The four men made their way through the facility on foot, Stingray in the lead. Icebringer walked behind, pushing a dolly full of crates while the Clunkers flanked him. Stingray walked with purpose, while his two ‘bodyguards’ snarled menacingly at any who came too close. The security guard on the site stopped him as he approached. Stingray pulled out his Maximatics ID card. He had forged it himself, so he had confidence it would fool any of their sensors.
“Will you be here long, sir?” The security guard asked, as the card passed scrutiny.
“No, just passing through before we head back out to the other facilities.” Stingray answered. “My security detail here will be joining me.”
The doors were open. The three made their way through the facility as if they belonged there.
Jada’s voice came through the piece in their ears. “So far, no one’s questioned your presence, ‘Manta’. According to the signal detectors, you should be approaching a data center on the right.”
“Ain’t enough people for a place this big,” Billy said, his hand hovering over his taser.
“Told ya we shoulda brought the magnet, Billy. Betcha they’re all robots. Be easy to stick.”
“Darn, yer right, Rufus. Hey, boss Manta, ya think we have time to run back to the junkya-err, the station?”
Stingray ignored them, shaking his head as he looked every which way, feeding Stargazer a live feed of what they were seeing. The Clunkers weren’t wrong. There were fewer employees than he had been expecting. “Cryo, you know what you need to do, right? Push that dolly around and deliver a package to the R&D labs.”
“Sure, Manta, but uhh, where exactly are they?”
“I’ve got you!” Jada’s voice said. “Just keep your overlay up on your specs, ‘Cryo’. I’ll feed you the locations. Now that you two are present, I’ve sent the signal. Rampage won’t be able to miss it!”
“Man, you two got some impressive toys!” Icebringer said with a whistle, as he pushed the dolly forward, carrying the crates filled with scramblers, signal extenders, and drones that the Underdog agents could use to infiltrate and bypass Maximatics Security. The trucker kept whistling as he continued on his way.
“As for you two, follow me. We’re going to make a stop at the data center.” Stingray gestured with his gloved hand for the two ‘police’ to follow.
“Ya got it boss.”
Stingray held up his card to the scanner and, after hearing the successful beep, pushed it open. There were two researchers working who looked up at his approach.
“Hey, who are you? Are you supposed to be here?”
Stingray flashed his card. “Yamazaki Hiro. I’m in charge of sales and marketing, and I need something good for this quarter. Show me something impressive, or I’ll just have to find someone who will.”
The Clunkers stood behind him, blocking the door. The researchers gave each other a look. “I don’t know…”
“Now you lookie here!” Billy stepped forward, peering over his shades. “Boss Stringray wants to see what you’ve got, and we ain’t here to waste time.”
Stingray couldn’t help it. He facepalmed.
“Err, Billy, yer not supposed to do the talkin’, remember? Now the jig is up.”
“Oh, right. Well…guess there’s no choice!”
“Hey what are you—” The researcher didn’t get to finish the sentence before the sound of electricity zapping from the taser filled the room. Both researchers fell with a thump. Stingray rubbed his temples.
“Not the cleanest but it’ll do. Now you two watch the door.” Stingray said as he moved to take a seat at the console. “Star, status. Cryo, how’s your progress?”
“You’re still clear, Manta.”
“Doing alright! Got two of the packages delivered. They’re uploading their files to Stargazer. Worked just like you said they would!”
“Like a charm,” Stingray said as he slid into the chair. The Clunkers were keeping an eye out for him. It took several minutes, but eventually, Stingray was able to work his magic and break through the firewalls on the computer. Soon, he was getting all the information that had been redacted on Lord Ian’s files.
“These aren’t just androids or tools…they’re copies! Copies of the Heavy Metal Machines!”
“What?! Are you sure, Hiro?”
“Yes. Azure Flame… I should have recognized it, that’s Wildfire! This one, the Mobile Cannon Unmanned Vehicle, it’s based on Judge’s ride! I’d recognize that anywhere! And there’s Little Monster and Black Lotus! And there’s something here… about Project Rebirth?”
“Wait, if they’re unmanned, then…what are the androids?”
“They’re making these as weapons. The androids are meant to infiltrate. They’ve disguised them with functional utility, but they want them spread throughout Metal City. This is deep.”
“Errr, hey Stingray!” Icebringer’s voice cut in over the comms, but Stingray continued, not hearing him.
“And the bunkers from the Ice Age, they’re still operational. People are still living down there. Why? I thought they retired them. What is Maximatics up to?”
“What is it, Cryo! And use my code name!”
“There’s something you should take a look at, ‘Manta’. I got my feed going right now.”
Stingray waited a few seconds, before Icebringer’s feed displayed on the monitors. There, in one of the research labs, was a familiar-looking hovercraft : Artificer’s. The scientist was nowhere in sight, however. Over the comms, Stingray heard Jada gasp.
“What is it?”
“These files from ‘Cryo’s’ upload. They’re… They’re labeled Lyudmila Kovaleva.”
“That’s impossible. Lyudmila Kovaleva was a scientist from my time. There’s no way she could still be around…”
“Well, you are, right? Hold on, I’m getting a strange signal…”
The signal was coming from inside the facility. Stingray frowned as he started to work to clean it up. He thought he could see a face made out of code on his screen, behind the text. Slowly, letters began to form. T R A P P E D. M A I N F R A M E.
“Hey, Manta! Parts of Artificer’s hovercraft are lighting up!”
“That’s it!” Stargazer said. “I’ve got the signal. It’s bouncing all over the facility. It’s… It’s Artificer, I mean, it’s… Lyudmila! She’s inside the machines! The origin point is her hovercraft. If we can get it out, we can get her out.”
“Gonna be hard to do that without getting’ caught,” Rufus said, his slow voice coming in clear over the comms.
“Stargazer, is Rampage still in the area?”
“Yeah, I’m still picking his location up on my radar, but why? He can’t break through the security.”
“No, but I can let him in. Or should I say, these automated machines are about to malfunction. That way, no one would know of our involvement!” Stingray was already inside the system. The artificial intelligence was complicated, but he had experience with systems like this. It wouldn’t be permanent, but he just needed to get control of the machines briefly. Sending the androids out, he started shutting down the security features. The shields came down and the gates opened.
“He’s noticed! Rampage is moving in!” Stargazer said.
“We should get movin’, boss! We’re gonna have company if we stay here too long!”
“Right. Cryo, grab the mainframe! We’re taking it and making our way out. I’m going to distract them!” Stingray smiled as he finished typing his parting code. The automated machines would be fighting each other thanks to the virus, unable to recognize friend from foe until they were reset. Enough time to get away.
“Let’s book it!”
As they fled, the ground had already begun to shake from Rampage’s arrival.
“Mr. Lorde, this facility is no longer safe for you. The subject has returned. We must get you out.”
Solomon Lorde stood by the window, looking out at the factory below. Fire had started to spread. The walls he had built to be so strong had already started to crumble as Rampage’s siege began. The confusion that had spread with the malfunction had cast the entire facility in disarray.
“What number is this? Three? Six?”
“It is the fourth facility, sir. But we must hurry.”
“I have built this company from the ground…and one rogue patient seeks to destroy it.” Solomon Lorde stared to the cabin of the bulldozer. Rampage was looking up. He could see the mechanist’s crazed eyes. “I will need another subject. One with the rage, the power, that this patient had. Did you grab all the information on Project Rebirth?”
“Yes, sir. Your vehicle is waiting for you.”
“Excellent. It is well past time to begin work anew. And this time, we have more than enough of a sample to draw from.”