No Way Back – Chapter 2 – Updated 08JAN2010

Here is Chapter 2 from my new story.  Feel free to comment with what you think!

Chapter 2

Seven Years Prior. . .

“ROBERT! How many times do I have to tell you to stop playing that game and do your homework!”

“MOM! I’m almost done this mission, can’t I have a few more–”

“No! Get off of that computer, put that game away, and do your homework!”

I sigh, knowing that if I don’t, it’s only going to continue. “Yes, mom…”

I hit the Escape key, bringing up my combat simulator’s control menu, and save my progress. I know that I’m going to lose the last fifteen minutes or so of my playtime, since I hadn’t reached the checkpoint, but it doesn’t matter. Homework is homework, and it’s just a silly game, even if it is a really cool one. I mean, thirty-foot tall combat robots. So unrealistic, but so amazing to think about. And these characters in the game, so well thought out. Even their artwork seems like they were drawn from someone’s pictures. Granted, they are aliens, some human, some lizard-like, some more mammalian, even a few insect-like creatures, but it’s still amazing. It just drew me in from day one. Now, if only I could convince my mother and father that a newer system would make this so much better. And, maybe, just maybe, a set of yoke and pedals.

As the software winds down, I stand up and stretch, looking out the window. It was dark outside already. Have I been playing that long? Explains why mom was freaking about homework. I step forward to close the blinds when I see a flash of light from just outside. It wasn’t big or spectacular, something that normally would have been overlooked. But this one was just outside the window, and way too close to be something simple, considering this one particular window overlooks the backyard. My curiosity piqued, I grab my jacket, and yelled to my mom that there was something going on outside, and that I’d be right back. I was out the door before she could object, and started to where the flash was.

Now, I’m not exactly a big guy. Just under six foot, I was skinny, lanky, and awkward like any teenager is, the best I could have done was startle someone, stun them, and yell for help. But, I didn’t think about that, all I knew is that wasn’t supposed to be there, and I wanted to find it before it disappeared.

I jumped down the three steps that made up the small porch, my dirty blonde hair slapping against my forehead, and turned hard, ready to run and find whatever it was. No sooner had I landed did I almost run down Allessa, my next-door-neighbor. She was fifteen, just like me, and was only slightly shorter than I am. She used to be much shorter, and was often thought to be a few years younger. She was pretty, with full lips that just begged to be kissed, a cute little nose that wrinkled ever so slightly when she laughed, and a soft, light skin tone. I had never seen her almost-black hair any way other than pulled back. Her most memorable feature, though, were her eyes, a cool, soft neon blue that you could swear were glowing. They weren’t glowing then, though. She looked at me in startled confusion.

“Oh!” I gasped, side-stepping to avoid slamming into her, and tumbled down the slight downhill just past the stoned walkway. I managed to bring my hands and feet out to stop my tumble and jumped back up, dusting off my faded jeans. “What are you doing out here, Less?” I asked, curious about the fact that she was at the back door instead of the front.

“Oh, I, uh,” she started, those entrancing eyes looking back and forth. “I thought I saw something outside your house, and I wanted to see what it was.” She turned to where I had seen the flash, and I turned with her, looking in the general direction.

“So did I! Wow, you’re fast. Maybe I should go–”
Her hand grabbed mine quickly as I started to step closer to the spot. “N-no, uh, you shouldn’t worry about that. Hey, did you get the new ChromeBots game yet?”

“No,” I answered flatly, still looking towards where the flash was. “But I really should see what that was.”

She pulled my arm, and her free hand grabbed at my jacket, pulling on it to make me face her, smiling sweetly at me, like she did every time she wanted something from me. She had known that I had had a crush on her ever since someone snapped up my notebook and found my writing of my confession of my feelings for her. The one that I was going to give her one day when I wasn’t so skinny and out of her league. She also knew that that sweet smile tended to make me forget what I was doing, just for a moment of gazing into her big blue eyes.

“Really, Robert , I’m sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. I mean, I didn’t see anything over there. Anyway, how about you come over and try the new game. I’ll even let you win the first round or two so you can get the hang of it.” She winked playfully at me, keeping that enchanting smile on her face, almost to guarantee my submission. And I fell for it, letting her pull my hand over her shoulder, and, in her soft voice, she starts telling me all I would need to know to set up my own ChromeBot, and how to control it. Not that I was actually listening, all I could process was this girl who was holding me close to her, like she had a hundred times before.

As she pulls me into her house, I vaguely remember having homework that needs finished. “Allessa, I know you’re excited about the new game, which, no, I can’t afford to get right now, but I really should be home. I have homework that needs done.”

