Droid Hunter

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It was a cold rather bleak winter day on the south side of Old Chicago. The snow on the ground had long turned to slush. Harry Lang, a tall, rather stocky fellow had trouble keeping his footing outside what was supposed to be an abandoned where house. Harry was a private investigator and head of the fast becoming famous New Hope Detective Agency. As Harry got closer to an entrance, the noise inside told him this place was far from abandoned, yet whoever was here didn’t seem to be worried about security. There were no guards out front, and no lock on the door. Harry carefully went in, gun drawn. The inside was a bit dimly-lit but he could see well enough. He crept closer to the source of the noise. What he saw next ran chills through him. “Oh my God”, he exclaimed as quietly as he could manage. “Oh Cri--” Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain from behind, and it was the last thing he would remember for a while.

Meanwhile, across town, a young woman was returning home to an apartment she shared with her husband. Except, this “woman” was a very human-looking android. She appeared to be nineteen or perhaps twenty years of age, rather short, with the body of a gymnast. She was dressed in a rather cute-looking pair of overalls and a frilly white t-shirt. Her long blonde hair was tied up in two tight pigtails, just the way she liked it. Once upon, she was known as Daddy’s Girl Model 2QXR3, and given the name of “Cricket”, so as to blend in better with the society of 2022.

However, it was “Mrs. Lang” that was scrawled on a rather plain looking envelope that she found on top an untouched TV in an otherwise ransacked and vandalized apartment. She ripped it open and found a picture of Harry. He looked badly beaten. Touching the picture had triggered some sort of voice card embedded inside. The voice was male and sinister sounding.

“Save him…..if you can!”

Yes kids, Cricket is back and Harry is too. The fiesty little robot girl is forced to take part in a very deadly reality TV game show. 8 female androids (Cricket included), have been taken from their owners, and pitted together in a game of survival against the seemingly unstoppable Hugo the Driod Hunter. The way the game is played, only one is supposed to survive at the end. But Cricket has other plans to play the game her way. Oh did I mention Harry's life was at stake as well. But if you think you know how this story will end.....think again. It's an exciting adventure that will change Cricket and Harry forever.

Keep it tuned right here for installments of "Droid Hunter"

So this is what true love is all about," Cricket Lang thought as she moved through the crowd at the Old Chicago Marketplace. "Not making up crazy ways to save your husband from certain death by GlobalCon, or vice versa, but simple little things that I can do that can make him smile. Like making dinner for him tonight!" she said to herself with a bright smile on her face.

Others there who paid attention to notice, saw simply a lithe girl, obviously around nineteen-or-twenty-years-old but rather short and with the body of a gymnast, dressed in a rather cute-looking pair of overalls and a frilly white t-shirt, with her blond hair tied up in two tight pigtails, winding through the throng of people that milled about the open farm stand. It was one of the few left on the continent, let alone the world, and Cricket only wanted the best for her husband, Harry, with whom she ran an increasingly more renowned detective agency. Technically, she was superior to Harry in almost every way, but it was doing small things like this, cooking a nice, fresh dinner tonight to surprise him after he came home from doing the boring day-to-day work of the agency, that brought the brightest smile to her youthful face.

Cricket hadn't always been so lucky. She'd been as close to death as a robot can be when Harry had found her, fought off her attackers and brought her back to his home and repaired her. And Harry treated her just like any other human girl, with the added benefits of marriage, of course, and that suited Cricket just fine. She thought back to that first meeting with Harry, her barely hanging on to life. Her head drooped for a moment before she rose again with a resilient smile. "No need to dwell on that painful memory; just look at all the good it’s brought you," Cricket said out loud to no one in particular.

Soon enough, her thoughts changed to happier things; the look on Harry's face when she presented him with the meal she'd be cooking; the enjoyment they'd have eating it together; and, maybe, some enjoyment they'd have together afterwards, too!

She rode the elevator up to the top floor to their apartment, a bag of groceries under each arm, large grin firmly planted on her face. And that grin didn't even falter when she noticed that the door to the apartment was ajar. It didn't even falter when she entered and realized the apartment had been broken into; it wasn't uncommon to have an occasional robbery outside the domes. Her grin quickly faded, though, when she realized that the apartment was completely ransacked. Furniture was thrown everywhere, pictures knocked down from the walls and broken glass underfoot, both from the pictures and the busted computer screen. It looked like the kitchen cabinets had been emptied of all their contents and they'd been used to implement even more damage. And yet, nothing had been stolen. She called out Harry’s name more than once, hoping he might be able to explain this. It was then she saw the envelope.

It was large, rather plain looking, with the name “Mrs. Lang” scrawled across, in large, rather sloppy handwritten letters. It was taped to the video flat screen, strangely enough, one of the few things not damaged in the apartment. Cricket opened it rather carefully, not knowing what to expect. Cricket gasped her hand to her mouth in shock when she saw what was inside. It was a picture of Harry, and he looked very badly beaten. Touching the back of the picture had triggered some sort of voice card, embedded within. The voice was male and very sinister in nature. “Save him……if you can!” the voice said. Also in the envelope was a DVD simply labeled, “PLAY ME”

Acting more on instinct than anything else, she popped it into the player underneath the set. It was now clear to Cricket why the TV screen hadn’t been damaged, but what was this all about. She would soon have her answer on that screen. It came in the form of a slick looking, rather handsome man with jet black hair. He was dressed in a blue powdered tux, holding a lit cigar. His voice matched the one heard on the picture of Harry.

"Well, hello there, Mrs. Harry Lang! Now maybe you recognize me, and maybe you don’t. Either way it doesn’t matter, so let me introduce myself. My name is “Sparkling” Stan Sterling, and I host a little TV show you may have heard of, called "Droid Hunter". And, you know what? It's sweeps week! We need a draw to get viewers, so I want *you* to appear on my show! I've heard quite a bit about you, and would love to see how you'd fare against Hugo, our Droid Hunter!"

"I'll never appear on your show, you half-wit! What have you done with..." Cricket stopped herself when Sterling’s voice interrupted, and she realized she was shouting at a pre-recorded message. What the robot girl saw next caused her to slowly back away from the TV numbly, falling into what seemed the only unbroken chair in the apartment, placed squarely in front of the TV.

"Now, just in case you answer is no," came Sterling's voice off-screen, “I’ve taken out some, well, insurance on my investment of you appearing. As you can see, here is your precious husband. He put up quite a fight, and I’m afraid my boys were more than a little rough bringing him here. Nothing life-threatening, you realize, but I'm betting he's in quite a bit of pain..." The image on-screen was like a larger-than-life version of the picture Cricket had in her hands, only worse. This Harry was moving around, occasionally calling out her name with intermittent moans of pain mixed in.

