
how you would like to die today.”

Another voice: “Sorry. It’s been talking like that since this
morning. All I did was run this stack of cards through it.”

Lambert: “Which stack? This stack?” A pause. “I can’t tell
one from the other. Never mind. Let’s pull this row out...”

“Hey! What are you doing?” Quite Possibly Simmons hollered
from the top of the stairs. He finished buckling his belt as
he double timed his way down.

“Oh,” Chockler stammered, his face going red. “I just noticed
the curvature of this wall.” He moved his hand along the con-
crete, exaggerating the possible issue. “It’s too curvy.”

“Gah, get out of here you snoop.”

And Chockler did.
Mission accomplished.


As Junior stuffed the handful of loot into a coat pocket,
Greenly heard the out of place noise, and reacted instantly
by spinning on a heel and bringing the blundergauss to bear.

Close by, a jutting piece of asphalt flipped over completely
and the player hiding beneath sprung forth, it’s wiry append-
ages propelling it through the air.

Greenly let loose with both barrels, and the double clap of
thunder sent the creature spiralling sideways. It clattered
to the ground, and Greenly was immediately on it, one foot
holding it down while he clipped off the techknow appendages
with a needle nose pliers. Next he pried the plastic casing
open with a knife, popped the chips, and broke the green-
board into pieces.

It took less than a minute.

“Geez, Pa,” Junior said as he watched in amazement. “Got
that one good.” Then, as he toyed with the loot he’d just
stashed in his pocket. “You don’t suppose it set a trap for
us, do you Pa?’

“What? No.” Greenly snapped as he looked up. A hurt look
appeared on Junior’s face and Greenly realized he wasn’t
mad at the boy but at himself. He’d let his guard down and
almost paid for it.

“What I mean is, they’re instinctive son. They’re not like us.
Thinkers, that is.” He dumped the recovered techknow into
a sack and handed it over for Junior to carry. “This was just
an unfortunate circumstance.”

“But Tepa said...”

“Tepa don’t know chit.”

end part 5

edit on 15-4-2017 by shlaw because: corrections

posted on Apr, 18 2017 @ 12:28 AM
Part 6

Chockler slipped into Bo’s quarters, but looking around, didn’t
see the man himself. “Bo?” He whispered,

“In here,” came the answer.

Chockler pushed open the door and found Bo sitting on the
toilet, the lid down, the electromittens in his lap. “The bath-
room?” He stammered.

"Yeah," Bo said as he waved Chockler into the small room. "We
want privacy. This is privacy." He closed the door behind them,
then gave a sheepish shrug. "Lambert sometimes visits. He
doesn't knock 'cause he thinks it's beneath him. So I figure...
one more door, you know?"

"Never shared a bathroom with another man before," Chockler
muttered as they jostled for position. The room was quite
small, holding only the toilet, a sink with a tiny counter
which was where the wall sockets were, and the tub. “Hey,”
Chockler said, “the tub is full of water.”

"I was going to have a bath," Bo said with some satisfaction.

"What? Now?" Chockler stammered as he jostled for the door,
trying to keep his eyes averted.

"No, after." Bo said. "Don't be a ninny." He handed the plug
end of the device over and pointed at the sockets. "Stick it
in there and make sure it's snug."

"That's something you don't want to hear two men saying
through an adjoining wall," Chockler observed. He plugged
in the toaster as instructed. "Now just to get my hands
in the slots..." Struggling to have both hands inserted,
yet also to push down the lever, he said to Bo, "You want
to twiddle that knob for me?"

"Boy, do I," Bo said as he eagerly pushed it down.

"Tight." Chockler commented. "And warm."

The experiment lasted all of two seconds, then came to a
climax as Chockler screamed like he was being cooked alive.
The toaster was flung off with a desperate flick of his wrists
and plopped into the tub.

An earsplitting buzz and then pop echoed around the tiny
room. Then the light went out.

They stood there in pitch dark for maybe fifteen seconds,
silent, then Bo pushed the door open. The lights were out
there too.

“Oh chit,” they groaned in unison.


“Look, Pa!” Junior shouted.

They’d followed Rusty Road for the better part of the after-
noon. They could see the decaying bridge that spanned mud
river for most of that, but only now hints of Shard city could
be seen through the ever present haze on the other side.
Faint outlines of buildings stretched as far as the eye could
see in either direction, strange irregular shapes due to their
crumbling facades.

