It didn’t take long, being constantly on the move all this time has been exhausting. But rest was not to come so easily. I jolted awake to the sound of wailing sirens and panicked shouting, Helper already on her feet and getting dressed.
Big Red barged in, speechless for a moment at the sight of Helper wriggling into her dress. He then hurriedly instructed me to fetch a gun from the armory and meet him out front. I asked what was happening. “See for yourself!” He threw open the curtains.
I didn’t know what I was looking for until he pointed across the highway to a dim cluster of lights out in the woods. Impossible to make out from here, but definitely getting closer. “We thought they’d travel down the road, wasted all that time setting up the barriers to stop whatever tanks, troop carriers or other armor they might’ve gotten their hands on.”
All for nothing. Now the only defensive barrier to speak of was the fence, and by the looks of it they were approaching in numbers sufficient to topple it within minutes. I pulled my pants and shirt on, slipped into a rough denim jacket I found hanging in the closet, then donned my mask.
“Stay here, I don’t want you getting hurt” Helper commanded. “That’s my line!” I complained, but when she pointed out that I am by far more fragile than she is I found it difficult to argue. “I have to go. I promised Big Red, and while he and I don’t exactly see eye to eye, he did us a big favor by taking us in yesterday.”
She looked frustrated, but didn’t motion to stop me as I left. Instead she shadowed me very closely, shimmering globular eyes darting this way and that. When I asked her to give me some space, she refused. “Not while...you’re in danger.”
The sight of Helper was met with muffled snickers when we emerged from the lodge. “Send that thing back inside” Big Red instructed. I protested that she’s a good shot. “You really think I’m handing a gun to a robot? Son what do you think is out there in the woods, coming our way? Have you forgotten who the enemy is? ‘Sides, I can’t promise one of my men won’t shoot her. On accident, you understand.”
I insisted that Helper and I are a package deal and that he’d be a fool not to make use of her abilities. He grumbled about it, but compromised; Helper would be positioned at a front window of the second story with a scoped rifle. “She’d better be the crack shot you say she is. I’m sure you know what I’ll have to do if she hits one of my men.”
Probably something considerably more severe than if one of his men “accidentally” hits Helper, I thought. Life is cheap around here, but only a certain kind. I was directed to take a position closer to the fence. When I glanced over my shoulder, I could see Helper’s worried gaze trained on me.
It was almost anticlimactic when they reached us. I don’t know why but I expected a violent surge. Instead their advance brought to mind the sparse, small groups of stumbling husks outside the military base. The first few didn’t even make it to the fence before being put down.
Merely the first raindrops which herald a coming storm. In twos and threes they advanced, then in fives and tens. Marching singlemindedly out of the woods and across the highway, indifferent to the hail of bullets thinning their ranks.
The floodlights carved an appreciable region out of the darkness, but were almost unnecessary on account of the various glowing LED accents adorning the domestic robots which comprised the most of the herd.
I imagined I could make out a rhythm to their marching. Left foot, right foot, left foot. One in front of the next, directly into the line of fire. Unlike any siege before it, as these invaders were literally fearless. A level of self sacrifice found nowhere in the animal kingdom except ant colonies.
The second wave consisted mostly of armed military humanoids. The first wave must’ve been the models they considered disposable, sent ahead to test our defenses. Stepping callously over the flaming wreckage of their fallen comrades, they came.
About a dozen took cover behind either of the barriers, some climbing inside of the stacked up cars and setting up scoped rifles like the one Big Red gave to Helper. One of the men issued a series of hand gestures I didn’t know the meaning of.
Everyone who did immediately sought cover of their own. The gunshots started out sparse but grew in frequency, like popping corn. It soon became difficult to hear anything but gunfire, muzzle flashes casting split second shadows of Big Red’s men and whatever cover they shot from.
“YEAH!!” One near me hollered, just barely audible over the din. “FUCK YEAH, LIGHT ‘EM UP!!” But still, they came. Methodically plotting out the strengths and weaknesses of our defenses, maneuvering around the area lit up by the floodlights.
That initial rush when the first wave fell so easily now wore off as I realized how foolish I’d been. What wishful thinking to imagine the rest of their assault would be so easily thwarted. They just kept coming. Slowly encircling the compound like an amoeba enveloping its meal.
Probing the fence. Had to be. Once they mapped it out, they’d penetrate the weakest point. For every robot which collapsed in a fiery heap, three more emerged from the woods...as though it contained an infinite number of them.
Lightning struck in the distance, thunder following several seconds later. But still no rain. The unusually still night only made the relentless advance of the machines more unnerving, because during brief lulls in the gunfire there was total silence.
If you’d been inside you could have remained ignorant of their approach throughout the entirety of the first wave. The only sound was their footsteps, metal and plastic crunching on asphalt. No shouted orders, they all knew exactly what their task was and how to execute it.
The same man from before made another series of hand gestures. Teams of six circled around towards the rear of the compound, presumably to take up positions in anticipation of a breach. Sure enough when I, too, was sent after them I found a mass of robots pressing on a section of the fence with sizable patches of torn or missing links.
Four of the men unloaded magazine after magazine into the dense cluster of robots while the other two frantically set up some sort of tripod mounted minigun. “Holy shit” Madeline gasped, arriving on the scene in a full suit of kevlar armor. “That’s a General Electric M134! The man portable version never saw widespread use outside of Vietnam.”
I asked where she got the armor and whether now was really the time for gun trivia. “There’s plenty more in the armory. What are you doing without some? It’s a miracle you’re still alive. God, I wish I could film this! Can you imagine the ratings? If anybody’s still around to watch it when this is all over, I mean.”
The pair of men finished setting up the minigun. One took hold of the dual grips while the other sat to one side in order to help feed the ammo belt into it. I covered my ears in anticipation. It did not disappoint. The roar of the minigun put the scattered pops from before to shame, absolutely shredding the crowd of robots gathered against the fence.
Most were fucked up before they even made it that far, arms or heads blown off some time during their approach from the woods. Scrapping the few who could still hold a rifle had been the first priority, so the eight of us were relatively safe back here compared to the men still fighting out front.
That is until the fence broke. The minigun shredded the robots alright, but also the thin aluminum links of the shitty rented fence, which gave way under the weight of so many mangled metal bodies. When I turned to look back towards the front, my worst fears were confirmed.
All of the robots took immediate notice of the breach and changed trajectory to head right for it. An unstoppable river of metal which we could pick at, taking down individual robots here and there, but not divert, disrupt or arrest.
The minigun continued its barrage, shredding every hapless robot to stumble in through the freshly torn entrance. Tension mounted as I wondered which would run out first, robots or bullets. Instead, mechanical wreckage piled up until it plugged the opening. Climbing over it proved just as difficult as climbing the fence! A short lived triumph.
Stay Tuned for Part 47!