|Image property Simon Stålenhag via Geek Art Gallery|
A lone police van trundled along a long forgotten dirt road that terminated at the edge of an overgrown field of grass. It broke from the tree line and made its way towards the three figures in the centre. But not a direct course; can't do with the appearance of attack. The office in the passenger seat let out a sigh "I hate fieldwork."
The driver shook his head and gave him a disapproving look while the others in the back attempted to smother their amusement.
"Smith, one more wisecrack out of you and you stay in the station for a month."
Office Smith promptly put his most serious face on; hard eyes; mouth fixed into a tight line.
"That's more like it," uttered the driver as he reached two digits to his headset, "Station this is unit six-upsilon-niner-niner, we have positive visual on subjects. Will attempt retrieval of stolen biped and control module."
The radio retorted with long hiss.
"Dammit, nothing but snake chatter. Control module must have a security blanket over the area. Looks like we're on our own." As determined and convincing as the voice was, the younger officers in the back gave one another nervous glances.
Slowly they exited the vehicle, careful as to not slam the doors or make any sudden moves. The biped stood frozen in a ready state, poised to move at the slightest chance. Three heads all focussed on the new arrivals to their peaceful point on the planet, claw raised as the lead officer approached.
"THAT'S CLOSE ENOUGH," boomed a metallic voice.
"Okay young'un" said the driver as he softly padded the air behind him, signalling the others to stay put, "we wont come any closer. Just want to talk."
The three figures remained motionless, save for the claw that bobbed slightly as the hydraulics pumped.
"My name is Officer Winchester. These here are officers Smith, Wesson, and Colt." He paused briefly to allow the information to sink in. "We've been sent to bring back what was taken, you understand?"
Two heads nodded simultaneously, yet the claw remained pointed towards the unit. The biped glanced almost fearfully at the holstered weapons on the hips of the officers and Officer Winchester shared a thought the rest of his unit most likely had; what the hell has he go to be afraid of?
"Now you need to return what was taken and then we can all get back to what we would normally be doing." Winchester was by far the eldest and most experienced, but even he was attempting to calculate just when this was all going to go south. It was just a matter of time.
"DON'T WANT TO. DON'T LIKE BEING BACK THERE."
"You have to understand, we're just following orders. It's the way of things. Can't just go taking what you want."
Silence. The words were getting through somehow, whether it was the fatigue from being out here so long or not, Winchester felt a spark of understanding.
"BUT THERE WILL BE TROUBLE. MOTHER WILL PUNISH." Now the voice was tinged with anxiety. Two massive feet, multi-jointed operating claw, a good ten feet of solid metal and power, and yet still afraid of Mother.
"THESE ARE MINE NOW."
"Now you know full well that isn't true. Those two things belong back in the factory they came from. Hell one isn't even complete. You're missing a claw there." That's it, thought Winchester, sow the doubt.
The other officers had ever so smoothly spread wider as all attention was fixed on Officer Winchester, no longer a solid target but now four. Should the big one make a move it was better there was one injury, no matter how great, and three guns to counter.
"IT'S BROKEN...THE HAND WON'T MOVE ANY MORE." The last part came in a sulking tone only a child can manage.
"Well there you go then. You just hand them back to us so we can get them all fixed up." Winchester bargained. He testingly took a few steps forward as he spoke and was struck by the odour coming from the machine; burnt almonds. Any machine that hasn't had its tanks renewed regularly starts spitting out the stench. The steps were a bad idea.
"STOP MOVING. I TOLD YOU. NO ONE LISTENS." Anger. Theft or no, this one wasn't processing things properly. "I'LL MAKE THEM LISTEN."
Age, experience, leadership capabilities, none of it makes a difference when a three tonne giant comes at you.
"Oh shit," managed Winchester before his entire body was kicked clear, landing ungracefully behind the van.
"Unit move!" shouted Smith taking his unholstered weapon to hand.
Flashes of light and heat tore through the air, most leaving naught more than scorch marks on the hull of the behemoth. Split seconds of silence opened up between shots and impacts that allowed the broken form of Winchester to utter curses. The scorched earth and now smoking hull was now half lost in a haze of weapon emissions and the now black smoke being pumped into the air by the great machine, it now so drained of fuel it was burning its own tank lining in the sudden burst of movement. Still the two small figures remained unmoving.
"Cease fire, cease fire." Came a disembodied voice, the owner lost among the smoke.
The noise all but diminished save for the hissing of burnt grass. A stray wind began to clear the sight, he aftermath becoming all too clear.
"Colt, check on Winchester, we've got this," ordered Smith.
Winchester lay in a pool of his own fluids, staining the ground with what made him function. "This did not go to plan," his broken voice managed before fading out entirely.
"There was a plan, sir?" Colt teased.
The same disapproving look crossed Winchesters face, though now slightly comical as one eye hung limply from socket.
"Colt? How's the old thing doing back there?" Shouted Smith, one eye still trained on the silhouettes in front of them.
"A lot of damn work to fix him but he just scowled at me so he's probably fine."
One hour later and the field was now swarming with figures tending to the last few fires in the grass and a small unit subduing the thief with inch thick steel cables. Around the back of the van sparks and crackles came from the form of Winchester as a repairman restored his eye and voice.
"That should do you for now, sir. We'll have to sort the rest back at the station but it doesn't seem too serious. Nothing a little R&R and some elbow grease can't fix."
Smith gave a grin "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Hey doc, you mind taking my visual and audible capabilities away so I don't have to look at this idiot?" Groaned Winchester as he was hauled on to a stretcher. "Smith, report."
"One of the little ones got caught by a stray shot. Plastered its brains in a bunch of hot piles. Big one is being strapped as we speak and the control module is being taken apart in a cleanbox. Can't get inside to see any more; you know how those factory types are with their little portable surgery rooms."
"We lost the biped? Aw that's all I need. Station is going to have us running diagnostics for weeks for that stray shot." Griped the damaged form on the stretcher.
Unit 6u99, or The Gunners as they were known, began seating themselves in the van, Smith now at the wheel in Winchester's absence.
The stoic Wesson suddenly chimed in, "Why did you think he did it? Why take them?"
"Damn thing is a factory-line bot. All it does day in day out is tend to the little ones, moving vats about the place. It'd drive me pretty nuts. Besides, you see the smoke coming out of the thing? Who knows how screwed its processors are after burning that much liner." Suggested the new driver as he fired up the engine.
"The control module is kind of okay," stated Colt, "but the biped? That one's all fleshy and soft. There's no bot parts or anything, just one hundred percent human. Did you see the mess the head left after that stray round? Gross."
The van reversed over the dark oil stain left by their leader and then started back along that forgotten dirt road back to civilization and Mother. Mother would fix the bugs in the big claw unit and things would go back to normal.
And they could always make more humans.