#1 – “Attack on Blizzard Base Zero”
Unbearable at the best of times, deadly at the worst, Antarctica is not a place most people would like to visit – unless, of course, your name is Sato Kiko, you are getting paid a fortune, and your new boss lives in a giant robot head at the South Pole.
That’s right. A giant robot head. Half-buried in ice. At the bottom of the world.
Kiko was not a person to be easily awestruck, but even she found the massive metal visage that greeted her as her motorised sled passed over the peak of one last snowdrift to be beyond anything she could have imagined; and that was saying a lot, considering she had spent the previous four years of her life preparing for that very moment.
“Wow…” she could not help but whisper as she pulled her sled to a stop and disembarked. She collected her single – large! – bag and began to approach the site, which had been surrounded by cyclone fencing with guards posted at regular intervals. One of the guards stopped her as she made her way through a narrow gate, and asked to see some identification.
Kiko reached into her bag and retrieved a small card detailing her name, age and the purpose of her visit, which she handed to the man. The guard lifted a walkie-talkie, spoke into it briefly, then ushered her forward. Kiko continued the long, featureless trek from the security checkpoint to her new home, entirely unable to take her eyes off of what lay ahead, and wondering all the while about what the future had in store.
Kiko began to tremble slightly as she realised the main entrance to the building was, in fact, the robot’s ‘mouth’. Two more guards saluted her at what passed for its lips, and she paused, temporarily unsure whether she should enter. The whole scenario just seemed bizarre to her. It was a giant robot head, and somehow, her own mind just could not get past that fact.
The ‘lips’ parted and Kiko saw a well-lit entranceway, which only caught her attention for the briefest of moments because, standing right in front of her, was her long-time hero and idol:
“Dr. Nagura!” Kiko almost shouted the man’s name as she realised who was waiting to meet her. As far as Kiko was concerned, Nagura Scott was an absolute legend, the greatest biorobotics expert on the planet, someone she had looked up to from the moment she was able to even guess at the importance of his work.
She knew that he would be there – he was, after all, the base’s commander – but she had no idea that he would take the time to meet and greet her. Her knees began to tremble, she dropped her bag, and a moment later found herself kneeling in the soft snow, sobbing loudly.
“Miss Sato?” Dr. Nagura took a few steps forward and offered a hand to help Kiko up. He waited patiently as she wiped the cold tears from her eyes and accepted the gesture, but he could not help but recoil when Kiko finally looked up at him. Her eyes were wide with utter delight, the broadest grin Nagura could even imagine spread across her face. For a moment, he thought she may have gone insane, but Kiko soon composed herself and bowed her head slightly, showing proper respect to her new employer.
“Um… you might want to stand up,” Nagura said. “It must be cold… in the snow…”
Kiko blushed. She lifted her bag with one arm, and took Nagura’s hand with the other. As stunning as she found the giant robot head to be, Kiko was far more amazed by Dr. Nagura. He had actually spoken to her! He had touched her! And, Kiko realised, he was someone she could certainly stand to look at - he was tall, slender, with long black hair and brown eyes, and he looked closer to thirty than his actual age of fifty-seven.
Yes. Kiko had a crush.
“Did you… enjoy your journey?” Nagura asked as he showed Kiko through the almost featureless corridor leading into the centre of the complex. “I am sorry… we could not provide a guide. Due to our remoteness…”
“It was fine,” Kiko told him. “Although I did knock on the side of another robot head a few kilometers back…”
Nagura smiled, a wide, straight-toothed, dazzlingly white smile that made Kiko’s knees tremble once again.
“You are… funny,” he said. “You will… fit in well here.”
They continued walking down one long corridor until Kiko could see another set of thick, heavy metal doors ahead of them. An armed guard stood at attention on each side of the entryway, but they were not what drew Kiko’s attention – a boy in a body-hugging red and black jumpsuit, a boy Kiko guessed to be about her own age, maybe a little younger, danced between the other two men.
“Come on!” he said. “This is so boring! I can’t believe you do this all day!”
Dr. Nagura and Kiko stopped a few feet away from the three men, and the two guards saluted. The boy, with his back to them, continued his energetic bouncing – until he backed into Kiko, tripped, and hit the ground hard.
