“...It was carrying a pitchfork!” Gene's words slipped out between heavy, raspy breaths. “And the other one... What, was that a flamethrower?”
Torches and pitchforks. The irony may have eluded Gene, but not me. As we rested in the narrow stairway between 54 and 55, I couldn't prevent a smile from spreading across my face.
Gene wasn't quite so amused. “Really? You think this is funny, Templeton?” He was finally getting his wind back. “You know they're here for us, right?”
I leaned back against the cold steel railing and closed my eyes for the first time since our flight from the lobby. He wasn't wrong. The...robots were targeting the executives, and they were hitting the mark more often than not.
When I opened my eyes Gene was sitting on the steps, one hand pressed into his forehead and the other roughly scrubbing through his thin, gray hair. “...Never should have taken the bonuses...”
The incessant bleating of the fire alarm and the periodic rumble of robot destruction below and the one thing I wished I didn't have to hear was Gene's whining.
My response was cut with more sarcasm than he deserved. “Why, yes Gene... If only you'd turned down the money, the killer robots never would have attacked.”
His chuckle was wry. “Who do ya think sent em, anyway?”
“Well, seeing as how anyone with a 401K has reason to want us dead, might be kinda tough to figure.”
The rumble below became more pronounced. The machines were methodically pushing their way up, floor by floor. We still had a good half a dozen floors on them, and they weren't using the stairs. If we could make the top ahead of them...
Gene dragged himself off the steps and finished my thought. “What happens when we reach the top, Roy?”
I shrugged my shoulders as we continued climbing, “Maybe we can get to the roof?”
Gene, the fat ass, was already wheezing after climbing 2 floors. He always did like the executive wet bar more than the executive gym. “And... then what? I mean... unless you bought a helicopter with your bonus and didn't tell me, I think we're still screwed.”
His face brightened momentarily with unreasonable hope. “...Oh man. Pleeeease say you bought a helicopter and didn't tell me...”
His optimism was wiped away clean by my shaking head. “No. I went with the boat, remember?”
We climbed the rest of the way in silence.
I leaned in close against the door to floor 66. I could still hear the robot carnage on the floors below, but it seemed quiet on the other side.
“The government?” Gene was really hung up on the whole “who” question. I worked in derivatives. You learn not to ask the who question when you're trading in derivatives, or the what, where or why for that matter.
“...The ones who gave us all the money, and wrote in the loopholes for the bonuses? Come on. Now be quiet. I'm trying to find out if we're about to die horribly.”
I cracked the door open and peered down the hallway. All clear. 66 had been mostly empty for a while. Most of these guys had taken their “retention” bonuses and quit a couple weeks ago. Wherever they were, I hoped they were dodging robot pitchforks too. I closed the door again and turned to Gene. He had finally stripped off his jacket. His dress shirt was soaked with sweat. He was still on about the who.
“...Aliens...? Terrorists...? George Soros...? Hugo Chavez!?” He was about 5 minutes away from fingering zombie Franklin Roosevelt.
I waved Gene quiet and turned back to the door. “Alright. The roof access is on the north side of the building. You ready?”
Gene gave a slight sigh, and a heavier grunt, and we were through the door.
The soft florescent lights on the 66th floor flickered occasionally. The vibrative din of the machines on the floors below continued, but were intermittent. I imagined that the robots were finding fewer targets the higher up they proceeded. Most people were either cut down as they descended attempting to escape or had fled up the building and were already on the roof, trapped, with no where else to climb. Gene and I crept along past empty offices as quickly as we dared. We both would have preferred a dead sprint, but the prospect of rounding a corner recklessly into the waiting arms of a machine kept our scamper cautious.
Gene's nerves demanded conversation. Quiet conversation. “...think the whole city is overrun? The country? Is this like War of the World and shit?”
“Worlds, Gene. War of the Worlds...”
We were coming up on a corner, and one of two main elevators on the east side of the floor. I slowed down, listening intently for the distinctive elevator bell that would signal a robot arrival, and very soon after, our departure.
I glanced back to tell Gene that we needed to move quickly past the elevator and saw him standing, ashen faced, staring into an open office. We did NOT need to be dicking around by the elevator.
I trotted back to retrieve him. “Gene, this is not the time to be lusting after someone else's leather cou-” My voice caught as I got my first look inside the office.
