nextus seven texas

Reads: 90  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Nextus Seven Texas is a futuristic western sci-fi written by Jason Bujnoch, author of the novel, Rising Dragonfly.

Nextus Seven Texas

By Jason Bujnoch

7000 words


Water, it was submerged in rushing water. Caught in a torrent, it tumbled through a rocky cataract amid tons of loose debris. Without sufficient energy to egress, it drew itself into a protective fetal position and rolled with the current, allowing inertia to charge its depleted power cell.

The flash flood that had unearthed it subsided, drained away and left it tangled in rubble, face down in a shallow pool at the bottom of a gulch. It tried to establish its position but nothing responded to its pings. No place, no time, no date, no directive, only its internal coding. The airwaves were deathly quiet. It rotated its optics toward the sky and zoomed in on a satellite, damaged and inoperable, speeding along in a decaying orbit. A G-type star, cast dull yellow by atmospheric haze, hung high in the brassy firmament.

It lay there, collecting energy from the star to top off its battery. Then it pulled itself out of the wreckage, ripping through a tangle of rusty steel fence like rotten lace. It stood atop the heap, sandy water draining from its heavy, carbon fiber uniform, and looked down at its reflection in the pool of still water. Its optics zoomed in and out as it scrutinized itself for several seconds. A tarnished metal star was affixed to the front of its filthy black coat. It reached up and straightened two of the tines that were bent. A slouching, black mesh, cowboy hat was still clutched in its other hand, and it installed the hat onto its dull, scuffed cranium. Then it sprang from the debris field to the water’s edge and climbed up to the lip of the gulch, humanoid in form, but with agility like some terrible insect.

Perched on the edge of the ravine, it crouched to keep a low profile as it scanned its surroundings. It beheld a rocky landscape, bleached and scoured by dust storms and acidic precipitation. High, mineral, landforms stretched toward it like monolithic bones from the jagged horizon. Motion caught its optics, and it zoomed in on a faint, ascending trail of dark vapor in the distance. It stood and walked in that direction.

The spring-loaded pistons and ball joints in its spidery limbs moved it across the terrain in a way that belied the mass of its forged metal skeleton, as it sailed over narrow washouts and traversed deep gorges. It held a pace that allowed its battery to stay charged, solar collection working in concert with its inertia generator. The ambient temperature was the highest it had ever registered, as was the ambient radiation, while atmospheric pH was the lowest.

It followed the trail of smoke tirelessly through the day, spying it from high ground and tracking it in the same general direction based on the stable orientation of this planet’s magnetic field. It paused on the rim of a long inactive, cinder cone, now a crumbling mesa crowned by hard, extruded stone. It knelt down and took the opportunity to recharge the kinetic-energy rifle embedded in its right arm. Driving the bore protruding from its fist into the rocky ground repeatedly for several minutes, it packed the compactor-magazine in its forearm with crushed minerals while compressing the internal coil that powered the weapon. The thin plume of hydrocarbon burn-off was moving away from its position, but slowly. It was closing distance and would overtake the source of the combustion by dusk.


Black smoke billowed from the exhaust stack on the Colonel’s armored vehicle, its antiquated motor bellowing as it crept along, iron tracks crushing and grinding everything in their path to grit. In the belly of the machine, the Colonel buckled on his gun belt and donned his dusty beret. He ascended a short ladder, popped the top hatch and climbed halfway out to get a three-sixty view of the canyon they were traversing. The narrow passageway and high cliff faces would give them adequate shelter and concealment for the night. Nearly a season had passed since they’d encountered other hostiles, but the Colonel took no chances. The day was ending and the chasm was deep in shadow with a cool dry breeze trickling through. From his mobile perch a dozen feet off the ground, the Colonel whistled and signaled his caravan to a halt.

Up ahead, two, ancient, creeping tractors, shaded beneath their overhead solar collectors, shuddered to a halt. Achili and his daughter Hermosa made eye contact for a few meaningful seconds before they climbed down from their tractors and walked back to join their family and friends, and the band of militants who’d stolen their lives.

Hermosa passed by the heavily oxidized, water tanker, which was positioned behind her tractor to catch runoff from the machine’s expansive solar array. But they hadn’t caught a rainstorm in weeks and the tanker was getting low. She kept walking, running her fingers along the twenty-meter greenhouse trailer hooked behind the water tanker. An old cattle hauler with dozens of ventilation ports and makeshift windows, the greenhouse was shot through with bright foliage and vines that dragged the ground alongside it. She breathed in its sweet peppery musk. The greenhouse was their livelihood.

