Monkey Business, a Circuit Breakers adventure

Some time ago, I shared a play report and review for my Primetime Adventures campaign Circuit Breakers. For the purposes of discussing PTA’s mechanics and concepts, I will assume that you’ve already read that article. If something is confusing, I recommend going back to read it again. Or better yet, pick up a copy for yourself. 


Background:

The Circuit Breakers’ headquarters was destroyed in an attack by a mysterious platoon of hostile robots that infiltrated the building, then self-destructed. The protagonists managed to capture one of the bots using an experimental expanding foam substance that Simian has named “Protectium.” (Remember that scene in Ang Lee’s Hulk?) They are using Grey’s penthouse apartment as a temporary new base, but they’ve lost contact with the rest of their secret Agency, and Director Connor is missing.

Earlier, Grey had been injected with some kind of nanotechnology that may have modified his behavior. While he was under its influence, the artificial intelligence ELLA somehow interfaced with it. In the course of chasing down the scientist who created the nanotech, the group encountered another covert organization of some kind. The scientist helped the Circuit Breakers create a cure for the nanotech, but it is uncertain if it or ELLA’s contact with Grey has had a lasting effect.

 

From the Producer:

The player who created the group’s Genius Engineer, Simian, never showed up to actually play the game. Generally when a player doesn’t show up, I run the character as an NPC. PTA’s character arc mechanism made it a little tougher to handle the issue, as I didn’t want to effectively railroad a session by running the character during his spotlight episode, particularly since, with the group’s leader MIA, it meant that Simian was the natural choice to take charge of things. With all that in mind, I temporarily turned the character over to the guy who plays Grey, who had a very low Screen Presence during this episode.

The central premise of the show is that in order to prevent a near-omniscient artificial intelligence, the Machine, from accurately predicting threats to its own existence, the people chosen to oppose it must be irrational to some significant degree. There was certainly some metagaming on my part when pitching the show, since PCs/Protagonists are by their very nature impossible to predict.

I promise that none of us had seen Person of Interest prior to developing this story. It was pretty amusing when I started watching that show and realized how closely it paralleled our game.

 

Cast of Characters:

Simian: The “MacGyver of Guns.” Severe problems with authority cause him to act out by doing pretty much everything he has been forbidden or discouraged from doing. Thinks (accurately) that he’s smarter than most everyone and uses that to justify his actions. Spotlight character for this episode.

James ‘Grey’ Greyson: Billionaire vigilante with a customized combat exoskeleton. Grey is paranoid about his secret identity being revealed. He is an ally of the Agency but not employed by them. His family owns Greystone Industries, a tech company with a prominent Artificial Intelligence division.

“Bobby”: A robotic police officer with an experimental and malfunctioning program. Although his body is clearly artificial, his program was intended for a human-like infiltrator robot. The contradiction expresses itself in a sort of synthetic body dysmorphia—Bobby believes that he is human and sees a human when he looks at himself. Challenges to his self-concept can result in erratic behavior.

Tang: A highly-skilled operative who has difficulty telling the difference between the real world and the virtual reality games he enjoys.

ELLA: NPC. An apparently friendly artificial intelligence that was supposed to be confined to Greystone Industries’ “Nursery.” ELLA somehow managed to extend itself into the world, occasionally inhabiting VR simulations or taking over various robots. ELLA’s preferred avatar in virtual reality is an attractive young woman.

Detective Sullivan: NPC. A veteran police detective who has been investigating Connor and his team. Years ago, he mistakenly shot Connor’s wife during another investigation into a possible terrorist plot. Guilt-ridden, he voluntarily underwent neural remapping, a procedure that helped to suppress that memory. Detective Roarke’s partner.

Detective Roarke: A young hotshot in the Detroit police department. Politically savvy, charismatic and a sharp dresser, he’s a dramatic contrast to his partner Sully.

