Business As Usual.

Another cloudy day in the city, as usual. Thick black clouds hung in the sky for miles. As they did every day. And they didn’t bring life giving rain. If anything these clouds formed from smoke and pollution would only bring death, and more darkness.

It was also quiet, once again, as it usually was. The only sounds came from various factories and the occasional transport. In fact, if not for these sounds, one might think that the city was abandoned. Those more knowledgeable, however, wished it were.

Miles away, low in the sky to avoid the smog, an airplane was cruising through the air. It was small, the cockpit only having room for one, comfortably at least, and propelled by a powerful but relatively silent jet engine. The blue paint that coated it was peeling away from the many years it had seen, revealing an earlier red paintjob. The pilot didn’t think about the appearance of his aircraft at all however, as he looked at towards the city in the distance. “Hmm, doesn’t seem like there’s many guards. I could probably get farther into the city today. Doubt I have enough ammo though…” The pilot thought for a moment. “I’d better play it safe at first. No need to get too risky.”

The plane was nearing the outskirts of the city, and the pilot began to slow down, preparing for descent. The words outskirts weren’t quite accurate, since what is now the unpopulated outskirts of the city were once part of a large metropolis. But these days, the main city was centered on a large hill inside an even larger crater. Citizens of the area had long said there was something strange about the hill, and for good reason, but few these days cared to think about it’s origin. Even the ones who didn’t know it.

Slowly, with skills honed through years of flying, the pilot brought in his plane. Immediately upon entering the city limits he had cut his engines down to the lowest possible power. He didn’t want to announce his presence with the roar of a jet engine, even one as quiet as his. He landed beside, or rather in, a run down building, probably a former home. Judging the area to be hidden enough he slid the goggles he’d been wearing up to his pointed ears, and replaced them with black sunglasses.

He jumped out of the cockpit, strapping a long sheath to his back. The pilot wore a brown, hooded overcoat, the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and black combat boots. He pulled a small remote control from one of his coat’s pockets. Pressing a button on it, his plane began to shimmer in that way the air seems to on a hot summer’s day. Soon, it had disappeared completely from sight. Carefully remembering the location of his plane, the pilot walked away, ducking behind a nearby wall that had been broken down to standing only a few feet tall.

He made his way towards the city proper, diving behind an overturned barrel as he heard footsteps approaching. Slowly, he crept over the side of the barrel to look for the source of the footsteps. He was surprised, and slightly amused, at what he saw. They were guards, but not the kind he was expecting.

He can’t be serious. Guess I can’t blame a guy for saving resources though. These guys won’t be very useful, but beggars can’t be chooses,’ the pilot thought as he ducked back behind the barrel, grabbing a small gun in each hand out from the holsters in his coat. He got into position to attack, and waited for the opportune time. Soon enough the guards, still unaware of their attacker’s presence, began to walk past the barrel.

The pilot jumped out from behind the barrel and sent silenced shots at both of the guards. The bullets hit them square in the chest. They fell to the ground, motionless. “Perfect,” the pilot said as he holstered his guns.

Well, I should be able to salvage a few parts from these guys. Still, these are really old models,’ the pilot thought, scratching his head as he looked over the two robots in front of him. They were circular in design, with thin limps connecting their various ball-like body parts. They each carried a large, but weak, blaster gun. ‘Seriously, these are even less threatening than the ones from… back then.

* * * * *

A rolling hillside stretched out for miles in front of the young fox. Next to him stood his new friend, who had a mischievous smirk on his face that showed his complete confidence. He looked down at the fox beside him. “Well, we aren’t gonna accomplish anything by standing around. Let’s gooooooooo!” he said before running towards the hills.

“Hey, wait up!” the fox called, running after his friend.

* * * * *

The pilot shook his head as if to shake away the flashback. ‘I’d better get to work. Never know when more guards will show up. Even these guys could prove dangerous in large groups.’ The pilot knelt down towards the robots to retrieve his bullets. This may sound like a strange thing to do, but his bullets weren’t exactly your standard ammunition. The mere fact that someone of his technical prowess would be using traditional metal bullets should have been clue enough that something was different. The bullets he used were in actuality specially designed canisters, each containing four small darts. When fired the canister would open and the armor piercing darts would shoot out, embedding into their target. They then delivered an electric shock, but also emitted a low range electromagnetic pulse, shutting down any sort of mechanical victim that they should hit. In addition, they had been designed so that the same darts, should they be recovered, would be reusable. And since they shut down the robots instead of destroying them, the pilot could use them as parts.