The camera panned back to Sterling. "If you want to see your beloved Harry alive again, you'll come to our studios here in Omega City, tomorrow at nine am sharp, after a full night's charge, prepared to play our game. If you win, both Harry and you go free. If you lose...well, it's your loss! But I give you my word of honor as a television host I'll still set Harry free. Is that a deal? It better be, or you'll see Harry in much worse condition, up close and personal." His voice took on a more sinister tone at the ending, “And don’t even think about trying to sneak in making some sort of rescue attempt, because the micro-second you’re detected…..detective, you can kiss Harry bye-bye.” Sterling took a big puff on his cigar. “You have a nice night now. Sweet dreams sweetheart.” The image blinked off, replaced with text directions to the GTV Studios where she was to report. As soon as she instinctively memorized the directions, it seemed the DVD player had a small malfunction; it exploded in a small puff of smoke as the disc self-destructed. Cricket didn't even notice.

She stared straight ahead at the screen, her eyes boring a hole through it. Feelings and emotions she'd never really felt suddenly came surging through her, but her body showed no outward signs of this. Her head jerked a few times to the right as she mumbled over and over to herself, "This can't be happening...this can't be happening..." As she repeated her mantra, her hands gripped the chair tighter and tighter, and her legs wrapped around the chair tighter and tighter, and soon the chair started to splinter and fall apart. She got up with a start and flung what was left of the chair at the TV and it shattered in a sea of sparks. "No one messes with me *or* my husband. Let's see how sparkling this Stan Sterling is when *I'm* done with him" she said, with an ominous tone in her voice.

She quickly composed herself, and found her personal headset, and dialed for Dr. Betty Stevens, her close friend.

“Betty, it’s Cricket. Can you get over here right away? I’m…..I’m going to need some things.”

Next: Off To Beat The Wizard

Cricket knew a few things about this place she was speeding to by hovercar, Omega City. She knew it was a domed city, just like New Chicago, and that it was located on land that used to be called….Detroit? She also knew it was the home of the GTV Television Network, the only source of entertainment allowed to be seen by the citizens of the domed cities. While she had never watched, Cricket had come to understand this “entertainment” didn’t treat androids like her very well. Shows like this “Droid Hunter” for instance. Cricket also knew that like Old Chicago, Omega City was run by a single individual; a so-called “genius” television producer named Stan Sterling. The girl robot detective didn’t know much about him, other than everyone who lived in Omega City worked for Sterling and GTV. At the moment however, Cricket had a single thought on her mind….save Harry. And if she had to bring this GTV and the entire dome crashing down to accomplish her mission, so be it. In less than two hours, Cricket arrived at GTV Studios, naturally the brightest lit building in Omega City. She sped as fast as the vehicle could go all the way there, right into the security entrance, and up to the landing pad. She left the car with someone who looked like a valet and walked right into the building, paying no attention to the secretary who was yammering on about how only authorized people are allowed past the front desk, and quickly located the offices of this “Sparkling” Stan Sterling. She grasped the handle and the door flew open. Another secretary, this one too surprised to do anything, and another door. Cricket was tired of obstacles. She walked right to the door and tried to open it. This one was locked. “Ummm…can I help you?” a demure blonde girl asked rather meekly behind her desk. Cricket shot her head to the right in the girl’s direction. It was a rather icy stare the robot girl gave, and yet, she did give a small smile and her voice was almost pleasant. “Yes. I’m Mrs. Lang here to see Mr. Sterling.” Cricket then stared at the locked door again, and her voice went from pleasant to angry. “I believe I have an appointment!” One swift kick of her foot later, and the door disintegrated into the room. Inside was Stan Sterling, sitting at his desk in the same powered blue tux Cricket had seen the day before. Sterling smiled at the angry fembot and quipped, “It’s open, come right in.” There was also someone who appeared to be another secretary, kneeling on the floor. Cricket was thankful a full view was blocked by Sterling's massive desk. Sterling never took his eyes off Cricket, whose expression by this time was one of almost pure rage; her face was nearly red. His expression was still one of confidence. “My attorney will be in touch with you about the door”, he smirked. Cricket just stared him down, and came toward him, which made him lose the smirk. "Where...is...HARRY?" she seethed. Sterling quickly composed himself. He pressed a button on his intercom system. "Alexis?" he spoke into it, "we're going to need another door here, ASAP." He released the button, and then, to the woman on the floor, "Give us a minute, Sandy." "Yes, sir," Sandy said in a very robotic voice and stiffly got to her feet and walked out of the room. "Your Harry is safe; in pain, but safe. And he'll remain safe as long as you agree to take part in my game," Sterling said in even, measured, sonorous television-host tones. "I'll never appear on your worthless show," Cricket shouted. "Now give me back Harry before I do something I may or may not regret later!" "Oh, but, you don't have a choice in the matter," said a female voice behind Cricket, and then all of a sudden, she was overcome by a rushing sensation that the room was spinning rapidly around. The floor dropped out from underneath her, and suddenly, there was nothing. When Cricket was able to focus clearly again, everything around her seemed to be very green, and very beautiful. There were large trees and bushes everywhere. This was perhaps a Forrest or jungle of some sort. She got to her feet, and examined her surroundings. She could her birds and other animals in the distance. Perhaps what had just happened with Harry was a very bad glitch in her memory, Cricket thought at first. What humans would call a “bad dream” But a quick look around soon told her different; the trees and greenery were all clever fakes and the “birds” were singing the same song….over and over and over. Almost as if they were taunting the android girl.

Next: Here come the girls.

To be continued...

After a few more minutes of looking around this “Forrest” Cricket found herself in, and detecting well-hidden lights and cameras all around her, the robotic girl finally concluded where she was.

“So this is Droid Hunter”, she said half-out loud.

Her concentration was broken by a rustling sound behind her. Cricket whirled about to see a very tall, trim, and very athletic looking young woman walking backward, looking all around her. The tall woman made a defensive karate stance when she saw Cricket. The little blonde robot was able to get a good look at her. She was a dark-haired woman standing a little over six feet, with a rather busty figure, all bundled up in a one-piece jumpsuit that matched her black hair.

“You, android!” the tall woman barked, “Identify! What is your designation?!”

Well this is a fine how-do-you-do, Cricket thought. She decided to play things a little cocky.

“I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours…android!” Cricket smirked.

The taller fembot was taken aback by the littler android’s request but decided to reply.

“I am Gia 3, personal bodyguard to Marcus Kershank.”

