Neon Knights, p.1Matthew C. Gill
Matthew C. Gill
Copyright 2013 Matthew C. Gill
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Dedicated to my loving Wife – You have always been my own Lexel; ever at my side ready to curb a long winded explanation or eager to prove worth cannot be defined by gender. Together we can face any challenge with imagination, creativity and a healthy dose of determination. You bless me, Thank you.
As the sun slowly made it’s descent from view the lights above the city were already racing to replace its dying illumination. The neon glow never truly died away, but as the sun’s bright light faded it always seemed to flare to life to dominate the sky. And with it the city itself seemed to awaken, bursting with a fresh fast-paced life of its own. Which meant soon enough the streets would be flooded with people, and that was reason enough for Lexel to not be.
Lexel was used to the walk home; she had been doing it for as long as she could remember. It was part of her routine, just as much a part as making the trip alone was. She could barely remember the last time she walked home with her mom, or for that matter made it home to find her mom there. But at least these days she had her friend Xephaedra to walk with which was kind of nice. Xeph had insisted for a long time on going home together, even though Lexel was fairly sure it was simply to avoid her friend having to make the trip alone. She was a great friend, no doubt about it, but Xeph could quite often be overly cautious about, well, almost everything.
They made for an awkward pair Lexel had always thought. Xeph was almost a head taller and already growing into the sort of pretty girl every boy couldn’t stop looking at. While Lexel herself never cared much for being the center of attention she couldn’t help but notice that she herself could never quite compete with her friend. Not in the looks department anyways. She was shorter than most the girls her age and while she found her thin toned figure to be adequate most of the boys didn’t seem to agree. Which suited Lexel just the same; she had seen the kind of attention some girls attracted and it was something she long ago decided wasn’t for her.
“So, what do you have planned for tonight Lex,” Xeph asked her friend even though they both already knew the answer. Lexel always wondered why she kept asking but she had to admit it was kind of nice knowing Xeph would always worry about her. She couldn’t resist rolling her eyes at the question before puffing a strand of her short brown hair out of her face.
“Oh, you know, the usual I guess,” Lexel replied as she walked right through a lingering puddle without hesitation. It always made Xeph squeak a little, which made Lexel smile at the silly notion. “How girly can you get,” Lexel thought to herself.
“You know, one of these days your going to get caught Lex, and when you do it’s going to mean trouble. Why in the world do you even keep doing it anyways? What is so fun about playing other peoples games or prowling around into all those private nodes? It’s dangerous if you ask me, which you never do, and I am scared that one day soon your going to find yourself in the wrong one.”
Lexel was used to Xeph voicing her concerns about any number of the things she did that her friend deemed to be overly dangerous. But Lexel had been looking forward all day to getting to play some more of her current discovery. It was a little simulation game on a private node she had found about a month ago by accident. The getting in was surprisingly easy for a node that was tucked away like it was. It was the kind of thing that should have had some nasty security all over it to keep her out, which made it a curiosity to Lexel.
That was the part Xeph and others could never really understand; it was all about curiosity and the challenge of it all. She just had to see just how far she could go, just how much she could find. If someone told her she couldn’t get in or that it wasn’t something for a girl to be doing, well then Lexel would just become determined to prove she could. It was just one of those things about her that she couldn’t stand; just because she was a girl didn’t mean she had to be girly or that she wasn’t just as talented as a boy. In fact she was quickly starting to think that she might even be cleverer than most the boys in her classes.
“Thanks for the concern Xeph, but I’ll be fine; don’t worry so much,” Lexel tried her best to ease her friends fears. But it was still written all over her red-headed confidante’s face; Xeph was really concerned. “Just be careful, alright Lex,” Xeph said, her tone hushed before bidding her friend farewell.
Lexel waived goodbye as she watched Xeph head down the street to her own home like they always did and then rushed up the steps that led to the small apartment she shared with her mother. She entered her personal access code and entered to find as usual she was home alone, again. “Nothing new,” Lexel said with a sigh as she stepped around a few clothes that she hoped belonged to her mother before heading straight to the terminal in her room.
It was the sole luxury Lexel had available to her, while most of her friends had portable little mini-coms they could pack around with them her only real access to the nodes was through an old terminal. While other kids might laugh at the out dated hardware she treasured it as her primary escape. They couldn’t ever afford much, but when she was little she had been lucky enough to find the old device that miraculously still worked.
Lexel patted the old terminal thankfully as she jacked herself in and smiled to herself. Awaiting her was the same old greeting that she had been met with every time since she had found the hidden node:
“Would you like to play a game?”
Her answer was always the same – yes.
