A lone Vox sat down on a rock in the middle of the desert. A natural "hood" the same black as his fur obscured most of his face, though could not mask the subtle glow of his eyes. He reached forward and tore the front off one of the dead soldiers' vests, and rifled through the pouches. He found a ration bar and tore off the packaging to devour the stick of pure nutrients. Tossing away the empty wrapper, he reached out, feeling his metaphorical fingers through the ether.
Finding something that sent shivers through his spine, he pulled his hand back.
"Maria..." He said, hoarsely, then got up and continued to move.
Three weeks after the conference, Travis and Alvis were discussing their next move. They were sitting in the main lab, since the noise from the construction made it impossible to talk in Travis' office at the back of the house. Maria had taken the twins out to do some shopping, so with the exception of some random M. , they were alone.
"It looks like the Liveroids are working better than we expected Travis." Alvis said with a grin.
"Indeed they are my friend." Travis agreed. "They're widely accepted by the public as well. I've already gotten some calls for specific model types."
"Like what?" Alvis asked.
"One news company in Neo-Hong Kong wants a Helicopter based Liveroid to control its large fleet of copter bots. A mining company out of Neo-Peru wants a mining Liveroid." Travis replied. "I've even gotten a call for a Liveroid that can help run a racing track."
"I hope that we can keep up with the demand." Alvis said. "I'd hate to keep all these people waiting if we had to complete each set one at a time."
"We'll have to set it up for commissions. Only so many slots will be available each time." Travis said. "I think that eight for each generation will suffice. I don't want to overflow the market."
"I can agree with that line of thought Travis. Otherwise our Liveroids will become too mundane." Alvis said with a nod. "Eventually there will be somebody else who'll be able to create their own. We've seen enough evidence of that coming from our former students."
Suddenly the front door slammed open as Maria stalked inside with an angry look on her face, Ed and Liz were right behind her with bags in their arms. The two of them continued on to the kitchen with their loads.
"Of all the absurd foolishness!" Maria shouted.
"What has your tail in a twist?" Alvis asked.
Maria marched over to the table where the two men sat and flung a newspaper in front of them.
"This article right here!" She exclaimed. "It's a review of the progress of the Liveroids."
Travis looked it over, letting out an exasperated sigh when he finished.
"Oh my, that is rather annoying."
"What is it?" Alvis asked as he looked at the paper. "This is …"
"Absolutely ridiculous!" Maria yelled. "It's as if the news editors completely forgot about your contribution to the project Alvis!"
She picked up the paper and read aloud the line that aggravated her the most.
"'The Liveroids, created by Dr. Travis Kira, have become the greatest asset to the general public since the creation of the personal computer.' Your name doesn't even come up in the entire article Alvis!"
"I'll have to talk to Isaac about this." Alvis said. "He knows the head editor for this company. He'll get some straight answers out of him."
"Meanwhile, I have an excellent suggestion for you Alvis." Travis said. "How about you take the next set?"
"You want me to build the next eight, by myself?" Alvis asked. "Are you sure you're alright with that Travis? This was your project to begin with."
"I'm fine with it Alvis and it will get the media to recognize that you're still a valuable robotics engineer as well." Travis said. "All that I ask is that you let our dear friend here make another
one of her famous suggestions." He pointed at Maria.
Maria was caught off guard by this.
Alvis scratched his chin as he thought about Travis' proposal.
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. And Maria's suggestions haven't steered us wrong before."
Maria was still staggered by this.
"You want me to do what?" She asked incredulously.
"Suggest a design for one of the Liveroids, of course!" Alvis said with a cheesy grin. "It was your suggestion that worked out well for Cronus."
"Not to mention the assistance you gave me in constructing and programming Liz." Travis said. "Or the work you did on Blues' core." He glanced at the kitchen door to see Ed and Liz busy putting items away. "Without your input, many of the things that the two of us have accomplished thus far wouldn't have happened."
"I'm already getting ideas on the other seven models." Alvis added. "We just want you to make a suggestion. No more, and no less."
Maria glanced at the two men in front of her, grinning like schoolboys.
"You guys are going to do this every single time, aren't you?" She sighed. "Just pick a random item from that table over there."
She pointed at the table with all of Travis' old and incomplete projects. Most of them were ones that Maria herself had stopped him from throwing out.
"I won't always be around to keep giving the two of you ideas."
"I suppose we could make a database of all of them." Travis said as he stroked his beard. "In case we aren't here in the lab while in our planning stages."
"See? Now that wasn't so hard!" Alvis said.
