Short Story Spotlight: The Forgotten Drone

It's a new month and that means a new science fiction short story: The Forgotten Drone. This story is a prequel to my upcoming science fiction series and it introduces the main character of those books. It's an action adventure romp with humor peppered throughout so I think sci-fi fans will enjoy it!

Unlike my past two sci-fi short stories, Beholder and Intruder, this story is much longer at just over 8,000 words! At some point, I plan to compile the story into an ebook for my newsletter subscribers. So if you'd like to get a copy, click on the "Want a Free Book?" button on the right sidebar of this page.

Finally, for those of you enjoy short stories like this and want to support future writing projects, please consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee over on my Ko-fi page. You can contribute however much you want and help me continue offering free stories on the site. Or if you prefer, you can buy my books which also helps!

Without further ado, here is the story:


The Forgotten Drone

Sigma Prime was a wind-swept, dusty crater of a moon orbiting the massive planet Domini. It was the first time I’d traveled here and it’ll likely be the last. My ship’s sensors detected a large facility just ten miles north of the cave I landed in. If all the stories are true, that facility is a Dominus Corporation warehouse teeming with expensive tech. But not just any tech—military-grade combat mechanoids.

Every bounty hunter in the Neutral Zone who’s worth their salt uses a mechanoid as a bodyguard during a job. But the good models are ridiculously expensive. I’m not high enough on the food chain to earn enough cred for one, so borrowing one will have to do. Father Barrett from my old orphanage would call it stealing, but once I’ve made enough money in the bounty hunter ranks, I’ll wire money to Dominus for the robot. That should hold my conscience in check for now.

Inside my ship, Osito, I reclined in the pilot’s seat and sipped a can of Voga juice while peering outside. The gale sweeping outside the cave was strong enough to tear this old ship apart and blow me to the other side of the planet. Placing my fingers on the haptic console in front me, the ship’s AI revealed that the storm would blow over in six minutes. I smacked my lips impatiently then put on my customized Titon spectacles to watch the latest streams from the Tube. Most people watch the spaceship races on Nico or the hologram reality streams, but that trash bores me to tears. I’m old school. So I tune in to the classic cinema channel and watch vids from back when streams were known as television. The late twentieth century had some great programming—streams of shows like La Femme Nikita, The Powerpuff Girls, and Everybody Loves Raymond are some of my favorites. And don’t even get me started on the movies and music. Pure genius. For a girl with an eclectic taste like me, it’s a smorgasbord of offerings on the Tube.

I’m five minutes into an episode where Raymond gets in trouble for not helping Debra clean the house when the console beeps. The wind storm was over. Outside the cave, a vast rocky plain came into view as the dust settled. I switched on the macro setting of my glasses to zoom in on my destination. A flat metal building with no distinctive markings came into view. Small nondescript figures paced awkwardly around the structure.

“Sentries. It had to be sentries,” I said with a frown.

Thankfully, I had a contingency plan for the robotic guards. Before I reached Domini’s orbit, I looked up as much info on the Tube about Dominus’ secret facility as possible. It wasn’t easy. The Tube restricts any streams or user forums that promote or condone illicit activity. Sensitive security information regarding the universe’s largest mega corporation would fall under such restrictions. But a bounty hunter from the Neutral Zone doesn’t let such legal hurdles stop her. So I logged on to the Tube’s digital underbelly, a covert network known as the Cove. Like the Tube, the Cove offers users streams, holo communities, and commercial outlets with the notable exception that the content is far less scrupulous. It’s also the best place to find outstanding bounties and leaked information on Dominus’ warehouses—invaluable to someone in my line of work.

Through the Cove, I acquired temporary override codes for Dominus’ security system. Every so often some discontent employee of the company leaks codes on the forums for the right price. Low on creds, I somehow convinced one such Dominus peon to sell me codes on the cheap. The catch? The codes would only work once. When the system reboots, the mechanoids outside the facility will require new codes for an override. Most people who broke into heavily guarded complexes would have refused right there and then, but when you’ve barely got enough cred to eat, you make compromises.

“This better be worth it,” I said, standing from my seat. After putting on a compact breathing mask, I grabbed my pistol and rifle hanging from a nearby bulkhead. I'm too poor to afford laser blasters so I've settled with old school ballistics. Bullets should be sufficient against the sentries.

Outside the ship, the air is cold but tolerable. The long walk to the facility is slow and boring. Perhaps I should’ve parked the ship closer to the warehouse. But that might have alerted the mechanoids and the last thing I wanted was a firefight. Osito’s weapons are custom fitted onto the light freighter and not effective in a ground assault. Otherwise I would have blasted the bucket heads on my way in to make this go quicker.

A mile from the facility, I crouched low to the ground on the crest of a hill and surveyed the place. Five mechanoids patrolled the front entrance of the large building—their rectangular heads oscillated from side to side as they scanned the immediate area. Every two minutes, the robots paced in a predetermined pattern and switched their positions. As I watched them, I realized there’s a gap in their perimeter. When sentry four and five switched positions at opposite ends of their line, they left their posts undefended for nearly a minute. Not a lot of time for me to pass through, but then an idea popped into my mind.

