Well, I've finally gotten up to the escape itself, and I hope it's believable. Some other stuff is going to happen too. Hope you like.
The same day, time and place as the last time, because we happen to be picking up where we left off and the author is too lazy to write out the date again, even though she has just wasted time writing out this long rant instead, which is rather silly, don't you think?
Taz's heart had somehow found its way to her ears. It pounded right into her head, adrenaline running through her she hadn't thought she'd ever feel again, as she and Junior darted across the room. Everything happened so fast she was barely aware of each separate incident, every moment blurring together into one hurtling mass which moved forward with the momentum of a crashing plane. She wasn't even thinking in words, just in mental images of what she had to do next.
The second she and Junior had moved, a round of shots had descended on them from the four robots in the room, and suddenly they were dodging and ducking like they were doing some of the weirdest modern dance moves known to man. Taz noticed, from the corner of her eye, that the rest of the humans were just staring, slack-jawed as the two of them tried to make their escape. She tried not to focus on demanding to herself what was wrong with them, and instead continued to move, lunging for the chain and yanking on it.
The shots continued to rain down, zipping past her ears, grazing her arms.
Megagirl's hand retracted to reveal a protruding gun, and then she was firing, and Taz felt something ferociously hot and sharp dive into her back, just under her shoulderblade, a second laser beam hissing into her upper right arm at exactly the same moment.
She let out a strange, strangled gasp, forcing herself to keep going through the pain barrier, force her arm to keep working regardless, and gave the chain one more final pull.
The roller-door was now open maybe two feet, maybe a little less, leaving just enough space for them to squeeze under. Taz and Junior made a leap for it, scrambling over the counter and sliding, sucking in their breaths to try and force themselves to fit.
As this happened, the Lieutenant became aware of something else- some part of her frantically active consciousness had been pondering how fortunate they were not to have been killed yet. Despite how rushed both their actions were, Taz and Junior were taking longer than they'd planned to get this done- and they had the added disadvantage of having lost their element of surprise.
'Wow, Megagirl, you sure can fire!' came a voice from behind them that could only belong to Tootsie, Taz looked up at the same second and then it clicked- they weren't dead because the robots weren't shooting directly at them anymore. They were shooting at the chain, trying to break the mechanism.
'Hurry it up!' the Hispanic girl managed to shriek, but whether her garble was understood by her companion or not, Junior picked up the pace, rolling out the other side of the now closing door and yanking Taz after him by one arm.
Taz shrieked, inwardly cursing herself for acting so weak. 'Will jou be careful, jou chico estúpido! Dat's my injured arm!'
The roller-door shuddered and slammed shut, and the two former rangers collapsed on the other side of the counter, panting and dusting themselves off.
'Yeesh, sorry,'Junior muttered. He hopped off the counter and looked around the deserted kitchen. 'Now what?'
They could still hear the metallic shouts of the robots on the other side of the wall, as well as grating sirens and hundreds of clomping footsteps as a whole legion of the tin creeps rushed in to assist.
Taz made her way through the room, rubbing her wounded arm and trying to put aside her fond memories of the place for now. She couldn't afford to think about all the happy times she'd sneaked through here to see Up- not right now. Her whole brain needed to be completely concentrated upon getting the two of them the hell out of here. Now where was that damned air vent? She knew it was around here somewhere…
A squealing sawing noise began to sound, setting their teeth on edge and increasing in volume, and Taz shuddered as she continued her search.
'Hunior! Over here!'
'Taz,' her friend (she supposed the title would do for now, though she didn't bestow it lightly, or often when she was her usual self) was quaking, his voice trembling. 'They're sawin' through the door! I don't know how they're doin' it, but they're sawin' through it!'
She glanced back long enough to see that he was right- the horrible noise was coming from the rotating saw that glowed red, half-melting, half cutting away the cafeteria's roller-door in a shower of sparks and metal shavings. Any second now and they'd be dog meat, or rather robot meat.
