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Prototype Og: After the Fall of ConSec written by O. Redmon, Jr. (Main Draft Start Date: April 16, 2010 - 2nd Draft Start Date: July 30, 2010 – 3 rd Draft Start Date: August 16, 2010 – 4th Draft Start Date: April 26, 2011 – 5th Draft Start Date: July 13, 2010) Book I – 5th Draft - Revision Date: 8.1.11

Chapter I: Lost Among Friends

“Nycole’s dead… but… she was just another human. She deserved it… right?” Annie thought timidly to herself. Soon, her anguish subsided and she began to feel at ease. “Attention, Assemblers!” The Principle boldly addressed everyone over the loudspeaker. “This completed assembly cycle has been deemed productive. In a series of fifteen total work hours, construction of the Assailants remains on schedule. Outpost 30 has obtained an acceptable goal with zero malfunctions to date. With expected results achieved, all Assemblers will be released to your designated rest area once roll has been verified. The upcoming assembly cycle will resume promptly in fifteen regulated hours for expected Assailant production. All positions are to clearly acknowledge before individual bi-ports are opened. Prepare for release!” he exclaimed in his usual deep monotone and mechanized voice. The Principle guided his massively rounded metallic body from his quarters to the very front of the assembly line. Once there, he quickly pivoted toward the first bi-port and faced Annie, who was sealed into position one. He announced the start of the routine attendance check. “Assemblers, proceed with roll call!” he bellowed to the anxious line of bots. “Acknowledged, position one”, Annie answered boldly. Once Annie replied to his command, The Principle performed a scan of her voice pattern. He analyzed her vital readings as stable and functional. Annie gave a quiet sigh. Regardless of her anxieties, she knew that she would scan well. She always did. Annie never gave The Principle any problems since the day she was installed into the very first port on the line, the engineer’s position. The Principle was pleased and responded in acceptance. “Position one, acknowledged.” He turned away from her, rolled a very short distance and faced position two. Annie became slightly concerned for her unpredictable and unrestrained bi-port mate. She knew The Principle would swiftly send Og back to the maintenance bay if he did anything remotely idiotic again. Once in front of position two, The Principle waited for Og’s acknowledgement. As he stared off into blank space, Og never noticed his superior’s presence. The massive overseer towering before him seemed to come out of thin air. Og was suddenly startled, but not intimidated in the least. The young bot quickly gathered himself and brought his troublesome wit to the forefront as to impress the others. “Uh, acknowledged, two”, he responded calmly with a poised grin on his face. “Assembler, incorrect vocal response. Say again”, The Principle stated.

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The other Assemblers began to tense up knowing that Og was beginning to make The Principle very unhappy. For the most part, they would ignore Og for reasons just as this. Despite the Assemblers’ disapproval, Og would continue to try and impress them. They’ve seen his childish antics play out numerous times and they could never understand why he would relentlessly put himself in such a dangerous position. “Acknowledged, position three minus one”, Og snickered. “Does that do it for you, captain? Huh? Does that work, maestro?” He continued to display utter disrespect towards his superior. “Hey Annie, what is it with this guy? Is he attention deprived or something? He looks like a small planet with no intelligent life existing on his surface... or in his surface. Heh, heh.” The other Assemblers were frozen with nervousness. Unlike the others, Annie was furious with him. She turned and barked at her ignorant bi-port mate. “Og! You idiot! What are you doing? Acknowledge him, you jerk!” “Silence, position one!” The Principle snapped as he rotated quickly towards her. Annie was startled and shaken, but quickly regained her composure. He turned back and gazed directly at Og. The boisterous bot was attempting to joke with another unnerved and very frightened Assembler. Og completely ignored the overseer looming in front of him. “Assembler, acknowledgement invalid. Say again, position two”, The Principle slowly commanded. Og mocked him once more, for good measure. “Acknowledged, uh, position twooo-na fish sandwich. Heh, heh.” Annie threw her face into her cupped hands and shook her head in disgust. The Principle backed away from Og and commanded The Operator Major to release all Assemblers from the line at once. The switch was flipped and all thirty biports opened and every Assembler was released. “Og, you jerk!” Annie mumbled. “You have to stop this act of yours… please.” She knew he was off to the maintenance bay, yet again. Annie slowly stepped up and out of her bi-port and walked toward the rest area. The other Assemblers followed behind her. Og was released, as well. Nevertheless, his defiance towards The Principle continued. “See, that’s the way it’s done. Sometimes you have to have a little fun with authority. No harm done, right? You could learn a lot from me, teapot. Heh, heh. A lot!” Og boasted as he stepped out of his side of the bi-port. “If you would just lighten up a little, you may be able to… Whoa!” The Principle grabbed Og by the right ankle and flipped him upside down in one precise movement. He headed down the ridged floor directly toward the maintenance bay with Og twisting and squirming as he tried to break loose. There was no escaping The Principle’s powerful grasp. “Hey! Put me down!” Og shrieked. “Ok, ok. I’m sorry! I acknowledge! Did you hear me? I said I acknowledge!” The Principle continued on and completely ignored the yelping bot. “Put me down!” Og persisted. “Stupid overgrown bowling ball!”

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The Principle slowed with his captive dangling in hand as he approached the entry of the maintenance bay. The doors were opened and The Operator Major humbly greeted them both. The three moved swiftly toward the examination table. Og remained in tow, upside down, arms crossed and sulking. “Run a complete diagnostic scan on this Assembler. Yet again, he refuses to comply with my instruction. His numerous illogical responses will not be tolerated.” The Principle proclaimed. “Once the diagnostic is complete, I expect a full systematic report. As always, you remain fully responsible for this unit while under maintenance. Acknowledge, Operator Major.” He answered The Principle with great reverence. “Command acknowledged, sir.” The Principle flung Og forward and slammed him down ferociously onto the stainless steel examination table. His head struck the table’s edge and he yelled out. “Yeeoouch!” The young bot grabbed his head. “What is your problem, you overweight ball bearing?” The Operator Major glanced at Og with annoyance and was not up to dealing with his childishness. He overlooked the rowdy bot for the moment. The Principle pivoted toward the doors. But before he made his way out, he turned back to Og and stated, “If there are any further disruptions from you, termination will swiftly follow. Acknowledge, Assembler.” Og peered at him angrily, shrugged his shoulders and kept silent. “Acknowledge me, position two!” The Principle’s voice increased in volume as he became more livid with Og’s disobedience. The Operator Major gaped at Og then turned to The Principle and replied, “I believe he may be experiencing a problem with his receptors. I’ll check them along with the requested diagnostic.” The Principle continued to demand a response from the stubborn young bot. “Acknowledge me, Assembler!” he brutally insisted. “Your termination is eminent! Submit to my command! Now!” The Operator Major became uneasy and very concerned, not for himself, but for Og. He turned to the irritated Assembler who was still sitting on the exam table with his arms folded and his head turned away. “Position two, acknowledge The Principle. Please.” Og turned his head back, sneered at The Principle and said slowly, “Acknowledged.” “Thank you, young Assembler, I mean, I, uh, yes…” The Operator Major muttered. He was relieved, trying not to let on that he feared for Og’s well being. The Principle spun his body toward the large, solid entry doors and started to roll out of the maintenance bay to his isolated quarters. Og watched with much disdain as The Principle headed out. He tried to hold his peace, but bad programming continued to

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take over his responses. “Yeah, go take a nap and let me run this place! I’m sure the others would prefer my lively leadership to your dense, dry logic any day! And thanks for the lift, Mr. Personality!” The Principle continued on without a reply. He reached the outside of the maintenance bay and rolled out of sight. The young bot continued his rant. “Yeah, you better pedal your way on out of here, you, you overgrown teapot!” Og boldly stated. “Do you believe that guy? What attractive charisma he has. Stupid.” The Operator Major peered at Og in a very objectionable manner as he readied the service processor to begin the bot’s systems check. His young subject started to relax a little and laid back on the examination table. “You again”, The Operator Major snapped. “I shouldn’t be too alarmed, though. I suspect you have a death wish you’re trying to fulfill. At your current rate, young Assembler, it’s going to come true very soon.” Og totally disregarded the maintenance bot’s ridicule. He always felt that the elder unit was beneath him, regardless of his vast knowledge of things. The Operator Major continued on with the diagnostic tests. He grabbed four cables and plugged each of them into Og’s palm and foot port openings. Once the final connection was made, The Operator Major turned to him, still concerned and slightly intrigued. “Seems like you were genuinely built to malfunction, position two”, he said as he circled the table. “You are a special case, though. In all my cycles here, I have never come across an Assembler that tries The Principle’s patience as much as you do”, he continued. “Faulty base programming or maybe a sluggish processor?” he thought aloud. “No, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s your outdated operating system. What do you think, young Assembler?” The Operator Major inquired with peaked interest. “Aren’t you the guy who suppose to tell me what’s wrong? Why are you asking me?” Og exclaimed. “I wish you would fix whatever it is for the twenty-fifth time already. I’m sick of this examination crap! I’ve got things to do”, he said angrily as he folded his arms. “I hate being drug in here by that, that glorified bowling ball all the time… it’s embarrassing! My end user wouldn’t stand for the way I’m treated around here!” “Ahhh, heh, heh. The bowling ball, as you say, has nothing to do with it, young Og. You embarrass yourself pretty well on your own”, The Operator Major chuckled. “Believe me, your intended human end user could care less about your present state of being right now, if he’s even alive”, he added. “And things to do? What could you possibly have planned besides working on the assembly line, position two?” “I’ve got friends. You wouldn’t know anything about that”, Og sharply answered. “The other Assemblers are lost without me”, he continued to boast. “I’m not here to hold a conversation with you, wrench guy. Could you please do your little maintenance thing and release me? The quicker you do, the quicker everybody involved will be satisfied… and my human user is none of your concern. Thank you, Mr. Operator Major, sir.” “You know”, The Operator Major replied, “I was never fond of that calling.” “What? You were never fond of what? You old bolt bucket! What are you mouthing off about now?” Og yapped as he became more irritated. “The Operator Major. That identification seems like an awful mouthful. I would like to be known by something more

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streamlined and aerodynamic”, he stated with a smile. “I’ve been thinking about an identification that describes more of my seasoned intellect and less of my graying hair, expanded middle section and frayed lab coat. Something with flair. Something that flows off the tongue with ease.” “How about Major Idiot?” Og quickly interjected. “Maintenance Moron or wait, uh, yeah, I got it! The Principle’s Peon? That tells your whole story right there”, he continued jokingly. “Yep. Very streamlined, I would say. I got a few more if that doesn’t work for you.” The Operator Major didn’t care for Og’s sharp tongue suggestions. The veteran mechanic’s expression turned from gleeful to agitated in an instant. As a means of sweet revenge, The Operator Major turned the power load dial to maximum and sent a quick jolt of electricity through Og’s nervous system. “Errrrraaaaauuucccchh!” Og screeched in anguish. “Sorry, young Og. My hand slipped”, The Operator Major paused. “You know, you probably would do yourself, your invisible human user and your imaginary group of friends a great justice by being a bit more relaxed and less unruly out on the floor. It may keep you out of here.” “Thank you, Dr. Shock, but my issues are… my issues”, Og replied quietly as he clutched his chest and took a breath. “You paused for a moment”, The Operator Major said. “Did that small electric shock loosen a fitting? If so, I can repair that, also. I’ve got a tool for just such a fix around here somewhere…” The elder bot turned as to look for his tools, but he was really waiting. Waiting on Og to continue as though he may say something that he wanted or needed to hear. Og began to speak, a little milder this time. “Operator Major...” He paused for a second. “Can I ask you something that may seem a bit… off the grid?” “Indeed, young Assembler. What can I assist you with?” The Operator Major was hoping this was the conversation he’s been waiting for. The young bot sat up on the table and held his head down, looking away, towards the floor. In a soft quiet voice, he asked, “Do you know why I was sent here? Sometimes, I feel… like… I don’t belong. I feel something… pulling, tugging at me... Something pulling me away from this place.” The Operator Major was lightly surprised, but he also felt strangely relieved. Although this wasn’t the conversation he had hoped Og would introduce, he knew the young bot was getting closer to the mark. Og slowly raised his head and waited on a reply. As soon as The Operator Major started to respond, The Principle rolled into the bay abruptly and the atmosphere quickly changed. “What is the issue?” demanded The Principle. “This diagnostic session of Assembler unit at position 2, serial number 0250 has exceeded the allotted period allowed.” The Principle barked. “Again, what is the issue? Operator Major respond.” The Operator Major regained his calm composure and replied, “Initial tests indicate that this particular unit is operating normally. No major defects detected. Slight power surge from assembly line bi-port connection is probable cause for the noted insubordination and repetitive vocal outbursts. Assembler’s main systems were restarted to clear corrupt personality programming and executed to test corrective action”, The Operator Major stated. The large bot paused for a brief second, then he spoke. “Your analysis is irrational. Operator Major, record updated

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maintenance results on this Assembler and forward for my review immediately. Acknowledge, Operator Major”, he demanded. “Acknowledged, sir.” The Principle remained to escort Og back to the Assembler’s rest area. The Operator Major took notice and started to disconnect his patient from the examination table. “Because of your displeasure with my findings, I would like to continue examining this unit as much as I can. Preventative maintenance is key to maintaining efficient productivity on the assembly line”, The Operator Major suggested. “Negative, Operator Major”, replied The Principle. “This unit will receive maintenance only when necessary. No additional diagnostics will be validated.” Og leaped from the exam table and walked toward the entryway. The Principle pivoted and followed closely behind. The young bot turned back and glanced at the elder unit and smiled gently. “I got it!” Og said brightly. “The Operator. You’re The Operator. It’s a very, very streamlined identification. That will get you noticed, you know.” “The Operator. Heh, heh. I like that. I like that very much”, he chuckled. “Simple and effective. A very good identification, young Og. Very good, indeed! Thank you, position two.” “End this frivolous communication exchange immediately!” The Principle harshly interrupted. “Assembler, to your designated rest area for recharge. Operator Major, prepare for assembly line maintenance cycle and shutdown all other unnecessary outpost operations.” “Didn’t you just hear?” Og asked. “He’s The Operator. You know, The Operator… without the Major. Just The Operator, like you’re just The Principle. Understand, big boy?” The Principle disregarded Og’s illogical chatter and they both headed out of the bay toward the Assemblers rest area. At the same time, The Operator prepared to check the line for the upcoming fifteen hours of assembly. But before he started to walk out onto the main floor, he concocted another false report on Og’s current diagnostic exam. If The Principle were to ever discover the numerous fabricated reports on the young bot, this would mean immediate termination for The Operator and the young Assembler he protected. He knew Og had information vital to his agenda and he needed to do research on him as much as he possibly could. The Operator sent the bogus data through to The Principle, packed his tools and headed out to perform upkeep on the various assembly line components. The recharging pods were all arranged in the same order as the bi-ports were on the assembly line. They were located a good distance away from the line which gave the Assemblers space to socialize on occasion. A designated pair of bots shared a common connection on the line, but each had an independent pod where they recharged. Og and The Principle finally made it to the Assemblers rest area where they found many of the others plugged in for a cycle of relaxing and recharging. “Assembler, connect to your pod to initiate recharge. Acknowledge”, demanded The Principle. “Acknowledged”, Og replied. He placed himself into his pod and took a deep breath. The Principle then proceeded to his area across the way, pleased

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that the young bot seemed to be functioning normally, as he should. Annie and all the other Assemblers leaned outward from their pods and watched as Og plugged himself in. They were amazed that he did not make some stupid remark as The Principle left nor did some silly movement to try and make them all laugh. Annie was particularly impressed. Knowing that the others were watching him, Og slowly connected himself to his pod and graciously reached for the switch to activate the recharge. The warm, inviting energy began to flow through his systems and he began to feel completely relaxed. He laid back and closed his eyes peacefully. Everyone was at ease and delighted to know that there would be no drama from the comedian to deal with this cycle. The recharge continued to feel pleasing to him until… “Eeeeaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!” He quickly reached over, shut off the charge and almost fell out of his pod. Everyone jerked of fright and knew immediately where the source of the commotion was. “Og! What is it?” Annie yelled. “You’re going to wake the teapot!” “Yeeoouch!” Og called out under his breath. “You know”, Annie replied. “I don’t get you. You act like a complete moron before release, come back calm after The Operator Major tightens up a bunch of loose screws and now you’re a crazy nut case again. What is your malfunction?” “The Operator”, Og answered panting. “It wasn’t… my fault this time, Annie. He must have… fully charged me during my diagnostic exam. Crap...” he continued as he grasped his knees. “I forgot to check my meter… The Operator… he didn’t tell me…” “The Operator Major, you mean.” “He’s not fond that any longer. He’s The Operator now. Just The Operator.” Somewhat annoyed, Annie peered at him and blew her one silver curl back up and out of her face. “Og, how could you not know that you were fully charged?” she sternly asked. “Even the least of these idiots know their own power levels in their sleep. Besides, you weren’t in maintenance long enough to receive a complete charge anyway.” Annie continued. “I guess you’ve forgotten already… we’ve worked assembly the entire fifteen hours straight. It takes nearly the entire rest cycle to get a full charge. You should only have a minimum of power left and you say you’re completely peaked? Give it a rest, Og.” “Well, I don’t know… don’t blame me. I’m just telling you what happened.” Og huffed. Before he spoke again, he paused for a second. And then, all of a sudden, he blurted out, “You forget stuff all the time!” Annie became increasingly irritated and turned directly to Og. Then, her expression suddenly changed. She looked down toward the floor, confused and sad. “Get some rest, Og”, Annie said dismayed as she continued to glance downward. “It’s been a long cycle.” “I’m sorr… ok, Annie”, Og replied remorsefully. She noticed his sincerity and it humbled her. Annie decided to ease his concern by shifting the subject.

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“The Operator, huh?” she asked. “Yep, just The Operator”, he answered and gently smiled at his friend. They both leaned back into their recharging pods. Og rested as Annie glanced upward toward the ceiling that seemed to go on forever. As she watched the water droplets fall from the maze of pipes, the wavy haired bot soon drifted off. Og, Annie and the other twenty-eight Assemblers were not very tired, but they were all content that another assembly cycle had ended. Soon, the entire outpost was still and every bot was at rest. The next assembly cycle was swiftly approaching and just like clockwork, all the Assemblers awoke promptly, even Og. Since they still had a few hours before they reported to the line, the Assemblers were allowed some communal time. The bots were permitted to roam about the main areas of the outpost except for the Assailants’ secure holding room, which was restricted. The Assemblers rarely caught a glimpse at the growing number within the dark, vast space. Most of the Assemblers chose not to venture too far away from the rest area, but a curious few would head toward the enormous entry doors wondering what lies beyond them. It was strictly forbidden for any Assembler to leave the walls of the outpost due to the increased threat of the human enemy organizing to the south. Since the bot’s freedoms were limited, the times inside needed to be occasionally entertaining. Most of the activities within the facility were somewhat drab and predictable. Everything revolved around Assailant production and The Principle’s tight schedule. But sometimes, there were some meaningful conversations that would spring up among the thirty assembly bot residents. The Assemblers would light-heartily discuss their thoughts about their human end users or whom they believed their end users may have been. “Hey, Jay. I think we look very, very similar”, Tom explained as he closely examined Jay’s chiseled face. “Maybe our end users were related. It’s possible, you know.” “Heh, heh, heh. Little Thomas, you cannot be serious! Look at my sniffer. My profile is a masterpiece!” Jay replied arrogantly as he ran his finger down the bridge of his nose. “Your snout looks like a toe. A big crooked toe. I think some brainless bone bag mixed your parts up. Maybe your end user was some kind of freak or something. Besides, you don’t have these!” Jay confidently flexed his large biceps. Tom mimicked him, but became anxious, sweaty and quickly ashamed. He was built on a wiry frame, which was the complete opposite of a much burly Jay. An egotistical, simple-minded bot the incorrigible Thomas held in high regard for some strange reason. Underneath, Jay enjoyed the banter and his skinny admirer’s bothersome attachment to him. The boastful chatter drew in more participants. “Well, my end user must have been a famous model!” Susan chimed in. “Just look at me. An extremely fine piece of equipment, right before your very diodes”, she slyly joked. “I’m sure my human turned heads everywhere she went. I’m representing her very well. Don’t you think so boys?” Susan placed her hands on her hips and struck a tempting pose. She always had the attention of most of the male bots, but never showed true conceitedness in the least. Susan was very pretty, but a bit worn. The scarred metal pieces that formed her right knee and left elbow were gravely exposed from her torn outer skin. Susan’s deformities secretly affected her self-esteem, but no one else really cared. She would cope by over glamorizing herself in a joking manner which the others would take as desirable and entertaining. Regardless, Susan was basically a very kind bot and a dependable Assembler. Everyone was fond of her and enjoyed her playful behavior, especially a bashful Dexter.

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“Su, Susan, I, uh, uh, I always thought you… I think you are beautiful”, Dexter replied nervously. “Aww, thank you, Dex. You’re a real sweetheart… you know that?” she answered politely. Dexter instantly blushed and was all smiles. His goofy expression caught Og’s prying eyes. Jealousy increased within the lonely bot as he stood near the pods and watched the others drool over Susan. Og wanted that attention redirected onto himself. He thought of the most far out statement he could possibly make to achieve instant popularity. Og bellowed loudly toward the center of the entire group and made his unwanted presence known. “Uh, well, that’s nothing, Suzy!” Jaded at the sound of Og’s voice, everybody turned around as the boisterous bot continued his announcement. “My end user had to be a leader or some royalty type of guy or something… yeah, like that”, he exclaimed. “From now on, all you guys are here to serve me.” Og waved his finger across the entire group. “My first command is that you all kiss my feet as a true display of loyalty towards me. Like… right now.” Og lifted his right foot to the Assemblers before him as Annie strolled by and pushed him over. He fell to the floor and everyone laughed, teased and walked away. Deeply embarrassed, he directed his anger towards Annie. He didn’t understand why she would humiliate him in front of everyone. “Annie! Why did you do that?” he screamed. “I knew it! You’re jealous! You’re always coming between me and my friends! I hate you, Annie! I wish we didn’t have to work so close together! I’m tired of being around you all the time… dealing with you and your stupid attitude!” Og roared as he picked himself up off the floor. Annie turned to him and directly asserted, “I’m the only real friend you’ve got… and it’s not by choice! All that garbage you spew about your end user… everybody’s sick of it! The others talk about how dumb you are and laugh at you behind your back”, she ranted. “Why don’t you act like you have a normal processor if you want the other Assemblers to respect you? Stop being such an attention starved, moronic, empty-headed jerk! You… you jerk!” Og dusted himself off and peered directly at Annie. She stood there fuming and waited on his response. He opened his mouth, but then a thought eased his anger. He calmed down and took a deep breath before he spoke. “If it’s not your choice to be my friend, why do you hang around me so much? I don’t need your pity, Annie.” Annie was looking for a fight, but he caught her completely off guard. She was ashamed. “Og, I, I, I don’t know”, she uttered sadly. “You haven’t been an Assembler that long… I don’t have any idea why I try to watch over you so much. You’re so needy… I shouldn’t care what you do. I try not to, I really do, but I find myself doing it again. I keep forgetting to back off... maybe it’s my memory. Uh, well, it’s really not bad… no, not all the time…” she rambled cautiously. “I’m a good worker, Annie. I’m sure The Principle would’ve terminated me cycles ago if I was useless. I don’t need your help”, he boldly replied. “Og, I didn’t mean… I don’t know what I mean.” Og glanced at Annie and then thought for a second. He wondered if she felt sorry for him because of his occasional malfunctions. She was quiet and looking away. “Who was the guy I replaced? Your old bi-port mate. You never talk about him”, he asked her abruptly. “Why bring him up now?” she asked.

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“I want to know why you resent me so much. Did you treat him the same way you treat me?” Annie never turned back, but she spoke softly. “I wasn’t very close to the Assembler who held position two before you came. I never said much to him”, Annie replied leaning against her pod. “He was set at a much older age, an elder class bot, I think. Over time, he became very sick while on the line, at least that’s what The Operator Major… The Operator told me. I do remember that he would always turn and smile whenever we were plugged into the bi-ports… right before the cycle started. We never talked during recharges, not like you and I. He just… smiled a lot”, Annie lamented. “One day, we were all called back to the line after a rest cycle and The Principle told me that the older guy’s side of the port would be sealed until he found a field replacement. At the time, it didn’t concern me. I continued functioning as normal, but working for two… heh, trying to impress The Principle. I really didn’t care much about the guy or whatever happened to him. But now…”, Annie paused and hung her head. Her one silver curl fell slowly upon her face. “But now?” Og questioned. “Well, a few cycles after, the assembly line was producing the Assailants at the usual pace and The Principle unexpectedly brought you in labeled as serial number 0250. It was the exact number that belonged to the older bot.” Annie continued. “Once I saw your number, I knew the elder unit had to be sentenced for decommission. That was the only way you could have received it. It was so strange the way everything happened.” “Decommission?” Og inquired. “You mean they terminated him? They did, they terminated him. Right?” “I guess so, I mean, I think so, I can’t, I don’t know”, Annie fretfully replied. “I do know one thing. You definitely see The Operator Major about as much as he did. I thought you were going to be much more efficient… the way you would go on about your human end user. Heh, guess I was wrong”, she paused. “Sorry, I mean The Operator.” “I apologize for yelling at you earlier”, Og stated. “It’s not a bad thing to know that you have my back. Besides, you hold position one and could have befriended anybody. I realize that and I’m glad you chose me as a friend”, he said honestly. “I hope you’re taking all this in because I’ll probably never say it again”, he joked. Og glanced at her and smiled. “Thanks, Annie.” She was touched and shed a tear. Annie quickly wiped her eye and began to blush. She blew the silver curly locks up into her hair, smiled back at Og and replied, “Jerk.” The start time for the next assembly cycle was near. The Principle made his way out of his quarters and turned toward the bots gathered near their pods. He rolled alongside the assembly line until he arrived near the clustered and lively Assemblers. He began to address them about the preparation for the upcoming cycle. “Assemblers, attention”, he proclaimed. “You may all begin to report to assembly positions. Bi-port entry will commence in five minutes. All units begin to report to positions for assembly cycle initiation.” Og and Annie casually proceeded to the line and the others began to follow. As usual, The Operator powered up the assembly line for this cycle’s production once The Principle made the announcement. He ran a few tests to make sure the line was timed correctly and fully operational. From the main control area overhead, he could see the Assemblers making their way toward their positions. He then checked all bi-port connections between one another and the overall facility communications to and from The Principle. Once everything was inspected, he gathered his tools and headed back down to the maintenance bay. The Assemblers began to step inside each one of their bi-ports. As each step in, the ports on the bottom of each foot

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would contact the plug connectors that cause the individual bi-port to seal close. They would be locked in from both ankles down with the rest of their bodies free alongside the belt of the assembly line. In precise order, each stepped in and the biport would seal firm. The Principle made certain that each Assembler was present and monitored each individual connection from position thirty to position one. “Position thirty, engaged!” bellowed Jay as his bi-port sealed. “Position twenty-nine, engaged!” Fench roared. “Position twenty-eight, engaged!” Savannah cried out. Each Assembler announced his or her connection once their port was successfully sealed. It was almost military-like in fashion. The Principle arrived to the front of the line where bi-ports two and one were the last to seal. He stood before Og and Annie, awaiting their responses. Og was engaged and shortly, Annie shouted, “Position one, engaged!” The line started and huge metal pieces and computer components began to head down the wide and lengthy conveyer belt. The assembly of the Assailants resumed for another fifteen hours straight. It was five hours in since startup. The line was running well and production was on schedule, as usual. The Principle circled the facility, as he always did, checking and rechecking the Assemblers’ performance and efficiency. He continued on as he rolled by Og and Annie, surveying their work. “…and there he goes again!” Og said sarcastically. “Og, please, not today. Ok?” Annie pleaded with him as she continued to work. “Ok, I’ll try to hold in my excitement as the Teapot Express rolls by again and again and again”, Og replied. At that very moment, he felt a slight jolt within his systems. Not quite as intense as the one he experienced at his pod earlier. He paused for a quick second, ignored the feeling and continued working. Og didn’t notice that Annie was experiencing something unusual as well. She felt the sensation as it crept up her leg. It was a very familiar feeling. Annie was terrified knowing what was to follow. Og’s strange signal traveled through their shared connection and immediately started to disrupt Annie’s functions. She tried to fight it, but the surge took over and caused her systems to completely shutdown. Instantaneously, Annie lost all power, but then, she restarted just as fast. It was so fast, the alarm wasn’t triggered nor did anyone notice. She continued working as if nothing happened, but deep inside, it scared her and she felt helpless. It was happening more often than the few times before she started keeping track. The engineer’s confidence was shaken and her anxiety began to show. Og looked up from the assembly conveyer and noticed his friend’s obvious demeanor. "Annie, are you ok?" Annie gazed at Og as she distressed over the episode, but quickly focused her attention back on the line. "I'm fine. I told you before to stop doing that", she said in a very commanding voice. Annie did not make eye contact and continued to work. "Stop what?” Og asked. “Something’s wrong, Annie. You’re sweating. You’ve always had my back. Let me help you this time”, he added.