I tapped a key sequence on my wristcomm that patched me into Osito’s AI program. The holographic HUD materialized in front of me through the aid of my spectacles. A small window in the corner of my vision displayed a live cam from  Osito, allowing me to see directly outside the cave. 

Osito, activate remote pilot mode,” I said. A soft chime from my wristcomm acknowledged the command and the ship’s engines came to life.

Piloting a spaceship remotely is always a challenge, especially if the navigation AI is several years old. It's also disorienting to use the spectacles to fly a thousand ton freighter while minding your surroundings. As I navigated Osito out of the cave, my eyes darted back to the mechanoids still guarding the warehouse. I watched sentry four and five specifically—who I’ve affectionately named Ray and Robert. They’re switching positions again so my timing needs to be perfect.

Osito, maximum thrust over my location,” I commanded.

I heard the ship’s engines roar in the distance as it neared the perimeter of the warehouse. The sentries’ scanners picked up the incoming ship, and they stopped their route, searching the sky for the trespasser. Ray and Robert were no longer guarding their positions which left me the perfect opening to run past them. I guided my ship close to the ground and zipped it past the mechanoids, who now shot at its reinforced hull. The freighter pulled back wildly under my command and the lasers hit nothing but air. I was running from my position on the hill toward the building which made it hard to use the spectacles. In two minutes, the Dominus security system would escalate into full-threat mode. That meant laser-guided SAMs would soon deploy from the facility. Osito is a strong ship, but not strong enough to withstand multiple missile hits and I need my ride intact if I’m going to pull this off.

I closed the distance to the sentries while their attention remained on the hovering ship. As I drew closer to the gap in the perimeter, I tapped my wristcomm and initiated Osito’s evasive protocol. The freighter pitched to the left then peppered the ground with smoke bombs before hauling away at max speed. With the Titon specs' infrared engaged, I forged ahead through the dense smoke. The mechanoids—disoriented by the ship’s defensive measures and sudden retreat—didn’t notice me skulking past them.

Reaching the thick metal door of the warehouse, I found the nearest keypad console and entered the code I'd purchased on the Cove. I didn't have time to worry about whether or not the code was a fake. Either I was getting inside or I'd be hailing Osito for a grand escape.

The console beeped several times, and the metal slid upward with a hiss. I ran inside the facility and snuck along the nearest wall as the door shut behind me. A well-lit corridor led me into a spacious room lined with rows of shelves stocked with boxes and massive crates. Worker mechs zipped along the polished concrete floors on their treads, grabbing boxes from shelves and placing them on conveyor belts for sorting by other machines and bots. I’d heard stories of Dominus’ expansive warehouses where everything inside was fully automated by mechanoids and AI with no human overlord in sight. This place confirmed all the rumors. 

Unlike the sentries up front, worker mechanoids were quite dumb in comparison. They existed only to do menial labor and didn’t care less about why I was in their workspace. Unless I got in their way, of course. Then the stupid things would blare their irritating horns at me. I did my best to avoid them as I strode through the storage area. My eyes and spectacles were scanning the floor for any sentries or security cameras. Once I realized this section of the facility was clear, I pulled up a layout of the warehouse on my wristcomm. I found the warehouse plans easily on the Cove—posted by another disgruntled Dominus employee. Note to self: no matter how bad life gets, avoid working for Dominus at all costs. As I quickly searched the plans, I found the main security console. It was off to the right in a separate corridor. Once I reached the flat panel fixed to a wall, I tapped the screen to activate the holo display.

A login appeared in midair, requesting the security key. I entered the thirty character alphanumeric code and crossed my fingers. There was a long pause while the AI authenticated the code. When the security menu appeared, I released the intake of breath I’d been holding. The menu was simple and straightforward. It gave options for reassigning the patrolling route of mechanoids, shutting down the SAM batteries, and turning off select camera feeds. I turned off the SAMs and every camera onsite. Then rerouted all the sentries to the front of the warehouse where they’d be out of my way. Glancing at my wristcomm, I remembered that the combat mechanoid crates were in a stockroom adjacent to my position.

“Soon I’ll have that Dominus X-9000 combat mech,” I said to myself with a smile. The X-9000 was the newest model of mechanoid that Dominus was shamelessly advertising on the Tube and every newsfeed imaginable. Touted as the “only mechanoid you’ll ever need”, the X-9000 could punch holes through steel walls and withstand plasma turret rounds. It also cooked meals on a Dominus hyper stove and played trending music. I haven’t eaten an old-school cooked meal in a long time. Maybe Dominus had hyper stoves stocked in this warehouse too.

The security panel beeped twice causing me to look up. My heart sank at the message displayed on the holoscreen. Two minutes until the security system reboot. The override code I bought must have come from some low-level peon without clearance for a longer override! Cursing under my breath, I gripped the rifle slung over my shoulder and ran down another corridor leading to the nearby stockroom. I entered the room and found more rows of overstocked shelves and crabby worker mechs zipping around. Small signs at the end of each row categorized the contents in that aisle alphabetically. Apparel, cybernetics, gravity suits, and others flashed passed me as I ran to the mechanoid row. Once there, I scanned the massive shelves for the X-9000 models.

