2012-04-02: Battle Bots


Echo_icon.jpg Mike_icon.jpg

Summary: The incidents of robot on robot violence are rising with each passing year. Afterwards Mike shows good sportsmanship about the whole thing, but is only 64k of trust really enough for everybody?

Date: Date the log took place.

Log Title: Battle Bots

Rating: PG-13 (V, L)

NYC - Queens

Queens is located on Long Island just north of Brooklyn. Brick apartment buildings are found more on the Northern part of Queens where as you get further south towards the Atlantic, more homes with yards can be found. Queens is home to Shea Stadium, home of the Mets, John F Kennedy Airport, and was the home to the World Fair in 1939 and 1964. The Unisphere, a 12-story high, stainless steel globe still sits on display from the Worlds Fair in Queens.

It's a fine March evening in Queens Borough, New York City, a bit into the dinner hour, traffic and transit thinning down a bit before people go back out. There is a small, nondescript garage here on the edge of a light-industry side street, well tended, though apparently shut down for the evening. A moderately typical young man closes the door, tests the lock, and begins walking away northward, in the general direction of LaGuardia Airport. As he walks, he's doing something unusual: talking on a cell phone. Except he's not doing so out loud, nor is he speaking out loud, nor can most people hear him. "… Sure, Papa. I left him the new plans, so he can fab it up by Friday. Sure. Love you."

Like two ships passing in the night on the open ocean, someone is coming the other way. From Manhattan via the 59th Street Bridge and along the appropriately named Queens Boulevard, a woman in black military surplus gear has been steadily working her way south and east for several hours. A red nylon backpack, more suited to schoolchildren than hitchhikers, bounces lightly on her back, apparently not carrying much. Trying to afford a hotel room on the island simply because it was the densest population center was, in hindsight, not a well-conceived long-term plan. Head down and forging ahead, the woman looks more like a soldier on a forced march simply eating up the miles as they come.

Turning towards the bridge, Mike begins to move toward the nearest transit hub, when something nags at his awareness. Something doesn't FEEL right. He looks across the street, and sees the woman in the military surplus as she crosses — they'd miss each other for being on opposite sides, and she's normal enough, except that she's not, really. She's moving perhaps a bit too carefully, like the gravity were a touch light for her, and she seems to be wearing body armor from the way she's not quite, how you say, wobbling, the way humans do. It's something he has to fake visually himself, with his image inducer, and he decides to cross at the intersection and follow her.

It is almost half a block further before anything else happens. The woman stops walking, casually, as anyone might for any number of reasons. Her head lifts slightly, looking up at one of the decorative trees set every 20 meters or so in a ringed decorative planter, but she doesn't turn around. There is… something. A wave or a pulse, centered on the woman and radiating outward in a rough semi-circle behind her like a ripple in still waters, impossibly brief and invisible to the naked eye. As abruptly as it came, it goes. Resuming her walk with the same slow but distance-eating gait, the woman in black rounds the corner of an aging six-story brownstone building and disappears from sight.

"And the hook is set," Mike says, aloud, as he has no way to prevent that radar ping from reporting him as something rather more solid than a normal human. Nor does he say whether the hook is set in him, or her, mouth. Meanwhile, silently, and at speeds that the woman may well appreciate, he assembles a quick message packet. His location, a quick précis of what he's just encountered, and an advisory that he is following, but not engaging if possible; it gets run through today's SHIELD basic encrypt and squirted at the nearest cell tower wrapped in a set of SONET packets, just as if it were text messages in a dozen different phone conversations.

Then, he stops at the corner of the building, and feels around the side with that "thread" sense of his. Just in case she might be waiting.

Two things happen with alarming rapidity. If the subtle, quiet wash of radio waves was a ripple in a pond, what issues forth next is a torrent, a tidal wave of electromagnetic noise as thick and heavy as a wet wool blanket. Every radio and cellular phone in a hundred yards in every direction suddenly and inexplicably chokes and loses signal in a wash of static. The second thing is surprisingly mundane, all things considered. The red nylon backpack that the woman was carrying lands with a muffled clatter and clunk just past the corner of the building, nearer to Mike's side of the bend than the other.

And this is where things get really weird. The kid who doesn't have the radar signature of a human makes an "eep!" noise like a startled teenager, because that bag could be freaking ANYTHING. So he dives for safety. And the nearest safety is around the corner, in the direction the girl took, although his "touchy thread sense" says that she's somehow gone UP, possibly jumped to a fire escape — most of his focus, at this point, is on the parked car that's just a few yards away. It's nothing super-special, really. The most generic car in NYC - a 2009 Toyota corolla, nondescript blue. The diving roll is a perfect textbook aikido roll, but instead of it ending up with the suspicious guy slamming into the car, he vanishes as soon as he touches it.

And then he feels really embarrassed, because he panicked.

