The sun was blazing in the west, most of the bustle of the settlement calming down as Scott stood outside of the bar. Several moments passed until Ferra emerged from the entrance, towing along three dufflebags. He crossed his arms.
“You know, what possessions does a droid even need?”
She shrugged. “No clue, but this is mostly just ammo and scrap. That’s all I really need out here.”
He lowered his head into his hand. “Sheesh, you wanna make going through customs a pain in the ass or something?”
She gave an inquisitive look. “Customs? What’s that?”
“Dammit… Look, whatever you can’t keep in your pockets… or wherever you stow your personal items, don’t bring it along. I only really have authorization to bring in robots from outside the city.”
“You still haven’t said what customs-”
“You’ll learn soon enough. Now unless you want us both to be arrested, just stow away those bags here. We can pick them up if we ever return here.”
“Wait, if we return here?”
He began walking away, motioning his hand. “I’ll get my transport over to the north end of town.”
Now with a few boxes of ammo, a sizeable stack of cash, and only a few grenades into her frame, she waved to the bartender.
“I’ve left about a year’s worth of cash for rent. Just keep an eye on my stuff, all right?”
He silently nodded, waving back. She smiled and hurried out the door. As she walked through the thinning crowds of her settlement, she took her time to wave to each one, as everyone returned the action to her. She stared back at the line of archaic homes for a few moments, watching all the people return home from a long day of work. She turned facing the northern exit of it, seeing Scott leaning against a small armored vehicle. It looked something like an armored truck, but more angular and stubby, along with treads instead of wheels.
“I’ll make the most of this opportunity, and then I’ll be back soon, I swear to you all.”
She ran towards him, waving her arms. “Hey, let’s get a move on!”
He glanced towards her. “Took you long enough. Now get in the back.”
She skidded to a stop. “Hey, why can’t I sit in the front?”
“I ain’t a taxi, nor would it be a good idea to have what many could see as dangerous cargo riding up front. Speaking of which, that revolver of yours.” He pointed at her gun still displayed on her hip. She frowned, pulling it from her holster and handing it to him. He took a look at it.
“Interesting… You made this yourself?”
Her face somewhat brightened. “Yeah, actually. From whatever parts I could cobble together. Something special to me and cand take out the biggest of mutants that crawl around here, you know?”
He chuckled as he slipped the pistol into his jacket pocket. He walked behind the transport flinging open the doors. The rear of the vehicle was nothing but smooth metal. No seats, no seatbelts, only some railing at the front, a small grate connecting to the front seat, and a few bulky metal cabinets with a large padlock on front.
“Ehm… Isn’t this going to be unsafe?”
“You don’t get how I usually work yet, do you?”
She climbed into the back, grabbing hold of the railing. A door slammed from the front, and he peeked through the small grate. A small hatch opened up and he slid restraints through the hole.
“Oh yeah, just put these on over the railing. You are supposed to be my prisoner.”
“Who’s going to be checking anyways?”
“Like I said before, customs. Plus, it’ll be a decent seatbelt. Now power down or something, it’s gonna be a while till we reach the borders.”
The engine of the vehicle rumbled to life as she clipped the restraints around the bar. Her body then fell limp, the lights dimming out from her eyes.
The transport moved slowly through the desert, sticking close to the few rivers that still ran through it. He passed by settlements, often getting a few looks from passerbys traveling between them. Every single one of them wore patchy sweat-stained clothes and was armed in some form or another, be it a spear made of scrap or a large machine gun. Often times he’d drive through herds of Radi Beasts simply drinking from the river, witnessing the movement of the buglike Desert Stalkers in the distance as well.
The sands and rivers came to an end at the sight of stone. The next stretch of land all looked as if all organic material had been peeled off, leaving only a rocky service. He took care to drive far from the many ravines and boreholes that gashed the landscape. Not a single creature was in sight, only the sound of wind dominating the area.