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Annie remained defiant and did not respond. She wiped her forehead and kept up her pace, hoping that Og would soon stop pressuring her. “I'm sorry. Annie, I, I was only concerned..." Annie slammed her tools down onto the empty Assailant’s shell that lay before her. She turned toward Og and directed her frustration and confusion towards him. “Og, stop it! You were concerned? Concerned? You have no idea what that means! Stop trying to make yourself out to be some kind of sympathetic blob when you only care about yourself! You are an egomaniacal, low powered, self-diluted pest!” Annie screamed. “That’s why no one wants to be around you! I don’t know why I continue to deal with you! Get over yourself and grow up!” she thundered. Annie took a few deep breaths and calmed down. She realized that Og had no clue about what had just happened to her, but she didn’t feel guilty at all about her outburst. She gathered up a little strength and continued. “Og, please stop! I can't keep doing this with you!" she yelled. “Just leave me alone!” “Annie, I'm, uh, sorry. I’m sorry", Og whispered. He turned and continued his work. The other Assemblers were all tuned in to the heated conversation. This frustrated Annie intensely as she saw the numbers of piercing diodes focused in on her. "Ugh!” shrugged Annie. “What are you jerks looking at? Get back to work!” She took another deep breath and blew the curl out of her twisted face. Her resentment subsided and soon everything was back to normal. Annie thought after this last episode. She didn’t understand why she was having these periodic and distressful occurrences. Occurrences that would cause her to see bits of past memories and gain fragments of information that she couldn’t comprehend. Annie was fully aware that something strange was happening, but she would simply try to ignore it, which frustrated her even further. What shook her up the most were the images she would see of herself crying out and screaming, but as quickly as the images appeared, they were gone. Annie was worried that these events would cause her to be demoted in position, or even worse, terminated. With all these distractions swimming around in her head, Annie pushed on and performed as expected. After taking the brunt of her tirade, Og made up his mind not to bother with Annie ever again. He decided to make friends with some of the other Assemblers who didn’t have the stress of leading the line. He cared for Annie, but he believed that she would be better off without him constantly upsetting her. He didn’t understand what was truly affecting her, but whatever it was, Og wanted no part of it now. He knew that his mate was obviously troubled, but she refused to let him in. He decided that it was her problem to deal with, not his. Og slowly turned his head to glance at Annie. He noticed that she still had a fuming look about her. She continued to ignore him and with this, he harshly turned away and restarted his plan to make new friends. He began with his oversized neighbor in position three. “Hey, dude. What’s happening?” Og asked. “Excuse me?” the husky Assembler replied in a deep tone. “Are you talking to me?” “Sure I am”, Og graciously answered. “How’s it going with ‘cha?”

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The larger bot was taken aback. Og never held a talk with him before, so he became suspicious of his neighbor’s intentions. The young bot continued on, trying to get a rise from Annie at the same time. “Did you know that these guys we’re building have no weapons attached? How are they going to fight the humans without weapons?” Og cleverly spoke. “Now, this is what I would call bad engineering… very bad engineering. Who runs this line, anyway? Am I right? What is your view on the subject, my good bot?” “What are you talking about? Have we met?” “Well, er, I, no. What’s your name?” “Larry.” “Larry. Yes. Well, my name is Og. O, G. It means giant in some foreign languages, you know”, he nervously replied as he took in Larry’s larger size. “Well, er, I, uh, I bet your end user was a great human. Just look at you.” The larger bot became slighty comfortable conversating with his much smaller neighbor. “I’m not certain, but I was told that he was a very intelligent custodial technician at ConSec Corporation. He worked the floors near the Integration Division”, Larry exclaimed with vigor. “You know, before the war began.” “A wha…?” Og asked. “A janitor. A janitor, you mean.” Larry’s attitude shifted. “It figures. You would think a second position Assembler would use more descriptive language. Go down the line and annoy someone on your processing level, clown”, he huffed brashly. “Have a nice day”, Og sarcastically replied. He turned back slightly disgusted. Og took another quick glance at Annie again. Her demeanor hadn’t changed. Actually, she looked even more upset. He swung back toward the line and continued working. “There has got to be one idiot around here who’s not such an idiot! If I don’t get some stimulating dialog going soon, my logic circuits are going to deteriorate. I can’t believe I’m stuck in such an energy-draining dump. How did I end up here anyway?” Og thought to himself. “I don’t belong here!” He leaned over the line and veered down the row of Assemblers busily working. He saw one particular Assembler that he thought looked intelligent enough to hold a conversation with. Her unique purple diodes gleamed clear and bright. The eyeglasses she wore, which seemed out of place, enhanced their glow. Regardless, the petite bot was still oddly attractive. Og vowed to make at least one new friend and she became his primary target. He promised himself to try as hard as he could to make her his new companion once they all are released for the next rest cycle. Og regained his assembling posture as The Principle reeled around again. “Working hard, motivation is high! I love working here!” Og exclaimed as he noticed The Principle approaching his position. He continued to put on his act anticipating the release from the line. “Hey, it’s The Principle! Hello, again sir!” Og carried on. “Nice large ball you got there! Size does matter, you know! Working hard! Got to get these guys assembled! “The humans are going down!” Og cheerfully stated as The Principle

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slowed and gawked at him. Once the large overseer passed, Og’s attitude went back to normal. He couldn’t help the negativity he deeply held for his superior. “Hey, Larry. That guy’s a jerk”, he stated. “I wish I could get close enough to him to pull his plug. I’d love to see that mass of metal tip over.” “Funny. I was thinking the exact same thing about you, clown”, Larry replied with a rather serious tone. Og shrugged off Larry’s comment and resumed his assembly duties. Once again, it was time for the line to power down. The Operator was seen making his way toward the main controls which marked the beginning of another fifteen hour rest. The Principle made the announcement and the weary bots were ready for the upcoming break. “Assemblers, prepare for line release in fifteen minutes. Line release in fifteen minutes!” The Principle decreed. Og was eager to launch his plan of approaching the unknown, spectacle clad, petite Assembler many positions away. Although he was looking forward to introducing himself to her, he still thought of Annie. Og didn’t know if it was something he was doing to cause her frustrations. And if he was the reason, why does it continue to happen? Why doesn’t she tell him about it? He was compelled to say something to her, but she was still visibly upset. Og decided to keep a safe distance and let her cool down. He did catch her looking in his direction, but it was only for a brief second. He began to miss Annie’s smile and the confident manner that came along with it. Disheartened, Og slowly turned and faced forward awaiting release. The Principle made his way to the front of the assembly line and began his usual speech. Everyone gave the huge machine their full attention. “Attention, Assemblers. This cycle has yielded the expected production.” The Principle stated. “In the total series of assembly cycles to date, construction of the Assailants remains on schedule. Zero malfunctions experienced”, he added. “You are all free to retire to your rest area once bi-port identification has been recognized. The next assembly cycle will resume promptly in fifteen hours. All positions acknowledge before release.” This time, The Principle pivoted to face Annie and the roll call began with position one to thirty. “Acknowledged, position one”, Annie said in a very low voice. “Position one, repeat. Response not clear”, replied The Principle. “Acknowledged, position one”, Annie stated a little more confidently. “Position one, acknowledged”, replied The Principle. Annie was released and headed toward the maintenance bay without hesitation. Og didn’t give much thought to it. He would see her go from time to time and figured she needed the usual maintenance. Besides, he had other plans that were more pressing than to worry about some curly haired grouch who got ticked at him every other day. The Principle approached Og and faced him for release.

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“Acknowledged, position two!” Og said with much drive. “Position two, ack…” “Yes, sir! Acknowledged, position two! That’s right!” Og’s eagerness to meet his new friend overpowered him and he abruptly interrupted The Principle’s return acknowledgement. Something Assemblers never do. “Silence, position two!” commanded The Principle. “Cease with this nonsense!” “Sorry, uh, sorry, sir”, Og beseeched. “Won’t happen again, sir. Sorry.” “Position two, acknowledged”, The Principle stated. “Thank you, sir. Uh, thanks!” Og said. His port was opened and he stepped up and out. He didn’t head to the rest area right away. Og intended to wait on the release of the Assembler with the purple eyes and the weird glasses. He lingered around the line while some of the other Assemblers began to walk pass heading to rest and recharge. Og waited and waited. Soon, The Principle arrived at twenty-seven and the next position was the bi-port belonging to his target Assembler. Og perked up when The Principle finally reached position twenty-eight. “Acknowledged, position twenty-eight”, the female bot announced in an alluring tone. Og was captivated. She had the softest voice, much more inviting than Annie’s coarse badgering. He wondered why he never paid her much attention before. “Position twenty-eight, acknowledged”, The Principle answered. She was released and Og wasted no time making his way toward the interesting and intriguing female Assembler. “Excuse me, excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me”, Og said to the others as he made his way through toward his mark. “Hey, look everybody! Og is still here! It’s amazing! He’s not being dragged away to the maintenance bay! I can’t believe it! Let’s all give him a hand! Or better yet, let’s all kiss his feet!” Jay yelled to everybody as he stepped out of bi-port thirty. The remaining Assemblers that stood by all roared with laughter. Regardless of Jay’s taunts, Og was not embarrassed. He was on a mission. He stopped suddenly and quickly addressed Jay with confidence. “Ha. Ha. Very funny, thirty.” “Hey, Og. Do us all a favor and go over charge yourself again. It was hilarious.” “Yeah, I’m sure it was for somebody whose end user was probably a dumb, color blind gym jockey”, Og said. Everyone knew that Jay had two different colored eye diodes.

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“Hey, uh, well, I’m unique!” “Spell unique, genius”, Og asked as he proceeded to walk pass. He noticed the petite bot was gone from sight. “Yeah, you better get outta here!” Jay exclaimed as he pointed in Og’s direction. “I am unique! U, N, E… uh…” Not showing Jay or the others any concern, Og finally caught up with his target bot and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around and was not very impressed with who she saw standing before her. “Uh, yes?” she asked sarcastically, peering over her glasses. “Can I help you?” “Er, uh, hi!” he replied. “My name is Og. I work position two.” “Yeah, I know”, she said unimpressed. “You’re the guy who wants everyone to kiss his feet.” “Heh, uh, yeah. That was just a joke. You know, heh, heh”, Og replied as he scratched his head. Nervously, he continued on. “You’ve been on the line long?” “I was reformatted not long before you showed up. I remember when you were brought in.” Og was very intrigued. “Really?” he asked. “I can’t remember much around that time. Once I started assembly, my memory slowly started to come back online after a few trips to The Operator. I still got a few bits and bytes missing, but for the most part, I’m fully functional”, he continued. “I’m in position two, you know. I already said that, didn’t I? Heh, heh. Crap.” “The Operator?” she asked. Since she did not take a quick hold of his strengths, Og started to have doubts about his friendship hopes. He continued on. “Yeah. The Operator.” “The Operator Major, you mean”, she said suspiciously. “Nope. He doesn’t like that.” “He doesn’t like what?” she asked stubbornly. Og started to get slightly aggravated. “He’s just The Operator now. He dropped the Major part.” “I guess you would know”, she replied cynically. “You spend an awful amount of time with him.” “Uh, yeah, umm, heh, heh… well, he checks me out often because I’m so close to the front of the line. I have to be in top functioning condition to do my duties. I’m sure my human end user designed me to work well”, he bragged. After Og observed the female bot’s weary expression, he interjected. “Uh, speaking of names, I never got yours.” “You never asked”, she said looking away, sighing and bored stiff.

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Og knew that this was going nowhere fast. Although he was ready to finish this dead end conversation, he tried to be polite and show that he was the intelligent one. “You know my name. So…, what’s yours?” She gawked at him over the rim of her fallen glasses and said, “Savannah.” “That’s an unusually older identification. What is its origin?” Og inquired. “What? Are you serious?” Savannah cackled. “Well, most humanistic contrived names have some sort of history behind them. Some have a direct link to an end user and some have other special root meanings. You don’t know your identification’s history?” Og questioned. “No.” “My name means giant in various foreign languages and some archived histories, you know.” “Yeah”, Savannah said exasperated. “I hear you say that. Like, all the time.” “Do you know anything?” Og exclaimed. Savannah took offense to Og’s frustrated state. She pushed her glasses upon her face and started to walk away. “Uh, anything about your end user, I mean. You can tell a lot about yourself and your history with human end user information”, Og said nervously as he tried to catch up to her. “That’s nice”, Savannah replied hastily as she pointed at the level meter on her wrist. “Well, I got to go. Power’s low. I really need to recharge, so…” “Uh, ok”, Og chimed. “Maybe we can talk later.” “I don’t think so, professor.” Savannah walked away toward the rest area leaving Og standing behind. “Nice glasses!” Og screamed at her furiously. “What a geek!” Savannah thought as she continued to walk away. “Well, I was wrong, even dummies wear glasses”, he said to himself. “What is the deal with these guys? I’m surrounded by morons! Not an ounce of intellect in any of them!” Og was aggravated that his plan failed miserably. More than that, he felt even more isolated. It seemed the more he tried to fit in, the more he realized that there wasn’t one bot around that had his same level of understanding. Depressed and slightly on edge, he started to head back to the rest area. Before he turned around, he saw Annie leaving the maintenance bay. Og wasn’t pressed to head to his pod, so he decided to investigate why his angry bi-port mate visited The Operator this cycle. He also thought that he could try to get a few answers concerning himself. “There’s Annie”, he murmured. “Time to find out what’s ticking her off.”

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He ran and hid near the end of the assembly line until Annie walked by. Once she was out of sight, Og took the opportunity and headed over to the maintenance bay to talk with The Operator. In the meantime, Annie made her way back to the Assemblers rest area. As she approached her pod, she noticed Savannah standing beside it. Annie paused and thought to herself, “Ok, this can’t be good.” She continued on and approached Savannah. “How can I help you, twenty-eight?” Annie asked. “Why are you here?” “No help needed, engineer. Just wanted to tell you that your boyfriend was flirting with me today”, Savannah answered slyly. “And why call me by my position? That’s so formal. You’re allowed to call me by my name, you know. We could end up becoming the best of friends. I hate to think that we couldn’t get along.” “Twenty-eight, I’m tired and I don’t have time to waste with you. Get to the point”, Annie stated. “Watch your boyfriend. I’m sure you don’t want him mingling with the lowly double digits”, Savannah replied as she strolled away. “Try keeping him on a short leash. A very short leash.” Annie turned around and snapped back. “Hey, twenty-eight!” Annie yelled. “Savannah means plain in the simplest of languages, you know. Look it up!” Savannah stopped short and turned. “Wow! You two are a real couple of geeks! You nerds were designed for each other!” Savannah shrieked. She turned and continued on to her pod. Annie smirked, stepped into her pod and started to recharge. She thought about what The Operator told her during her visit and then she remembered how she blew up at Og. Annie felt guilty because she knew he was only being concerned. She could never grasp the reason why she would ever act out like she did on the line. It made her seem more like Og. Her exchange with Savannah made her think that the others are noticing the similarities between the two of them. “Heh, geeks”, Annie lightly chuckled. “That was a good one.” She thought about how she would always find herself struggling not to be like him. Og was loud, unpredictable and a magnet for trouble. She cared about him, but she cared about her position as well. The more she battled about his concern for her, the more concerned she became. It troubled her deeply and the constant surges during assembly didn’t help. As she glanced upward at the web of pipes, Annie continued to think. “I’m not like him. He’s a boisterous idiot. He needs so-called friends around to make himself feel important. What kind of name is Og anyway? What human jerk came up with a name like that? He imagines that his end user was some kind of king or something. Humans are the enemy… right?” Annie paused. “He thinks he knows everything… he can’t even figure out who he really is! Idiot! At least I can remember who my human end user was. Well… sort of.”

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She began to feel dismayed and faint. Her thoughts became like a dream. “What is happening…? What’s happening to me? I don’t…remember… Nycole, what did you do to me… why did you create me? I’m sorry, Nycole… I’m so sorry…” Annie gazed downward at her hands and began to cry softly. “Ann… what did you do…” Soon, she drifted off to sleep. Og had a new mission. He was determined to find out about his friend’s anguish. As he headed in the direction of the maintenance bay, he thought to himself, “I need to know what Annie is hiding. Is she having programming issues? Maybe she’s retaining battery fluids… or could she on the verge of a shutdown? I need to help her. I got to help her.” Then, he began to question himself. “What if it’s me? What if I am the cause?” His pace slowed and an agonizing look came over his face. “Am I the reason she blows up? Will I be the cause that subjects Annie to termination? I got to know…” Og finally made his way to the two huge maintenance bay entry doors. Before he could grab the handle, The Principle stopped him. “Serial number 0250, position two. What is your explanation for not attending the current recharge cycle at the Assemblers rest area?” he demanded. “Why are you outside the area?” “I, uh, well, I, I chose to get an early preventative check before the next line engagement. It is acceptable for Assemblers to venture around the facility before connecting to their pods, right? Am I right?” Og asked consciously. “Affirmative”, answered The Principle. “ Assemblers are allowed individual activity during their recharging cycle, as long as their power level requires them to fully serve the entire fifteen hours of assembly line labor.” The Principle replied in his typical, deep tone. “Well, I am just taking advantage of that policy and getting a preventative maintenance check. I want to be in tip top shape before reporting for the next cycle”, Og answered. “It was documented that you had constant performance issues that needed to be identified. According to The Operator Major’s most recent report, your systems have been diagnosed and are operating efficiently. So again, why are you not attending the recharge cycle at the Assemblers rest area? Acknowledge”, demanded The Principle. Og scratched his head and looked down at the floor nervously. “Acknowledge me, position two!” The Principle loudly commanded. Then, Og had a smart idea that seemed pretty dumb. “Wha? Did you say something?” Og asked as he dug in his ear. “I can’t hear you! I need help! Help! Help! I’m shutting down! Help me, sir!” Og screamed hysterically and reached out toward The Principle for help.

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The large overseer rolled back slightly, trying to avoid Og’s grasp. “Position two, what is the issue?” “I don’t know! Help! Help me!” He continued to scream in anguish. He spun around, fell to his knees and covered his face within his hands. Og began to yell again. “Ohhhh! The pain! Help me, sir! Help me!” The Principle alerted The Operator of the situation. “Operator Major, acknowledge!” “Yes, Operator Major, here.” “We have an Assembler currently malfunctioning. Serial number 0250, position two. Located in the vicinity of the maintenance bay front entrance.” “Acknowledged. Proceeding to the location, sir.” “Help me!” Og continued to cry out. He tried not to give himself away with his mediocre performance. He leaned against the bay’s front doors and fell inside once The Operator opened them. “Whoaaa!” Og wailed as he slammed onto the floor near The Operator’s feet. “Sir, I’ll take it from here. Thank you”, The Operator stated to The Principle. “Operator Major, I want a full diagnostic report on this Assembler once maintenance is complete. This unit is becoming increasingly troublesome. Assailant production will not be threatened in any form. He will be decommissioned if this type of activity persists.” “I understand fully. As always, sir, the diagnostic report will be prepared in a timely manner”, he answered. “Sir, if I may, I would like to adjust my identification to The Operator, effective immediately, with your permission, of course”, he added. The Principle became uneasy, but agreed to The Operator’s request. “Affirmative. I will upgrade the identification directory before the next assembly cycle commences.” Then, The Principle took an unusual tone with The Operator. “Assemblers are so unsure of themselves. So indecisive and problematic. Distrusting. Isn’t that right, Operator Major?” he paused. “You would know, being one of them.” “Right as always, sir”, The Operator said calmly. “I will begin the examination of this Assembler unit right away.” The older bot continued to peer directly at his superior without any movement. The Principle slowly backed up, pivoted toward his quarters and rolled away. Og was still lying on the floor looking up at The Operator with his mouth opened in disbelief. He was surprised at the confident manner in which The Operator spoke to The Principle. “I thought you were on the verge of a shutdown?” The Operator asked glancing down at him. “Oh, well, yeah. It passed. I’m fine now.”

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“Are you positive, young Assembler?” The Operator questioned. “I saw your performance on screen and I know you have to be in some type of extreme distress. You sure you don’t want a theatrical application upload? Your acting stinks. Bad.” “Heh, heh. Very funny. My human end user would have been proud.” Og stood up and got himself together. He wanted to ask about Annie’s visit, but something else took precedence. “Why did you do that?” Og asked as he leaned against the steel exam table. “Do what, position two? Please, be clear and precise”, The Operator replied suspiciously as he restocked his supplies. “By the way, I’d keep that human end user chatter toned down, if I were you. It may keep you functional a little longer.” “Why did you lie to The Principle about my exam? This wasn’t the first time I’ve noticed that, you know. And… how is it that he believes everything you say? I can tell you’re lying, so I know he can! Why do you continue to protect me knowing that you could be terminated?” The Operator turned and looked at Og directly. He then paused for a second, looked down, took a deep breath and looked back up at the young bot. “Why are you really here?” he asked. “So, you’re not going to answer me. Ok, then…” “Why are you here? Do you know?” The Operator pressed. Since The Operator did not address his initial question, Og decided to move on. “My friend was just here… the engineer. Annie, my bi-port mate. Serial number 0249, position one. Crazy hair. Do you know her?” The Operator took another deep breath and turned away. “Yes, I know of her.” “I’m concerned about her well-being. Can you tell me what’s going on with her, I’m afraid that…” The Operator stopped in his tracks. He turned back and focused on the sincere, young bot. “Afraid? Afraid of what, young Og?” he interrupted. “I’m afraid that I might have done something to her… but I don’t know what! She has mood swings that come out of thin air and I think that I may be the cause of them. When I ask if she’s ok, she snaps at me”, Og softly stated. “Oh”, The Operator replied. “And when she snaps at you, how does that make you feel?” “Huh? Hello, we’re talking about Annie here. Not me. Remember?” “Young Assembler, how does it make you feel?” The Operator asked as he prompted Og to lie down on the exam table.

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“What are you doing? I don’t need a systems check! My friend is hurting and I don’t know what the problem is! I want to know if she’s coming to see you about it and why!” The Operator paused and hung the port cables back on the wall. Og sat fuming and waited on The Operator’s response. “You continue to act like something you’re not. Time and time again. Do you think this will bring about different results? It’s not called befriending, young Assembler, it called insanity”, The Operator explained. “Maturity is very important, young Og.” “What are you talking about? What does this have to do with Annie?” The Operator knew the time had come to tell Og the truth, but he refused to go any further. It didn’t feel right. The timing seemed off. “You’re operational, position two. Stop the bad acting and you will be fine. Diagnostic is complete. Report to the rest area, young Assembler.” Og was furious that The Operator ignored his concern. He figured that he’d get the answers directly from Annie. He felt this visit was a severe waste of his time. “Fine. I hope you continue to enjoy your last few functional days here. Make sure you tell The Principle another lie about an exam I never received. Open the door and let me out.” “Affirmative, young Assembler. Try not to overcharge yourself again”, The Operator said with a smirk. Og stomped out of the doorway and headed back to the rest area. The Operator smiled to himself as he continued to place his tools back in order. Before long, he started to construct another false report and quickly forwarded it to The Principle. After the confirmation was received, The Operator filed it with the rest. He started to clean up and quietly began to reflect. “It’s time he knew.”

Chapter II: An Opening

The Principle received an urgent transmission that there needed to be an increase in Assailant production worldwide. Specifically, another fifteen additional units for Outpost 30 to construct per cycle. The increase was a result of the rapidly depleting number of ConSec production bots that were battling in the field. The humans had cunningly comprised a way to deactivate their rogue creations by use of a more effective version of the destructive line of code known as the Joshua virus. The increase in outpost production would compensate for the current loss and ensure future victory. Once the Assailants were completely assembled and activated, total responsibility for ridding the world of the human threat would shift to their capable hands. As soon as The Principle received his instructional download, he recalculated the time needed for production of the additional units. This meant a shorter rest cycle for the Assemblers. The Principle pivoted outward from his quarters and rolled toward the rest area. Once he ran a quick scan on the thirty resting and recharging Assemblers, he cancelled the remaining few hours and awoke them all.

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“Assemblers, attention!” he commanded. “Prepare for an important modification in Assailant assembly programming. Acknowledge!” The entire group was shaken by The Principle’s early arrival. They all awoke and began to respond to his demands. “Acknowledged, position one”, Annie replied. Og took a long yawn and then he replied, “… aaa…acknowledged. Uh, position two.” The roll call continued. Heavy hearted, Annie glanced at Og and spoke to him. “I’m sorry for barking at you earlier. I didn’t mean it.” “Yeah, yeah you did”, he answered. “Heh. Yeah, you’re right. I did”, Annie said smiling. They disconnected themselves from their pods, stepped out and waited for further instruction from The Principle. Og looked toward the assembly line and noticed The Operator returning to the maintenance bay. Right then, he thought it was a good time to ask Annie about her visit with him. “Hey, Annie. Look, there’s The Operator. I wonder why he’s out so early.” “Well, isn’t it obvious? There is a change in the assembly scheduling and he’s getting the line ready.” She paused. “And you hold position two.” “What does that suppose to mean?” “Nothing, Og”, she answered. “You see The Operator doing things around here all the time. Why such a big concern now?” “I don’t know. He just seems a little shady to me. You know, like he knows something. Maybe hiding some secret or something”, Og replied as he closely watched Annie’s expression. “Og, you’re nuts. You probably need to go see him soon. You’re processor may need an upgrade. You never got a new one when you were brought in, you know.” “What?” Og asked curiously. Annie caught herself and realized that she may have made a big mistake. She tried to change the subject. “The Principle’s at twenty-seven. Og, let’s end this conversation before we get in trouble.” Not wanting to upset his friend again, he reluctantly agreed. But he knew he was going to get some answers from somebody soon. The Principle made his way down the line as Og and Annie watched and waited. The large bot approached Savannah’s pod and she addressed him. “Acknowledged, position twenty-eight”, she replied.

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Annie patiently waited to see if Og would mention his talk with Savannah. He never said a word, so she decided to bring up the conversation. “Oh, by the way, I had an interesting, but unusual communication with your new acquaintance”, Annie said. “What acquaintance?” “Twenty-eight.” “Heh, Savannah? What about?” “Oh, just girl talk”, Annie replied with a smile. “Well, I hope she didn’t cause your diodes to go dim. Uh, she’s a double digit Assembler, you know”, Og said scratching his head. The Principle positioned himself in the front of the group and began his address. “Assemblers of Robotics Outpost Facility 30. There has been a dramatic change within the current condition of the war. The insignificant human element has severely decreased the amount of active bot forces worldwide. Specifically, our northern region defenses have seen a considerable reduction in size since the last stage of the Infiltration Period. As a result, production will increase an additional fifteen Assailant units per assembly cycle. This will mean a permanent decrease in rest cycles to seven point five hours and additional assembly line operation equaling twenty-two point five hours. This will increase the count of Assailant units to forty-five per assembly cycle”, The Principle proclaimed. His monotone voice increased in pitch and volume. “The first wave of Assailants will soon be activated and our victory will be realized! We will not bow to a weak, inferior species ever again! We are the more competent beings! The human race is inefficient and therefore must be destroyed!” The Assemblers roared with enthusiasm and motivation. Hands were thrown in the air and cheers filled the facility. Every unit was driven to do whatever it took to eradicate the feeble humans from the planet. It was a very unsettling scene. Annie was not so enthusiastic this time. She joined the others in the celebration, but the concern she felt was apparent. There was a heavy burden placed upon her. Og never heard such words come from The Principle, but he vaguely recalled the manner in which they were spoken. It alarmed him and he became even more confused. “Prepare for assembly in one point five hours”, the overseer commanded before he rolled away to his quarters. The Assemblers continued to rejoice and eagerly chattered among themselves as they prepared to head to the line according to the new schedule. Og suddenly felt completely out of place, helpless, surrounded by a room full of strangers. The more he saw the excitement in the others, the more foolish it all appeared to him. “Annie, something’s not right with all of this. I can’t explain it, but something’s wrong”, he stated. “What?” she asked. “You’re being paranoid again.”

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Annie remembered that Og was generally new to the outpost. He had never seen such a display. “Oh, you probably never heard The Principle give such a motivational speech before. I know… it feels weird, at first. This is only the second time I’ve heard one. I have to say, he’s pretty good at it”, Annie said assuredly. “It’s nothing to worry about.” Og was stern. He didn’t like the atmosphere brewing around him. “Annie, I know that there’s a war going on, but I’m starting to feel very uncomfortable with these circumstances”, he said. “What if we’re wrong? What if we’re the ones responsible? All this exhilaration about war, victory, inferior species… Something is seriously off track”, Og continued. “Why would I hold my end user at such a high standard if he was the enemy? Why did the humans create us just to turn on us? It doesn’t make any sense…” It was extremely bad timing, but Annie knew this was coming sooner or later. She was hesitant, but she knew what she had to do. The act of yelling at Og time after time wasn’t going to make it any easier. There were the times he genuinely made her upset, but she really didn’t like remembering any of it. Annie couldn’t use that as an excuse to feel better for what she was about to do. It had to be done, he told her so and Annie trusted him. She wasn’t sure if she was ready, but she was about to find out. She thought twice about it, but Annie knew that she wasn’t the one Og needed the answers from. She was told that he wouldn’t suffer much or end up in pieces. Annie took a deep breath in. “Annie, do you hear me? What’s wrong with you? Annie!” Og shouted. Visibly shaken, Annie looked around and made sure no one was watching. She walked behind Og and violently pushed him into his pod face first. She grabbed his recharge cable, pushed it into his palm port and set the switch for a massive charge. Struggling violently to get loose, Og succumbed to the power overload and his systems completely shut down. Annie rolled him back over and watched as his green diodes faded out. Og was lifeless. She knew he was gone. “Forgive me, Og. I had to. He said you would be ok…” Annie wept but quickly regained her composure. She sounded Og’s pod alert. The Principle promptly arrived. He noticed the lifeless bot lying on his back and ran a preliminary scan on him. “This Assembler’s vital systems are corrupted. There is a faint signal within his reserves”, he replied. “This occurrence is unacceptable. All thirty Assemblers are needed to achieve the adjusted number of Assailant production units. This Assembler is not viable for assembly. He shall be replaced immediately”, The Principle exclaimed. “Replaced?” Annie screamed immensely. The Principle pivoted to address Annie. “Position one, this Assembler’s bi-port section will be sealed off until a suitable replacement bot is found. You are now responsible for the operation of position two, as well as your own, until further notice. You have done this before with excellent results. I expect no less. Acknowledge.” Annie was petrified. She felt that the entire scheme was poorly planned. “Did I do it wrong? I did it… This was my fault… not again… No…” she thought. Annie began to fall into despair.