But where is the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom! Except there isn't. Nothing at all happens. How disappointing.

There is no fire escape either. A shallow decorative sill runs around the building just below the windows of the second floor, not even wide enough for a pigeon to sit on. Hanging by the fingertips of her left hand about eight feet off the ground, heels braced against the brickwork like a free climber, the woman just hangs there with a matte black knife in her right hand, blade flat against her forearm with the point toward her elbow. She isn't moving, not even breathing hard or looking fatigued in the slightest. Not even, truth be told, a little confused at what just happened even though she has every right to be.

The car watches this for a moment. Without his usual sensorium, he relies more on that strange sense, and it's somewhat clearer and stronger because of it. A voice comes from the direction of the empty vehicle.

"No kaboom? Oh, right, that wasn't grenades, was it. So OK, so what was that about then? Just trying to flush me out? Because you win," Mike says.

The woman's right arm whips upward and then down, a whistling sound for a fraction of a second before the knife embeds in the passenger side door of the car, hard enough to dent the entire panel inward a few inches and drive the blade in clean up to the crossguard. Trust Mike to inhabit the only car whose owner was too cheap to spring for the alarm package because nothing else seems to happen. "You a new model, then?" the woman calls down toward the car. "Too bad you can't cry home to mama for reinforcements. Should have tested you better before they sent you after me."

"OW DAMMIT! That wasn't necessary!" Mike says, because it hurts, and he's going to have to take it with him when he emerges. A big hole in his left side. His fault she threw the knife at the car, after all.

"I don't know what you're talking about 'new model', and I wasn't sent after you. I thought you might be one of the people from my school, until you did the radar thing. And really, why would I cry to Mama for reinforcements? She's a priest, what would she do, send the Altar Guild ladies after you with fresh cuttings?"

A few seconds of silence follow. "Neat trick," comments the woman hanging off the side of the building. "Not that I expect you to tell me how you're doing it. You were supposed to think I'd been destroyed, but I see now that Charlie died for nothing. I don't have time to hang around all day." So saying, she lets go of the narrow ledge and kicks off the wall, landing heavily on the sidewalk just in front of the car. So heavily, in fact, that the soles of her combat boots leave visible black marks on the cement. Sharply yanking the knife out of Mike's door panel with a brief but ear-splitting screech like fingernails on a chalkboard, she turns to snatch up the fallen backpack as well, never fully turning her back to the talking car. Her eyes flick rapidly back and forth, up and down the street like she expects something more.

"Who's Charlie? OW SHIT DAMMIT WOMAN, be more careful. That hurt."

Mike sighs audibly, and the car shifts slightly on its wheels. "Look, whoever you are. I am not who you think I am. I'm just a mutant kid. I saw you walking, thought you looked like one of my friends, an earlier model LMD, and I thought I'd see who you were. Then you did that radar thing, and then you freaked when I freaked and now I have to fix a hole in this person's car and that means I'm going to have a hole in me instead. So peace out a minute, OK?"

In a smooth motion, the woman crouches, draws up the leg of her black pants, and slips the knife precisely into a boot sheath. When she rises again, she slings the backpack over her shoulder and regards the car with narrowed eyes and a frown. "Peace out, sure," she replies doubtfully. She makes no more overtly hostile movements, but neither does she lift the radio jamming blanket. People in nearby apartments are starting to get pissed about their cellular service providers.

There's a sigh of frustration from the car, entirely unlike your usual Corolla.

"OK, fine. I'm going to come out of the car now. Please don't kill me."

With a vision-distorting ripple in the air, the young guy who was following her appears next to the car. And the huge gaping knife-hole vanishes from the car. He isn't bleeding, but he does swear slightly, clutching at his left side.

"Agh. And you're still making that radio noise. That's going to attract attention soon. If I promise not to rat you out, will you please stop? It's unpleasant."

He pauses a second. "My name's Mike Drakos. I'm not your enemy, I've never seen you before, and I was curious. I apologize for triggering your defense response."

"I have to stop doing it," says the woman, taking a step backwards to keep the distance between them as Mike emerges from the car. "If I want to do this." The overpowering white static ceases abruptly to be replaced by a more directed stream of radio waves, sweeping back and forth across the mechanical teenager a dozen times a second. It goes on for what feels like ages before it too stops. For a brief moment afterwards, the resulting radio silence is almost as jarring as the interference. Whatever the woman in black learned from that, it didn't improve her disposition any. "So Mike, what happened to Golf through Lima?"

Mike flinches at the scan, then it gets past the hole in his chassis and rattles around a bit inside, and he shudders visibly for a moment before the human seeming vanishes completely. There's a humanoid robot, but something like a cross between a transformer and a go-bot and a BMW bike. Silver-white automotive paint, and wearing blue-grey "bike shorts" with a modified SHIELD logo on the left hip just below the large hole that someone put in his side panel. The words "Barnes Academy" are depicted in faded gold in the logo.