Hours more of driving through, and Scott arrived at the end of a rough dirt path. Following it for a few hours more lead to the first sightings of vegetation. The path moved over and through numerous grassy hills, the sights of small forests off in the distance. Birds were now flying overhead, some of regular sizes, and scattering when much larger ones flew by. The path winded between and around each forest, and Scott knew well of what manner of demi-breeds and beasts populated them. He sighed when the dirt path finally hit asphalt. A long, multi-laned road stretched and winded far away in opposite directions. To the side of it were railroad tracks. Scott pressed the gas pedal further as his transport sped up, and he heard a clank from behind. He nearly jumped out of his seat until he remembered Ferra was back there.
“Hey, what happened? Ugh, that hurt, and I’m all sore you know!”
He glanced back at the grate, turning his sight back to the road.
“Well blame that on the person who programmed you, not my driving.”
She huffed. “Well, are we almost there? How long has it been?”
“Two or three hours, I dunno. We’re finally on some proper roads, so we’ll be there soon.”
He laughed to himself. “Sorry, I forgot you all don’t have asphalt out there. How the hell can anybody stand all that desert walking anyways?”
“What makes a proper road better for walking anyways, this thing seemed to get you to me fine enough!”
He sighed. “I’m hoping your model supports direct information uploading or something, else you’ve got a lot of learning to get done.”
“I don’t think so. How different is everything from where I was?”
The van screeched to a halt, and she jolted forward with it. She tumbled across the floor.
“HEY, what’s the big deal?”
“Remember when I said we had customs to go through? Well, we’re there, but we still gotta wait.”
“You have to what.”
The engine stopped as she heard the front door open and shut. Sunlight flooded the back of the transport as he opened the doors. He climbed in, unlocking her restraints.
“Well, you want to know how different we are out here, just hop on out and feast your eyes.”
She followed him out, and caught sight of numerous green fields and scattered trees. She stared long at them until Scott grabbed her, turning her to face the forward. She stared in wonderment at what it was: A very long line of large trucks, larger than Scott’s transport, lined up all to pass through a massive wall. It stretched onwards for miles, curving around with whatever could be inside. Several weapons platforms were mounted atop of it, each larger than anything she had ever seen. If anything, the walls reminded her more of Axios.
“Is that giant wall customs?”
He smacked his hand on his forehead. “That’s a pretty fucking stupid name for a wall, ain’t it? No, customs is why we’re stuck in line. Do you know why walls are built?”
“To keep things out. And there’s lots of things less than ethical people would like to bring in that the rest of us want out. That’s what customs is for: To make sure that shit stays out.”
Her eyes widened. “Like demons?”
“That’s a good example, yeah. Thank the gods you catch on quick.”
“I fought a demon before I met you, ya know. It paid super well too, so maybe we should look for those jobs once you’re done with this customs stuff.”
He laughed. “I’ve already decided against joining the Crusaders long ago. Demanding a lifetime of service isn’t very nice, you know? Maybe Gods would get more followers if they cut that crap out.”
He turned and met face to face with Ferra looking puzzled.
“You know about demons, but you don’t know about fucking Gods?”
She shook her head.
“You pledge your ‘faith’ to some being, they give you abilities or powers in turn as long as you follow their contracts. Easy enough to understand?”
“I guess. But what’s faith-”
“Good, you understand, no more details, all right?”
The line moved forward somewhat.
“Now hop back in, I gotta scoot us forward a bit.”
Re-igniting the engine, he moved forward the few inches of ground before turning it off once more. He hopped behind, throwing the back doors open, and sat across from her.
“Now there’s one thing that HAS been eating my mind a bit. You say you’re from Axios, right?”
“Why the hell did you want to leave that utopia you all created for yourself?”
She looked shocked. “Well, I was only active inside the city for a few minutes, but I was told something by well, my manufacturer. He said that our home, Axios, is needed to be liberated. Give me a second…”
She stared blankly for a few moments.
“Ah yes, it was about our leader, Tronus. Years ago, he constructed an overmind, a massive device that would direct all of our kind’s actions so we could work at maximum efficiency. He used it for control rather than efficiency however, using it to scan the populace’s mind for any dissenting thoughts, and mind-wiping any android they caught.”
