Riggs woke first, greeted by the playful chuckling of the creek and the crisp autumn smell of rain clouds coming down from the escarpment. And by a fully armored man in a long brown cape carrying some sort of weird pulse rifle. Standing beside the man was a twelve-foot blue robot looking something like a whale’s head on top of two articulating legs with too many joints.
“Holy shit!” yelled Riggs, sitting bolt upright. The ruckus woke Brennon, along with all the little birds that then scattered from the valley’s golden grasses. Riggs and Brennon exchanged a brief glance. They’d been on the lamb, roughing it until things cooled down some. But who in the seven bodies and the black above was this?
“What the hell are you doing, sneaking up on us like that?” asked Brennon. He either had less sense or more courage than Riggs, but certainly not both. Brennon made to stand, but the man in the blue armor turned his rifle on him.
“Ah-ah,” he said, his mask’s vocal processor warping his voice enough that he may have been mistaken for the robot. “Remain seated.” For a moment, the four of them—Riggs, Brennon, the man, and the robot—just stared at each other, the creek chuckling on gleefully.
Brennon, his patience thin under normal circumstances, spat, and demanded, “Well who the hell are you?”
“We are Alphanebulon-3 and Brian,” the man said.
“Well listen here, Brian—” started Brennon, pointing an angry finger at the man. Riggs felt sweat beading along the small of his back. He wished Brennon would stop escalating. Always the hothead.
It was the robot who interrupted. “I am Brian,” it said, its modulated voice deep and booming like a starship engine heard through a long titanium tube.
“Yes,” said the man, placing a hand over his own chest. “I am not a Brain-Robot Interface Autonomous Node. I thought it was clear, but I am human.” The man examined his hand, outstretched now. “Yes,” he said again. “It should be quite obvious.”
Riggs was temporarily too baffled to be scared, but Brennon pulled him back down into cold fear. “Now I said you listen to me, Alpha…nova bomb…”
“You better let me go, and I mean right quick. I’m a powerful man. Dangerous. I could have you both melted down until your human parts and robot parts all look the same. You hear?”
The man and the robot turned and looked at each other, the rotation bearing in the robot’s neck squealing hollowly.
“Very well,” said Alphanebulon-3, turning back. He motioned to Riggs with his rifle. “But this one remains.”
Panic rose in his chest, sealing his throat with a sharp lump of hot lead.
“Sorry, buddy,” said Brennon. “Looks like this is where we part ways.” He stood and dusted his pants, unable to conceal his one-sided self-impressed smile, and walk-ran away, following the wind of the creek.
Alphanebulon-3 and Brian didn’t move or make a sound, leaving Riggs shaking and snot-nosed for long minutes until Brennon was nearly out of sight. Then the man raised his unusual rifle—quickly and casually, without thought or even much in the way of careful aim—pointing it toward Brennon, and pulled the trigger—Click—holding it down. Nothing happened. Then something bright crashed through the overcast sky like a sunbeam tied to an archangel’s arrow.
“Incoming,” boomed Brian, and then there was an explosion on the horizon. A bright green flash. Sound waves bounced off the escarpment like the surf, a combination of a low crash and an electric ripping noise. Black smoke chimneyed out of the fresh crater. Riggs was so awestruck that he nearly forgot he wasn’t alone and jumped when Alphanebulon-3 spoke again.
“We only needed one of you. You seem sensible.” He paused. “Will you remain sensible?”
Riggs nodded, his mouth hanging slack.
“Excellent! Let’s go then.”
“Incoming,” Brian boomed again, and a moment later a bright blue drop ship slid through the clouds. It almost looked like a whale—without a head.
“You can stand now,” said Alphanebulon-3, his posture perfectly relaxed. “That’s our ride.”
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Travis Wright, used with permission.