“Kershank? From Old Chicago?” Cricket asked.

“Yes” Gia replied. “Which is where I was until a few minutes ago. Now, identify yourself android!” She began to come at her when Cricket held her hands up in defense.

“Ok ok. Take it easy. My name is Cricket Lang, I’m a private detective in Old Chicago, and wife to Harry Lang, also a private detective.” Cricket said.

“You are a robot.” Gia retorted. “You cannot be his wife. That is legally impossible.”

Cricket wanted to leap up, smack her right there and then, and make her take it back. But she couldn’t. That was the frustrating part. Even in a place so forward-thinking as Old Chicago was, and even though Harry and all of her friends treated her as though she were a real person, Cricket was simply still Harry’s property in the eyes of the law. Cricket wasn’t about to show any disappointment she felt about this rather cold fact to Gia. She just continued to look confident.

“Fine, miss smarty-bot, if you want to get super-technical about it”, Cricket began, placing her fingers on her upper chest, “I am Mr. Harry Lang’s android, and….personal assistant. He is my owner and employer.”

“Do you know what this place is?” Gia asked sharply, still inching toward Cricket. “What are you doing here?!” she barked. But instead of backing off this time, Cricket just leaned in, put her hands on her hips, and looked right up at the taller android.

“Well I don’t know about you, but I was made to come here against my will, to play this stupid “Droid Hunter” game!”

“And I am…” Gia began, her expression still one of anger toward Cricket. That expression quickly changed to one of confusion. “I am…….I was…..It….” The tall fembot quickly composed her self. “It does not matter. I must find Mr. Kershank, and return to my duties. Excuse me.”

“Oh please be my guest.” Cricket said with a confidant smile. Gia simply did an about face, beginning to walk back the way she came. She was stopped cold by something that gave off a blue field of light. Gia looked about, saw nothing, and started to walk forward again. She was stopped again by the same blue field of light. She turned back to look at Cricket who was still smiling. The smaller android knew from her scan of the area before that Gia was walking smack into a force field, keeping them in this one area of the larger TV show set. Something miss “bodyguard” hadn’t bothered to look for it seemed.

“Is there a problem?” Cricket asked Gia, grinning. That’s when a very pleasant female voice came from one of the trees.

“Containment field will remain in place until all contestants have reached the game start area. Thank you and have a nice day” it said. Two more female voices came from behind Cricket.

“We already tried that”, one said. Cricket turned to see two more young looking women, who she detected as fellow androids. One was a medium sized brunette, and the other was a shorter, Asian-looking girl.

“I’m Jenny”, the brunette said. “And this is Lilly.” The shorter of the two meekly smiled and waved hello. The much taller Gia stared them both down.

“How did you both get here? What are your designations and purposes?” she asked, nearly shouting. Cricket turned her head to her, cocking an eyebrow.

“Look, you wanna ease up a little there Amazon?” Gia glared at Cricket, but then backed off. Cricket turned back to the other girls.

“Do either of you remember how you got here?” Cricket asked them rather softly. Lilly was the first to answer.

“Well, I was just leaving the pre-school I work at for the day” she began, looking rather nervous. “All of a sudden, everything just went….dark. I guess someone deactivated me. The next thing I remember, I was on the ground back there, and I was looking up at her” Lilly said, pointing to Jenny.

“I received a message from my owner, Mr. Weston, telling me to take a shuttle and meet him in Omega City, which I thought very strange, because Mr. Weston never goes to the dome cities, in fact he detests them, or so he’s told me several times” Jenny said. Cricket just smiled.

“Sounds like my Harry.”

“I came to the building where Mr. Weston said to meet him, and then……it was very strange. I felt sort of a rushing sensation in my head, and then…..I’m here, and I find her, lying on the grass, shut off, so I just reactivated her.” she said, pointing back to Lilly. Gia shook her head in disbelief.

“You mean you just activated a strange android you don’t even know?” she asked Jenny.

“Well it’s not like she seemed a threat or anything” Jenny said in her defense. “She looked like a good sort.” Lilly smiled back at her. Gia didn’t seem convinced.

“I am a top of the line bodyguard” she said very firmly. “Everyone is a threat until I say they’re not. All of you had better remember that!” At this comment, Cricket turned to face Gia once more, folding her arms, looking right up at her. She had a smile of her face, but her voice detected more than a note of ‘Bring it on sister’.

“You’d better keep those words in mind yourself” Cricket said. Gia leaned into her.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I may be small, but I can still leap right up and scratch your eyes out.”

Next: The rest of the party arrives.

Just as Cricket and Gia were getting ready to rumble, as it were, two more voices came from out of the tall trees that surrounded them.

“Oooo, is there gonna be a fight?” one asked. “It looks like the tall dark-haired one is getting ready to knock little blondie on her butt”, the other observed. The two voices belonged to a pair of rather flashy looking girls. One had shocking pink hair, and the other had a rather interesting sea green tint to her. Both were wearing studded leather jackets, bikini tops, daisy duke shorts, and heels, all in matching red. Except for the difference in hair color, the two looked to be very much identical twins. And like the other ‘girls’ in this Forrest, Cricket recognized both of them as androids. “Party Girl” models to be exact. The pink-haired one walked up to Cricket and Gia, as both were still staring each other down.

“So, are you two gonna like catfight, or is this just a boring staring contest?” she asked. On hearing this, both of them backed down.

“No, no fight here” Cricket said. “We were just having a difference of opinion, that’s all.” Gia looked at Cricket but said nothing. Cricket turned her full attention to the pink-haired fembot. “And who might the two of you be?” she asked. The two leather-clad girls smiled brightly now, happy to be the center of attention.

“My name is Melanie” said the pink-haired girl.

“And my name is Kelsey” said the green-haired girl.

“But everyone just calls us Mel and Kel” both said in unison, giggling.

Cricket smiled politely. “Well, that’s cute” she said, adding, “in a sickly sweet sort of way, but still……do you both remember how you got here?” she asked. The twin girlbots replied in tag team fashion.

“Ok, like check it out” Mel began, “We were hired for this totally wicked party…”

“…at only the hottest party mansion in New Chicago.” Kel said.

“Todd Gamble’s” they said together, wooing.

“We were just getting out of the limo…” Kel said.

“…and she says, ‘Gee, my head feels funny’” Mel said, pointing to Kel.

“And then she says, ‘Gee, my head feels funny too’” Kel said, pointing to Mel.

“And then the next thing we know…” Mel started to say, but then she looked at her twin, and then they both looked at Cricket with an unsure expression.

“We have nooo idea how we got here.” they both said in unison.