“Hey, don’t be rude! Anyways, because everything was scanned and regulated, my manufacturers constructed me from spare parts by getting into workplace accidents and using their own lost parts to construct me. Then they sent me and several other androids with a mission: Get help to liberate us from whoever you can find.”
He snorted. “For how crafty they were, didn’t seem like they were too specific with their instructions.”
“They’re likely mind-wiped for what they did though…”
“Serves them and your kind right, to be perfectly honest.”
She banged the wall. “What’s your problem, seriously! I just wanna help my people!”
“Well, your people weren’t so nice in turn to us!” He lowered his hands into his head. “You know, a long time ago, before we had these walls, all of humanity was nearly killed by an army of demons. And because your kind was sent to fight with millions of others of humans, they decided they had a right to abandon us. The Radi Desert used to be some lush forestland a long time ago too, you know.”
She stared, some anger brimming in her eyes.
“Since you’re still a bit slow to pick up things, you know who orchestrated that abandonment? None other than that Tronus. You all fell into his trap, and your kind is suffering the consequences.”
“But… There’s still time to repair relations, right?”
He snorted again. “Three hundred years of isolation, and you think you alone can break it? Besides, remember our deal?”
She looked down at the ground. “I should have searched elsewhere for help…”
“Well, at least working with me is going to be better than being stuck in that desert. Be happy with what you at least got now.”
He left the back and slammed the doors, climbing back into the driver’s seat. The sat silently between each other as Scott inched closer and closer to the wall’s gate.
“Scott, is all that hatred why you signed up to hunt androids?”
He let out an energetic laugh. “If that were the reason, every single person behind these walls would be signing up. Not like there’s any more androids to really deal with. Remember that whole three hundred years thing?”
“Well, then why did you sign up?”
He paused. “That’s enough for questions now, yeah? Put on those restraints, we’re finally in customs.”
She bounced up, quickly cuffing herself to the railing. The engine stopped and she heard faint chatter from outside. A few minutes later, the back doors opened. Scott and two terrifyingly armored men were staring at her.
“She was probably trying to escape to deliver sensitive information to Axios or something.” Scott said. “I was sent out to quickly grab and return her to her designated reservation.”
The men in the armor stared for a few more moments before slamming the door. Scott climbed back in and started the engine again.
“Did you just lie about me?”
“Not like it matters. Like I said, unnecessary department. Not like anyone is going to log what I said or anything.”
“You keep saying how nobody cares about you, but everyone seems still afraid of us?”
“Yeah, and people believe it still. It’s just a good thing the government doesn’t.”
Several minutes of being locked in the back, with several points of stopping and starting, Ferra finally heard the engine turn off. She heard the front door open, and soon the back doors were flung open once more. Scott walked in, undoing her restraints.
“Take a few moments to soak in everything, but then I want those restraints back on. We’re almost done with them.”
Taking a few steps out, her eyes adjusting to the light, she froze.
She was staring at an asphalt road with an endless amount of cars zooming on past her. Beyond that, several massive buildings of steel, concrete, and glass stood, lined up side by side along the street. Even beyond them, several even taller buildings stood, stretching up into the sky. She spun around, finding herself surrounded by infrastructure and humans. Roads, streetlights, cars parked side by side, people walking by without fear, dressed up in t-shirts, shorts, or dress clothing. High into the sky many flocks of small birds flew, and even more perched atop some of the tallest buildings she could see.
“So uh… How big is this Romitum place?”
“Well over a few thousand square miles, all interconnected by roads and train. I’d like to see that junk heap Axios compare to this. Now come on, restraints on once more.”
He turned her around and placed the restraints on, moving with her towards a nearby building. It was completely made of concrete without any windows, looking dim and muddy compared to the other buildings near it. When she was tugged inside, it shared the same looks: A dingy reception area with a few fluorescent lights, badly beaten couches, and a small desk with a lazy looking man behind it. Scott banged the counter and the man suddenly jumped up.
“I finally got our straggler. Cross her off the list and head on home.”
“Took you fuckin long enough Scott.” He began typing rapidly on a keyboard for a few moments, finishing by tapping the enter button.