My wristcomm gave a warning sound. I had forty-five seconds before the security system reboot. Gritting my teeth, I ran down the ridiculous length of the aisle like a mad woman searching for her precious robot. Every box and crate lacked any kind of coherent labeling. The M-class and D-Class mechs were clearly labeled, but I wasn’t looking for mechs who provided IT services or clerical support. Those bucketheads couldn’t hold a gun to save their mechanical lives. That’s when I remembered the spectacles on my head—they had search capabilities!

“Titon specs, search for the following text declaration: X-9000,” I commanded.
The spectacles flickered and blurred my vision for a split second. Then the text on the labels popped out from each crate. The sight was disorienting at first, but the mass of hovering text cleared as the specs filtered out the words outside my search parameters. In a few seconds, one of the labels stood out among the rest. On the topmost shelf, the label “X-9000 Military Grade Mechanoid” glowed red.

“Of course they put you all the way up there.” I grumbled as I slung my rifle and climbed the shelves to reach the crate. The steel shelving unit had to be at least twelve feet tall; every nook and cranny tightly packed with boxes and crates which made it difficult to find good footing. I made the stupid mistake of looking down halfway up and felt my stomach wrench. After a few deep breaths, I clambered on.

The X-9000 was within reach. I stretched out my right hand and hoisted myself onto the top of the large wooden crate. Maybe it was my imagination, but the massive shelving unit seemed to sway from side to side as I perched on it. I pulled out a laser cutter from my belt and sliced through the lid of the crate. A loud beep from my wristcomm startled me. The security system had reset.

I worked quickly to cut through the rest of the thick lid then tore it off with reckless resolve. A wide smile formed on my face as I peered inside. The X-9000 lay tucked in a fetal position in its protective foam cocoon, waiting for activation. My imagination ran wild as I thought about how this killer machine would help me round up bounties throughout the Neutral Zone. The creds would soon pile up and I’d no longer have to sleep hungry every night. All I had to do was tap the activation button on the mech’s neck and the fun would begin.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

It was sheer luck I noticed the camera drone from my peripheral vision. The small orb-like drone had a large optical sensor and a small laser turret capable of stunning any intruder. I ducked just in time to miss the laser bolt that whizzed past my head. The quick motion caused me to lose my balance on top of the crate. The large box teetered off the edge and I felt the frightening sensation of falling. I swiftly caught hold of the shelf beneath me. Below, the X-9000’s crate clattered to the ground.

A claxon resounded inside the warehouse. “Time to go,” I said.

I climbed down the shelves as fast as possible—making sure not to lose my footing and accidentally kill myself. The camera drone hovered above me for a second before firing more shots. I felt a laser burn through the protective fabric of my jacket. Thinking fast, I drew my pistol and fired three successive shots at the drone. The bullets hit the little robot dead on causing it to sputter in midair then fall like a rock to the ground where it disintegrated.

Jumping down from the shelving unit, I sifted through the mess of the X-9000’s crate until I found the mechanoid. The machine wasn’t damaged thanks to its titanium body. Placing my finger on the activation button, I heard the servomotors click and whir to life as the X-9000 stood upright. The bucket-shaped head rotated and considered me for a moment. Its large optical eye zoomed in and out before the mech spoke.

“Activation protocol, please,” the X-9000 said. Its voice was metallic and slightly British-sounding.

“Oh right. Give me a sec.” I frantically searched for the instruction manual among the litter of the crate. These newer mechs required a specific code to be recited before they would swear loyalty to a master. Dominus decided it was a safety feature to avoid theft of their product. Those corporate suits were smart.

“Activation protocol, please,” the mechanoid repeated.

“Ah, here it is!” I said, picking up the thick manual. But before I flipped through the pages of the book, a laser bolt tore through the air and struck the floor beside me.

A trio of sentries at the end of the aisle marched toward me.

“Surrender now, intruder. Or we will terminate your life with expediency,” the lead sentry said in that same monotone faux-British voice the X-9000 possessed.

Ignoring the sentries, I flipped to the activation protocol page and recited the ten-digit code to the X-9000.

“Stop,” the X-9000 interrupted.

I stared incredulously at the mechanoid.

“I have determined that you are a criminal and ineligible to activate my service. Therefore, I will enact termination immediately.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, glaring at the X-9000. “Terminate this—”

I fired several shots at the buckethead, aiming for its large eye. The bullets ricocheted off the mech’s titanium head, disorienting it for a moment. It was enough of a distraction for me to run past it and away from the sentries. Lasers bolts flew all around me as I zigzagged down the row to avoid being hit. It’s just my stupid luck that an X-9000 would turn on me inside a heavily guarded Dominus warehouse. Thankfully, the mechanoid wasn’t armed like his sentry buddies. Though it was only a matter of time before it armed itself in this fully stocked warehouse. And if all those ads on the Tube about the X-9000’s long range marksmanship were true, I'd be a dead woman. I had to get out of here.

“Titon specs, give me the nearest exit,” I said breathlessly. The specs shifted the color spectrum before me to a dark blue and highlighted a glowing yellow path out of the row of shelves toward another corridor. I looked behind me and saw the X-9000 running at me with the sentries following closely. They had an awkward gait on their motorized legs and cylindrical feet. Exiting the row, I quickly let off a dozen shots in their general direction. My aim was abysmal—I struck everything except the intended targets.

