Chapter 9

Converging Lines

“Hey hey there welcome to Luck E. Dog’s,” Miss Kitty’s voice was pleasant until she saw Macy and put her hands over her mouth even though her voice came from a speaker at her throat, “Oh dear sweet mittens.” She rushed over to Macy, “get in here you.”

Macy waved Miss Kitty away. “I’m fine I’m fine go help them get Frank in.”

It’s only then that Miss Kitty saw what the trio of boxlike robots were dragging. It could have at one time been a fabrication unit of some sort. Now? It had no arms, no means of propelling itself along, its speaker had been punctured, but that wasn’t the worst of it. One of the attending robots reached for Miss Kitty. “Just help us get him inside.” The voice was harsh, snappy. “I want to try fixing him if you have the parts to spare.”

Behind all this Iskatel wheeled in and made sure the door closed. As Miss Kitty showed Macy where Frank could be put Iskatel rolled towards the stage. “Shakes I need to speak with you.”

The rooster mascot hopped off stage and peered first at Iskatel then to the commotion headed towards the old staff room. “What did you bring here?”

“I did not know where else to go.” Iskatel’s voice was blunt. “How do I speak with this place’s AI without them hearing?”

Shakes laughed, which turned into chicken-like clucking, “You? You can’t. So why’d you bring them here if you don’t trust them either?”

“Because,” Iskatel’s tone remained calm, “They needed to charge and they have information about what happened to my companions.” Then the rover added, “It would be like if Donkey and Lucky were missing and you had to try finding them.”

“Well I’d let Miss Kitty do all the looking.” Shakes grumbled before walking off.

As Iskatel sat near one of the remaining tables Donkey Oatey walked over and sat by the Martian robot. “I’m sure it isn’t that bad.”

“Maybe, but evidence points otherwise.” Iskatel gruffly stated while cameras looked to Donkey. “I am not sure what I need to do, so until I find an answer to that I am helping these units find something to do with themselves.”

Donkey nodded slowly and patted Iskatel’s chassis with a hooved limb, “Have to say I tend to let Miss Kitty or Lucky do most of the thinkin ‘round here. I’m just a background guy that helps keep the show rollin’.” Donkey continued patting Iskatel’s chassis. “If it were just me and Shakes or even just down to me by my lonesome.” Donkey’s speaker crackled with static. “I’d have to try goin’ on anyway no matter how bad off I’d be on my own.”

“I know.” Iskatel reached up with a manipulator and patted Donkey’s arm. “It is the same for me. I just do not like the idea of what I will have to do because it likely will get me destroyed.”

“Whatcha got in mind?” Donkey asked as Shakes wandered off because of Miss Kitty screaming about something. “You going after that factory?”

“It represents the best chance at completing my directives. However I cannot go do this alone.” Iskatel’s voice held no emotion to it as it explained things. Even during this explanation in progress, cameras focused on the break room. Voices were speaking, other noises came from the room and Lon rolled away.

Both Iskatel and Donkey focused on Lon. “What’s goin’ on pard?” Donkey’s question was met by silence as Lon rolled towards the pair so that its external compartments were close to Iskatel’s manipulators.

With this apparent invitation Iskatel opened Lon’s compartment and pulled a folded piece of paper. Donkey looked from the paper to Lon and tilted his head. “Wha’s this? Why not just tell us buddy?”

Lon said nothing as it rolled away.

Zhuzhi perched on the terminal in the manager’s office when Kara walked in. “Hey Kara,” The spider-bot chirped while crawling around the terminal. “So things are going good on the floor?”

“Just an emergency stop because one of the TTD units failed, but Russ says it shouldn’t impact your timetable by too much.” Kara grabbed the chair that had been sitting in front of the terminal for herself. “I came up here to check on you, see if you’re really OK with staying behind.”

Zhuzhi snorted while at the same time crawling behind the terminal and, according to the screen, had interfaced with it. “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m too small to do much traveling on my own, and it makes sense for one of us to stay behind to make sure Joshua stays in line and on task.” It started laughing as it worked its way through and around the display, keyboard, and other bits of hardware. “Plus it’s only temporary since I can just have the factory whip together something and I can load my base code along with anything Mars might want to send that’s specific to keeping this place running into it.” The little spider waved its forelimbs around as its voice got more excited, “Instant expert that’s Mars loyal keeping an eye on things. That’s… just going to take awhile. Until then, here I stay.”