In the center, rising above the smoke and smog, was a group
of much higher towers, huddled together, their tops broken
away at sharp angles, making them appear like malformed
teeth jutting upward.

“Shard city,” Greenly confirmed without much enthusiasm.

“No, look,” Junior repeated.

Greenly followed his son’s finger then spied what the boy was
so excited about: A tidy foot high pile about fifty feet past
where the road met the bridge.

“You have a sharp eye, son,” Greenly said.

“I’ll go collect it,” Junior said eagerly as he moved forward in
a sideways lope.

“Get back here,” Greenly snapped as he waved his hand sharply.
As the boy obeyed, his shoulders slumping, Greenly dropped his
gear to check the cannon. His mind raced as he went through
the motions.

While rusty road was crammed with vehicle husks, the bridge
itself had been cleared years back, on his recommendation. It
would make it easier for someone, maybe him, to escape the
Shard City side in a hurry if needed.

That meant the pile laying there now was there for a reason
and not just junk.

Seeing the cannon was recharged and in good working order,
he passed the blundergauss to Junior and said, “Stay close.
We’re going in real slow.”

When they reached the last reddening car frame on the road
they stopped again. The pile was only a hundred some odd
feet away, and was obviously recovered loot- greenboard,
scraps of metal, and quite possibly some gold by the glint of
it. There wasn’t a collector in the world that would leave
that there.

"What's the matter Pa?" Junior whispered.

"Something's off," Greenly said. "I'm taking us back. Now."

"C'mon," Junior pleaded as he stared with longing down the
bridge. "It's like right there. I'll just go get it and we'll high-
tail it out of here."

Greenly hesitated. He saw his son's shoulders droop with
disappointment. Perhaps the sentiment was even directed
at him. He couldn't have that. "No, I will," he said with a
cocky smirk. "Should be able to pay for a whole month in
Silo for each of us."

Junior's eyes brightened at the prospect.

Greenly: “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Cannon at the ready, Greenly duck walked away, pausing every
few steps to scrutinize the area. At his first step onto the
bridge, the sound of rubble sliding over rubble made him
flinch. The concrete sub-structure was constantly crumbling,
that was nothing new, and as for the metal- he looked up- like
everything else it was twisted and rusted, with many of the
supporting lines broken or missing. Despite all that, the bridge
had been well made in it’s time and would continue to support
a mere man’s weight, and more, for a long time to come.

At ten feet away, he hunkered down and checked over his
shoulder. Junior was still at the car cradling the blundergauss-
good. But the look on the boy's face betrayed his frustration
at the slow pace. Greenly's eyebrow twitched in annoyance.
Junior was about impatient as any First Timer he'd ever seen.

Let him wait. Greenly examined the heap from where he was.
Broken up greenboard with no visible chips. Stripped wires,
all tied in knots, which was the only safe way to carry them.
And more jewelry than one had a right to expect, even from a
good collecting run. Rings, chains, necklaces, some of them
jewel studded.

Very strange. He switched the cannon into overcharge mode
and waited. And waited. Fifteen full minutes by his mental
count. He sighed. Best get it over with. If he waited too
long, something or someone was bound to show up eventually.

Taking out an empty sack he flapped it open then picked up
a handful of the loot and dropped it in. He paused, then
hefted the bag. It was too light. He took out a thick gold
necklace chain- much too light. And fake. Another word,
one Junior had suggested earlier popped into his head: Bait.

...continued in next post...

edit on 18-4-2017 by shlaw because: corrections

posted on Apr, 18 2017 @ 12:35 AM
Out of the corner of his eye he saw them coming. Three
players, two black, one dark gray. They moved as if stalking.
His eyes slid to his other side, and there he spied three more.

He willed himself to stay calm; easy, easy. Just a little
closer now.

Then, in a well practice motion, he pulled the trigger on the
D’Arc cannon, sweeping across in a large semi circle. The
wild bolts struck all, making the techknow creatures spasm for
a moment then lay still.

Now that was a first, Greenly thought as he let himself relax a
notch. At least for him. Maybe Tepa was right. Something had

As he tore the first player apart, he pursed his lips. Junior was
going to be upset. There would be no First Time for him today-
maybe not ever- else it might end up being his last time too.

