Thursday, August 15, 2013

the wager

"Guys. I'll handle this. Watch Ryan. Gag his mouth in case he gets bitey."

Neobrokrug was cordial enough whenever he showed up. But if you ever asked for help with something that wasn't rent related he usually talked right past you. It's not that he's cruel. He just doesn't care about organics. I think he's just not programmed to care. Or maybe that part of him got lost. Or maybe there was another robot built by whoever built him to care for the survivors and he broke down. Doesn't really matter at this point. I just know he's got no heartstrings to tug.

I tiptoed over the daisy chain of junk that looked like it fell out the back of an airship shipping rejects from a mad scientist's fire sale.

"Um. Hi Mr. Neobrokrug."

"Hello Koen!"

His voice was...nice, but creepy. Too nice for the hell he managed. He didn't look at me. He was too busy tapping on a broken pane of glass. I think they called them "App-tablets" or something. I peered over his shoulder. It looked like he was magnifying on the robot dude with the bad haircut. Kind of an X-ray...something in his chest, pulsing blue.

"Is that a reactor core?"

"Yes, cold fusion. You know people will spend centuries trying to build it. One day they will and they'll learn the way this fellow will. With a cataclysmic explosion."

Aw Bast. He's way too casual about this.

"Well y'know...New Babbage won't mesh too well with the rest of this place."

"I wouldn't say that. We have more than enough room...more than enough room..."

Did I mention he was creepy? I had to keep my spine straight just talking to him.

"So there's no chance of disconnecting his core before it explodes?'

"It is possible..."

"I could!"

"I have gone through a lot of trouble to get ready."

I rolled my eyes.

"Look...Neo...can I call you Neo?"


"Do you know what will happen if you phase New Babbage into the Wastelands? You're going to have survivors, right?"

"Of course."

"And there's going to be Sparks in there, I guarantee it."


"Steampunks. Mad scientists. Gifted engineers. Maybe even the Clockwinder."


"And I haven't even mentioned the Bolsheviks and the Church of the Builder and Cult of Dagon..."

"Rule #48: No summoning of beings from the outer planes..."

I edged closer as he leaned over to twist some dials on a half-melted block of plastic.

"And do you know what steampunks do when they lose everything? They start over. They'll drink cactus-juice tea from broken china and throw formal balls in tattered gowns like nothing ever happened. And one thing about steampunk's infectious. People start being NICE to each other, at least in public. No more people fighting each other for scrap that you bury in the sand in random places for us to find. You're gonna need a new distribution model."

"That...will take some minor adjustments..."

"And with the Sparks? They'll just take the scrap and build more stuff. And I'm not talking nailguns here. Unless it's to build a Tesla tower. And then everything else to run off of the Tesla tower."

"I won't allow that."

"They'll keep trying. They won't just survive. They'll rebuild. With their manners and their technology they'll bring something we still don't have."

"You have everything you need here. You just need to find it."

"They'll bring civilization."

Neo's tablet thing sputtered with sparks and he dropped it from his free hand.

"This won't be the Wastelands anymore. It'll be New New Babbage. Not your Museum to the Folly of Mankind or whatever you want this to be. This won't be your limbo anymore. This will be a place..."

He turned his head and looked straight at me. Mismatched robotic eyes clouded by the exhaust seeping out from under his helmet.

"You are welcome to try."

"How much time...?"

"Two hours at most."


They rushed up and lined in formation. Just like I taught them to. I watched enough of that militia across from the slough (mulisha they call it) to learn a bit about keeping a unit together. Two of the kids in the back were carrying Ryan.

"Say Neo, is that a hover-board?"

"It is an antigravity conveyance. I used it to carry..."

"Thanks!" I jumped on and kicked the switch on the engine. The back of it started glowing as I fought to keep balance.

"You two in the back? See that hill down there? Meet me there. The rest of you, knock that big thing down. Pry it open if you can. If you open it don't smash anything. Just pull stuff out. Lay it on the ground. Hopefully my Dad can defuse it in time. EVERYBODY MOVE!"

I've never seen a bunch of kids look so fierce. I plowed way ahead of them on the board. Just as I got close enough for them to see me they both started running!


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