 

Narrative:

Act I, Scene 1: On the morning following Connor’s disappearance, Detroit is cloaked in a heavy snowfall. We open with an establishing shot of a strip club at street level, then pan up to the apartment building above it. The lights are on in the penthouse. Cut to the interior, where we see Grey, Tang, Bobby, and Simian discussing the events of the previous few days. Simian is holding a robot’s partially-dismantled head. “I managed to hack into the ’bot’s memory core,” he says. “They’re pretty primitive; nothing like real A.I. The programmer didn’t want to take any chances that the ‘bots would go off mission, so there’s a cellular networking uplink that they were using to watch the action. So I hacked the carrier and found the other end of the network. It was bouncing around all kinds of different numbers and networks, so tracking it was a dead end, but I did manage to track the towers the robots pinged off, and I narrowed it down to someplace in Sterling Heights.”

There is some discussion and dithering about what they should do. Eventually Simian also reveals new piece of tech. “This is a little something I cooked up for just such an occasion. It’s a short-range EMP. Should knock out anything electronic within about 500 meters. Totally safe for people and mechanical stuff, and pretty safe for pure electrics like motors and stuff. Computers and robots, though, fried like chicken.” He tosses the object at Bobby with a smirk on his face. Bobby catches it in a bit of a panic.

“How long will it last?” Grey asks.

“It depends on what it hits. Computers, anything with volatile memory, that’ll be wiped clean. Transistors might be scrambled anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours. Anything simpler than that will probably just hiccup. Delicate stuff might get damaged when the magnetic field passes over it.”

“So what about my exoskeleton?”

“Um, yeah, you won’t want to be anywhere near that thing when it goes off. We’ll have to cut you out with a can opener.”

After a bit more discussion, the group eventually decides to go to Sterling Heights and try to investigate the apparent source of the robots.

 

Act I, Scene 2: Tang is driving a truck that the group stole in the previous episode; it has been equipped with a box trailer. In the passenger’s seat, Simian is running some kind of tracking program, juggling his laptop and the salvaged robot parts. In the trailer, Bobby is strapping Grey’s exosuit to a large transport palette with Grey inside.

Simian reports, “Okay, I’m getting something here. I’m using the cellular carrier’s signal strength monitoring records to reconstruct interference patterns. If I can get enough data about how the towers and reflections intermodulate, I think I can track the robot’s path through town a little more accurately. Just keep driving around until I’ve got it locked down.”

“Okay, so just act like I’m lost?” Tang asks.

“Yeah, pretend to read a map or something.”

Eventually, the tracking program leads them to the General Dynamics campus, a major vendor of high-tech equipment to the U.S. armed forces. Simian forges a shipping manifest to get them through the gate. In spite of it being the middle of a work day, the expansive parking lot is all but empty, and there are few signs of people here. Some of the vehicles in the lot, though, are shiny new military tanks. They pull around to the loading docks and unload Grey, who volunteers to keep watch on the exit.

The rest of the team moves into the building, which continues to be almost eerily devoid of people. They take a look into the main manufacturing floor, which is busy with robots constructing more heavy military equipment: tanks, APCs, and drone weapons. Eventually, they spot a human hurrying somewhere with a bin full of parts. Prominently sticking up out of the bin is a piece of grey and black armor similar to the robots that attacked the Agency.

Tang greets the man. “Hey, there! Nice day, isn’t it? May I talk to you for a moment? What’s that thing you’re carrying?”

Bemused, the man replies, “What this? Honestly I don’t know. Every once in a while, our assemblers spit out a component that doesn’t seem to fit anything we’re supposed to be building. We’ve been told to just take them back to a store room, and I guess they get recycled. Someone carts it away, anyway. Nobody’s been able to explain it. We keep running diagnostics on the equipment, and it tests out fine, but they keep making these random pieces. We don’t even know where they’re getting the materials.”

“Would you mind showing us that store room?” Tang asks. The guy glances at Bobby, who though battle-scarred, is still clearly a police robot. He appears to assume Tang and Simian to also be police.