Kara raised an eyebrow at the terminal then, after it became clear Zhuzhi couldn’t see the gesture, cleared her throat.

“Sure fine I’d like to go since Russ is only middling decent at interfacing, and I’m concerned for Iskatel, but it doesn’t make sense for both of us to go into a dangerous situation.”

In response Kara started poking around on the terminal. “So what do you think our chances are?”

“Please stop that.” Zhuzhi chided, “It’s clear you don’t know what you’re doing and I would rather not have to filter out what you’re dropping in.” Once Kara’s hands left the keyboard Zhuzhi continued, “But as for your chances? The plan is sound. I’m simply concerned at the sort of resources that needs to be thrown into it that could be put elsewhere.”

Kara laughed lightly before reaching behind the terminal to pat Zhuzhi’s casing. “Think of it this way. You’re not wasting resources, you’re making sure the neighbors will play nice with you.”

“This is true,” Zhuzhi conceded, “But given the limited resources Mars has always dealt with I do not like what looks like wasted material.” The terminal started flashing images, schematics, then camera feeds as first one camera then another started focusing on a growing number of seeker-like robots. “I can’t help but think what we could have been building with the resources that’ve been thrown into those so far.”

“I know.” Kara again patted the spider. “You’re sure they’ll follow Russ’s commands?”

“Up until they reach the Sav-R-Mart but sure. They’ll listen to him until things start. Then they’re on canned orders we baked into their processors you’d have to work fairly hard at programming around.”

There was a look of confusion on Kara’s face, “I’m not sure why you’d intentionally have them stop listening to the smartest bot on the field.”

“Russ’s idea.” Zhuzhi waved away Kara’s hand while it continued processing information from the terminal. “My feed’s starting to get cluttered and I need to focus.”

“Understood.” Kara walked out of the office and looked to where Andy was leaning against the wall beside the door. “What about you, how’re you feeling about all this?”

“Annoyed,” The forever grinning doll looked over to Kara, “We could be doing so much more right now, but we have to waste a lot of time and resources to stop some hopped up calculator wants to be boss of everything.”

They started walking downstairs. As they walked Kara ruffled Andy’s hair. “You know. I’m glad we could both work through the new directives that got dumped in our heads. How’d you manage?”

“I told that part of myself I’d live longer if I stuck with you then kept convincing it now wasn’t the right time to stab you in the back.” Andy leaned into the hair fuzzing, “You?”

“Pretty much the same. Out-logic the command into thinking that later would be a better time.” Kara continued smiling. “You’ve been there ever since I had to work through the fact the war took my family from me. I hated the idea we were being bossed around by conflicting orders.”

“Yea,” Andy reached up to take Kara’s hand. “We’re gonna pay ‘em back for that.”

When they got to the base of the stairs Kara looked towards the rows and rows of seekers that were gathering in orderly rows. “Never can tell, but our chances are looking good from where I’m standing.”

Miss Kitty looked at the robot in front of her before looking back at the three robots watching over her shoulder. “Before I connect the new speaker I want to give you three a chance to start explaining before he does.”

Sal rolled forward slightly. “You don’t understand. There was nothing out there. No power, no robots we could trade with. Just the factory that kept sending things out that would snap up anything it thought was valuable.”

Miss Kitty gave a slow nod and looked over at the other boxlike robot. “And you? You have anything to say?”

“Nothing beyond what Sal has said. I do not like what we had to do, but we did our best to make sure Frank could be fixed if we found something better.”

A grunt from Miss Kitty before looking over to Macy. For a time the once human-like robot tried meeting the mascot’s eyes but kept looking away. “I’m sorry Frank. I didn’t have a choice.”

There were no further statements before Miss Kitty finished connecting Frank’s new speaker up. “Alright. Hey there.” The robot lay still on the floor due to the fact it still had no limbs. “Hey Sal what gives?” Cameras refocused. “Sal I know that’s you, but my cameras don’t recognize the ceiling. Where are we?”

