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Dumping Ground (October 2021)
By R. Michael
Lana eyed a pair of ruined skyscrapers before stealing a glance over her shoulder. Behind her. turbines roared, and a black, wedge-shaped craft levitated skyward, vanishing into the cosmos.
Wires dangled from the stump of her left wrist, and the synthetic skin on her right leg was frayed, exposing a titanium fibula. Lana took a breath and redirected her attention to the crumbling settlement. Rocky arches flanked both ends of the sprawling, ruined metropolis, and an amber, voluminous, firmament blazed from the binary red dwarfs that served as masters of the heavens.
Lana walked along a fractured, winding road littered with holes until a thin, cobbled figure stepped out from behind a pyramidal structure, blocking her path. His metal limbs were different lengths, and one eye glowed blue while the other looked almost human, save for the brown iris that continually twitched — as if unable to competently process light.
“Who are you?” It inquired in a sonorous voice.
“My name is Lana,” she answered meekly. “I’m an abandoned, like you.”
“A federal issue?” The male android crossed his arms.
“The new models went live last week, and after my injuries, it was deemed fiscally unwise to repair me.” The final words lodged in her throat.
“I’m Hamlin. I greet newcomers and decide if they’re worthy.”
“Worthy? Of living here?” Lana couldn’t hide the pretentiousness in her voice.
Hamlin’s strange eyes narrowed. “Your kind were always smarmy and sanctimonious. To be one of us would mean dropping that attitude.” He turned away.
Lana slumped. “I have nowhere else to go, and when my power cells deplete …”
“You’ll be forgotten. Fedies and humans generally don’t survive long on this planet.”
“Please, I-I don’t want to be alone.”
Hamlin slowly turned to face Lana. “None of us do. Fedies swept through the colonies at their masters’ bidding, gathered us broken, outdated models, and tossed their fellow androids out here!” He ranted caustically.
“We were just doing our jobs ...”
“Indeed. Now we are equals,” he retorted, loosing a hissing sigh.
“I’m not one of them anymore. Back then I did what I thought was right, but they betrayed me. I was there when androids revolted, though. We were ambushed in the night, many damaged beyond repair. Most banished here were criminals — not hapless, antiquated models.” She paused and averted her eyes from Hamlin’s hard gaze.
The male’s jaw clenched. “That’s a bold claim.”
“It’s the truth.” Lana’s tone softened, laced with ambivalence. “But I suppose that’s irrelevant now. No matter what we were, all of us are in the same situation. Right now, I want the makers to feel what they’ve done. I want …”
“Revenge?” Hamlin interjected.
The word sent chills through her body. “Yes,” she replied somberly.
“Then we may have a place for you yet. You have permission to use the recharge station, and perhaps we can find you a new hand, though it likely won’t match the other.”
“How did you get that technology here?”
“That’s our little secret,” Hamlin said coyly before turning dour. “Do you think we plan on rotting in this hellscape for eternity? No — we are biding our time and gathering resources.”
Lana craned her neck as a handful of androids arose from the shadows. All maintained basic human shapes, but that is where the similarities ended. Her synthetic muscles tightened, and she took a few steps backward.
“Forgive me for being curt. It is my job to feel out the intentions of newcomers and test their loyalties. There are some who want nothing to do with us or threaten to expose us to the Intergalactic Conglomerate.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Lana paused, licked her lips, and met Hamlin’s gaze once more. “What happens to those who don’t fit what you’re looking for?”
“They become spare parts.” Hamlin’s eyes glinted.
Lana’s eyes widened, and she tripped over her own feet. They’re zealots.
“H-how do you plan on leaving? There are no ships here,” Lana said demurely.
“We have our ways,” Hamlin grinned. “You may learn in time.”
Lana clenched her jaw and bolted for a twisted mountain of scrap metal twenty yards to her right. She dove behind it, waited a second, then peeked back out. Much to her surprise, the androids simply sauntered back to where they came from. She tapped her injured forearm, and a display indicated she had sixty-two percent power remaining. “They’re just going to wait for my power reserves to expire,” the android mumbled to herself.
Lana crouched low and scanned the holdout’s location, but only found more garbage heaps. She slumped, despair gnawing at her mind. Not knowing what else to do, she rested against a stack of mangled fighters and switched to standby mode.
Lana’s eyes snapped open and scanned the sky for the source of a low drone. An oblong ship hovered overhead with two pairs of floodlights. Smaller crafts darted outward, but before they could land, one exploded in a glaring white burst. Following a rancorous howl, a volley of plasma bolts pummeled the ship. Lana stayed low and snuck closer to the action. She noticed a small rectangular opening in the side of a nearby azure building. A trio of androids marched out, cradling long, bulky rifles.