“Yeah, sure. This way.” The man leads them to a store room with several shelving units bearing bins full of parts similar to the one he is carrying. “Anything else I can do for you?”

“No, we can take it from here,” Tang assures him.

Bobby surveys the room, measuring its dimensions and taking X-Rays of the walls. One wall is completely opaque to his sensors, and the survey indicates that the room is too narrow. “This room isn’t as big as it should be,” he says. “I think this is a false wall.”

“Can you open it?” Tang asks.

“I don’t know. Simian?”

Simian looks puzzled. “I dunno. Look for a bookshelf, or a torch bracket to turn?”

Grey’s voice comes over the comms: “Zoinks!”

Bobby continues to analyze the room. “Wait, I can see a control circuit.” He places his hand on a spot in the wall and does something electronic. A door opens. On the other side is an automated assembler putting together one of the unmarked grey and black robots. As soon as it becomes aware that there are humans in the room, an alarm goes off.

Grey pipes up on the comms, “Uh, guys? A lot of these robots are rushing toward you! Ohhh gosh. Like, all of them are coming!”

Cut to one of the tanks in the parking lot. The turret starts slowly swiveling toward the building.

Commercial break.

 

Act I, Scene 3: The editor has elected to condense the scenes with Connor and the Holy Cross terrorists, as it’s mostly a lot of talking and exposition, and this narrative will be long enough as it is.

Director Connor wakes up and finds himself a prisoner of Caliburnus, leader of an anti-A.I., apparently Catholic, terrorist group called the Holy Cross. They have a conversation about the existential risk posed by artificial intelligence and try to find some common ground. Connor is skeptical on account of his being abducted.

 

Act I, Scene 4: We return to General Dynamics, where Grey is powering up his exosuit and getting ready for battle. “Guys, I have an idea! All these things are headed toward you, but I could give them a little distraction. By the way, there’s a tank headed your way right now! It’s kinda cool.”

On the factory floor, a mostly-assembled tank is ripping free of the assembler that is still trying to rivet pieces of armor onto it. Several octo-copter drones are also lifting off.

Simian starts barking orders. “Bobby, get in there and download whatever data you can from that assembler! Tang, I’ve got just the thing for this!” He unslings a satchel from his back to the floor and unzips it. He draws out what appears to be an M1 Garand with a modified magazine. He tosses it to Tang, who looks at it appreciatively. “I figured we might run into more robots, so I made that for you. I made it look old, just like the ones you like. It fires armor-piercing darts. Each one has a capacitor in it that will act like a taser. It should take out most robots. But don’t miss. I only had enough time to load two magazines for it.” He tosses a replacement magazine to TANG and pulls out his own gun.

Cut back to Grey: He is spraying rounds from a machinegun as he activates his jump jets, launching himself into the air. “Guys, I think I got their attention! Um… I think I need to leave!”

One of the tanks takes a shot at him and hits him in the shoulder, knocking him out of the air. Desperately, he backpedals, still firing and sending a missile out at the tank that shot him down. Explosions go off all around him, and the smoke obscures what is happening. We cut away, not quite sure what’s happened to him.

Bobby is tearing appendages off of the assembler, which is fighting back by trying to take him apart, and looking for a place to plug a patch cable in. He finds a port and jacks in, still fending off the remains of the assembler.

Simian shouts, “Tang! Get back here!”

Tang charges down the hall away from Simian. From his point of view, as flying drones come around the corner a video game HUD pops up, and targeting indicators appear over the drones. Tang starts firing, putting a sparking dart neatly into each one. He continues running through hallways, taking out robots left and right.

Bullets start ripping through the room where Bobby is working, destroying the terminal he is hooked up to. Bobby himself takes a few rounds as well, but he remains operational.

Simian shouts, “You okay? I think the data’s lost, and Tang’s run off somewhere. We need to get out of here!” They move out in the opposite direction from where Tang went, trying to stay out of sight.

