Bruce leapt through the mess of glass and mortar that had recently been the front door of the cafe and landed awkwardly against a table, stumbled, and fell to his knees. Not entirely the kind of grand entrance he had been hoping for. The weight benches reared up to their full heights, their lights flashing red, dazzling him.
“You can cut that shit out right now, robo... cocks.”
Bruce hoped he sounded defiant, but his voice wavered as he spoke. Luckily, as far as he could tell, they didn’t have ears. What the fuck was he doing? Why had he rushed into this place without scoping it out first? Some kind of detective he was turning out to be. His robotic arm hummed and hissed as he thought. It seemed eager for something, almost impatient. It quivered unnervingly against his side. He would have to check when it was next due a service.
The weight benches moved as one, stomping across the wreckage of the cafeteria towards him. He looked around desperately for a weapon. There were a couple bricks, a table leg, but there was also an attractive young woman hiding beneath a table. She looked familiar, and more than a bit scared. Her brown eyes met his and she raised a finger to her lips, stifling sobs as tears ran down her cheeks. The benches were getting close. She mouthed something.
“The doors, behind you, go!”
But it was too late for escape. Bruce cowered under the intensity of their red glare, his arms over his head. He would soon be crushed to death and he probably deserved it. He had killed a LOT of people lately. The benches scythed through the debris, kicking dust and grit up into his watering eyes. He couldn’t see a goddamned thing. Fuck this, he thought, as the benches loomed above him, weights poised to drop.
His arm whirred into decisive action, striking out from his side and grabbing the lead bench by the top of the weight stack. He stood up as his arm pulled him forward, out from beneath the weights that strained against him and, to his amazement, actually lifted the whole machine from the floor. It struggled in his grasp as he stared at it, shaking and struggling to get free, inches from his face. The other bench stopped moving and stood regarding the scene with a curious orange light. The captured bench flashed angry red as Bruce wondered just what exactly would happen next. His arm was in control now.
“Cut off its power!”
The woman shouted from beneath the table in the corner; she had a nerve. His arm hissed louder than before and drew back the enormous bench like a cricket ball beside him. Without warning it shot forwards, releasing the bench with an almighty hiss. The force of the throw took it laterally five feet above the ground at some speed, sending the bench clattering into its counterpart with a tremendous clashing screech. They came to a halt at the far end of the coffee shop, bent and mangled together. One of the machines pulled itself half upright, but Bruce was already on the case, his arm swinging a mighty punch down through its sensor arrays and control panel, rending the metal in two and smashing transistors. The bench clattered sparking to the floor, landing in a heap on its fallen partner.
Bruce strode across to the pile of dead scrap metal and gave it a kick. His foot hurt for it, but at least he felt like he had played a part in the fight now. He looked down at his arm, regarding it with suspicion. The doctors had told him it was advanced technology, but this was something else, something superhuman, something inhuman. It hissed at him, defiant.
“That was incredible! How did you lift that thing like that?”
Bruce had forgotten the woman temporarily, but now she stood in front of him, brushing dust and debris from her blouse. She was really quite beautiful; her short red hair reminded him of Dana Scully from the X-Files. He drew himself up straight, subconsciously puffing out his chest.
“To be entirely honest, I have absolutely no idea. I’m Bruce von Toose, Private Detective.”
He held his good hand out to her. She shook it firmly; her hand felt soft and warm in his grip.
“My name is Sally, Sally Strangelove. I work for the Metro, the newspaper. It’s nice to meet you Mr von Toose.”
She smiled warmly as she withdrew her hand. Bruce felt his heart leap into his mouth, beating against his tongue. Idiot! McCoy was waiting outside; he couldn’t have this woman blow his cover. How had he been so stupid as to tell her his real name? He thought quickly.
“Ah, I’m terribly sorry; I meant to say John Johnson. My name is John Johnson. I forgot, I’ve been in deep cover for a long time, it’s all rather confusing.”
Sally stood silent a moment. He could almost hear the gears and cogs whirring in her journalistic mind as she processed this rather weak explanation.