"For being the smartest people I know in this world, you two are by far the laziest!" Maria huffed as she stalked off to the kitchen to help the twins.
"She knows us entirely too well my old friend." Alvis mused.
"Would you have it any other way?" Travis asked.
"Not for all the money in the world!" Alvis replied.
Over the next few weeks things calmed down into a steady pattern. Travis oversaw the construction taking place behind his home. Alvis had completely taken over the main Lab to work on the second set of Liveroids. Maria had started doing some work for the Geology Department at the Institute, Ed and Liz assisting her. She came home one day with several stacks of paper that he had the twins help her carry in and set them on a table.
"What is all of this?" Alvis asked, wiping his forehead with a greasy rag. In front of him was a half-finished Liveroid with a sawblade on its forehead.
"This is what I've been working on at the Institute for the last couple of weeks." Maria said as she helped Liz with her stack of paper. "Where's Travis? He really should see this."
"I think he was in his office an hour ago." He replied.
Travis walked in from the hall with the blueprint from the construction site in his hands. He glanced up to take note of the large stacks of paper.
"Are you planning on making a tree out of all of that?" He asked.
"No, but I do plan on having all of this scanned into a data file." Maria said picking up the top page of the stack she had carried in. "You should take a look at this Travis. I think you might be surprised."
He rolled up the blueprint and tucked it under an arm as he took the sheet from Maria. His eyes widened in realization, as he read the title.
"Unusual Formations of Beryl found throughout the World. By Dr. Angelica Kira and Dr. Celeste Sharpe. This is from Angelica's office!" He said, his hands shaking as he looked up at them. "I thought everything was burned up back then?"
"Apparently Isaac had managed to salvage all of this." Maria said. "I've been busy rewriting all of this from what he had saved. He wanted it done by somebody he could trust, so he asked me."
"Alvis remind me to interrogate your brother." Travis said. "I'd rather not have any more surprises from him. I'm getting too old for things like this."
"There is one more thing Travis." Maria said. "Isaac wants me to finish her work, but he wanted your approval first."
Travis looked at his friend with a smile on his face.
"I can think of no one better to complete it." He said. "This will entail a lot of traveling, do you realize that. Are you up for that?"
"It's a chance to go out and see more of this world. Of course I'm up for it." She said. "That means I won't be here for Alvis's big moment though."
"Bah, I think I'll be able to live with that." Alvis said as he cleaned his hands. "You'll be doing us a big favor here. This work is what brought us together in the first place. Both Angelica and Celeste would be very happy to see this finished."
"Did you talk to Illforte about this?" Travis asked.
"He's being as closed-mouthed as usual when these kinds of subjects are brought up." Maria said with a nod. "I think he finds amusement in our searching for the Phantom Stones. Though he did indicate that there are fifteen in this world's set."
"So with the three that I've used, and Alvis's one, there are another eleven." Travis said.
"If they are anything like the ones back on Mobius, there are three more like the ones we've seen. They usually come in sets of seven, plus a large one that acts as a controller. I've never heard of a second set of seven though. So I'm not sure what to expect from that." She added.
"Who are you taking with you?" Alvis asked. "I expect that you'll want a work crew with you."
"I already have that taken care of Alvis." Maria told him with a grin. "Trance, can you come out here with the others?" She called.
Maria's favorite M.E.T came running into the room with three more following right behind him. They all skidded to a halt directly in front of Maria.
"M.E.T Trance at your service Mistress!" He said in a cheerful voice.
"How are the others doing today Trance?" Maria asked. "Have there been any problems?"
"Meep. They are doing well today Mistress." Trance replied. "As per your instructions I have been running their compatibility tests all morning. Thus far they have no faults arising, and are exceeding your expectations. I have made sure to keep them out of M.E.T Maestro's field of
"I'm going to have to do something about him one of these days." Travis said.
"M.E.T Maestro is not a problem to us Dr. Kira." Trance replied. "We make sure that we do not disturb him in his tasks, and he does not become agitated."
Alvis gave the three newer M. with a curious glance.
"These three are going to be your work crew?" He asked.
"I'd like you guys to meet M. Al, Trave, and Mike. Say hello guys." Maria told her newest robots.
"Hello!" They said in unison.
Travis burst out into humorous chuckles at their introduction. "You made little versions of Alvis, Mikhail and myself I see." He said once he calmed himself down. "Look Alvis, we're famous enough to have our own expies."
"Is it just you and the M. going?" Travis asked
"I wouldn't mind having Rebecca go with me, but she's up to her neck in projects." Maria said. "Kalinka is still too young, despite her rapid advancements through her education. Isaac specifically told me not to take any of the staff from the Geology Department."
