23
Nov
09

The Part-Timer – Part 4

Welcome back!  This week is the penultimate chapter of The Part-Timer.  Next week is the conclusion, and in the following weeks we will be returning to the OneStop Mart for more mayhem with Caleb and Gloria.  For anyone who has missed the previous installments of this one, you can find them here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

And if you want to see more from the Apocalypse Shift universe, you can purchase The Apocalypse Shift novel from Amazon.

I hope you enjoy! 

Derek J. Goodman

The Part-Timer – Part 4

He caught the last bus of the night going back to Gabrielle’s apartment, but all his thinking along the way about what to tell her turned out to be for nothing.  True to the Balance’s word, his severance check had arrived before he did, and Gabrielle had opened it.

Right as Toby walked through the door, an unfinished painting flew at him.  He dodged it in time for it to just miss his head and leave a gouge in the plaster wall next to him.

“Thirty-seven dash six-b!?” Gabrielle screamed.  She had the open envelope with his check in one hand as she grabbed for another of the paintings stacked against the wall with the other.  “You motherfucker!  I can’t believe you violated thirty-seven dash six-b!”

“Hey, Gabrielle, don’t…”  He tried to duck the next painting but it ended up clipping his shoulder.  “Ow!  Cut it out!  How did you even know which rule I broke?”

“It says so in a letter with your severance check!  And don’t you dare try to fucking say that means you did something like blow up a moon of Mars or some shit.  I looked it up in the handbook.  It was that bitch from the Outback, wasn’t it?”

Toby stood still and said nothing for a few moments.  How was he supposed to answer?  He had never seen Gabrielle like this before.  His sweet little spacey girlfriend was looking like a paint-spattered tornado ready to rip through the entire room.  He sighed.  There was no point in lying.  He didn’t want to be the kind of person who lied anymore, anyway.

“Yes.”

That one word seemed to hit her harder than any of her paintings could hit him.  The rage on her face was replaced by a sad, devastated look.  That look was even tougher on Toby than the painting had been.  “Oh.  Oh god.  Did you screw her?”

“No!”  He went towards her.  At first she took a step away from him, but when he reached out to hold her arms she didn’t resist.  “I would never do that!  I love you.  I would never cheat on you.”

“But you did something.”

“I… she kissed me.”

“Wait.  She kissed you or you kissed her?”

“She… I guessed she kissed me, but I didn’t stop her.”

“Ah.  Aha.  I see.”  She looked down at her feet and seemed to think for a second, then broke from his grip and backed away.  “You need to leave right now.  Go to your mother’s for the night or something.”

“What?  Can’t I just sleep on the couch?”

“No, I’m sorry, but I need some space.  I love you very much, but right now I’m not sure if I actually like you.  If you really love me like you say you do then you’ll respect what I need right now.”  As she turned away he thought he could see her trying to hide the tears in her eyes.  “I’ve got to pee.  Please, could you just be gone when I get out?  We can talk more about everything tomorrow but for now I really just need the rest of the night to think.”

She left for the bathroom, leaving Toby alone in the living room.  He wasn’t sure how he would get to his mother’s place with the buses in this area done for the night, but before he even worried about that he had to change clothes.  Not only did he not want anyone else to see him in his spandex, but he wanted to get rid of any last reminder of what he had screwed up tonight.  He wasn’t sure if the Alphomega Corporation would want it and the rest of his supplies back, but he certainly didn’t want to keep it.  Although he might just keep the belt.  That was just a damn cool thing with many possibilities for…

The front door flew open with enough force that the hinges broke as it slammed into the wall.  The cat lady robot stood on the other side, her foot still coming down from kicking the door open, with the fat robot in the Star Wars t-shirt standing right behind her.

“What the fuck?” Toby said.  He started cautiously towards the door as the robots stepped inside.  “I told you, I’m not a defender anymore.  What the hell are you doing here?”

“Toby?” Gabrielle said from behind the bathroom door.  “What was that?  What’s going on?”

