written by Six
Ta-Chunk! Ta-Chunk! Ta-Chunk!
“Wait… do you think this is a good idea, Six?”
Private Six looked up from his cup of coffee and towards Robot #5252 who held his pickaxe above his head. It was times like these that Six wished he hadn’t convinced one of the more “competent” soldiers to give 5252 more personality. He was hoping to find a snarky, wisecracking sidekick like the heroes in all of his favorite movies had. Instead, he got a worrywart pessimist who spent just as much time lecturing him as Six’s mother had back when he wore short-pants. Six carefully placed his mug of coffee on the ground and jumped up to snatch the pickaxe from the much taller robot.
“Do I think this is a good idea? Look who you’re talking to, hoss!”
Six leapt up once more but 5252 lifted the pickaxe higher so he couldn’t reach it. Before he could reconsider the repercussions of his actions, Six smacked the robot in the chassis and winced in pain as the hard, hot metal bounced off his skin. 5252 looked down at him with the same grinning expression someone built him with but the action seemed to imply worry or sympathy. Six kicked the robot and coiled back in pain once more as the tip of his toes hit metal.
“Are you okay, Six?”
“Quiet you… and keep digging!”
Six limped back towards his coffee just in time to see a pair of tiny feet kicking up into the air from inside his mug. With a sigh, he lifts the mug to see one of the bunker’s many hamsters chugging the last of his coffee. The hamster looked up at him and blinked twice. After the third blink, the hamster’s pupils dilated and the small animal vibrated. Six had seen this before. The Toy Soldiers had banned the hamsters from drinking coffee for the general safety of themselves and the Bunker. Something about caffeine made the hamsters unpredictable.
“You’re about to have a very interesting day, short man.”
The general rule of thumb was to report any caffeinated hamster sightings to the fellow soldiers in case they create havoc. As the motivational poster in the mess hall goes “See Something, Say Something.” However, the small shaking rodent was about five seconds from Lightspeed which gave Six an idea. 5252 was making so much noise that surely someone would come investigate… but if they had another, more pressing problem then it didn’t matter how much noise they made. They were several levels below the usually occupied corridors so the chances that someone discovered them were thin, but Private Six always welcomed a distraction when doing something he probably shouldn’t. Six carefully lifted the vent off the air vent that the hamsters use from multi-level travel and tossed the hamster inside. The whole vent vibrated and shook as the caffeine took effect. Then, with no prior warning, the hamster vanished with a dash that kicked up small clouds of dust as it sped ahead towards the community area.
Six slammed the vent shut and turned back to 5252 who was watching him. Somehow, despite the robot’s face not changing, he could feel the 6’7” machine judging him.
“That didn’t seem like a wise thing to do, Six.”
“I thought you were digging?”
5252 sighed… or at least made a sound like he was sighing. More than likely it was the hiss of the pistons in his arms releasing so he could swing the pickaxe again. It was also possible that 5252 intentionally made his piston hiss to punctuate his point. Regardless he resumed working. Sparks flew as the pickaxe hit the metal wall of the corridor. 5252 had been at it for about half an hour now and the metal was wearing thin finally. If it hadn’t been for 5252’s strength and durability, they would have never gotten this far along.
Ta-Chunk! Ta-Chunk! Ta-Chunk! Ta-Thump!
The pickaxe broke through the corridor wall and the duo looked through the newly created hole into darkness. The air that came through was musty and heavy with the scent of dirt. The artificial air that pumped through the digital bunker was always nice and pleasant smelling like fresh laundry. The exception being Halloween and Toymas where the robots in charge of the ventilation added cinnamon and nutmeg to make the bunker smell like pumpkin pie. Despite the cave not smelling good, it smelled different and that immediately made it fascinating and exciting.
“Six, can you remind me why you wanted me to sacrifice the structural integrity of this corridor?”
Six had spent weeks walking through the lower corridors, periodically knocking on the walls in search of one that was hollow. There was a space beyond the corridors and when there are secret hidden spaces there was usually something hidden there that someone didn’t want found. He did his best to avoid going any lower than he had to because all the weird stuff happens down there. While he enjoyed the weird, strange, and macabre… he also didn’t want to end up meeting the Hot Dog Man. Six shuddered at the thought of smelling all of that spoiled beef and pork byproducts. He shook his head to shake the unwelcome thought out of his skull before peering through the hole.