The virtual world inside the node was always the same; it was the little details that interested Lexel. While she had run through countless other nodes peeking around and tinkering most of them she had found held highly detailed renderings of visual settings. This strange little digital landscape was fairly sparse to the point of being nearly blank. It was an endless sea of white in all directions every time her mind settled into it that slowly took shape depending on the game she selected.
And that was the other curiosity; the games themselves. These were not the complex kind of games that flooded the markets in an endless stream that strived to capitalize on whatever whim was the latest craze. The games listed here never changed, they were fairly simple in nature and always held the same main character. Each game’s name was some odd approximation on a clichéd theme like war games or battle training. Lexel had originally thought the whole thing was kind of silly at first, until she tried one of them.
It wasn’t the games themselves that initially proved to hook her, it was the strange character always referred to as ‘Unit Zero.’ This Zero character was always represented as some four legged robot that looked kind of like a dog. The truth is though that the peculiar character had grown on her to the point that Lexel thought of it like a friend. She knew it wasn’t a real thing, just a bit of programming but she always found herself cheering for the little guy.
“Let’s see, what sounds like fun tonight,” Lexel asked herself without even calling up the list of available choices. She had been playing these games every night for at least a month or so and by now knew them all by heart. “I know, let’s just try a quick game of Match Fight,” she decided and smiled when her familiar friend formed before her.
Of all the games Match Fight was one of the most straight-forward; the point of the game was simply for Zero to fight another simulated robot. However the only catch was that Zero had to do
Zero greeted Lexel’s presence with his usual bowed head before focusing his attention in front of him where another figure formed. Taking shape was a two legged form with broad shoulders and large arms that nearly drug the ground. Its shoulders displayed mounted weapons of some kind that immediately trained themselves on Zero and fired violent blasts that barely missed the already moving target.
The brutish bot turned to track Zero as it tried to continue to press its attack but for all it’s firepower it couldn’t match his speed. Lexel knew that Zero had the advantage in that regard and would have to make the most of it. “Zero, tangle rush,” she called out the command, one of many she had taught him over time. As she watched Zero changed course to charge his way towards the other robot, desperately dodging blast after blast as he did.
With his four legs Zero quickly closed the ground between himself and his opponent. Just as he entered into range he activated a grappling tether and prepared to launch the magnetic locking tipped cable aimed at his foes feet. In a hiss of release a series internal actuators in Zero’s legs fired at once launching him forward as he set himself to leap around his oversized adversary.
Everything happened so fast that Lexel almost missed it. Zero sped his way towards the other robot and jumped into an arc designed to carry him around his attacker enabling him to get close enough to tangle its legs up with a grappling tether. But as Zero let fly his cable a massive metal arm flung its way forward to intercept him in the air. The harsh crack echoed around them and Lexel watched in shock as Zero slammed into the ground. She had seen the little digital dog take a hit before but the sheer size of his opponent made her shudder to think of what the blow had done to him.
Rising from the ground, the resilient robot shock off the stunning strike and redoubled his attack. He raced his way back towards the ever-blasting bot to angle for another attempt. This time, though, as Zero vaulted his way into the air he made one calculated adjustment to his offensive and activated his micro-light. The sudden flash scrambled his attackers optical sensors as it tried to compensate for the sudden change in light and the momentary distraction was all Zero needed to avoid another counter-strike.
His tether hit home with clang as the magnetic tip locked on to its target allowing the trailing cable to tangle its way into winding around the other robot’s legs. Without the support of his legs Zero’s challenger found himself off balance and unable to maintain the footing it needed to support its bulky frame. Awkwardly the clumsy creation toppled to the ground, its weapons still firing into the air defiantly trying to somehow destroy its intended target.
His opponent now helpless on the ground the game registered Zero as the winner. Lexel rewarded him with her regular pat on the head as she considered just how proud she was of this little piece of programming. She called up the time with a subtle mental cue and had to sigh at the displayed answer to her query. It was getting late already, which meant she would have to log out and see to some things around the apartment.
“Don’t worry Zero, we’ll play more again tomorrow,” she told her friend as she bid it goodbye. Lexel would keep playing all night but she knew somebody would have to clean up and make dinner. Besides, she could play more tomorrow as usual; it wasn’t like anyone was going to discover her little game sessions. If they hadn’t by now then they probably never would.
Still, Xeph’s worried warning hung at the back of her mind, bothering her. “Ugh, she worries too much,” Lexel reminded her self quietly and tried to forget about it. But all night long it remained like a lingering headache that refused to go away. She would have to have another talk with Xeph about bugging her with such silly nonsense, it was starting to rub off it seemed.