“Ow!” he cried. He returned to his feet quickly and rubbed his left hip and thigh. “Hi!”
“Miss Sato,” Dr. Nagura said. “Allow me to introduce my… son, Ian.”
“Call me Ikku!” the boy offered Kiko his hand, and she enthusiastically shook it, but she wasn’t sure about Dr. Nagura’s claim that Ikku was his son. Nagura, like Kiko, was clearly of Japanese ethnicity – Ikku, on the other hand, with wide blue eyes, longlight brown (almost blonde) hair, and an unusual accent made Kiko think he was more likely English or American, but she knew it would be rude to bring that up.
“What are you… doing here… Ian?” Dr. Nagura asked. “In a… suit… no less?”
Ikku turned to face his father. “Dr. Smith said we can’t do anything else without you, so I thought I’d – “
“You thought… wrong!” Dr. Nagura suddenly seemed angry, which stunned Kiko. Her first instinct was to defend Ikku and urge Dr. Nagura to calm down, but he returned to his usual, calm demeanour before she even had the chance to open her mouth. “The suit never leaves… the chamber. You should… know that.”
Ikku bowed his head slightly. “I’m sorry, Dr. Nagura.”
He calls his father ‘Dr. Nagura’? Kiko thought. That’s just weird.
“Come along,” Dr. Nagura told Ikku. “Miss Sato is the… newest member… of the project. Follow us… to the chamber… and we will show her… what we do here.”
Ikku nodded and, as the guards opened the massive doors, dropped in line behind Kiko and his father… which caused him to again collide with Kiko as she, once again awestruck, stopped moving to stare at what she found beyond the doors.
The complex’s nerve centre was abuzz with activity. Technicians analysed data at workstations in a massive pit that Kiko knew must extend into the frozen earth far below the base of the massive head. Dozens of guards moved in and out of a beehive-like maze of corridors leading to and from the pit, carrying papers and beakers of coloured fluid and other items Kiko guessed they were transporting for the various scientists who worked there.
“You seem… overwhelmed,” Dr. Nagura grinned at her. “Not what you… expected?”
Kiko shook her head.
“You have impressive… credentials… Miss Sato,” Dr. Nagura told her. “But I assure you… nothing you have learned can truly… prepare you… for the work you will undertake here.”
They continued to walk along the edge of the pit and out through a downward-sloping hallway. Like the first corridor Kiko travelled along, the walls, floors and ceiling were featureless except for small fluorescent lights placed at regular intervals. The hallway twisted several times and Kiko felt that she could almost sense the earth just beyond its walls, weighing more and more heavily on the metal framework as they moved deeper and deeper.
Finally, they arrived at a transparent plastic panel which blocked the entire corridor; beyond it, Kiko could see four more guards, each with a long rifle slung over their right shoulder.
Dr. Nagura really likes his security! she thought.
One of the guards nodded as he saw Dr. Nagura approach and slid a small plastic card in front of a red panel on the wall. The plastic barrier quickly slide into the ceiling and Dr. Nagura led Ikku and Kiko through. The guard again gestured with his card, and the panel slid back into place.
The guards stepped away, and Kiko followed Dr. Nagura into one last chamber, where several white-coated technicians watched peered through a plastic window into a large rectangular pit.
Dr. Nagura motioned for Kiko to stand beside him and see what the other technicians were watching. There was another boy, once again around her own age, wearing an identical suit to the one worn by Ikku – except where Ikku’s was red, the other boy’s was blue.
The ‘blue boy’ could have passed far more easily for a son of Dr. Nagura than Ikku ever could. He had short, spikey black hair, brown, narrow eyes and a smile that was very similar to that of the elder Nagura – in fact, Kiko thought the two men’s features were close to identical.
The boy in the blue suit flawlessly cartwheeled and somersaulted his way across the floor, pausing periodically – at the instruction of the technicians – as they examined data pouring onto the screens of two monitors located in the centre of what Kiko heard one technicial call a ‘viewing bay’.