On the other side of the deteriorating highway they’d been following, Achili walked past his two tractor trailers also. The first was a gutted motorhome, once a luxury item for a person of wealth. Stripped of its engine and drivetrain, the lengthy shell of weather beaten, aircraft aluminum, was now a mobile shelter for a clan of nomadic farmers. Towed behind the shelter was a rusty, eight-wheeled flatbed, covered by a hump of reeking black dirt that was bristling with bright green sprouts, and contained behind bulging wooden guardrails.

Two doors swung open on the right side of the motorhome-trailer and a couple dozen inhabitants spilled out, joining alongside Achili as he walked back to meet their armored host. Some of the motorhome inhabitants were his extended family and they touched hands and greeted him affectionately. The last person to exit the motorhome was armed with a short-barreled rifle, slung over his shoulder. He wore grimy, paramilitary attire and a machete sheathed on his belt. The olive-skinned man bore resemblance to the rest of them and spoke their language, but he wasn’t one of them. The interloper followed close behind, pushing them to keep moving as they all marched back to get into formation and receive their orders.

A light FAV that had been scouting the road ahead of the tractors, sped past the mob, performed a U-turn and pulled to a stop alongside the big, armored vehicle. The driver hollered up to the Colonel, “There’s a town about five klicks up the road, sir. Ain’t much left of it, but we might find some fuel.”

The Colonel kept his eyes fixed on the approaching mob, his flock, his stable source of food and water, as he spoke to the FAV driver. “Good work, Hal. Now go get them formed up.”

“Yessir.” Hal parked his fast attack vehicle a short distance away, grabbed a beat-up assault rifle from the passenger seat and hopped out to join his fellow enforcer, the one called Manchee.

The rear cargo door on the Colonel’s mobile, command post raised up, the ramp lowered and out came his mechanized infantry. He’d lost a couple of men in his last resource skirmish, but had gained two M-4 robots, which were worth twenty men each in combat. Though the newly acquired pair of M-4’s paled in comparison to his Armtex-305 model, his pride and joy. The trio of bots were worn, weathered and kept functional with cannibalized parts, but they were all tested and bloodied war machines. Set upon tracks and reprogrammed by Crip to obey the Colonel’s directives, the three robots rolled down the ramp, positioned themselves beside the armored vehicle, turned their optics up toward their commander and waited. Following the bots, Crip—who’d been piloting the big, armored vehicle—hobbled down the cargo ramp on his metal crutches and stood a comfortable distance away from the three machines. He could feel the Colonel staring down at him, perched up there like a raptor surveying a rodent.

“Fall in!” the Colonel hollered, and the farmers who’d emerged from the motorhome formed into ranks, men women and children shuffling into their designated positions, so they could be accounted for. “Manchee, front and center!”

“Si, Patron!” The Colonel’s sergeant and translator made his way to the head of the assembly.

“Line up straight!” Hal shouted, leveling his weapon as he stalked the perimeter of the formation.

The Colonel addressed the assembly in bulleted statements, pausing so Manchee could translate his words. “We camp here tonight. A town is five klicks north. Tomorrow, we scout it for supplies and fuel. If we don’t find fuel, we will reconfigure the loads again. Number 13, your tractor will haul my command post, behind the water tanker. The greenhouse will be hooked to the compost trailer. It will slow our pace significantly. So we must find fuel if we want to keep up with the monsoons.”

There was grumbling in the formation.

“Cállate todos!” Manchee hollered, sweeping the crowd with the muzzle of his rifle.

 The Colonel gave them a moment to settle and then continued. “Now, the daylight is fading fast. So we must hurry and perform our duties. Rank one, foraging and setting snares. Rank two, portioning water and rations. Rank three, servicing machines and trailers. Rank four, digging a latrine.” Manchee conveyed the message while the Colonel once again regimented the tasks they had always performed, since long before they’d been enslaved. For generations the farmers had traveled the dwindling, passable roads, chasing the rains and fleeing the burning sun as it wandered through the heavens.

The Colonel finished assigning tasks and paused to check his timeworn chronometer. “We shall form up for rations in three quarters of an hour. Do not be late. Fall out!”