The pilot knelt to one knee, scanning the first guard bot for his darts. As soon as he began to reach for them however, he was blinded by an excruciatingly bright light that flooded the area. As his eyes adjusted he looked around him to see, approximately ten by his count, silver robots drop down from the sky in a ring around him as more searchlights came on. They landed in a crouching position, but soon stood up one after the other as they activated, their red eyes lighting up. These were much more imposing than the first guards by many levels. They were tall, sleek, heavily armored, and carried more dangerous weaponry. And above all they now had the element of surprise that had been so favorable to the trapped pilot moments ago. “DECOY STRATEGY SUCCESSFUL. TARGET HAS BEEN SURROUNDED,” the leader of the squad, identifiable by the red stripe that stretched down the right side of his front, said.

Crap! I should’ve figured!

The leader turned to the pilot, scanning him. “TARGET IDENTIFICATION… SPECIES: FOX, MALE. ARMED. SEARCHING DATA FILES… ENEMY IDENTIFIED. PREPARE FOR BATTLE,” it said aloud in its deep metallic voice. With an ominous series of clicks, the silver robots raised their right arms, each baring a machine gun.

“This going to be pleasant,” the fox said, reaching for his sword.

“OPEN FIRE.” The air was instantly filled with the sounds of machine guns firing. The entire area around the pilot exploded, dust and debris flying into the air, the decoy guards completely obliterated. After firing for a good thirty seconds, the robots ceased fire to examine the damage. The dust settled, revealing the ground to be riddled with bullets. However, there was no sign of the fox. The robots analyzed the situation and simultaneously looked up.

The pilot had jumped into the air just as they had opened fire, and now hung in the air above him, hand grasped around the handle of his sword. He was falling towards them, and they pointed their gun arms in his direction. He pulled his sword from his sheath just as he was on top of one of them. As he did so he pressed a small button just below the guard. The center of the sword split and slid apart, revealing what appeared to be coursing blue lightning. He swung it in a wide arc, slashing the robot straight down the middle. He jumped away, the split remains sparking before exploding.

As if on cue, the other robots began firing at the smoke cloud. The pilot dashed out from behind it, headed for his next target. The robots followed him with their guns, tearing up the earth behind him. He held his sword at a horizontal to his hip as he ran, bending forward. He slashed the next robot in half, and its comrades quickly dispatched the rest of it. He continued running, but the robots’ bullets were gaining on him. One grazed his tail, sending jolts up along his spine. He dove forward, and the robots, not anticipating the movement, continued in their movement. This gave the fox enough time to roll over, get to his feet, and begin charging the group.

They began firing at him again, but this time he kept up his assault. He weaved this left and right, dodging the stream of ammunition as best as possible. He jumped up, flipping over the center robot, slashing its head off. He landed behind it and immediately thrust his sword through its center, using the robot as a temporary shield while he planned his next attack. He pulled out of the robot, charging towards a somewhat more solitary target on the edge of the half circle.

He slashed its legs off, and the robot fell down, still firing its gun in a futile attempt to hit its target. It took out two more ‘bots before the pilot slashed its head off. The remaining three guards, the leader and two others, regrouped into a single line across from where the pilot was. He charged them as they opened fire, holding his sword in front of himself horizontally to try and block as many bullets as physically possible.

As he neared them this became much harder, and series of rounds shot through his shoulder, knocking him back on one side. He hefted his sword in the air and slashed an “X” through the robot that had shot him. He immediately slashed the next one across the chest diagonally. The two fell apart, exploding and sending up a cloud of dust. As it cleared, only the leader stood before the fox.

“SQUAD DOWN. TARGET HAS PROVEN MORE DANGEROUS THAN THOUGHT. HOWEVER, ANY FURTHER ATTEMPTS TO FIGHT WILL BE FUTILE,” the leader said as he raised his gun arm, pointing it at the fox’s forehead.

Even at this close of a range my sword wouldn’t be faster than his gun. And I don’t have time to draw my gun!

“ELIMINATING TARGET,” the robot said. Within the processors that made him operate, he sent a command to fire the gun to the gun arm, which was aimed with careful precision as dictated by his targeting system. He also calculated that the chance of the fox destroying him were less than one percent. However, he overlooked one minor detail. When the machine gun should’ve fired all that came was a light clicking sound. “AMMUNITION EMPTY. RELOADING,” the robot declared.

“Heh, guess it’s my lucky day,” the fox pilot said. Holding his sword at his side with on hand, he reached into his coat and pulled out one of his handguns. “Unfortunately for you, I’ve got plenty of ammo.” He pulled the trigger, and his usual darts flew straight into the lead robot’s head. Electrical currents surged around his body, and then he fell back wards with a metallic thud.