Cricket just smiled mutely back. She found it hard to believe she was once like these two, once upon a time. She was about to quiz them further about this party they were hired for, hoping it would give some clue about why all these different types of fembots had been gathered here. Just then, Cricket heard what she thought was a young girl, singing. Gia noticed it too.

“Now what’s going on?” she asked in a rather annoyed tone.

“Well, whatever it is sounds like it’s coming from this direction” Cricket replied, pointing north. She took more than a few steps to following the sound of the music. There seemed to be no force field to stop her this time. She motioned for the others, now a group of six altogether to follow.

They all walked carefully through the brush to a small clearing a few hundred feet ahead. Sitting there in Indian-style fashion, picking a flower, and singing to herself, was a young, freckled-face girl, with round-rimmed glasses. She appeared to be about fifteen or so in human terms. Her auburn-brown hair was braided into two pigtails, just like Cricket wore her hair. Gia was about to step forward and go into interrogation mode once more, but Cricket raised her hand up on the taller droid’s chest, stopping her cold, and giving her a “don’t even think about it” look.

The freckled-face girl just kept singing and humming to herself, slowing picking the pedals off the flower in her hand. She seemed to be either unaware of the group of fembots standing before or, or she was simply ignoring them. Cricket walked up to and greeted her with a nice “Hello”. The girl looked up right at Cricket, and gave a friendly, yet simple “Hello” back, and then returned her attention to the flower. A nice enough start, the robot girl detective thought to herself.

“My name is Cricket, what’s yours?” The girl holding the flower looked up, smiled wide, and replied in a very pleasant tone. Her pattern of speech however was very much clipped.

“I am Samantha Version Fourteen Point Four. However, the teachers and other children refer to me as…” She stopped, blinked, and then said, “Sammie”. Cricket noticed the navy blue headband and skirt Sammie was wearing. That and the plain white blouse told her it was the standard uniform the most of the children wore at school.

“You’re a student?” Cricket asked.

“No” Sammie replied. “I am an android tutor belonging to Frank Sinatra High School.” Cricket seemed rather surprised about how calm Sammie was. Must be how’s she’s programmed, Cricket thought.

“So…..what are you doing here?” asked Mrs. Lang.

Sammie looked around very methodically, her head moving like a security camera, going from left to right and back again.

“I am…..lost. I will now continue to wait for the properly authorized person, or persons to come and claim me.” And with that, Sammie went back to her singing, and her flower. Gia was about to burst forward now with questions of her own, when yet another female voice came, this time from off the the right of where Cricket was standing.

“No…..nobody is going to claim any of us now. We’ve all been thrown away.” The voice said in sadness. Cricket looked over, and saw a girl with dirty blonde hair, and a long, plain gray one-piece skirt , just sitting there with her knees up. Now where did she come from, Cricket pondered. Before she could find out, however, a round silver sphere floated in the air above the group of androids, now eight in number. A panel slid open on the sphere to reveal a screen bearing the image of “Sparkling” Stan Sterling.

“She’s right you know” Sterling said with a smirk. “You’re all here because you’ve been thrown away by your owners. Or, in someone’s case….” Sterling then stared right at Cricket with a rather evil grin. “You’re here because you’re a criminal!”

Next: Rules of the Game

Six robotic girls were suddenly looking at Cricket, and each other, with mummers of, “Criminal? …What’s he talking about? …I wonder what she’s done.” On the floating screen above them, Stan Sterling just smiled.

“That’s right…..girls” he said with a smirk. “And I use that term loosely, by the way. Say hello to the star attraction of the day, and the reason all of you are here. Daddy’s Girl model 2QXR3, alias Mrs. Cricket Lang.” Sterling pressed a button on his desk, and the screen switched to an image of Harry. He seemed a bit more composed then when Cricket had seen him last, and some of his wounds had begun to heal. It was still a very angry looking Harry, however.

“And this is her partner in crime, Mr. Harry Lang of Old Chicago. Together, these two wanted felons run a rogue operation known as the “New Hope Detective Agency”. They’re wanted for various crimes against the corporation, including grand theft, espionage, and most of all, trying to prevent a benevolent company, GlobalCon from doing business and making a fair profit.” Cricket couldn’t help but laugh out loud at that last, absurd statement. The image of Harry went away, and was replaced by Sterling who just stared coldly back, as if he failed to share the joke.

You can’t be serious” Cricket said, still chuckling. “Well, girls, I’m afraid what he says is true. Harry and I are desperate criminals. We’ve done the most horrible things. We stopped GlobalCon from taking control of Old Chicago, and practically throwing everybody out of their homes. We showed pop star Electra Storm that she could make it on her own, without having to slave under GolbalCon’s thumb. And we prevented the assassination of the Governor of the Illinois/Indiana/Ohio territory, which by the way, was ordered by The Chairman himself.”

“Hey, hey, now you can’t make that charge stick there missy” Sterling said rather defensively. The other robot girls were ignoring him, however, and once more chattering among themselves. “That doesn’t sound like a criminal to me…..yeah, seems more like a real hero……she sure doesn’t act like any Daddy’s Girl I’ve known.”

“It doesn’t matter what you mindless bimbots think!” Sterling cried, shouting them all down and pointing right at Cricket. “She’s a wanted criminal, and you’re all obsolete models ready to be melted down, and THAT’S what our audience is going to see tonight!” While Sterling was throwing his tantrum, Cricket thought she saw something a bit out of place. It looked like a glitch, not from the screen, but from Sterling himself. Could there be something wrong with her optics, Cricket thought to herself. Before she could dwell on it however, the game show host quickly composed himself, looked at his watch, and addressed the fembots once more.

“It is now precisely two minutes before ten a.m. In exactly two minutes, the game of Droid Hunter will begin. The eight of you have exactly a ten hour head start, not a minute more or less. Ten hours to find the way off this little island we’ve set you on. There is one and only one true exit, lots of fake ones, ones that will even lead to certain doom, but only one true exit. That exit will open the door to the walkway which leads to where out studio audience sits. There in the center of the room, is a button. Make it here, hit that button, the game is over, and you’ve won freedom for yourself, but only for yourself. After ten hours have passed, Hugo, our Droid Hunter, will be unleashed, tracking you down one by one, live for everyone in every dome city to see. If by some miracle, any of you survive the entire twelve hours, you will be brought here before our studio audience, and be declared a winner. It’s only fair to warn you, however, that to date, Hugo has never lost. Well girls, the game is now about to begin. Good luck, and have a happy meltdown.” And with that, the screen went blank, and floated off. The same pleasant sounding disembodied female voice the girls heard earlier, spoke once more.