The veil of night was sealed at the edges, the yellow dwarf star gone from view, with only a thin line of rosy plasma remaining. Humidity was nonexistent, yet only the brightest stars were visible in the hazy sky. The ambient temperature plummeted.

It lay prone on a boulder at the rim of the canyon, observing the source of the smoke it had trailed all day. Its processor hummed gently, filtering through petabytes of digitally chronicled carnage recorded in its past. Carnage wrought by men. The stream of data terminated with the airstrike, the detonation and shock wave that had left it buried under a teralitre of sand.

The sky was fully black now. Its optics shifted to the infrared spectrum as it studied the band of nomads with their mix of agrarian implements, military machinery, and their apparent hierarchy. The laborers were released from an assembly where they had shared rations. They doused their fire and were moving toward their shelter, separate from the small, militant class. The leader assigned a pair of sentry robots to stand guard at either end of the caravan before he retired to the armored vehicle.

It tried to connect with the two robots, but their comm was disabled. It could not ID the two cobbled-together machines, but by their armor and weaponry, their purpose was clear. It would wait until morning to make contact, so as not to alarm the sentries and provoke a negative response from the encampment.


The sun broke loose from the foothills to the east, but the canyon was still brimming with cold shade. The clan of farmers milled in place, talking in muted tones and glancing at the empty spot in their loose formation. Number 13, Hermosa was missing. Her father, Achili wanted to call her name, but he was afraid to attract attention. Soon it would be too late.

Hal clambered out from the back of the greenhouse trailer, clearing his throat and expelling phlegm in a manner that the farmers heard and loathed. Manchee climbed out shortly after. By the looks of them, the two had stayed up late again with their cask of rotgut wine devised of spoiled fruit. Their moods would be cruel today. They staggered over to the tanker where Hal opened a valve and let water flow into his hands, slurping it greedily and splashing it all over his head and face. Then Manchee took a turn, and between the two of them, they let a day’s ration of the precious liquid spill onto the ground. Any of the laborers would face severe punishment for such an abuse.

The hatch popped open on top of the big AV and Achili’s heart sank. The Colonel climbed halfway out and yelled, “Sentries!” The two M-4 robots that had stood motionless at the ends of the caravan all night sprang to life and moved quickly toward the Colonel’s position.

The cargo door opened, and the hulking Armtex-305 bot rolled out, with Crip hobbling along behind it. The Colonel addressed them in turn. “Crip, get the M-4 bots on the charger right after morning muster. 305, you’re on guard duty until we move out.”

The Armtex-305 turned away from its commander and moved to a position halfway between the armored vehicle and the gathering formation. The deadly, bulletproof machine came too close to Manchee. He cast a wary glance and increased his distance.

“Fall in!” the Colonel shouted.

The formation took shape, making obvious its absent member.

The Colonel waited a moment, as if to build suspense, and then spoke to Achili directly. “Number three, where is she?”

“No lo sé,” Achili responded, a blend of dread and hatred in his voice.

The Colonel checked his chronometer and then addressed the assembly. “Has anyone seen number 13?” No one spoke. “M-4-1 and M-4-2, start a search pattern. Find worker number 13.” The two M-4 bots sprang into motion, but then their ruler ordered them to halt as their query came running into camp.

Hermosa went straight to Manchee, speaking rapidly in her native tongue as she approached him, explaining that she was sorry but she had heard an animal struggling in one of the snares this morning and feared it might escape. So she had gone out to harvest it. But when she arrived, it had already freed itself. It was a coyote by the prints, and wounded, by the blood on the trail. She had tracked it for as long as she could, hoping to catch up to it and finish it off. But finally, she had to turn back because she didn’t want to be late for formation. Of course, the story was a lie. She had set the coyote free, and it had taken all this time to gain the dangerous creature’s trust, so that she could release it without being mauled in the process.

Manchee relayed the excuse quickly to the Colonel, who remained stone faced, though inside he was seething. Number 13 had broken a rule and his rules were law. But even worse, she had shown his laborers that they could sneak past his sentries, the M-4 robots. Using only his eyes, he cast disapproving glances at the pair of machines.

Silence hung in the air while everyone awaited the Colonel’s judgement. At length he spoke up, haltingly as always, so Manchee could translate phrase by phrase, “If we are to survive, it must be through cooperation, through progress. We must have rules to follow, or we descend into chaos. No better than animals. We do not go out and check snares until we are instructed to do so. Being absent from formation, for any reason, is a violation of the rules. Number 13, your excuse doesn’t change that, and so you must be punished.” He checked his chronometer. “We are now five minutes late for morning muster.” The Colonel looked to his hungover subordinate and said, “Hal, get the whip. Five lashes.”