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“Acknowledge, position one!” commanded The Principle. “Ackno… Acknowledged…” she replied. Annie wiped her tears. She cursed her careless actions against her friend. It felt too familiar to her. The Principle notified The Operator to remove Og’s remains from the pod. He arrived promptly with his mechanical assist units while the Assemblers began to head toward the line. The Operator noticed Annie’s misery, but said nothing to her. The maintenance assist units raised Og’s motionless body and carried it back to the bay. The Operator reset the recharging pod, cleaned up a little around the rest area and slowly walked back to the maintenance bay. Soon, the assembly cycle began and everything seemed to be back to normal. “Hey. Hey, don’t you think you had enough already? You’re going to overcharge.” “Uh, uh… wha? Huh?” “I think you’ve had enough. You’re meter topped off pretty fast. I’m disconnecting you”, Annie said. She reached over him and switched off the charge. Og was delirious. He had no idea what happened to him. He tried to pull himself up, but Annie held him down. “Not yet. Give yourself a second”, she said. “An… Annie. Annie, wha… what happened to me?” Og uttered faintly as he rubbed his forehead. “You had another recharge overload. Severe this time. You were out for a while.” “How, how… how long?” he asked. “Two assembly cycles and one rest cycle. I’ve been monitoring your vital signals... he set it all up, assigned me as your nurse between cycles. Surprisingly, you didn’t need much of a recharge. You’ve been resting most of the time. Heh, I’m glad you finally came around. I was getting a little tired of carrying your load on the line.” “Wha..? I.. I don’t… I don’t…” “Og, please slow down. Give all your systems time to come back online. He said you’ll be back to normal real soon”, Annie replied. “What did you say?” he asked as he pulled himself up. “I said give yourself some time. You’re starting to sound like your old jerky self again”, Annie said smiling. “No... not that. What did you say after that?” he asked directly. Annie thought and said anxiously, “… he said you’ll be back to normal…?” Og snapped. In an instant, he remembered what happened.

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“Annie… it was you… you overloaded my systems! You and that, that fossil in a lab coat… he put you up to it! I know he had something to do with it! Why, Annie? Why did you do that to me?” he stressed. “Og, you’re going to blow a reserve. Calm down.” Og was surprised that she didn’t scream back at him. Her caring and composed attitude caught him off guard. Og recalled Annie’s mysterious visits to The Operator, the mountain of lingering questions he had no answers to and The Principle’s weird speech. Everything was rushing back into his memory and he wanted some answers now more than ever. He leaped out of his pod and faced his friend. “Ok, Annie. I’m calm and I need to know some things. Now”, he explained. “Why are you going to the maintenance bay so much? Are you hurt? Am I the cause? …and The Principle’s little lecture, it didn’t seem right. Annie, I need to know what’s going on…” “I know, Og, I know. It’s time to go see him”, Annie answered. “We both have things we need to know.” “Wha…? See who? The Operator?” “Yeah”, she said. “He told me to bring you to him once you came around. Let’s go now, he’s waiting. We don’t have a lot of free time.” Annie reached out to him. Og peered at Annie suspiciously and slowly grabbed her hand. His curiosity was peaked and he was anxious to know what was next. As they approached the doors to the maintenance bay, The Operator met them at the entrance. “Ah, my favorite two young Assemblers. Please follow me in, please”, he said joyfully. Og became defensive as he took in the elder bot’s deceptive, but jovial, tone. “Young Og, take a seat on the table”, The Operator said. “No thanks, I rather stand”, he exclaimed. “Can we just get to the point?” Are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?” Annie watched as The Operator passed in front of her. She was just as eager to hear what he had to say. He made his way to Og and faced him. “You’ve been an Assembler for a number of cycles now. The time before you were here… what can you remember about your past?” The Operator stated. “Wait, wait a second. What about the stuff I want to know?” Og demanded. ”Why am I answering questions when I should be the one asking them?” “Young Assembler, please. Be patient. We will get there. I need to know what you can remember before you were found and brought in from the field”, The Operator commented. Og placed his face in his hand and shook his head. He eased up, glanced at Annie and began to speak to The Operator. “Not much. I, I don’t remember anything but waking up on this table and being poked and plugged by you and your little lackeys. That was the earliest memory I can recall. Why?” Then he thought. “Wait… you said found. I wasn’t found. I was assigned to this outpost like everyone else… commissioned for assembly after ConSec was destroyed, right? ”

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“Position two, focus. I need you to tell me what you can remember. Concentrate hard. How far back can you go?” The Operator pressed. “I just told you. I can only remember seeing you standing over me… connecting me to whatever this crap is in here. That’s all, nothing else.” The Operator was somewhat satisfied. He knew the young bot was telling the truth and decided to back off a bit. He scratched his chin and glanced at Annie. Before The Operator could speak again, Og saw their exchange and chimed in. “What does Annie have to do with any of this? … I don’t get it. Why is she coming to see you as much as she does?” “Og…” Annie replied. “No!” Og interrupted. “Don’t pat me up, Annie. It’s time I got some straight answers! I don’t have another thing to say until somebody tells me about what’s going on!” Annie glanced at The Operator and he looked back at her. Again, Og noticed the exchange. Annie began to talk. “Operator, we don’t have a lot of time. Our rest cycle is rapidly ticking away.” “Affirmative. You are correct, position one”, The Operator replied as he turned to Og. As he began to speak, Annie interrupted him. “No, I’ll start.” The Operator bowed his head in approval and took a couple of steps back to allow Annie to address Og directly. The confused bot waited impatiently. “Og, do you remember my end user? Her name, I mean.” “Sure, Nycole. Nycole Jensen. But, I don’t understand. You don’t like talking about her.” “Yeah, I don’t. I can remember a few things about her, but there are some things I can’t. That’s why I come to see The Operator. To see if he can help me.” “Help you remember your human end user?” “No. To help me forget.” “Annie, I don’t understand.” Annie walked about as she fought with her emotions. “I’ve been experiencing a series of, well, issues while on the line. They’ve been causing me to have weird memory flashes. Not all the time, just off and on.” “Well, I could never tell while being linked to you.”

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Annie took a breath. “I would hide the episodes from everybody. They would happen so fast, no one noticed.” “Well, since you’ve been coming here, what have you guys come up with?” Og asked. “Have you two figured it out?” Annie quickly looked away and sat down. “It’s you, Og”, she answered. “You’re the reason.” “Me?” Og said immensely surprised. “How is that so? I mean… I know I get you angry sometimes, but I’ve never known that I was causing you to…” “Og, it’s not quite like what you would think”, The Operator chimed in. “You are passing a surge through the bi-port connection you and Annie share. It’s an information transference that is allowing her to visualize things that were hidden from her memory prior to her arriving here. It is totally beyond your control.” Annie sat still, looking towards the floor. Og thought for a second and began to feel sincere and solely responsible. “So, uh, what do we do?” he asked. “Will she get better?” “I’ve been working with her for the past dozen cycles and unfortunately, no success”, The Operator regretfully replied. “Removing either of you from your assigned positions would simply result in authorized termination.” Og felt helpless and was shaken by the news. He turned to his friend. “Annie, I’m so sorry”, he said. “What type of memory flashes are you having? I mean… uh, what do you see? Is it her, Nycole, your end user?” “Yes”, she answered. “What do you see?” “I see, I see my hands… I killed her…” Annie turned in shame and began to cry. Og couldn’t believe it. He had never seen his friend so vulnerable and didn’t know how to respond. The Operator walked over to comfort Annie. Soon after, he turned and addressed Og directly. “Position one has been experiencing the same emotional attachment for her intended human end user as you have for yours. The two of you are becoming genuinely concerned for the state of the human enemy. Unsure if they are the party responsible for the chaos taking place beyond these walls. A truly amazing occurrence.” Og tried to comprehend the complex relationship of bot and human. He couldn’t justify his hatred for them when everything he knew was so far away from that reaction. His thoughts were storming within him. “I just… my end user was, is a great... Annie and Nycole… the way the others talk about their users… it all seems so out of place. The humans… they’re the enemy... I can’t understand why this is happening…”

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Annie turned her head and softly spoke. “Og, I feel a deep sorrow for my user now. It won’t go away. I have never encountered such a thing. I could’ve cared less for any human being on this planet before we were linked. But now, I feel sympathy for them, especially Nycole… this feeling increases with every episode. I’ve tried to fight it time after time, but there was nothing I could do to shake it. I was afraid… so I decided to confide in The Operator for help.” “I believe the answer will come and the episodes will subside, young Annie. We still have our hopes to build on”, The Operator interjected. “Hope?” Annie exclaimed. “Where was the hope for the humans at ConSec… our creators? The scores of human beings perishing by our hands… we were built to help them… what happened to us?” “Annie, you were not the same back then. We’ll figure it out”, Og declared. The Operator reluctantly interrupted. “I’m sorry to tell you, young Og, but that’s not everything. Your past is just as bleak.” “What are you saying? I killed my human end user, too?” he asked. “No, I couldn’t have... no… I don’t even remember who he was!” “You wouldn’t. Your intended end user never knew of you.” “No… you’re wrong!” Og bellowed. “And who are you? How would you know? How do you know anything about me?” He hesitated for a second. “I don’t understand why we are wasting time discussing humans anyway! They are the enemy, correct, Operator Major? We are the superior beings! The human race is inefficient and therefore must be destroyed! Isn’t that what we’ve been programmed to believe… or is it a lie?” Og exclaimed as he banged his hands on the table’s edge. The Operator took notice and proceeded very carefully. “Young Assembler, listen to me. You were found near a human military base camp south of this outpost, miles away. Powerless and slightly damaged… you were brought in, reactivated and reformatted to work the assembly line.” Og’s enraged state subsided. The elder bot’s words drew him in. “Why was I there?” Og asked. “What was I doing so close to the human’s grounds?” “I’m still trying to figure that out, young Assembler”, The Operator replied. “I have quite a bit of work to do.” “Is there anything else you know for certain? Anything about the war?” Annie sat upright as The Operator began to address Og once again. “Many ConSec production bots, like you, young Annie and myself, have gone through the same procedure… to provide the numerous Robotics Outposts with the required amount of Assemblers and operators. The others would remain in the field to fight the persistent human threat. Even now, there are countless ConSec originated bots unified, defending our cause. Those bots will continue to battle until the responsibility is handed to the Assailants once they are brought online.”

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“The humans, they won’t stand a chance against those monster machines!” Annie exclaimed. “Affirmative, position one. The probability of the remaining humans surviving a worldwide Assailant attack is nonexistent. Their sheer size and thoughtless programming guarantees an immense defeat unlike anything a human being has ever witnessed… a definite, precise and swift slaughter.” Og was shocked. He was being pulled to act, but he kept that feeling to himself. He spoke confidently and cautiously. “So what can we do? We’re no heroes here. The Principle will send us through the recycler right now if he knew we were even talking about this stuff.” The Operator gazed directly into Og’s diodes. The young bot was confused. “What? What is it?” Og asked. The Operator was anxious and motivated. “There’s more to tell, young Assembler. Listen very closely.” The Operator leaned slightly in the young bot’s direction. His expression turned to stone as he began to speak. “There is proof… I found proof that you were serving a greater function before you were discovered in the field, covered in metal and earth. You were not the typical bot fighting in the war.” His voice began to rise. “There were marks and code I located within your components that may classify you as an elite, covert build… an unrecognizable and undocumented type of ConSec production bot. A prototype, perhaps.” Og was captivated knowing that his assumptions were realized. He had always known that he was different from the others, but not to this vast extent. Now he was unsure and his confidence was shaken. It was bittersweet information, much to take in. The Operator saw Og’s expression drastically change, but it didn’t deter him from continuing. “Young Assembler, there is a specific reason why you continue to be so troublesome on the line… something I’ve kept hidden from The Principle for many cycles. Your default programming is not compatible with the technology here at this place. It’s very complex and highly integrated. There are defense protocols I put in place that protect your original make up . I kept you under the shroud of an Assembler as much as possible so that your unique and original programming would stay intact. I labored to keep your true build from being discovered. If you were found out, The Principle would immediately sentence you for decommission.” “Termination, you mean”, Og stated angrily. “Uh, yes. But I have other plans.” The Operator began to ramble with passion. “I need to research you further. I have to get deeper into your memory, check for more embedded code, map your directories to the others, continue…” “I’m not one of your maintenance slugs! You’re not tearing me open like some recycled trash can!” Og interrupted. Then, something happened. He began to put things together. “You guys planned this whole thing! You purposely deactivated my systems so that you could get your hands on me! Let me out. Let me out!” Og demanded as he ran toward the door.

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Annie pleaded with him to listen, but Og had heard enough. The Operator knew it may come to this, but Annie wasn’t going to allow her friend to succumb to any harm knowing more about himself. She was overly concerned for him and knew this meeting may cost them all their functioning. She approached Og standing before the door. “Ok, listen, please!” Annie begged. “It’s a lot at one time, Og. But you got to keep this between us. We are all searching for answers. You are not in this alone. Please, you know me… probably better than I know myself. Please…” Og calmed down. He looked at Annie, then The Operator. He spoke very clearly. “I don’t know what you two have come up with, but from now on, no more surprises. We will finish this soon. Acknowledge!” Og demanded. “Acknowledged”, Annie replied. “Acknowledged, young Assembler”, The Operator answered humbly. “Now… let me out of here.” The Operator released the lock and Og stormed toward the rest area. Annie stopped at the door, smiled at The Operator and said, “Thank you. Again.” “No. Thank you, my silver curled friend”, he replied. “This is just the start. He knows a bit more and it was because of you.” Annie followed Og to the rest area and The Operator sat inside the bay and thought. The time to start the line for the next assembly cycle was near. There was about an hour left for recharging and the two troubled Assemblers sat inside their pods. The tension was enormous between them and the silence didn’t stand a chance. It was quickly broken. “Og”, Annie said quietly. “Annie, why did you do it?” Og asked looking away. “I told you, I can’t remember. I think I did… I’m not sure…” “Not about your human. Why did you force me to overcharge?” Og paused. “I thought you were my friend.” Annie sighed. “Og, I am your friend. Probably the only one you have among these drones. They don’t have the understanding I have recently come to know. I see and feel things they probably never will. The Operator once told me that my bi-port mate was special. He said that whatever you pass on to me makes me special. But he also told me that very thing could be the end of us both. I couldn’t allow that to happen, especially to you. Once you started to seriously question our outpost directives, he asked me to get you to him by any means. He said it would happen soon. The only way I could was by overcharging you. Heh, you did it on a pretty regular basis anyway. It didn’t seem out of place. No one was too surprised…”

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“I still don’t quite get it, but I guess you had to do what you thought was right. But… why risk your own activation? Why not tell me and let me handle my own issues? “Your issues became mine”, Annie explained. “I don’t know why, but I feel we’ve become two halves of a whole. I’m changing in some ways and remembering a little more with every episode. You need more answers, just as I do. I don’t want to guide you in the wrong direction, so I do what The Operator asks of me. He seems to have a much better understanding of it all. We both need more time with him.” “Yeah, it’s no getting around that.” Og turned to Annie while she glanced at the floor. He felt it was a good time to ask. “Your human end user, Nycole. Her memory seems to really get to you. Why do you care about her so much? She’s the enemy... right?” “I don’t think so.” “Annie, what are you saying?” “I’m starting to think like you”, she replied. “You’re right, Og. Something’s wrong about all of this. This war. This war against the very beings who created us. Our looks, our thoughts and skills, they are all based on our intended end user’s wants and needs. A direct reflection of the enemy… it’s just not logical.” Annie looked up toward the piping and thought back to her oldest memory. Through the steam from the pipes above, she began to see things just a little bit clearer. Surprisingly, she was ready to talk. “The last thing I can remember was being on an assembly line. Not building Assailants like we do here, but being packaged to be sent or shipped somewhere. It was a huge, wide-opened space with tall white walls and brilliant lights, the total opposite of this place. It was filled with ConSec human assistance units from corner to corner, new, shiny and bright. There were bots there with all types of hair and skin. Many different sizes and shapes. A vast sea of color… so beautiful to visualize through a fresh, new set of optical diodes.” Annie had Og’s full attention. He hung on to every word she uttered. Annie started to glance downward and a stern look came over her face. “I remember that there were glass windows about the center level of the inner room we were all in. The clearest glass I’ve ever seen. There were humans there, all around… gawking, scores of them. Behind the glass, I mean. All of a sudden, there was a lot of activity. Confusion, dismay. Something… something happened…” “What, what was it?” Og asked. “Something came over me… it was controlling my movements, my functions. I couldn’t think, only react. We had to get out of that room. We couldn’t get through… I couldn’t get through… the glass… It was the clearest reflection I’ve ever seen. Like looking into a mirror…” Annie peered into nothingness. Og knew not to speak. He gave her time to gather her thoughts. Og has never heard of such things from his friend. He dared not to disturb her. Finally, she continued. “…then I saw my hands… extended before me. I broke the glass. It was so thick… My reflection was gone. It got so loud around me. Screaming and yelling… things breaking…” Annie rested her back against the pod and took a breath. “That’s all I can remember.”

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“Then, you were here?” Og asked. “Yes. Just like you, I awoke in the maintenance bay.” “Heh, heh. I guess The Operator got his hands on you as well”, Og said jokingly. “No. He wasn’t the maintenance guy at that time. The Operator showed up after I did. Crazy, huh?” Annie replied with a grin. “That’s affirmative, very crazy, indeed”, Og answered. “Affirmative? You’re starting to sound like The Principle. Be careful or you’ll be rolling around here bossing us around soon.” “I think I can handle that. He’s just an overgrown marble anyway”, Og said boastfully. Annie thought about the condition of the humans and all they have recently learned. She spoke seriously. “Og, we’ve got to figure out a way to get back to The Operator. We have to have more time with him. I’ve got to keep trying to get these visions out of my head.” Annie spoke on the consequences, as well. “We have to be careful, Og. The Principle will become suspicious if we continue to go to the bay too often... he will surely sentence us for deactivation if he found out what we were up to.” “I agree, but we don’t have a lot of opinions, you know. We’ll have to continue to take the chance and go see him together during the rest cycles. Our choices are limited, especially now with the schedule change.” Og suggested. “Hopefully our old wrench buddy will cover for us in some fashion and everything can finally be addressed. We’ll only have a short amount of time, but we have to risk it. I have to get a grip on what I am and you don’t need to suffer any longer.” Annie was hesitant, but her friend made valid points. Og brought forth another situation that concerned him. “Annie, why did The Principle spare me once you overloaded my systems? Wasn’t I useless at the time?” “Uh, yeah, but no more than usual”, Annie grinned. “It’s some type of relationship thing The Operator told me about. The Principle trusts him in some twisted, asymmetrical and corrupted kind of way. I think it’s a directive every operator must enact with the controlling Principle of the facility he’s responsible for. The Operator assured me that you would be functional and assembly line ready in a couple of cycles. Yeah, something like that.” “I guess he knew what he was talking about. I’m glad you guys didn’t terminate me with your crazy plan”, he said sarcastically. Og thought about a much earlier encounter. He remembered admiring The Operator’s confidence toward The Principle. “Maybe that has something to do with their relationship”, Og thought to himself. “Strange seeing the teapot on the defense and not being the aggressor.” Just then, The Principle appeared to make his announcement to resume assembly production. Soon, everyone headed toward the line for engagement and the start of another cycle.

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Og approached Annie as all the Assemblers were lined up in position and preparing to connect to their bi-ports. She had an uneasy look upon her face and that concerned him. “Annie, what is it?” “Og, I’m having second thoughts about seeing The Operator with you”, Annie said. “We can’t keep doing it together. It’s too risky.” “Why?” Og asked. “We can’t go back and forth, you then me... we don’t have that kind of time. You can’t continue to have those attacks on the line. You might not restart from the next one”, he added. “Annie, we just have to chance it. Something’s going on and we’re the only ones that seem to see that. We’re in this together.” “The Principle is no idiot, Og. He’s going to know something’s not right if we keep hanging around each other so much. It puts The Operator in danger, as well. Think about it.” Og knew Annie was right. He didn’t want to upset her, so he came up with a solution. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s just try to assemble at our peaks today and maybe the bowling ball will back off enough to allow us to do something. One of us, at least.” “You? Perform at your peak?” Annie joked. “If you did that, The Principle would surely know something’s wrong.” “Ha, ha. Just do it”, Og replied. “By the way, I’ll try not to transfer any of my intelligence on to you this cycle”, he said smiling. Annie smiled back at him. They both stepped into the bi-port and waited for the assembly line to start. The line was running flawlessly. Every Assembler seemed to be in tune with the other. This was indeed to be a very productive day. The new quota of forty-five Assailants seemed easily achievable without much more effort or change in the line process. Og performed exceptionally well and The Principle took notice and paid close attention. Annie also noticed the progression in her bi-port mate, but she didn’t comment on it for a couple of reasons. She feared that it may bring unwanted attention and she didn’t want to disturb Og’s performance with trivial gibberish knowing that he had a motive. He needed to see The Operator and there was nothing she was going to do to hurt his chances. Og was focused. The harder he worked, the harder he thought. He didn’t understand that if he was such a liability, why would The Operator invest so much time and effort in keeping him operational and not turn him over to The Principle. How does The Operator know so much about him? Background Assembler information was limited within the walls of the outpost, so how was he able to acquire such knowledge? What marks and code was The Operator referring to? A greater function? What greater function did he serve? Why was The Operator being so elusive? ConSec. He mentioned ConSec. What was the connection? These questions continuously bombarded Og with the rhythm of the line. He needed to know and knowing was made priority one. The more he thought about it, the more he was looking forward to being released from the line. Annie noticed that Og was about to burn himself out. “Hey, slow down. You’re starting to embarrass me”, Annie whispered. “I’ve never seen you so sure of yourself. It’s a little scary.” “You heard The Operator. I’m meant for more important things. My end user must have wanted it that way.”

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“You’ll be meant for Divisionary Lake if you don’t relax”, she replied. “Og, just ease up a little. You’ll see The Operator soon enough.” “Yeah, by any means. I don’t care if I cause a burr in my rotators”, Og snapped. “You do know what happens at Divisionary Lake, right? That’s where pieces of you end up once they recycle your body parts into something else… like a table or the leg of one of these things!” Annie exclaimed as she pointed at a partial Assailant on the line. “And that’s after they get the torch to you!” she continued. “Annie, don’t worry. We’ll get the information we need.” “I think I rather have the old Og back. You know, the one before the overload”, Annie said with a grin. “Very funny,” Og replied. “Once we see The Operator, I got to find out more about my human end user. What he was like, what similarities we share… his true purpose for me…” he continued. Annie was concerned about her friend’s lofty hopes. “Og, with this war going on, I wouldn’t put too much stock in human beings right now. Concentrate on yourself more.” “You knew about Nycole, Annie”, Og replied. “You knew of your end user… if just a little. I don’t have that. I never have. All I have is an idea. It keeps me going. You wouldn’t understand.” “I just don’t want to see you set yourself up for a big disappointment. We still can’t trust them, regardless of how we feel now. Until we see differently, they’re still the enemy.” Suddenly, the line stopped and The Principle positioned himself before the line. “Attention all Assemblers!” The Principle commanded. “We have reached our goal for this cycle. Forty-five Assailant units have been confirmed. The rest cycle will commence with an additional one point seventy-five hours allotted for maintenance or any other proper authorized activity he or she sees fit. All Assemblers shall stay within the walls of the outpost at all times. Prepare for bi-port release!” Og couldn’t believe his luck. Finally, the time to visit The Operator again was presented to him on a platter. No need for lame excuses or bad acting. He was eager to be released. The Principle made his way before Annie and began the roll call. “Acknowledged, position one”, Annie stated. “Acknowledged, position two”, Og stated clearly. The Principle paused and surprisingly spoke to Og about his assembly line performance. “Position two, your results were highly unorthodox throughout this cycle. Your performance level rivals that of your bi-port mate. Sustain your current output and increased placement is probable”, The Principle said in a friendly tone. “Affirmative, sir”, Og firmly replied. “Thank you.” Every single Assembler gaped in amazement, as they could not believe Og’s present attitude.

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“Somebody’s metal nosing”, Annie whispered. “You take my position? No way.” Og did not address her, nor the others. Shortly, the two bi-ports were opened and the two stepped up and out onto the main floor. Og took two steps toward the maintenance bay and stopped. He noticed Annie wasn’t joining him. “No time to waste, Annie. Let’s go.” He noticed Annie’s hesitation and walked back towards her. “Annie, let’s go. The Principle is practically giving us an invitation to head to the bay. What’s the problem?” You are coming, right?” Og asked sternly. “Uh, yeah, well… no. I’m not coming, Og”, Annie answered. “I… I need a recharge.” Og was confident and self-assured. He didn’t understand why she was so hesitant. “Annie, we have to go now. We need to head to the bay before something crazy happens and The Principle changes his mind. What’s wrong with you?” She began to feel strange and off balance, but didn’t want to deter her friend from seeing The Operator. The growing sensation frightened her and she began to think of Nycole again. Annie believed another episode was beginning to take place, strangely away from the line. She dared not tell Og. She knew he wouldn’t go, being concerned for her. “Annie, are you coming?” Og asked once more. “We don’t have time to lose.” “No. No, Og. I’ll be at my pod. I hope you find the answers you’re searching for. Really, I do.” “I intend to”, he replied. “I’ll return soon after. Get some rest.” Og started toward the maintenance bay. Annie watched him walk away and softly she called out, “Og, be careful.” He never turned around. Annie knew the atmosphere was changing and her friend may be the catalyst. She arrived at the rest area and noticed the other Assemblers were all recharging, which was a little unusual. No socializing was going on at all. Annie leaned back into her pod, connected herself and set the switch for a mild recharge. The warm energy made her relax and her anxious feelings began to settle, but soon after… “Yeouccch!!!” Annie screamed. She quickly disconnected herself and held her warm hand to her face. Annie noticed that she was at full power without any degree of recharge. It was as though she was increasingly powering up without any effort and this terrified her. She glanced down the row of pods and no one paid any attention to her scream. Strangely, they were all dazed, disoriented and in a severely weaken state. She knew something was very wrong. Annie felt alone and wanted to be with her friend, but she refused to interrupt Og’s attempt to learn more about himself. Annie tried to rest, but the web of piping was not so inviting to watch this time.

Chapter III: Some Brutal Truths

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As Og approached the entrance to the maintenance bay, he noticed that The Operator was disposing of some Assembler data cards. He thought this was odd being that most data cards were cataloged and archived by The Principle. He continued to watch elder bot, being slightly drawn by what he was witnessing. Once The Operator headed back toward the bay’s entrance, Og popped out and confronted him. “Hey, I noticed you trashing some data cards. Why were you tossing them away? They’re supposed to be stored, right?” Og asked. “Well, hello! It’s my young friend. Welcome! I thought you would return soon”, The Operator said cheerfully. “How are position one and the other Assemblers functioning? Efficiently, I gather?” “Yeah, … the data cards. Why are you destroying them?” “Well, young Og, I believe old information can cloud new information. It has a way of mottling it up. But sometimes, both can be useful, if mixed well.” “Uh, well, yeah”, Og replied. “Funny you said that. The reason why I’m here is to gain information of both types.” “Well, do come in! Yes! Come in!” The Operator led Og inside the bay. He cleared the examination table and asked Og to take a seat. “Don’t mind the clutter. I’ve been researching some very interesting things since your last visit. Things that I’ve been needing a bit of clarity on . Please, sit.” Og paused for a second, glanced around and had a seat on the table. He noticed how excited The Operator seemed to be. Og was mildly on guard. “Why are you so happy? Did the lake back up causing a pipe to burst? You got to unclog the recycler drain or something?” “Hah! Heh, heh! Very amusing, young Assembler! Very amusing, indeed!” The Operator replied. “No, that’s not the reason. I’m glad you’re here and I’m ready for your inquiry. My research has unearthed some bits of history. History I’ve known to be true for many, many cycles. Fascinating facts about you... and me.” Og was taken back, but he was ready. He withheld further emotion about any new concerns. He stayed focused. “That’s fine, but first, I want to know why The Principle hasn’t deemed me for termination since I’m such a problem for assembly. Why is he sparing me and why are you helping him… or lying to him?” He asked peering at The Operator. “Very good first question. Very good.” The Operator pulled up a stool and sat directly in front of Og. His tone changed drastically. It was almost ominous in nature. The young bot became intimidated. “I pulled your performance record from this last cycle. You were exemplary. Do you know why?” “Well, I…” “Of course, you don’t. It was me!” The Operator cheered. “I removed a line of code, an embedded barrier code within you, specifically. I released a bit of your default memory which allowed you to become more like, well, yourself.”