“All done, just call me up when you find another one. Thanks.”
The man hurried out the door. Ferra stared at him as he left, turning back to Scott.
“What’s that all about?”
“He’s the only other employee working in this division. I’m just doing him a favor by keeping this place seemingly productive enough.”
He tugged her further into the building and walked down a few flights of stairs. Most of the walls were very messy, some peeling with paint. The few pipes that still ran alongside the wall were rusty, several segments cracked or flat out shattered. He took her down a dim concrete hallway and turned into a doorway. The room they entered looked something like a miniaturized home. A portable stove, coffee machine, fridge, and pile of blankets were all shoved in one corner, right next to a well-cleaned tub and sink. Not too far off from that little living area was a large cabinet. In front of that was a large man-sized table with several power tools scattered atop of it. On the opposite side of the room was a large desk with a blocky computer monitor and an absolute mess of paper spilt everywhere. Hanging next to the desk was a large cork board with photos, forum posts, and printouts of news articles all pinned to it, a few articles and pictures crossed out. He undid her restraints and sat down at his desk, booting up the computer.
“Feel free to glance around, just don’t touch anything, all right?”
His computer hummed to life as he began typing away. Ferra’s eyes locked on the cork board. The photos contained vague silhouettes of blocky-looking bodies. Her eyes widened at another article featuring a photo in a snowy landscape, the photo of what was clearly an android being displayed. A location known as the “Sanctum Mountains” she read.
“You like my handiwork?” He said as he continued typing away. “Most of the people working here were only worried about internal android threats, so I lack an intel department you know.” He typed a few more things in. “So now it’s up to me to find any bots to give everyone reason why this very small branch should still be funded.”
“Well, then why don’t you find a new job or something? This seems like a lot of work.”
He let out a snort as he continued his typing. “I spent my entire life trying to get this job, I ain’t giving it up for some third rate clerk job somewhere in the slums.”
“You seem to have plenty of experience and a truck, so why not bounty hunting?”
“Correction, the state owns that truck. The only thing I can call mine in this office is that fridge, stove, food, and my guns.”
“So can’t you buy your own stuff-”
“If I could, I wouldn’t need to strike a deal with you now, would I?”
He stopped typing. “Anyways, all those reports regarding you are now closed, according to the state, you’re tucked away in some reservation up north.” He turned towards her and stood up. “Now as for bounties, finding them is gonna be your job, I’ve done all the work I need to today. You at least know how to use a computer?” He presented her the chair. She walked over, sitting in front of the screen. Scott leaned over, clicking on a browser icon and opening a window.
“You can use this to go find some postings online. Don’t bother looking for inner city jobs because well, you’re a fukin android. Just try to find any job outside of the walls and you’ll be set.”
She stared at him. “Where exactly do I start? How do I even use this thing?”
He briefly demonstrated how to type and use the mouse, clicking on boxes around the window and typing. “As for where to start, you’re the expert on bounties here.”
The evening flew by as Scott ate a small meal and slept in front of his small electric stove. Ferra carefully crept over, turning off the stove, and tossed a few extra blankets atop of him. She returned to the computer, going through several of the old sites in Scott’s history. Most of them were forum boards used by people who lived outside of the city walls, ranging from farmers just outside of the walls, others from people who set up homes in multiple points around the world. Some in a more mountainous region, some living around the edges of forests, she even noticed a few referring to settlements in the Radi Desert. She looked up a map of the continent of Congeria itself, and gasped at the size of it. Off to the very west was the city of Axios, still taking up a fair amount of space, but the rest of the land was massive, varied beyond what she thought. The Radi Desert awkwardly crammed between grasslands, the complete lack of any green east of it, the long stretching plains, the mountains to the south and jungle beyond the range, ruined cities stretching eastward all the way to a massive gash in the earth. She printed it out, grabbing a pen. When it finished, she tabbed over to forum posts she found, and quickly marked their locations on the newly printed map. She sighed as she closed every tab and powered off the computer. She sat down next to the snoozing Scott and smiled at him.
“Maybe I can make this deal work out after all.”