Return to Mech City

       Brian Bakos / Fantasy / Science Fiction
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Return to Mech City
Where Life Is No Longer Human
Book 1, Robot Horizon series

by Brian Bakos

Copyright 2009, 2016 Brian Bakos

Graphic Art: Othoniel Ortiz & Rob Jones Photos: Brian Bakos

Table of Contents
Prelude: How it Was
One: The Prodigal Returns
Two: Big Changes in Mech City
Three: The New Order
Four: The Quest Begins
Five: At the Imperial Court
Six: Counter Coup
Reading Group Guide
Next Book in the Series
Connect with the Author
Brian’s Other Books

Prelude: How It Was

The Walking Library of Alexandria
Winston was so absorbed in the humans’ conversation that he did not notice his power supply running down. His internal monitor displayed a low-energy alert, but it did not register in his conscious brain.
Extraordinary, he thought, they speak of the end times as if it were a mere philosophical abstraction!
He could no longer move or talk, but he could still observe the two humans sitting across from each other in the living room with alcohol beverages in their hands.
“You can’t be serious, Anna,” Professor Syms was saying. “With things the way they are, you still plan to traipse around the country studying religious cults?”
Syms placed an arm over the sofa back. His tweed jacket draped open revealing his Che Guevara T-shirt and an automatic pistol holstered under his arm pit.
“And why shouldn’t I ‘traipse around the country,’ as you put it?” Dr. Horvath said.
Little Charles, bored from being cooped up indoors, couldn’t have cared less what the adults were saying – and he’d seen so many guns before that he scarcely noticed them anymore. He did notice the robot’s predicament, though.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Winston,” he said, “I’ll switch your power cell for you.”
Winston managed a slight smile, though he lacked the energy to turn his head toward the boy.
Professor Syms was talking again:
“Didn’t all those cults invent phony ‘end of the world’ scenarios to keep their members in line?” he said. “I mean, with the real thing staring us in the face, what’s the point anymore?”
“I’ll have to disagree with you on that,” Dr. Horvath said. “You always were something of a pessimist.”
She cast a worried glance toward Charles who had opened Winston’s abdominal compartment and was pulling out the spent power cell. Her facial expression conveyed relief that the little boy had not been listening to Syms’s dire remark.
Professor Syms shrugged and quaffed his drink.
“Ah, hope springs eternal,” he said. “And I always thought you East Europeans were the natural pessimists.”
“Can I refresh your drink, Conrad?” Dr. Horvath said, rather stiffly.
“No thanks,” Syms replied, “I’ve got a departmental dinner to attend. A ‘socialist supper’ as you call it.”
They made an interesting pair, Winston thought. The Master – Dr. Anna Horvath – tall, gray-haired and rather severe with her old-fashioned eye glasses perched on her nose. Professor Conrad Syms, around 40 with a slight paunch and dark, probably dyed, coiffure. The Master spoke with a cultured Hungarian accent, Professor Syms’s accent bore a veneer of affected British Isle.
Charles completed the power cell switch and Winston surged into full active mode.
“Thank you, Charles,” he said.
“Sure thing, Uncle Winston,” Charles said.
Professor Syms looked toward the corner desk where Winston was sitting.
“Our robotic friend is back online!” he exclaimed.
He turned toward Dr. Horvath. “You really ought to reconsider my ‘Walking Library of Alexandria’ project, Anna.”
“Please, not that again,” Dr. Horvath said.
“Why not?” Syms replied. “Your robot already has the necessary intelligence. It’s just a matter of augmenting its memory capacity and uploading the files.”
“Beginning with the complete works of Marx and Lenin, I suppose?” Dr. Horvath said.
“Well ... that, too,” Syms said.
Dr. Horvath made a dismissive gesture with one, long-fingered hand. She looked toward the robot.
“Do a power cell change before you absolutely need it, Winston,” she scolded. “These forced inactivations don’t help your programming any.”
“Of course, Master,” Winston said. “I shall be more careful in future.”
“I’ll watch out for you, Uncle Winston,” Charles said.
Syms stood up and adjusted his jacket, the pistol disappeared from view again.
“Let me know if you change your mind, Anna,” he said. “Winston is an amazing piece of technology, it’s a shame not to develop its full potential. I’m certain we could get University funding.”
“Thank you, Conrad,” Dr. Horvath said, “I’ll take it under consideration.”
Syms replied with an amused, unconvinced nod.
“Well, I’ve got to go,” he said. “Thanks for the drink.”
He and Dr. Horvath left through the front door, followed by Charles. Winston stood and watched them go.
“War and rumors of war,” he muttered.
Charles soon returned and ran across the room, leaping into Winston’s arms.
“Let’s play rocket ship!” he cried.
“Very well, Charles.”
Winston spun Charles around, lifting him up toward the ceiling then back down near the floor. Winston’s movements were rather slow and awkward, not up to human standards, but Charles giggled with delight.
Dr. Horvath returned to the living room and, with a single disapproving glance, ended the fun. Winston set Charles down on his feet.
“Aw, we were just playing, Auntie,” Charles protested.
Dr. Horvath moved to the picture window and gazed out at Dr. Syms entering his car.
“I like Conrad,” she said, “but he can be such a left wing gas bag sometimes.”
“That term is not in my dictionary,” Winston said. “How is ‘left wing gas bag’ defined?”
Dr. Horvath gave Winston an indulgent gaze over her eyeglasses; she looked back outside.
“See that fancy car he’s got?” she said. “Right, socialism – for everybody else, that is.”
She turned toward Winston.
“My people know very well how that works,” she said. “We had forty five years of communist rule, and before that the stinking fascists. Why – ”
A huge explosion shook the house.
Flying debris struck the window, shattering its erstwhile ‘bullet proof’ pane. Everyone hit the floor. Dr. Horvath pressed herself against the wall; across the room, Winston shielded Charles with his body.
Stunned moments of disjointed time staggered past. Winston’s auditory circuits whined, his pressure sensors registered bits of plasti-glass embedded in his exterior surfaces. Then brutal reality began to fill the vacuum.
“Are you hurt, Charles?” the Master said, fear quavering in her voice.
“I’m OK, Auntie,” came Charles’ muffled voice from beneath the robot.
“I seem to have evaded major damage,” Winston said.
He rolled away from Charles and helped the little boy up.
“You are also well, Master?” Winston inquired.
Dr. Horvath regained her feet and brushed herself off. Her quaint eyeglasses had somehow remained perched on her nose, though the lenses were coated with plaster dust.
“Yes, I’m quite well,” she said, “thank you.”
Approaching sirens wailed through the demolished window. Dr. Horvath strode to the front door and exited. As always, Winston was impressed by her decisiveness under pressure.
“Come on, Uncle Winston, I want to see,” Charles said.
“We should stay in here – ”
But the little boy was already gone. Winston followed him out to the porch.
The smoking ruin of Professor Syms’s car sprawled in front of the house like some massacred beast. The police sirens were closer now, and a crowd was starting to gather. A terrible smell of destruction polluted the air.
“Wow!” Charles cried. “That’s ... wow!”
Dr. Horvath drew him protectively against her.
“We need to get away for a while,” she said.

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