She ignores me, pulling me into her house. “Go into the living room, I’ll meet you there. I need to get out of my jacket.” She never took her jacket off around me. In front of anyone I knew, for that matter. It was always in another room, or near a closet that she couldn’t be seen through or near, or in the lavatory. She was very secretive about it, but everyone just laughed it off as a personality quirk, and we’d learned not to ask her. She never gave the same answer twice.

I walked into the living room, finding it in the same, absolutely clutter-free condition it was always in, its walls their never-changing and sterile white, the carpet a mocha brown.. The room’s walls were split up with a trio of windows, each one with its own set of darkly-shaded blinds. Three computers lined a wall, always separated in the same fashion, an opaque curtain hanging between them. They were also spotless, always meticulously maintained, dusted, and polished. Each system was specifically color-coordinated. There was a cobalt blue system, complete with blue keyboard, mouse, speakers, even a combat yoke and pedals that was custom-done to match the system. Then there was a neon-green system next to it, and the last one was blood-red. Blue and Green were the visitors computers. She was very protective of the Red computer, much like an over-protective parent. The television across the room was connected to the house’s network. I don’t remember ever seeing it used for anything other than connected statistics and replays. In fact, thinking about it, where were her parents? Weren’t they usually here?

She walked into the room, the sound of her shoes on the carpeting giving her away. “You really waited for me? I’m impressed!” I turned to see her, and again caught myself admiring her so very lovely body. Not many girls at her age had her form, and she just seemed to naturally know how to use it. My eyes trailed down her body once again, which, even fully clothed in her white sweater and blue jeans, was a spectacular sight to behold. She flashed that smile at me yet again, and I could feel my knees weakening. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to find that she wasn’t wanting me to play a game, but, instead, wanted to tell me that she felt for me as much as I felt for her. “Here, I’ve already set it up on the systems. All you have to do is log in. You’ll find its controls familiar, and…”

She continued on, but I had stopped hearing her, feeling my heart shatter for the millionth time. Oh, well, I thought. Maybe if I stopped being such a pansy and just admitted it to her myself, she’d see it. Maybe, if I… No… She wouldn’t, she’s just so beautiful. I gotta stop being so down on myself. That last thought hit me by surprise as I take a seat at the green system, the one closest to her, and set up my profile on ChromeBots 2. Turns out, this newest version connected to a web server, and I would only have to set up once. Once I set up, it would automatically load my profile, settings, everything on any computer I play on. Great! I think to myself, so much time is wasted on setting up three or four computers.

By the time I’m ready to go, I’d already received an invite to a game in progress. Much like its predecessor, you start with only the basic ChromeBot, more or less a large, walking battle robot, and work your way up. On the original, I had already worked my way up to the strongest Bots, and could walk through almost any battlefield unscarred. But, being a new profile, I was still a green and raw recruit, and not trusted by the Uniform Galactic Military, the game’s extra-galactic combat core. This meant taking time to get stronger, but, if the controls were identical to what I was used to, there wouldn’t be too much trouble. I accept the invite, and find myself pulled into the basic training simulation, working side-by-side with Allessa, and pressing through the training area. The controls were mostly identical, and a small options change made all the difference. Within a half-hour, we’d begun pushing through the storyline, her gentle voice becoming hard and cold as she issued orders, called for reinforcement, and we settled into another gaming trance that lasted for several hours.

– –

Ten feet from the window of his house, a small, insect-like machine goes active. It extended small wings and fluttered to the wall. It began climbing the wall, around the gutter, and to the roof. It jumped, fluttered, and crawled to the highest point of the A-frame roof, then flattened itself to the tiles. Its optical receptors analyzed the tile coloring, then changed its own coloring to blend in to the tar and stone that made up the roof. It then flipped open its back, a small transceiver pointing skyward, and began its burst transmission to space. It waited for a moment, then received the return transmission it was expecting. It then began an up-to-the-minute interfacing with the cloaked ship in orbit, keeping record of all the “training” being done.

“She works quickly, shipmaster,” the data operator hissed, turning its serpentine head towards the control seat, its ruby eyes flickering in entertained delight. “We only ordered her to begin transmitting today.”

“She had better. If she doesn’t, she’ll be the one who pays the price.” The shipmaster chuckled to herself, knowing that it wouldn’t be much longer.

Around the world, dozens more of the small robots tapped into the network that had taken three local years to covertly get into position. Now, it was just a matter of sitting back and collecting the data.

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