“Miss Sato,” Dr. Nagura addressed her without facing her, his eyes fixed on the graceful, atheletic boy below. “That is… Sei. He joined us one year ago, and already has mastered phase one of the project.”
The project, Kiko thought. That’s not the first time he has mentioned it.
Kiko realised that she had no idea what she was doing. After years of studying in Japan, doing her best to follow the general, theoretical work of Dr. Nagura, she had received an entirely unexpected email urging her to come work at Nagura’s top-secret Antarctic base. The email – the only contact she had with the base – had explained that Dr. Nagura knew her work and considered her a valuable potential asset, but never specified precisely what she would be doing.
What she was seeing seemed totally beyond her field of expertise, and she could not help feeling that Dr. Nagura had make a mistake.
“Sei,” Dr. Nagura spoke into a small microphone, and the boy immediately looked up at the viewing bay. “Proceed to… phase two.”
“Dr. Nagura…” Kiko began.
“Be… patient,” Dr. Nagura told her. “You will… see.”
The rectangular pit darkened, and Sei slowly made his way to its very centre. He shot his arms directly out to his sides and closed his eyes. He rapidly brought his arms back to his body then stretched them directly above his head, while shouting: “Let’s go, Robo!”
Incandescent blue energy crackled around Sei’s body and Kiko saw, for the briefest of moments, thick metal armour forming across the arms and chest of his blue bodysuit – but the energy soon faded, and the armour vanished with it.
Kiko jumped up and down excitedly. “What was that?!”
“That is… why you are… here,” Nagura told her. “That is… the project. Our attempt to combine… human biology with… robotics technology… to create the ultimate… soldier… the ultimate… scientist…“
Kiko understood. Her specialty, while studying Dr. Nagura’s broad areas of research, was the application of robots on human physiology. She was nothing close to an expert in the field, but at least she understood what Nagura wanted her to focus on.
“Miss Sato…” Nagura began. “Welcome to… Blizzard Base Zero. Welcome to… Project: Roboman.”
Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
“Get in there!”
The young man in black roughly pushed the woman in pink and white into the force-field surrounded cell, took a step back, and saluted the similarly black-garbed guards who stepped into place in front of it. He walked away as the woman screeched and hollered after him, down a long corridor that led to a small, dimly-lit office.
Sitting at a desk opposite the office door was a short, lanky woman with her long, brown hair tied into a ponytail, wearing the same black clothing as the young man standing before her. She looked up from a laptop computer over which she had been working diligently and closely scrutinised his uniform, making sure it – like everything else under her care – was perfect.
Black boots, tightly-lace? Check. Black shirt and trousers, pressed and crease-free? Of course. Black utility belt, gun holster firmly secured? Always.
Dr. Rose Brachis, the head security officer on the floating island officially named ‘Alpha 7′, but known colloquially as ‘Science Island’, knew that she could always count on her deputy to be the epitome of everything her Security Corps was intended to represent.
“Senshi, you may stand down.”
The young man allowed his body to relax, but did not step further into the room. He waited patiently as Dr. Brachis returned to studying her laptop screen before addressing him again.
“Is the prisoner secured?”
Brachis turned her attention back to the laptop while she entered a string of commands into her security database.
Brachis again looked up from her computer. “I have updated her status. Has there been any news on the information she provided?”
“The information has been confirmed by our operative at Blizzard Base Zero and passed on to the EDD,” Senshi replied. “They plan to attack tonight.”
“Good,” Brachis said. “In the meantime, keep an eye on her. We don’t yet understand the full extent of her abilities and cannot risk her escape. I want her analysed, processed and interrogated as thoroughly as humanly possible – I’m counting on you, Senshi.”
Senshi snapped his back upright and offered a salute, then turned on his heels and marched out of the room. Once he was gone, Brachis returned to her computer and continued typing.
“Senshi,” the screen read, “remains our most viable candidate. Submitting recommendation to Science Officer Masumi Kakeru tonight. Will need replacement deputy ASAP. Will be a shame to lose him; he possesses a lot of potential.”
Dr. Brachis saved the file, shut down the laptop, turned off the lights and left the room.
I hope he can forgive me, she thought to herself as she began to long walk home.