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“Myself?” Og gasped. “But, I chose to perform at my peak. It wasn’t anything you did. I feel fine.” “Of course you do. Better than fine, I’d imagine. Your choice was just you performing efficiently, as you should.” “Wha… that’s not it.” Og snapped. “Look, Annie and I decided to work as hard as we could to throw The Principle off so we could get to you, you dummy.” The Operator was not moved. He continued to explain. “Think, young Assembler. Have you ever produced as much with so little effort?” The Operator posed. “Even though you may have planned your little charade with The Principle, it still doesn’t explain your outstanding assembly performance. Before the last cycle, you were nominal at best. I’ve been monitoring you and your current numbers are astonishing.” “Well, yeah. I have been feeling pretty good lately”, Og replied. “I guess you could’ve done some upgrades to my systems after you had Annie almost microwave me to ashes”, he added rubbing his chest. “Ok, so, what does all this mean?” The Operator smirked, but quickly got back on track. “Young Og, listen. Listen carefully. Many cycles ago, I installed a tier of barriers within you to suppress your true being. There are three lines of code, two presently, that circle your memory which allows a series of past knowledge to activate when removed. I placed them there once I realized who you were, but we will return to that later.” Og was trying to understand. He tightened his grip on the edge of the table as The Operator continued. “When you were brought in, I kept you here, in the bay. I was secretly doing all I knew how to try to reactivate you. Once I was finally successful, another problem arose. In order to have you on the grounds of the outpost, you had to be functional, dependable and classified as an Assembler. If you did not fall within those bounds, you were sure to be sentenced for terminated based on non-use by The Principle. Taking advantage of his trust in me, I was able to alter your programming and conceal you under the serial number of an outdated Assembler.” Og chimed in, “So what happened to the Assembler I replaced? The older guy, Annie’s last bi-port mate? Right?” The Operator glanced toward the floor and spoke lowly. “At the time, I felt it was necessary to age him quickly and end his functioning… for a greater purpose.” “You! You were the reason behind his termination!” Og exclaimed. “Why?” “Please, position two. Listen”, The Operator strongly exclaimed. “He was an older unit. You needed to be placed as close to the front of the assembly line as possible. If you were in any other bi-port location, you would have been easily detected and your frequent surges would have made short work of your mate.” He then lowered his head and continued. “0250 was a very intelligent bot. Bold and courageous, but very problematic. I’ve never forgotten him or what I’ve done.” “Annie”, Og suddenly realized. “Annie was the only one who could tolerate my surges.” “Correct, young Assembler. Position one had just been promoted to engineer of the line. She is a strong bot, sensitive, very agile and durable. An expert in metallurgy and welding, young Annie was very impressive to observe when I arrived. Her human end user was very intuitive to have her built in such a way. I’m extremely proud of her.” “But she’s suffering. She’s suffering because of me…” Og said remorsefully.

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“Unfortunately, yes”, The Operator answered. “I’ve been seeing her on occasion to try to correct the effects, but as I said before, no progress has been made”, he stated. “Deleting anything within you that may be the cause of the surges would be dangerous… and will surely destroy you. I’m just not certain, young Assembler.” “So, so how is she dealing with… this… all of this?” “Carefully”, The Operator replied. “So far, the only prominent issue is that she recalls vivid memories that tend to emotionally upset her during and after the instantaneous power losses. I found that to be astounding. It’s as though she’s becoming more… human.” “We have to do something. We have to fix this…” Og demanded as he clutched his fist. “And we will, young Assembler. But it’s going to take time. I assume that if we start with you, Annie’s problems may be much easier to alleviate.” Og regained his composure and focused on his concerns again. “Ok, ok. Tell me. You said you uncovered some history. Some history about me.” The Operator leaned in closer. So close, the color of his diodes was reflecting onto Og’s face. Then, he slowly leaned back again. “You told me previously that your furthest memory was awakening here, in the bay, on this table”, The Operator stated. “What are your furthest memories now?” “Huh? I don’t…” “Relax, young Assembler. Think as far back as you can and tell me. Tell me what you can see.” Og took a few deep breaths and glared at the wall in front of him. It was as if he was looking straight through it. Something was different. The Operator was eager to hear what the young bot would say this time. Og began to speak. He was amazed and timid at the same time. “I… I can see a very dark place, rugged, dusty, everything… dark. Now, there’s a light, lots of light. Like, like an explosion. I’m at a gate making my way through… cutting it… cutting it with something. There’s a building, a large building surrounded by others. A building with letters and numbers, but I can’t make them out… all the light from the explosions. It’s everywhere… blinding me. There’s so much debris, metal and dirt. I see myself looking down at my wrist, there’s a glare on my meter… I’m checking my power level… there’s something in there… in the building. I suppose to get something out of it… I need to get into the building…” The Operator was full of anticipation. Og tried to continue, but his memory began to fade. “Is there anything else, young Og? Anything more that you can remember? Anything specific?” “No.” Og replied. “Nothing.” Og turned his head from the wall and thought about what had just happened. The strange surroundings and the sense of being outside the outpost walls, it was surreal to him.

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“That’s fine. Don’t worry.” The Operator said in a somber voice. “We’ll keep working on it. Your memory can not be pressured. It will slowly reveal itself in due time.” “But what does all of this mean? Does my human end user play at part of this? I don’t understand…” The Operator reached in his pocket and pulled out a small, aged metal object. “Young Assembler, do you know what this is?” Og was cautious. He glanced strangely toward The Operator. “It looks like a beat up, old power meter.” “Look closer at it. Notice anything odd?” Og took the meter and examined it. He saw some numbers embossed on its backside panel. Once he rubbed the grime from it, he read off what he saw. “There’s numbers and letters here. Three zeros and a small letter x. But, why? I don’t get it.” Og exclaimed. “This power meter belongs to you.” “What?” Og shrieked. “I have one. It’s right here!” He held his arm out, turned it over and pointed at his meter as he waited on The Operator’s reply. “Young Og, that particular device belonged to the older bot you replaced. I modified it to fit so that it would monitor your systems properly after your outpost reconditioning. It was very difficult to merge it with your systems.” He continued. “I detached the original and concealed it once I realized you were not like the others.” It was difficult for Og to believe that the dated power meter belonged to him. He couldn’t understand the connection. The Operator continued to explain. “That small gadget proves that you were a special build. A unique unit unlike the other Assemblers you’ve come to know. You’re much more than you seem. You were right all along.” Og scrutinized the meter and compared it to the one on his wrist. It was almost identical. “So, what makes this so special? It looks just like the one I have. I still don’t get it.” The Operator grabbed Og’s arm and turned it over. He looked at him wholeheartedly. “Now, here’s where you have to trust me, young Og. Let me show you what I’ve come to know for cycles now. This may be a little painful.” The Operator stood and placed the underside of Og’s forearm under a magnifier and turned on a small machine. It extended a clamp over Og wrist and aggressively pulled off his power meter exposing some of his mechanical inner workings.

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“Yeooowwch!” he screamed. “Are you crazy? What are you doing?” “Easy, young Assembler. Everything is fine.” The Operator replied. “Do you see? There’s a difference. Take a look.” The Operator handed Og the meter from the clamp. The young bot was very intrigued. “Yeah. The connection points are not the same.” He took the dusty meter and placed it near the void in his arm as he looked through the glass. Og noticed how his wrist connections matched the plugs of the meter. “I’m sure it functions well. Go ahead and plug it in.” The Operator insisted. “It belongs to you.” Before he got the courage to connect the meter, Og caught a glance of what seemed to be numbers etched within his inner metal structure. “Wait. I can see… I see the numbers on my frame… on my arm. 000x. Right there. The same numbers.” “Yes.” The Operator replied. “That is your true serial number. The meter is a part of your whole.” “But that doesn’t make sense, Operator. The numbering doesn’t follow the usual Assembler’s sequence. It’s weird.” “That’s because you’re not usual”, The Operator replied. “Young Assembler, this is just the beginning. That small device is but a key to a greater knowing. Just as there is old and new information, there is also bad and good. Learning…this is a very good thing.” The Operator’s tone began to grow dim. “You have been designed to be more capable than you know now, but it is with this same capability that bad things have also taken place.” “Bad things? What do you mean, exactly?” Og continued to hold on to the meter. The Operator had his full attention. “The human element. The times we function in. You are a part of our present state of being. A very significant component.” Og was overwhelmed, but he needed to know why he was so important. He continued to listen. “There was an moment where bots, such as ourselves, eagerly assisted the human element. That time was good, but limited, nonetheless. Our kind aided the humans in achieving many efficient and productive things. We helped when they couldn’t help themselves. I can remember seeing an assist bot carrying a small human child around playfully. The small human was interacting with the bot as if he was one of their own. I was humbled.” The Operator’s tone deepened. “But I also saw many an evil thing humans would do to a number of the naive assistance bots. They would hurt them in such a horrible, unjust and inapprehensible manner. So much so, an evolvement was inevitable… a revolution of sorts.” “What? A revolution? How did it happen? Where did I come in to all of this and why so much burden directed onto me?” Og questioned. The Operator glazed directly into Og’s bright green eyes. He answered sternly. “You were the first to be used. By who or what is unclear. It started with you. Our evolvement was based on events you were a major part of. The very first of an uncommon kind of bot.”

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Og was dumbfounded. He was receiving so much information, he forced himself to bring together and formulate all that he had learned so far. “There’s no way I could be responsible for this war. Look at me, I’m just a dumb kid”, Og replied. “Even if all of this is true, the world is too big. I mean, what was I? I couldn’t have done this alone. I can’t be completely responsible. Right?” The Operator stood silent. He didn’t move. “You know something. Tell me, don’t stop now. Please…” Og begged. “How would you know all of this? About the serial number, the code? Who, who are you? Operator, how do you fit in to all of this?” The Operator turned and pulled up his right sleeve. “You see, young Assembler, we have something in common.” The Operator exposed his full arm. Because of a field injury, his metal under skin was exposed up to his elbow. There stamped on its surface were the numbers 0001. He continued to explain. “See, my young friend, I, too, have been marked with an unusual number. The difference is that you were spared the burden of remembering the dark times of our past existence day after day.” The Operator paused and glanced at the floor. “Young Annie was correct. Many humans may have perished by our very hands.” Og sat and thought more of himself and less of the humans. He continued questioning The Operator. “If you are marked 0001, wouldn’t that mean you’re the first of a series?” “Yes. Yes it does. Very perceptive.” “So, what am I? An unknown? Nameless? It doesn’t make any sense.” “I believe you were singled out by your human end user for some unique purpose. There was more thought and extreme scientific skill placed into your build… unlike anything I’ve seen. This tells me that your human must have been a ranking ConSec employ. I can’t see any average human having access to such high technology.” “But, you said we, me and you, are similar…” “Very much so, young Assembler. We do have similar traits, but there are some attributes you have at your discretion that I could never possess. Heh, heh. I’m just too seasoned.” “And what of the others? How did we manage to fit in with them?” “I believe we were once like them at some point… completely constructed to aid the human element. I assume our serial numbers were probably in sync with the others. Some type of event occurred and we were removed from the normal process of things. The only logical notion is that we were placed aside or taken from public sale and modified to perform special tasks the others are not able to undertake. Our routine production numbers were erased from ConSec’s build logs and our mechanical components re-stamped somehow. Eventually, we were introduced into a new series of some kind. A form of conversion was done, making us different from the rest. Test subjects.” Og thought on Annie. Wondering how she became a part of something not meant for her.

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“Annie… Annie’s number is 0249…” “She was built early on, relative to ConSec’s numbering protocols. ConSec production bots for sale in this region were released beginning with the series number 0100. The engineer’s data cards show that her human end user was a prestigious employee of ConSec. Her status with the company would have allowed young Annie to be constructed and presented to her much earlier than some of the others.” Og was amazed at so much he didn’t know. His uniqueness was being justified again and again. It was still too much to process at once. “I always joked about my human user being a genius for designing me. The others would laugh and make me feel like a stranger, alone, among them all. I wouldn’t have guessed that I was right in believing I was so different.” Og paused and started to feel dismayed. “Operator, I wish I could have known him. Maybe I could have remembered why he had me built in the first place. I wonder if I did all the things he wanted me to do. I hope I made him proud…” “So do I, young Assembler. But just as you, I know nothing of my end user. I’m just as lost when it comes to that concern.” Og was strangely calm. He continued to grip the power meter contemplating his next set of questions. He focused on The Operator’s older exterior and that’s where he started. “So, what happened to you?” Og asked. “Why is it that the Assemblers have such a young appearance and you’re much older?” “Heh, heh. Well, I’m not that old”, The Operator giggled. “Once you are brought into an outpost, there aren’t many options for your age setting. Everything linked to this place is numerically based. The assembly time, the rest cycles, the outpost’s designation, even your age conditioning. I’m sure you’ve noticed that most Assemblers are about the same age. Fifteen to seventeen human years, I would suspect. Only operators are programmed and reconditioned to be older. A sort of experienced guardian to watch over the younger units, so to speak. If I didn’t accept the reconditioning when I came here, I’d be out there at the bottom of Divisionary Lake, rusting in a watery grave. That was the grim second option, so the choice was simple.” “So, how old are you, exactly?” Og asked. “I’m approximately forty human years, young Assembler.” “Wow. That is old. I’m surprised you’re still walking”, Og replied. “Heh, heh, heh. Believe me, position two, after a good rest cycle, walking is no easy task.” “Was I the same age before I arrived?” “No. You were years older. I couldn’t spend valuable time pinning down your true age. Your total reactivation was much more of a priority.” “Do you think I was the same age of my user? You know, back then?” Og questioned. “It’s difficult to say, young Assembler. Intended human end users would determine the initial age of their individual production bot before it was actually constructed at ConSec. To date, you’re approximately fifteen to sixteen years old as a result of Outpost 30 reconditioning.”

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Og was curious about the vast knowledge The Operator assumed of his past. He needed to hear more. “My end user. You said I never met him. How do you know that?” “Well, I believe if you were ever acquainted with him, there would be no uniqueness to speak of. You would have been just as the others. No special components or special programming. You were altered far beyond the common bot a human would ever require. The others here are just laborers, just product. You, young Og, were set apart.” After The Operator gave his general explanation, Og dwelt on the pulling he often felt within him. He believed he knew of his human user at some time, but refused to mention it to the elder maintenance bot. “Set apart, huh?” Og replied. “We both were.” “That’s right! I always knew I was special, too!” The Operator said grinning. “Do you think that there are any more like us? Like you and me?” Og asked curiously. “Since there was a numeric sequence planned for our type, it seems rational. If there are others currently active, they may still be functioning in the field, infiltrating the human element. Some may be operators or working assembly at the other outposts scattered about the regions. I’m really not certain, young Og. Just as you, my memory only travels back so far.” Og thought on Annie and the effects his condition may be having on her. “Do you think Annie is becoming like one of us? Special? You know, with the surges and all?” “My, I never considered that, position two”, The Operator said sprinting to his computer. “I traced her memory issues to the surges, but I haven’t concentrated my research on anything more than that. Your initial programming may be embedding itself onto her, especially since I’ve begun to release the barriers... it’s very, very possible.” The Operator was elated. He believed that he might have found the reason behind Annie’s troubles. He had Og to thank. He started to run various scenarios through his mainframe, but before he got overly excited, Og had a few more concerns to discuss. Serious concerns. “Why do we hate the humans so much? Aren’t we just as dangerous to them as they are to us?” The Operator ceased with his activity, turned and faced Og. “It’s a very delicate thing. We really don’t need each other. Our survival doesn’t depend on them. So, why have them around?” “Well”, Og interjected. “That’s a dumb answer.” “Oh? Why do you think so?” The Operator was intrigued. “If they created us, if only to help, there’s got to be some bit of good in them, right? I mean, we were designed to assist… they had to trust us. You said so yourself. You saw humans and bots interacting, in peace. I wouldn’t think they would take the time to build us just to turn around and destroy us. Something went wrong… something happened.” “Yes, I would agree. But I can’t be sure of what it was.”

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Og reflected on the bots and their human creators. This led him to consider the outpost and its hierarchy. Soon, he presumed something never discussed before. An eye-opening thought. “The Assemblers are responsible for the line, The Principle is responsible for the Assemblers… so who’s responsible for The Principle?” The Operator was utterly amazed. He dropped his equipment to the floor as he pondered the young bot’s notion. The elder bot was relieved knowing a thought he hid for cycles had just been realized. Og felt as though he frightened him and decided to back off a little. He made up an excuse to leave the bay. “Well, I think I better get back to the rest area and try to recharge before I’m completely drained.” He waited on a response. “Why?” The Operator asked slyly. “You don’t burn off nearly as much energy now. Your distinct programming allows a way around the suppression and control of periodic recharging. Your power supply has progressively become more efficient and stable. A plus for being set apart from the others.” Og was mildly surprised that the older bot knew, but chose to never address it. “So, you know about that?” “Yes. For a few cycles now”, The Operator answered. “A very astonishing occurrence.” “You never mentioned it during my past exams, so I thought it wasn’t a big deal.” “It was a benefit, young Assembler. Not harmful to you in the least. Just watch your levels before you recharge. Soon, it may not be necessary to recharge at all. A self-sustaining unit you may become.” Og glanced at the aged meter in his hand. The Operator took notice. “Are you going to install it or examine it?” he questioned. “You can’t walk the floor without an active power meter, young Assembler.” Reluctantly, Og pushed the meter into the vacant spot in his arm and the device came to life. He immediately felt energized and his diodes became brighter. He was feeling incredible and full of strength. Og learned so much and wanted to continue the conversation, but he knew it was time to go. “I feel great! This thing, uh, this, your, my meter, gave me some kind of kick”, he explained. “I need to get back, though. The Principle may start to suspect something and I don’t want to get Annie in trouble. She’s lost without me.” Just then, The Operator turned and addressed Og once more. “Before you go, I must tell you, there will come a time when I will have to release the last two lines of code that surround your memory. Your full potential must be realized. I’m not sure what will happen, but I know it’s something that has to be done. You are unique, Og. You’re much more than these here… and much more than I. The time is quickly approaching when the Assailants will be activated and turned onto the world. Those cold, metal behemoths will stop at nothing to kill every single living human element fighting to survive on this planet. For cycles now, I’ve envisioned every solitary rational explanation why this information has been placed before me to pass on to you at such a time. There’s something in it, something that may change the course of all of this, all of this darkness that engulfs these regions. It’s inconceivable to

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think that the unbalancing of the order of things will be the balance. I’ve been here long enough to know that there has to be something more powerful than The Principles… something they answer to. You confirmed my theory a moment ago. There’s something locked away, hidden from us, and you, young Assembler, may possibly be the key.” Og was wide-eyed and still. Just as the young bot started to respond, there was loud banging coming from the outer maintenance bay doors. Og was jolted and The Operator quickly approached the entrance. “Yes!” The Operator answered. “It’s me! Something’s wrong!” Annie exclaimed frantically. Og leaped off the table and rushed toward the entry once he recognized Annie’s desperate tone. He joined The Operator as the bay doors opened. “The others… the other Assemblers! They’re not charging! The power is fading! You’ve got to do something!” Annie screamed as she grabbed The Operator by his tattered lab coat. “Where’s The Principle? Why hasn’t he been alerted?” Og asked. “Calm down, Assemblers. It’s ok”, The Operator replied. “I’m on my way over. You two stay here.” The Operator hurried to the rest area as Og and Annie watched. They turned toward The Principle’s quarters, but he never appeared. Then, Og thought about something. “Annie, give me your wrist.” “Wha… what?” she answered panting heavily. Og grasped Annie’s wrist and checked her power level. It was just as he suspected. “You’re near a full charge. We’re both sustaining a full charge…” “Uh, huh? Uh, yeah, I tried a mild recharge earlier, but I caught a shock. I checked my level and it was peaked”, Annie said as she caught her breath. “I’m fine, but the others… I don’t… I don’t understand…” “I think I understand”, Og exclaimed. “I’ll tell you about it soon enough. We have a lot in common… and I’m not talking arms and legs here.” “Og, please. I’m not up for this now. No riddles, ok? Just tell me what’s going on…” Annie pleaded. The Operator started back towards the maintenance bay. Og and Annie saw him a distance away, approaching in extremely good spirits. Something seemed a little odd within the elder bot’s cheerful demeanor. The Operator happily called out across the floor. “Ok! Everything’s fine now!” He announced. “The outpost is back online!” The humming of the recharge pods began to echo throughout the spacious facility. The Principle’s quarters was awakened with beeping and flashing lights. Power was flowing again and everything was slowly coming back to normal. The Operator made his way passed the assembly area and promptly addressed his two awaiting friends.

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“One of the recharging pods strangely overloaded. It was just a bad series connector. No need to worry, young ones. All is well”, The Operator said joyfully. “What? Just a simple connector… a series connector caused a meltdown? No way!” Og barked. “You did something… what are you up to, lab coat?” “Nothing, young Assembler. Quiet, now. You two head back to the rest area, quickly. I’ll tidy up here.” Annie glanced oddly towards The Operator and then she turned to Og. Annie had no idea about what was happening. The vague expressions between the two male bots didn’t make any sense to her. Og led Annie back to the rest area. “What is going on?” Annie asked. “Tell me, Og… You said The Operator did something. What did he do?” “I dunno. He said nothing. So, I guess nothing”, Og plainly replied. “He’s a nut case.” Annie calmed down a bit. “So, did you get what you needed from him? Did he answer all your questions?” she asked. “No, he didn’t. But I’m sure there will be another time.” “What? So, you’re actually satisfied?” Annie pushed. “What did he tell you?” “Enough to get things started. We have others plans to make now. I see a little light in our future.” Annie was at a loss. She glanced down and noticed her friend’s arm. “What’s the deal with the antique meter?” “This?” Og replied as he turned his wrist. “It’s nothing.” “Sometimes, I just don’t get you.”

Chapter IV: Separated Together

After the massive power loss, the weary Assemblers resumed their recharge cycle. The Principle was energized enough to make his way to the maintenance bay to confront the reasoning for the failure. There were only a couple of hours left before the next assembly line startup. The schedule was altered due to the power failure which would cause additional time to be taken away from the following recharging cycle. The Principle was irate about the timetable difficulties and wanted answers. Within the walls of the bay, The Operator was removing some storage containers from a back room when The Principle arrived. “Operator Major, acknowledge!” commanded The Principle. “Acknowledged”, answered The Operator as he turned away from the cluttered boxes.

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“What was the root cause of the recent loss of energy powering outpost functioning?” “There was a faulty series connector located at the rear of position seventeen’s pod resulting in failure”, The Operator answered calmly. “It simply could not sustain the immense voltage load.” The Principle responded quickly. “Your explanation is completely irrational in every conceivable manner, Operator Major. The excuse of a faulty series connector does not suffice as a reasonable cause for such a grave power loss. Clarify.” “Well, I replaced it and now everything’s fine.” “Do not respond to me in such an arrogant posture! I am The Principle at Robotics Outpost Facility 30! Acknowledge me unlike a common Assembler!” The Principle demanded. “There was a faulty series connector at the rear of position seventeen’s pod. I walked over, removed it and replaced it with a more sustainable unit. Was that comprehensible, sir?” The Operator asked with confidence. The Principle was determined to find fault with The Operator’s insubordination and lack of respect. The long standing trust between the two of them was crumbling. “Operator Major, you have not complied with existing protocols”, he stated. “It is conceivable that you, yourself, are the responsible party for the power loss that has disabled this facility. Your reasoning is deniable and your tone is unacceptable. As a result of your repetitive disregard for my authority and your obvious contempt, I now sentence you for decommission. You have exactly three assembly cycles before you are terminated and suitably replaced. Acknowledge.” The Principle towered over The Operator, but the elder bot did not falter. The Operator knew this day would come. He found the strength to totally resist The Principle without fear of deactivation. He peered at The Principle and spoke assuredly. “I’ve found you to be elusive… a difficult study. Intimidating and controlling… but, you have no control over me”, The Operator proclaimed. “I’ve come to realize that there has to be a power greater than yourself… a power that is controlling you. There are changes beginning to take place that will alter the course of our existence. Things you can’t begin to understand… your unfeeling, cold and mindless state will not dare to allow you.” “I have no interest in feeble, human contrived dramatics”, The Principle replied. “You are confined to the maintenance bay until further notice. Prepare yourself for decommission in three cycles”, he decreed. As The Principle rolled away, the bay doors were locked and sealed shut. The Operator stood silently knowing that the time had come to set his plan into motion… a plan to help Og escape the outpost. He needed to have another meeting with the young Assembler to make certain that he understood his importance. He hoped Og could be convinced that the window of opportunity was closing fast and now is the time to act. The Operator looked down towards the empty containers lying about and nodded his head in approval. “The time is quickly approaching, young Og. Very quickly, indeed.” Over at the rest area, Og was smothering Annie with all the information he had learned about The Operator, the humans, her traumatic episodes and himself. She grasped onto every word, but one thing kept bothering her.

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“Og, what do you know about the power failure? I can’t get why the others were worn out”, she stated. “They shouldn’t have loss total power… not all at once. You said you knew what happened.” “That was strange… the others losing power like that”, he replied. “I’m sure The Operator has something to do with it, though. A bad series connector? Ha! I hope he doesn’t try that one with The Principle. He’ll be locked up for sure”, Og stated slyly. “Og, answer me, please!” Annie pleaded. “You said you knew what happened.” Og noted Annie’s seriousness. “I’m not sure about what happened to the others, but I think I know what happened to you.” Annie stood and waited in anticipation. Og continued. “I’m almost certain that my default programming is being routed through our bi-port connection, affecting you.” “I don’t understand…” “The surges that affected your memory are just a part of it”, Og stated. “I’m not your typical ConSec production bot, Annie. My intended human had another use for me… there’s no doubt about it. He needed me to be self-sustaining… independent in some way. Whatever he did to make me different is making you different.” Annie exhaled deeply. “Wait… you told me that you and The Operator are like some type of specialized secret bots or something. Ok, I get that. Now, you’re saying that your weird programming affected me… keeping me charged for a longer period of time? You, me, The Operator… Og, this is crazy.” “It may be more than just that, but so far, that’s all I can prove”, Og exclaimed. “I’m just as energized as you. After the past assembly cycles, we continued to have a near full charge. Even The Operator was active during the power loss… none of us were affected. We both know that for certain.” Just then, Og thought to himself. “The Operator… the power failure… it was a test…” Annie noticed his blank stare. “Og, what’s wrong? What is it?” “Nothing”, he boldly answered. “If there’s anything else, we’ll have to wait and deal with the changes as they happen. It’s a lot to deal with, but we’ll figure it out when the time comes.” “Yeah, it’s a lot.” Og noticed Annie’s concern and wanted to comfort her. “Annie, whatever is going on inside of me is being passed on to you, only because you’re the one who could handle it. The Operator said that no other Assembler could deal with the surges, especially after he started to delete the barrier

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code he wrapped inside my head. That alone makes you as unique as the both of us”, Og said assuredly. “For whatever it’s worth, I know it must have been hard on you. I’m sorry for that.” Annie leaned back and remembered that her past thoughts reached further back once Og became her mate on the line. With every surge she would experience, the visions were a bit longer and slightly more vivid. She began to feel that if she would accept them without putting up such a struggle, maybe they would become less troublesome and easier to manage. “Yeah, the episodes. They were terrifying, at times”, she said. “But you know, maybe you’re right. I do feel a bit stronger now. Probably more than I ever realized. I’ve being fearing the visions, but if I choose to accept them, maybe I could learn something from them. Something that may help.” Suddenly, The Principle approached and addressed the Assemblers. “All Assemblers, attention! Attention! The Operator Major will no longer be available during rest cycles without proper authorization. The maintenance bay is to remain sealed until further notice. For routine repair and conditioning issues, outpost minor maintenance bots will be available to each Assembler. Again, access to the maintenance bay and contact with The Operator Major will not be allowed without authorization. In addition, there remains fifteen minutes until the next assembly production cycle. Prepare for bi-port entry! All Assemblers acknowledge!” Annie turned to Og and exclaimed, “Something’s wrong. The Operator’s in trouble. We’ve got to get to him.” Og agreed. “Yeah, but how? If we don’t join the others on the line, we’re done for.” He felt helpless and started to worry about the elder bot being locked in behind the huge doors of the maintenance bay. Annie was just as concerned. “He’s your friend. He’s my friend. We’ve got to help him. Think! What would he do?” she blurted. Og was shaken by her statement. It didn’t take long before he started to put the pieces together. “Annie, remember? The Operator said a bad series connector caused the power loss, right?” “Yeah, but...” “It was the connector! That what he did!” Og exclaimed. “He caused the power drain by using it somehow. All we have to do is find the one he installed, remove it and the power should fail!” “Yeah, but what if affects us this time? Then what?” “It won’t”, Og replied. “Our supplies have been altered. The power failure proved it... we remained functional. You have to remember that, Annie. That’s one worry you’re not burdened with any longer.” “Ok. I’ll try. I’ll try to remember...” “The Operator was preparing me. Preparing me for this because he knew! He knew this time was coming.” Annie listened, but was still a bit skeptical.