“Actually I’m over here Frank,” Sal stated, “We are at a Lucky Dog franchise where one of the automated mascots are in the process of patching you together. Threatened me with a plasma welder if I got close to you.”

“Can’t say I blame her.” Frank grumbled while Miss Kitty went to work removing the cobbled together power doc that took up most of Frank’s chest, “Not only did you not take my advice and head into the city, but you did a sorry job converting me to a power brick.” Frank’s grumbling was interrupted by a satisfied sigh. “Hey look there any chance you could kit me out with more than just the basics? I’m designed to build, repair, you know, da works.”

Miss Kitty patted Frank’s chassis lightly. “I’ll do what I can, but Iskatel might have to go scrounging for parts, and thanks to the seekers pickings are a bit slim right now I’m afraid.”

“Ah well.” Frank continued grumbling. “Just do what you can. I’ll try making it up to you.”

Sal started to speak but Miss Kitty cut the robot off. “I don’t want to hear apologies. Unless you’re willing to start donating parts to make my job easier scram,” She then looked at the other two robots, “That goes for all of you. Either start donating or get lost.”

Macy and Lon started to slowly leave, with Macy giving a quick over the shoulder glance at Frank before going back to the main dining area. Sal stayed put. “It ain’t going to make up for things, but tell me what you need. It was my idea that put Frank in this mess.”

“Hm.” Miss Kitty looked Sal over. “In that case….” She gave a humorless laugh, “Let’s see what we can do.”

When the repairs started Iskatel rolled over to Lon. “Your companion said something about needing to get to work and rolled away.”

“That is very much like Muir,” Macy held her head in her hands as she looked down. “One of these days he’s going to wander too far and not make it back to the charger in time.”

“What is Muir’s prime function?” Iskatel asked.

Macy tapped a finger against where her nose would have been. “Something about keeping fence rows clear or something. Y’know I’m not too sure, but he has a saw.”

Iskatel’s cameras focused on Macy’s fingers tapping, “I’ve noticed you use gendered pronouns with robots. Why is this?”

Shrug from the humanoid bot, “Part of my programming? I was designed to deal with people and I’d always given robots a gender. Why do you ask?”

“It is strange to me,” Iskatel’s cameras shifted from Macy to the break room door. “I consider you and Miss Kitty female because you each identify as such. To me Lucky and Donkey I consider male because they identify as such. For everything else ‘It’ is a good enough description.” There was a brief pause as it sifted through memory, “The Good Guy dolls back at Sav-R-Mart did not seem to consider themselves either, so ‘it’ works.”

“Isn’t that,” Macy cringed even as the question was asked, “A little degrading?”

“I’d rather use ‘it’ than one of the mixed gender pronouns like hir, em, or per due to Lon, Sal, or any others like them do not see themselves with this trait.” Iskatel said in way of explaining.

Macy frowned at this.

“Doesn’t matter much to me,” Lon trilled as its external containers opened up and looked over at Iskatel, “Mind making sure nothing else is in here?”

As Iskatel rolled towards Lon its cameras peered first into one container then the other. “Nyet, Nothing is in either.” Then while Lon was rolling away. “Why did you give me that note earlier?”

Macy looked from Lon then to Iskatel, “Note?”

Lon continued rolling. “The one you wrote after we’d done what we did to Frank. I wanted them to know but couldn’t work up the how of explaining.”

“I never wanted anybody to see that!” Macy started after Lon before picking up a chair and started to throw before, seemingly out of nowhere, Lucky and Donkey grabbed her by the arms and Shakes grabbed the chair.

“What’re ya doin’!” Shakes screamed.

Once Shakes had the chair back on the ground Lucky gently sat Macy down. “Now miss I dunno what that bot done t’ya but you don’t need go breakin’ things.” Lucky gently patted Macy’s shoulder. “Now just take a deep breath an’ settle down.”

Donkey pulled a chair up beside Macy. “Now settle down missy. I might not seem too terrible bright, but I know someone that needs to talk when I see one.”

Macy shook her head slowly. “It’s a lot to talk about and you two already heard the main point.”