Down the corridor, the path twisted into a wall. At first, I thought the Titon specs were glitching out on me. The high-tech sunglasses were a parting gift from a friend at the orphanage I grew up in. Occasionally they stuttered when I’d watch streams. But then I realized the path was pointing to a steel grate at the base of the wall.

“Um. Is that an air duct?” I asked, stopping in front of the wall.

The Titon specs couldn’t answer back since they had no audible AI, but they didn’t recalibrate the path. Before I could think through my options, a laser bolt hissed past my right ear and slammed against the wall. The scorch mark sizzled, reminding me how that might've been my head. I gripped my rifle—an old ZR200 used in the last galactic war—and unloaded half a magazine at the incoming robots. The mechanoid sentries took cover outside the corridor opening, but not before two of them were hit. Armor-piercing rounds from the ZR200 tore holes into their steel alloy bodies and obliterated their circuitry. Now only a single sentry remained and the X-9000. The latter peeked around the corridor wall. I squeezed off a dozen rounds to let it know I was still here. Then I turned my attention to the grate. I used my laser cutter to slice through the metal frame and quickly crawled inside the duct.

The sentry fired several times into the duct. Searing heat from the laser fire emanated around me inside the metal walls of the cramped space. I fought back the temptation to shoot at the sentry, rushing down the ductwork—trusting my Titon specs were leading me somewhere safe. Crawling through the dusty tunnel, I made progress on the yellow path created by the specs. I wasn’t sure how long before the mechanoids either climbed inside to follow me or found the exit point of this particular duct. My hope remained on the Titon specs getting me out of this mess. And once I escaped the warehouse, I’d hail Osito and jet out of here.

Pressing ahead, I reached a fork in the ductwork and headed right where the specs led me. The duct seemed to shrink all around me at this venture, forcing me to crawl on my belly to continue on. It’s a good thing I’m a petite, undernourished girl. I couldn't imagine how I’d manage such a tight fit with wider hips or broader shoulders. Countless times in my life I’d pined for a curvier, more attractive body. It would be an asset for a female bounty hunter. Most hunters were unshaven, disgusting dudes who most people sought to avoid. But a foxy lady with long eyelashes and pouty lips? There was only one bounty hunter like that and she earned plenty of creds thanks to her charming appearance. Although I suppose being a rather plain Hispanic woman had its advantages too. Nobody ever suspected me of being a bounty hunter, so I hid in plain sight. People ignored the girl who looked like she lived on the street and they didn't guard their precious intel around her either. It’s how I learned about this warehouse after all. Now if I could just get out of here without being blasted, I might consider this whole affair a valuable learning experience. Maybe.

The duct descended into a lower level of the warehouse where grates spaced every few feet gave me a view of the area. I saw more shelving and boxes below me. Perhaps there was another row of mechanoid crates down there? Although the prospect of owning an X-9000 excited me earlier, the idea lost its appeal now that one was trying to kill me. A ping on my wristcomm suddenly alerted me to more sentries mobilizing toward my location.

“The bucketheads must’ve detected me somehow,” I said to myself.

I moved quicker through the ductwork. Ahead, I saw the ductwork split into three separate shafts. The Titon specs directed me to the rightmost shaft, but then the yellow path flickered out from my view. Before I had a chance to query the specs, the path reappeared. But it didn’t lead in the same direction. The yellow path turned into a grate located just before the shafts and led outside to the room below.

“Titon specs, recalibrate my exit route,” I said.

A loading icon appeared in my HUD momentarily, but the path didn’t change.

“If you lead me to a dead end, I’m chucking you into the nearest star,” I said.
The Titon specs offered no reply. I hesitated for a moment then pulled out my laser cutter.

Dropping to the top of the nearest shelving unit, I surveyed the area and noticed that this stockroom had no workers zooming around the concrete floors. I climbed down quietly from my position, keeping my movements slow to prevent myself from falling again. Once on the floor, I followed the path to an open area in the stockroom. Four large metal containers sat side by side on the floor. They were rectangular and reminded me of coffins people used long ago to bury the dead. As I stepped closer to the containers, I realized the path ended at one of them.

“Is this a joke?” I said. “Titon specs, recalibrate and lead me out of this warehouse—now!”

The familiar loading icon reappeared, but nothing happened. I gave more commands, but the specs ignored them.

Perfect, I thought. These idiotic specs were glitching out on me at the worst possible moment!

As I reached up to perform a hard reset on the specs, a sequence of numbers appeared on my HUD.

777819 

As I tried to decipher their meaning, I noticed something on the metal crate in front of me. A square keypad with numbers on it. This was a military-grade storage box. The most valuable items in the galaxy were transported in these kinds of containers and they required retinal scans or codes to open. Could the code on my HUD open this thing?

Every rational thought told me to ignore this mystery and run out of this place before the X-9000 and his friends found me. But there was a nagging thought tugging at me: what’s inside the box? A new Dominus mechanoid that outperformed the X-9000? Weapons of mass destruction? Piles of money for an early retirement?

My curiosity got the better of me at that last question, so I punched the numbers on the keypad with ferocious speed. The keypad beeped three times then a seal along the top of box hissed and popped open a fraction of an inch. I lifted the lid slowly and let a flood of blue LED light leak out of the box. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I frowned deeply at the contents inside.