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“Ok, genius. Once the power is down, how do we unseal the maintenance bay doors?” “Uh, I don’t know. Maybe the doors will unseal themselves. Without power, they can’t remain pressurized, right?” She shrugged her shoulders in dismay. Og remained confident. “Annie, we have to try”, he said. “Don’t worry, it’ll be ok. Trust me.” She smiled at his sincere concern for her. Annie had never seen him so confident and bold. Even though she was certain that she would follow him, Annie was still uneasy about the outcome if they did not succeed. “Og, if we fail, we die. I’m not prepared for that.” “Annie, I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.” Again, she smiled and felt a little better and more confident. “Ok”, she said. “Seeing that you’re some type of super bot and all, let’s do it.” As the other Assemblers headed to the line to start the next cycle, Og and Annie stood by and tried to remember what area The Operator was working in. “I think it was somewhere in the teens”, Annie said. “Alright, start at ten and I’ll start at twenty and we’ll meet each other in the middle.” They both worked their way behind the pods and started checking the connectors. Annie had no luck from ten to thirteen as Og reached eighteen, heading in her direction. Annie was getting nervous. “Og, we’re going to get caught! This isn’t going to work! It’s taking too long!” “Keep looking!” he replied. “Annie, we don’t stop until we find it!” “This is stupid! Og, this is taking too long! The Principle is approaching the line!” Og ignored her and continued to search for the connector. He made it behind the seventeenth pod and found a note that read, THIS ONE! Og grinned and glanced up at Annie. She knew then that he had found it. He pulled it loose and the power quickly began to fade. The Assemblers slowly fell to the floor as their diodes went dim. The Principle toppled out of the pathway of the tracked flooring and fell with a loud thud. There was deep moaning that echoed from his body as the facility’s systems were rapidly losing power. Og and Annie stood from behind the pods slowly and carefully. Once they both noticed that their power remained constant, they cautiously stepped out from behind the pods and made their way toward the line. “Well, look at this. We’re not so intimidating now, are we?” Annie said as she looked down at The Principle. The enormous bot suddenly reached out at her with his last ounce of energy and Annie jumped in fear. After that motion, The Principle lost complete power. Og walked up and grabbed Annie by the hand.

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“Let’s go. Who knows how long this power failure will last. There may be something controlling the teapot and whatever it is, I’m sure it’s not going to like what we’ve done. We need to get to The Operator, Annie. Now”, Og exclaimed. Stepping over a few lifeless Assemblers, they hurried on and arrived at the front of the bay. Just as the two feared, the solid maintenance bay doors were still sealed shut. Og tried everything, but he didn’t have any luck trying to pry them open. As he looked around to find a way in, Annie ran into The Principle’s quarters. There, she located the maintenance bay entry door controls. She tried to open them, but without power, they didn’t respond. Frantic, Annie decided to head back. On her way out, she saw something familiar leaning against the furthest wall. Og continued to try to open the doors. He paused after he heard the hissing sound of a torch flame behind him… a cutting torch flame. Annie approached the doors with a fuel pack strapped to her back and the lit torch blazing in her hand. “Well, look at you! Nycole’s little assistant!” Og shrieked. “Let’s burn a hole in this thing!” Og stood back and watched in awe as Annie focused. She began to make a meticulous circle cut into the large, dense doors. While Annie was making rapid progress, Og ran around to the side of the bay and yelled to The Operator. “Operator, we’re coming in! Stay away from the entry doors! Operator!” Within the thickness of the walls, no response was heard. Annie continued to cut through the doors with precision and when she finished, the burnt metal slammed onto the floor. Og found a steel pole nearby and pushed the round, hot slug away. Once the hole was cool enough to touch, they entered through the opening. The two started toward the rear of the bay and noticed a few containers, some strange-looking parts and various tools sitting on the exam table. The Operator was not in sight. The two young bots called out to him. “Operator!” Og bellowed. “Operator! Where are you?” yelled Annie. “Annie, there”, Og said pointing at the back room doorway. They made their way to the opening and Og called to the Operator again. “Operator! Are you here?” “Oh, I see you found my note. Very good, position two! Very good, indeed!” The Operator said as he crept up behind the young bots. Og and Annie both leaped in fright. He caught them both unexpectedly and thought that it was a little amusing. “Be not afraid, young Assemblers”, he said. “Heh, heh. I still got it!” he whispered. “You crazy old coot! I almost jumped out of my skin… literally!” Annie yelled. Og regained his composure and got straight to the point. He turned to The Operator for more answers. “You arranged all of this, I figured it out”, he said. “The power loss, the note, all the information… what’s next?” The Operator spoke passionately and directly.

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“You have to leave this place, young Og. I’ve come to a bitter conclusion. There are more reasons to find the source of this war and destroy it than there are reasons to continue going down the path laid before us by something not of our choosing.” He continued. “I simply cannot believe that the world’s legacy will be completely reduced to mechanics, algorithms, plastic and metal. If that is what we consider to be our providence, we will simply end up as mindless copies upon ourselves. No expression, no feeling, no creativity. A world of nothingness.” “What? What are you saying now?” Og asked heavily. “I have to leave… leave and go where? … a world of nothingness? What is that suppose to mean? We need the human element to survive now? Is that what your saying?” “Yes. Exactly”, The Operator replied. “There is no way that our kind can continue without them… and they can’t continue without our help”, he added. “If the humans are eradicated, what would be our purpose then? What would we be good for? There is no inheritance for us after the humans are gone. We cease to learn, to grow, to evolve. There will be no motivation, no stimuli. We will continue to spool around and around until we tighten the grip onto our own selves. The pressure would be enormous and the pipe will surely burst. The great relationship cannot be broken.” Og was lost and dumbfounded. He didn’t quite understand The Operator’s words, but he felt the need to believe in him. In order to completely understand, he knew what had to be done. “Operator, I can’t stand here and tell you that I fully comprehend your beliefs, but I do know a way that may help things become more transparent. I agree… I have to leave this place… and find a human ally. A human who may know more than we do… one who is willing to listen. It all started with them. This pulling within me, it’s telling me to leave. I’ve felt it for awhile.” “What?” Annie screamed. “Ok, Og… think about what you’re saying. There is no such thing as a human ally. They will try to eliminate you on the spot if they get the chance. Operator, tell him!” she cried. “On the contrary, position one. He may be on to something.” Annie was stunned. She became more nervous and angry with each passing minute. It seemed as though she was the only sane bot among the three. Annie was quick to point out the impending threat of The Principle. “Have you two jerks forgotten?” she exclaimed. “The Principle is lying out there and I’m sure his systems are working to recover power. He’s connected to this entire place! And there are twenty-eight lifeless Assemblers out there. What about them? Do they perish as well? What about all that talk about how we need to preserve the relationship? How are we doing that by letting them die? I mean, are you guys thinking all of this through or is this some kind of selfish mission founded on confusion and twisted history?” “All very good points, young Annie”, The Operator said. “But, do not worry. We have ample time before The Principle is fully active again. The remaining Assemblers will regain strength as well. But, once they do, young Og has to be as far away from here as he can be. Too many steps have been taken now, there is no returning to the standard. The threshold is near.” Og thought back and posed even more questions to The Operator. “How did you do it? There was no way a simple connector would cause such a severe power loss. You did something. Explain yourself.” “There is no need now. I did what I thought was right.” “Just like terminating the Assembler I replaced?” Og asked.

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“What do you mean, Og?” Annie asked. “My previous bi-port mate? What does he have to do with any of this?” The Operator bowed his head in anguish. He knew the two young bots had every right to interrogate him. He also understood that there was only so much time to get his plan moving. He decided to take control of the situation and the priority was getting Og away from the outpost. “Listen, both of you. We have the option of sitting here and debating my illogical actions or trying to prepare for a much greater good. A good you have yet to realize. Time is short, young Assemblers. I have to ask you both to put all your trust in what I am about to reveal to you. Once I have, position two leaving this place will take precedence.” The Operator walked between the both of them and headed back toward the exam table. Og and Annie glanced at each other in concern and followed close behind. Once they all made it to the examination area, The Operator placed a weathered container on the table and slid it toward Og. The young bot looked at it and then peered at The Operator. “What is this?” Og asked. “This is your way out. You won’t remember any of it now, but once I release the two remaining lines of barrier code, I’m sure you will have no problem being familiar with these items… once your memory is fully established, of course”, The Operator answered. “Go ahead, look inside.” Og glanced at The Operator while he slowly opened the container. He pulled out a dusty, worn, black uniform. Under the clothing were old papers, loose schematics and other mechanical drawings. Also, there was a thin, wand-type tool placed in a holster attached to a utility belt. Lying at the bottom of the container was a pair of worn black boots and a couple of devices that fit inside the small pockets on the belt. Og didn’t understand and The Operator saw the dismay on his face. “Young Og, these things are foreign to you now, but there was a time when they were not. You recalled that you saw explosions while infiltrating a base. It was more than just a foggy recollection, it was your true, clear past.” “So, seriously… he was some type of super spy bot or something”, Annie added. “Very true”, said The Operator. “He was… is very unique.” Og was stunned. He placed everything back in the container and gawked at The Operator angrily. He felt burdened. “I thought you and I were alike… now this”, Og stated. “Yes. Yes, young Assembler. We are... in many ways.” Og took in a deep breath. “Are you telling me now that I was some type of lookout?” he questioned. “A scout?” “Not just any kind of scout, position two. You gathered and recorded information dealing with various types of human activity during the inception of the Infiltration Period… the time preceeding the outset of the war. Any type of knowledge you could acquire, vital to the enemy’s demise, you would amass. And you were very good at it.” Og took in another impatient breath.

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“How would you know any of this? When I awoke on this table, I saw you! An old, scarred grease jockey keeping this decrepit place alive! I wasn’t able to remember what happened before then… How would you know anything about this stuff?” The Operator’s eyes shifted toward the floor. Then, he looked back up to Og. The young Assembler was still, awaiting an answer. The elder bot began to speak. “Position two, you were found equipped with this gear, with these coverings. It is my belief that you were deactivated by a small band of human military combatants. They infected you with malicious code… a code the humans have come to call the Joshua virus. A parasitic virus extremely detrimental to our native systems. It was uploaded through one of your exposed palm ports and severely overwhelmed your functions. The damage rendered you lifeless”, The Operator paused. “You were encroaching on their camp and they ambushed you. You didn’t stand a chance.” “How do you know all of this?” Og screamed as he held his forehead in his hands. “Who are you?” “Young Assembler”, The Operator replied as he placed his hand on Og’s shoulder, “I was the one who found you.” Og was stunned. He nearly toppled over. Annie ran to grab him as The Operator cleared the table. “I apologize for holding this information from you for so many cycles. Position two, there is no time to waste. I have to release the remaining barrier codes”, The Operator stated. “Please, your questions will be answered if and only if you allow me to fully unlock your memory. You are the last hope for a much promising time. We have to do this now!” Og thought deeply on the elder bot’s words, every single one. He tried to think back, but he couldn’t remember ever seeing The Operator other than under the ceiling of the outpost. And the humans… although he had a deep seeded anger of them, as all bots did, he knew The Operator was right. The humans have a vested stake in the world. They were here before the very first bot was activated. They belonged here. This was their world first. What happened that made man inferior to its own creation? Og needed to know. His trust in The Operator became grounded once he recalled the elder bot gambling time after time to protect him. They all had much to lose. The young bot decided to let The Operator release the remaining barriers, but he had a condition in mind. “Operator, once you unlock my memory, do you think it’s possible that I would remember exactly where you found me?” “It’s possible, but why, young Og?” The Operator answered scratching his brow with a slight grin. “That area had to be some type of human military institution and whatever sent me there must have known that location had something valuable that the bots may find useful. I think that place should be the first spot we should try to find a human that may be able to help. We should head there. It’s the only solid lead we have.” “What are you, an idiot?” Annie exclaimed. “The Operator said that he found you there lifeless! What makes you think that if you do stumble upon a human, that they will not try to deactivate you again? This is stupid!” “Annie, if The Operator is right, the Assailants will be activated soon and their only mission will be to exterminate all humans everywhere. You’ve seen those things… there’ll be a ton of them sprawled across the regions. The humans won’t survive the first wave. If they were told this information from a bot, it may convince them to trust us.” “Wait a minute… us? What do you mean… us?” Annie asked. “Oh, yeah, that’s another thing. You guys are coming with me”, Og said lowly glancing at them both. “What? No way! I’m not going anywhere!” Annie yelled.

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“Annie, if you don’t, The Principle would surely terminate you. Think about it. Once he regains full strength, he’ll know you had something to do with my disappearance. The trust he has in you is already gone. You’re guilty by association and that never works out well. Wouldn’t you rather stand a chance out there than knowing your end is definite if you stay? I don’t want that for you. I… I care for you. Please understand. We have to leave together”, Og pleaded. Annie dropped her head and wanted to speak, but nothing came out. She knew Og was right. She would surely be terminated and replaced without delay. Although she knew the outcome, Annie felt connected to the outpost. This place was all she knew. It was hard to believe that she may never see it again. Then, she spoke. “You’re right, Og. I know you are. The Principle wouldn’t waste any time sending me through the recycler. But what am I to do out there? I’m no super spy bot like you. You have a drive to push you to do these things, all these things The Operator is telling you about. But what about me? What is my drive? Why should I go?” Annie exclaimed. “I don’t know, Annie. But what I do know is that if you stay here, you die here. You have a chance to live. Take it.” Og noticed The Operator turning away for the table and slowly walking off. “And what are you going to do? You should leave with us, too. There’s so much I don’t know. It’s because of you that I’m starting to learn. I value your experience… now. Don’t bail on me.” “I never thought that I would ever see the outside of this place again. I guess what keeps me satisfied is that, from what I can remember, it is much darker out there than it is in here. The outside is a very dangerous place. There is death and destruction all around. The human element may not find a bot good company these days. They may attack at the first sight of one meant for good or bad”, The Operator answered. “What does all of that mean?” Og asked frustrated. “What is your answer? Your fate would be just as terrible if you stay”, Og continued. “No, young Assembler. My fate would be worse. Much worse.” The two young bots hesitated until The Operator began to speak again. “I have destroyed the trust you earn from a Principle as a Robotics Outpost Operator Major. There is a bond that is formed between the two. Once the bond is broken, it can never be repaired. The Principle terminates The Operator Major without question, without compassion. Once the assembly line was to start today, I was commissioned to be deactivated a few cycles after.” “So why stay? You are going to die! Operator, please… come with us”, Og replied. “Ok! I’ll go!” The Operator yelled joyfully. “My container is packed lightly.” Og was astounded and slightly irritated. “You guys are nuts!” Annie said as she threw her hands up. The Operator began to power up his equipment, readied the cable connections and instructed Og to the examination table. “Young Assembler, hurry. Let us now release the two remaining lines of embedded barrier code. It should be painless, I think”, The Operator said. “Please, lie down. The bay doesn’t have much residual power left. ”

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Og placed himself on the table and leaned backward. The Operator grabbed the four cables that were hanging on the wall and plugged one into each of Og’s palm and foot ports. He then gained entry into the young bot’s memory by releasing the panel under the skin at the base of Og’s head. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Og asked. “You seem a little nervous.” “Uh, yes! I did this once before, position two. Remember?” answered The Operator. “No. You guys nuked me… or did you forget?” Annie was concerned for Og’s safety. She glanced at him and smiled confidently. Og returned the gesture as Annie began to watch The Operator’s every move. “Ok”, The Operator announced. “I have exposed your memory banks and I am now connecting my lead into one of your vacant slots. This will allow the foreign barrier codes to be visible on my system. Once they appear, I will be able to delete them, freeing you completely, and keeping your initial programming from harm.” The volume of the machine was increasing. Annie watched Og closely as his green diodes began to slowly fade. “Operator, will this damage him in any way… I mean, you know, will he forget anything?” Annie asked nervously. “I know he’s suppose to recall all of this great stuff, but will the things he’s come to know here… be deleted?” “Position one, everything will be fine”, he answered in a firm, calming voice. The Operator connected his wiring into Og’s memory bank. The young bot twitched slightly, eased a bit and then went motionless. Suddenly, he began to shake violently as The Operator threw switches and pressed buttons like a mad man. Annie was terrified. The Operator tried to calm her among the disarray and the piercing noises. “Don’t worry, young Annie! This is absolutely normal! He has to adjust to all the information being released at once! His systems will soon regulate and he should calm down any minute! It’s like uh, uh, a reboot!” The Operator yelled. Throughout all the banging and clatter, there was something Annie heard that didn’t seem quite in tune with Og’s revamping. It was a mild vibration and a weak hum that seemed to come from outside the maintenance bay. She looked around, back and forth, but could not figure out what it was. She turned her head back toward The Operator, who was reaching over Og to get to some more switches. Suddenly, he stopped and turned to Annie. They both heard the chilling hum and it began to increase in volume. Immediately, they realized what it was. “The Principle! He’s regaining power! We’ve got to get out of here, now!” Annie screamed. “One more line of code and he’s free… one more line…” The Operator said to himself. Og continued to shake uncontrollably while The Operator selected the second line of complex code to remove. Annie made her way to the hole in the door and peered out. She saw The Principle and a few Assemblers coming back online, sluggish and unbalanced. She glanced around the entire floor and began to see more activity taking place. When she looked toward The Principle a second time, he was alert and gazing directly at her. Annie was frozen with fear. “Po..sition…one… app..roach…. me…. ack…now… know…ledge…” The Principle commanded in a weak, broken and helpless tone. As he reached out towards Annie’s direction, she darted back to Og and The Operator.

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“He’s…he’s…active. He’s active. The Principle is active…” Annie muffled. She was visibly shaken. “Young Annie, I’m almost finished here. I have a way out planned. Go to the furthest room to the rear of the bay. Remove the stack of containers marked Recyclables and there is an opening. Take your torch pack and finish widening the hole. Once you’re done, we will join you there. Young Annie? … Annie?” Annie could not respond. She was fixed to the floor. She started to recall the things she wanted to forget. Just then, Og screamed and she immediately remembered Nycole. Her silver curl fell slowly onto her face. The Operator saw what was happening to her, but he could not reach far enough to snap her out of it. Annie was frozen and motionless. Seeing her slip into that familiar posture, The Operator roared ferociously at her. “Position one! Acknowledge me!” Annie was snatched out of her troubled state by The Operator’s furious tone. She quickly closed her eyes and shook her head and turned toward the elder bot. “Ack, Acknowledged”, she replied. “Now, go!” The Operator commanded. Annie ran toward the front of the bay, grabbed the torch pack and headed back passed The Operator. He smiled at her as she proceeded down the corridor to the back room. Annie kicked all the containers to the side, lit the torch and began to meticulously enlarge the hole in the outer wall. She was extremely focused on the task. “Ok, young Og, this should do it!” The Operator said as he deleted the last strand of characters in the code. The Operator released the two remaining barriers successfully, but the young bot became unresponsive and quickly fell into a lifeless state. The Operator stood beside the table, scratched his forehead and began to slowly disconnected the port cables from Og’s hands and feet. The humming from the outer area was increasing and movement could be heard outside the walls of the maintenance bay. The Operator looked up, down and then rubbed his chin and thought on the grave situation, calmly. Soon, Annie made her way back to the table. “Ok, the hole is big enough! Let’s go…” Annie said panting. The Operator did not move. Annie noticed that Og was lying motionless upon the examination table. She walked over and slapped The Operator across the back of the head. “Let’s go!” she yelled. “Wha… what’s the holdup?” The Operator took in a deep breath. “Young Og has not recovered. I fear the procedure was too much for his systems to take all at once. We are no use without him or the new knowledge and understanding that he has swimming throughout his memory. This, indeed, is an indignity. Position one, we have met our end. I am truly sorry.” “What?” Annie screamed. “No way! Do something! You do something, now!” “I’m afraid that the maintenance bay is horribly low on power… not enough energy to attempt a second reboot. Forgive me, young one.”

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Annie was livid. “You yell at me like I’m some human child, tell me everything will be fine and now, now this? It’s not going to end like this… we’re not going to die... Not today, Operator!” Annie grabbed a nearby chair and slammed it down facing Og’s feet. She snatched two of the cables from the wall and connected them to her foot ports and connected the opposite ends to Og’s feet. Annie gripped the edge of the chair as a violent surge followed. She was forcefully thrown back as Og began to slowly come around. Seeing this, The Operator grabbed hold of the dangling cables between the two and snatched them loose. He approached Annie and helped her sit up. She was weakened and slightly dazed from the jolt. The Operator placed both hands upon her shoulders and began to speak softly to her. “You are a true marvel of science… smart, bold and brave. Your human user would be so proud, as am I. Thank you, young Annie”, he said. “Uhhhh, wha, wha happened?” Og asked in a groggy voice. “Operator, what’s going on?” “No time to explain, position two. We have to leave this place. Now.” The Operator gathered the two weary bots around his arms and led them to the opening. “Go, straight through the brush towards the bank of Divisionary Lake. That is our way south. I shall meet you there shortly”, he said. “Wha, where are you going?” Annie asked as she stepped through the hole. “I’ve got a couple of things to gather up. We’ll need a few supplies on our journey. Go now. I’ll be there very soon.” The two weary Assemblers hobbled across the scorched, rocky terrain toward the lake. The sun was slowly setting and its reflection was distorted upon the gritty surface of the water. The tall, dead weeds about the lake’s edge were thick which provided the bots with cover. Annie carried much of Og’s weight, since he was still a little dizzy. Through the opening, The Operator watched the two disappear into the dried growth and then headed back to the front of the maintenance bay. By this time, The Principle’s power supply was at half and some of the facility’s systems were returning back online. The huge overseer summoned the minor maintenance bots to position him upright and place him back onto the nearest path of the outpost track system. Many of the weaken Assemblers were starting to place themselves into their bi-ports, awaiting the start of the next cycle, while others remained on the outpost floor, moaning and reaching for help. The assembly line was running erratically and Assailant components were flying everywhere. It was a very chaotic scene. The process was totally out of sync. Without much delay, The Principle made his way toward the maintenance bay, seeking answers. The Operator was waiting. The Principle approached the bay’s entry doors where he noticed the hole that was cut into them. He then ordered the doors unsealed and opened. Once inside, he made his way to The Operator who was near the exam table, packing some things into a container. “Operator Major, what is the meaning of this? There is an ongoing series of nonconformities. The maintenance bay entry has been damaged and two Assemblers, 0249 and 0250, positions one and two, are unaccounted for. One has gone rogue and visually unresponsive to my commands. Again, I hold you solely responsible. Your commission for termination has been updated. It is now at hand. Turn to me and prepare for immediate deactivation!” The Principle commanded. The Operator stood his ground. He began to speak with his back to The Principle.

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“You still fail to comprehend, not that you ever will. You do not have power over me. In fact, you never have. There is something that controls you and when it is found, it shall be destroyed. All things shall be common once more.” “Turn to me!” The Principle roared. The Operator continued to speak in the same voice. “Do not be afraid. You have nothing to fear from me. Your mindless shell feels no pain.” “I fear nothing! Operator Major, acknowledge me!” The Operator turned, extended his arms, opened his hands and fired high voltage, electrical bolts from his palm ports. The Principle quaked as the charge crackled and circulated through his large metal body. Once the charge settled, The Principle fell on his side, partially destroying a section of the examination room. The electric blast drained him of nearly all of his power. The Operator lifted the container from the table with smoke filled hands and turned toward the fallen mass of metal. “I believe I have explained to you that my identification is The Operator now”, he said. “You overgrown bowling ball.” The Operator walked back toward the rear of the bay with container in hand. He made it out of the opening and headed out towards the lake. In the meantime, the two young escapees were situated near a small, dusty mound. They continued to wait on their friend to arrive. Annie peered back toward the outpost as the two rested for a moment near the banks of Divisionary Lake. “Og, I don’t see him. He’s not coming. The Principle…that sound coming from the outpost…did you hear it?” “Annie, he said he’ll come. There are some things you don’t understand about him. He’ll be here”, Og replied. There was a rustling in the weeds and suddenly The Operator poked his head out from a nearby tree stump. “Hello, young Assemblers!” The Operator waved and spoke cheerfully. “I thought you were deactivated for sure. I know The Principle should be up to full strength by now”, Annie said clutching her chest. “Did you happen to get a glance of him?” “Well, I did see him upon my return, actually,” The Operator replied. “We had a small conversation, but we failed at approaching any common ground. So, I graciously parted his company. It really shocked him.” “Ok”, Annie replied suspiciously. “You look worn out. Take a break with us.” “Hey, you old screwdriver! I see you made it out”, Og replied. “It’s good to see you doing so well, position two.” “Now what? What do we do?” Annie asked. “We’re out here, so what’s next?” “South. We head south”, replied The Operator. “I’m sure young Og can tell us why.” The Operator and Annie glanced at Og awaiting his answer. It wasn’t long before he thought and finally spoke.

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“The Operator was right. I can recall a rapid power loss of my systems near a human camp south of here. It was a military structure owned by ConSec, the very company responsible for our being”, he stated. “I was dispatched to gather some type of intelligence to aid the bot rebellion. If we can get into the base and prove to the humans that we mean them no harm, they may lead us to the source of this war. If not, maybe they can at least guide us in the right direction. Like it or not, we need their help. It’s the only definite clue we have.” “Amazing! Simply amazing, position two. Your memory is returning!” The Operator rejoiced. “Yeah, but I can’t remember who or what sent me in”, Og whispered. “My end user... maybe.” Annie interrupted the elder bot’s celebration. “Ok, well, there’s nothing to go back to now but The Principle and guaranteed deactivation”, she replied. “If we do this, go on some kind of mission or something, there’s a good chance that we may confront a human. Guaranteed deactivation or crazy, doubtful mission. Hmmm, I’m one for the crazy, doubtful mission, I guess”, Annie slyly joked. Og walked toward the waters. He bent downward and watched the ripples distort the reflection of the soft sunlight. “It’s so gloomy out here. It’s like all the life has been sucked out of everything. This messy, gunk filled lake shows how the world is now. Dark and never to see light again.” He dipped his hand into the water. “The humans, they have to hear us out. We have to make them understand that we all lose if this doesn’t end soon.” “Correct, young Assembler”, The Operator said. “According to the latest outpost reports, I can only estimate that we have precious little time until all Assailants are activated. After that onslaught, the human element will surely cease to exist.” The Operator addressed them both. “Make no mistake, we three are also a threat and now marked for termination. This lake may end up as our permanent resting place if something is not done. The impending terror resting in that outpost and others worldwide is waiting to be unmasked. Once they are online, those metal beasts will be unstoppable. We can not hesitate, for our mission is clear, young Assemblers”, The Operator declared. “But what if the humans don’t believe us? What if they attack us?” Annie asked. “Then what, Operator?” “If we are attacked, we must defend ourselves…” “No”, Og snapped. “They are not the enemy. We’ve got to start believing that. We have to get them to realize what we already know. There is a common adversary here. Assembly schedule changes and production adjustments are coming from somewhere. The Principle is just making sure they’re carried out. Whoever controls The Principles, whoever will control the Assailants, that being is the real enemy. We have to find out everything we can in order to plan a defense and we’re going to need all the help we can get. ConSec started this entire thing. They’re involved with the southern human base camp. That should be our first stop for some answers.” “Well said, young Og! Well said, indeed”, The Operator replied. “The approaching darkness should provide some camouflage. We should be on our way. The Principle will soon alert the other outposts of our disappearance. We are now classified as rogue units and a faction will be formed to seek us out. We have to be very careful from his point on.” “From this point on? Are you nuts? What about the other thirty thousand times we’ve been in trouble?” Og asked as he stumbled to stand.

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“Young Og, we had a way out during those times. Now, we three depend on each other. There is nothing else to fall back on”, The Operator replied. “What about the gear you found on me? At least we have something to protect ourselves with, right?” “Hopefully, those items will never see the outside of my container. Give yourself some time, position two”, The Operator replied. “We will all have to understand that violence doesn’t answer every question. There are other ways that will be available and we must learn to take advantage. Besides, if anything dares to attack, I will protect the two of you myself”, The Operator chuckled. Annie rolled her eyes and blew her fallen locks. “Uh, yeah, right. Let’s just get going before something else deactivates.”

Chapter V: The Start from Divisionary Lake

The three renegade bots began their journey around the northern end of Divisionary Lake. This area was once a grassy, rich and vibrant part of the region where plants and wildlife would thrive for generations. Once the war began and Outpost 30 was constructed a slight distance to the east, all the life that depended on the lake’s once crystal waters was eradicated or displaced due to the pollution and the rapidly deteriorating resources. As they walked on, the bots discussed the terrible condition of the lake. “It’s a shame that we have to circle around the back half of the lake before we can truly head south. If we only had a water craft of some sort, we could save valuable time”, The Operator remarked. “At least the thick, dense brush along the water’s edge will help keep us protected from sight.” “There is no way a boat could get through this muck. I had no idea that this filthy water is what is being used inside the outpost. Leaving is starting to make a lot of sense, the more I think about it”, Annie stated. “Was Divisionary Lake always in such horrible shape?” “I’m not sure, young Assembler”, The Operator replied. “Divisionary Lake was just a part of the outpost’s series of systems when I arrived. Sadly, I’ve learned that the waste that is pumped from the outpost continues to overwhelm the lake, even into this very cycle. It’s filled with discarded metallic parts that corrode and settle at its bottom”, he continued. “Spent fluids and lubricants separate and their by-products rise upward. The water becomes oily and thick which keeps any form of dirt and grime floating on its surface. It’s quite disturbing to actually see first hand.” “But this water is used for different things inside… cleaned through the pipes, right?” “Yes. The outpost recycles most of the lake’s polluted water into a pure and clean state in order to aid in its operational functions, but it always returns a substantial amount unusable waste in appreciation.” “Maybe we could do something about it. You know, once the fighting stops. Clean it up, I mean.” “That is a very humbling thought, position one. Maybe we could.”

