Outland: Chapter 9
The structures that began to grow up upon the horizon were faintly familiar. I remember them because I had happened to stop at this very location on a sort of shore leave once while travelling down my first time to the tip of Chile. The old buildings were unmistakable. Upon the highest tower overlooking the unique harbor was a caricature stenciled on a long time previous, designed to look like the head and cockpit assembly of the bots we piloted.
“I’ve been here before.” I sat up, nudging the controls to a stop.
“I don’t know this place.” Gulliver responded quickly.
“No, you probably wouldn’t. I heard that before you were activated, models like you were shipped down the east coast of the continent. I joined a convoy that took us on a boat down this side.”
“What did you do before piloting, Andrew?”
“Me?” I sat back in the chair pondering. “I guess I’ve never told you, have I? Before, I was just doing whatever work I could. I learned how to drive a semi-truck after I graduated from high school, but I couldn’t keep up with it. I ended up on the streets. One day, I saw an advertisement for people who were good with vehicular machinery. A lot of people applied for the same thing, actually. Most of them got weeded out early, though. That’s when we got introduced to pilot school, for these mechs. After all that… well, it’s history now.”
“Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much to you, if you can even process it. I got a second chance at making good for myself.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“I guess you wouldn’t. Let’s see… Because you’re effectively a tool, you have a purpose as long as you are functioning. Humans can exist without purpose or goals, which isn’t something many of us enjoy. Getting the chance to become your pilot helped me do something with my life.”
“That is… good.”
“It is.” I sighed, listening to Gulliver’s ever dull tone. “Do you even enjoy my company, Gulliver? It seems all I talk about is human feelings and whatnot.”
“It is true that my AI is limited to only a fraction of what a human mind can conceive. I understand that I am a tool. However, I was programmed to interface and learn from my pilot.”
“We’ve spent enough time together… you probably have surpassed many of the readings others of your kind have recorded from their pilots.” I sat up in the chair once again, staring out at the old structures bordering the water, some inundated. “Personally, I’d like to see if there is any food or supplies down in this place before we continue. Guide us to the edge of where the structures are, and stop us there.”
Gulliver began moving forwards on his own, and I quickly slid down the ladder to the bottom compartment. Shoving my feet into a pair of long water-proof boots, I waited for the shifting of the walk cycle to stop, and I ordered Gulliver to open the bottom hatch. I made sure to unroll the freight hook down with me for use if I would manage to find any supplies.
Entering the lowest row of buildings I could access, I found myself in waste-high water, immediately flowing up past the boots and wetting the coveralls inside. The place had been long since abandoned it seemed, with not even a hint of power or supplies left over.
In the water floated bits of junk, trash, and scraps of wood. I could feel more underneath the surface around my feet. Quickly finding a set of stairs up to another level, I climbed them so as not to possible step on something sharp where I couldn’t see.
In what seemed like a storage room, I managed to find a few elastic ties for freight and a few bundles of wire. Even if I barely knew about Gulliver’s guts and how to fix them, the materials could find other uses- in particular, if I needed to trade with someone. Places like these were few and far between, and there was no sense leaving things behind if I could carry them.
The squeaky, unsteady floorboards sent shivers up my spine as I imagined running into another soul here. I crept deeper into the structure, eventually pulling the flashlight out of my pocket as the light dared not to enter farther into the space. Moving into the next set of buildings, I quickly noted the sun growing low in the sky.
I eventually found my way into what was once a restaurant or mess hall. In it’s heyday, it would have seen many types of various tempers. I can remember arriving with the group of other would-be pilots, garnering us strange looks in our clean cut matching uniforms.
The musty, cob web coated back room of the building had a few containers tossed around, but it seemed like much of the stuff had been rifled through long ago. As I was about to head out, I caught sighs of the old bar, with the countertop still intact with various forms of graffiti and other vandalism. Brushing off the thick layer of dust, I was able to spot the divot from where a friend has started to dig in his own markings, only to be stopped by the bartender. I couldn’t remember his name, and few others for that matter.
With my meager treasures in hand, I moved back outside and around the edge of the water back to Gulliver. He stood there patiently, like a silhouette against the darkening sky, waiting for my return. Arriving back inside, I stowed the items I had found and stripped out of the damp coveralls, rinsing off quickly under the water spout. I gave myself a quick once-over to check for any leeches, and went up the ladder to work on my maps.
The next morning, I reopened the shudders on the cockpit window to the bright noon sun and the dirty beach ahead of us. I quickly noticed a few oval shape depressions sunk into the ground before us, much like the footprints left by Gulliver.
“Were those there last night, Gulliver? Those depressions?” I asked, pointing out northward.
“You didn’t move at all while I was offboard, did you?”
“Of course not, I would not do such a thing without a pilot at the controls.”
“No, you’re right. You wouldn’t.” I said suspiciously, looking out at the tracks, following their path up from the water and around the buildings of the harbor. “Let’s head out, but… I’ll be piloting for now.”
“Roger that, Andrew.”