The panorama was in many ways breathtaking. The sharp lines of early dawn sunlight cut swaths through the air, coloring the landscape in broken beams bent into their component colors over the backs of surrounding mountains enough to create thin rainbow edges around the shadows of those mountains. Artists would have played with such colors for lifetimes once, had they been given the chance. These days, nobody took much joy in the delicate spectacle of natural places. Especially not deserts.
"It looks... like ambitious moles, trying to start their own mountain. Or something."
Danni grumbled something incoherently back at the girl behind her. It wasn't exactly untrue, the pile of dirt looked pretty silly. Then again, it took someone actually looking to find it, and in time, it would not matter at all, anyway. But the dry, unimpressed way it was stated by the girl just went a bit against her grain.
This was no job for her, anyway. It was glorified babysitting, a pick-up assignment. She wasn't really in it for the rush or anything, but putting a trained agent in the middle of nowhere to pick up a straggler just seemed disrespectful of her skills, and her investment. They just didn't seem to realize that she was no...
Her pattern of thought was crudely interrupted when the pile of dirt began rustling. Had it been more than the pile, she would have thought to look for tremors, the dirt shaking like the coming of an earthquake. Or some dinosaur monster running their way, if movies were to be believed. But it was only the pile.
"Is it supposed to be..."
Turning with a snap of her hip, almost a match for 70s disco moves, Danni stared the girl down with her one eye. She had feared that the patch over the... well, that the patch would have made her look weak in the eyes of subordinates and the other agents, but to her great pleasure, it could cut through anything and give her the moment of attentive silence that was all she needed to do her job. The girl behind her just smiled, awkwardly, and fell silent.
With a pounding thud and a cloud of dry desert soil, a hand sprung from the ground, reaching towards the heavens in a way that seemed almost religious. The flesh had been all but worn off it, exposing joints and gory bits beneath. Artificial blood substitute, meant to fake out examination more than actually keep the thing alive, ran down the wrist as the palm began to writhe, fingers wriggling like little creatures trying to escape. It was alive. In a manner of speaking.
"Get ready. The show's about to start," Danni almost whispered to the rookies around her. The one behind her, Sandy or Cindy or something, was fully trained but had yet to earn her ranks, so she was Danni's ace in the hole. The rest... Well, she was dearly hoping they just remembered basic training. She also knew that such a hope was not likely to be fulfilled.
The first, a young girl with a military-style crew cut and a slick red jumpsuit, took a plunge at the machine as it rose from the grave, hitting on it even before the thing stood up fully. She was quickly joined by a short Asian girl with tight cornrows. They knew formation. Two matched the exposed surface of the opponent. It was methodical and by the book. They were whimpering on the ground not two seconds later.
As the thing stood up fully, a girl with skin so black her eyes looked like marble in a nightsky made a go at it, using a supersized bolt gun. None of the recruits were issued actual firearms, or ricochettes and crossfires would do more damage to them and the surrounding than good. This was not a safe job. The thing bashed away the gun and the girl with it, the explosive thrust of the gun only managing to knock more already torn fake flesh off its left arm.
"No," Danni immediately told the girl behind her. "Let the rookies take a shot and learn for themse..."
The zombie-like robot actually roared. It roared like an angry animal! Danni felt her eyes involuntarily widening, but luckily they also homed in on him entirely as he took a fraction of a second to sort through the crew he saw around him and picking out the one in charge. As it happened, that was her.
As the full weight of the half-rotten mandroid hammered down, she swung her red cane with a zip through the air, putting it between her head and his tattered double-fisted slamdown. The cubic boron nitride of the cane was the strength of diamonds, one long piece capable of enduring the weight of a fully grown African elephant. It didn't break, but her heart skipped a beat when it actually bent ever so slightly under his mighty force!
"Negotiation!" she yelled at the thing, but all it seemed to do was make it angry. A gargled growl was followed by a puff of air that smelled like decaying animal carcasses forced her throat to close up, lest she sprayed her morning sandwich at the thing.
"Negotiation!" she yelled again, feeling the cane dig into her palms under the weight of an angry, decomposing android with a serious case of tantrum, looming over her with one eye gone and another slowly squishing its splattered self out of its socket.
"Yeah, graaargh, I already got the message, you lump!"
The guy clearly wasn't pleased at her snide remark. She really didn't want to be snarky, but he was the one being uncooperative, dammit!
"Need help, boss?"
Sinking to her knees under the pressure, Danni still managed to give Sandy a coy "nah" as she slowly angled the cane a bit. In all honesty, it wasn't one whole piece. It was two. And as the angle reached perfection, Danni's eye for detail keeping track of every fraction of a degree that it turned, she let the hulking robot's own weight push the sheath piece away from her as she spun on her heel, releasing the infused titanium blade from its slumber inside the cane. Her spin ended when the back of her right leg came half-circle and stumbled the big lump as he fell forward, unbalanced by the loss of her to push against. He came crashing down within arm's reach of her, and the blade completed its arc as he thrust an angry, semi-fleshy hand at her, fingers stretched out to engulf her head and no doubt crush it like a soda can. Two fingers remained on the hand. The other three flew through the air like tossed trash.
There was an eerie silence, only the faint desert wind whispering across the open ground, as Danni remained posed low to the ground, her legs building up their spring strength as she demonstratively held the blade in place at the end of its path through the air, and through the three fingers. The android, now missing both biological eyes, dull reflections of the cameras underneath shining through, seemed to understand the gesture. It took her a moment to realize the thing was not sneering at her. Its mouth was simply little more than the skull infrastructure underneath.
"Are we good friends now, mister?"
Danni could feel her heart taking up a powerful rhythm of anticipating stress, her blood not pounding through her, but still pumping at a rate meant to keep her more than just alive. She didn't move a muscle as the machine lowly got up on its feet, made some growling sounds, then delicately straightened its immensely dirty hoodie, using the now nearly naked robot fingers to flip the hood over its badly damaged head. It then made another gargling growl, this time a bit lower.
At the sound of the growl, Danni noticed a shift in shadows to her left. With her first move since having separated the robot from its fingers, she held up her empty right hand in a gesture for Sandy to stay back.
Looking like a proud person trying to clutch at remnants of its dignity, the robot stood tall, looking at her with its dead, artificial eyes.
"Are you sure that..."
Danni jiggled the hand that warded off the girl. "He's not angry," she said, "his vocal chords are simply destroyed."
The two of them looked at the being, while the rookies were getting back on their feet. Danni had monitored them, making sure they were only battered and bruised, not gravely injured. They were tough. She had gone through it, and she knew. "Sandy, would you pl..." "Xanthippe," the girl interrupted. Forgetting herself for a moment, Danni took her eyes off the robot and looked at the girl.
"Very well, Xanthippe. Make sure the rookies are all in working order." Danni turned her eyes back to the robot. "This mute and I are going to have a little, well, talk..."