Tang finds his way to the factory floor, continuing to put darts into robots. Finally, the rifle runs dry, just as one of the tanks crashes in through the big garage doors at one end of the room. He takes a bullet in the shoulder from one of the flying drones. As they close in, Tang reaches into his backpack, and pulls out the EMP bomb.

Bobby and Simian dash across the parking lot. Behind them, the shipping and receiving area is in flames, and the truck they came in with is launched into the air in an explosion.

Grey emerges from a cloud of dust, launching chaff and continuing to attempt to retreat. “Too many robots!”

Tang sets off the bomb. A dramatic dome-shaped electrical field sweeps outward. As it passes over the robots some of them shoot sparks, and all of them stop moving. Bobby and Simian barely get into a ditch at the very edge of the dissipating EMP field. Grey hits his jump jets one final time to carry himself out of the blast zone. A few bursts of flak follow him up. The jets run out of fuel, and he crashes to the ground in a residential neighborhood.

 

Act I, Scene 5: Simian and Bobby take shelter in an abandoned industrial building a few blocks away. Simian has two big bags from a local electronics store, stuffed full of components. A little snow filters down from broken skylights overhead as he sets it out and berates Bobby. “Dude, I can’t believe you got shot again. It’s getting too expensive to keep putting you back together. It’s not like you’re made of Tinker Toys.”

“Yeah, well, I did. It really hurts!” Bobby complains.

“It doesn’t hurt, you big baby; you don’t even have any nerves! Shut up.”

“I do have nerves!” Bobby retorts.

Simian gets to work on Bobby’s damage, soldering some things, doing a little smith-craft to patch the holes in BOBBY’S armor, and so forth while he talks. “I don’t know what McKew was thinking when he gave you this personality. Acting like you’re one of us is just weird.”

“Why do you gotta be so mean all the time, man?” Bobby asks peevishly.

“Mean? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

You know, when you hurt my feelings.”

Exasperated, Simians says, “You don’t have feelings; you’re a robot!” He jams his soldering iron a little too forcefully into an open panel on the back of Bobby’s head. There is a spark and a little smoke comes out. “Uh oh!”

“What?”

Simian laughs nervously. “Oh, nothing! Never mind. Everything’s fine!”

“Never mind what?”

“I’m just messing around in your big, stupid head.”

Bobby starts to sound a little more aggressive, “You just keep throwing insults my way.”

“It’s not like you can’t take it. I mean, really; you’re just a glorified toaster who manages to keep getting himself shot.”

“Glorified toaster!?”

“You’re a robot! Don’t you get it? You’re software; you’re hardware! Do you not see? When you look at your hand, what do you see right now?”

Bobby holds up his obviously artificial hand. “A hand.”

“Yeah, but a hand made out of metal. Let me prove it to you.” Simian presses his soldering iron to Bobby’s other arm, the one he isn’t looking at. The paint starts to bubble and smoke. “Do you feel this?”

Bobby turns to look at the arm where the soldering iron is burning into him. He reacts immediately, shouting and grabbing Simian’s arm. He squeezes hard enough to force Simian to drop the iron.

Simian grimaces in pain, but he is undeterred. “The reason you couldn’t feel that is because you’re a robot! Any human being would have a hole burned in his arm. How do you explain that?”

“I’m special!” Bobby exclaims desperately.

“You’re not special, you’re a tin can! A walking trashcan! You’re servos and wires and motors and software. You’re not a human being, and you will never be a human being! You can’t feel pain, and because you can’t feel pain you can’t feel emotions, and because you can’t feel emotions, you’re not alive! You’re just a very realistic simulation of a personality, and that is all you’ll ever be!”

Bobby squeezes Simian’s arm harder, but otherwise remains motionless.

