Jackson exhaled a burst of vapour through chapped lips. He glanced over at Ruma. He was shaking from the chills, even in a heavy hooded parka.
“How long has she been gone?” Jackson asked, kindling his gloves.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ruma said, teeth chattering. “When she’s back, she’s back.”
Jackson pulled up his monocular to his face mask and scanned the tundra’s bleached horizon. Nothing but ice and snow and white.
The two men laid prone in their waist-deep trench waiting for EVELYN, a semiautonomous cheetah drone, their latest toy. They had released it several days ago and came out here into the cold every morning at nine sharp to see it return.
“What does your GPS say?” Jackson asked.
“She’s hunting. Somewhere,” Ruma sighed impatiently, “Out there.”
Jackson shut up. Most geniuses are pricks, but most pricks aren’t geniuses his father used to say. Unfortunately, Ruma was the former, and they needed him on the team. Jackson put up with him if it meant winning the government contract.
They both heard the faint whine and whirr of EVELYN’s mechanical legs at the same time.
“There,” Ruma pointed.
A black mass trotted unnaturally towards them. As it got closer, Jackson could clearly see a bloodied carcass in its jaws. Either an elk or caribou. He could never tell.
“Well, the girl can hunt.”
“You want me to manual override her back into her cage?”
“Yeah. Shut her down. I need her hard drive,” Ruma demanded.
“Ja wohl, mein Führer,” Jackson replied. Ruma ignored him.
Jackson pulled out the control tablet from his knapsack. It glowed at his touch. As the system booted up, he noticed a stony silence enveloping him. EVELYN had stopped moving a thousand yards out.
Jackson lifted his eyes from the screen. EVELYN had dropped her kill and now stared at the two men, head tilted with curiosity. She stretched her forelegs, sticking her butt up into the air.
“Uh… what’s she doing?” Jackson asked.
“I don’t know…” Ruma said hesitantly, squinting his Korean eyes until they were thin black lines on his chiseled face.
EVELYN now stretched her hind legs, craning his feline head upwards.
Jackson looked down at his tablet. All systems go. All programs running. But the software was not synchronizing with the metallic monster facing them.
“It’s not recognizing her, Ruma…”
Ruma turned abruptly to face Jackson. “What do you mean it’s not recognizing??” He spat.
Ruma checked his GPS. “That’s not EVELYN. EVELYN is at least sixty miles northwest of here…”
“Well, what the fuck is that, then?”
EVELYN’s evil twin began to sprint towards them. Built to run at a maximum speed of 140mph, the real EVELYN would reach them inside fifteen seconds.
Jackson twisted his body and scrambled for the RPG-29 Vampir next to him. It was locked and loaded just for situations like this. But by the time he had hoisted the rocket launcher onto his shoulder he heard a loud whoosh.
The cheetah had tackled Fuma and tore out his throat.
Jackson pulled the trigger. The recoil threw him backwards forcing him to slip on the snow.
As he fell, everything went into slow-mo. He heard a crack in the air and a loud clang. A direct hit into the animal’s torso in midair. It had leapt for Jackson. An explosion. A cone of fire flaring upwards. A blast of shrapnel. A flash of white pain as a volley of steel fragments cut into Jackson’s face and arms, miraculously missing his eyes.
Jackson landed in a dense bank. Smoke filled the air between him and the cheetah’s husk. He felt his consciousness slipping away. The trauma would numb him absolutely soon.
But before he succumbed to it, he caught a glimpse of the robot’s rump. In red stencil block letters, it read: “ADAMA.” ☣
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
“River Flows in You” – Composed and Performed by Yiruma
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Dogwood Daniels and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.