Justin had been falling for several hours now, and the novelty of the experience
had long since worn off.
He was not the only object falling down the wide power core shaft. Almost
a dozen red-coated recruits, long dead from the ever-increasing air pressure
and temperature, fell alongside the battered cyborg, knocked from their
gantries, platforms, and maintenance craft as Justin had smashed his way
through. The cyborg had done his best to avoid all the obstacles, but his
lack of any kind of propulsion system and dense mass had given him little
choice but to pummel through anything in his path.
For an hour now, and for the last three hundred kilometres, Justin had not
encountered any obstacles at all. It had been quite peaceful in a way -
nothing but the whoosh of air passed his sonic receptors, and the low hum
of the power core as it pulsed red at the centre of the shaft. The peace
would not last, though. The cyborg’s sensors had picked up some new
gantries and platforms, and they were just coming into visual range through
the heat haze below.
The first gantry crossed the entire shaft, forming a wide bridge through
the power core. It grew rapidly as the cyborg approached. Justin counted
six recruits on the gantry, gathered close to the core, each wearing a full
environment suit enabling them to work in the harsh conditions this far
down. At terminal velocity the cyborg flew by, missing the gantry by a comfortable
twenty metres. Justin turned and looked up at the receding bridge. Two of
the recruits were looking down at him, obviously curious as to what had
just whizzed by. A couple of the dead recruits that had been following Justin
slammed into the gantry, splattering cooked and compressed limbs and organs
in all directions. One of the limbs smashed into one of the suited recruits,
almost forcing him off the gantry. If Justin had not been devoid of all
emotion he would certainly have found the morbid scene entertaining.
The cyborg’s sensors warned him of the next obstacle. Justin turned
and faced back down. A long platform could now be seen jutting far out from
the power core, this time with more than a dozen suited recruits working
diligently on its surface. There was no chance of the cyborg avoiding this
obstacle. With the force of a freight train, Justin smacked into the centre
of the platform, passing straight through it like a toad through tin foil.
Two recruits were mashed into a messy pulp. The sound of the thunderous
collision echoed across the shaft.
Once again Justin turned and looked up, the auto-clean mechanism of his
visual sensors cleaning the minced flesh from his digital eyes. The heavily
damaged platform was fizzing and sparking, sending out frequent bursts of
flame and smoke. The recruits crowded near the core, trying to escape through
a small hatchway.
One recruit had found another means of escape. The recruit had been thrown
off the platform and was following Justin just a few metres behind; with
arms flailing like a soft rubber toy.
Justin watched the terrified recruit approach. As the recruit passed close
by, the cyborg reached out, grabbing the recruit’s red environment
suit. The recruit steadied, and then naturally adopted a skydiver’s
Justin looked into the recruit’s large domed transparent helmet. The
recruit was a young blonde spiky-haired female. She looked at the cyborg,
her eyes wide with fright. She screamed.
Justin began a rapid scan of radio frequencies until he’d locked on
to the recruit’s communicator channel. A piercing scream confirmed
that he’d found the right one. He spoke, attempting to calm the recruit.
“Screaming is illogical.”
The recruit fell silent, still staring at Justin. She looked shocked, obviously
finding it hard to believe that what looked like a big lump of broken machinery
was talking to her. After a few seconds she spoke, her voice trembling.
“What are you? What’s happening to me?”
Justin replied in his normal mono-tonal manner. “In answer to your
first question, I am a DeMorgan Cyber-Systems Homer Class mechanoid. In
answer to your second question, you are currently falling at terminal velocity
down a power core shaft.”
She screamed again, and then clambered onto Justin. “Please save me!”
she said, wrapping her arms tightly round the cyborg’s thick neck.
“I don’t want to die when I hit the bottom!”
“You will not die when you hit the base of the power core.”
“Really?” The recruit said. She seemed a little happier. “I
can avoid it? How?”
“You will avoid dieing when you hit the base of the power core by
dieing much earlier when the surrounding air pressure exceeds the maximum
tolerance of your environment suit and you suffer massive and rapid high
compression injuries to your entire body.”
The recruit took a second or two to understand the ramifications of what
Justin had said. In a timely fashion, a crushed and cooked corpse drifted
in front of her eyes, illustrating the cyborg’s words with remarkable
clarity. “No! Please save me!” She pounded the cyborg’s
head. “Save me!”
Justin attempted to calm her down. “Your death will be rapid, with
only a very brief moment of pain.”
“No!” the recruit yelled. She started sobbing, her voice becoming
feeble. “Please help me. There must be something you can do! Anything.
Absolutely anything. Please save me!”
Another platform whooshed by as Justin and the recruit continued their plunge
into the depths of the planet Gun-Loc. “There is only one way I can
prolong your life, but I can only guarantee your survival until I hit the
base of this power core shaft.”
“Yes!” the female recruit said excitedly. “That’s
better than being crushed! How?”
Justin spoke. “I have a dual last-resort cranial-maintenance system
installed in my chest cavity. In the event of catastrophic injuries to my
masters, I have the ability to maintain their bio-activity for seven days.”
The recruit did not really understand. “Um… Sound’s good.”
She said. “How do I get in?”
“I cannot accommodate your entire body.” The cyborg announced.
An antennae mast zipped by, less than a metre away. “I can only accommodate
“What?” the recruit said. Despair and disbelief filled her voice.
“There is no need for concern. An oxygenated and nutrient rich synthetic
blood supply will be fed through your head, ensuring that your brain remains
fully conscious and undamaged. You will survive.”
The recruit seemed unconvinced. “But my body! It’s a good body,
healthy and sexy!”
“The condition of your body and its ability to attract a mate is irrelevant
at this time. It must be discarded.”
The recruit started sobbing again. “You must save my body! Please!”
There was a cracking sound. She stopped crying. “What was that?”
Justin spoke. “The extreme pressure has compromised the structural
integrity of your helmet. I estimate that total failure will occur in thirty-one
The female recruit shrieked, gripping tighter onto the cyborg’s neck.
“Help me! Please help me!”
“I must decapitate you and place your head in the cranial-maintenance
system in my chest cavity.” A cutting tool extended from Justin’s
The recruit was frantic. “There must be another way! Maybe…”
Justin interrupted. “There is no other way.”
“It is your only chance to survive. You have fifteen seconds to decide.”
The recruit was white with fear. “My only chance?”
She signed, and pulled herself off the cyborg’s back. She drifted
to his side; a strange calmness filled her voice. “OK.”
Before the recruit had even a second to reconsider, Justin raised his cutting
tool and pressed it hard against her neck. She shuddered, gargling blood,
as the tool, designed for cutting through metal and rock, hacked messily
through her flesh. A second later the recruit’s shapely suited body
drifted free, spouting litres of blood.
Justin opened the double doors of his heavily reinforced chest cavity, and
placed the recruit’s head - complete with helmet - inside. The doors
slammed shut. Justin depressurised the cavity to a safer level and then
connected the synthetic blood supply to the recruit’s neck. Information
on the recruit’s bio-activity flooded into his consciousness. She
was intensely distressed, but alive. The procedure had worked. He turned
on a light inside the cavity and looked at the recruit via a small camera.
She was looking around at her new surroundings, her mouth opening and closing
like a starved tadpole.
With the recruit safely tucked away, the cyborg refocused his attention
on the power core shaft; scanning hundreds of kilometres down, looking for
any opportunity to safely halt his descent.