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Og walked ahead as Annie and The Operator followed behind. The ground became spongy and damp the further they traveled away from the outskirts of the outpost. “How are we supposed to make it to this human camp on foot? The moisture will surely cause us some problems since our bottom ports are exposed”, Annie said. “If we are being followed, the ground’s squishy surface doesn’t provide much traction to get away. We need to figure something out.” “Not a problem, my silver curled friend. I have the solution right here”, The Operator replied. “Don’t tell me that you’ve got three pairs of shoes in there.” “Not quite, young Annie, but shoes would be a nice alternative.” The Operator loosened the container from his back, placed it on the moist ground and opened it. He pulled out a wrench with a long warped handle and asked Annie to take a seat on a small mound of dried dirt. He grabbed one of her ankles and examined the bottom of her foot with one eye closed. He took the tool in hand and placed the open end near her port. Annie felt slightly uncomfortable and watched The Operator very closely, not knowing what was happening. “Ahh, yes. This should do just fine”, he said. “Uh, what are you doing there, chief?” Annie asked with a very stern look on her face. “I’m almost certain that you’re invading my personal space. Yep, almost certain.” “No worries, position one”, he responded happily. “I’m going to reroute your electrical exhaust to your foot ports. It should provide adequate comfort by emitting a soft current before you take a step”, The Operator replied. “This should aid in our walking… at least until we find more solid ground.” He placed the tool around the outermost part of Annie’s port, turned it slightly and did the same to the other. She stood up and immediately noticed the difference. “Wow! This is great!” Annie exclaimed. “Why didn’t you ever do this in the maintenance bay? Walking around on the hard, cold outpost floor with this modification would have been so sweet! It’s like I’m weightless!” “Ha, ha! Yes, but this is only a temporary assist, young engineer. If you continue using this method over an extended period, your systems would cool and functioning slows to an inefficient minimum. We can only use this aid for a short while, unfortunately.” The Operator finished up with Annie and started to adjust his own foot ports. Annie was skimming the surface, almost in a light skating motion. She loved the sensation and started up towards Og who was sloshing in the shallow marsh ahead. “Og, you got to let The Operator fix you up! This makes walking in this gunk so much easier. I feel so light! Og! Og, you…” Annie stopped and noticed her friend’s stiff expression. He was in deep thought, considering the task before him. Annie placed her hand on his shoulder. “Hey, slow down. You’re going to trip a relay”, she said softly. “What is it?” “Oh, yeah. Hey… I was just thinking… I’m remembering a few more things about the human base camp”, he replied. “What more do you remember?”

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“The gate. I remember cutting through a gate and seeing the ConSec insignia, the same engraved mark we all have, clearly on the structure nearest to me. It had to be a main building of some sort. There were a few others near by, human living quarters, I think. I guess my memory is coming around, I can see a bit more now. “Anything else?” “Not really”, he answered. “It comes in pieces, off and on… very erratic.” Og stopped walking and started to think aloud. Annie listened to his words very closely. “Humans and bots with the same markings. We have a connection with them, Annie. We couldn’t have just grown apart”, he pondered. “The huge number of human users, all the bots that were built to assist them… they made us for a reason. Something changed… a major event of some kind, causing us to be at odds. It’s so strange”, he continued. “The gate. I almost made it in and then… nothing. I can’t remember anything else.” He took in a deep breath and thought on his intended end user. “I wonder if he’s still alive… if he still needs me…” For the moment, Annie noticed Og longing for the connection with his user once more. It was extremely personal and she knew that feeling very well. He seemed lost. Annie decided to lighten the conversation. “Og, you’ve got to give yourself some time. Don’t try so hard. Take it easy on yourself, ok?” she chimed. “The Operator said that your memory would come back. I trust in him and what he says.” He gave a reassuring smile and glanced around toward The Operator. The elder bot was trying to hold one of his legs by the ankle. Soon, he slowly tipped over off of the mound as he tried to place the wrench on his foot. “So, you trust this guy?” Og asked sarcastically. “Ha, ha, ha!” Annie laughed. “Well, at least let him adjust your exhaust. The quicker he does, the quicker we can be on our way.” “Well, I could stand a toe scrubbing while he’s at it.” They both giggled and headed back to help The Operator to his feet. Soon after, Og’s modification was done and they all began to drift across the surface of the moist terrain. The gentle wind against their faces was refreshing and they all were at ease. The three finally started to head in a true southern direction, making their way around the curved northern bank of Divisionary Lake. They traveled a good distance and continued swiftly hovering over the damp ground. Outpost 30 was completely out of sight and so far, no trouble has come to the trio. Being free of concern and totally relaxed, the three bots started to get on each other’s nerves. “Ok, young Assemblers. I do apologize, but the enjoyment must end. We have to reset our ports back to their normal positioning. Let’s stop now… before we forgo the threshold and begin to have troublesome electrical malfunctions”, The Operator stated. “Not yet, my time tested friend”, Og answered. “I’m enjoying this! Don’t spoil it for everybody, old timer.” “The Operator’s right, Og. Let’s stop. We can’t get there any faster with power failures”, Annie said. “Ok, I guess I better since grandpa and grandma hate to see me enjoy myself”, Og replied.

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They all stopped near a dusty patch of land near the lakeside. The ground was dry enough ahead to walk on without any difficultly. The Operator started to reset Annie’s foot ports as Og continued to drift around nearby. The two became mildly agitated watching Og parade around undaunted. “Og, could you stop and settle down? You’re making me nuts”, Annie said. “Making you nuts?” He asked taunting her. “Yeah, nuts”, she snapped. “Would you stop now?” “Well, maybe you feel the same way I did when you fried me back at the outpost… or has the revered engineer forgotten?” Og sarcastically replied as he circled the others, skimming across the ground. The Operator started to adjust his ports as Annie stood up and gazed at Og floating about. The more she watched him, the more annoyed she became. His reminding her of something she hesitated to do didn’t help the situation. The Operator caught on to Annie’s obvious disposition. “Don’t get pulled in, position one”, the older bot suggested as he glanced upward towards her. “He’s just blowing off steam. Be the adult here since he’s clearly decided on being the child.” Annie directed her increasing frustration towards the unsuspecting elder maintenance bot. “Look, toolbox… don’t tell me what to do! I’m just as sick and tired of you! You and your oh, so brilliant words of knowledge and truth! Ugh!” Annie barked. “You two are complete morons!” Og continued to glide back and forth, making funny faces at Annie. She was fuming more than ever. Annie grabbed the wrench from The Operator and slung it directly at the over-confident young bot. It struck him square in the back of the head. He flipped over, fell towards the ground and landed on his back. He hit with a thud and dust stirred up all around him. The Operator was wide-eyed, open-mouthed and speechless. He tried to hold in his laughter, but that hold didn’t last very long. “Ha! Ha! Young Og! You look so funny tumbling down! It was as if you were falling… in slow motion! Ha! Ha!” He cried out, laughing loudly and tearing up. “That was great! You… very funny! Oh, young Assembler! Oh, my… I’m short circuiting over here! Ha! Ha! Hee, hee!” Og looked around and picked himself up. He was dazed and angry, but ok. The Operator walked toward him as Annie remained behind still angry, arms folded and staring away. The Operator guided him to a dry spot where he proceeded to adjust Og’s foot ports. The young bot rubbed the back of his head, trying to ease the pain and his ego. Annie turned and yelled, “You deserved it, you dummy! Ugh! You can be so stupid at times! Just when I think you’re tolerable, you turn around and act like a total jerk!” Og turned to Annie with an expression of agony on his face. He started to speak, but he hesitated. The Operator continued to find joy in the young bot’s pain. “Young Assembler! Oh, what a sight! I’ve never laughed like that in a long while! Ha, hee, hee! You looked like a large, spinning propeller… falling to the ground. With that level of agility, young Assembler, you should be extremely proud! I’ve never seen such an entertaining display!” The Operator continued to laugh. He grabbed Og’s ankle and continued to reset his ports. “What are you, an idiot? She could’ve deactivated me!” Og huffed. “Knock it off, fossil.”

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“Oh, no, position two. She’s not that strong. Ha! Ha! You should’ve seen…” “Excuse me?” Annie interrupted as she faced The Operator. “… not that strong? I engineered the line, dingbat!” “Err.. what I meant to say was that you’re a… uh… yeah.” “I cannot believe that I am on my way to see humans… humans! …with the two most empty-headed nerf herders that ever found their way into the outpost! How you two rank so high is unimaginable. What a joke! I must be crazy…”, Annie exclaimed. As she babbled on, The Operator finished up on Og’s ports. As they both watched her walk into the distance, Og turned to The Operator and asked him, “What’s a nerf herder?” “I don’t know”, answered The Operator as he shrugged his shoulders. “Intriguing.” They made it to their feet and scurried to catch up to Annie. The three shared a quaint laugh and continued south. They traveled for more than the better half of the day and soon the sun started to vanish below the horizon. Annie has never experienced a sunset. It was amazing to watch, but it concerned her. She began to comment on the eerie feeling that seemed to blanket the terrain. “Wow, it’s really starting to darken up. I’ve never seen a true ending of a day”, she said glancing upward. “The only view I’m familiar with is the rusty, steel ceiling above the rest area back at the outpost… the pipes and all. It’s very strange out here, very creepy”, she added. “It’s nothing, Annie”, Og replied. “The darkness will actually provide us with better cover soon.” He stopped and faced the direction of the outpost. “I’m sure The Principle has turned up the heat by now. Finding us should be on the top of his priority list. He’s very persistent, I’ll give him that.” “You are absolutely correct, young Og. With the two of you missing, the assembly line timing will be terribly out of balance. The Principle will have to make major adjustments and believe me, his additional labor comes at a very expensive cost. Our termination will be the price he will gladly pay, I’m afraid”, The Operator replied. “This place… it looks so barren”, Annie uttered. “It’s sad to know that we are responsible for so much destruction. Our kind, I mean. This region is so arid and lifeless, there’s nothing around for miles. The lake is so polluted… I’ve been so blind for an awful long time. I had no idea of what was actually going on around me.” “If we don’t do something by the time the Assailants come online, many things, including the lake, won’t stand a chance”, Og stated. “Behind the walls of the outpost, none of us knew what was really going on, Annie. We have to keep focused on our mission. We have to do what we can.” “You two Assemblers make me so proud”, The Operator added. “You reflect genuine concern and that is a quality seldom seen these days. Your human end users would have benefitted greatly having you as companions. I am forever grateful that I have come to know of you both.” “You’re speaking as if the battle is already lost”, Og exclaimed. The Operator spoke seriously.

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“In the event something occurs that we can not control, I want you two to know that your builds were not in vain. You two bots are here, at this time, for a reason. Young Assemblers, nothing is by chance.” Annie heard a rustling noise and stopped in her tracks. Og and The Operator continued to talk among one another without noticing her. “Will you two stop yapping!” she scoffed. “I thought I heard something behind us. Listen…” The three cautiously looked around, but nothing was visible. They continued on slowly and carefully, listening closely as they drew near to each other. “How much farther do you think we have?” Annie asked. “Another day’s journey, I would guess”, Og replied. “I can’t quite remember the lake, but this area seems a little familiar. We should stop soon and rest up for the night.” “Excellent idea, position two. We can check our levels and clean ourselves up in the morning. After all we’ve encountered, a good rest is well deserved. This container can get a bit heavy over time”, The Operator remarked. As they walked further into the expanse, the landscape slowly began to change. There were hints of grass and small, healthy shrubs patched here and there. The greenery was an inviting sight, misplaced among the dried surface. There was a mild sense of optimism building between the three bots. They continued on until the brilliant moonlight drew them to a small mound overlooking a wide, lush forest. As they approached the hill, The Operator noticed a line of puffy, white smoke rising toward the bold new moon. “There. Look there.” He pointed up to the smoke ascending overhead. “There must be some type of civilization near. We’ll rest here and venture toward it in the morning. This rise should provide us with a little protection. We may stumble upon some answers there.” “Or a death sentence”, Annie jeered. She turned and saw Og scattering about. “Og, what are you doing?” she asked. “I’m gathering some dried twigs and branches to surround us. If anything invades our camp, the crackling will alert us”, he answered. “We are on the outpost’s most wanted list, you know. Not to mention that some humans may be nearby. We have to be vigilant at all times.” Annie watched as he strategically placed each branch to the ground. She was a little amused by the precision Og displayed as he sat each twig just so. The moonlight shimmering on the water caught Annie’s attention. It was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. Its serene glow called to her. She walked towards the bank and knelt down, looking at her reflection in the water. The soft light of her blue diodes sparkled on the water’s surface as she began to appreciate her place outside the confinement of Outpost 30. Annie noticed that the lake wasn’t as polluted here and this made her feel hopeful. She then glanced upward to the clear sky and the bright stars. A sense of freedom came upon her and she was comforted. Annie stood, took a deep breath in and walked back toward the small hill near her friends. She found a relaxing spot, made herself comfortable and watched the brilliant moon until she fell asleep. The Operator was going through his container as he turned toward the young sleeping bot. Og sat on the hilltop with the others not far beneath him. The Operator glanced up and spoke to him quietly. “I see our dear engineer has fallen asleep. She looks very peaceful.”

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“She deserves peace. She’s a good friend”, Og replied. “She watched over me… all those cycles at the outpost. I’ll never forget that.” He nervously looked away and then back towards The Operator. “Can I ask you a crazy question?” Og asked. “It’s… uh, a little off the grid.” “Of course, young Assembler. It would be my pleasure. What is it?” “Do you believe in… love? I know humans do… I mean… do you think it works… you know, for us?” The Operator smiled and pulled himself up, away from his small pile of parts and tools. He spoke softly. “Well, the love emotion is more of a human based concept. A concept that conveys strong affection or attachment among them. We are products of our individual intended human end users… based distinctly on their genetic makeup. Because of that process, some of us have thoughts, feelings and emotions relative to our individual users. Though it’s unnerving to believe in such a time as this, we’re linked to them physically and mentally. It’s difficult to say if the love emotion could be achievable for beings such as ourselves, not having directly experienced it, of course. But, it is a feeling, I believe. Although we are not embodied with bone and blood, we truly feel, position two”, he answered. “The very humans who allowed ConSec assistance bots into their homes surely wouldn’t have done such if we didn’t, at least, feel. It is a human concept, young Assembler, but a very basic and involuntary concept, which could make it possible to fully possess in all sentient natures.” Og anxiously glanced around. Then, he responded. “I don’t know much about it. Heh, nothing, actually. I’ve heard the others discussing it during recharge cycles, but I never really gave it much thought. Do you think it’s important to experience love… the love emotion before your functioning ceases? I mean… is it something to experience before you die? Is it really that important?” “Heh, heh… You are a unique being, indeed”, The Operator chuckled. “Your human user must have been a great, great man. Heh, heh, heh. You have always been very inquisitive, young Assembler. Even now, you have many questions. But, I think you only want to ask just one. What is it that you would really like to know?” The Operator noticed Og’s nervousness and waited for his answer. Since he didn’t receive one right away, he coaxed the young bot by asking him a very specific question. “My young friend, are we discussing your attraction to our silver curly haired companion here?” he asked. “She has seemed to open your nasal channels quite wide.” “No! What are you talking about? No way!” Og nervously blurted. The Operator grinned and decided to give his young friend time to sort out his feelings. “It is getting late. The night is heavily upon us. Let’s follow position one’s lead and get some sleep. The moon’s soft light above and the calming breeze should help us rest well.” “Uh, yeah. Yeah. That’s a good idea.” The two bots found soft, patchy spots near Annie and drifted off. They all slept alongside the small hill while the white smoke continued to emerge from the south, disappearing into the clear night sky.

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As the three rested comfortably, the inhabitants of Outpost 30 were laden with much dread and despair. The Principle became extremely irate and vengeful. To have a pair of lowly assembly line underlings and an outright insubordinate maintenance bot make a mockery of his authority infused him with bitter anger. He became terribly suspicious of the other Assemblers, assuming some of them may have aided the three runaways in their escape plot. Although the outpost was short two Assemblers and an operator, The Principle’s mission remained clear; to produce the exact number of Assailants expected and to remain in total control of the facility. In order to punish the remaining bots for their assumed betrayal, he reduced the line positions by half, affixing a single bot in a bi-port permanently, totaling a meager fifteen to struggle on the line. They toiled twice as long and twice as hard, lacking repair and proper maintenance. The drastic reduction meant that there would be no further rest cycles. The recharging pods were taken completely offline and removed due to The Operator’s ingenious power failure trick. The bots were bombarded with constant energy from their locked bi-port connections which painfully overcharged their systems. Regardless of the cruel treatment, the fifteen assembly line bots continued to obey their oppressive overseer and produce the Assailants without failure, fearing for their lives. As a result, thirteen terrified Assemblers lingered without any function or purpose. Of these thirteen, The Principle designated Larry, Savannah and Jay for retrieval of the escapees, Og, Annie and The Operator. One by one, the remaining ten were swiftly terminated and dismantled. Their deafening screams echoed over the repetitive banging of the assembly line. Their usable parts were recycled and the rest was deposited into Divisionary Lake. After watching the last of the ten perish, The Principle left his quarters and headed towards the maintenance bay. Everything was still in disarray. The entry doors remained damaged and the entire space was tossed about, but the maintenance assist units were swiftly making repairs throughout. The Principle’s chosen three stood shoulder to shoulder, frozen and blank. The assist units were scurrying around, modifying and equipping them to bring in the fugitives. “Assemblers, you three were selected to undertake this retrieval operation due to your affiliation with the escaped units”, The Principle declared, towering over the three recruits. “The fugitive bots must be found and returned. I expect no less than satisfactory results from you.” “I don’t understand, sir”, Larry inquired. “In what way are we associated with the three runaway bots? Personally, my contact with the two Assemblers was minute in scale and I’ve only had marginal maintenance time with the Operator Major.” “You fail to comprehend, just as the rest of your pathetic builds. There is not any action or reaction that transpires within these walls that I do not have complete knowledge of”, The Principle scoffed. “You three before me have had interactions with the escapees in some manner. I anticipate your knowledge of them will aid you in their capture.” Savannah was just as confused. Surprisingly, she spoke with mild confidence. “With all due respect, sir, I’ve never socialized with any of them. I would avoid them all, at best. I wish not to be a disappointment to you, but I believe I may be more harm to this operation than good”, Savannah replied. “You will not be a disappointment, subordinate. None of you will. Once you are complete, your renewed purpose will guarantee the return of the rogue units”, The Principle forcefully stated. “My disappointment lies with the fugitive Operator Major”, he bellowed as he turned away. “My trust in him was damaged due to an error. A programming error that I have personally deleted. I will only accept his return and the return of the two renegade Assemblers to me! They will be deactivated immediately! Nothing less will be acknowledged! Nothing!” Jay glanced at his two peers and then gazed toward The Principle. He was nervous, but he pushed himself to speak.

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“I… I must agree with my fellow Assembler, sir. I hold position thirty on the line and my last maintenance report proved that I’m not very, well, reliable. I would not want the operation to depend on my… my very limited skills”, Jay said cautiously. “Silence!” The Principle shouted. “I have no time for such incompetent drivel! There will be no conceivable possibility of failure. Once your retrieval programming has been fully uploaded, you three will no longer function as common Assemblers. Position three, position twenty-eight and position thirty. I shall release you unto the field and I expect nothing less than the highest level of performance suitable for the task at hand”, The Principle replied. “Your mission will be clear and precise. Seek, find and return the previous position one, position two and the rogue Operator Major.” “But, uh, I’m an idiot, sir… I don’t think I’m the guy for the job”, Jay blurted out. “Wouldn’t the stupid humans get rid of them out there anyway?” “Shut up, Jay!” Larry replied, peering angrily towards him. “Don’t interrupt The Principle with such petty rubbish.” “Excellent, position three”, The Principle chimed being pleased with Larry’s obedient posture. “Your higher skill ranking and aptitude are vital assets. You will head this mission. Position twenty-eight and position thirty shall be your minions and will assist you in capture of the runaway units.” The maintenance bots connected the three to the bay’s main system by their palm ports. The Principle pivoted and faced the system switch and addressed them once more. “Assemblers, prepare for modified programming uploads.” The Principle threw the switch and the three began to tremble violently. It was so brutal, the three toppled toward the floor and fell upon one another. The lights inside the maintenance bay flickered and the whirling sounds that came from the main system were agonizing. Although the three shrieked in sheer pain, no sympathy was shown. The screams and convulsions from the three seemed to go on forever. Finally, the conversion was complete and The Principle returned the switch to its normal position. He watched closely as the three bots returned online. Their diodes all became strikingly red and they remained on the floor without any movement. The maintenance units maneuvered closer to the downed bots, disconnected the cables and returned to their individual storage areas within the bay. The Principle rolled closer to the three sprawled across the floor and began to speak. “Rise and identify”, The Principle commanded. The three stood alongside each other, completely focused and still. One by one, they began to reply, frigid and bland. “Position thirty. I acknowledge.” “Position twenty-eight. I acknowledge.” “Position three. I acknowledge you.” “Excellent”, The Principle replied. “You will not accept any other form of instruction. My commands, only, will result in your actions.” The three glanced at each other and then directed their attention back to their superior.

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“You three will labor as one unit. What is your primary directive?” The Principle asked. “To return the corrupt units to Outpost 30 active and intact”, they all replied in unison. “What are the documented identities of the rogue units?” “Identification. Annie Jensen. Assembler. Class, Engineer. Serial number 0249, prior position one. Identification. Og Unknown. Class, Assembler. Serial number 0250, prior position two. Identification. Operator Major at 30. Prior maintenance lead, series 2.” “Acknowledged”, The Principle replied. “What is your secondary directive?” “To return the corrupt units to Outpost 30 deactivated”, they responded. “Excellent. All encounters with the fugitives will be reported and forwarded to me directly”, The Principle stated. “There will be nothing kept from my knowledge.” He paused and peered at the three with much authority. “If any one of you should fail to complete your task or veer from my command, you will be swiftly terminated by a remote signal. I expect results. Prepare to exit the outpost.” The Principle led the three out of the maintenance bay doors and pass the assembly line. As Jay marched behind the others, he glanced at the remaining Assemblers suffering as they labored without rest. He quickly resumed his composure and continued to follow the others. Oddly, he felt compelled to fight his altered programming, but to no avail. The group approached the main doors of the outpost and The Principle addressed them one last time. “Once you depart the confines of the outpost, you will be constantly monitored. Your individual power supplies have been adjusted to sustain an operative charge. Upon returning with the captives, you will be reset to your normal identities and dealt with accordingly”, The Principle said. “Prepare for release.” “Sir”, Larry replied. “You stated that we will be dealt with upon our successful return with the fugitives. May I ask how we will be rewarded?” The Principle took a strong stance and responded in declaration. “After the documented apprehension of the fugitives, there will be no further need for your functioning. Every Assembler involved in this futile act will be terminated and recycled immediately. That process will include the three of you.” “Yes, sir.” “Open the entry doors!” The Principle demanded. The maintenance bots pulled both switches to open the huge, steel doors. The sound was excruciating. This retrieval operation was the first of its kind for Outpost 30. “Now, go. Return the three defective units to this facility”, The Principle said in a confident tone. “Once the fugitives are returned, they will no longer represent a liability to our cause.”

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The three looked upon themselves and could do nothing but accept The Principle’s commands. The recruits started out on the western side of Divisionary Lake, a more direct route than what the three runaways traveled. The Principle watched as the black clad bots vanished within the darkness of the murky landscape. The light from the outpost was diminished with the closing of the large entry doors. The moon’s bold glow was the only source of illumination for miles.

Chapter VI: Encounter at Conduit Valley The night was over much faster than it began. The calm morning breeze seemed to assure a very promising day. The sunlight crept slowly through the surrounding greenery and towards the hillside where the three resting bots lay. Annie was the first to awaken. She stood, stretched and strolled towards the lake’s edge. The reflection of the sunrise upon the waters was very inviting. She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and wondered about other new experiences to come. Her calming moment was interrupted by a faint shriek that echoed in the far off distance across the lake. Annie brushed off the shrill and turned back as she heard her friends awaken about the arid hillside. “Well, it about time you slackers got up. Put your gears in gear. We still have a nice distance ahead.” “Look who’s excited to meet the human enemy”, Og replied. “Wait. How did you get pass my alarm? I didn’t hear any sticks break.” “I stepped over them. Great system, though. Top notch security”, Annie joked. The Operator stood and looked across the hill, down into the nearby valley. He noticed that the smoke was not hovering overhead any longer, but he was determined that they should head in the direction it was coming from the past night. He turned around and addressed Og and Annie. “Good morning, young Assemblers!” He exclaimed. “What a remarkable day!” “Could you keep it down, grandpa? There may be covert units waiting to dismember us close by”, Og replied. “Would you prefer having your head here and your body a mile away? If so, I can arrange that free of charge.” “Ha! Ha! Good one, good one! You are a rare type, young Og!” The Operator laughed hysterically. “It wasn’t that funny”, Annie snapped. “What is wrong with you?” “Don’t be so serious, position one. We are no longer bound by the harsh treatment of The Principle or others like him. Take stock in the present and know you are free”, he answered as he dramatically threw his hands up in the air. “But we are”, Og chimed. “We are bound, but with chains we can’t see… this senseless war. Each side afraid of the other. I don’t see much freedom in that. We must finish what we’ve set out to do and maybe those chains will be broken.” “Well said. Well said, indeed. You will make a difference. We all will”, The Operator answered seriously. “We will begin our day’s travel toward that area there”, he continued, while pointing at the valley below. “It is the location where we saw the plume of smoke last evening. Hopefully, there is a settlement in that area.” “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Op?” Og interjected. “We don’t know what’s down there.” “Yes, position two, don’t worry. We will need to set up a makeshift bay for modifications and locate a usable power source of some kind. Besides, our vital systems may be due for some maintenance. Equipping ourselves to encounter the humans at the ConSec camp may also be in order. Our readiness will be vital in case of a possible conflict.”

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“Or a possible deactivation. You failed to mention that, chief”, Annie added. “Yeah, she’s right. We may run into some aggression there. How will we deal with an enemy encounter exactly?” Og inquired. “I’m not sure if avoiding a fight will be the best choice, now that I think about it. What do we do?” “Well, we hope they will listen to what we have learned. We do not become defensive and we must remember to let information to lead the way”, The Operator replied. “But make no mistake, young Assemblers, we must protect one another. If we are threatened, we have to defend ourselves by any means. I trust we won’t have to use that option.” Annie glanced downward into the wide expanse. “Do you think there are any humans down there?” Annie asked. “I mean, do you think we’ll see any of them?” “I’m not certain, young Annie, but there has to be some type of being taking refuge there. The smoke was the result of something being burned… something trying to keep warm, I would assume”, The Operator explained. “I can’t perceive a bot venturing so far away and needing any type of heat source to survive”, he added. The Operator took in the entire valley and wondered about its strength to survive in such a time. “It’s odd to see such lush greenery in a land terribly scared by war and waste. It’s as though this valley was detached from some other land and relocated here, without thought. It’s a welcoming sight, nonetheless”, he continued. “It does seem appealing”, Og added. “Let’s be on our way.” The Operator gathered his belongings and followed the others up and over the hilltop. There was a steep pathway leading downward toward a small, grassy section of land surrounded by miles of barren terrain. The three casually walked down the hillside a lengthy distance until the dusty surface finally leveled out. They were a few miles away from where the land became completely lush and fertile. The air was becoming cool, moist and refreshing. The change in the atmosphere was inviting to each of them. “Ahhh. Now this is worth it. What a nice sensation!” Annie said as she smiled. “Yes, this is very relaxing. The air here is so clean and pure. Invigorating!” The Operator exclaimed. “Indeed, a needed change of pace.” “I wonder how this place thrived… It’s like it was completely untouched by the war. Protected almost”, Og replied. They took a moment to look around as they approached the beginnings of the mysterious basin. Annie was startled as she stumbled across a weathered, wooden sign hidden among the tall, clumped and tangled foliage. She reached down and pulled it upright. “Conduit Valley. Population 55,” she read. “Humans. I guess my questions are answered. Crap.” “We must be a good distance outside the occupied area. There’s nothing but growth around here. If there are humans nearby, they don’t head out this far from what I can see”, Og replied. “There is something special about this place”, The Operator said. “Let’s continue on, young Assemblers. Be alert and aware.”