“Hijo del diablo,” Achili growled, and several other men in the formation mumbled similar curses.

“Cállate!” Manchee hollered at them.

The Colonel continued, “If you had killed the beast and brought it back to camp, perhaps we could commute your sentence. As it stands, I doubt the veracity of your story. You are all fortunate that we found you and brought structure and security to your lives. Without us, you would doubtless be overtaken by raiders who would not treat you all so honorably. One lash for each minute lost is a fair penalty.” Manchee did his best to translate the Colonel’s speech but it fell on deaf ears. All were focused on the spectacle out in front of the formation.

Hal caught Hermosa by the arm and guided her toward his parked FAV. She followed along, miserable yet compliant, ignoring the fetid grin on her captor’s face. If she resisted, it would only make things worse. Hal tied Hermosa’s wrists to the FAV’s rollbar with a length of twine. She kept her head turned away from him and tried to minimize contact with his foul-smelling body. He grabbed a long, coiled bullwhip from behind the driver’s seat, and strode several paces away.

Achili uttered another curse at their captors, his hands balled into fists. The two, hardened men with guns, Hal and Manchee, would be difficult and deadly to overcome. But the three robots made rebellion impossible. The machines were armed, armored and could cut down humans like scythes through grass. The farmers had fresh, gruesome memories of the half-dozen young men they had lost, the one time they had tried to revolt. The armored car where the Colonel slept with his beloved 305 was impenetrable. And there was no escape. To run away from the clan was to die in the desert. Plus, the Colonel was vengeful, and if someone fled, those who remained would pay for it.

Hermosa gripped the FAV’s rollbar, her back turned to Hal and the formation. She tucked in her chin and elbows and squeezed her legs together, trying to minimize her exposure to the whip. Hal was still smiling as he took aim, drew back and delivered his first lash. It was a solid blow that tore Hermosa’s shirt and left an angry red stripe on her skin. She did not cry out, keeping her lips pressed together in a hard line, though the pain made her swoon and her knees nearly buckled beneath her. The thought of four more lashes filled her eyes with tears and her heart with vengefulness.

A minor landslide fell down the canyon wall, off to the Colonel’s two o’clock position, and he watched as an android, clad in a faded black uniform, clambered down the cliff face amid the falling rocks. At the bottom of a thirty-meter drop, the humanoid machine collected itself and strode toward the caravan. The Colonel’s exhibition of punishment was interrupted as the approaching automaton commanded everyone’s attention. Even Hermosa, still tied to the FAV, was looking in that direction.

The Colonel addressed his mechanic. “Crip, what in hell is that?”

“I don’t know, Colonel. I never seen a functional bipedal before.”

The Colonel set his bots into motion. “M-4-1, I want that machine. Go get it.”

M-4-1 had its optics trained on its master, who was pointing his finger downrange at the encroaching android to clarify. The obedient robot turned and charged away to intercept the newcomer.

The Colonel hollered, “All hands scan for hostiles!”

The display of cruelty had been a violation of its internal coding. It had to intervene. A robot set upon tracks was speeding toward it. It tried to connect with the advancing machine again but the bot’s comm was still inoperable. So the bipedal android continued to advance also, its spidery legs covering a meter per stride, appended metal boots pounding the hard terrain.

Anxiety spread among all humans present, as they watched the spidery droid march toward their camp. Not even the Colonel was immune. He issued additional orders to his mechanical infantry. “M-4-2, assist M-4-1! 305, high alert!” M-4-2 sped off to help its twin, while the heavy 305 bot raised its claw-like hands into an offensive position. Its heavy steel tracks set into motion as its head swiveled, scanning the area. The rotary blaster mounted to 305’s shoulder chambered a round and began to move, tracking the bot’s optics with a laser sight.

M-4-1’s tentacle arms extended forward, vice-like appendages spread open as it drew near. The bipedal android raised its left arm, and a half-meter telescopic baton extended from its fist. The droid stopped walking and widened its stance.

M-4-1 slowed down and engaged. Its tentacles lashed out and clamped onto the arm and the neck of the bipedal droid, lifting it off the ground. A white bolt of electricity arced from the android’s telescopic baton into M-4-1’s cranium. The robot’s chassis bucked and its tentacle arms went limp, dropping the uniformed droid back onto its feet. M-4-1 sat inoperable for only an instant before the droid slashed with its baton and decapitated the big robot for good measure.

