Chapter 36: A Quest!
"Are you sure it's wise to not tell your mother where you are?" Blue asked Alexander as the pair walked towards Pascal's home.
"I'm just performing an ancient human teenager ritual called 'rebelling.' And according to what I've read and seen in media, 'sneaking out of the house' is a time-honored method of doing so," Alex replied with a dismissive wave. "Besides, I told her I would be out of the house, didn't I? I just never said where I'd be going."
Blue tilted her head at the semantics and logic her friend was using to convince himself, but she didn't mind too much. Him 'rebelling' meant she had more time with him! Sure, she'd have to share it with Pascal, but at least Pascal had no attraction to the human teen, nor did the Machines' leader have any of the traits – like butts and boobs – that might distract Alexander.
As she thought that, Blue looked down at herself, and noted her smooth, cylindrical body.
'What is it about an abundance of fat in certain places of the human body that so tantalizes Alexander?' the Machine Lifeform couldn't help but wonder.
That particular mystery would have to wait a while to be answered, as the duo reached Pascal's humble abode and knocked on the door.
After a couple of seconds it swung open, revealing the unique Machine who ran the village (though really it was more of a town these days.)
"Hello, Blue. Hello Alexander. I was informed you two wanted to join me on an archeological dig, correct?"
"That's right!" Alex said with a nod. "Blue told me how you two go out and explore old human ruins, and it sounded fun!"
"Are you prepared? It will not be easy, and the site will likely be dangerous," Pascal warned.
"I have a bag full of supplies, my gun and my sword-knife cleaned and functional, my magic topped off and primmed, and you two as backup. I am ready to have an adventure!" Alex declared with a fist-pump.
Pascal tilted her head to the side before giving a curt nod. "Very well. If you are certain."
The leader turned aside and held the palm of her hand upwards. A holographic image materialized front a hidden projector with her limb, revealing a map.
"This is the site we are going to investigate today. It is an old human settlement that sits in a region of Europe once known as the Alps. I have reason to believe it contains a series of underground bunkers built by the humans to try and outlast White Chlorination Syndrome. Currently, there are no androids in the area, and the machines in the region are wild. They may attack on sight, but are old and poorly maintained due to a lack of nearby repair facilities, and thus not considered to be a major threat."
"The Alps, huh? How will we be getting there?" Alex inquired.
"We will use the Baba Yaga," Pascal said, leading the humans and Machine over to a bowl-shaped vehicle. "It will only take a single hour to get there using it."
It had been based on the Machine's circular disc-like flying units and was designed to carry multiple Machines at once. Named after an ancient human witch who had flown around in a mortar and pestle due to its odd, bowl-like shape, the Baba Yaga could comfortably fit three Machines of Blue's size or smaller in the riding compartment, and had magnetic tethers that could lift an entire Goliath – or several smaller sized Machines.
The trio clambered inside, and Pascal turned on the device. Anti-grav units and hover-motors engaged, and the Baba Yaga lifted into the air smoothly. A barrier to protect the occupants from the force of acceleration and the outside conditions flickered into existence like a dome atop the bowl-like flying device. Then, it zoomed off, creating a small sonic boom as it traveled towards its destination.
As Pascal had promised, it only took a couple hours to reach their goal, but even before that the mountains had been visible to the travelers. It was an incredible sight, the mountains large and looming, with white peaks here and there. Some of the lower mountains had the rusting remains of giant artillery cannons, the large weapons having been used long ago to shoot down the incoming aliens as they'd tried to invade Europe.
Eventually, the Baba Yaga slowed down and descended onto a small, relatively flat, area near a white slope, with a few crumbling buildings nearby marking the remains of a town.
"Brr! Colder than I thought it'd be," Alex muttered, shivering as the air seeped in now that the shield around the transport was down.
"Do you wish to find something warmer to wear?" Pascal inquired.
"No, it's fine… lemme just… aha!" Alex muttered, raising a hand and casting a spell over his body. His form shimmered, and he relaxed as the barrier around him regulated the temperature.
"This area was once something called a 'Ski Resort,'" Pascal informed her young companions as they stepped out. "Here, humans would strap boards onto their feet and try and navigate the snowy fields while descending down them at high speeds. It was supposed to be 'fun.'"
"How does moving at a fast pace down dangerous terrain constitute as human?" Blue wondered.
"I imagine it's because of adrenaline," Alex mused. "It's a pretty neat substance that messes with the brain and can make dangerous things seem enjoyable."
"Yes, that was what my studies have shown as well," Pascal concurred. "I wish to examine the resort buildings. There may be a clue as to the location of the bunker there."
"I thought you knew where it was?" Blue inquired, but the older Machine shook her head.
"I know the general coordinates. Besides, terrain can shift over thousands of years. Odds are its original entrance was buried, but if I can find where it was supposed to be located exactly, then we can search for it with a better sense of accuracy."
Blue and Alex shared a look, and then the human shrugged.
"Eh, makes sense," Alex said with a nod. "Lead the way, Pascal."
And so Pascal did, and the group approached the crumbling ski chalet, which was surprisingly intact in the face of millennia.
"It was rebuilt several times by the androids before the war with the aliens," Pascal explained, gesturing to the ruins. "From what I understand, several attempts to restore human constructs were attempted, but they couldn't do it for everything, so the files state the androids focused on keeping small sites, like this resort, preserved as an example of human diversity. Other places they tried to keep intact were famous buildings and construction projects. Places like Mount Rushmore, Versailles, and China's Forbidden City were rebuilt and repaired often, until the war began. At that point, resources were redirected for military products."