“The game begins now. Ten hours is on the clock for heard start time” the voice said.

This entire time, the eighth member of the group, the one with the plain grey dress, had been quietly sobbing to herself. Cricket gently made her way over to the girl. “I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to introduce myself before, my name is Cricket” she said with a genuine smile. The other girls all smiled, waved, and introduced themselves.

“I’m Jenny”

“I’m Lilly”

“I’m Melanie”

“I’m Kelsey”

“I’m Sammie”

The tall bodyguard droid didn’t smile but introduced herself rather coldly anyway.

“I’m Gia”

The girl in grey weakly smiled back, tears still in her eyes, “My…my name is Wendy. It’s…it’s nice to meet you all I suppose.” Cricket looked rather surprised with she identified what type of android Wendy was.

“Why, you’re a Daddy’s Girl too” she exclaimed. Wendy just looked down, kicking her feet a little at nothing in particular, and not really making eye contact with Cricket or the others.

“Yes, I’m a Daddy’s Girl model. I’m…I was mostly a babysitter for a nice family, and then one day, they simply told me they didn’t need me anymore, and I ended up in some auction, and someone from GCTV bought me and here I am.” Cricket put her hand on the sister droid’s shoulder to let her things were going to be ok

“Fascinating story, well, see you later losers” Gia said as she waved and turned.

“Gia, wait a minute” Cricket said, looking up at her. Gia turned but kept walking slowly backwards as she spoke.

“Wait for what? Watch you play nursemaid to miss Raggedy Ann reject sitting there?’ Gia said, pointing down at Wendy. The bodyguard droid then did an about face, striding off down a path. Cricket, however, wasn’t about to let her get away, especially after that last insult. The robot girl detective marched right after her, finding herself using a word she had only heard Harry utter more than a few times.

“I said wait, goddamnit!” On hearing this, Gia stopped cold in her tracks, and looked over her shoulder at Cricket with a look of mild shock. This one certainly wasn’t like any “Daddy’s Girl” she had ever heard of, Gia thought. For her part, Cricket was very glad to have the taller android’s attention. Her mood quickly softened as she spoke.

“Look, right now, I’m guessing that from all the hidden cameras around us recording everything, that each one of us is supposed to scatter and scamper about for the next ten hours, trying to find this one true exit. And then, once the Droid Hunter is released, he’ll shoot us, or melt us or both, one by one, for all to see and maybe, just maybe one will survive and win the game, have I got that right?”

“Yeah” Gia answered. “Exactly, what is your point?”

“My point, exactly, is this” began Cricket’s answer. “What if we didn’t play the game like Stan Sterling wants us to? What if the eight of us, stuck together? Worked together as a team to find the exit? What if we kept things so damn boring, they’d have to put a re-run on? And you’ll be the one to lead this team. Come on Gia, what do you say?”

The others looked expectantly at the cybernetic bodyguard. And she looked back at all of them. “All right, I’ll lead” Gia said simply. The others all gave a collective “Yes”. “But” Gia added, looking right at Cricket, “anyone who falls behind is your problem to deal with, not mine. Now let’s go!” Cricket seemed con tent with her role.

“All right, girls, you heard our leader, let’s move out.”

The eight android girls all followed Gia and Cricket down a pretty clearly marked path. As they walked, Jenny and Lilly began chatting with each other, as did the twins, Mel and Kel. Sammie kept close to the others, but walked by herself, taking note of the various plants and trees, all of which seemed to contain very small cameras. Wendy walked alongside Cricket, silently at first, but as time passed, she seemed to work up the courage to speak to her newfound friend.

“Do you really think we’ll all get out of here……together, I mean?” she asked rather nervously. Cricket gently put her arm around her ‘sister’ and smiled.

“You bet we will” she said with much confidence in her voice. “This is going to be the most boring game ever.” Wendy smiled back on hearing that. The happy was quickly broken when Cricket felt something smack her bottom hard

“YOWTCH” she yelped. Cricket spun around to see just who or what did the smacking. At first she saw Mel and Kel standing there with the palm of their hands out, but the twins quickly pointed to a tree next to them. That tree had a swinging branch which seemed to have a mind of its own. Stuck to the end of the branch was a rolled up paper bearing Cricket’s name across it. The little robot, who was still rubbing her bottom form the swat she had taken, took the note off the branch and read it out loud for the others.

“Congratulations on getting your little group this far Mrs. Lang. But this is a game show, not a Girl Scout hike. So let’s make things more interesting shall we? Tell me Mrs. Lang, what is it that’s black and yellow and metal, and just mad all over? And mind you, they sting far worse than the one you just got.”

Just as Cricket and the others were beginning to guess the answer to the riddle written on the note, a buzzing could be heard above them. As the buzzing got louder, the girls looked up to see holes appearing in the sky. Out of the holes came what appeared to be few several hundred back and yellow metal hornets, all with flashing red eyes. As if on some unheard cue, those hornets retracted their stingers outward, aiming them right at the eight androids below. And each stinger had an electrical charge!

Next: But Which Path?

The metallic hornets continued to hover above, their buzzing becoming louder and louder each second. A few of the eight robot girls below began to show true fear and panic in their faces.

“Like, why do they just hang there buzzing?” asked Mel.

“Yeah, it’s like they’re like…waiting for us to run or something” added the blonde’s twin, Kel.

Cricket stared up at the faux insects. “Like the man said, it’s a TV show” she stated. “We run. That’s their cue to move and attack.”

Just then, the hornets began to move fast down toward the girls. Now, Cricket began to feel what could be described as fear, running through her circuits.

“Or I could be wrong.”

“Run!” Wendy cried. They all began to scatter in different directions, and the hornets in turn divided themselves up in smaller groups going after them. Cricket was still determined to keep them together in some form. She called after two of the android girls.

“Wendy, Jenny……try and keep all six of you together as best you can. Keep running in that direction.” Cricket pointed her right arm west as she spoke. “Gia and I will try and draw them away.”

“We will?” the tall bodyguard droid asked as she and Cricket ran in the opposite direction of the others.

“Yes” Cricket answered. “Look 50 meters straight ahead of us. See those bushes?”

“Yes but…” Gia then narrowed her vision to spot what Cricket had. They was some green colored, heavy-duty netting draped across those bushes ahead of them. Without saying a word, Cricket and Gia grabbed the netting as they ran by. They then ducked down out of sight of the hornets. The group of metal monsters on Cricket and Gia’s trail used their infra red sensors to find them. But just as they were about to sting the girls, they both sprang up, netting firmly in hand. They trapped the hornets as they flew right into the net. With the little beasts now so close together, they had no choice but to sting each other.