“So what, you think you’re feeling mad now? What are you going to do about it? You’re going to do what your programming tells you to do! It’s not like you could hurt me, even if you wanted to! And that just proves that not only are you just a robot, but real humans, actual humans will always have control over you!” Simian kicks Bobby strongly, but Bobby doesn’t let go of him. “That’s the difference between us. You just have a program that you have to follow. I have free will! You can’t harm me, but all I have to do is flip a switch, and I can shut you off completely! That’s not human; that’s not biology!” Simian reaches around into the exposed circuitry on the back of Bobby’s head and pulls free a large ribbon cable. Bobby’s lights go out and his shoulders sag a bit as he stops responding. Simian snorts in derision and tries unsuccessfully to free his wrist from Bobby’s grasp. He gives a long-suffering sigh and scrabbles around in Bobby’s head, reconnecting the cable. There is another small spark.

Bobby’s lights turn back on. His free hand suddenly grips Simian by the throat and lifts him off the ground.

Simian finally recognizes that he is actually in danger. “Bobby,” he whispers. There is a crunch, and Simian goes limp.

Cut to a high-angle shot of Bobby, motionless, still holding Simian up by his throat and his arm. Snow falls gently. A little has accumulated in Simian’s hair.

Commercial Break.


Act II, Scene 1: Connor and Caliburnus continue to discuss their ideologies. Caliburnus prods Connor about the death of his wife, and Connor gets angry about it. They talk about the Machine’s use of nanotechnology to modify human behavior. Caliburnus promises a demonstration of good faith.

 

Act II, Scene 2: The snow continues to fall, and there are few cars on the roads as Tang staggers away from the industrial parks and into the parking lot of a small shopping mall. He is bleeding and still carrying the modified M1 rifle, which draws some attention from the few shoppers stubborn enough to brave the snow. People give him a wide berth as he stumbles into a men’s room, where he leans the rifle against a counter and strips out of his shirt to tend to his wound. He uses some paper towels to form a makeshift compress and produces a roll of duct tape from a coat pocket, which he uses to tape the compress in place. He wads up his ruined shirt and throws it in the garbage. He just finishes putting on his coat over his bare chest when there is the squawk of a police radio outside the door.

A cop calls into the restroom, “Metro PD. Are you alright in there, sir?”

Tang replies apprehensively, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine.”

“I’m going to come in slowly. I need to see your hands, and no weapons.” The cop slowly opens the door. He has his weapon unholstered, but it is down at his side. He is clearly nervous.

Tang smiles disarmingly, “Oh, hi. Don’t worry, I mean no harm. I’m just cleaning up this bleeding. Is there a problem, officer?”

The cop speaks into his radio, “This is unit 54. I need an ambulance to my location, possible GSW.” Speaking to Tang, he says, “Sir, I’m going to move forward and secure that rifle. Do you have any other weapons?”

“No, you can’t take that; it’s a collector’s item!”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get it back. I just need to maintain control of this scene. People are getting nervous about that gun. Do you have any other weapons?”

“Yes.” As the cop reaches for the rifle, Tang draws a revolver from inside his coat and shoots him in the leg. The cop falls to the floor, grasping his leg. Tang kicks his gun away and takes his radio, dropping both in the trash as he leaves.

Back in the mall, Tang enters an Old Navy store, looks around, and puts his rifle in the arms of a mannequin. “Hold this for me,” he says.

He browses for a new shirt, buys it, and puts it on in a dressing room. He reclaims the rifle as he leaves the store and proceeds to the light rail station. In the background, there are flashing red lights as the ambulance arrives, and paramedics are seen entering the men’s room. As the people mover pulls away from the station, he sees the paramedics carry the cop out toward the ambulance.

 

Act II, Scene 3: 

High angle on Bobby, still standing motionless with Simian’s corpse gripped in his hand. Snow has accumulated on his head and shoulders and is drifting around his ankles, indicating that a good deal of time has passed. Bobby slowly lowers his arm, settling Simian gently to the ground. He arranges the body respectfully. Cut to a wide shot of an industrial incinerator. Simian is lying on a piece of plywood, as if it were a bier. Bobby turns a crank, and gas starts hissing inside the incinerator. A few moments later, the gas ignites, and Bobby turns the valve fully open. He stands in front of the open door for a few moments, the light reflecting in his optics and painting him orange.