"Fascinating," Alex murmured, looking around at the scenery. The snow on the slopes was pristinely white, and looked beautiful with the frost-laden pine trees in the distance adding an impressive
As he did so, he was confused by some odd markings on the surrounding buildings.
'Those look like scorch marks,' Alex mused, confused. 'But they don't look like anything I've seen before. They aren't from lasers, either android or machine made. And nobody uses flamethrowers anymore. I mean, who would they hurt?'
The answer as to their origins did not come up with further scrutiny, and neither Pascal nor Blue could tell what had made the damage, despite the fact it was scattered all over the remains of the ski resort and, on closer inspection, all over the landscape as well.
The mystery only deepened when the group stumbled across several trees that had claw marks on their branches and trunks.
"These do not look like they were made by a bear," Pascal murmured, scanning the gouges in the bark.
"Agreed. Too small, and in many cases, too high," Blue commented. "If I were to make a guess, it wasn't a mammal that did this. The way the claw marks are spaced out… it superficially resembles lizard claw marks."
"What, like an iguana or gecko?" Alex inquired, while keeping a hand on the holster of his Invader heavy revolver.
"Yes, but like I said, only superficially," Blue replied. "According to the Lunar Archives, the only known reptile that could be big enough to make these scratches would be something called a 'komodo dragon,' a now extinct species of large lizard related to monitors. Except the placement is all wrong, and it's like there's only two feet, and a different set of frontal claws."
"Well, crap," Alex muttered. "I'm even more curious, now."
"Perhaps the answers lie in the bunker," Pascal suggested. "We are getting close to what I believe was the entrance."
The trio followed the cracked remains of an asphalt road away from the resort, and down a sparsely wooded trail leading towards the edge of the mountain sides. They got all the way to the end of the road, where Pascal then led them offroad, getting even closer to the Alps.
"Hmm, it should be around here," Pascal declared. "There's a lot of differences compared to the map I downloaded, but the coordinates say it's nearby, so let's get looking!"
"The road ends here," Blue said, looking where the ribbon of tattered pavement terminated. At one point, it'd been a tunnel through the mountain side, but landslides had collapsed it and blocked it off.
"There sure are a lot more scorch marks," Alex noted, seeing the ground was littered with blackened patches of soot. There were rocks covered in these curious black spots, and in places the grass was completely burnt away.
"Up for a little climbing?" Pascal asked, and the group nodded, walking up the slope carefully, keeping an eye out for anything odd. And, a quarter of the mile up, a narrow horizontal cave mouth could be seen.
"It seems that the rockslide that closed off the tunnel opened this up," Blue mused, scanning the rocks.
"I agree, Blue," Pascal said. "My own calculations concur."
"You think that this might lead into the bunker?" Alex mused aloud, but was interrupted by a loud flapping sound that rang out from within the darkness.
"Bats?" Blue wondered, but let out a shriek as something big, leathery, scaly, and not a bat at all burst out, shrieking at the Medium Stubby and letting out a burst of fire that didn't do much to her metal face.
Surprised that Blue wasn't incinerated, the creature shrieked once more and flew back into the cave.
It'd only attacked for brief moment, but that short timespan was enough to let them see that it had been reptilian in shape, the scales a dark shade of forest green, with a long tail and neck, with a pair of talon-tipped, bat-like wings where the front limbs should be, while a pair of strong, muscular legs boasting razor sharp claws had taken up the rear.
For a while, they stared into the darkness in stupefied silence, before Alex shouted in surprise.
"Dragon!" Alexander gushed. "Blue! Pascal! Look! Did you see what I saw?!"
"That was not a species native to Earth, at least not according to my records," Pascal commented.
"I believe we have discovered what made all those claw and scorch marks down below," Blue suggested.
"We're definitely going in there, right?!" Alex asked eagerly, and the two Machines shared a look with each other before nodding.
"I want to discover the secrets down there!" the human gushed, all but rushing towards the gap in the stone to squeeze his way through.
Upon entering, he found that the cave was shallow as well as narrow. Just a few feet from the entrance, he could see a hole in the floor, and from within, a faint, flickering light.
"Let me descend first," Pascal offered. "I have a built-in hover unit. That way I can tell how deep the hole is before you use your magic."
"Excellent idea, Pascal," Alex acknowledge, scooting aside to let the Command Unit Machine Lifeform past. The mayor of the Machine Village was almost too big for the entrance, but they squeezed through and jumped down into the hole, the 'whoosh' of her hover unit echoing through the tiny cave.
A couple moments later, Pascal's voice reached out to them. "It's not that far down! Only a twenty-foot drop!"
Alex nodded, and wrapped himself in a bubble of Air and Gravity magic before heading into the fissure in the floor. The descent was unusual, as he felt an updraft wash over him, and despite how dark it was, there was faint light emanating from below.
After a few seconds, Alexander dropped down through, his feet landing not on rocks as he'd assumed, but instead scuffed and worn linoleum, like what could be found in ancient human residences and buildings!
"No way," he murmured as he looked around in a daze, stepping to the side unconscious to allow Blue to come down through the ceiling after him.
The three explorers stood inside of a hallway. Its floors were old and grimy, while the white paint of the walls was peeled and faded, revealing crumbling concrete and rusted metal. Mud, dirt, and other substances caked the surfaces, and plants and fungi were growing from them, turning the passage way into a nature filled tunnel.
Above them, a few florescent lightbulb tubes flickered weakly and exposed wires sparked gently. And the spot they'd come in from appeared to be connected to a now ruined air ventilation duct.
And in the distance, Alexander could hear the flapping of wings. Blue and Pascal hadn't thought the smile on his face could grow any bigger. They were wrong.