The pilot let go off his gun with all but his trigger finger. With a flick of the wrist, the 9mm handgun twirled around his finger, a thin wisp of smoke trailing from the tip like a ghost. He holstered it, and with a flourish, slowly sheathed his long curved sword as well. The blue current died away and the center blood-groove reformed as the sword slid into place with a soft metallic “chik”.

The pilot walked over to where the robot had fallen, and knelt down. Grasping all the darts in one hand, he jerked his arm up. They gave surprisingly little resistance considering the tough armor they had been embedded in. He looked them over as he rolled them into a line on the palm of his hand, then dropped them into one of his coat pockets. He stood up, flicking the strands of hair that grew quite, if one thought about it, randomly from the middle of his forehead away from his eyes. It really made no difference, as they soon fell back down over his left eye, but he had grown accustomed to at least one of his eyes being covered.

He surveyed the area carefully. He was still on the outskirts of the city, but much nearer to the hill than from where he had touched down. The aforementioned thick, black smog hung in the air, covering the blue sky above like a blanket, once again, as it usually was. Yet somehow, the fox noticed as he gingerly touched the bullet wound on his shoulder, today seemed brighter. Was it the fact that he had just come out of battle, which had been decided with a veritable miracle? Or maybe he was just sensing something big was about to happen? More likely, however, as he quickly realized, was that the searchlight bots were still hovering above him.

“Ah, dang, forgot about those guys didn‘t I?” The pilot crossed his arms as he reached into his coat, grabbing a gun in each hand. Carefully calculating the circular flight path of the robot combined with the wind speed and the trajectory of his bullets, he deduced exactly where he needed to aim for the most successful shot. Of course, all this was done in less time than it would take the average human to read that sentence.

He whipped his guns out, arms pointed at the two flying robots. He pulled the triggers simultaneously, and the dart bullets hit right where the robot itself connected to its searchlight. The lights turned off as they shorted out and the robots crashed into the ground. There was still one more spotlight, and the pilot looked up to see the last spotlight-bot was hovering above him. He drew his sword, reactivating its electric core, and jumped into the air, slashing it down the middle. The robot split apart as the fox flew past him and it fell to the ground, exploding. The pilot, however, stayed in the air unnaturally long. He wasn’t very light, even being a fox, especially with the equipment he was carrying. The fact that he staying in the air was likely due to one little mutant attribute he’d had his whole life.

He lowered down to the ground, his twin tails spinning slower as he settled to his feet. He flicked the tails for a moment before letting them fall down to rest on the backs of his legs. The small crater had now grown dark as the surrounding city, and the pilot was alone again. He sheathed his sword and went to go retrieve the darts from the other spotlight sentries.

As he removed the last bullet he looked at his haul. ‘Well, this went surprisingly better than expected. One silver guard and two spotlights. These could be pretty useful. Hauling them back to the T3 is gonna be a frikkin‘ chore though.’ He sighed as he began to haul the two spotlight robots into one pile.

* * * * *

Back at the plane, the pilot was busy taking apart the robots. A small cargo hold was open in the back of the cockpit, and he was trying to sort out what was useful now to save space. He’d already gutted one searchlight robot, and was busy doing the same to the other. He didn’t take much from these apart from their propulsion systems and central processing units. He always took the CPU from every robot he scrapped, as their computing power was higher than anything he could otherwise acquire. Once he’d wiped them for hacking software of course.

He moved on to the gun robot, detaching its gun arm. “This I can definitely put to use,” he said as he nonchalantly threw it behind him into the cargo bay. There was a metallic ring and a thud as the part rolled around for a brief moment. After removing the armored plating, the pilot took out the CPU of the last robot and climbed into his jet. He reached behind his chair and slid the door over the cargo hold, locking it in place. Once there had been a chair where the hold was, but these days the fox flew alone.

The pilot ran his pre flight diagnostics then powered on the engine. Grabbing the controls, he flipped a toggle labeled “TRGT. SYS.” A crosshair appeared on the screen in front of him, and he aimed it towards the wall in front of him. Carefully making sure he had the area he wanted, he pressed a lock-on trigger and a small beeping noise came from his dashboard. He slammed his thumbs down on the red buttons on top of his controls and streams of bullets spewed forth from his dual machine guns embedded in the plane’s nose. They decimated the wall in front of him, and he taxied out into the deserted street, turning so his plane faced straight down the road. As soon as he had straightened out the pilot expertly pushed the throttle and began to jet forward. Sensing he had reaching the needed speed for take-off, he pulled back on the controls, and the plane lifted into the air.

