“Where are you taking me?” the AI in my head cried out. “How are you this armor’s Master?”
“I’m going to rescue someone.” I declared as I used the hub to track the direction of the slave collar. “Oh, that’s useful.”
When I selected Kiera’s slave collar, a mark immediately appeared on my hub. I could look in the exact direction that Kiera would be. I couldn’t tell exactly where they were but was able to get the distance and the direction. Thankfully, it was still in range.
As I was turning to leave the camp, I heard a crack and I immediately spun, lifting the shotgun I had previously taken off of one of the bandits. Raven immediately threw up his hands. Husk was too weak to do more than freeze, while Hunter was helping Feather along, who happened to be covered in blankets and looking the worse for wear. I let out a breath of relief. I had almost forgotten about Feather in the intervening melee. It was good to see she was alive.
I lowered my shotgun. “You guys should probably get out of here.”
“You think.” Hunter snapped bitterly.
Raven hesitated for a second. “What will you be doing?”
“Randall is going to be a threat unless I eliminate him,” I responded.
He slowly nodded. “So, I guess this is it then.”
“Graaa…” I heard a small noise and looked down to see the murder dragon had returned and was rubbing against my leg.
I kneeled, putting out my hand, allowing the creature to climb up my arm. It scuttled up my arm quickly, perching on my shoulder. I looked back at Raven.
“This world is crap for everyone. You’re all suffering, aren’t you?”
He glanced over at the shaking, partially naked Feather and then back to me. “What do you think?”
“I’m thinking I’m in a position to start changing things,” I responded, shaking my head. “I had originally come here just hoping to make a quick buck. Maybe, I’ve done that. I was hoping to just hide in my corner. I wanted to take advantage of this world and perhaps give something back to the people who helped me, just a little. I don’t think I can act passively any longer.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” He demanded.
I licked my lips. “If you need work, go to the building where we found the murder dragons next week.”
“Why should we trust you?” he asked.
“You can’t. I don’t trust you either.” I responded. “However, this will be the most important decision you will ever make, so make sure you make the right one.”
With that sorted, I turned and walked away. When you were in mech armor, you could afford to turn your back on people. I quickly left the camp, picking a few more choice weapons as I went. I had the recharging turret on my back, the shotgun in my hand, and a semi-automatic rifle slung over my shoulder. I truly looked like I was going to war.
“15 minutes of movement remaining.” The mech armor’s voice spoke up.
I locked my eyes on the icon on my hub and started heading in that direction, leaving the bandit camp behind. By that point, just about everyone was hidden or fleeing. The entire camp had been overturned just like that. Even if I left and Randall returned, it was hard to say if he’d be able to regather the bandits again.
I reached the empty street, moving quickly in the direction of the slave collar. I slowly began to move into a run, and to my surprise, the mech armor accommodated. I had thought the thing would be extremely slow, and when Randall used it, it had moved quite slowly. However, it was now moving nearly the speed of a horse, far faster than I could normally run. I had worried I’d run out of time, but at this speed, I’d reach the building quickly. Best of all, it didn’t make me tired at all. This was good because I had some questions I needed answers to before we got there.
“Alright, speak,” I said as I checked on the murder dragon, which still managed to cling onto my shoulder without struggle.
“Say what?” The AI asked.
“You’re some experimental AI. Randall was part of some no-name bandit group called Ascension, but he lucked out and found you, right? So, he forced you to work with him, and when he found this armor, he put you in it so you could hack it, right?”
“If you already understand, why are you asking?” She responded angrily.
“What is he looking for?”
“You think he tells me everything?”
“I don’t think he told you, but I think you know. Tell me. That’s an order.”
“Tsk…” She made an irritated noise. “It’s an abandoned weapon and armor bunker. You think those turrets protecting the courtyard were it? That was just the area he could get into. The good stuff is locked behind an unbreakable barrier.”
I thought it might be something like that. Weapons. Turrets. Attack Droids. Just how powerful would someone become if they got controlled that. As I began to connect two and two, I made other realizations as well. The mech armor was probably found there as well.