Professor Honeywell had been deeply concerned by the sudden spike in activity in Unit Zero’s monitors. She checked the logs and found the pattern was a re-occurring one that she couldn’t account for. The copper haired researcher was puzzled to try to explain what her prototype project was doing inside his secured storage.
“There you are, professor,” the voice behind her echoed after a sharp staccato of booted steps that meant it could only be one man. The impossible and infuriating Mr. Graystone, who for some mysterious reason had been assigned to directly supervise the project and liked nothing more than looking for reasons to shut it down.
Honeywell needed more time to study Unit Zero; her work on the curious creation had been yielding wonderful results that given more time she was sure she could analyze further. There was something there, hard to define but her instincts told her that just maybe it was the start of awareness. If that were true then this was a breakthrough on the level of monumental proportions. It was also one that could be incredibly dangerous; nothing of the sort had been attempted since the Type II and Bioid projects had led to the shattering of the New Republic.
“Your project has yet to produce any results beyond what could at best be labeled as questionable,” Mr. Graystone explained. His bearing was stern, stone like, and even though he didn’t wear any form of uniform Professor Honeywell detected the unmistakable trace of military service in his stance. “This project has been nothing but a waste and a failure from day one. Your only success has been in creating a meager play thing for you to waste countless valuable resources on for your own enjoyment.”
The bold claims carried an insult deep into Honeywell that she longed to confront, but lacked the nerve to do so. Without the project she held no backing, no support to further her research. And if it was classified as a failure she would be ruined, Honeywell desperately needed more time. Time to complete her analysis and study her findings of the data Unit Zero was providing.
“But Mr. Graystone, please, I advise you to consider what you say in the presence of Unit Zero. I would further like to point out that even you yourself have expressed a profound value in how well the prototype has functioned in some of our simulations. Please, all I ask is that you give us a little more time to complete our research before you abruptly end this project.”
A sneer briefly showed upon Graystone’s face as he glanced over at where Unit Zero was kept. “And why on all of Taral VII should I consider what I say in the vicinity of a mere machine? It is a constructed thing, without feelings or thoughts of its own. To presume it has been endowed with such is very unprofessional of you professor; especially considering it to be your own invention. As for it’s merited value, it may have proven itself to be capable of success when presented with simulated scenarios, but those are just that – simulations. There is precious little practical worth in virtual experiences when compared to the real thing.”
While Graystone spoke Professor Honeywell couldn’t help but wonder what he was secretly up to. The man had proven himself to be nothing short of devious the whole time she had known him and considering that along with his ceaseless campaign to find fault with her work it made her wonder. Was it her that he didn’t like? Or, just possibly was it more likely that Graystone had something against artificially created life? It wouldn’t be the first person she had heard of who hated anything created instead of being ‘born.’ She had heard such terrible stories about the acts committed by the self-proclaimed Purgist Party; a sinister political faction bent on eradicating the rights (and existence) of all beings they deemed unnatural.
“Unit Zero is a unique subject Mr. Graystone one that I am confident that if you give us just a little more time to explore the full spectrum of what he is capable of we’ll discover his potential.” Professor Honeywell trembled at having to confront Graystone even in the face of her project being taken away from her. She had to firmly level her gaze down at the floor for fear that meeting his eyes might strip her of what little resolve she could muster. This was easy enough, considering that she barely stood even with Graystone’s shoulders and typ
“Questionable results, my dear professor, by their very nature can only mean one thing; the questionable viability of the project.” Without another word on the matter Graystone turned and marched away, leaving a lingering trail of echoed footsteps to haunt Professor Honeywell.
“Don’t worry Unit Zero,” Honeywell told the door to the prototype’s secure storage facility. “I’ll think of something, Graystone isn’t going to shut this project down, or you.” As she walked her way back to her office she had to fight back tears and hoped that somehow she was right.
If only she could make some sense out of this recurring spike in activity, maybe that would help. It was almost like Unit Zero was engaging in simulated matches, but that couldn’t be – could it?
Zero paced about in his little room blanketed by the bright glow of white light that permeated from every wall and even the floor itself. His various internal sensors had detected and compiled a complex series of data that he was still digesting. Professor Honeywell had been outside only moments ago, and she was not alone – Mr. Graystone was there as well. Zero didn’t like that man, not at all. He made his circuits short and his software glitch whenever he was around. The man was trouble, and Zero didn’t trust him.
The professor had said for him not to worry, he had heard her say those words. But even as he replayed the audio of what she had said he couldn’t ignore other details he had detected. Like how her heartbeat had gone from calm steady beat to an erratic fast paced one of anxiety. His caring creator was scared about something, and judging by the conversation he had overheard he had a very probable idea on what it might be.
Neon Knights by Matthew C. Gill / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 3.1 out of 5 / Based on31 votes