“Well, I don’t doubt that you’re under rather a lot of stress Mr Johnson, we all are. It appears that society is falling down around our ears. I must say though, it is a little strange that you would forget your own name.”
Bruce cast around nervously for a way to change the subject, and fast. He glimpsed a leg sticking out from beneath a pile of blood-stained rubble.
“I didn’t realise there were other people in here, Jesus Christ. Let’s get outside and talk.”
A look of immense relief crossed Sally’s face momentarily.
“Yes, lets. I’ve seen far too much death for one day. I write for the Metro, I don’t have the stomach for foreign affairs, too many massacres. No place to hide now though.”
They trudged out of the building together, stumbling over rubble and picking their way carefully past the broken glass. McCoy was waiting across the street. As he saw them emerge, he hurried over to them, pushing frantically at his smart phone.
“Johnson! What the fuck happened in there? I heard an explosion. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine McCoy. This is Sally Strangelove. Sally, this is my good friend, Professor Sam McCoy.”
McCoy and Sally stared at each other for a moment before McCoy offered her his hand. She shook it firmly.
“Hi Sally. Say, did you happen to come to a party around here a couple weeks ago? I feel like we’ve met before. It was a fancy dress party, at my apartment?”
Sally thought for a moment. He did seem familiar, so did the other man. She couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d met before. The party rang a bell.
“Hi Sam, I think you may be right about that. I came to a party around here a couple weeks back. I came dressed as Princess Leia. My colleague, James Brookes, invited me. He came dressed as a Wookie.”
McCoy’s eyes lit up.
“Brooksy! Of course, now I remember, that costume was hilarious, I thought he was dressed as Uncle Bulgaria, the Womble. How is he? Call me McCoy, everyone else does.”
“He’s ok; I haven’t seen him in a few days. I’ve barely seen anyone. I seem to keep running into trouble. I’m trying to work out what the hell is going on so I can write this up, make my word count for the week.”
Bruce decided to make himself heard. He was the hero after all.
“I remember you now Sally, I love Star Wars! That costume you wore was very... authentic.”
“Yes, James helped me to sort it out; he’s a Star Wars nut. I thought the metal bikini was a tad uncomfortable though.”
McCoy changed the subject.
“John, my phone’s gone down. I’ve been trying to call the police but I’ve got no signal and my landline’s dead. Look at this shit.”
He passed Bruce the phone. The screen displayed a short clip of an orang-utan masturbating in a cage.
“What the fuck is this McCoy? I’m not in to bestiality.”
McCoy snatched the phone back from him.
“Me neither Johnson, it just started playing. I can’t stop it. What do you think it means, my detective friend?”
Sally looked concerned. Bruce snorted, holding back laughter.
“I think it means you ought to be put on some sort of register.”
Sally caught a glimpse of the screen and laughed, setting Bruce off too. McCoy stuffed it angrily into his jeans pocket.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. I think it’s a clue. All these machines are turning animalistic, every last one. It’s got to be something to do with that EBM eMotion chip, it has to be. My research is showing significant results.”
Sally’s ears pricked up at that. At last, a lead!
“Have you been researching these machines? Are you some sort of expert Professor McCoy?”
He puffed out his chest.
“You could say that Sally, you could say that. I’ve been carrying out experiments on the microchips in my apartment, just up there.”
He pointed at his apartment in the block behind them.
“Could I see those results? I want to get to the bottom of this; I’ve been caught in the middle too long.”
Sally could smell the story now.
“That sounds like a great idea, although I’m not sure what my colleagues might say about me showing top secret files to the gutter press. No offence.”
McCoy meant to offend. Bruce stepped in.
“Come on McCoy, she’s stuck in the middle of this shit storm, just like us. Let’s go up and get a cup of coffee or something, it’s cold out here. We all need to relax.”
McCoy looked agitated.
“Well, I guess we’re not just going to stand around chin wagging in the middle of this fucked up street all night long. Follow me. But I’m watching you Miss Strangelove, remember that.”
McCoy strode off ahead as Bruce and Sally followed a few paces behind. Sally spoke softly.
“He seems like a bit of a drama queen.”
“You got that half right.”