"OK, now we're in for it," Mike says, "because that crashed my image inducer." He moves towards the far end of the building where there's an alley; fortunately there's not too many windows looking directly at them.

"There was no Golf through Lima that I know of. I was born human, christened Cleanthes Michael Drakos. Would YOU choose to be a guy called Cleanthes in American grade schools?"

If the woman's shocked by his appearance, she hides it well. Her eyes flick all around him, lingering on the logo. "Interesting," is all she says. She still seems exceptionally jumpy, her right hand diving into her coat underneath her left armpit as Mike starts to move. "Nice and easy," she cautions, as one would a child. "You aren't based on the standard chassis, that much is true, but that could mean anything. And until it means something, we're going to play nice and not make any sudden moves, yes?" Her hand doesn't emerge from the coat, but she follows him along to the alley.

Sudden moves would be running. Mike moves purposefully but not fast enough to attract the attention of anyone who might see. And this alley, blocked on one side with the back of a building, terminating in a loading dock, and blocked on the other side by a huge overgrowth of brambles, would be a foolish place to go if one were hoping NOT to be mugged or killed or whatever.

"Right. Standard chassis. I wish. I really do," Mike says. "I'm going to unlock my hood. Please don't do anything rash that will get me killed. I've been killed before and it really, really sucks."

He places his left hand on the curve of his lower abdomen where his anatomy stops being "correct" and presses, and with a faint ker-chunk, his chest section unseals, but doesn't swing open.

"Easy," the woman coaxes, finally drawing the hand from her jacket once the pair is safely in the alley. Lifting the other hand to support it just forward of the wrist, her thumb flicks off the safety of the black semi-automatic pistol now in her hand and keeps it leveled at Mike. Or more accurately, Mike's left eye. "Don't give me any reason to kill you and we'll get along just fine." She twitches slightly as the hood unlocks but thankfully doesn't fire. "Now what?"

"Taking off the hood. I apologize for getting naked on our first date," Mike says with synthetic sarcasm.

He places his right hand against his chest, and then extends it slightly, and the chest section disconnects from his body, as he moves his arm slowly out. His insides are exposed thus. Where lungs would be, what looks like an automobile motor in miniature; below that, a wiring harness, and where the stomach would go, a small gas tank. There's some kind of scrubber system, based on the pipes, going down; heavy shock absorbers and linear motors appear to provide torso movements. The left side panel is a mess viewed from the inside, but nothing is broken beyond it, and without turning his back, Mike lowers the hood to the ground.

One eyebrow quirks upward. "Huh," grunts the woman in black and manages to make it sound derisive and unimpressed all at once. "I thought you couldn't get replacement parts for humans. Doesn't look like the insides of any human I've ever seen before." The gun doesn't move, doesn't even waver, but her steel blue eyes flick down to examine Mike's internals. "Crude, but I suppose whatever works for you."

"Yeah thanks, I know the design sucks," Mike grumbles. "You try designing your own body from scratch and see what you get."

He reaches inside, using his right hand to push the curled-in metal of the side panel flat again.

"OK, I'm going to try to seal the hole." He crouches down, reaching for a small roll of metal-backed repair tape clipped to the inside of the hood he just put on the ground. Three four-inch strips seal the inside.

"And now putting the hood back on." This is a little more complicated, but he manages to settle the thing in place, and it pulls in again, sealing.

"That's it?" asks the woman, nonplussed. "You just seal the hole up with tape? Very high tech." She can do the sarcasm thing too. The gun lowers and rises, keeping a bead on Mike's face throughout the entire procedure. "So now you can tell me why you were following me. See a lot of androids this side of Manhattan? Enough to mistake me for a friend of yours?"

"Wow, bitey. Who said I was high tech? I'm a car, not an LMD."

Mike looks toward the alley, and steps back to where he won't be as visible from the entry.

"Other than yourself, I know one android who lives over here who is an involuntary superhero, and three who are, to use a euphemism, retired, from an international anti-terrorism agency which you may have heard of. I also know there's at least one lunatic android out there who programmed himself to be a fraternity douche, but I really doubt he's living over here. And that's not mentioning several cyborgs."

Mike's eyes don't look like normal human eyes in his flat robot face, but they do dim for a moment, as he says, "I needed the EMI shield to be intact so I could initiate my image inducer." And with a fzzzt, his human seeming returns.

"Sorry, I'll try to run the sarcasm at a lower priority," the woman says, though apparently she didn't mean it because that still sounded pretty sarcastic. With a deft flick, she lowers the gun to her side, snaps the safety back on, and stashes it back inside her coat in one quick, uninterrupted motion. "Pretty sizable population for one city. I was just thinking of leaving, but it sounds like I'm in the right place after all."

"Don't be all nice just on my account," Mike says, but he's smiling when he does.