As the robot hornets were shorting themselves out, a massive electrical charge was building inside the net. Thinking quickly, Cricket grabbed the net, and using all her strength swung it round and round three times over her head, giving her enough momentum to fling the net full of hornets high into the air, where they exploded out of harm’s way. All of this had taken place within the span of less than a minute. For the first time, Gia was genuinely impressed with Cricket.

“Nice work there short stuff” Gia said, nodding with approval. Normally, the little robot detective would have been ecstatic with that kind of praise. But now, she had no time for it.

“Thanks, but we still have to save the others. I detected three other nets on the bushes around us. Find them, grab them, and please follow me.”

This take charge, no-nonsense attitude of Cricket’s in this situation had Gia stunned for a moment.

“This is a Daddy’s Girl?” she said to herself.

“Hurry!” Cricket cried back as she ran at near lighting speed to where the other hornets were attacking the six remaining fembots of the party. Gia herself wasted no time in locating the three other nets and using her own super speed to catch up with Cricket. The first ones both of them spotted were the twins.

They were both huddled together on the ground, shooing away hornets. Every now and then, a hornet would sting one of them one the backside, but the charge was mild. Clearly, Sterling had programmed these things to wear an android down, before they would move in for the kill. Gia wasn’t about to give them that chance. She whistled after them, getting their attention.

“Hey boys, come and get some real juice” the bodyguard android said, rather seductively. The hornets could clearly see what Gia meant. She was much stronger than both the twins combined, and had much more energy to feed off on. They quickly took the bait, buzzing after her.

The group of hornets after Gia sent a signal to the others, and very soon, all the metal yellow and black insects were after her. They seemed to take no notice of little Cricket, who netted the back end of the swarm. She trapped several of them in close quarters, forcing them to sting each other. As the charge was building, the little blonde robot once more tossed a hornet filled net high into the air, making for a nice fireworks show.

When the collective hive mind realized they had less of their brothers, and why, they quickly turned and went after Cricket! This suited Gia just fine. Now it was her turn to net the tail end of the swarm. Once they were disposed of, both girls used the last net to bag the remaining hornets, and send them off to their fiery end.

Cricket then scanned the area, and much to her delight, found all six girls grouped together in a clearing, just past the trees in front of her and Gia. It was Wendy who greeted them both, giving Cricket a mock salute.

“Daddy’s Girl model Wendy reporting for duty, ma’am. All girlbots present and accounted for, ma’am” she said with a grin. Cricket couldn’t be happier.

“Wendy, that’s great. You and Jenny had no problems then?”

“Nope” Jenny said. “It was really amazing. After you and Gia drew the hornets away, Wendy…..just seemed to know where to find the twins, and Lilly, and Sammie.”

“Is everyone ok?” Cricket asked. They all nodded in the affirmative.

“I’m not surprised. That was way too easy” Gia noted. Cricket agreed.

“Yes, you’re right. Sterling wanted to test us, see how good were really are.”

“And he got us to waste 30 minutes of our head start” Gia said. To that, Cricket didn’t agree.

“Not exactly. You see, when the hornets attacked, those nets were behind us, back the way we came. I directed Wendy and Jenny to keep running this way….toward to where we’ve calculated the exit off this crazy set is. So if anything, we’re ahead of the game, not running behind it.”

Gia smiled at this. She was beginning to like and respect this little android more and more. As they gathered together and resumed their hike, Cricket looked up to where she knew a camera had been placed and looked right into it. She knew Stan Sterling was watching. She smirked, and tapped an index finger on her left temple. The game show host, who was watching on a monitor, just smirked back.

“I’m just getting warmed up sweetheart.”

Next: One Shall Fall

It was now 11:30 in the morning. Ninety minutes had passed since this ‘game’ of Droid Hunter had begun for Cricket and her companions. They were moving along the trail once more, making conversation with each other. Cricket wondered how long it would be before the next challenge by “Sparkling” Stan Sterling was thrown their way. She didn’t have to wonder long.

An incredibly fake looking parrot had dropped from a tree above hanging by a wire, which was attached to the bird in a very obvious manor. The parrot seemed to be made of Paper Mache, and was flapping back and forth, with a note in its claws. The faux bird also had a small speaker in its beak. Out of that speaker came a rather taunting speech.

“Squawk! Turn back losers! Turn back! Never make it! Hugo’s gonna get ya! Hugo’s gonna get ya! Turn back dumb-bots! Turn back! Squa----“

Gia yanked the parrot off it’s wire, crushing and silencing it both at once. She pulled the paper it had in its claws, and then tossed the bird aside.

“Thank you” Cricket said with a sigh of relief.

“Don’t mention it” Gia said. She then unrolled the paper the bird was carrying, and read it out loud for the others.

“I see now my hornets were much too simple a challenge, even for useless throwaways such as you.”

Cricket just shook her head. “He never lets up, does he? What else does he have to say?” she asked. Gia continued reading the note.

“So let’s see if any of you are smart enough to choose the correct path out of the three directly in front of you. One path may take you in circles, another may lead to certain doom, and only one may lead you closer to the exit. And consider this; if your so called ‘leader’ picks the wrong one, you will all suffer. If you break up now, one of you may win the game and freedom before Hugo even shows up for work today. Signed, Stan Sterling.”

The girls started to mummer to themselves, and pointed to the three distinctly marked paths each going down a different direction. Cricket stepped in front of the other robotic girls to address them.

“Look everyone. Sterling is determined to have us all separated by the time this Hugo enters the picture. Now I truly believe that each one of you is strong enough, and smart enough to win the game on your own.” At that point, Gia cleared her throat to get Cricket’s attention, and tilted her head toward the twins, who were less then quietly giggling at each other for no apparent reason.

“Yes Gia, even the twins” Cricket said. The identical looking girls beamed hearing this.

“We’re always good at games” said Mel.

“And we’re programmed to win perfectly” said Kel, giving her sister a high-five.

“Then help us win this one. I say we’re stronger together, and we can win together. Who’s with me?” Cricket asked.

When the day started, Gia would have dismissed the robot girl detective’s words as just mindless chatter. Now she was the first to defend her.

“I’m with Cricket. It was her quick thinking that got us past those hornets, and she’s the one who’s gotten us this far together. I see that now. On our own, running who knows where. That makes it easy for this Droid Hunter to track us and take us out one by one; but the eight of us? Sticking together? I think that scares the hell out of Mr. Stan Sterling. What do you all say? Together?”

“Yes, together!” the six of them answered in cheerful unison.

