Title: Redstone Chapter 17, Part 2
When Robbie’s brain came back online, the first thing he did was force his eyes to stay closed and listen. Just listen, and evaluate. He knew where he was: the gas knocked you out, but it didn’t usually damage neural pathways enough to slow you down. He let his body rest lax against the gritty, cold floor of the Pit, and listened to whether or not he was ahead of the curve, or behind it. He really fucking hoped he was ahead.
The only other person he could hear was…Krighton, mumbling on the other side of the room. Okay, that made sense. They hadn’t been gassed before; the compound didn’t affect them as badly as people who had been affected multiple times. Robbie opened his eyes and pushed slowly to his hands and knees, making sure he wasn’t going to fall over before he got to his feet. The bots they’d brought in with them had all gone into standby mode, as they always did when voice commands ceased for more than five minutes. “Activate,” Robbie said hoarsely. Four green eyestrips lit up simultaneously.
“The door’s not fucking opening!” Krighton screamed from the other side of the room, still pounding fruitlessly at the control panel. “Cray! Cray!”
“Defense mode alpha-twenty-seven,” Robbie said, and the bots immediately arrayed themselves in a half circle around him. “Krighton, leave the door alone and get the fuck over here,” he called out.
“He’s supposed to be watching us! He can’t fucking leave us in here! Cray!”
“Something went wrong, obviously,” Robbie said, stepping carefully around bodies as he made his way toward the door. “We’ve got to wait this out, so that means getting your ass behind these bots and fighting for your life.”
“No, no, nonono.” Krighton couldn’t have gone any paler if he’d been bleached. “I can’t be in here with these animals, I can’t.” The prisoners were more than stirring now; they were waking up, getting up, and Robbie was still too far from Krighton to pull him behind the bot’s defensive shield.
“Defense mode beta-four,” Robbie snapped, incredibly irritated and more than a little afraid. Two of the bots peeled off and went to flank Krighton, leaving Robbie exposed on too many sides to feel confident. He backed up against the wall where the food was released and turned on his spark baton. It crackled reassuringly. “Get your ass in gear, Krighton!”
“Look at this.” Rory’s voice suddenly echoed through the massive chamber in a way that shouldn’t have been possible. “Look at the gift we’ve been given.” Scores of eyes focused on them, and Robbie felt the skin at the back of his neck crawl. The moment drew out, so tense Robbie could feel it in the air, wavering inside his body. The only comfort he had right now was that Isidore and Kyle were nowhere to be found. That was good; they didn’t need to see this.
“Priority bot parts to whoever takes out Krighton!” Klia shouted, and suddenly the tension was broken, and so was the momentary peace as people began to throw themselves into the fight.
Robbie rapidly became too busy to keep track of Krighton; he had enough to do keeping himself alive and his bots functioning. The problem with the bots was that they were old, and their programming hadn’t been updated in probably decades. They had a very specific way of fighting, and the prisoners who’d been here for long enough knew what they could do, and how to get around it. The bots deployed their stun guns and fired fast, sending people sprawling, but the limbs the guns were attached to were weak. Lines of prisoners three deep crashed forward; the first person was the sacrificial lamb, the second was the backup, and the third darted to the side and tried to smash the armature with pieces of destroyed bots, taking them apart with their own brethren.
Robbie smashed his spark baton into the attacker’s arm, sending him howling back in pain and taking his metal rod with him. Splitting his attention between his defenders in time was tough, and one man managed to get through both bots to confront Robbie directly. He had a modded mouth, triple rows of sharp teeth in a distended jaw, and grinned widely as he lunged at Robbie.
Robbie couldn’t stop his attacker’s momentum, but he managed to wedge his baton in between his neck and the man’s mouth. Hardened teeth crunched into the metal, denting it in places. Robbie brought his knee up into the man’s gut, not to hit but to push, just far enough to relieve the pressure on his baton. Once he had a few more inches of space, he shifted the baton so it went straight into his attacker’s mouth, then activated the spark. Fire sizzled down the man’s throat, and his eyes bugged out for a few interminable seconds before he finally fell straight back onto the floor.
The altercation cost Robbie one of his bots, both armatures disabled and the bot itself corded and dragged off its wheels. Robbie repositioned himself behind the bot he had left and risked a glance toward Krighton. Or rather, where Krighton had been.
The bots who’d been protecting him were already both in pieces, and Krighton himself? Robbie could only assume it was him on the floor, surrounded by a pack of maddened prisoners, screaming in horror as they ripped him to pieces. They were modern Bacchantes, and Krighton was their sacrifice. The floor was slicked with blood and intestines, and even as Robbie listened the screaming rose to a truly piercing shriek before cutting off abruptly. One of the women laughed as she lifted a dismembered piece of the man into the air, something that might have been his—
Robbie looked away, swallowing hard. He stayed behind his last bot as best he could, defending it but defending himself more as grasping hands made their way around his last hope. Once the bot went down, he wouldn’t last long.