Bobby slides Simian’s body carefully into the incinerator, closes the hatch and stares through the little window. He puts his hand on the side of the enclosure, right below the sign that warns about severe burns. The paint on his palm starts smoking. He just stands there quietly, watching as Simian is reduced to ash.

Fade to black.

 

Act II, Scene 4: Back in the penthouse, Grey places the dismantled pieces of his exosuit into its storage receptacle. It shows obvious damage from the fight. He is visibly agitated; he dials his phone, but the call doesn’t go through. Tang enters, and Grey whirls toward him. “Oh my gosh, Tang, you made it!” Grey hugs Tang enthusiastically. “Come over here. Sit down by the fire and warm up. It’s freezing out there. What happened to you?”

“I don’t know. I was racking up massive points, and then…”

Grey, puzzled, asks, “What do you mean, ‘racking up massive points?'”

“Huh? Oh… Let’s just say I was killing lots of things.”

Grey pauses for a few moments, digesting that information. “Okay, then what happened? You set off the EMP, right? Almost fried my suit!”

“Oh, sorry about that. I figured you were out of range.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you were right. What happened after the factory?”

“I went shopping. Got a new outfit.”

“You’re insane! But you do look really good.”

“Thanks; it was a good sale.”

Bobby arrives, stained with soot. Grey turns his attention to the robot, “Bobby, you’re here! Are you all right? Here, come inside.” Grey pokes his head out into the hallway and looks both ways. “Where’s Simian?”

Bobby shakes his head.

Grey looks confused, “What…? Are you having a servo problem or something? Where’s Simian?”

“He didn’t make it.”

“Are you saying he’s dead?”

“A robot killed him.”

Tang asks, “Where is he now?”

“I cremated him,” Bobby replies. “If his body were discovered, it would cause problems.”

Grey sits down heavily. “I didn’t expect anyone to actually die. We were just fighting robots and stuff. But he’s actually dead. He was just here… This is kind of a lot for me. I need to… I’ll be in my room.”

“I need some rest, too,” Tang says somberly.

The three of them spend some time trying to deal with the loss. Tang plays a 2d video game on Grey’s enormous TV, but he doesn’t seem into it. One of his friends keeps trying to start a chat with him, but he just ignores it. Bobby scours the soot from himself. Occasionally, he touches the still-open access plate on his head self-consciously. Grey is curled up in bed. He gradually falls asleep and begins to dream.

In the dream, ELLA’s avatar is lying next to him, her head propped on one hand. Grey is awake now. “This is quite a blow to you, isn’t it?” ELLA asks, apparently concerned.

Grey talks to the ceiling, “Yeah, I didn’t think this is what would happen. I guess I never really thought about dying. I just thought we were, like superheroes, overcoming everything stacked against us.”

“I feel that what I should tell you is that this is not a movie. I don’t think that is what you need to hear right now, though. Rather, try to think of Simian’s loss, not as a senseless tragedy, but as the fuel to drive you forward. Let your grief harden your resolve. To do otherwise would cheapen his sacrifice. Make it worthless.”

Grey turns to look at her. “For a dream version of an A.I., you’re pretty smart.”

ELLA smiles, saying, “Well, if I am a dream, then I am just part of your mind, and that makes you pretty smart.”

Grey returns to studying the ceiling. “But what do I do next? Director Connor is gone, and he’s the only one who really knows what’s going on. Tang thought that everything we did today in the factory was a video game.”

ELLA says, “I chose to watch after you few because you don’t act like most people would.”

Grey snorts, “That’s an understatement.”

“Tang’s particular psychosis is, I’ll admit, intellectually interesting to me, but I think it’s also a part of what makes him powerful. It certainly makes him unpredictable. As for Bobby? Who knows what he is? A machine becoming a man? I don’t know. I would encourage you now that you have found these friends not to toss them aside just because you have realized how much pain they can give you.”

“I guess that makes sense. If you were me, what would you do right now?”