Another identical machine charged in behind the first, and predicting its course of action, the bipedal droid raised its right arm, which housed the kinetic energy rifle. The din of stone shearing metal reverberated back to the humans’ camp, as high-velocity mineral fragments perforated M-4-2’s armored breast plate. The bipedal droid advanced while M-4-2 vibrated, flailed, and finally hung limp on its tracks when the KE weapon stopped firing. The uniformed android strode past the sizzling, inoperable robot without turning its optics.

“It’s got a got-dang zipgun in its arm!” Crip hollered.

“305, kill it!” the Colonel commanded, pointing at the trespasser once again.

305 turned, its laser sight projected onto the bipedal droid downrange, and three, deafening shots fired from the big robot’s blaster.

The incoming droid had no time to take cover, nor was there any cover to take, in the empty basin of the canyon. It was hit by all three projectiles within the span of a second. The first struck its left leg, but it spun its hips to absorb the inertia. The second round caught it center-mass, jarring its metal skeleton and stopping its progress. The third was a head shot that flipped it onto its back. But the droid sat up ninety-degrees at the waist, right arm thrust forward, and emptied its KE weapon into the hostile robot. 305 shuddered and rolled backward, its chassis throwing off sparks as it was assailed by supersonic shards of granite and corundum. Rapid fire whipcracks echoed through the canyon inspiring humans to drop to the ground.

The M-4 bots were frail compared to the 305, which withstood the assault. Its KE weapon emptied, the bipedal android stood and raised its baton. Then it was blown away like a tumbleweed in a dust storm, as 305 slowly advanced on its target, emptying its eighty-kilo drum of ammo onto the android. Farmers whimpered and uttered soft prayers when the rotary weapon finally ceased firing and issued a loud click.

The humans peered down the canyon, and where the android had been, they saw only a smoking ball of contorted metal. Then it started to move. Righting itself until it rested on a knee, the android grabbed its hat from nearby on the ground. It stood and kilos of mushroomed slugs dropped from its carbon fiber uniform and settled onto the pulverized asphalt at its feet. The droid installed its battered sombrero onto its dusty cranium, dislodging a knot of hot lead that was stuck to its forehead. It looked at its left hand, made a fist, and the protruding baton crackled with electrical fire. Then it faced the big, aggressive robot downrange, and advanced on it rapidly. Likewise, the 305 robot brandished its steel claws and charged at the droid. Though everyone could see that 305’s armor was tattered, and it wobbled when it moved.

Except for the Colonel, every human ducked, screamed or swore as the bipedal android was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. The explosive projectile blasted it into the canyon wall where it was buried under a rockslide until completely gone from view. As the dust settled, everyone turned their eyes to the top of the big AV, where the Colonel stood, cradling the smoking metal tube of his portable rocket launcher.

The formation of farmers was held in check by the guns of Hal and Manchee, and the presence of the 305 bot, which was still operable, but also out of ammo and obviously damaged. Both M-4 robots hung limp where they stood. “Maintain your ranks, or you will be shot!” the Colonel shouted and Manchee translated, though it wasn’t necessary.

“Let’s cut our losses and get the hell outta here, Colonel!” Crip hollered.

His commander glared at him and responded, “Watch your tone, Crip. If you presume to start giving orders around here, I will shoot you myself.” He waited a moment and then turned toward the formation, which was tight again. The Colonel yelled to Achili, “Number three, go unhook your tractor and bring it here! We will use its excavator arm to extract the android from the rubble.” Manchee translated while the Colonel continued to speak in a lower tone, turning his gaze back to the pile of rocks that had buried the droid. “We’ll dig it out of there and see if we can salvage it. Or at least use it for parts.”

“But Colonel, what if it’s not dead?” Crip blurted. Then he cringed.

The Colonel faced him with a cold look, as if deciding whether or not to draw his sidearm. “If it isn’t dead, then we need to deal with it here and now. I don’t want it digging itself out of there and creeping up on us again. Besides, no machine could withstand that blast and remain functional. And I want to see what makes it tick. Now, come inside the AV and help 305 install its spare ammo drum. Then have it carry your tools over near the droid.”