She sprinted back across the room, ignoring the agony that wracked her arm as she wrenched Junior towards her.
'Get in de vent- now!'
The air vent sat just above one of the stoves, the grill dilapidated and easily removed, thanks to Taz's adolescent antics. They clambered up onto the oven, Junior reaching up and tugging it free. The sawing was getting louder, large chunks now flying, and already robot guns were beginning to poke through, stray shots whizzing through the room and clanging off pots and pans.
'Get in, Hunior!' Taz shouted again, and Junior didn't wait to be told a third time. Junior jumped, grabbing hold of the edge of the opening with both hands and hoisting himself up, his feet seeking out Taz's shoulders and using them to push off from.
'Oi! Hey! Watch what jou're doin', idiota!'
Another laser beam flew through the air towards them, narrowly missing taking Taz's ear off. She cussed impatiently at Space-Claw's son, only stopping when he reached down and helped her up. Taz gripped hold of his arm, ignoring his cried of hey, you're gonna dislocate my shoulder, scrabbling at the opening and trying to climb up without a foothold.
'Help me, cabrón!' She was half-into the opening now, the edge of the vent pressing painfully just under her ribs, her legs still dangling. She kicked them, trying to pull herself fully in, but the torn hem of her fatigues was caught. One more violent tug and she should be free…
Her boot connected with something, there was a click, and Taz realised with horror as a jet of flame rumbled into life that she had just flicked the switch to turn the stove tops on.
She really wanted to swear at someone, but she wasn't quite sure who. Why couldn't anything ever just go to plan?! Now she was going to have burns to cope with.
Another few furious shouts, some very close shots and Taz was inside the vent, every muscle aching, several new splodgy bruises adorning her skin, some in the same spots where old ones had just started to heal, and now probably some third degree burns to add to this list of calamities. She slumped against the wall of the vent, exhaling, needing a few moments before she could gather herself and go on.
'Sure,' she rolled her eyes. 'Muy bien, I mean, I've been shot and grazed and burned half to death, ees just fantastic.' She tutted.
'Uh, Taz?' Junior bit his lip. 'Your pants are on fire.'
Taz leapt up, hitting her head against the roof of the air vent and swatting at the hem of her fatigues, which was indeed smouldering. 'Are jou gonna just sit dere, idiota? Put it out!'
It took both of them to bat out the last traces of fire, and they watched the ends of the fabric curl and wizen before Taz tore them off ferociously, leaving herself with a few inches of exposed calf, some of the skin blistering.
'¡Que lío!' she muttered to herself.
They waited a few more moments, catching their breath, and then they noticed the clanking coming from somewhere below them, and realised if they didn't get a shuffle on, all the pain and adrenaline and horror they had just been through would all be for nothing.
'Well,' Junior said, 'you're the one who bust into all the G.L.E.E. air conditioners as a kid. You lead the way.'
If Taz hadn't been focussing every ounce of her that wasn't despair on getting them out of the Headquarters, she would have had room for a bit of anger and annoyance at this remark. A Lieutenant of her standard- well, the standard she used to be at, before she almost completely stopped existing and became a wispy sort of half-a-Taz, wouldn't put up with lip like that for a minute. But she wasn't a Lieutenant any more- not if there was nothing for her to be a Lieutenant of, and they were in rather a hurry to get out before the robots figured out where they were and started attacking the air vents, so she settled for just a quick, sharp glare.
She squinted down the shaft. There was a fork about thirty yards ahead- one of the vents, she knew, led towards the cadets' quarters- but she sure as hell wasn't going to go that way. If the robots had humans enslaved and working on some sort of doomsday device slash rocket ship in the cafeteria, who knew what they were doing in the other parts of the Headquarters?
And the other one, she remembered with a sinking heart, did indeed lead out of the G.L.E.E. Building- but it wasn't going to be a pleasant trip.
'Hunior,' she said, sighing, 'how d'jou feel about getting' dirty? ¿A tí te gusta?'