“Ok, Gia, which path do we take?” Cricket asked.

“That’s easy. I’ll just scan each path to see which one goes in a circle, and which one is most dangerous, and the one left is the one we take.”

The tall android woman began her scanning, a confidant smile on her face. As she looked each path over, however, that confidence began to fade quickly. Cricket noticed Gia’s head and face began to twitch in a rather un-natural way, and she kept looking at each path, over and over and over.

“Gia, what’s wrong?”

As she pointed to each path, the taller fembot struggled to answer Cricket.

“This…..this path…..bends in a circle…….and sensors…….cannot indicate what is beyond that bend. The path in the middle……..bends in a circle……sensors unable to penetrate beyond…..that…..bend. The path on the far….far right…..bends….sensors…unable to…….first path….”

Gia was beginning to move more stiffly, she raised and lowered her right arm in a jerking motion. Cricket could hear buzzing come from within her abdomen. She noticed Sammie had also been scanning the paths, using her logical mind to find the best one. The tutor droid’s head was moving in a very stiff motion. It snapped to the left, then to the right, and back to the center again. Cricket could hear Sammie buzz as she endeavored to speak.

“Danger…..danger…..each path…….identical……unable….unable….”

Cricket knew what was happening. This was a trap devised to at the very least severely damage the smarter ones in the group, if not eliminate them outright. She knew if she didn’t do something fast, both of them would overheat beyond any hope of repair.

“Gia! Sammie! Stop your scans! Stop them right now and look at me!” Cricket cried in the most commanding voice she could muster. Fortunately for both of them, the force of her voice was strong enough to stop what they were doing and look at Cricket. The little robotic girl’s voice was still in a command mode, but it softened somewhat when she spoke next.

“Both of you clear your thoughts. Relax and let your cooling fans do their work.”

The buzzing had stopped, and both Gia and Sammie seemed to be returning to normal. Gia still looked very confused, however.

“I…….I don’t understand. We’re supposed to take a path but….” Before she could get worked up again, Cricket reached up right hand up and placed it gently on Gia’s shoulder, and gave a comforting answer to her confused state.

“It’s right in the clue he left us. One path may go in a circle, one path may lead to doom and destruction, and one path may be the right one. All three of them may lead to one big hole in the ground. That bastard had no intention of giving us any kind of advantage.”

“What can we do Cricket?” Sammie asked. “We certainly cannot go back to where we came from, and wait for the Droid Hunter, can we?”

“No Sammie. We’re just going to have to pick one path, and…….see where we end up.”

“Yes, but which path Cricket?” Gia asked. “How to we pick it?”

“We’ll use the random factor.” Cricket answered. Gia just raised an eyebrow.

“The random factor?”

“Yes. The random factor.” Cricket spun around to face the paths, and used her “random factor”.

“Ennie, Meenie, Mineie, Moe, catch a villian by the toe, if he hollers every day, hit him low, Ennie, Meenie, Minie, Moe. My Harry told me to pick the very best way and this is it!” As she spoke each word, her finger pointed to each path next to the other, moving her finger left to right and back again. When she got to the word “it”, her finger pointed to the path on their far left.

“The winner is path number one. Everyone follow me.”

The girls smiled as they went down the path Cricket had chosen. Cricket had the biggest smile of all as she spotted another hidden camera. She held up two fingers, and mouthed the words, “That’s two.”

Watching the monitors from his office, Stan Sterling sat there rather dumbstruck.

“Ennie…..Meenie…..Mineie……Moe” he said, repeating the words Cricket chanted in choosing a path. From another monitor in Sterling’s office came the sound of laughter. That source of that sound was Harry Lang, who’d been able to watch how his robotic wife had been fairing this entire time. Sterling looked up at his captive.

“Well, what’s on your small mind chuckles?” Sterling quizzed, puffing on his cigar. Harry walked right up to the camera in his isolation cell. He was healing, but still looking very much roughed up.

“Face it pal” Harry said, “She’s ten times smarter than you could ever hope to be. And just as clever” On hearing this, the rather calm and cool Stan Sterling suddenly got very angry.

“That’s impossible!” he shouted. “I have you two quite separated. You’re nowhere near her. You can’t pull your little doll’s strings now!”

“You don’t get it do you? She’s my partner, not my toy. She thinks for herself. Yes, I’ve taught her things; how to be a really good detective, how to look for details in every clue she finds. But she chooses her own path; she solves problems in her own way. She never stops impressing or amazing me. And that’s why she’s going to win your stupid game; why they’re ALL going to win.”

That little speech of Harry’s only seemed to fuel the game show emcee’s rage.

“No machine, now matter how advanced can ever outsmart me, a living, breathing human being!”

“Cricket outsmarts guys like you every day of the week” Harry retorted. “As for you being human? Well, that’s certainly debatable.”

“Enough!” Sterling quickly composed himself and even smiled again, sting as his desk once more.

“We’ll just see how good your….partner does from this point on. Oh and one more thing; once Hugo has permanently short-circuited your dear Cricket….you’re a dead man.”

Next: The rest of Chapter 7

The most unusual party of eight robotic girls of different shapes and sizes continued to make their way down the path Cricket had chosen, using her ‘random factor’. Or at least seven of them were walking together. Cricket now noticed the missing person in their little group.

“Hey, where did Wendy get to?” Cricket asked the much taller bodyguard droid, Gia.

“You mean miss little eager beaver?” Gia answered with a bit of a chuckle. “She insisted on scouting ahead, and just zipped right off before I could stop her.” Cricket began to ponder how different her sister ‘Daddy’s Girl’ seemed now than when this adventure began.

“Gee, first helping rescue the others from those hornets, and now this. It looks like shy little Wendy’s gone from wallflower to cruise director in one easy lesson” Cricket quipped.

“It does seem most unusual for a robot of her type to display such of difference of personality in so short a time, but then as I understand it, the ‘Daddy’s Girl’ type android can be very versatile when need be” observed Sammie in a rather flat matter-of fact tone.

“That’s very true Sammie’ Cricket said with more than a bit of a smile. Just then, a cry came from up ahead. The missing Wendy had re-appeared far ahead of them, waving her arms to get the attention of the others.

“Hey!!! Everybody!!! Up here!!! This way!!! I’ve found clues!!! Lots of them!!!” she shouted, jumping up and down as if she discovered the world’s richest treasure. Cricket and the others quickly ran up to join the much excited Wendy. Just as they did, the girls suddenly froze right in their tracks, each of them staring straight out into space, and then blinking several times. Then, only a moment later, they all resumed their natural movements as if nothing had happened at all.