He didn’t have a chance to answer before the little old lady picked him up and threw him across the room.  He hit the wall just above the TV and fell on top of it.  He cried out in pain, and his vision started to grow fuzzy around the edges. He could hear Gabrielle screaming as the fat robot busted down the bathroom door, coming out immediately afterwards with her over his shoulder.  Toby tried to stand and run to them, but he couldn’t even get to his knees.  A pain ripped through his back as he tried to move, and his entire world went black.

*          *          *

When he came to the clock on the wall said it was almost two.  The pain in his back was still enormous, but this time he was able to make it to his feet.  The apartment was quiet but the entire place was a mess.  In addition to the front door, the bathroom door was also off its hinges.  All the paintings Gabrielle had kept in the living room were gone, and a quick check of the other rooms showed that every painting in the entire apartment was missing.

Why would they take the paintings? Toby wondered, then realized that wasn’t even the most obvious question.  Why would they take Gabrielle?  They might not have tried to finish him off because they hadn’t thought of him as a threat anymore, but then why bother coming after him at all?  None of this was making any sense.

And why for the love of all that was holy had the neighbors not bothered to call the cops when they’d heard doors banging and people screaming in Gabrielle’s apartment?  Toby thought he could hear sirens from outside, but if the robots had attacked almost an hour ago then why were the police only showing up now?  As he listened, though, the sirens faded away as the cops continued on past the building.  Then there were more sirens, this time from a fire truck and an ambulance and maybe even another cop car, that rose in pitch and then faded. 

The impact of what had happened finally hit him.  Gabrielle was in danger.  He had no idea what or why they wanted her, but he had to get her back before anything happened.  Especially not with the last words they had said to each other.  He didn’t want her to die thinking he didn’t love her enough…

No, he couldn’t let himself think about that.  If he had still been a defender he would have been able to take this in stride as though it were routine.  Hell, for a defender this was routine.  And whether the Balance said he was a Defender of the Human Race or not, he was damned well going to act like one now.

He didn’t have the slightest clue where to start, though, so he had to get the help of someone who would.  He checked the pockets of his belt and found his cell phone, then had it redial the last number.  After several rings it went to voice mail.  He tried again, and this time Mandy picked up after the third ring.

“If this is about what happened,” Mandy said, “then now is really not a good time.”  There was a loud noise from her end of the phone.

“Was that an explosion?” Toby asked.

“Look, I have to call you back later…”

“No, don’t hang up!  They kidnapped Gabrielle!”

“What?  Who did?”

“The robots that were following me around.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.  Why would they do that?  And why now?  And if they were going after her, why not just kill you and her like they did everyone else?”

“What?  What do you mean ‘everyone else?’”

“All the other defenders are dead.  I’m the only one left.”

“Mandy, what the fuck is going on?”

“Turn on your TV.”

Toby looked at the TV he had landed on and the massive crack running across the screen.  “That might result in electrocution right now.”

“Huh?  Look, just go to the door of your apartment building.  I’ll be there in less than a minute, but don’t go outside until I get there, got me?”

She hung up before he could ask anything more.  He ran out the door and down the hall, but he couldn’t resist stepping out the front door to see what was happening.  Another cop car passed in the street on its way to some other emergency, although there seemed to be plenty emergencies right here that the police could contend with.  A small record store just down the street was in the beginning stages of a fire, and several cars that had been parked nearby were flipped over.  Over the tops of the buildings Toby thought he could see the flicker of more fires in the night and smoke rising up in thick columns from multiple distant locations.

“I told you to stay inside,” Mandy said as she dropped down next to him.  “There’s no telling what’s roaming around out here right now.”

“What in God’s name happened?  This wasn’t the way it looked when I came home an hour ago.  Is this going on through the entire city?”

“Yeah.  But all this around here is just from the riots.  This isn’t even the main event.  The CHUDs were nothing.  This…”  She shook her head, and for the first time Toby actually saw her worried.  “This is like Armageddon or something.  Come on.  We’ll find someplace safer to talk.”