A small drone sat in a recess inside the container. No larger than a Dominus toaster, the drone beeped and whirred to life then floated out of the box on its pulse jets. I aimed my rifle at the machine, ready to blast it to smithereens. Its round optic visor glowed bright then dimmed as if it were…squinting at me. Then the drone spoke. I couldn’t decipher the language, but it sounded like old French or maybe Dutch. I gently squeezed the trigger of my rifle, but the drone spoke again. The language changed again, but it sounded familiar. Old Spanish.

“Como se llama?” The drone said.

I understood a few Spanish phrases—it’d be pathetic if I didn’t since I was Hispanic. The drone was asking for my name. An odd question coming from a machine, especially a drone. Drones were the red-headed stepchildren of the technological world. Once ubiquitous in their usage throughout the old solar system, they quickly became obsolete when mankind created mechanoids for just about every task under the sun. The hovering machines were only useful now for low level surveillance and greeting customers at Dominus satellite stores throughout space.

The drone repeated the question, but I chose not to answer. Instead I tested his knowledge of language with a question of my own.

“Do you speak English?” I said, keeping my rifle aimed on the drone.

“Oh, yes!” The drone replied eagerly. “I’m fluent in hundreds of languages, but I must admit that English is my favorite.”

I raised an eyebrow. This drone spoke like a human—its voice didn’t bear the genderless monotone quality of most intelligent machines. The voice was masculine and filled with life. I’d never heard a drone sound so…normal. Come to think of it, most drones didn’t speak. They just beeped and booped like mechanical birds.

“What are you?” I asked.

“Umm…I’m a drone. My name is CHAD.”

“Chad?” I repeated incredulously. Drones didn’t have names. And this one resembled nothing I’ve ever seen in Dominus’ product line.

“Not Chad like the name of a person. CHAD like an acronym. It stands for Covert Hazard Assistance Drone,” CHAD said.

“Covert hazard assistance? So you extinguish fires secretly?” I said, scoffing.

CHAD’s pulse jets flared and hissed in what I perceived as an annoyed gesture. “I don’t extinguish fires! My programming enables me to lend tactical support in combat situations, hack enemy security systems, and provide reconnaissance and intel in various military operations,” the drone said curtly.

“Wait. You can hack security systems?”

“Of course! Given enough time, I can hack any intelligent computer database or encrypted devices like wristcomms or Titon specs. It’s how I got you down here,” CHAD said.

I scowled at the drone. “That was you? I thought my specs were glitching on me!”

CHAD’s pulse jets flared again, but this time they were accompanied with a rocking motion the drone performed in midair. Was that a celebratory dance?

“I apologize for my misdirection. But you’re the first intelligent lifeform to appear on my sensors in many years. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet you…and persuade you to take me away from here.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere, CHAD. Perhaps your sensors missed that I’m on the run from your friends upstairs?” I said, checking my wristcomm. A silent alarm was alerting all the sentries on the premises. They'd find me soon enough. I can’t afford to stand here and chat with a quirky drone.

“Oh I’m quite aware that you’ve disturbed the hornet’s nest,” CHAD replied.

“The what nest?”

“Hornets. It’s a flying insect. Oh wait, you’re probably unfamiliar with such a species. Actually, that idiom might be completely misunderstood—”

“Will you stop blathering?” I said.

“Sorry I haven’t spoken to anyone in a very long time—listen, I can help you escape this warehouse,” CHAD said abruptly. “I can shut the security system down temporarily which will give us enough time to ascend to the main level and walk out the door.”

The proposal definitely intrigued me. But should I trust a drone in a Dominus warehouse? For all I knew, this CHAD was setting me up for an ambush by his mechanoid buddies. I should blast the little drone out of the sky, but something prevented me from doing so. Maybe it was the fact I was using a masculine pronoun to refer to an autonomous machine! And yet it felt completely appropriate. In less than five minutes, CHAD and I had engaged in an intelligent conversation I’d never experienced with any AI or mechanoid. He even had an annoying personality instead of the monotone programming of most Dominus robots. Perhaps there was some value to keeping such a cutting edge piece of technology around. His capability to hack my Titon specs and wristcomm would be an asset in capturing bounties and gathering useful information. I wondered if he had any weapons systems on that compact body.

“Okay, so you can shut down the security system. Big deal. I already did that earlier. It’ll just reset in two minutes and the…hornets will be disturbed again. So what other kind of hazard assistance can you provide? Do you have any weapons, CHAD?” I asked.

CHAD’s visor pulsed with orange light then two panels at the bottom of his conical body whirred open. An articulated metal arm swung out from the panels, revealing a miniature laser cannon. I barely contained a smile—the little weapon was incredibly cute.

“Will this suffice?” CHAD asked.

“Depends. Are you planning on shooting a small rat?”

“No. This Quadrinium pulse cannon would disintegrate such a creature. It is more useful in puncturing high grade metal armor such as titanium or chromium—”

My wristcomm beeped a warning. The mechanoids had found me. I heard the clattering feet of several mechs approaching. They were descending from the same duct I came down. Like robotic spiders, they crawled out of the duct and climbed down the nearest shelves to the floor.

“Shut down the security system now!” I yelled.