A pair of legs were splayed out on the floor behind a large oak executive desk. A rivulet of blood trailed the length of the legs, threatening to stain a pair of freshly shined Bruno Magli's. The wall opposite was spattered in a predictable crimson pattern. I made for the interior of the office.
“Are you crazy?” Gene grabbed my arm. “..Robots.”
I pulled away. “This wasn't the machines. At least not directly.”
I found the gun lying on the floor under the desk, having to lean down closer to the corpse than I would have liked. Gene was making every effort to not look at the body, gazing out the large office window.
“...No flashing lights... No cops. No tanks. No soldiers... No fucking help is coming, huh?” His voice was flat. He was finally getting it. We were the bad guys. Nobody rescues the bad guys.
“I think our friend here came to a similar conclusion.” I checked the chamber on the .45. He'd used the only bullet. Greedy bastard.
I set the gun on the desk and patted Gene on the shoulder. “Come on. Roof access is at the end of the hall.”
The elevator bell rang behind us when we were nearly half way down the hall. I wasted precious fractions of seconds turning around to confirm visually. The machine was all sleek and shiny curves of icy blue steel. It stood around six feet tall, and like many of the ones we'd seen in the lobby earlier its right arm ended in a hellishly sharp looking pitchfork. The first step it took off the elevator had that robotic herk and jerk, but it soon settled into a surprisingly smooth gait, a casual jog.
I turned and ran, in a very uncasual (<---Not a word, but it should be. - Joe) manner. I quickly outpaced Gene who had taken off in a Pavlovian sprint the second he heard the bell. I could hear the metallic clank of the machine's footsteps as it galloped behind us. We were fifty feet away from the stairs to the roof. The machines had avoided the stairs so far...
I slammed through the door to the stairs. It wasn't locked, but I don't think it would've mattered if it had been. I took the stairs three at a time and tried to listen past the pounding of my heart for any indication that Gene was still with me. I slowed my pace as we finally reached the door out to the roof. Gene's gulping gasps behind me were a welcome sound. I gazed back down the stairs. The door we flew through remained closed. The pursuit was at an end.
“...Thank God for killer robots who don't use the stairs, eh Gene?” It seemed an odd time for jokes, but the long and steady flow of adrenaline was making me punchy.
In Gene's state of cardiovascular distress, his choking laugh was a bit dangerous. When his hacking cough finally subsided we pushed through the door and out into the cool early evening.
There was a ring of about seven or eight of them, an interlocking mass of midnight blue steel surrounding us on all sides. The air was thick with a well oiled smell. It was like being in a Harley Davidson show room. To my right and behind me Gene began to sob. I backed up against the door back into the building and looked down the stairs from where we'd come. The door at the bottom was open. A machine stood there now, arms folded casually. Gene fainted in a heap.
It was over. I dropped to one knee and waited. The machines were still just standing there. Were they even on?
I heard a voice. A human voice.
“...Excuse me...Excuse... Pardon... Can I just squuuuueze through here please?” The voice didn't sound distressed at all, and had a familiarity to it. It seemed to be coming from behind the ring of robots.
The person behind the voice slid between two of the machines and into view. He was, well, fat. Made Gene look like an Olympic swimmer by comparison. He was wearing a cheap windbreaker and wild brown hair poked out from behind a ratty Detroit Tigers baseball cap, but it was the scraggly beard and thick brown glasses that cinched my recognition. I wished Gene had stayed conscious long enough to see how on the right track he had been...
Michael Moore. Liberal muckraker and, apparently, robot rabble rousing overlord. Well, that answered the who question. The why question came unbidden to my lips.
He gave that characteristic nervous chuckle before replying, “Heh... I got sick of waiting for the people to rise up, so I did it for them.”
I noticed some sort of remote device clutched in his chubby hands. He pushed a button and the machines parted to give me a view of the city. In the distance I could see a building burning.
“Is that the Citicorp building?!”
“And I've got cybernetic grizzly bears tearing up the New York Stock Exchange...” He frowned a bit when I didn't laugh, “Come on? Bear Market? That's pretty good stuff.”
He brought the machines back into place, and I readied myself for the end. But he wasn't quite done yet. “Care for a little irony before the end there, chief?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Just get it over with you fat-ass commie...
“These robots,” he motioned to his metallic minions, “they're all made of genuine GM parts.”
He pushed another button, folded back into the darkness, and the machines moved in.