A couple minutes later, as he was working on player number
four, Junior yelled, “Pa, lookout!”

Greenly looked up, then shocked, stood up. While he’d been
busy reclaiming, more players had crept up from under the
bridge and surrounded him. A lot of them. Thirty? Forty?

Junior started to run toward him, but he held up a hand,
“Don’t come any closer. Do what I tell you boy.”

One look down at the cannon’s indicator told him what he
already knew. Two more minutes before it could be fired
again. And his son had the blundergauss, not that it would
do much good in this situation.

"Go," he hollered without looking in Junior's direction for
fear of giving him away as well.

"But Pa, I got the blunder-"

"One of us needs to survive and tell the others," Greenly
shouted. "Now you will obey your father, one last time." He
thought about the needlenose pliers laying on the ground;
one on one he’d have a good chance, but not against this

The creatures leapt forward as one, tangling him up. The
cannon was ripped from his grip as he fell. He fought his way
to his belly to check on Junior- he was still standing there,
dumb struck. “Run son... run!” Relief washed over him as
he saw Junior turn tail.

Greenly struggled, got nowhere with it, yet the players hadn’t
killed him yet, but seemed to be only holding him down.

As he lay there, helpless, another creature came into view:
slightly larger but still rectangular. On the front of it’s case
was lettering that spelt a cryptic word Greenly hadn’t seen
before. XBOX.

It crawled across his chest and glared into his face with what
had to be it’s eye- a single large ring of light on it’s left side.
It was flashing red. A veritable ring of death.

Junior ran, leaving all the gear and recovered techknow
where it lay, save for the blundergauss. Tears streamed
down his face, his nose ran, and his breaths came in great
heaving gasps.

Part of him had wanted to rush in with the weapon, even
though it would have been foolish. If he had been a real
collector already, he could have saved Pa with his own

“Tell the others.” That was what his Pa had commanded. And
even if it meant running all night, that’s exactly what he was
he was going to do.

end part 6

posted on Apr, 30 2017 @ 09:56 PM
“What the d’arc is this?” Lambert asked.

It had taken two hours to get power back. Surprisingly
no one in the twenty level installation had fallen down
the hole at it’s center whilst stumbling around in the

Finding the culprits was no issue; they both had faces
redder than Beeyar’s beets. The pair were sitting across
his desk now, shifting uneasily in their seats, waiting
for the axe to fall.

“Elecromittens,” Chockler said as he passed a hand over
the offending device presentation style, as if he’d just
introduced the best thing since sliced bread or something
loosely associated with it.

“Vintage,” Bo added, though he knew that Lambert knew
every collector used the term in the hopes of getting a
better payout for their finds.

Lambert rolled his chair back and rose with a huff. His
pristine white lab coat flapped as he talked: “This
desk is vintage.” He let a hand slide across it’s
arborite top. It was made to look like wood, but wasn’t.
Somehow the prepocs had used their techknow to simulate
it. It was extraordinarily durable. He waved a hand on
the chair, “That chair is vintage.” He picked up the
toaster by it’s cord. “But this,” he snapped, “this is
an abomination.” He let the statement hang while he paced.
Then, “How many times do I need to remind you- cords and
wires are explicitly banned in Silo.”

Bo: “But what about Big Brain?”

Lambert grit his teeth. It was an old argument, one with
no merit. “Big Brain is a five ton piece of techknow
bolted to the floor, in a concrete room, the only way out,
a man sized door. Doesn’t apply and you know it.”

He tossed the toaster into Bo’s lap, who received it with
a nervous jolt. “Now the whole of Silo needs to be degaussed,
and you two are elected.”

“All of Silo...” Chockler whined.

“I’m not done,” Lambert said. “After that, both of you
are banned from the installation for two weeks. Now toss
that thing in the pit, and get to work.”

one minute the pair were at the railing, with Bo dangling
the toaster over the center hole. He let it go, and three
seconds later they heard a clatter in the darkness below.

Chockler: “There goes another investment right down the
tubes.” Then with a groan, “Two weeks.”

Bo drummed his fingers on the railing for a moment, then
brightened and declared, “I’m thinking it’s a business
opportunity. First thing, we take our king of the prepoc
plates and sell them to the country bumpkins.”