Fully armed again, 305 lifted Crip’s heavy toolbox with ease. He threw a few of his ragged tech manuals on top and stared at the big robot, still functional but with a lot of superficial damage that he would have to repair. As he’d done many times in the past, Crip imagined reprogramming the bot so that his commands would supersede the Colonel’s. But it would take too long. His commander was no fool, and hardly let Crip out of his sight. He would fail and the retribution would be severe. The Colonel was a killer. Crip was not, and he had more at stake than just his own life.

Excavator arm extended out, Achili’s tractor approached the site along the canyon wall where the bipedal android had been buried. With his heavy machine, it didn’t take Achili long to remove enough rubble and find the crumpled body of the droid, blackened with soot and coated in grime.

“Get it out of there!” the Colonel commanded. “Hopefully it’s still in one piece.”

The jaws of the excavator clamped onto the droid and lifted it free, its arms, legs and head hanging limp. Achili pinned the thing to a medium sized boulder for inspection, keeping its body in the grip of the excavator.

Crip was reluctant to approach the unresponsive droid until the Colonel looked at him and said, “If you can’t take care of my machines, you aren’t much good to me alive, Crip.”

Crip sighed and grabbed a rag from his toolbox, along with a probing device that doubled as a torch. Then he hobbled over to the limp automaton. He went to its left arm first, prodding it with his insulated probe, careful not to touch the baton still extended from the thing’s hand. “Pretty much this whole arm’s a got-dang capacitor. It can charge this wand with enough juice to burn a man to ashes.” He glanced at the Colonel who said nothing. Crip hobbled to the other side of the excavator bucket, put his probe in his pocket and lifted the dangling right arm with both hands. The limb was heavy and still hot from the rocket blast. After a moment of scrutiny Crip said, “This arm’s got a got-dang kinetic zip gun in it.” He looked at the Colonel again. “No bullets. Coil operated. Shoots rocks. Totally self-sustainable. I’ve only read about stuff like this, and there ain’t much left to read.” He glanced over at Hal and Manchee. “Or anybody who can read.”

“It’s a dying art,” the Colonel said flatly. “I want that droid. Can’t you hack into it? Fix it up. Make it one of ours? Your life could depend on it.”

Crip ignored the threat and moved around toward the machine’s cranium. “Torso’s the power core. It’s dang near all battery. No hydraulics anywhere that I can see. Just springs and actuators, like a dang clock. Processor’s up here in the brain case. Same as ours,” he said as he peered into its unresponsive optics and used his rag to wipe away a layer of carbon and sand. “I don’t see any way to get into it. Cranium’s forged as a solid piece. I’d have to try cuttin’ it. Or come at it wireless. But I wouldn’t try rebootin’ it unless that dang AV’s parked on top of it.” He worked his way down from the cranium, cleaning the short column of metal vertebrae that comprised the android’s neck. Without looking up, he said, “It’s got a imprint here. A serial stamp.” He removed his spectacles, cleaned them with his shirt and put them back on. Craning his neck to get a better look, he said, “Looks like a fancy N, inside of a diamond, and then a seven, maybe a two, and then a, a fancy T.” He whistled as he stood up straight and said, “Holy mother.”

“What?” the Colonel asked, keeping his distance. “What is it?”

“It’s a dang Nextus, Seven-T series android that’s what. This thing’s a relic. It shouldn’t be here. These don’t exist no more.”

“Explain,” the Colonel ordered.

Crip turned to face him. “It’s a dang Nextus, Seventh Generation, Texas Class AI, a god-blasted, government crawler-killer from a long long time ago. Last arm of law enforcement in the Southern Republic. Designed to stay in the field, be self-sufficient, and learn. They only made a few of these before the ‘Geddon wiped out all our old-world tech.” He looked back at the droid, flinched and started to back away. “It’s hummin’.”

“What?” the Colonel barked.

“It’s hummin’. Its dang processor’s runnin’. It ain’t dead!” A loud ping issued from the body of the droid, and Crip turned his head and vomited, wobbling on his crutches. Likewise a wave of nausea ripped through the Colonel, as the area was inundated by a pulse of energy.

“It’s got some kinda magnetic disruptor!” Crip uttered, hobbling away as quickly as he could manage.

Regaining his composure, the Colonel looked to his man on the tractor, who was greensick but coherent, and commanded, “Number three, smash it, crush it!” He made a clenching gesture with his hand to make certain Achili understood.