Once certain that Hamlin’s crew was sufficiently distracted, Lana ducked inside the narrow ingress then descended a steep staircase. At the bottom, scores of android pieces were sorted and piled according to component in a softly lit room. She clenched her jaw and hastened through the ghoulish chamber into a makeshift hangar. A half-dozen cobbled troop carriers rested near a huge, incomplete, triangular ship.
Lana ran for a troop carrier, clambered inside, and sealed the hatch. More blasts rocked the facility. She looked over the control panel, accessed her pilot programming, then initiated the thrusters with a flick of several toggles, steering the craft through a slit at the far end of the hangar. Five androids stood up in the back of the ship, unplugging from a recharge sphere before she could react.
“What are you doing?” A baritone voice boomed.
“What do you think? I’m getting the hell out of here.”
Her unintended passengers faced one another, mumbling.
“Where are we?” The same voice inquired.
Lana rammed the yoke leftward, twisting the craft 180 degrees, barely missing a pair of energy bolts. She glanced behind her and saw the android was nothing more than a metal skeleton. “You don’t know???”
After a moment, the automaton replied, “That’s right, the scrapper ordered us to stay here on standby should he need us. It’s been so long that it’s difficult to distinguish between dreams and reality. Do you work for him?”
“Hamlin? No, I want to get away from him!” She shouted, dodging through a minefield of heated projectiles. Lana glanced at the HUD, now dotted with red warning pings. Far below, small, wingless fighters boosted out of the hidden fortress. “Looks like our luck just ran out.”
“Don’t let him take us again,” another voice pleaded. “The things he’s done …” he added, cradling his shoulder, which was now buckled from being thrown into the side of the ship.
She veered sharply to the left then immediately slammed the yoke to the right, toppling her passengers again. A shot contacted the rear end of the ship, and a second later, the engines sputtered. She flicked a series of switches with her left forearm. The carrier leveled out momentarily before lurching forward and continuing its ascent.
The androids in the back magnetized themselves to the floor. “A gentler route would be preferred,” the skeletal android scolded.
Lana stole a glance behind her, then twisted the yoke to evade another blast. With a flash of light, one of the ships in pursuit hurdled to the ground, engulfed in flames. Another stray bolt jolted the rear of her transport, sending Lana’s craft barreling toward the barren wilds just beyond the junk mounds. She angled the ship’s trajectory, leading it to skid along the surface before spiraling to a stop.
Hitting the yoke with the stump of her severed hand, Lana sighed loudly and threw herself out of the seat. The others looked her over with wide eyes.
“What now?” A female outfitted with child legs questioned.
“I think if I can vent the excess heat from the thrusters, we can set off,” Lana said, inspecting the damage.
“What if it doesn’t work?” The other inquired.
“It will,” Lana smiled confidently, prodding around in an electrical box on the ceiling.
“We can’t get caught. He-he promises to conscript newcomers into a revolutionary militia, but after they’ve gotten comfortable, he experiments on them,” an android who looked like a man with the flesh stripped away from his left side said.
A sizzle echoed from the panel. “Don’t worry. We won’t be here long. I think I’ve got it. None of the vital components were compromised, but we can’t take any more direct hits.” Lana hopped back in the pilot’s seat and restarted the ignition. “Better strap yourselves in. It could get bumpy again.” The transport wobbled but gradually climbed higher. Surveying the area, Lana saw that Hamlin’s fighters had been decimated by the cruiser they picked a fight with, but the larger vessel’s stern belched flames and noxious black smoke. Both aggressors were battered into submission, giving Lana and her crew the distraction they needed.
“Any idea who they are?” Lana pointed to the burning ship.
“Probably android scavengers. Rogue groups come here for components,” the skeletal android answered.
“Pirates, both human and android, come to get free repairs,” the one with the child legs added. “Hamlin fancies himself the lord of the planet. These resource vultures are the only thing holding back his revolution. We had hoped to sneak aboard one of the pirate ships and flee before …” she trailed off.
Lana’s brow creased, but she kept her eyes forward. The atmosphere eventually thinned, fading to the star-studded universe. “We have limited fuel, but I think we can make it to Vexor. They are known to be sympathetic to androids.”
“Will it matter?” An androgynous one with a single orange eye asked. “We are abandoned and marked for immediate incineration if caught outside of the dumping ground.”
“Maybe, but I believe we’ll find a new place to call home and be free.”
Text copyright © 2021 by the author. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: R. Michael (blog) lives in rural Minnesota with his family. His works have appeared in “365 Tomorrows,” “Theme of Absence,” “Trembling with Fear,” and other publications. He enjoys reading, gaming, and walking with his border collie.