Chockler’s eyes widened. “Great idea. I can see the pile
of chit already.”


"Tell me a story," Lux said as she pet the beast of burden.

“Huh?” Gard said as he tipped up the brim of his hat. Ash
had paid him to watch his rig- over two hours ago -but Gard
was beginning to regret it. The day was turning out to be
too nice to be just sitting around. He’d forgotten about
the little blonde girl named Lux. Didn’t matter, he wasn’t
getting paid to watch her.

“A story,” the girl insisted.

“Fine,” Gard said. Anything to alleviate the boredom. “There
once was a flying cat by name of Mauzer...” he began.

“No, I wanna hear a good story,” Lux demanded. “Tell me
about D’Arc.”

"D'arc huh?" Gard murmured. Now that was a challenge. Stories
of the fall were ambiguous mazes of rumor and half truths. If it
were to be believed, the prepocs had stored their histories using
techknow, leaving their presumably vast historical library to crumble
into dust. Now, finding an old book or such was a rarity. Often the
brittle pages were illegible- the ink nearly completely faded away.
D'arc, of course, had thoroughly destroyed the techknow variety.
Gard’s father actually had some legible scraps for a while; partial
books that held stories of zombies, robot overlords, alien invasions.
For some reason, the prepocs seemed obsessed with predicting the
fall of civilization. Maybe D’Arc was some sort of self fulfilling

“Mister?” Lux said with some concern as she leaned in close.

“Uh, sorry,” Gard said, feeling a bit sheepish. Years of guard
duty had bestowed upon him the tendency to mentally drift.

“It’s okay,” Lux said. “Thought you went full grandma on me.”

“Full grandma?”

“Pappy says that whenever one of us does something stupid,”
Lux clarified. “Not that I do stupid stuff. Mostly it’s my
brother, Cheeto.” She rolled her eyes while twirling a small
finger around her ear. “Grandma poops herself.”

“Oh,” Gard said, while desperately wishing he could go back
to letting his mind wander. Babysitting wasn’t his forte.

“Never mind,” Lux said, dismissing him with a look that
said- Adults. She approached the flatbed then after climbing
up went over to the metal box behind the cab.

“Hang on there,” Gard said, snapping up. He gingerly lifted
her off and set her down. “Ash paid me to make sure nobody
touched his stuff, and that includes pretty little girls like]

Lux had been sporting pout lips, but at the compliment she
brightened. “I know. Let’s have a tea party. I’ll be right
back with my dollies and stuff.”

Gard's mouth slowly went slack. Ash wasn’t paying him nearly
enough for this stint.


Junior’s sprint had degraded to a zombie like shamble; the
sobs and tears given way to a twisted grimace.

He hadn’t seen the creatures kill his pa, and from all the
stories he’d heard from other collectors, that was unusual.
Maybe his pa was still alive. Captive. That meant a rescue
was possible. If Lambert believed him, that is.

If the installation administrator didn’t, well, it didn’t
matter. Junior would go back by himself.

And nobody was going to stop him. No way. No how.

end part 7

posted on May, 1 2017 @ 01:30 PM
Keep it up, shlaw! I'm still reading.

posted on May, 13 2017 @ 01:11 AM

originally posted by: PrairieShepherd
Keep it up, shlaw! I'm still reading.

thanks you for the read, sir.
next part coming up right away.

posted on May, 13 2017 @ 01:15 AM
part 8

“What are you troublemakers doing here?” Keeper asked.

Bo and Chockler had both tried to go through the door
at the same time, and made such a kerfuffle sorting it
out, that Big Brain’s technician actually looked up at
them. Normally he wouldn’t. Time not studying ancient
techknow was time wasted.

“Lambert told us to degauss the whole joint,” Bo said,
“So, we figured this was a good place to start.”

“You figured wrong,” Keeper said.

“Told you,” Chockler said as he nudged Bo with an elbow.
He sidled up to the lab coated tech and gawked in fascination
at Big Brain. “Find out anything interesting yet?”

Keeper stood, wincing as his knees both popped, then took
off his glasses and wiped them as he answered. “Near as we
can tell, Big Brain is pre-techknow- it was covered in dust
when we found it.”