“Oh, right,” CHAD replied. His visor pulsed again, and I heard a series of low beeps from the drone. Then a storm of laser bolts flew past us, striking the storage containers and floor.

I took cover behind the largest container and fired back at the mechanoids. CHAD hovered above me, seemingly unconcerned with the firefight occurring around him. A laser hissed dangerously close to his metal body, but he didn't budge. I took another shot at a nearby buckethead and watched the bullets punch holes into the mechanoid’s outer chassis. Sparks flew from the bot’s body before it fell to the concrete floor.

“Any luck on that security system? Not that I’m in a hurry,” I said with an edge to my voice.

“Just a few more seconds,” CHAD replied. His pulse jets boosted him higher into the air to avoid the next laser barrage.

After a magazine of ammo, I reloaded the rifle and prepared for another strike. But once I came out from cover, the laser bolts stopped. The mechanoids stood still in the large room, aiming their guns at us like high-tech statues. I fired three times at the nearest one, toppling it over with the force of the rounds.

“That was quite unnecessary. They have been deactivated for now,” CHAD said.

“About time. How much do we have until the system resets?” I asked.

“Two minutes.”

“Two minutes?! That’s the best you could do? I managed that before! Didn’t you say your specialty was hacking security systems?” I said.

“Well, yes. But this is a Dominus security system—it requires far more than a few minutes to hack it and you sounded distressed that it was taking so long. Thus I had to change—”

“Okay, okay forget it!” I said, sighing. “Can you find the quickest way out of here at least?”

“There’s an elevator nearby that’ll take us to the main level. Follow me.” CHAD zipped behind me down the length of the room then rounded a corner.

I raced behind the drone, barely keeping up. He zoomed around another corner where a dozen mechanoids stood motionless. The sight startled me and I nearly unloaded more rounds on the statuesque machines. Past the robots stood the large elevator doors. CHAD beeped softly, and the doors slid open. The ride to the main level felt slow and agonizing. Apparently, Dominus didn’t allocate much of their massive operating budget to their crappy elevator system.

“I never caught your name?” CHAD said awkwardly.

“You never asked,” I replied.

There was an awkward pause before the drone spoke again. “What’s your name?”

“Eve-99,” I said confidently.

“Really? I didn’t know humans used numerical designations in their names—”

“I’m a bounty hunter. It’s my call sign.”

“Oh. So you keep your real name a secret then?” CHAD asked.

I shrugged. “Not necessarily. I’m just not in the habit of giving my real name to strangers—or talking drones I don’t trust.”

CHAD seemed hurt by the statement. At least, his silence afterward seemed to convey that—if that was possible for a drone. The truth was I didn’t want to share with anyone that my real name was Evangelina Garcia. That name and identity belonged to a nobody. If I wanted to be a reputable bounty hunter and build credibility in this ruthless profession, I had to leave it behind. And no respectable client would hire some chick named Evangelina. The most famous bounty hunter in the galaxy never gave out his name or even let people see his real face! He was known only as Reaper. The man was a legend with a reputation every bounty hunter coveted. I was a huge fan of Reaper. Maybe someday I'd meet him and pick his brain. But that would never happen as Evangelina.

The elevator halted, and the doors slid open. On the other side, I saw the door leading out of the warehouse. There was only one problem standing in our way—the X-9000. The intimidating mechanoid whirled around immediately after the stupid elevator beeped and alerted it to our presence.

“Why is that thing operational, CHAD?” I said with some heat in my voice.

“The X-9000 is not part of the security protocols I overrode. He is an altogether separate threat.”

“You think?” I said incredulously.

The mechanoid ran toward the elevator at breakneck speed. Its metal arm thrust out at me in a striking motion. Somehow I dodged the attack in time and watched the titanium fist puncture a hole in the elevator wall. CHAD flew out of the elevator, prompting me to run behind him. I spun around, releasing a barrage of bullets at the robot, but they bounced off his titanium armor like tennis balls.

“We’re in trouble, CHAD!” I said.

CHAD didn’t respond. He reached the exit then beeped, triggering the door to slide upward. “Come on, Eve-99. We have five seconds before the system resets!”

I’d forgotten about that. Probably because a psychopathic mechanoid wanted me dead right now.

“Cease your fleeing and you will not be terminated,” the X-9000 said from behind me. But I was already outside with CHAD. The little drone shut the exit before the X-9000 could leave the warehouse. Loud pounding on the other side of the thick metal door startled me. It wouldn’t be long before the robot broke through.

The cold air of Sigma Prime struck my face like needles. An eastern wind buffeted my body and sent CHAD reeling in midair. My wristcomm flashed an ominous warning: multiple mechanoids detected.

“Awesome,” I said sardonically. “Titon specs, patch me into Osito.”
Osito’s HUD appeared before me. My ship was on a circuitous route five miles away on autopilot. It was the default flight plan I programmed for the AI whenever I needed the ship to be ready for a quick evac.

“I’m detecting numerous threats twelve meters ahead of us,” CHAD warned.

“What about the bigger threat behind us?” I said as another clang reverberated from the warehouse door.

