‘Hey Battery, how much longer is this gonna take?’
‘Dunno, Coil. Could be an hour, could be another twelve years.’
Coil stopped digging and stared at Battery, dumbfounded. ‘What? Yesterday you said we were almost there!’
‘Hey, it’s a thick box, mate.’ said Battery, leaning against the tunnel wall.
Coil tore off his psychic’s glove and threw it to the ground in silent frustration.
Battery shrugged. ‘Wanna go get a recharge?’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ Coil replied, grimacing.
Battery and Coil’s favourite charging hole was a small place on Street 99. It had that retro feel of 20XX with a modern, tasteful finish. The trimmings on the bar were a gorgeous tin foil chrome and the lights a soothing purple-green. The bartender, a short, hairy bot named Ohm, was plugged into the mains with a thick mess of tangled cables. Battery and Coil sat at their stools and ordered the usual: a twelve volter for Battery and a tenner for Coil.
‘How’s the dig going?’ asked Ohm as he poured the duo two glasses of wires. Battery downed his in one swig, slurping the wires up like spaghetti.
‘I’ll tell ya how the dig’s going,’ he said. ‘Bloody crap, that’s how it’s going.’
‘You’re never gonna get outta the box, man,’ replied Ohm. ‘It’s thicker than Coil.’
Coil spluttered, almost choking on his ten volt drink. ‘I’m here too, just in case nobody noticed or nothing.’
‘What’s with the reaction?’ said Ohm. ‘That was like a D-tier insult, man.’
Battery tapped his glass, signalling for another twelver. ‘You saying we should just give up?’
Ohm begrudgingly poured him a new drink from the wiretap. ‘I’m just saying you should consider your options, man. Ever considered esper work?’
Battery spat a glob of oil on the bar. ‘Are you yanking my cord, mate? All those bloody espers do is run around telling people what power sockets are haunted. The only real ghosts are psychological ones!’
‘Wow, deep,’ said Ohm, his voice oozing with sarcasm.
‘I thought it was clever,’ Coil said, taking a sip of his drink, still half full of wires.
Battery put a heavy arm around Coil’s shoulders. ‘Here’s a bot who knows what he’s talkin’ about!’
The wires’ charge was starting to affect Battery. His glass eyes glowed with a faint purple shine. He gulped down another glass of wires and the glow doubled in intensity. Battery chuckled, baring his rusty teeth.
‘I think you’ve had enough, man,’ said Ohm.
Battery made a flicking gesture and his glass toppled over by itself. He shook his head gently, his purple eyes leaving afterimages. A bead of oil ran down Ohm’s forehead as he went to refill Battery’s drink once more.
As Battery waited for his drink, the charging hole’s door swung open and a robot walked in. Tall, stained and cloaked in a black plastic poncho. She sneered at Battery and Coil, taking the furthest stool from them.
‘Be with you in a sec, man,’ said Ohm to the stranger, placing Battery’s twelve volter on the counter.
‘I think maybe we should consider… giving up,’ said Coil.
Battery raised a blocky eyebrow and grinned. ‘Bull. We’ve come so far, Coil! Just a few more years… a few more years and we’re out! Out, Coil! Out!’
‘Hey!’ shouted the stranger, grinding Battery’s rant to a halt. ‘You trying to get out?’
Battery and Coil glanced at each other. ‘Yeah? You got a problem?’ said Battery, getting up from his stool. The stranger ordered a twenty volter from Ohm and leaned on the bar, her sharp face displaying no emotion.
‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘You’re digging through the wall?’
Battery’ eyes burst into a new intensity. The stranger didn’t seem intimidated. More tired than anything else.
‘You don’t want to leave the box,’ she said.
Battery chortled. ‘And why not? What’s out there, huh? Robot-eating giants? An army of the undead? Listen, you garbage bag-wearing tin can, there is never anything bad behind giant walls, especially if there are…’ Battery counted on his fingers, ‘Six of them! What’s out there is freedom! Freedom from the box!’
The stranger levitated her drink over to herself and took a sip without touching it, then returned it to the counter by hand. ‘Freedom from what, exactly?’ she asked. ‘You have an issue with this city? There’s plenty of jobs, nice parks, safe neighbourhoods, a thriving hip hop scene. Just because it’s in a giant box doesn’t mean you’re being held prisoner by some malevolent super-dictator.’
Battery threw his arms up in exasperation. ‘That’s exactly what it means! Why does nobody care that we’re stuck in a box? Where’s the rebellion? The army of angry psychics trying to break out? We’re waging a two-man war here!’
‘Calm down and listen to me,’ said the stranger, irritation leaking into her voice.
‘NO! I AM CALM,’ replied Battery, very clearly not calm. Purple light spilled out of his eyes like waterfalls, evaporating at his ankles. The stranger snapped her fingers and the light suddenly vanished in a puff of purple smoke, leaving Battery’s eyes dull and clouded.
‘That’s a thing I can do,’ said the stranger. ‘Nullifying bots’ energy. It comes in handy.’
Battery clenched his fists, the metal plates of his brow furrowing. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Fuse,’ said the stranger. ‘You’re Battery and Coil. Don’t know the bartender’s name.’
Coil perked up from his drink. ‘How’d you know our names?’
Fuse took another sip of her wires. ‘Well, Battery was shouting yours earlier, and I know his from some prior research.’
‘You’ve been researching us? Battery said, his anger still burning despite his drained energy. ‘Why? The tunnel? There’s no law that says we can’t dig out of here,’
Fuse finished her drink. ‘I’m not a cop. I haven’t come here to stop you because you’re breaking the law. I came here to stop you for your own safety.’
Battery laughed, his voice box booming in his chest. ‘What’s with you and this spooky out-of-the-box junk? How do you know, huh? Have you been out there?’
Battery blinked. ‘You… you have?’
‘Really?’ Battery said, regaining some of composure. ‘Then prove it.’
Fuse shrugged. ‘Sure.’