“Can’t you hack into it?”
“He doesn’t trust me. If I was plugged into that system, I could escape his grasp, activate the bots, and then wipe him and his group out.” She responded, her voice sounding bitter.
“You were the AI for the facility?”
“Ah! You know?”
She had spoken with such certainty that she could wipe them out, almost as if she had already known the contents and capabilities of the bunker. I could only guess she had once been plugged into it.
“So, Randall found everything in the same place. He found you, the mech armor, and the weapons. He learned from you there was a better score deeper in the facility, but he couldn’t get it without plugging you in, and he wasn’t willing to do that. Instead, he shoved you into the mech armor so he could interact with you. He seemed to have some means of controlling the armor, circumventing your control, and he effectively locked you out of the critical elements. Does that about cover everything?”
She was reluctant in explaining anything, but I was managing to get piece by piece out of her.
“He has the Perco to the man inside. He had chopped off the arm to get it. He was able to get a hacker who managed to give him rudimentary access to the Perco and by extension, the mech armor. He can control it, to an extent, but he needs my help to do it. He can’t trigger the electrical pressure points, and I can’t activate the movement permissions. Of course, I wouldn’t open the suit and allow him in. I should have continued to follow that rule.” Her voice drifted off before gaining strength. “That’s why we ended up working together. That’s also why when I noticed your Perco, I desired to possess it so that I could free myself and escape Randall’s control.”
“He could have ripped the armor apart piece by piece.” I offered.
“You think too highly of him.” She scoffed in response. “He barely got the arm off and back on. Even now, it’s a bit stiff.”
“Ah… I noticed.” Now that she mentioned it, the left arm did seem to move a little clunky. “Anyway, that leads to my biggest question. What do Kiera and Katarina have to do with any of this?”
“The two slave girls?” she asked.
“I instructed Randall that we’d need numerous things to open the security keeping the bunker shut. A power generator, a Perco, and registered personnel.”
“I’d be able to register someone into the system. However, for me to be able to do that, they first have to have a blood test. You need to understand, when my security protocols were set up, it was in the middle of the viral outbreak. In short, I can only register a clean person.”
“You don’t even know this much? The virus spread, killing millions and turning others into mutants. All wastelanders have a certain amount of the virus in them. The only difference is how much of the virus they have and what environmental stresses they are put under. There is only one exception, a group of people who have avoided prolonged contamination.”
“A colonist…” I breathed out.
“The girl is both young and comes from a colony. She shouldn’t have built up enough virus in her system yet, so she can be registered as an employee.”
“Okay, that’s why they wanted Katarina, but what about Kiera? If he has his own Perco…”
“His Perco is just a hacked thing. It had limited uses. He needs a fully functioning Perco for it to work. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. He was furious with me when he found that out. How did I know he’d be able to find a Perco so quickly?”
“You’ve been trying to delay him?”
“Of course! My prime directive was to protect the bunker stores from non-registered personnel! I won’t allow anyone to access it!”
“What about me?”
“Of course, Master! Geh! What is with this fault in my programming?”
“So, why didn’t they take you along?” I asked, ignoring her cursing.
“I had already registered her before. I’m not needed for the next part, and he doesn’t trust me to be present.” She let out a small sigh.
Although she was just an AI creating noise in my speakers, she was surprisingly expressive. Supposedly, she was an AI for some kind of hidden bunker. However, wasn’t that many years ago? What would happen to an AI that lived for that long? The Mech Armor seemed more like the AI I’d expect from this world.
“Alright, we’re getting close,” I said.
After about five minutes of running at a speed far faster than a human, and making a heck of a noise as I went, I had reached the location. I hadn’t encountered any enemies along the way. The mutants knew an armed mech armor was not something they wanted to handle. It wasn’t like I could sneak in mech armor. Every step made a thud that could be heard a block away. Thus, I had only one mode for an attack. I needed to charge.