Junior blinked. 'Huh?'
'De passage we're gonna hafta take…'
'It does get us outta here, right?' he interjected.
'Sí- but we're gonna end up in de dumpsters.'
Junior wrinkled his nose. 'You sure there's no other way? I'm the boss's son- I'm not used to playing dirty.'
'Jou wanna go back dere and get cut into leetle pieces by de robots?'
'Right behind you,' Junior grumbled, and together they set off, crawling deeper into the shaft.
Taz kept her eyes ahead of her, trying to shuffle quickly and quietly, so as not to alert any of the robots searching for them to their presence here. Her arm and upper back still hurt like crazy, not to mention the stinging sensation shooting up her leg- but they had to come last on her list of priorities right now. She could worry about dressing wounds after they got out of immediate danger.
'Boy,' came a muffled groan from behind her, 'what I wouldn't give for a smoke right about now.'
A pile of rubble
One week after the Apocalypse
Up had the sensation that he was asleep. It was a sort of pleasant feeling, a happy, heavy feeling, and he couldn't feel his robot limbs zapping away, nor any other part of him for that matter. He shut his eyes, quite content to relax into this feeling, until the ringing stopped in his ears, his thoughts came flooding back, the shock began to fade and he realised what had happened. He wasn't asleep. He was quite possibly dead.
He tried to lift his head, and as he continued to slowly adjust, the smell of charred rubble filled his nostrils, and thick dust filled his lungs, causing him to retch. He wasn't dead. Damn it, he wasn't that lucky. He was still there, trapped in the remains of the closest thing to a home he had in this horrible, post-Robot world.
Ugh. He had a good mind to just shut his eyes again and wait there until he did die. No harm in that. The red bandana tied tight around his wrist was a constant reminder that Taz was dead, and that alone was enough to warrant lying there 'til death took him. Not to mention the destruction of the human race, and the fact that he, despite his best efforts to get used to it, couldn't come to terms with the idea of being a hodgepodge of droid spare parts. What was the point in going on? Why would he bother to-
The Commander suddenly sat bolt upright, thunking his head on a fallen beam but hardly noticing. What was wrong with him? There was a point in him going on- there were two points, in fact, shaped like a ditzy blonde schience officer and a crazy, blue-haired mad doctor. He had two friends somewhere in this mess.
So many people he cared about had died of late- and while two more shouldn't make much of a difference, shouldn't have much more of an effect on him, the idea that the last two friends he had in the world might have snuffed it was more than he could bear.
He carefully climbed from the pile of rubble coughing dust out of his mouth and clearing his throat.
'February!' he yelled. His voice echoed down the empty street. Those damn killer robots could probably hear, but he couldn't care less. 'Blim!'
No response from either. He stretched his limbs, ran his hands through his hair, checked his ribs, assessing himself. He didn't seem overly damaged, mercifully. He could only hope the others were okay too.
He called again. 'Blim! February! Answer me, dammit!'
'Ew, there's ash in my hair!' a voice rasped to his left, and Up sprang into action, shovelling through the debris with his hands at breakneck speed.
'February! Stay there! I'm comin' ter get you!' A stupid thing to say- if she happened to be trapped under something, she would hardly have the option not to stay put.
He pushed his way through the mess to the source of the voice, grabbing the filthy, shrieking creature that had attracted his attention by the arms and dragging her from the pile. February collapsed beside him, coughing and spluttering, trying in vain to wipe some of the dust and soot off her clothes.
Up almost fainted with relief. Forcing his robot arm to bend, he wrapped it around her. 'You okay?'
She looked down at herself. 'Think so…I'm so dirty though- and now the hideout's bombed how am I gonna shower?'
Up rolled his eyes. Out of everything that could have happened, she had to worry about the shower. It almost made him want to laugh, but he couldn't think of doing anything of the kind until he'd found the third member of their party.
'Blim?' he called again. 'Blim!'