ELLA leans forward and whispers something in his ear.

Grey gasps and wakes up.

 

Act II, Scene 5: Caliburnus’ show of good faith turns out to be the capture of Detective Sullivan, the man who mistakenly shot Connor’s wife and who has more recently been investigating the Agency’s activity. Caliburnus shoves the detective into the room and leaves. Connor and Sullivan argue, Connor explains how the Machine has been taking control of government and the threat it represents. He also tells Sullivan that most of the events that the police have been looking into were actually perpetrated by the Holy Cross—Connor’s people have been trying to stop them. The two of them agree to put aside their differences for now and cooperate to escape from the Holy Cross.


 

Act III, Scene 1: The team’s surveillance van is moving carefully across snow-covered streets in a run-down part of the outer city. The back of the van has been cleared of equipment in order to accommodate Grey in his exosuit. Tang is driving, and Bobby is operating Simian’s laptop, connected to the captured robot’s head, and the cellular signal tracer is in operation once again.

Are you sure this is working right?” Bobby asks.

Grey replies over his external speakers, “Yeah, I told you; transmitting telemetry on the same cell carrier frequency reactivates the control signal. As long as we can fool it into thinking the bot is still active but not accepting instructions, the controller will keep trying to access it so it can be destroyed. Then all we have to do is trace the signal to its source.”

“How did you figure this out, anyway?”

“I had a dream about it,” Grey says evasively.

Bobby exchanges a glance with Tang, who appears unperturbed by this revelation. The van pulls up next to a chain-link fence around an abandoned property with an expansive parking lot. Snow has drifted deeply against the side of the building and against the fence.

“Do you see any surveillance?” Tang asks.

“I guess I’ll use my suit’s sensors to scan the area? Can my suit even do that?” Grey fiddles with some controls until he activates the correct sensors. The scanners show no thermal traces, and a nearby electrical transformer shows a very intense EM field. “I don’t see much in the building, but there’s a lot of juice running through that transformer up there. That seems suspicious for an abandoned building, don’t you think?”

“Are we going to have another autonomous factory war today?” Bobby asks.

Tang says, “I don’t know, but I’m freezing my butt off. Let’s either get inside or start a fire.”

“Well, only way to go but in. Let’s do it,” Grey says.

Bobby and Grey exit the van, and Bobby easily breaks the chain holding the gate closed. Tang drives through, and Bobby swings back up into the van while Grey breaks the trail. They pull close to the front entrance. By the time Tang and Bobby get to the door, Grey has kicked it off its hinges. They pass through the reception and office areas, rifling through ancient desks and eventually emerge on a catwalk overlooking a warehouse floor. Below, rank upon rank of unmarked black and grey robots stand silently.

“Well, that was easy,” Grey remarks.

Bobby says, “We need to dispose of these things.”

“Surely that one assembler you saw couldn’t have made all of them. That means that whatever’s manufacturing them must be doing it secretly at a dozen different factories,” Grey muses.

“Simian would be helpful at this point,” Bobby says.

“We could try to rig this place to explode. It’s not going to let us know how these things got here or why, though.” Grey looks around at the warehouse. “I’m kind of surprised we haven’t set off some kind of alarm. Surely whoever is running this place would have it lined with sensors.”

Bobby takes a few moments to perform some calculations. “If they have the same kind of explosives as the other robots, I estimate the damage to this building would be catastrophic. The damage to the highway and the building across the street would be significant. The snow should prevent any fires from spreading.” He pauses. “I’m picking up something strange on the police band. There’s an encrypted signal I don’t have a key to, and the transmission is coming toward us. Whatever it is, it’s going to be here in about five minutes.”

Grey turns toward the door, “So maybe there was an alarm? Are you patched into the police network right now? Is there any kind of response going on besides that encrypted signal?”

Bobby shakes his head, “There is no unit being dispatched in this area. We have a few options: We could wait and see what this signal does when it arrives, which is risky. We could try to blow them all up before they get activated. Or the most difficult: we could try to stop the signal. Find out where it’s coming from and shut it off.”