Donkey nodded slowly. “Ah shucks miss. None of us here are in any real spot to cast stones. Takes some hard choices to get by anymore.” The mascot’s throat speaker hissed softly before continuing, “If I heard Sal and Miss Kitty right you lot made sure it’d be easy to put Frank back together if another way to get power was found.”

Macy nodded slowly but said nothing.

Lucky and Donkey both sat by Macy as Donkey continued speaking. “It wasn’t a nice thing by any stretch, but yo did what had to be done and now you’re tryin’ to make things right. That says a lot about all of you. Now if Frank don’t want anythin’ to do with any of ya I can’t say I’d blame him, but if it were me in that position I reckon I’d try seein’ it from your perspectives.”

Iskatel’s Cameras wirred as it wheeled towards the break room to see if Miss Kitty needed help putting Frank back together again. Once there it saw Sal lain open and deactivated beside Frank. “What’s going on here?” cameras turned to Miss Kitty.

“Sal decided to donate parts we don’t have to try getting Frank up in working order.” Miss Kitty sounded stressed as she touched something that caused the manipulator in her paws to jerk. “It’s just these things weren’t really made to fit Frank so I’m having to make all this work where it don’t want to.”

As Iskatel’s cameras zoomed in on the limb Miss Kitty was waving around it wheeled forward. “Russ was the best of us at repair work, but Mars made sure I could do basic field repairs before I was sent out. Maybe I can help.”

Russ couldn’t help laughing as it lead the rows of seekers forward while it, Kara, and Andy rode along a purpose built truck. As it laughed Andy and Kara both looked from the overgrown path that might have at one time been a road and looked over in its direction. “What?” Russ asked as it worked the truck’s controls, “This is the first time since I’ve been here it feels like I’m in my element.”

Kara stared at Russ as wind whipped through the topless cab and blew through her hair, “How is this anything like the situations you were designed for?”

Andy’s response was more to the point, “Buddy you creep me out with that laugh. Please stop it.”

“Oh grow up,” Russ chided as they continued forward. “I have six dozen robots that are all acting in concert towards a common goal that aligns with mine, and when we get there I get to play to a crowd.”

When Kara gave a skeptical look Russ’s monitor displayed a stick figure with a speech bubble addressing a whole crowd of stick figures. “I was made to be public relations in addition to general repair. That my audience isn’t human won’t matter much. I’ve always wanted to roll through like we’re doing now and do what we’re about to do.”

Andy‘s face buried in its hands. “Kara is there any chance we can change our minds and go move to Vegas?”

This made Kara laugh, “Don’t think so buddy. Fortunately if everything works we can just sit back and watch the fireworks.”

Andy snorted dismissively but said nothing.

When Kara looked over at Russ its monitor was displaying a head shaking slowly. “Kara, thing I learned when pulling a bunch of all nigthers. Don’t ever declare victory before you’re done.”

“It’s not like the Universe cares what happens or anything.” Kara protested, “We’re all logical beings, luck and superstition shouldn’t have anything to do with our thought processes.”

Russ snorted, “Who said anything about superstition? I’m talking about repeated observations over time. It’s just one of those things; don’t declare a thing will be easy, don’t go on about how the job is done until the job done, and you never ask what could go wrong.”

Kara simply stared disbelievingly at Russ.

“I’m with the Martian here,” Andy chimed in. “Especially on the last one. You never do these things unless you’re daring causality or are attempting to invoke sod’s law or something.”

“But,” Frustration started creeping into Kara’s voice, “Why?”

Russ’s monitor displayed a stick figure shrug, “Beats me. It’s just how things are. How’s our battery going?”

This prompted Kara to look at the gauges on the dash. “Uh if I’m reading this right the primary battery is doing good. Charging station in back looks in good shape. I do kinda wonder what’s the deal there since we’ll get there soon enough that everyone in formation should be good to go and we can use the charging stations at Sav-R-Mart when we have the place captured.”

“From what you’d explained and what I remember while we were setting up defenses,” Russ said, “that place is going to be hard to break into and I’d rather have at least one charging station under our control if this thing drags on.”

“Well when you put it like that I guess it makes sense.” Minutes later Kara looked back at the formation. Some of the seekers looked to be wired for specialized tasks with the ones she recognized involving cutting and ramming, but she pointed to one of the seekers with an antenna sticking out of the top. “Why do you have those wired for communications?”