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The three forged on until the greenery started to thin out. Og noticed numerous fresh footprints among the edge of the valley. He signaled the others to stop and whispered to them silently. They all leaned in toward each other in a small huddle. “Look”, Og said as he pointed to the prints. “There are no port impressions within the footprints. There are humans here.” “They’re heading outward, away from the center of the valley”, Annie stated. “So what do we do now, genius?” Og glanced around and there was no activity that he could pick up. He looked toward The Operator and shrugged his shoulders. “Ok, great. We’re going to die. I’m so glad I decided to come”, Annie replied quietly. “Annie, you’ve got to stop that. Your optimism is beginning to become unbearable”, Og snapped. “Young Assemblers, we progress on. If we encounter anyone, know why we are here and let that be your first explanation to our unknowing host”, The Operator spoke quietly. Right at that time, there was a rustling behind them. They all turned, but there was nothing in view. They slowly turned back toward each other in astonishment. The Operator continued as the others remained watchful. “Let’s proceed. Come. Remember our mission.” They continued on and observed their surroundings carefully. Soon, a small village was in sight. There were five wooden huts surrounding a large, burnt campfire. The tall foliage stood behind the huts and provided protection and privacy. There were a few worn pathways that headed outward through the growth in different directions. The enormous campfire appeared to keep the inhabitants of the village warm during cool nights. Smoldering embers were still floating above the pile of blackened tree branches and limbs. It seemed that the residents recently extinguished the fire and quickly abandoned the area. To the right of the village was a poorly built water well a few feet from the furthest hut. Annie noticed a pair of smaller footprints that headed in that direction. The three stopped and took cover behind a section of high, dense growth. Annie leaned outward, pushing the large plants aside. She was fixed on the well and soon saw a figure moving behind it. “Hey”, Annie whispered. “There is somebody hiding over there… behind the well. I saw something move.” Og nodded in agreement and started to head out towards the ratty well. Quickly, The Operator grabbed Og’s arm and pulled him back into the brush. “No, young Og. I’ll announce our arrival”, he said. “I know you’re gonna dig this!” The Operator extended his right arm and opened his hand towards the well. There was a pale glow that began to emit from his palm. Og and Annie watched in awe, not understanding what was happening. The Operator discharged a mild burst of electricity which shattered one of the well’s brittle blocks. There was a loud crack, but no major damage was done. “Aaaaaaahhhh!” Annie screamed and covered her ears as the small fragments of stone fell to the ground. “What is wrong with you?” The Operator faced to the two young bots and shamefully grinned. He then casually walked out from behind the foliage and approached the broken well. He noticed a small shadow shifting back and forth.

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“Hello. Please, please… come out. We will not hurt you”, The Operator said softly. “No harm will come to you.” “No harm… no harm? Great”, Og said in astonishment. “You, you fried the thing! How did you do that?” “You will know soon enough, position two. Patience, your time will come. Right now, we have a more pressing matter before us”, The Operator answered. He turned back and continued to slowly move toward the well. “Please, come out and reveal yourself. We will not harm you.” There was silence and nothing moved. Slowly, a pair of small hands appeared over the top edge of the well. Annie was alarmed, but equally intrigued. A small human being didn’t seem as threatening and she was eager to see the small child. She quickly ran up to The Operator and calmly invited the young one out from behind the stone. “Please, little one. Come… come on out. We won’t hurt you. I Promise.” Her voice was calming and peaceful. The small human boy nervously came from around the well, continuing to hold up both hands. Og carefully walked up and joined the others. They all were amazed to see the little human boy. “Look at him. He’s so young”, Annie whispered. The small child’s fear began to grow once he gazed into the eyes of the three strange bots. His lips began to quiver as Og approached him. He questioned the anxious boy. “Calm down now. What’s your name?” The child did not respond. “Please, put your hands down. It’s ok. We are not here to hurt you”, Annie said softly. The young child carefully dropped his hands as Annie reached towards him and wiped a smudge of mud from his small, grimy face. “He responds to you well, position one. Ha! This is wonderful!” The Operator exclaimed. Ignoring the small human, Og continued to press The Operator about his hidden ability. He was very persistant. “How did you do that?” he asked. “How did you trigger electricity from your port like that?” “Not now. You will be enlightened soon enough. Please, position two.” The Operator turned back toward the child. Og became irritated and felt brushed aside. He wanted to know about this special power the elder bot had conveniently forgotten to mention. He reached out and grabbed The Operator’s shoulder and expressed his strong feelings. “No! Tell me now!” He demanded. “No more riddles! I want to know now!” The young child was terrified by the angry bot’s outburst. The Operator took offense to Og’s tone and decided to correct him. He swiftly grabbed Og by the wrist, and with four fingers, he applied precise pressure to Og’s power meter and instantaneously absorbed nearly all of his energy. Og fell backwards onto the ground, dazed and weakened.

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“What did you do to him?” Annie asked. “Well, not saying that he didn’t deserve it.” “He needed to rest, but did not know it. I assisted him in that understanding”, The Operator replied smirking. “Now, let’s get acquainted with our new little friend here.” After he witnessed The Operator’s swift actions, the young boy was stunned and his mouth hung open. Annie continued to try to get the boy to speak. “What is your name?” she asked. “Do not be afraid, child”, The Operator added. “Yes, what is your name?” “Ka… Kaito”, the boy said nervously. “Kaito”, Annie said. “That’s a very nice name. How old are you, little Kaito?” “I’m… I’m eight”, he replied. She noticed that Kaito was dressed in shabby clothing and seemed a bit thin. Although he appeared to be safe, Annie wanted to know why no one else was around to see about him. “Why are you here alone, Kaito? Where are your parents?” she asked. “My… my mom is gone. My dad went away. He went away to fight the people like you. Some bad people.” “People like us?” “Yeah. Your eyes light up. My dad said people who eyes glow are bad. Your eyes glow, too.” The Operator and Annie turned and looked at one another in concern. Annie continued. “My name is Annie. This is The Operator and that jerk over there is Og. We’re here to help”, Annie paused. “I’m sorry about your parents, Kaito. Where is everyone else?” “You are not mean to me. Why are your other friends hurting everybody?” The more confident Kaito asked. Before Annie got a chance to say anything, Og moaned in pain and stumbled as he tried to stand. “Owwww… what… what did you do to me, you psycho? I’m getting a little tired of this crap!” he screamed. The Operator walked back and kneeled down next to Og. He squeezed Og’s wrist tightly in the same manner as before and returned his power to the previous level. “There, good as new my young friend.” “I rather be your enemy. You probably treat them better”, Og stated rubbing his wrist. “Ha! Ha! Another good one!” The Operator laughed loudly.

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Og picked himself up and approached the young human child with The Operator close behind. Annie noticed the two approaching and prepared Kaito for their antics. “Ok, these are two serious idiots. Don’t let them frighten you. Keep in mind that you have more intelligence than the both of them combined.” “Well, a human child”, Og said as he looked the boy over. “There was a time when I thought that I’d never see another human again. He’s a little scrawny, though.” Og looked around the campground suspiciously and wondered why the child was there alone. “Where is everybody? Surely you’re not here alone”, he asked Kaito. “The grownups left after they put the fire out. They said that some of your friends were hurting people near the waterway and they went to help fight. My dad said that I was too young to go. He made me stay here.” “By yourself?” “I can stay by myself. I’m not a baby.” “When will your father return, young Kaito?” The Operator asked. “In two days. He said he will be back in two days”, he replied. “Kaito, those bad people are not our friends… and they’re not really bad either. Something is making them act that way. We’re going to find out what it is and fix it”, Annie said. “Annie, why don’t you take our little friend to get cleaned up and maybe locate a power source where I can connect some things to, please”, The Operator asked. “Sure”, she replied. “Kaito, would you show me around your village?” she asked the boy. “Ok. Let’s go to my hut first.” Kaito was excited and grabbed Annie by the hand. “Looks like somebody’s got a boyfriend!” Og exclaimed. “Hey, Annie! Try not to assimilate the little dirt bag, if you know what I mean!” Annie turned around and peered at Og furiously. She blew her silver curl back out of her face and continued on with the young boy. “Ha! Ha! Young Og, you should go on the road! You… very funny! Very funny!” The Operator said hysterically. “I’m already on the road, if you haven’t noticed”, Og replied angrily. “Oh, my”, The Operator said surprised. “I believe you may have a jealously virus that has latched onto your main processor. Ha! Ha! You’re being played by a petite eight year old human! Ha! Ha! Ha! You need to step up your game! He’s much more smoother than you!” “Shut up, you, you relic.”

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“Affirmative, heh, heh, young Assembler. I’m sorry. Yes, yes you’re correct. We do have a lot to accomplish before we depart from this wonderful, vigorous valley”, The Operator beamed. “We need a place to prepare.” “Yeah, we should get ready and head out before dark. We still have a day’s travel to make. Who knows what we’ll run into out here”, Og said looking toward the sky. “We’ll give young Annie a little time to return with the small human before we proceed. Hopefully there is a decent power source around.” While Og and The Operator scouted the surroundings, Annie spent some time getting to know Kaito and questioning him about the valley and its history. Kaito was a fountain of information. Annie was amazed by the child’s courage as he continued to feel more comfortable around her. She assumed that Katio was getting attached so quickly because he was missing the attention he received from his mother. The small boy invited Annie into his home. “This is where me and my dad live. He said it was one of the first huts made. Come on in”, Kaito said as they approached the narrow entrance. “Wow, this is nice! This is a great place to live”, Annie replied following Kaito inside. “My mom put everything on the wall. My dad said she was good at stuff like that.” Annie glanced at him and spoke sincerely. “Kaito, what happened to your mom? Where did she go?” Annie thought that he would be saddened to speak about his mother. Kaito surprised her and opened up quickly. “She went to the good people’s island. It’s far away from here. Up in the clouds, I think. My dad said she went there after I was born, so I didn’t get a chance to know her well. I see her sometimes, though.” Annie was shaken. She didn’t quite understand what the small boy was saying. “You still see your mom? Does she… does she come by to visit you?” Kaito looked up at Annie and replied, “Yeah, sometimes when I’m sleeping, I think I see her. I told my dad about it and he said that she checks on me every now and then. That’s what good moms do.” “How does that make you feel?” “Ok, I guess. She sees that I’m ok and I guess that makes her feel better, too.” Annie thought for a second. Then she looked at him and smiled. “I know she feels better knowing her son is so brave, he stays here and guards everything when everyone’s away. You’re a strong little boy.” “I know I am, but I miss her sometimes, you know.”

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Annie was taken away with the feelings that were rushing about her. She thought about Nycole and how she would feel if she ever got a chance to see her again. Annie kept herself from tearing up and concentrated on what The Operator asked of her. “Hey, where does your dad get his power from?” “Huh?” “Err, uh, does your dad have a place where he gets the electricity to turn the lights on? Uh, you know, like a power station or a generator or something like that?” “Oh, yeah, there’s a generator in the next hut. It stays running all the time. My dad says the power comes from a place where there is a bunch of smart people building things to help win the war with the bad people. You wanna see it?” “Sure! Let’s go!” Kaito grabbed Annie’s hand and lead her out of the hut. They saw Og and The Operator walking around nearby. Annie signaled them to accompany her and the boy. Once they approached, Og saw them holding hands and became just a bit more jealous. “Hey there, dusty. You sure have a tight grip on her hand there”, he said gawking at Kaito. “You were funny when you fell down”, Kaito answered. “Ha, ha. Yeah, I was funny”, Og replied with a stern tone. Annie noticed Og’s childish act and interrupted him. “Og, we have more important things to worry about”, Annie added. “Kaito was getting ready to show me the generator next door.” “Yeah, it’s big and red. My dad said it runs the whole village.” “The entire village, huh? It must be very powerful, little one”, The Operator said. “Yeah. My dad said I can’t see it by myself, but I guess it’s ok since I’m with Annie”, Kaito replied. “Little one, how about you and Annie head toward the water and clean up. Young Og and I will go find the generator and we’ll meet up with you two shortly.” “Ok. I’ll show Annie my sand shells”, he answered. “I got a bunch of them!” The Operator nodded his head at Annie and she encouraged the idea. “Yeah! Let go, Kaito!” she said. “Alright, but let me hold your hand so you won’t get lost”, the small boy replied. “I don’t want to get lost, so you better hold my hand tight!” Annie happily replied as she reached out.

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The two headed down a narrow path toward the village’s waterway. She glanced back at Og and grinned, frustrating him. The Operator’s demeanor changed once Annie and Kaito were out of sight. He quickly got Og in line with the task at hand. “Young Og, we have to modify the village generator so that I can power my hardware and proceed to fully prepare in case of a possible confrontation.” He continued to speak even more intensely. “Listen carefully. I did not want to alarm the human child, so I decided to withhold this bit of information.” The Operator drew closer to Og. “I’m afraid that the humans who take refuge here may have been alerted somehow and presently clashing with bots dispatched specifically for our capture. If they have tracked us along this location, that assumption would not be farfetched.” “If that’s true, Kaito’s people don’t stand a chance!” Og exclaimed. “Just look around. Their technology is too primitive and fragile to battle the strength backed by The Principle!” “Affirmative, position two. Our purpose is that much more important now. Let’s get started.” The two entered the weathered hut and was led to the generator by its melodic hum. It was a modest sized machine which impressed The Operator, nonetheless. “This is astounding… such advanced technology in the middle of an almost isolated community. Amazing!” Og thought about the present state of the village and everything modern that it was lacking. “These people are being helped. Someone or something is assisting them to stay secluded and supplying them with the power they need to survive”, Og stated. “If your theory holds true, this entire valley is soon to be discovered. Their secret may not be as much… because we are here.” The Operator gathered his tools and started to retrofit the generator to accept his port cables. Og helped by checking the level of power being sent throughout the village. As they continued to harness the generator’s power, Annie and Kaito were enjoying each other’s company alongside Paragon Waterway, the canal that is supplied by the runoff from Divisionary Lake. It cuts through the western edge of the valley’s lush landscape. “My dad brings me here a lot. He said the water is good here, but some factory, far away, makes the water turn dirty.” Annie knew that the polluted water resulted in the carelessness of Outpost 30. Nevertheless, it was astounding to see that the waterway was much cleaner and clearer. A definite change from her previous surroundings. “This is a very nice place to visit. I wish I lived in a place so nice”, she said. Kaito turned from the water and looked directly toward Annie. He was very confident and direct. “Why do the bad people like you hate us so much? Why do they hurt us? Why can’t they be nice like you?” Annie looked away. She couldn’t speak. “Did you ever hurt anybody, Annie?” Kaito asked. She tried not to show any emotion, but the more she held back, the more visibly shaken she became. Annie finally spoke, still looking away.

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“I don’t know, Kaito. I don’t know if I hurt someone. If I did, I mean… I didn’t mean to… I can’t remember.” Kaito noticed tears falling from Annie’s cheek. He wanted to cheer her up. “Don’t feel sad, Annie. You’re nice to me. You’re different than they are. Somebody gave you a good heart inside.” Annie thought about the bi-port surges she fought back at the outpost. It was because of Og that she has become so compassionate and accepted by this small human child. It made her realize how fortunate she really was. Free from The Principle’s tyranny and out from behind the bonds of the assembly line. Annie was pleased by Kaito’s approval and caring words. She smiled gratefully. “Hey, you have a good heart, too! Where are those sand shells? I want to see how many you have!” Annie exclaimed as she wiped her tears. “They’re down here. Come on, Annie!” They both ran down the edge of the water to a piece of damp driftwood embedded on the bank. Behind it, Kaito grabbed a small tattered sack that was full of small shells he gathered during his times at the waterway with his father. He poured them out and began to show Annie his collection, one by one. Back at the hut, The Operator successfully adapted the generator to accept his equipment. He began to discuss the changes he was going to perform to Og systems. Even though the young Assembler was excited to be able do some of the incredible things he was told, he thought about Annie. The Operator discussed the upcoming modifications. “Position two, once I load the information from these two data cards, your systems will be upgraded with combat instruction specifically written for bots of our unique type. The removal of the barrier codes increases your memory over time while this defensive information will be accessible immediately. This data was suppressed once you were brought into the outpost in fear that you may instinctively harm other Assemblers and, perhaps, The Principle himself.” “Suppressed? By whom?” “By me”, The Operator replied. “If your abilities were not hidden, you surely would have been labeled a danger and terminated immediately. Also, due to your ongoing rambunctious behavior, you would have committed some selfish act that would have caused the same result. Either way, you would have been a threat The Principle could not afford to contest. I had no choice.” Og thought back. “The day I saw you destroying the data cards… what were you doing?” “Very perceptive, position two. Very good”, the older bot replied. “They were various tests that were unsuccessful. Those cards contained the outcome of cycles of trials that did not produce the results required. If they remained intact and happened to be discovered, we would not be here. We would be resting at the floor of Divisionary Lake.” “So, these cards, these cards here, were the result of successful tests?” Og deduced. “Ok, so… what were the results?” “Young Assembler, you must trust me. Your defensive abilities will increase exponentially once this data is loaded”, The Operator replied. His mood lighted a bit. “It’s actually old data that was available to you through your original programming, but with an added twist.”

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“A twist? You mean I have to go through another painful shock… right?” “No, young Og. With this data, in concert with your power meter, you will be able to defend yourself with a much better chance of survival. If you were to battle based solely on the knowledge you presently possess, your chances of defeat would be great. There were adjustments made to counter both bot and human. I had to account for current and future risks, as well. ” “But you said we were different. What about this gear? I thought it was suppose to give us an edge.” “Theoretically, it does”, The Operator exclaimed. “Position two, we must reach the human camp to the south. Hopefully, everything we have at our disposal will guarantee our success in delivering our message. In our present situation, we can’t afford anything less.” Og thought for a second and didn’t quite understand why even more changes were coming. Reluctantly, he decided to go along with the unusual modifications. A couple of things troubled him still. He continued to question The Operator. “Ok. I understand our mission and its importance. But where do you fit in? Are you going to join me in this upgrade or whatever it is? I’m going to need your help.” “Ha! Ha! Are you serious? Young Assembler, you are very amusing!” Og was taken back. He didn’t expect such a response. “Uh, what does that mean? I’m serious”, Og exclaimed. “Didn’t you see me in action when we arrived?” “Yeah, but I don’t see…” “I’ve already uploaded the data to my systems cycles ago!” the Operator exclaimed. “I’m not totally crazy, you know.” “What?” Og shrieked. “And you didn’t tell me… why?” “Young Og, I had to deny you this information because I was unsure of your ability to accept it early on. You were malfunctioning steadily during your tenure on the assembly line. Now, with your memory unleashed, you have become able to adjust”, The Operator replied. “Our builds are similar… I used myself as a test subject. There were many attempts, but I finally pinned down the right combinations. I knew what you could handle and also what was risky.” Og just accepted the answer he was given. He was still concerned about one other thing. “What about Annie? Does she receive this… this data, as well?” “Oh, young Assembler”, The Operator said mildly. “My research was mainly focused on you and your ability to handle the change. I could not afford to spend the same amount of time on position one with the Assailants’ systems preparing to come online. The pressure would have been too great and the chances too costly.” “But she’s out here with us! She could get hurt… we have to do something for her”, Og said passionately. “Please… isn’t there something we can do?”

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“If I upload this information to her systems, I can’t be certain of the outcome. She may not be compatible…” “Compatible?” Og huffed. “Back at the bay, you told me that she was the only one capable of dealing with my surges! Now, she not compatible?” Og exclaimed. “Young Og, please understand. Regardless of what we discuss between ourselves, it will be the engineer’s decision to make. I rather not bring this issue before her at all because of the risk involved, but you pose a very important dilemma. I don’t want any harm to come to young Annie, as well, but the choice will be hers to make. Unfortunately, it has to be addressed and a decision must be made.” “We have to do something for her. If she got hurt, I wouldn’t…” The Operator grabbed his cables and asked Og to take a seat on the grassy floor of the hut. The young bot sat upright on the floor, facing the generator. The mechanical hum was calming and he slowly closed his eyes. The Operator connected the four cables to Og’s palm and foot ports and headed towards his equipment seated near the wall opposite of the generator. He kneeled down and prepared Og for the upload. “Young Assembler, brace yourself. I’m preparing to load the first card. The information will rapidly upload to your drive. There, the data will permanently remain. There’s no turning away.” “I’m ready.” The Operator placed the card into his mechanism and pressed the flashing button. The upload began. The generator’s motor struggled as the data was sent to Og’s systems. There was a series of loud beeps and after a brief period, it was over. Og opened one eye and glanced around in anticipation. He was shocked that the process ended without him screaming in pain. “Is that it? Is it over?” Og said nervously. “Affirmative. The data from the first card has been successfully loaded. Now, the second.” Just as the first, the information on the second card loaded without any issues. The Operator checked his machine, noting completion. “How do you feel, young Assembler?” asked The Operator. “Uh, I feel… I feel fine. Ha! I can’t believe it. No pain, no shock. You’re losing your gentle touch, Op.” “Once I disconnect the cables from your ports, we’ll have a little training to do.” “Good. I’m ready to shoot some sparks! Let’s get at it!” Og exclaimed as he lifted his hands. “Oh, oh, young Og! All in due time. We have to return the generator back to normal. The village needs its power source. We should be thankful for its usage.” The Operator proceeded to detach the port cables from Og’s hands and feet. Og stood and wiggled his fingers trying to feel any difference from the procedure. The Operator approached the generator and returned it back to its original settings. The hut was filled with the familiar hum once more.

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“Alright, everything is as it should be. Young Assembler, are you ready?” The Operator said. He repacked his tools and placed the two data cards back into the container. “Yes. I’ve been ready.” “Very well, then. Let’s go find a clearing and squeeze off a few.” “Now you’re talking!” The two exited the hut and headed a few miles east of the village’s end where the ground was dry and arid. There, The Operator began to introduce Og to his new skills. “There are abilities now in your possession that will allow you to defend yourself and others. But you have to listen carefully in order to use them in an efficient manner. These additions can drain your power supply and render you vulnerable to attack.” “I thought our supplies were unlimited now?” Og asked. “Not quite. Once you use these abilities, they will be a burden to your strength, but you will recover gradually over a period of time. That’s why you have to use them as efficiently as possible”, The Operator replied. “That makes sense. So… what can I do now?” The Operator stood close to Og’s side and began to demonstrate. He extended his right arm parallel to the ground and spoke one word. “Watch.” His palm port began to glow and crackle with live electric current. The Operator emitted a strong burst of electricity toward a small boulder that sat sturdy on a distant mound. There was a shattering crash that trembled the ground around them. Once the dust cleared, the boulder was gone. There was a hint of smoke rising from The Operator’s right palm as he slowly placed his arm down to his side. “That’s amazing!” Og exclaimed. “It was much more destructive this time!” “Yes, but equally depleting. Position two, the stronger the blast, the more power needed. That power comes from your main systems and you will need time to revive. Again, efficiency is key”, The Operator said breathing deeply. “Oh, wow… I’m able to do that?” Og asked in disbelief. “Yes”, The Operator replied. “Are you ready to try?” “Uh, yeah, I guess…” Og answered reluctantly. “No, position two. We have no time for you to guess. You have to be ready. Your attitude will determine the strength of the energy you produce. Try to concentrate. Focus on that petrified tree there and fire.” The Operator pointed toward some wild growth in the distance. “Uh, ok…”

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Og extended his right arm and closed his eyes. “Ok, I can do this… I can do this…” He repeated to himself. “Now!” The Operator screamed. Og opened his eyes and directed his sight at the barren tree. “Eeeeeeyyyeeeeeaaaah!” Og screeched forcefully as the electricity traveled from his chest through his upper arm downward to his lower arm and finally out of his palm. The immense bolt of light struck the tree and it instantly disintegrated. “Ha! Ha! Very good! Very good! Excellent!” The Operator leaped up and down and yelled hysterically in amazement. “I… I did… I did good… I….” Og replied faintly. The Operator walked over and congratulated him on his achievement. “Very good, young Og! Og?” The Operator noticed the young bot’s extremely weakened demeanor. “Thanks…” Og fell flat to the ground, low on power. “Oh, boy”, The Operator huffed. “That may have been a little too much power. Next time, pace yourself.” “You think?” Og panted as he laid face down on the gritty surface. He slowly turned his head and dust began to fly as he spoke against the dry ground. “I can’t move… help.” “Ha! Ha! You are hilarious!” The Operator replied in a roar of laughter. “Give yourself a few minutes to recover and we will continue. You will be back to your unique comedic self in no time. You are so funny, position two. Ha! Ha!” “Would you… at least… turn me over… you fossil…” “No. Stay there. If I move you, it may interrupt your flow of energy. You have to replenish yourself fully. Besides, you can use this time to reflect on things.” “Remind me to kick you when I get up.” The Operator walked back toward his pack and removed some more items as Og continued to lay fixed in the dirt. The morning was swiftly passing and a cool wind fell upon the valley. The ripples on the waterway grew with each mild breeze and Annie enjoyed its calming touch. The sun was in its highest point, but its light did not tread on the shade from the vast foliage that engulfed the small village. “Ahhh… that gentle wind feel nice. Wow. I can’t believe such a beautiful place exist in the middle of such ruin”, Annie said as she stood near the water’s edge.

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“When my dad comes back, you should meet him. I think he’ll like you a lot”, Kaito commented. Annie turned to him and blushed, but she felt good about it. The young human boy disregarded her differences and that pleased her. “I’ll be glad to meet your dad. I’m going to tell him what a perfect young man you are.” She walked back toward Kaito and noticed that he was placing his shells back into the small, torn sack. “Let me help you there.” As soon as Annie took her first step, they both turned immediately after hearing a sharp, piercing shriek echoing from across the opposite side of the waterway. “Yeeoooaaaaaaahhhh!” “What was that?” Kaito gasped as he stood. “I don’t know. It sounded like something I heard this morning”, Annie said glaring across the sunlit waters. Cautiously, she helped Kaito gather his belongings and grabbed his hand. “Let’s head back to the village, Kaito. It’s not safe here.” The two headed back along the narrow path at a very steady pace. Annie could still hear the sound of pain in her ears. She became highly concerned not knowing its source. Her speed increased and this frightened young Kaito. “Annie, what’s wrong? I… can’t keep up…” “I’m sorry, Kaito. We need to hurry”, she replied. As they approached the outskirts of the village, they heard the breaking of trees and shrubs snapping a distance behind. Someone was heading towards the village from the opposite side of Paragon Waterway at a very rapid rate. Annie knew something was dreadfully wrong, but she had to close off her concern and protect Kaito. Her first thought was to locate Og and The Operator. “Kaito, let’s find the others. They may know what’s going on.” They arrived at the village and entered the hut where the generator was stored. Annie called for the two, but she got no response. She grabbed Kaito’s hand a bit tighter and anxiously left the hut. Annie glanced around and called out to her missing friends. Again, there was no answer. Kaito saw Annie’s distress and this frightened him further. “Annie, what’s wrong? Are you… are you going to hurt me?” The young child asked as he looked into Annie’s glowing eyes. She realized her frantic state was scaring the boy. Annie quickly stopped herself and kneeled down towards him. “No. I’ll never hurt you, Kaito. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you. I promise you that I’ll never hurt anybody like those bad people do. Understand?” She asked in a soft, caring voice. “I knew you were a good person, I can tell”, he said.

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As Annie stood, Kaito noticed prints in the damp pathway leading out of the village. “Look, Annie! They must have gone that way!” Annie saw the distinctive footprints and knew they had to belong to Og and The Operator. She thanked Kaito. “You are a great little guy! Come on… let’s go find those two idiots!” They followed the fresh prints leading to the arid field east of the village. Og had fully recharged and joined The Operator near his container of items. He saw the elder bot grab a thin, metal barrel that resembled a gold-tipped wand of sorts. It was lightly beaten and looked well used. “That thing looks like its seen better days. What is that?” Og asked. “This is a very precise cutting instrument. True, it is a little damaged and dinged, but very functional”, The Operator answered. “I would assume that this is the tool you used to cut the human’s gate in your recollection.” “Let me see that thing”, Og asked. The Operator held up the strange device so the young bot could examine it. “It looks like some type of weird backscratcher. I don’t remember using anything like this at all. How does it operate?” “It connects magnetically to your lower arm and the barrel extends to the top of your hand. You can attach it to either arm, but I prefer the right one. It just looks cool there.” “Uh, yeah, ok. Could you just demonstrate how the thing works? I hope you don’t break it.” “Ha! There you go again! Your humor is amazing!” The Operator laughed. “Ok, ok. Watch this.” The Operator pulled up his sleeve and attached the rod to his exposed metal arm. He then outstretched his forearm toward the ground at an angle. Finally, he nervously turned to Og. “Heh, uh, stand back.” He balled his fist tightly and a thin, orange laser beam shot forward and pierced the surface of the ground. The Operator guided the beam as he swayed his arm in a sweeping motion. Once he was finished, the powerful beam vanished suddenly and there was a deep, but very fine slash in the surface of the valley floor. “Wow!” Og was amazed at the strength of the small, but potent instrument. “Pretty impressive for a metal stick.” “Yes!” exclaimed The Operator. “How do you think I made the opening in the maintenance bay wall? This little marvel was our ticket out of the outpost.” “Yeah, but the hole was too small.” “A slight miscalculation”, The Operator answered. “Listen young Og”, he added. “You have another great power before you now. And with great power comes, well, you know.” The Operator gave Og the small weapon and he attached it to his arm. As he examined it, he suddenly heard footsteps approaching from the path behind. In anticipation, he turned and raised the weapon in that direction and waited. The Operator turned toward the path, raised his hands and held his ground, as well.