*          *          *

They ended up on top of the Qwark Building again.  Mandy said they wouldn’t be safe down at street level, and from what Toby saw as Mandy flew him over the Hill and Downtown and a few other areas of the city, she was definitely right.  There weren’t many of the robot minions roaming the street compared to the CHUD invasion, but the CHUDs had been pretty much brainless.  Even their queen had only had a vague plan of what to do when reaching the surface world.  The robots roaming the streets, each and every one looking completely human except for the glowing eyes, were more tactical in their targets and more destructive in their brutality.  They went after civilian targets only long enough to attract the police or rescue services, then they went to work on beating the crap out of the poor schmucks.  Toby saw a few units from the National Guard in firefights with some of the robots, but despite being able to take some of them down the remaining robots were too fast and were able to break all the Guard’s defensive lines.

“Aren’t you going down there to help?” Toby said as Mandy sat him down on the Qwark Building’s roof.

“What the hell do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour?  For every robot I destroy four more suddenly show up.  I have to find some different strategy, especially since I’m the only defender left.”

“What happened to the others?”

“I got a call from the Balance earlier saying I could stay on for overtime, and I of course asked them if I could bring in anyone else.  But whoops, guess what?  Those bastards just said all polite-like, ‘All the other defenders are deceased, but we’re confident you can play your part in all this.’  So I went to all their homes just to be sure.”

“And they were really all dead?”

“It doesn’t look like you were the only one Dan’s robots visited tonight.  But none of them were on the clock, so they didn’t have their powers and all three of them got torn into little pieces.  I don’t get why they left you, though.”

“I just figured they didn’t think I was a threat anymore.”

“But they took your girlfriend?  That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know.  It’s like they were there for her, didn’t even care about me.  And you know the really weird thing?  They took all her paintings, too.”

Mandy started at that.  “You’re girlfriend’s a painter?”

“Yeah.  Why, does that mean something?”

“Maybe.  It was one of the hunches I had, like there was some painter I was supposed to protect at all costs.  It was one of the last hunches I had, actually…”  Her voice trailed off and her eyes got a distant look.  “Oh.  Oh, I see.”

“What?  You see what?”

“Nothing,” she said, but Toby could see she was lying.  Her breathing became shallow like she was about to panic, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.  “Nothing at all.  Just don’t… holy crap, what’s that?”  She pointed off into the distance, but Toby wasn’t going to be swayed that easily.

“Are you kidding me? That trick doesn’t actually work to distract anybody anymore.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s not a trick.  Look!”

Reluctantly, Toby turned.  At first he thought that she was lying, that she was just trying to avoid whatever revelation had occurred to her, because he didn’t know what he was supposed to be looking for.  With fires burning throughout the city he almost didn’t notice one more cloud of dust rising into the air.  There was a more industrialized area of the city to the northeast full of factories and warehouses.  It was awfully close to where Toby had gone to apply for the DHR job, he realized, but that wasn’t what caught his eye now.  One of the warehouses was collapsing.  Considering some of the destruction elsewhere, that didn’t mean much.  What was significant, however, was the thing rising up from inside where the warehouse had once been.

“Good lord,” Toby said.  “What the hell is that?”

“That,” Mandy said, “is Dan.”

“Um, that is most definitely not what he looked like when I saw him.”  Actually, the resemblance was close.  The thing Toby saw now still had the boxy limbs with a thick chest full of glowing lights.  Toby couldn’t see the head anymore though, probably because the head was still normal size while the rest of the robot body was seven stories tall.

“What you saw was just one of Dan’s many bodies.  He has to use robot bodies because he doesn’t have one of his own.  He’s just a disembodied head.  A diabolical super-genius head that can be reattached to any one of his creations.  I guess this is his latest creation.” 

With a mechanical whir that echoed all the way back to the Qwark Building, the giant robotic monstrosity took a step out of the rubble pile that had been its storage place.  Although he was careful to avoid damaging the warehouse that had been right next to it, Dan didn’t seem to have any qualms about destroying anything else around him and, with deliberate steps that shook the earth, he began plowing right through all the other buildings as he started towards Downtown.

“Stay here,” Mandy said, and she started to lift off the roof before Toby grabbed her arm and stopped her.

“Take me closer,” he said.

“You’re safer here.”

“Are you retarded much?  He’s headed right this way!”

“Fine, but I’m putting you on a rooftop out of his path, and you better stay there.  I won’t be able to fight this thing if I have to keep wondering if you’re safe.”

Mandy grabbed him around the waist and flew him to the top of a three story apartment building close enough for Toby to see everything that happened, but far enough out of Dan’s path.