Once a few miles out from the city, the pilot typed in a series of numbers on a panel next to him. His plane’s global positioning unit entered the coordinates into its system and plotted the quickest course to the pilot’s destination. He relaxed and sat back in his seat, still keeping a firm grip on the control sticks with one hand, and took off his sunglasses, revealing his bright blue eyes. He quickly slid his goggles back down over his eyes as he drifted into a wisp of the smog above him.

* * * * *

DESTINATION REACHED,” the GPS’s computerized voice chimed with a ding. The pilot looked out around him. He was flying over a low plain with a small forest located on the edge of it. Originally this whole area had been a large forest, but much of it had been destroyed years ago, and even some of the prairie that replaced was dead from pollution. Still, here and there clumps of tree dotted the landscape. But to the casual observer, the pilot’s landing here would be confusing. There was no town, no roads, not even a small house with a landing strip where he might live. But, that was just to the casual observer.

Turning the GPS off, the pilot flipped another toggle switch on his dashboard. “This is the Tornado 4. Ground control, do you read me?” the pilot asked, a slight hint of annoyance in his voice. “Rhetorical question of the month,” he muttered under his breath.

His radio system came to life with a jolt of static as a voice on the other end of his frequency spoke. “We read you T4. Relay your request,” it said in a very professional tone.

“Skip the formalities, what else would I want? Just open the runway,” the pilot said, not even attempting to hold his annoyance in check.

Of course, right away. Always a pleasure dealing with you, sir,” the ground control personnel member said before cutting off communications. The pilot was now approaching one of the clumps of trees, which on a closer inspection almost looked as though they were aligned in rows. A few seconds after the ground control had disconnected there came a deep rumbling noise, and the ground around the trees lifted out of the ground, tilting to the side. Slowly, a gray runway rose up out of the ground, angling into a cavern.

The pilot slowed and pushed his plane down towards the new opening in the ground. He flipped a series of switches in a row, and with a loud “clunk” his landing gear extended out from the bottom of the plane. The pilot carefully touched down, he tires squealing as he shot down the angled road. He began to slow down and the runway began to move back to its horizontal resting position as the ground closed up above it. The plane came to a stop on top of a circular platform that rose about a foot off of the rest of the ground. He turned off all the plane’s systems as it locked into place. The pilot jumped out onto the platform, landing in front of a pedestal with a control panel in front of it.

He turned it on, and entered in his name and a pass code. With a loud click and whirring noise the platform moved along the road, which ran through the center of a large underground hanger. It was filled with planes of various sorts, a large amount of them military fighter jets, as well as a larger amount of ground vehicles. Most of them, however, hadn’t been operated for quite some time, evident by the heavy buildup of dust. The platform reached an empty space in the collection of vehicles and turned, settling into its proper home. The fox turned the control panel off and climbed back up to the plane.

Opening the cargo hold, the pilot reached around, groping for something amongst the metal. Feeling course fabric, he pulled out a large burlap sack and began to fill it with the parts. He stopped to switch his eyewear yet again back to sunglasses, then hefted the bag over his shoulder and walked off towards the door of the hangar.

The hangar, as was earlier noted, was underground. It was the only thing hidden below the surface here though. In fact, dug into and out of a series of catacombs, an entire underground city had been constructed. Over the years it had expanded from a small village of mostly animals who used it as a temporary safe house to a medium sized city, home to both humans and animals, who existed in harmony, more or less.

The fox walked through the passageways towards the residential district where his small home was. He paused at the door to reach into a pocket for his keys, but stopped and simply reached for the doorknob. He turned it, and as he’d suspected it was already unlocking. With a sigh, he walked inside his house. He flipped the light switch next to the door, and removed his sunglasses as the swivel chair at his desk turned around, seemingly on it’s own. “Well well, look what the cat dragged in,” the figure seated in the chair said.

“What are you doing in my house, again, Hopper?” the fox said flatly as he set the burlap sack down.

“Hey, why so angry?” the frog, Hopper, asked as he stood up from the chair. “And here I was worried about when you’d come back.”

“Yeah, which is why you broke into my house right around now and waited for me. It gets old considering I know you’re going to do it,” the fox said as Hopper walked up to him.

“Well, whatever. But dang Miles, you seriously got beat up dude. You know someone’s not gonna be happy about this,” Hopper said, looking at the fox’s various wounds.

Miles simply uttered a “hmph.” “Whatever, just get out of my house,” he said, pushing the young frog outside the door.

“You know she really does worry about you!” Hopper said, only to be answered by the door slamming in his face. “Geez, that guy. Seems to get more uptight every day. But I guess he has good reason,” Hopper said, putting his hands in his shorts pockets. He walked away, taking one last glance at the door marked with the address number “92” below which was the name of the resident…

“MILES PROWER.”

————————————————————————————————————

Previous Chapter.

Index.

Next Chapter.

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