“What have you found Wendy?” Cricket asked. “It’s just like I said Cricket. See? There are all these little cards sticking up from the ground. And they all have the word, ‘CLUE’ written on them in big letters. Look Cricket, they’re everywhere.” Wendy was pointing to the ground what she saw; or at least to Cricket, what Wendy thought she saw? The robot girl detective herself couldn’t see any cards marked ‘CLUE’ or otherwise. She was about to point this fact out when Gia suddenly and very franticly grabbed the pig-tailed blonde.

“Cricket, don’t move!” Gia cried. “Can’t you see? There are land mines everywhere! Step on one, and we’ll all be blown to bits!” Gia’s grip on Cricket was getting tighter as she struggled to break free of it.

“Gia!! Have you gone crazy?? Let me go!”

“I’m trying to save you Cricket! Can’t you see those things? They’re everywhere!” Cricket looked right up at the taller android.

“That’s just it, Gia. I don’t see any….” Cricket was interrupted by Lilly.

“Goodness” gasped Lilly. “Look at all these toys scattered all over this field. It looks like some naughty children left them behind.” Just as Lilly was making her way to clean up the mees of toys she saw, Jenny spoke up.

“Those aren’t toys Lilly” she said. “Anyone can see those are cans and boxes of food scattered everywhere. They need to be re-stacked neatly.”

“Clearly, you are all suffering some sort of visual malfunction” said Sammie. “Those things out there are not notes, nor land mines, nor toys, nor are they canned or boxed food items.”

“So, what do you say is out there Sammie?” Cricket asked.

“Clearly, those are books; books that are in desperate need of being re-shelved as neatly as possible” Sammie said, very sure of herself. By now both Cricket and Gia were giving each other very confused looks. There were only two left Cricket hadn’t heard from, and as she looks to ask them, the ‘Party Girl’ twins it seemed hadn’t been paying much attention to what had been happening the last several minutes. They were just both giggling and pointing out the fake scenery to each other.

“Uhhhhh…Mel and Kel?”

The twins were still giggling away when they realized Cricket was addressing them.

“Oh gee Cricket, were you talking to us?” asked Mel. Cricket just smiled and nodded.

“Sorry. We get distracted way too..” Kel suddenly gasped and clutched her sister droid in pure excitement.

“Party Favors!!!!!” they both squealed. And before anyone could stop them, the twins raced past the others onto what Gia was still seeing as a field full of land mines; to Lilly’s eyes the two were stepping all over some left-behind children’s toys. Wendy saw them kicking them clues everywhere, Sammie saw books, and Jenny saw cans and boxes of food either being stepped on or stepped over. All of them cried out to the twins in either horror or disgust. All except Cricket who for some reason could only see an empty field, with a single black circular object in the middle.

But there was something about that near empty field that didn’t sit right with the robotic girl. Then she saw it, beneath the layer of fake grass. It was some sort of electromagnetic field. Harmless to walk on, but if touched….and Kelsey was about to do just that, reaching down to pick up what she though was a party hat to put on.

“Kel, no! Don’t touch it!” cried Cricket. ZAP!!! It was too late. The-green haired droid stood very erect, her eyes wide open at first, then fluttering and blinking very rapidly. Her hair was sticking out in several places as well. The pink-haired Mel giggled at first.

“Gee Kel, you sure look silly. You ok sis?” Kel looked at her twin, or actually, she looked right through her.

“I’m perfect! Let’s party……party……party…..party…party.” Her head twitched to the left then right every time she repeated the word ‘party’. Mel stopped giggling, and began to genuinely worry for her twin.

“C’mon Kels, quit fooling around. You’re starting freak me out, k?” Kel gave her sister an eerie smile, and then started to dance, singing “Superfreak, I’m a superfreak”. She danced, she bent down to pick up what she though was different party favors, and everytime she did…..ZAP…..ZAP….ZAP ZAP. With every “ZAP” Kel’s circuits would overload more and more. She began to overheat as well. She went from dancing to just waking stiffly back and forth, her arms stiff and bent.

“Super……duper……party….party…..I’m sexy…..let’s party….I’m perfect…..perfect parrrrrrty…….I’m Kel….Kel……Kel….Kelllllll….Kel….party….love to….party….party……party” Her tone was still very upbeat and she even giggled in between words, but her movements were stiff and very jerky. Smoke was beginning to stream from her ears and nose. Mel was in a total panic by now.

“Kel…..KELSEY!!!” She tried touching her sister, but got a shock herself.

“Cricket! Gia! Somebody help her please!!” Mel cried in tears now.

“Mel, walk slowly back toward us” Cricket said as calmly as possible. “I’ll try and help Kel, but have to get out of that field right now.” Mel nodded and did as Cricket told her.

“Oh please Cricket, you have to help her!” Mel cried. Cricket though quickly.

“Gia, you’re trained to handle explosive devices?”

Gia nodded in the affirmative.

“I know you see what you think are a whole bunch of land mines. But if I’m right, they’re all illusions. All except one. It’s the one right in the center, and it’s not a mine, it’s a small field generator. That’s what’s causing those shocks she’s getting. Destroy that, and you kill the field, got it?” Gid nodded.

“Good. Take care of that and I’ll try and rescue Kel.”

Cricket took one of the nets she saved from the hornet encounter, hoping it was insulated enough to keep her from getting shocked. She quickly ran up and wrapped it around the malfunctioning Party Girl droid and yanked her to safety. Meanwhile Gia found the troublesome device right where Cricket guessed it had been. She carefully picked it up and crushed it in her hands. The field wasn’t shocking to the touch anymore, and everything the girls had seen a moment ago; the mines, the toys, the food, and the books; all of them vanished as if they had never been there in the first place. And Kel wasn’t faring so well.

Her body twitched, her eyes crossed and uncrossed, the words were coming out of her mouth at hyper speed. And then with a very loud bang, she fell to the ground, motors and servos giving out and shutting down. She managed to open her eyes to look at her sister and give a faint smile.

“Melanie….sis…..thanks Mel….it….was……fuuunn.”

“Kelsey….Kel” Mel said, kneeling at her sister’s side, shaking her, but she would no longer move. She reached behind her left ear and clicked her reset button…..and clicked it……and clicked it. Kelsey just lay there, eyes closed, getting colder by the moment.

“No……no…..Oh no!!!!” And for the first time since they all met each other, the ever tough Gia showed a softer side to her programming, holding and comforting the devastated Mel.

And Cricket got angry. Angrier then she even thought was possible. And all that anger was aimed at one individual. And that individual was watching it all on the different cameras.

“One for my side”

Next: A mole in the midst.

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