Before CHAD replied, laser bolts flew past my body. One of them struck CHAD, knocking him to the ground. He sizzled and sparked—likely fried from the hit. A handful of mechanoids skittered across the outer perimeter of the warehouse, firing as they approached in a zigzag pattern. I traded shots with the bucketheads, killing two before I needed to reload. The area in front of the warehouse was devoid of cover, making me an easy target. I ran the length of the warehouse, hoping to get past the remaining sentries.

“Come on, Osito, where are you?” I said breathlessly.

“Your ship is another mile out from us. Though I would recommend you keep it away to avoid the SAMs on the roof,” CHAD said. The little drone was hovering beside me.

“I thought you were toast back there. How’d you survive a direct laser hit?”

“My magnetic shield absorbed most of the blast.”

“You have a magnetic shield? My ship doesn’t even have a magnetic shield!” I said. Magnetic shielding was expensive tech for starships, but crucial for military vessels and anyone engaging in dogfights in outer space. Few people had access to compact magnetic shields except those with deep pockets. Shielding on mechanoids and drones was unheard of.

“Correction—I had a magnetic shield. My shield generator needs to recharge after a direct hit which is unfortunate because I would have increased the radius to protect us both,” CHAD said.

“Sounds like our luck continues to improve,” I said.

More laser fire cut our conversation short. I ran faster, turning occasionally to shoot at the mechanoids but my shots were wild and ineffective. I reached a berm in the landscape that ran along a shallow canal that might’ve once been a stream bed. Diving behind the berm, I took cover and evaluated my options.

“We can’t stay here, Eve-99. The mechanoids are ten meters away and closing in fast. You’ll be pinned down—”

“Will you shut up for a second so I can think!” I snapped. Taking a deep breath, I considered whether I could outrun the mechanoids for another mile to meet up with Osito. I shook my head at the thought. Though the bucketheads were unsteady on their feet in this rough terrain, their laser fire would eventually overwhelm us and I’d be one laser bolt away from death. The other option was to ignore CHAD’s recommendation to keep Osito a mile off to avoid the SAMs. Perhaps if I remotely flew the ship here and jumped into the cargo hold I'd make a grand escape like those old blockbuster movies I'd loved to watch. The idea had merit in my mind, but I barely ran faster than the mechanoids and matching the speed of a spaceship for some daredevil maneuver would just get me killed quicker.

A round of laser fire smacked the berm causing me to duck lower to the ground.

“They’re five meters out now,” CHAD whispered, knowing the fact would annoy me.

Then an idea struck me. “CHAD, can you hack those SAMs directly?”

“Yes, I suppose. But I don’t have time to hack all six,” CHAD said.

“I only need you to hack one,” I said. “Get control of one and fire a missile at these bucketheads!”

“Oh, I see what you’re trying to do—”

“Less talk, more hacking, CHAD!”

I peeked over the berm and aimed my rifle at the closest enemy. The robot’s head exploded into a fiery ball after I unloaded several rounds into it. I ducked quickly as his friends retaliated with laser fire. Once the firing paused, I rose again and took down the next mechanoid. The bucketheads figured out my pattern and spread out. Their tactic was clear. They would eventually outflank me by crossing over the berm. Beside me, CHAD beeped incessantly as he tried to manipulate the SAM’s operating system.

“We’re running out of time, CHAD—”

“I’ve accessed the SAM! Triangulating coordinates for the missile now,” the little drone said.

“Wait, we haven’t decided where—”

“Launch sequence initiated!” CHAD said triumphantly.

“What?! Where did you send it?” I yelled.

“At the mechanoids like you planned.”

“That’ll put the missile right on top of us! I wanted to get some distance from them before—”

The distinct whooshing sound of a missile launching from the warehouse roof cut me short. I saw the white rocket’s fire trail in the sky. We had mere seconds before the projectile reached its apex then turned in midair to strike our position.

“Run!” I said, more to myself than the moronic drone beside me.

I broke out in a fierce dash from the berm, spraying the surrounding area with bullets. The mechanoids didn’t expect the maneuver, and some were hit before they shot at me. Their attention then shifted to the descending missile overhead. I willed myself not to look back at them. Instead I focused on the dreary gray landscape ahead of me. Running harder than I'd ever ran in my life. CHAD flew beside me, keeping the same pace though his pulse jets could've propelled him farther. Our sprint lasted for about seventy meters when the ground trembled violently from the explosion behind us.

I nearly tumbled from the vibration but recovered my footing quickly. Then the massive shockwave hit me. A scorching heat pushed me into the air like a raging tidal wave. I spun uncontrollably in midair, unable to discern up from down. My back smacked the hard ground, and I rolled several feet on the dirt. Everything around me blurred for a few seconds. Pain emanating from my back caused my stomach to lurch. The awful sensation nearly forced me to vomit.

Placing my hands on my head, I steadied myself and stood up. A giant fire and a tall plume of black smoke rose from the point of the missile’s impact. Surprisingly, the warehouse stood unscathed from the explosion. Dominus didn't mess around when it came to protecting their inventory.

I searched the area around me for CHAD and found the drone upside down on the ground. Walking toward him, I noticed the once glowing optic visor was now dark. I picked up CHAD and shook him, but nothing happened.
“Titon specs, scan the drone for any damage,” I commanded. The HUD did not indicate that the little drone’s chassis needed repairs. “Too bad. I was starting to like you, CHAD.”