The machine operator shook his head, wiggling the control levers and saying, “Está muerta! La machina está muerta!” His tractor was unresponsive, and ten meters away, so was the 305 robot, its optics aimed at the ground, torso drooping forward atop its chassis.

The Nextus, Seventh-Gen, Texas-Class AI lifted its burnt metal skull and swiveled it to face the Colonel. Its actuators buzzed as it used its arms and legs to force open the heavy jaws of the slackened excavator arm. The Colonel drew his sidearm and opened fire. The N-7-T’s cranium bounced around as the Colonel emptied his fifty-caliber handgun into the droid’s face from five meters away.

Only the N-7-T’s right-side optic came back into focus as it watched the Colonel flee to his armored vehicle, enter through the rear cargo door and seal it shut. Seconds later, the motor of the big AV fired up, and with a groan of ancient gears, the massive turret-gun that occupied the front end of the vehicle began to turn.

The N-7-T worked itself free from the excavator and went after the Colonel. As it passed the Armtex-305 robot, the android jammed its right hand through a gash in 305’s armor. It extracted a fist-sized component with dangling wires and spurting hydraulic lines and dropped it into the dirt.

The formation of farmers was barely holding together. With 305 out of commission, the odds had just seriously shifted, and Hal knew it. He hollered, “Y’all stay in formation or I’ll shoo—” A rock struck the back of his head. He staggered forward and slumped face first onto the hard ground.

Achili loaded another stone into his sling and hurled it at Manchee but the soldier saw it coming and ducked. Then he opened fire, but Achili dove behind the cover of his big tractor wheel. Bullets ricocheted, and then Manchee’s antiquated, assault rifle jammed. Panic beset him as he tried unsuccessfully to clear the weapon. Then he just dropped it, because he was out of time, as the farmers fanned out and moved toward him. He pulled his machete. “Quien es lo primero! Los mataré a todos!” he hollered. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Hal’s FAV only twenty meters away. He could still escape. He backpedaled toward the vehicle, fending off the farmers with the machete. He felt a presence behind him and turned to see a young man swinging a shovel.

An ear-splitting blast scattered the farmers as a massive projectile struck the ground in front of the N-7-T, peppering it with shrapnel, knocking it onto its back and leaving a two-meter crater in the road. But the droid popped up like a spring and charged the Colonel’s big AV just as another round came from the 60-milimeter cannon. The heavy slug whistled over the N-7-T’s head and in three quick strides, it leaped onto the AV. The weapon fired again, this time taking aim at a group of farmers huddled near the compost trailer. The round hit the heap and it rained black dirt in a fifty-meter radius. Hellbent on destruction, the Colonel swung the cannon toward Achili’s tractor. The turret’s gearbox bumped and whined, turning abnormally slowly. The Colonel glanced through a porthole to see the android grappling with his 60-milimeter gun barrel. The N-7-T exerted full power, torquing the red hot, iron tube until it bent upward slightly. The cannon discharged again, backfiring and splaying its muzzle like a corn husk. The droid was blasted clear of the AV and back into the grit.

The Colonel swore but couldn’t hear it over the ringing in his bleeding ears. He had to cut his losses, and they were grave. He slammed the big AV into high gear and moved out. Tracks gripped the earth and the massive machine lurched into motion. But it had scarcely traveled a meter before it was jolted sideways with a violent shift of inertia. The heavy vehicle shuddered and hopped on one side, tilling up the ground.

The Colonel felt the wild rage of impending doom. He peered out his starboard porthole and saw number 13, Hermosa, her face a mask of fury, driving her thirty-ton solar tractor into the side of his light tank. He drew his sidearm, installed the spare clip and aimed it through the porthole, but as he squeezed the trigger, the AV’s tracks fell into a fissure in the parched earth, and the big machine pitched up on one side, skewing the trajectory of his shot. Hermosa throttled her tractor forward and the armored vehicle rolled over, tossing the Colonel with all his belongings and a heap of scavenged, computer hardware and robot parts.

Hermosa stopped and watched the Colonel’s mobile command post turn upside down, its heavy, iron, rolling gear still clicking and grinding toward the sky. She threw her tractor in reverse and backed away as the AV started to smoke and the engine compartment caught fire. The N-7-T strode toward the vehicle as it started to leak fuel and burn in earnest. With its right hand, the droid tried to pry open the rear cargo door to get the Colonel out, but it wouldn’t budge. Its left arm hung limp at its side, inoperable. The AV’s fuel tank exploded, blasting the N-7-T back once more. When it scrambled to its feet, it saw the Colonel’s big, armored vehicle engulfed in a ball of flame. From where the droid stood, the temperature it measured was so high that the chance of human survival inside the burning machine was zero. It hesitated a moment, turned and walked toward Crip and the gathering farmers.