There was an ancient genre of holo film that centered around an equally ancient martial art, kung fu. Robbie had watched a few of the films with Garrett a long time ago, and in them it wasn’t unusual for the hero—or occasionally the heroine—to take on huge crowds of people all by themselves and emerge victorious. Garrett had loved them; the idea of triumphing against impossible odds had always appealed to him, in those moments when his cynicism took a rare back seat to optimism. Robbie hadn’t been able to watch them without rolling his eyes, though. That wasn’t how fighting worked, it simply wasn’t, and trying to convince yourself otherwise was ridiculous.
Robbie’s only hope was Cray sending reinforcements before Robbie joined Krighton, but he already knew that the odds of that were close to nil. The prisoners were on the edge of rioting, and Cray wouldn’t risk more men and bots to save a few with things as they were right now. He grit his teeth and continued to fight, his spark baton flickering on and off as he used it too hard, the damage it took from Tooth Man making it fall apart faster. Hands grabbed his armor and flinched back, but the battery for that was already running low. Fucking bullshit equipment; this crap was so old it was barely better than nothing.
The bot went down, and was dragged away almost instantly. It was just Robbie now, surrounded by five people, his faceplate cracked from a lucky strike someone had gotten in with a diamond-tipped rod. They should have gassed the prisoners last week, come through and confiscated all the contraband but Robbie had been glad, back then, that they hadn’t; he hadn’t wanted to strip Isidore of his resources. Right now he was wishing they had, though. God, he didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to leave Wyl. Wyl would lose it―he would go insane and to hell with Garrett’s plan, this whole fucking facility would be lucky to be standing by the time Wyl was done with it.
A woman charged in, and Robbie caught her across the neck with the side of his baton, just underneath her jaw. She fell with a thud and he kicked her body out toward the other prisoners as he looked straight at the ringleader. Robbie might die, but Rory was going to pay for this. Their eyes made contact for a brief moment before three people rushed Robbie at once, and he was consumed by the urge to fight, destroy, kill or be killed. He fought with every ounce of energy left in his body, no words for the urgency that consumed every atom of his being. Live. Live. Live.
Robbie had years of experience on most of his attackers, fully active mods and plenty of desperate strength, but he couldn’t fight forever. A sharp pain suddenly radiated out from the back of his left thigh, sending him down on one knee. Someone kicked him in the face and he fell onto his back, and then they were on him, swarming, and teeth found his collarbone and tore as greedy hands pried away his dead armor, nails biting into flesh and Robbie opened his mouth to scream, and then—
And incredibly, impossibly, the panic stopped. The hands receded, the teeth withdrew, and Robbie was left blinking blood from his eyes and staring incredulously at the ceiling.
“Bring him here.”
Strong hands gripped him beneath his arms and dragged him across the floor. Robbie was too exhausted to fight, and when Rory’s broad face came into view he didn’t look away. Something dark flickered in the man’s eyes and Robbie stared, captivated.
“You,” Rory said slowly, “have old blood. Where are you from?”
“Ho…home system,” Robbie managed after a moment. His mouth was full of his own blood, and it trickled down his throat in a steady flow, making him want to cough.
“Where in the home system? Earth?”
“Parents were Earthlings. Me…Mars.”
“Mars.” Rory smiled. “Old blood indeed. I hail from Mars myself. We might have come together on the final transport from that doomed planet. Many of us were lost in—”
“Transfer,” Robbie finished. “Bad pods.”
“Yes, yes!” Strong hands reached out and cradled his face. “Oh, old man. You’re the closest thing to a brother I have left.”
Robbie tried to shake his head. “Not…your brother.”
“Perhaps not,” Rory agreed. “But you and I share the same blood nevertheless, and my friend…” The dark something in his eyes appeared again, this time covering up the white. “Loves the old blood best. I picked it up in the Beyond, but it tasted our blood long ago, and yearns for more. And you,” he said approvingly, “are the first suitable candidate we’ve found in ages. I’m going to spare your life, brother. And you,” now he leaned in so close that his lips were less than a centimeter from Robbie’s. His breath was oddly sweet, and Robbie could see the strange, rippled texture of his eyes. “You will carry a piece of my friend forever, and we will never be alone.”
Their lips touched, and though Robbie fought to keep his mouth closed, he knew his resistance wouldn’t last for long.