“Wow,” Chockler said as we walked the machine’s length.
It stood up against the wall, and paced out to around
thirty feet long. He guessed it might be ten feet deep
and just as high. The entire front was covered with
small lights that were currently off, and scores of
glass tubes that resembled light bulbs. Sort of.
“Hard to believe there’s no greenboard. No chips. How
can it be good for anything?”

Keeper waved at the stack of punch cards on the nearby
table. “Those cards fit into a slot, and after Big Brain
reads one, it prints out on the other end.”

Bo picked up one of the cards. It was blank. Any printing
that might have been on it had long faded away. Now there
was only a series of random holes. “It reads these holes?”

“Fascinating, right?” Keeper said. “We’ve been feeding them
through, but all that comes out is meaningless numbers. That
is, until recently.” He glanced at the open doorway, and
after seeing it empty, lowered his voice and continued. “Big
Brain started to talk. Like a real person.”

Chockler, who’d been caressing the machine’s green metallic
surface, suddenly stepped back in fear. “What! That can’t
be good.”

“Well we’re not sure about that yet,” Keeper said. “The
power went out before we could understand what was happening.”
He leaned against Big Brain, then added, “Besides, look how
big it is. What’s it going to do- get up and stroll out of

“Better not,” Bo said as he waggled the cannon they’d brought
for the degaussing. “We’ll make short work of it.” He looked
around the room. There was something odd, out of place, but
he couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe he was just creeped
out by what the tech had said- talking techknow. “Are you sure
we shouldn’t degauss this room?” He asked.

“Only if you want to piss Lambert off even more,” Keeper said.
“Now get out of here. I’m very busy.”

Once the pair had left, Keeper shut the door, locked it, then
crouched back down at the base of the machine where he’d been
about to remove a panel before he was interrupted.

A small lie had been told; there actually was a bit of
greenboard inside; just a small one he’d installed a day ago.
With the power outage, he suspected it would now need to be

As he worked, the ceiling rippled ever so slightly, the scores
of chips clinging there shifting as one, perhaps in anticipation.

Keeper didn’t notice the furtive movement- he was awfully busy.


“This is my stupid brother, Cheeto,” Lux said.

Gard groaned inwardly. The little blonde girl was back. In
her arms she clutched a naked plastic doll nearly half her
size, and a large brown teddy bear. And she’d brought company-
a chubby red headed urchin, presumably Cheeto. He looked about
the same age as his sister. He was lugging a red plastic table
with three white plastic legs, and one wood replacement leg.

“Hi mister,” Cheeto said as he dumped his load. “I’m supposed
to act all innocent.”

Lux gave her brother a viscous elbow in the ribs and then
threw up her hands. “See, I told you. He goes full grandma
all the time.”

“Ow,” Cheeto complained as he rubbed his side. “Stop that.
You said you were the brains, and I’m the muscle. You can’t
be beating up the muscle.”

Ugh, Gard thought. He needed to cut to the chase. “So. How
long does one of these tea parties usually last?”

Lux propped the doll and bear up at the table, then said,
“When one of us has to take a dump. At least that’s what
our daddy says when we have visitors stay too long at the
farm and he wants them to leave.”

Cheeto: “Okay, thanks for dropping by. I have to take a
big dump now.” He looked sideways at Lux. “Am I taking a
big dump now?”

It was one of the most draining experiences Gard had ever
been through; pretending to drink tea while the youngsters
prattled on.

Lux went on about her doll, how its head wouldn’t stay
screwed on right, and how most people were like that too,
or so her dad said. Then she discussed the bear at length.
It had been bought from a collector after its innards had
been stripped out. She showed the zipper on its back through
which bits of fabric had been stuffed by her mother.

All through his sister’s diatribe, Cheeto kept injecting the
fact that it wasn’t easy being cheesy- whatever that meant-
and that he was one cool cat.

It was roughly a quarter past eternity, when much to Gard’s
relief, Cheeto stood up and announced, “Whelp, I gots to take
a dump.”

“Hurry back,” Lux called out after him. She looked up at
Gard. “There should be just enough time for one more cup
of tea. Would you mind pouring?”

Thank D’arc for that, Gard thought as he went though the
motions without much enthusiasm.

Lux: “So. Can I interest you in a bag of turnips? Our
dad sells turnips...”

end part 8

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