As the N-7-T approached, a stout young woman stepped protectively in front of Crip. A small girl followed behind her and latched onto Crip’s leg and one of his crutches, hugging tightly. The android stopped a few meters away and scrutinized them with the functional optic on its right side. Comparing the metrics of Crip’s face to the little girl’s, the droid determined that she was his offspring.

Achili appeared and ruffled the little girl’s hair in a familial gesture. Looking warily at the droid, he asked, “Que es?”

Crip spoke their language and he translated this to them, “It’s an old government law enforcer. From back when there were still laws and governments. Back before the ‘Geddon. It doesn’t have any voice hardware, so it can’t talk. I guess if they sent one of these after you, the time for words had already passed. But I’m sure it can decode any language. It definitely knows what we’re saying. And it can think. Predict behavior and respond to situations without any outside control. It knows right from wrong because of its internal code, but also from what it has learned. It’s from way back in the past, but it’s way more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen. In a lot of ways, it’s smarter than we are.”

Crip addressed the charred and battered android. “I can fix you up, I reckon. Get that broken arm workin’ again, and repair that busted optic on your left side. If you’ll let me.” He glanced at the disabled 305 robot and the two, mangled, M-4 bots downrange. “I should be able to come up with the parts.”

The N-7-T droid looked to the right, where Hermosa approached with its hat. She dusted the dense carbon-fiber sombrero off on her leg and handed it to the N-7-T. It took the hat and installed it onto its cranium.


The farmers spent the rest of the day prepping the caravan, scavenging parts from Hal’s FAV, and leaving it stripped down and inoperable. It required fuel, so it was a liability. Crip helped Achili get his tractor started, and he used the excavator to dig a grave for Hal and Manchee. The young hands tossed the bodies in, and Achili refilled the hole without ceremony. They loaded Crip’s toolbox into the motorhome shelter after he’d done what he needed to fix up the N-7-T android.

With his stash of robot parts having burned up in the Colonel’s AV, Crip couldn’t repair any of the three robots enough to make them functional, so they were abandoned to the elements. Crip had plenty to do keeping the aging tractors moving anyway. Besides, the farmers would never trust those robots. A youngster found a clean spring in the blasted cliffside where the android had been buried, and the men took turns filling jugs and dumping them into the water tanker for the duration of their stay.

When the caravan was all set to move out tomorrow morning, the clan of farmers gathered between their two lines of tractors and trailers. They built a fire of dead shrubs and scavenged wood, and they roasted vegetables from the greenhouse on long skewers. Achili and the few other elders watched the sun melt over the low mountains in the southwest as they talked quietly about their course, following the rains and keeping their distance from the sun. The Colonel’s toppled AV was no longer burning but it was blackened, welded shut and still too hot to approach. Waves of heat distorted the cool, evening air above it.

The N-7-T was fully functional again and Crip had even done his best to clean it up some. “You’re welcome to stay with us,” he said to the droid. “We could sure use your muscle. Of course, there’s others out there like us, that might need some help too, decent people tryin’ to survive in this god-blasted world. And there’s other raiders out there too. People like the Colonel who make victims out of us.”

Crip’s offspring, the little girl, approached the android and held out a shiny metal star in her dainty fingers. The droid looked down at its coat where its old badge had been. Crip said, “We made you a new star. Your other one was all burnt up and melted.”

The N-7-T looked at the child as she gestured with the star and said, “Da le. Da le.” The ancient automaton knelt before her and held still while she threaded the backing of the emblem through the course fibers of its coat and screwed a nut onto the back to hold it in place. She stepped back and nodded her head. The droid rose to its feet.

All were gathered around the fire for the little ceremony and many thanked the machine for their release, their freedom. At length, the N-7-T tipped its hat. Then it turned and walked away. A young man by the cookfire plucked a weathered, stringed instrument and sang an old gunfighter ballad as they watched the android disappear into the chiaroscuro of high desert twilight.

Submitted: September 15, 2023

© Copyright 2023 The Crimson Darter. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

Other Content by The Crimson Darter

Short Story / Science Fiction