"I can understand that part a little bit." Travis said. "Their established position in the Department would mean that they could take the lead on the project. Isaac also seems to think that there are several people that would jump at the chance to steal the credit for the unpublished work that Angelica and Celeste had done." He thought for a minute on this, as he didn't feel right letting Maria go off on such a trip by herself. "How about you take Liz with you?"
"Me?" Liz asked. Both Ed and she had tended to remain quiet whenever there were discussions like this going on.
"Are you sure about this Travis?" Maria asked. "We both know what that means to you."
"I am sure about it Maria." Travis said. "I think it will be a nice change of pace around here as well. I've got some work coming up that will need all of my attention, and I can use Ed as my new Lab assistant. Liz can be your assistant while you're out on the road."
Maria had some doubts as to Travis' true reason for sending Liz with her, but she knew better than to argue with him.
"Alright, I suppose that might not be a bad idea after all. It'll give us a good deal of 'Girl Time' while we're gone."
"I suppose I should go pack some things then." Liz said. She was obviously apprehensive about this, as she'd never been away from the city or even her brother since she was activated. "Where will we be going first Dr. Kintobor?"
"The last location that was marked as a probable location was near Neo-Frankfurt." Maria replied. "We'll start there and see where the wind tells us to go."
"It feels kind of empty around here now Dr. Kira." Ed said as he passed his creator a thirteen millimeter wrench.
"You'll get used to it in time Ed." Travis told him, taking the wrench and tightening a bolt inside the robot he was working on. "I know that you and Liz were designed to be siblings, but it is possible to do things without the other." He passed the wrench back to Ed. "A spanner wrench, please Ed."
Ed went into the toolbox and pulled out a spanner wrench, passing it to Travis.
"I suppose so, but it still feels strange." He said, and then changed subjects. "What is this robot going to be used for Dr. Kira?"
"This is going to be a camera bot for the local news station." Travis replied, passing the spanner wrench back to Ed when he was done with it. "The requested one that could fly around without the use of a remote control. The AI will be set to follow commands given by the reporter on the ground. Eventually every news station will want one of these for every reporter they have."
"But for now it'll be exclusive to Neo-Chicago News, right?" Ed asked.
Travis closed the access hatch on the robot.
"Correct!" He then sat down at his computer and plugged in the USB cable from the robot. "Despite the fact that I would much rather build these kinds of robots for the betterment of mankind, it does get rather expensive. So I have to find other means of income to support my creative ideas."
"But your Grandfather left you with a rather large company didn't he?" Ed asked. "Doesn't that help support the costs?"
"Alas, it does not my boy." Travis sighed. "Kira Labs is strictly a Research and Development company. We get contracts from every sector of business across the world. Even Military contracts come across our desks on a frequent basis. They give us an idea of what they want, and we do our best to supply them with a decent result. Eventually though we have to give the designs over to another company that will be better suited to mass production, like Nergal Heavy Industries in Neo-Japan."
"Does that mean that eventually you're going to have to do the same with the Liveroids?" Ed asked.
Travis shook his head.
"Liveroids shall each be one of a kind." He said. "All of you were never meant to be reproduced. Right now only Alvis and I can actually build more, as it requires the knowledge of the Prometheus Equation. There are a few others out there that are working on it, the closest ones being Maria and Mikhail."
"Do you plan on building more eventually?" Ed asked.
"I will in time. I'll receive requests for certain jobs in mind, but they will not be sold." Travis replied. "Instead they will be commissioned to do their tasks, and the money from that will be split between the worker and Kira Labs."
"This, in turn, will help cover the cost of building more Liveroids." Ed concluded. "Wow, with that kind of setup it could be easy to build an army and take over the world, huh?"
"Edward! Where would you get such a nutty idea from?" Travis asked with mock suprise.
"Sorry Dr. Kira, Dean Asimov let me read through his library of Science Fiction novels." Ed admitted. "I have to admit, some of them are pretty far out there with their plot lines. Like this one where a programmer gets sucked into his computer and is forced to play games by the Master Control Program that he designed."
"Ah, I know that one very well Ed." Travis said. "Let us not get too caught up in books though. Or at least know where the lines between reality and fiction lay."
He then turned his attention to his computer.
"Why don't you see if Alvis needs any help? If not, then you can do what you want with the rest of the day. Just stay out of trouble."
"Yes Dr. Kira." Ed said with a smile, and walked out towards the main lab.