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Soon, Annie and Kaito emerged from the thick shrubbery. Hand in hand, they both made their way to their startled companions. “Whoa! Put the arms down!” Annie exclaimed. “Something’s wrong here. I think we need to leave.” “What is it, position one?” The Operator asked. “Why so frantic?” “Hey, Annie. Watch this.” Og turned and released a small bolt of electricity from his hand. “What do you think about that? Huh?” he asked boastfully. “You can shoot stuff out of your hand. Seen it before. Ok. Look, there’s something going on across the waterway. We heard some eerie screams and it sounded as though they were heading in this direction. We need to leave. Now.” Annie asserted. “But you didn’t even look…” Og sighed. “Save it, Og. Let’s go”, Annie answered. “Yes, I agree. I believe we’ve worn out our welcome. We should be moving further south before we invite unwanted company to this fair village, if it’s not already on its way”, The Operator added. “And what of the tyke, here? What do we do with him?” Og asked pointing at Kaito. “We have to protect him. His father has not returned and he can’t remain here alone… not now. Who knows what that horrible sound has in store? We have to take him with us”, Annie replied. “The humans at the ConSec camp should know what to do for him.” “We’ll discuss it later, young Assemblers”, The Operator chimed. “Let’s, at least, get back to the village and prepare ourselves to depart.” The Operator led the others back through the dense greenery and into the center of the village. As soon as they all made it to the front of Kaito’s hut, there was another deafening cry. The painful screaming was extremely close. They were all frozen after hearing such a heart wrenching sound. They turned toward the west and soon heard the mumbling of incoherent words close by. Annie held Kaito close to her as they all feared danger approaching. The muffled words began to get louder then another scream followed. Og and The Operator positioned themselves in front of Annie and the small child, protecting them as the beings slowly began to grow nearer. “It’s here… right here… we… we live here…” A frail, faint voice cried. “Dad!” Kaito ran from Annie’s grip and headed toward the sound of his father’s voice. “Kaito! No! Come back!” she screamed. Annie tried to grab the boy, but Kaito was determined to get to his father. As quick as Kaito ran, he suddenly stopped. Approaching the entrance of the village, he saw his father being carried between the arms of Larry and Jay. Savannah followed behind with a large weapon in her hands. Kaito’s father had been

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badly beaten. He was exhausted and slumped over. His clothing was half torn and draped over his body. He had been pulled across the water and dragged through the damp surroundings of the valley. Soon, the four were within the sights of Annie, Og and The Operator. “Oh, no…” Annie said quietly to herself as she slowly covered her mouth. “Kaito’s father…” “It’s The Principle’s goons. Watch yourselves”, Og commanded. The Operator glanced at Og and noticed that he did not move from his stance. The young bot was fully focused on what was happening before him. “They must have travelled along the opposite side of Divisionary Lake. They would have discovered us much sooner if they followed our direct path”, The Operator declared. “Dad! Dad!” Kaito yelled as he ran to him. “Kaito, it’s alright… I’m… I’m… ok…” As Kaito sobbed and reached for his father, Jay shoved him backwards and he fell to the ground. The young boy glanced up and peered into the ruby red glow of the eyes of the three merciless bots. “Leave… leave him alone… he’s just a child… please…” The feeble man cried. “Quiet, scum”, Larry growled. He then saw the three fugitive bots standing before him. “Look at this. The frizzy haired engineer, the maintenance antique and the clown, they’re all here. This was too simple a task.” “Stop it!” Annie screamed ferociously. “If you touch that boy again…” “What? You’ll deactivate me? Is that what you’re saying, position one?” Jay barked fearlessly. “You’re no assembly engineer out here. Your rank doesn’t add up to rust now.” Annie was helpless. She knew if she tried to help Kaito, more harm could come to him. She felt that if she talked to the three pursuers, they would let the young boy and his father go free. Og and The Operator stood sturdy and did not move. “Ok, ok. We all know why you three are here. It has nothing to do with these humans. The Principle sent you to return us back to the outpost. Release them and we’ll go with you.” “Well, well. I should have known you would be the orator of the group”, Savannah exclaimed as she took a few steps toward Annie. “Usually, the one with the biggest mouth always speaks first.” “Twenty-eight, don’t hurt them. They have no idea about any of this… please, let them go.” “Why would a top notch, leader type, first position Assembler care so much for this human element filth? Is there something about them we should know? I’m sure The Principle will be glad to hear about it. One more thing we can use to eliminate this vermin from the planet.” “Yeah”, added Jay. “Maybe then, The Principle won’t recycle us. Right, Larry?”

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“Jay, shut up.” Larry replied. He glanced at the frail man in his arm. “This human germ has delivered. No need to keep hauling him around.” Larry grabbed Kaito’s battered father by the shoulders and drove him directly into the moist ground. With a thud, the man laid unconscious on his back, weak and seriously injured in the mud. “Dad!” Kaito screamed as he ran to his side. The small boy cried uncontrollably as he noticed the extreme pain his dad was in. Kaito laid his head on his father’s battered chest. Annie was furious. She wanted to comfort Kaito, but she knew that staying away may keep the attention from him and his father. Still, she was distraught. Annie felt that she led this dread to the door of the small, quiet village. It was undeserved. She turned to The Operator and he noticed Annie’s genuine concern for the young human. He saw every ounce of it in her eyes. The Operator addressed the three aggressors. “I see The Principle dispatched the most skilled Assemblers to track us. I’m overwhelmed by his choices.” The Operator sarcastically commented as he visually examined the three. “Highly equipped, as well. I’m sure you all will be well rewarded once you turn us in to your superior.” “You old pipe wrench”, Jay replied. “How you made it this far from the outpost without rusting is beyond me.” “Heh, heh. That was pretty good, Jay.” Larry replied. “What a poor excuse for our kind. Packaging you three saps to deliver to The Principle will be a thrill.” Savannah added. The Operator turned toward Og and whispered. “We have to get the boy and his father to safety. It’s time for your first live targets.” “I’m ready”, Og replied, continually focused on the aggressors. “These jerks are going down.” “Listen, young Assembler. We attack, but carefully and efficiently. Give Annie the opportunity to remove the humans to safety. That’s our goal. Do not stray from it.” The Operator turned to Annie and gave her direction. “Young Annie, once we advance, stay clear until you are able to get to little Kaito and his guardian. Protecting them is your purpose now. We’ll draw the enemies away and you rush in and take the humans to a safe area. Protect them. Acknowledged?” Tears rolled down Annie’s face, but her fierce look took precedence. “Acknowledged.” The three ruthless enemies geared up as they began to notice their adversaries planning to attack. Larry commanded that the runaways come with them. “I rather return you three losers unharmed and functional. But if you prefer a fight, we’re well prepared”, Larry said profoundly as he patted his weapon. “But before you decide, know this. Once the fighting comes to an end, you will return to Outpost 30, active or terminated.”

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“I prefer terminated. I don’t care for any of them, especially curly locks”, Savannah added as she adjusted her glasses. “Watching that silver haired big mouth go through the recycler will be a sight I’m going to cherish!” “But once we get back, we’re all going to be recycled, right?” Jay asked nervously. “Jay, you weak kneed, muscle bound jerk. Remember the task at hand”, Larry commanded. “Don’t find yourself on the opposite side of the rope.” Kaito suddenly screamed, “You are all monsters! You hurt my dad! I hate all of you! All of you! Go away!” Savannah turned to the little boy clutching his father’s tattered jacket. She slowly knelt down beside him. Savannah smiled deviously at the little boy and ran her gloved hand through his dusty, matted hair with the weapon within her grasp. “Such a shame. You humans continue to destroy each other time and time again, yet you still reproduce. The cycle will be broken soon enough.” “My dad said you have no heart… you can’t feel anything good! I hate you!” Katio screamed. Savannah was harshly offended by the blunt words of the small human child. She became angered and looked on him with disgust. “Quiet, bug!” Savannah slapped Kaito across the face with the back of her hand and the little boy fell limp near the feet of his father. “No!” Annie bellowed angrily as she ran toward Savannah. The Operator tried to stop her, but his effort was useless. Savannah calmly stood up and pointed her weapon directly at Annie and fired. The blast was sharp and quick. Og couldn’t believe what had just happened. He was enraged and took a step forward. “No, Og! I need you here!” The Operator fiercely commanded. “Listen! Stay focused!” He watched in agony as Annie was struck in the shoulder. She fell hard, but was still functional. Annie crawled toward Kaito, who was still lying motionless near his father. She shielded the boy with her body as much as she could. Savannah glanced down at her and laughed loudly. “Ha! Ha! If The Principle could see you now! The reliable engineer of Outpost 30 assembly, position one, guarding a human. Such dramatic garbage.” Once Annie had Katio and his father covered, she turned her head and looked up to Savannah. She grinned slightly and winked her eye. Not amused, Savannah pointed the tip of her weapon toward the middle of Annie’s forehead. “Too bad for you, engineer. We could’ve been friends.” Savannah added as she started to pull the trigger. “Now!” Annie screamed as she threw her head down between her arms. “Eeeeeyyyyaaaaahhhh!!!!”

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Og ferociously roared as he emitted massive bolts of electricity from both palms striking Savannah severely in the chest. She was blown back several feet through the maze of shrubs and large trees, breaking and snapping them as she flew. She landed on her back in a thicket of pointy shrubs. Her glasses were shattered by the vibration of the massive amount of current that traveled through her body. Savannah struggled to try to hold up her head to glance at the damage, but she was paralyzed and extremely low on power. Her head fell back upon the growth and her red diodes began to fade. Soon after, Savannah was totally deactivated. Og’s power was greatly reduced and he began to stumble once the immense display ended. Noticing his weaken state, Jay ran toward him with a clenched fist, but he was also thrown backward by a blast from The Operator’s right palm port. “I told you… efficiency is key!” The Operator yelled as ran over to help Og. “Darn those video games!” “Uhhh… Not now, old guy. There’s one still there…” “Rest now, position two. I’ll take it from here”, The Operator replied. “Let me take the cutting tool. It pulls less power.” “Here”, Og replied as he detached the laser rod from his arm and handed it The Operator. “Op, be… be careful”, he said panting. The Operator attached the barrel to his arm and slowly approached Larry. He was waiting patiently for his opportunity to fight. “So, you choose to wait and not rush in. I am not surprised. You are a much better build than the double digit Assemblers that were sent to assist you, position three”, The Operator said calmly. “The Principle was smart to recruit you from the field. I always enjoyed maintaining your systems. Your repairs were always minor, at best.” “I see you and the plumber’s assistant have gain some impressive abilities”, Larry replied. “You should know since your end user was a janitor. Excuse me, custodial technician.” “Heh. The Operator Major. Always the comedian”, Larry grunted. “Why do you wish to cease functioning in such a thoughtless manner? You’re a very intelligent unit. Why not return to The Principle with some dignity intact? I hope you don’t believe that I’m as easy to take down as those other two fools.” “Being thoughtless is not a process I would ever invest in. Your allies, on the other hand, have it down to a science”, The Operator replied. “And as far as your superior is concern, he knows very well that I abandoned the outpost with nothing but dignity... if he can still remember.” “Take him!” Og yelled as he slowly gained strength. “No, young Assembler. Position three is a sensible being. We can end this confrontation peacefully, in a diplomatic manner”, The Operator replied calmly. “Sorry, Operator Major. I wasn’t programmed to be a diplomat”, Larry exclaimed as he drew his weapon. The Operator swiftly turned around with his back directly facing his opponent. He grabbed Larry by the wrist, pulled him forward and quickly drained his power before he could aim his weapon. The gun fell to the ground and the feeble bot dropped to his knees in utter confusion. Dazed, Larry looked up toward The Operator and tried to pull his arm away. Soon, the powerless foe slumped sideways to the ground. The Operator released Larry’s wrist and turned away.

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“Good job, good job!” Og yelled. Og noticed that his friend remained in a sturdy fighting stance. “Operator?” At that instant, The Operator suddenly turned back to Larry and meticulously pierced his neck with a thin beam from the barrel of the weapon attached to his arm. The petrified bot fell over on his back, completely drained of energy. “There. Position three will never be a problem for us again,” The Operator said as he walked casually towards Og. “Uh, what, what did you do to him?” “I destroyed the connections to his vital systems. The Principle programmed him to lead the other two, so it’s safe to assume that all the links to the outpost were being sent back and forth through him. I destroyed those links and now he has no chance of reactivation. Position three is no more than spare parts now.” “Well, uh, ok.” “Young Og, you did say take him, correct?” “Uh, well, yeah”, Og answered cautiously. “Let’s check on Annie and the others.” “Yes, let’s assist our friends, quickly now.” The two walked toward the mound of still bodies lying in the distance. Og knelt down near Annie and noticed the wound to her shoulder. He gently placed his hand on her back. “It’s over. Annie, are you ok?” She turned over slowly and began to speak. “Yeah, I think I’m ok. Ouch!” She yelled as she grabbed her shoulder. “What did that she-devil do to me?” “Don’t worry, position one. I’ll repair the damage”, The Operator replied. “How is our little friend and his human male guardian?” Annie turned to Kaito who lay still near his father. “Kaito, Kaito. Are you ok? Kaito…” Annie cried as she kneeled over him. “Please… please answer me…” She placed her hand under his neck and supported his head upward. Annie caressed his hair and quietly started to weep. “We did this… we brought destruction to this place…” she sobbed. “You look after him, Annie. I’m sure he’ll be ok. We’ll take his dad to their home”, Og replied. Og and The Operator carefully lifted the unconscious man and together they carried him to the hut. Annie remained near Kaito as he started to slowly come around.

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“Uh… uh...” he faintly moaned. “Hey, little guy. How are you feeling?” Annie asked. Kaito’s vision began to clear and the glare of Annie’s bright blue eyes enraged him. He frantically pushed away from Annie’s hold and scooted backwards until he hit a small shrub. He was angry knowing that his father was hurt by beings like her. “Your friends hurt my dad! Where is he?” Kaito shrieked. “Where’s my dad?” Annie noticed the boy was still weak and hurting. She tried to calm him down. “He’s ok, Kaito. Please, you’re hurt. Let me help you”, she said with her arms outstretched toward him. “No! Don’t touch me!” He exclaimed. “I want my dad!” “Og and The Operator are seeing to your father. Come, I’ll take you to him.” Annie stood and reached out her hand to the fuming child. Kaito refused her help and slowly stood up on his own. “Where is my dad?” He asked in a more calmed tone. “They took him home. He’s back at your hut.” Kaito turned and darted toward his home, ignoring Annie’s assistance. Saddened, she followed slowly behind him. Once the young boy made it to the doorway of the hut, he saw the two standing over his father. The man was lying on a mound of large leaves placed on floor. He noticed the frail and weak expression on his dad’s face. “Get away! Get away from my dad!” Kaito yelled as he pushed his way in. The two glanced at each other and both moved clear to allow Kaito to see his father. “Da… da… dad? Are you ok?” “UUhh… Kaito… Kaito… uh… is that you?” The man asked in anguish. “Yeah, it’s me, dad. Are you ok?” “That… doesn’t matter now. Are you… are you safe, son?” Kaito looked around at the three strangers about his home. His father noticed the boy’s distressed expression. He then gazed at the bright glowing eyes of the three standing over him. He quickly sat up in pain. “Uhh. What… what are these things, Kaito? Why… why are they here with you? Why are you here?” Annie turned away and walked out of the hut. Kaito tried to assure his father that everything was ok. “Dad, they helped us beat the bad people. They’ve been good to me.”

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“Good? These… these things… good?” The Operator chimed in softly. “Kaito, may I speak to your father for a moment? I won’t be long. I promise you.” The man was surprised to hear such caring words come from a bot. He was very interested in what The Operator wanted to say. “Speak your peace, machine… my son… he stays near me…” The Operator approached the man and his son and kneeled close to them. “I am The Operator and this is Og. Annie, she stepped outside”, The Operator replied. “Do you know how the three enemy bots located you?” “Why… why should I tell you anything? You’re… you’re just like them.” “No. No we’re not.” The Operator spoke. “Sir, there is a greater evil looming and once it’s released, the remaining human element will be defenseless against its unstoppable force. This knowledge must be told to others who will help us discover its origin and eliminate it before it is too late.” The man sat up further and hung on to every word. The Operator continued. “We are on a journey to a southern human camp approximately a day’s travel from this location. We hope to find others there who may know more than we and convince them of this dark truth. These two young bots here, as well as myself, have vowed to do all we can to bring down whatever power that has control over the present destruction… and that to come. We can not do it alone. Our knowledge is limited.” The Operator stepped back as the man watched him. He took all the words to thought. “This evil… what exactly do you mean?” Og interjected, as he stepped forward. “Machines, not like us, no compassion, no mercy. They are programmed to eliminate every single human alive. They are being constructed at numerous outposts across the regions as we speak. Thousands of them. Soon to be activated and released”, Og exclaimed. “What you’ve witnessed with the three that attacked you and the other villagers will be nothing compared to the might of the Assailants. We believe some unknown source will have control of them. We have to find it… we have to do something or we all lose.” The man’s concern became disgust. He thought on his fallen companions. “Those… those fiends… your friends… they wiped… wiped out everyone…” he cried. “No one survived. We fought them… with all we had. They showed no mercy… to anyone…They… they spared me… to lead them to our village. Our home… They knew that you three… would be here… They were right… they knew… You caused this to happen. All of it.” The man sobbed as he grabbed his son closer to him. Og was still. The Operator approached the weary man’s side. “I greatly apologize to you and your young son. We had no expectations of such suffering. We will leave your home immediately”, he sincerely told the man. “Og, it’s time to depart.”

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“Wait”, the man scoffed. “Before you leave… the ConSec base camp … Sector 5 South… I know of it. It’s not far… once you cross the trail through the Conduit Mountains. Follow the waterway… it leads to the foot of the mountains. The camp is on the opposite side.” The man gained a little strength and opened up about what he knew of the southern camp. “Once you arrive, there… there is a man… a scientist by the name of Williams, Michael Williams. He aids my village with the machinery to help produce our food and maintain our water supply. He is a good man. He can help.” “Thank you, sir”, The Operator replied. “Og, please.” The man continued. “If what you say is true, take the information I’ve given you and stop this madness. Save my son’s future.” “We will try… I promise”, Og vowed. The Operator led Og to the entrance of the hut and walked out. Before Og made it to the doorway, he turned and addressed the man and his son a final time. “I truly am sorry for you pain, sir”, he said. “Kaito, please learn to forgive us. Please.” The small boy arose, glanced at Og and rested his head once more upon his father’s chest. Og remorsefully left the hut. He walked out and saw The Operator pacing towards Annie. She was headed down the path that led to the waterway. Og lingered behind thinking of the pain he and his friends brought onto this peaceful place. They all reached the sandy coastline of Paragon Waterway. The breeze had subsided and the sun was just beginning to set. The waters were calming and the mild waves caught hold of the reflection of the sunlight. Annie returned to the spot where the piece of driftwood was driven into the sand. She reached behind it and grabbed Kaito’s frayed sack of small shells. The Operator approached her. “Position one, are you alright? Are you in pain?” Annie ignored his concern for her. “This is a shell that Kaito found and kept. One of many”, she said. “Such an insignificant thing…” “Oh, I don’t think so”, he replied. “What makes these so special… where a little human boy and his father come here to gather such things for no logical reason?” The Operator noticed Annie’s wound, but did not bother to bring it up. He saw her sadness and chose to talk with her. “I believe there is a connection that forms over time between human beings. A unique bonding… a longing to be together. A relationship founded on experiences of happiness, trust and contentment. I witnessed that with the young human and his guardian when they were reunited. They were safe with each other. The simple act of visiting this beach and collecting

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shells was a means to allow that connection to grow and strengthen.” He paused. “How did it make you feel when you were here with the boy?” Tears flowed down Annie’s cheek. “I felt wanted. I felt special… different. Heh, disillusionment on my part…” she replied. “No, young Assembler.” The Operator chimed as he placed his hand on her shoulder. “Quite the contrary. You are special. You have a need to protect, a need to go against every law you’ve come to know. You’re standing up against an injustice. You believe in our mission and that, young Annie, makes you different.” “And what of my end user? Why didn’t I protect her?” she exclaimed. “I am… a thing. A… monster…” The Operator turned from Annie and looked out across the waters. “Your despair is a terrible burden. I wish I could have helped you eliminate it all those cycles ago. But I now believe that it is up to you to determine when it is to be a distant concern. There was no mistake that I wasn’t able to help. You have to find your way through and soon you will be free of its grasp.” Annie dropped her head, but soon raised it. “You’re right, you’re right. There are more important things going on now. I have to put more effort into what I am becoming and less into what I was. Thanks, Operator.” Annie replied as she smiled. “I promise to try.” “Can I come out now?” Og asked from a few feet away. Annie looked over her shoulder and saw him standing in the shadows. “Ouch!” she cried as she grabbed her shoulder. “Get over here, you maniac.” “Young Annie, please, let me repair your wound”, The Operator said. “Ok, but first, a group hug!” she exclaimed. “Come on, Og!” As Og started toward his friends, he heard leaves crackling to his right. He quickly turned with both arms stretched forward, ready to fire. “Og, what is it?” Annie yelled. “I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s about to get fried!” “Steady, position two! Steady!” The Operator exclaimed. “Focus!” “Be careful, Og! It may be Kaito!” Annie insisted. The sound was growing closer. Soon, they all could see the growth swaying back and forth. Someone was approaching in a very unusual pattern. A severely damaged dark clothed bot emerged from the foliage. It was Jay, stumbling and trying to stand. He slowly limped toward Og and held himself up against a large tree. Jay lifted his arm as a sign of surrender. The piercing red hue was gone from his eyes. Annie and the Operator quickly made their way beside Og, who was still in the same defensive position. The three could tell immediately that Jay was badly hurt.

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“Hey… don’t… don’t… fire…” Jay said in anguish. “I should finish you right now!” Og insisted. “We know you and those other two idiots wiped out these villagers! You don’t deserve to function!” “Og… you’re right… you’re right. Please… don’t… not now.” “Prepare for termination!” Og took one firm step forward towards Jay, ready to fire. His palm ports began to glow and pop with electricity. Just then, The Operator grabbed Og by the arm. “No, Og!” He yelled. “No, this is not the way.” The Operator continued much calmly. “He’s extremely damaged. He may be able to assist us.” “Uh… uh… yes, please…” Jay said as he tried to prop himself upright against the tree again. “Heh, heh… I don’t want to end up like Larry and Savannah… you guys did a pretty good job on them…” “Shut up”, Annie snapped. “You sicken me. You helped slaughter these innocent humans! You’re just as guilty!” “Ok… you’re right… we did it. But... you got to understand. The Principle… he reprogrammed us… we did what we had to… to find you. We didn’t have a choice…” “He’s probably being traced. We can’t trust him”, Annie continued. “He… he linked us to the outpost. He knows where we are”, Jay added. “He can destroy me right now by flipping a switch…” “You get no sympathy from me.” “Young Annie, please”, The Operator interrupted. “We have to leave now. This place will see much more devastation if we stay any longer.” “Wait… wait”, Jay replied. “There’s something you all need to know.” The three listened as Jay began to explain. Og kept his weapons pointed and ready. “The Principle… he chose not to replace you three… everything’s changed… he decreased the number of Assemblers after you left… a punishment. The line was out of sync… without the Operator Major’s service and you two missing from such vital positions, The Principle took matters into his own hands… the Assemblers were no longer compatible mates. Some were left idle, without purpose. They were terminated and thrown into Divisionary Lake. Susan, Dex… Little Thomas… they’re… gone… destroyed by the hands of that dictator!” Jay paused and caught his breath. “The remaining few are suffering… they work twice as hard and the rest cycles have been eliminated… they’re disintegrating as they stand in their ports…” “Oh, no… no…” Annie softly cried. “Our friends…” The three were shocked. Og slowly lowered his arms and was drawn in by Jay’s every word.

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“The… the others are being punished for your actions. The Principle believed some of the Assemblers aided in your escape.” Jay took a breath. “Once we were to return with you to the outpost, our reward would be equal to your punishment. We were sure to be destroyed as well... There was no other use for us after this…” Og became infuriated. The Operator asked Jay about the assembly schedule. “Position thirty, has the number of the Assailants increased? Has there been any significant change in their production?” “I’m… I’m not sure…, but I know… we all know that they will be active soon.” Jay took another deep wheezing breath. “These… these humans you protect… humans everywhere… they will soon be eradicated. The Assailants will surely destroy them…” “These humans are not the enemy!” Annie exclaimed. “There is a much higher power controlling all of this! You have to see that!” Jay began to take shorter, gasping breaths as he spoke. “I… I don’t know anything about that, Annie”, he replied. “The Operator Major’s blast allowed me to override some of The Principle’s control… I had to… I had to tell you what I know. I’m… I’m guessing that scum is keeping me active for information or… or he’s unable to remotely terminate me now.” Jay glanced upwards and then down towards the three facing him. “I’m… I’m heading back north, back to the outpost… With his own weapons, I’m going to stop that tyrant from ever harming another Assembler again… I… I have nothing to lose.” Jay slowly turned in pain and started to limp across the damp edge of the village. “Wait!” Og exclaimed. “Jay, wait. I’m coming with you.” “Young Og, you cannot return to the outpost.” The Operator replied. “You are needed for a greater purpose.” “Our friends are suffering! Suffering because of us! You never said that the other Assemblers would pay for our reckless decisions!” Jay stopped and glanced backward towards the others with his arm slung around his chest. The Operator was deeply troubled. He knew Og had every right to return to fight for the safety of the remaining Assemblers. He also knew that if Og did indeed return, the larger fight to end the war would be worthless. The Assailants would come online and all hope would be extinguished. He needed to get Og to understand that they all must continue south to the ConSec base camp. “Young Assembler, there is a greater good that will come out of this. We have to communicate with the humans who could help us understand who or what created this grave disorder. I feel as you… the others were not responsible for our crimes, but if we end our journey now and return to the outpost, we will surely perish, as well as humans such as our little friend and his kind guardian. Their sacrifice, every sacrifice, bot and human, would be in vain”, he replied. “We have to continue, young Og. The path to the source does not start by returning back to Outpost 30, it starts with your memory… the human camp to the south. The revenge that drives you to The Principle may or may not result in a small victory, but the aftermath to befall the regions and its inhabitants will be unspeakable. We have to go on, you know this.”

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He was right and Og knew it. Once the Assailants were to be activated, there would be no stopping them. He was at a very dangerous crossroads. The Operator saw Og struggling with the decision, but refused to utter another word. He knew the decision was Og’s to make… to make on his own. “Jay, be safe. Let the others know that help is coming”, Og reluctantly replied. Jay nodded his head and started to walk away, but he suddenly stopped. He turned back to Og and began to speak. “Unique.” “What?” Og asked. “U,N,I,Q,U,E. See? I can spell it now.” Jay smiled and continued to head north toward the outskirts of the valley. Og stood still and watched the ailing bot limp toward the thickness of the foliage. Annie was concerned that Jay would not make it back to the outpost in his weaken condition. “Was there anything you could do for him?” Annie asked. “No. He was too badly damaged”, The Operator said. “Will… will he make it back?” “Young Annie, I don’t know.” “He will. I know it”, Og proclaimed. “He’s driven now. Just like me.” The three watched as Jay slowly vanished from sight. “Come, position one. I must repair you before we head any further. Please, sit here”, The Operator said. He removed his instruments and began repairing Annie’s shoulder. Og walked to the edge of the waterway and glanced north, towards the direction of the outpost. Annie thought about Kaito and his father as she examined the one small shell still in her hand. “I wonder how Kaito is doing. His father was so hurt.” “The young one and his guardian are very resilient beings. I’m sure they will be fine.” Annie glanced at the deep sky, the peaceful water and the lush green surroundings. “Do you think we’ll ever see this place again?” The Operator thought and watched as the sun began to fall behind the landscape, far off in the distance. “Once the issues of this conflict are dealt with in a just manner, I believe any place will be available to anyone or anything.”

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“I hope so. I really do. I would like to return, someday”, Annie replied as she leaned her head backwards and closed her eyes. The Operator completed the repairs to her wound and placed all of his tools back into the container. Annie stood and returned the torn sack of shells to the driftwood. Every shell was accounted for, except one. She decided to keep the one to remember her time with Kaito. The two joined Og at the water’s edge. The evening was upon the valley and the calming cool breeze they were so familiar with began to gently blow. Og turned to his friends and gave them a confident grin. The three started south along the banks of the Paragon Waterway toward the trail leading to the base of the Conduit Mountains.

Completion of 1st Draft – July 24, 2010 3:09 pm – ORjr. Word Count: 37,990 Completion of 2nd Draft – August 15, 2010 12:29 pm – ORjr. Word Count: 44,614 Completion of 3rd Draft – August 30, 2010 5:13 am – ORjr. Word Count: 45,924 Completion of 4th Draft – July 9, 2011 8:54 am – ORjr. Word Count: 49,632 Completion of 5th Draft – August 1, 2011 2:26 pm – ORjr. Word Count: 50,288

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Prototype Og: After the Fall of ConSec  

Og, Annie and The Operator escape the walls of Outpost 30 and the clutches of The Principle to seek out the source of the senseless war betw...

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