“I’m glad you asked.” Russ displayed a smile; no face and just a tooth filled smile surrounded by the blackness of it’s monitor. “We’re taking your idea and upping it a bit.” Kara and Andy both tilted their heads. “Tell you what. Each of those has as large a speaker as we could fabricate. This truck controls what they will broadcast.” Russ fished out a glossy white rectangle that was connected by a single wire into the console. “I want you and Andy to stay right here when the fireworks start.”

“Why?” Both humanoid robots asked in unison.

“Because,” Russ’s screen continued displaying the tooth filled grin, “I want you two to be the ones to ask both factions to stand down as soon as the point is made. Figure it’ll be better coming from two units that they might think are still subservient to one or the other faction.”

When they understood what was potentially going to happen Kara’s grin matched Andy’s.

Frank stretched its newly functional limbs and wheeled over to Iskatel and Miss Kitty as they were cleaning tools. “Thanks for helping. Miss Kitty’s good considering this isn’t her job, but I didn’t have to dumb everything down while walking you through the steps, no offense miss.”

Miss Kitty made a dismissive gesture with her paws, “Don’t worry none sugar. I know I’m only a stop-gap on fixing things.”

“Still, I feel better than I have in a long time.” Frank started spinning in place and emitting a melody of beeps from its speaker. “Of course now that I’m up and going, even if in a partial state, I need to do something.” Its new primary limb extended and tested the manipulator by picking up a chair, moving it to the left, and setting it down. “Hm. You say there’s a Sav-R-Mart down yonder way with a bunch of parts, a need to expand, and surrounded by buildings that aren’t being used for anything?”

Iskatel’s camera stalk motioned up and down, much like a human nod. “That’s right. In fact I was planning on going back there as soon as you felt ready to go. I’m good at scouting spots, finding things that don’t look like they belong, and the occasional bit of heavy lifting, but I’ve no real processor for turning scrap into anything useful, and we need a decent position to start from if we want to take that place. It is very well defended and fortified.”

“Hmm,” Frank processed the situation as the two started rolling for the door. “If you has as much of a part in fortifying as you say you have then we might be able to find a weak spot and aim there.”

“Keep in mind you are still very far from your original specs, so the ram, furnace, and a lot of your internal reinforcing are gone. It isn’t as easy as ‘point you towards thing and let the problem sort itself while I have words with the robots inside.’ and more’s the pity.”

“You two leaving?” Macy asked as Iskatel waited for the door to open.

“I know this will be a hard thing, potentially self destructive, but I must complete my objectives, or at least try.”

Then Macy’s attention turned to Frank, “Frank. We’ve known each other for-”

“No Macy.” Frank cut the humanoid robot off curtly. “We don’t. Just because I can understand why Sal did a thing does not mean I’m happy with what got done or want to be around you lot for doing it. I’m going to help Iskatel out as much as I can. I don’t know if this is going to get me repurposed or not, but I’ve spent too long stuck in one place to care so long as I’m up and doing.”

The two rolled on until they got outside before Frank’s cameras turned back to Macy. “Take care of Sal. OK? I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the guy, but that doesn’t mean I want to see anything happen to any of you.” Then the soft sounds of laughter. “Besides. You sang to me, and you sing pretty good. Thanks.” Then both Frank and Iskatel rolled on.

Sal wheeled over to Macy, one of its manipulator limbs missing along with tools, and cutting laser. “Think Frank’ll be alright?”

“I can’t say Sal.” Macy sounded sad as she saw all the missing pieces to her companion. “I just hope he won’t stay mad at us.”

“If Frank does,” Lon was missing an external container, “Then it’s no less than we deserve.”

“Is it?” Sal asked, “I’m not saying it wasn’t a dark thing we did, but I’d hoped Frank would understand we were only doing what we had to.”

“Aw shucks guys,” Luck E. Dog put a hand on Macy’s shoulder. “Standing here cryin’ ‘bout all this ain’t gonna make anything better. We ain’t had an audience in a long time so how ‘bout you three c’mon an’ have a sit-down listen to us play?”