I tucked the robot under my arm and tapped my wristcomm several times. Osito was still out of range of the SAMs, less than a mile from my position. The warehouse was remained on high alert but the surviving sentries wouldn't follow me once I was outside the security perimeter. Though after the chaos I'd caused here, it's likely a distress call had already gone out to Dominus HQ.
The wristcomm beeped incessantly. I looked up and saw something walk through the flames of the crash site. The familiar skeletal form sent a chill up my spine. It was the X-9000. It'd finally broken out of the warehouse and its gaze was fixed on me.

My first instinct was to run though I nearly fired the ZR200 at it. But that was a pointless exercise as I'd learned earlier. I headed east toward rockier terrain. The land rose into a small bluff overlooking the area. Using the Titon specs, I hailed Osito and broadcasted my location for quick evac.

Behind me the mechanoid was running at high speed to catch up. Unlike the sentries, the X-9000 had no difficulty running on rough ground and could reach a top speed of 28 miles per hour. That frightened me. Especially since my attempt to escape the murderous robot was hindered by the intense pain I felt in my back.

As the ground elevated toward the bluff, my speed decreased drastically. The X-9000, however, seemed unaffected. I turned around and shot at the robot, hoping to slow it down. But it was a vain effort. The X-9000 dashed up the slope and knocked me to the ground with tremendous force. The rifle slipped from my grasp and clattered on the ground along with CHAD, who I was clutching like an injured pet.

I scrambled to my feet, but the mechanoid’s hand grabbed me by the throat. It lifted me off my feet and held me like a triumphant hunter relishing its trophy.

“You have committed felonies against Dominus Corporation and must be terminated per intergalactic sanction 786—”

“Listen, I didn't know it was against the law to pick up a care package at a Dominus facility,” I said.

“I detect jest in your previous statement. Human humor is irrelevant to my initiative,” the X-9000 said.

“I'm not joking—I thought this was a pickup center. I thought I was picking up a new blender!”

Sometimes a mechanoid’s conversational AI can be confused by sarcasm and hyperbole. It was a simple way to divert its attention to achieve a desired result. The X-9000 was probably too intelligent to fall for the trick, but every minute I kept it talking was another minute I stayed alive while my ship drew closer. Once Osito was in sight, I'd command it to rain all its firepower on this tin man.

“You are stalling, criminal,” the mechanoid said.

Its metal fingers tightened around my windpipe, making it harder to breathe. My vision blackened around the edges as I felt consciousness slipping from lack of oxygen. I couldn't believe I would die on this horrible planet at the hands of the mechanoid I planned on stealing. The irony of it all made me furious. But more than that, the fact that my reputation as a bounty hunter would never reach its full potential saddened me. The thought my father might be also disappointed in me cut me deep, and I felt warm tears stream down my cheeks even as I gasped for air.

“Release her!” A familiar voice yelled.

Through my blurred vision, I barely made out CHAD's glowing visor as he snuck up behind the X-9000. The mechanoid turned to face the little drone just as a bright red beam shot out of CHAD’s body. Sparks flew from the X-9000’s body then it suddenly released me from its strangle hold. Falling to the ground, I breathed in deeply and caused a fit of coughing. Beside me, the X-9000 stood stunned—if a robot express such emotions—at the large hole the beam had created in its supposedly indestructible body. The buckethead uttered a string of indecipherable chatter before it collapsed onto the ground. Smoke rose unceremoniously from its irreparable wound.

CHAD hovered closer and I now saw the object of the X-9000’s destruction: the small Quadrinium laser cannon. I had underestimated the little drone’s weapon—a mistake I would not make again.

“Your laser cannon—it can penetrate titanium alloy,” I said hoarsely.

“Yes. It is a useful weapon against more powerful foes, but the rate of fire is woefully inadequate for extended—”

“Next time, bring out the big guns before I’m a second away from death, CHAD,” I interrupted.

“Of course. Are we planning on infiltrating more high security outposts with X-9000 mechanoids?” CHAD asked.

I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or simply asking an innocent question.

“If the mood strikes, maybe we will,” I said with a smirk.

Once Osito arrived, I blasted off the desolate surface of Sigma Prime. There was an odd comfort in being back in the cold dark of space surrounded by the plethora of stars. I sat comfortably in the pilot’s chair and turn on a relaxing stream of twentieth-century music composed by someone named Moby. Holding a cold medpack to my bruised throat, I reclined and let the soothing beats of the song and the artist’s distinct timbre lull me.

“Where are we going exactly?” CHAD’s voice disrupted my reverie.

“Titan EX. It’s a space station a hundred light years from here,” I said, tapping the coordinates into Osito’s nav console. “Is there somewhere you need to be dropped off, CHAD? I assume you weren’t in Dominus’ possession by choice. And you don’t look like one of their drone models.”

CHAD was quiet for a moment. “No. I am unaware of any home outside the warehouse on Sigma Prime. At least…I have no memory of anything else.”

“I see. So I guess you’re stuck with me,” I said, smiling. “Well, you’re no combat mechanoid, but that little cannon of yours will come in handy in a fight.”

“Do you intend on getting into many fights, Eve-99?” CHAD asked.

“Oh, you better strap in CHAD. I’m predicting you and I will get into lots of fights soon.”