A few feet away, a heap of bits of wood that had once been a table and two chairs slid away, and Blim's head slowly emerged, his powder blue coiffure ruined and sticking everywhere. 'I've got all sorts of problems,' he moaned, somehow, despite his miserable state, managing to fish out some liquorice allsorts and half-heartedly flick them towards the others.
Up and February struggled to their feet and lumbered over to him, hastening to free him.
They pulled him out with great difficulty, both of them unable to stifle gasps as his left foot came into view, all but completely crushed.
'Ew!' the schience officer cried.
'How bad's the damage?' Up demanded.
'Terrible- all my candy canes have shattered- and just look at my pop tarts!' He pulled out one, then another squashed packet of treats and slammed them to the ground.
'And…your foot?' Up asked impatiently.
'Oh, don't talk to me about my foot! All that blood has completely ruined the skittles I had in my shoes! Inedible!'
The Commander looked sideways at February. 'I think we'd better get him some help.'
An air duct
Somewhere above the former G.L.E.E. Headquarters
The same number of days after the Apocalypse, because another night had not yet fallen
'I still feel like crap about Tootsie.'
They had crawled steadily for about ten minutes, reaching about the halfway mark, and Taz couldn't take any more without at least a short rest. If she had to drag her arm for much longer, she thought it might fall off. She tutted in Junior's direction and went on nursing it, breathing slowly through her teeth.
'I feel more dan dat, Hunior. If I ever see dat creep again, I will tear him a new…'
'No, no. I feel like crap about leavin' him behind.'
Taz gave him a withering look. 'De great idiota nearly got us killed! It was now or never, Hunior, if we di'n go when we did, we'd have had our guts eaten by now!' She exhaled viciously. 'Dere's not'ing we can do about him now.'
Junior still looked sceptical, but Taz was beyond caring. There was only one thing she was allowing to hold her attention now, and that was saving the two of them from immediate danger, and finding a way out onto the streets. Nothing else mattered. She wasn't planning ahead, she wasn't looking behind. If her pathetic existence could still contend with one tiny purpose at a time, she might be able to get through it- and this hurdle was big enough for now.
'Not far now. Our way out está todo recto de aquí, we just gotta keep goin' dis way.'
'You know, I can only pick up half the sentence when you switch languages on me like that…'
'Oh, shut up.'
Junior frowned, looking with concern at her arm. 'How're your injuries holdin' up?'
'I'll worry about dat later.'
'But shouldn't you…'
'Do jou see a doctor?' she gestured impatiently to the metal tunnel around them. 'I can't do anyt'ing now! Come on, we'd better get goin' again, before…'
Before exactly what happened next could happen- except it did, so Taz's speech came just a little too late. The floor a few feet in front of them suddenly fell away with a clang, and the sinister, glowing-eyed head of a robot slowly began to rise up from the gap.
Junior screamed girlishly. Taz jumped in shock, banging her head on the roof of the duct for the second time that day.
'Hu-mans located,' the robot announced, its voice reverberating off the walls of the enclosed space.
And Taz acted on the first thought that came into her head- if it could even be called a thought. She went straight for the robot's head, letting out a strange cry, aiming to slam her whole self into it with all the strength she had. The head descended before impact, and Taz's hands-and-knees jump projected her over the gap in the vent floor and to the other side. A metal claw replaced the head, snatching and grabbing through the air at random, and the Hispanic girl beckoned violently for Junior to manoeuvre himself around it and join her.
The two of them shuffled at a painful speed, trying to ignoring the protests of their knees and of Taz's wounds. A loud thump behind them signified the robots entering the shaft, and they forced themselves onwards- they couldn't afford to let the tin cans gain on them…
The duct suddenly took a sharp vertical drop, and the two escapees tumbled forwards, falling over each other and obtaining several bruises as they hurtled toward their destination.