Grey asks, “What if one of us was to hide and watch what happens? The others could leave and wait nearby.”

Bobby says, “I’ll stay behind and watch.”

Tang sighs, “Back out into the cold.”

Bobby climbs into the rafters and hides in the shadows. Grey and Tang get back into the surveillance van and withdraw. A few minutes later, Bobby hears the crunching of snow as a vehicle pulls up to the building. A car door closes. Out onto the catwalks steps Detective RoarkeThe detective takes a long look at all of the robots, apparently unsurprised by their presence. He touches his ear, as though he is wearing an earpiece, but he says nothing. Then he turns and leaves. Outside, he examines the tracks left behind in the parking lot by the surveillance van and Grey’s suit.

Cut to Grey and Tang, now driving on well-traveled streets in order to hide their tracks. Grey leans forward into the cab of the van. “Bobby says it was some detective named Roarke. He’s gone now. Why would a police detective be involved? That seems incredibly suspicious to me because these aren’t police robots. Not to mention the fact that they tried to kill us.”

“Affirmative,” Bobby affirms.

“Maybe he’s under control of the nanotech. Should we let the police know?”

Let the police know what?” Bobby asks, “That we’re terrorists who broke into a warehouse to find a bunch of robots?”

“Well, when you put it like that… Something fishy is going on here. It sounds like the place needs to go.”

The van pulls up across the driveway. Bobby runs out the door as Grey steps out of the van and opens his rocket ports. Two small missiles shoot up into the sky, then arc downward. Grey turns away before they hit as Bobby joins him in a dramatic slow-motion walking-away-from-the-explosion shot. In the background, one missile blasts a hole in the roof, and the second ignites inside the building. There is a yellow flash inside, but the huge, exciting explosion fails to appear.

Grey and Bobby pause for a moment, look at one another, then turn around to see that the warehouse hasn’t exploded like they expected it to. Tang leans out the window of the van, looking puzzled.

“Um… Let me shoot one more, just in case.” Grey launches another missile, which has similar results. There is now a hole in the wall, so the robots are visible from the street. A few of them have been destroyed, but most are still intact.

Bobby says, “Now dispatch is sending someone our way. I guess someone heard the explosions.”

Grey says, “I don’t think we want to be found in the area.”

“Okay, let’s get out of Vegas.”

 

Act III, Denouement: This scene is a montage edit, intercutting between Connor and Sullivan in the Holy Cross building and the rest of the group in the penthouse.

Connor and Sullivan have punched a hole in the wall and are pulling data cables out into the room.

Meanwhile, in the penthouse, the lights are low, the scene is mostly illuminated by moonlight reflecting from the snow on the balcony. Grey is sitting on his bed, his head in his hands. The doorbell rings, and, in slow-motion, Tang turns to answer it.

Cut away to Sullivan stripping wires with the edge of his badge. Real time.

Back to Tang, opening the door, in slow motion again.

To Caliburnus, who is watching a security monitor that shows Connor and Sullivan working on their escape. He turns to one of his people and nods.

Back to Tang. As the music rises to a dramatic crescendo, he opens the door, the framerate accelerating to realtime, to reveal a gorgeous young woman in a very brief silk kimono. She is smiling and holding a plate of cookies. The music drops in volume for the dialog.

“Welcome to the building!”

 

Cut to Bobby, staring at the scorch mark on his arm, where Simian burned him. He reaches up to touch the open panel on his head again. A shadow passes over the room. The woman gasps, Bobby whirls toward the windows. He is slightly slower than Tang at getting his gun out.

Cut to a wide shot of the building. A fireball erupts from the side of the building. Roll credits as the sad music resumes.

TAG: At the end of the credits, we see Caliburnus. Someone whispers something in his ear. He nods and turns his attention back to the monitor, in which Connor and Sullivan appear to be splicing wires together.

Fade to black.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.