Construction behind Travis' home was progressing quickly, mostly with the help of Atlas. In a matter of weeks after Maria and Liz had left the new addition was completed. The major feature was the large complex built underground that housed the now functioning Solar Fusion Generator. There were several solar collection panels on the roof and scattered about the grounds that fed directly into the generator's condenser. It was connected into the city's power grid, and was already responsible for a third of the city.
Travis placed Zeus in charge of this generator for the time being. Soon he would take over a larger one that was being constructed at the site of the old Lakeside Coal Plant. While construction was going on, all the former employees from the coal plant were taking classes to help them understand their new tasks and duties once the new generator was up and running. If it was one thing that Travis and Alvis agreed on, it was that they did not want to have to worry about the day to day operations themselves. So having the workers trained was the most logical solution, and ensured that the workforce would not be diminished in any way.
Alvis finished his work on the second generation Liveroids, and unveiled them to the public with much fanfare. The press might have tried to conclude that these new Liveroids were somehow Travis' work, but they became largely ignored. Travis' only contribution to this generation was an update to the Prometheus Chips which further refined the Prometheus Equation, the Beta Chip. Alvis's new additions to the line did more than improve on the last generation. He designed them to complement the abilities of the first line.
Similar to the first line, Alvis chose mythological figures to name them after.
The first of the Dr. Sharpe Numbers, DSN-001, Lapetus, was placed in a lumber mill that took the trees that Cronos would bring in and helped convert them into usable material in a more efficient manner.
DSN-002, Aeolus, worked in a weather monitoring station that hovered just above the city. He would be able to detect changes in the weather with such accuracy that it helped improve the public's respect for the TV weatherman.
Should too bad of a storm be predicted, Aeolus could to an extent alter the wind patterns to force it away from the city.
DSN-003, Galucus, used a heavier and more resilient metal that would allow him to dive to the ocean's deepest reaches with little effort.
DSN-004, Sleipnir, was designed with transcontinental deliveries in mind. Being able to take time sensitive documents and items from Neo-Chicago to Neo-Portland in just under five hours. With the strength and power built into his legs, he could avoid disrupting traffic along highways by going overland. He could maintain these speeds even when carrying a package as large as a person.
DSN-005, Syntribos, became a great addition to the mining companies, and gave Bomb Man more time to work with Military and Law Enforcement.
DSN-006, Harpocrates, joined Zeus in managing the Solar Fusion Generator, as well as acted in the same function that both Khronos and Hephestus did for the new generation.
DSN-007, Phlegethon, was designed from one of the robots on "Maria's Suggestion Table" as Alvis and Travis had been known to call it now. He could withstand even higher temperatures than Vulcan, making him perfect in volcanic studies where it would be impossible for humans to even approach safely. He would also assist Vulcan and Cronos in the use of controlled fires in the case of a forest fire emergency.
The last Liveroid of the second Generation, DSN-008, Gaia, was Alvis's pride among the set. His entire purpose was to assist in reforestation efforts in locations where Cronos had been, allowing forests to regrow for future use. His outer shell was painstakingly carved from an Iron Wood Tree; the hardest known species of tree on Neo-Earth.
News of how well the newest line worked with the first brought new ideas flooding into the inboxes of Travis and Alvis's emails. It got to the point where Alvis designed a M.E.T to sort through all of the messages for them. What surprised them the most was a letter they had delivered to them by Sleipnir, who sped off towards his next assignment.
"That bot doesn't know how to stand still." Alvis said. He looked at the letter and smiled. "Call Ed in here Travis, I think he'll want to see this."
A few minutes later a very messy Ed, who had gotten into a disagreement with the eggbeater while learning how to bake cookies, came into the room.
"You called for me?"
"You know you're supposed to bake that, not wear it, right?" Alvis asked with a grin. "We just got a letter from Maria and your sister. Sleipnir just brought it here."
"How did he manage to make it to Neo-Germany?" Ed asked as he cleaned himself off with a rag. "I didn't think he could cross over oceans."
"It's winter time in the northern hemisphere, so he's been hopping across glaciers and icebergs up by the pole." Travis said. "We didn't even know he had figured that out until Boreas sent us a message about it."
"Well, what does the letter say Dr. Sharpe?" Ed asked excitedly.
Alvis opened the letter, cleared his throat, and began to read it aloud.
"'Dear Travis, Alvis and Ed,
How have you all been? The two of us have kept ourselves busy following Angelica's notes, but so far we have had no luck. We have been making sure to keep track of the news, and wanted to congratulate Alvis on his success with the new generation of Liveroids. We were lucky to catch Sleipnir when we did, as he almost ran right past us. He recognized us even though he had never met us before. Did you have something to do with that Alvis?