“Good luck,” Toby said, but she didn’t fly off right away.  She stood there staring at him for several seconds before she spoke.

“I really am sorry for everything that’s happened.”  She kissed him before he could respond and then pulled away just as quickly.  “But maybe not as sorry as I should be.”

Then she flew off, and Toby could do nothing more than watch her battle from afar.

She flew straight for the thing’s chest.  The billboard-sized nametag with the word “Dan” in cursive lettering must have made a tempting target, because that was where she aimed her energy blasts first.  The robot saw her coming and immediately swatted in her direction with its giant vice-like claws.  She dodged the claw easily enough, but several of the glowing places on Dan’s chest suddenly shot energy beams of their own in all directions.  Mandy zipped between them, but one beam clipped her leg and sent her spinning out of control.  Toby worried for a second that she wouldn’t regain herself before she fell, but she pulled out of the spin and fired off a blast at Dan’s head.  Toby cheered from his perch on the edge of the roof.  Mandy seemed to have missed, but the robot jerked to one side to avoid the blast and for a moment looked like it would lose its balance.  That was all the assurance Mandy needed that it was time to go in for the kill, and she flew directly toward the head.

The robot abruptly regained its balance, and Toby felt sick as he understood that it had never lost its balance to begin with.  Mandy appeared to realize this too, but too late.  As she started to veer off she was already too close to the thing’s arm, and the robot smashed her with a backhand.  As she flew end over end backwards, all the energy beams on the robot’s chest trained themselves on her and fired at once.  The flash was bright enough that Toby had to look away, and when he turned back he saw Mandy as she dropped from the sky to land directly in front of Dan.

“No!” Toby screamed.  He was too far away for either Dan or Mandy to hear him.  She wouldn’t be dead, Toby realized.  Her invulnerability, while not perfect, would have been enough to shield her from the worst of the blast.  Then Dan raised a foot the size of pickup truck and slammed it directly down on where Mandy had landed.

Dan lifted the foot, and although Toby couldn’t see Mandy from this vantage point he could still clearly see the energy blast she fired up towards the head again.  The blast was feeble, and it didn’t even come close to hitting its target.

Dan slammed his foot down again.  And again.  And again.  The last time he ground his foot down into the pavement as though crushing out a cigarette butt.  Then, without any more pause, Dan resumed his trudge towards Downtown. 

Even moving at his top speed it took Toby five minutes to get down the stairs of the building he had been on and to the place where Mandy had fallen.  The pavement was cracked in all the places where Dan had taken a step, but one place was worse off than the rest.  It was the center of the street, and the pavement there was nothing more than rubble sunk five feet down into the ground.  Toby had held out some hope that maybe Mandy’s invulnerability had been stronger than he had thought.  He had at least thought he would be able to see her body.  But there was no body.  There was just a bloody splattered mess that had once been a lonely but dedicated young woman.

Toby threw up, followed promptly by falling to his knees and bawling. 

Not only was she dead, Toby realized, but the entire city’s hope was dead along with her.  Dan’s robot minions still roamed the streets, Gabrielle was still missing, a giant killer construct was on the warpath, and there was no longer a Defender of the Human Race to stop any of it.  Toby wanted to crawl into the hole and die alongside Mandy’s mangled remains.  There was nothing anyone could possibly do now.

Toby’s cell phone beeped as it turned on.  His special cell phone.

Toby sniffed and looked down at his belt.  Maybe he hadn’t heard that right.  He couldn’t have heard that right.  But the display glowed.  It was on, all right.  It didn’t ring, but there was phone number that already appeared to be programmed in.

Toby pulled the cell phone off his belt, tentatively raised it to his ear, and hit the dial button.  There wasn’t even a ring on the other end.  A voice spoke into his ear immediately.

“Mr. Sullard,” Middle Gray said.  “The Balance feels that now would be a good time for us to speak with you.  We will be waiting at the same place as last time.  And do please try to be quick.”  The phone shut off.  Toby stared at it for a few seconds, then got to his feet and started running around the street looking for an abandoned car that might still have the keys in it.

To Be Concluded

(c)2009 Derek J. Goodman

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