Okay, this is probably the longest chapter I’ve ever written. Normally they are fairly short, but there is a lot of detail in this one. I may have to break it up later on. For now, this is scene 2 of 3.
She can barely feel her face. The tip of her nose stings with each breath she takes, and a puff of white mist appears each time she exhales. She finds her teeth chattering once again.
“F-f-uck it’s c-cold.” Keh-tee wraps her arms around herself, stuffing her hands under her pits. It doesn’t do much to help.
“It will be warmer inside. In fact, you may want to take off those extra layers at the entrance.” Prinz glances back at her. “Temperatures in there can get over one hundred and twenty.”
“There are five slave droids guarding the gate. I can’t block their protocols without alerting their master droids. You’re going to have to take them out.” Lyra “hmms” and “ahhs” at random intervals as she scans the communications and movement on the surface of Andro VI.
A beacon light at the top of the factory tower lazily blinks in frozen mists mixed with black smoke. Already the metallic scent of melting titanium and aluminum drifts through the heavy air, making it harder for Keh-tee to breathe. She frowns. “I can’t wait to get off this planet.”
Black snow crunches beneath their boots as they steadily make their way up the embankment. At the top is the gate, a massive moving wall of solid steel, and just as Lyra said, five slave droids keep guard.
“How the hell are we supposed to get in there?” Keh-tee clenched her teeth. She bounces from one foot to the other, keeps herself moving even when they pause to scan the perimeter.
Prinz doesn’t answer. He watches the slave droids movements and notes each change. “They change position once every two minutes, except that one. The one in the center. That isn’t a slave droid. Lyra, what can you tell me about it?”
“Uh, sorry Prinz. His feedback reads as slave droid. It must be a false reading. I’ll try to get past it.”
“Well we can’t just stand here. Is the south wall guarded?” Keh-tee rubs her hands together, blowing into them with semi-warm breath. “I can climb if I have to.”
Prinz shakes his head. “You think it’s cold down here? Wait until you’re half way up that wall and the wind starts blowing.” He looks back at the gate. “No. We’ll have to take these guys out.”
“I’m getting some strange readings from this droid. It keeps changing…like it’s manipulating its own programming.” Lyra pauses. “What does it even look like?”
“Like an android.” Prinz moves again, edging closer. “Wait…they’re moving inside.”
“Uh, guys? You’re not going to believe this, but I’m reading it as human now.”
Keh-tee frowns, pressing her eyebrows together. “How–”
“Doesn’t matter. They’re inside now. Let’s just get this over with.” Prinz stands straight, his full height just below Keh-tee’s shoulder. He trudges through the snow—normally graceful movements hindered. Still he moves faster than Keh-tee who struggles to keep up.
“Please…slow down,” she says between gasps for frozen breath.
Prinz stops just before the gate. “Lyra, can you get this open?”
“Yes sir. I’m already on it.” She starts to mumble. “Take down this protocol, change that one, enter command codes and…there! Like magic!”
The gate moans, metal screeching against metal, as it slides open. Keh-tee grits her teeth. “Gods, that’s worse than your snoring, Ly.”
Prinz rushes past the gate. “Come on, Ket. We don’t have time to stall for your lover’s quarrel.”
Keh-tee rolls her eyes and makes her way inside the gate. Already her face is warming, her layers feeling more like a hot prison. She peels off two of them, down to the skin-tight black nylon she wears beneath. Her boots squish and slosh as she moves toward the main entrance of the factory.
“Looks like your path is clear until you reach the main reactor. Once you reach that point, you’re on your own. It’s a black hole on my screen.”
“Great,” Keh-tee mumbles.
Prinz looks back at her, nods, and pulls open an over-sized, rust-coated door.
Keh-tee’s hair flies back like she’s stepped into a vortex, eyebrows singe, face instantly coated in a fresh layer of sweat. She turns away, covering her head with one arm. “Ahh! Prinz!”
“Sorry,” Prinz says. There is a slight chuckle in his voice.
She groans. “Yeah, I’ll bet you are.” The gust of super-heated air dies down, except the heat is still there, stagnate and suffocating.
They move inside, Prinz leading the way. Keh-tee stares up at massive vats of liquefied metal, drops spilling down onto a concrete floor. It hisses and cools in an instant, hardening into a shiny silver layer. Catwalks crisscross above them, like highways in an old Earth city. Machines stand at least fifty feet tall, massive arms and joints moving in rhythm. Every vvvr and wahhh blends in harmony to create a mechanical song. Clangs and tings drum out the percussion. Keh-tee could almost dance to it.
Prinz stops before a steep, metal staircase. He touches it, looks back, and gives Keh-tee a look her father might have once given her.
“Don’t touch. Got it.” She nods.
The stairs shiver with their steps. They whisper with the falls of their feet, a sound that reminds Keh-tee of a badly played didgeridoo. Higher up they begin to sway, making it difficult to not latch on to the railing. More than once, she stops herself from grasping it.
She looks down and tries to ignore the sudden flip of her stomach. “You sure these gloves won’t protect me.”
Prinz keeps moving. “Test it if you want,” he says without looking back.
“Great. Thanks a lot.” Keh-tee sighs and follows. “Just don’t look down,” she whispers to herself.
“You’ll be fine, babe. Just keep your mind on something else.” Lyra’s voice is reassuring but not enough to stop Keh-tee’s heart from drumming against her chest.
Five sets of stairs and two cat walks later, they’ve reached the main reactor room. Prinz unlatches the snap on his holster and pulls his particle pistol free. He leans against the wall beside the door and looks to Keh-tee. “Get ready.”
A deep breath, her heart slows, and she grasps her own weapon, ready to fire. In her mind she practices the techniques Prinz taught her. Hand-to-hand, close-range weapons, long-range weapons, and escape; because sometimes you just have to run, Prinz once told her.
His hand is on the door, the handle starting to squeak. Time builds like pot of water, ready to boil over. Keh-tee braces herself.
Her ears perk at the sound, heavy-handed claps startling her enough that she jumps. Prinz stares behind her.
“I must say, you two are quite the entertaining pair,” a voice says behind her. “And well, your third up there in orbit, I find her especially fun to play with.”
Prinz takes slow, steady steps forward. He keeps his eyes pinned to the owner of the voice. He says nothing, changes no part of his face. Keh-tee can’t tell if he’s angry, afraid, or happy. “Get behind me, Ket.” His voice is low, almost a growl.
She turns, steps back, and gasps.
An android stands seven feet tall. His smooth, silver body dances in colors of orange and red as the flames below flicker, wane, and grow again. His black eyes are like two pools of unrefined oil, bubbling with malice. He grins, or at least appears to. “You may call me Fel.”
Copyright © Sophie Giroir 2015