He had to run off before too long, as he was in the middle of a delivery. I convinced him to stop by again soon so I could give him this letter. Does he know how to stand still? Liz is convinced that his head might explode if he did. Maybe we could put this to the test under controlled conditions?
Doesn't that sound just awful? Where did we even get that idea from?
We managed to find a place to stay in Neo-Wiesbaden. Our neighbors are a nice family and often invite us to join them for shopping trips. They had us join them for a family gathering this Christmas. I don't think I've ever had such delicious food in my life! I made a friend with our neighbor's cousins from the states. A nice couple from Neo-Oregon.
I should ask them if they know Rebecca.
We plan on continuing our search once spring comes, as it is too cold to be outside and digging around. Can you believe it? I've got all this fur, and I'm still cold!
We miss you guys, and we'll write more when we get the chance.
Lots of Love,
Maria J. Kintobor and Elizabeth A. Kira
P.S. Travis, I got an IM from an old friend who uses the IM tag, TheScarf. I thought you'd like to know that he says he is doing well."
"Well it sounds like they're enjoying themselves over there." Travis said.
"Who is 'TheScarf'?" Ed asked.
"You'll get a chance to meet him one day Ed." Travis replied, carefully skirting the question as he gave Alvis a knowing glance. "In the meantime, I think I smell something burning."
Ed looked around at the kitchen then ran off quickly "AH! MY COOKIES!"
Alvis came into Travis' office a few days later, a look of concern across his face. "I have a bit of a dilemma on my hands Travis."
"What is it Alvis? Maybe I can help." Travis replied.
"I'm finally getting some logical and practical requests from my email M.E.T." Alvis told his friend.
"Something actually made it through Fugue's filters?" Travis asked in shock. "I didn't think that was possible."
"Both the military, and several state law enforcement offices are requesting that I build them a functioning robot to be used in favor of actual soldiers or police officers. Not to completely replace them, just augment their forces." Alvis said. "I plan on taking them up on their offer, but my most reasonable idea needs your approval."
"You want to use the design for the suit you made for Blues." Travis guessed.
"Yes, and that would mean using some ideas from his actual design." Alvis admitted. "Though I think it won't require the use of the Prometheus Chips. That would be wasteful, and go against our agreement on duplications."
"You just don't feel right using it without my or Blues' approval." Travis surmised. "And it isn't like you can just ask him if he was okay with it right now."
Alvis remained silent; having put forth the idea was enough for him. He felt as if he really didn't have the right to press the issue. He had too much respect for his friend to insist upon it, or proceed without having asked him first. He simply waited to see what Travis' answer might be.
"If Blues has an issue with it, I'll talk to him about it." Travis said. "Go ahead with the project Alvis, and good luck! It'll help out with what I have planned for the next generation of Liveroids we'll build."
"We?" Alvis asked.
"We can discuss it later. We have plenty of time on our hands." Travis said as he stood up and walked with his dear friend back to the lab.
On the screen of his computer was an email that he left open. It was a request from the U.N. Security Council, requesting a Liveroid Commission, as well as the construction of a second project that would require the "Expert knowledge and skills of both Dr. Travis Andrew Kira and Dr. Alvis Earnest Sharpe." The title of the message was labeled, "Project: Gamma".
TheScarf has signed on [Local time 19:45, ANC]
TheScarf: So everything is going as expected?
TinMan: Yes, if everything that he discovered is true, then things should begin to happen within the next year.
TheScarf: … Is it too much to hope that he is wrong? Is it possible?
TinMan: Possible, but unlikely at this point.
TinMan: I am sorry my friend, but you did agree to this years ago.
TheScarf: I know, and I have no regrets about it now. I just wish we didn't have to put him through this.
TheScarf: He isn't ready for it.
TheScarf: He wasn't designed for it.
TinMan: Neither were you.
TheScarf: … You have a point.
TinMan: Do not worry for him so much. From what we have seen, and from what we know, he'll be ready.
TheScarf: I hope so … I am glad that the other one isn't there. Though I know that isn't likely to last.
TinMan: Ever the big brother. You worry about siblings you haven't really met yet.
TheScarf: Can you blame me?
TinMan: No, I cannot. … I have to go, someone is coming.
TinMan: Stay safe my friend.
TheScarf: Of course, just who the hell do you think I am?
TinMan: The one who's soul will pierce the heavens.
TheScarf: Damn straight!
TinMan has signed off. [Local time 22:47, CHI]
TheScarf: … I will protect my family . . . all of them!
TheScarf has signed off. [Local time 19:48, ANC]