"OK. It's obvious that you're being hunted. Logically, you have no reason to trust me other than the fact that I have demonstrated that I am not hostile. Except for the fact that you could have shot me at any time, I have no reason to trust your goodwill either, and your behavior is consistent more with an extremely sophisticated AI than with an organic. So you have, in effect, made yourself vulnerable to me as well, while keeping the tactical upper hand."

Mike leans back against the wall of the building, legs crossed, arms crossed. "So. What's our next step here? Do you want to part company without hostility? Exchange more information? I'd offer you a meal if we were going to talk more but I don't eat and I'm not sure what you eat." He doesn't mention the other option, violent confrontation.

"I trust you more than I did a few minutes ago," the woman says, nodding slightly in return. "But that trust is neither absolute nor guaranteed. It's pretty clear that the people who made me didn't make you. Or if they did, they were feeling sloppy that day." She crosses her arms too, if in mockery or imitation is unclear. "I don't eat, but I'm curious to know if you could offer what fuel I do need. I'm also, logically," she rolls the word out to make it clear she's parroting Mike's own words. "Conflicted about telling you anything at all." She lets that hang in the air for a moment before carefully, with no sudden or alarming movements, unfolding a hand and offering it to Mike. "They called me Six. You can also call me Echo."

Mike returns the handshake; his hand feels as much like a modified tire as it looked, even under the induced image.

"I burn gasoline. At least my ten year old mind was consistent, hmm? I'd trade origin stories, but not until you feel comfortable with that trade. What fuel do you need? I can't promise I can get it, but I do have some good contacts. Depending on the difficulty, I might be able to help."

He smiles, remembering the question from earlier. "So, you're Echo. Then who was Foxtrot? And… hmm, I knew someone named Six once, but that was because he had wings. I wonder how he's doing."

Mike cannot be as easily distracted as he seems. And he isn't. He's searching everything in his recent memory about android humans who aren't LMDs, and drawing a blank.

Echo's hand, meanwhile, would be difficult to distinguish from a normal person's. The attention to detail is impressive. "Foxtrot was the next, and as far as I'm aware, the final model they made after me. She's a right piece of work," Echo explains, but not without adding in a harsh quiet mutter, "Bitch." Her steel grey eyes linger on Mike's holographic image for a moment before she decides to answer his first question. "Deuterium and tritium. Gas, not solid pellets. I haven't yet found anywhere that they're sold. Not that I have much money, anyway. It's a little hard to come by."

Mike nods. "It is. You need this to function completely? I'd have to ask permission, or see if Tony would let me have some, but then he'd think I was trying to duplicate his arc reactor and he'd go all emo and stuff."

Mike's letting his mouth operate with only half his mind focused, and it shows.

"I can loan you some money though. I can go without white sidewalls. Pay it forward, though. Y'know?" Reaching into his "pocket" - actually, into a small storage compartment on his right side - Mike pulls out a four bills. They have pictures of the only President of the United States who was Never President of the United States (Mr. Franklin.)

"If I had a place to charge from a standard electrical mains plug, the charge would last three days. Maybe four, and that's not even running on full power. It's what I've already been doing to conserve fuel, but $75 a night for a room cleaned me out rather quickly." Echo shrugs. "I would hesitate to call it a loan, seeing as I most likely won't be able to pay you back." Still, having said that, she takes the money anyway, folding and pocketing it without complaint. Or thanks, for that matter. "I have no way to contact you, or vice versa."

That takes about a millisecond of thought to resolve. "Email me. ten.ecaFcilbup|ekiBehTekiM#ten.ecaFcilbup|ekiBehTekiM. My public key is on my contact page there. You can access the net from any library. And I'll see what I can find. Ignore the personality I present on that site, though, it's an act." The robocar shrugs about the money. "Pay it forward means you do someone else a favor without expectation of recompense later. It's a remarkably powerful meme."

"I've accessed the internet before. It's an amazing store of information. But I'll be sure to find a library, then. It's bound to be more secure." She eyes Mike's holographic face for a moment, her own face unreadable. "Without expectation of recompense," Echo repeats, making a soft appreciative 'hmm' sound. He expression softens slightly. "This meeting was unexpected, but fortuitous. I'm sorry if I damaged you. I was only defending myself."

"I know. I don't hold it against you; it was my own fault for choosing a bad approach protocol. Be safe, Echo." Mike stands away from the wall and begins walking toward the alley entrance, then when he can see around the corner, he says, "My bus! Ack!" and starts sprinting, at a speed just a hair faster than a human should be able to.

Cinching the straps of her backpack tighter, Echo reaches behind to the waistband of her pants and pulls out a somewhat flattened black fatigue cap. Tucking it down low, she spares a moment to watch Mike go before turning and heading deeper into Queens in silence. She has quite a bit to think about.

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