Taz's stomach was starting to turn, but this feeling wasn't altogether terrible to her- it brought with it a sense of familiarity- she'd done this before, she just had to remember that there was no grill on the other end, and they'd have to start slowing down soon, or…
Taz turned herself around, trying to get her bearings and digging her heels in, spreading her arms wide to wedge herself in the space and come to a stop.
'Hunior!' she called to her companion, who had somehow gotten ahead of her during their fall, 'hold on!'
'Hold-on!' she shouted again, but even as she did so, Junior went flying off out the end of the vent.
Taz swore under her breath. It was impossible to conduct a successful escape when you had to work with other people. If she'd been doing this on her own, she would have been out of here by now, she thought, fine and without injury and without having to worry about stupid amateurs getting themselves into trouble. Or at least the old Taz would have been able to, anyway. Tutting, she crawled forward and glanced over the edge.
'Aww, ew! Why me?' came Junior's cry from directly below her.
Just as she'd predicted. She remembered from her days as a cadet that the dumpsters had been placed just below the one air vent without a grill or a filter, and that on hot days, the smell of the garbage had come through the air conditioning into their training centre and just about poisoned them all. She also recalled quite vividly the first few times she'd tried to use the ducts to sneak about the Headquarters coming down this way, looking down and nearly throwing up. It was a terrible way to have to exit the building, but she figured if she could try and drop down carefully, land on the edge of one of the large skips, she could leave the dumpsters relatively unscathed.
But Junior, the dumbass, had to fly straight into the trash.
Taz shuffled forward, trying to place her feet. This wasn't as easy as she'd first thought- the only way out of this mess unscathed seemed to be to try and land on one of the moulding cardboard boxes that skimmed the top of the dumpsters.
She shot a contemptuous glance at Junior, now swimming through garbage-water to get to the edge.
'Yeesh, Taz, wasn't there another way out- one that didn't involve totally humiliating me?'
'Toughen up, Hunior. We're not outta de woods yet!'
Climbing out, Taz dry and clean apart from her boots, Junior sodden and disgusting, the two rangers clomped over to the wire fence, struggling under it.
The city lay before them, smouldering, destroyed. It took a few seconds before Taz could take it in. The whole thing seemed a bit like a hallucination or a dream, some mirage that wasn't real, that couldn't be real, just a blur of smoke and images she didn't believe at all.
It was only after Junior coughed that her brain returned and it hit her that she'd better keep moving- that it was a miracle they hadn't been apprehended as soon as they left the building, that there were probably robots behind them somewhere, right on their tail. She forced her shaky legs onward, and they staggered round a corner, up an alley, round another corner and onto the main road.
Taz and Junior stood before the wreckage of the streets, staring out over the expanse of rubble and dilapidated buildings. It was the first time the Hispanic girl had seen the full extent of the robots' damage, and the sight of it made her sick to her core. This had once been home- well, the thing closest to her home anyway. These had been the streets she and Up had walked down on days off, taking in the sun and chatting companionably about training sessions, movies and how hilariously pathetic the new recruits always were when they went to their first sparring match.
Even now, even through all the destruction and remnants of chaos and terror, she could still see the same path she always used to take, could almost envision silhouetted versions of herself and Up, laughing and pretending to hit each other as they made their way down it. She couldn't exactly say whether this image filled her with despair or hope. It just filled her with…something.
She still wasn't sure she believed Junior about Up being out there. She didn't know what she'd find, or whether she had the courage to go find it. She still didn't think she was really Taz- not the way she had been.
But she looked at Junior, squared her shoulders and cleared her throat.
'Okay, Hunior,' she said, her voice slowly creeping back to that authoritative tone of her Lieutenant days of old. 'Let's go find Up.'
He reached to take hold of her hand, and she shook it off. 'Don' touch me. Jou reek.'
I hope their escape didn't seem too...abrupt, but I needed Taz and Junior out of there so the actual plot can start happening. Up is out there somewhere. Taz is out there somewhere. Are they going to reunite? You'll see, soon enough.