“Don’t you ever want to see what’s going on outside of here? Like there has to be things outside of the corridors! Tunnels, caves, aqueducts, minerals… maybe gold.”
Six could feel the permanent gaze of the robot staring into the back of his knit hat. It wasn’t like gold was the only motivator for Six to deface his adopted home. Part of being a Soldier was to embrace your unending curiosity and desire to go where few would dare. Besides, Six wasn’t good at science and he knew next to nothing about machinery or quantum physics or any of that stuff. Six had a creative mind and a healthy interest in solving riddles and problems… he wasn’t great at much else. This usually led him into mischief and trouble.
“What? You never wanted to be a pirate in search of gold? Don’t you have a sense of adventure?”
“No. Someone built me to wash dishes.”
It was a valid point. Before Six could snap back at 5252 with some witty retort, he heard a loud crash and a scream come down the hallways. The hamster had made it to the community area and was no doubt raising hell with his tiny caffeine fueled body. The problem with the distraction was that it wouldn’t last long. Six knew for a fact someone had reprogrammed other bots to round up wayward hamsters. Carefully, he pulled himself through the hole in the wall.
“Private Six, where on earth do you think you’re going?”
The opposite end of the hole glowed green after Six cracked a glow stick he had carried in his pocket. Admittedly, he should have made sure there was a ground on the opposite end of the hole before leaping through. He could have been jumping into a bottomless abyss for all he knew but live and learn. The cavern was wide and tall, probably going up about fourteen feet yet it was empty all the way down into a large tunnel like opening at the far end of the cave. Typically, one expects to see stalactites and stalagmites this far underground but the surfaces were smooth as glass.
Six about leapt out of his skin as he turns to see 5252 stretching the hole in the bunker larger so he can fit through. Six had brought sheet metal and a welding gun to patch up the hole… but he hadn’t planned on patching up a 6’7” hole. The bots were never the most elegant designs and they had done little to change them since the Toy Soldiers discovered them. The red glowing eyes in the dark also didn’t improve matters.
“Did you find your gold, Private Six?”
“No… I found something weird. This cave is clean… like really clean.”
Six leaned over to the ground and rubbed his fingers against the smooth, cave surface. It was cold like one would think a cave wall would be but that was the only natural thing about it. Now, it was preposterous for one to compare anything that happens in the digital bunker to a sense of normalcy, but this wasn’t technically inside the bunker. Six heard scraping metal on metal as he turned to see 5252 observing the debris from their tunneling. 5252 held up one of larger shards of metal for Six to see closer. There were long, jagged scrapes on the metal from their pickaxe.
“Six, I found something.”
“Yeah, it’s where we dug our way through the wall. So what?”
5252 turned the metal shard over and Six saw that there were long, scrapes and grooves dug into the opposite side. The scrapes resembled something closer to scratches than it did a man-made tool. Six’s heart leapt up into his throat as he walked along the metal wall of the bunker and saw similar scratches and grooves along the wall. No wonder it had been so easy to break through the bunker. Someone or something else was trying to break through the other side.
“This seems like a problem, right?”
The reprogrammed bot nodded its bulbous metallic head in response. The smart thing to do would be to get back into the Bunker, weld the hole closed as best as they can, and let the rest of the Toy Soldiers know they may not be alone underground. It wouldn’t be that unbelievable. There were a lot of weird occurences in the Bunker every single day. Honestly, it was one of Six’s favorite parts of being a member of the Toy Soldiers, but he also was well aware when he was in over his head. Yet, there was that tunnel a little further into the cavern that caught his eye.
“We are going on an adventure, right? Follow me.”
“That seems most unwise, Six.”
Private Six was already about fifteen feet from 5252 as he voiced his concern but he continued to pay the robot no mind. Six‘s curiosity and bravery to the point of recklessness were his strongest attributes. There was something going on down here underground and he wanted to be the one who found out what it was. To be known as the man who discovered some new civilization or cryptid that had been underneath their noses this whole time would do wonders for his reputation amongst the Soldiers… additionally it would also make a nifty story for the WRITE division.
5252’s footsteps echoed throughout the tunnel as both man and robot entered it. Six rubbed his hands along the sides of the walls as he walked through the long narrow corridor; it was just as smooth as the room they had dug their way into. Six cracked a new glow stick and the tunnel glowed green. He was hoping to find markings or clues of what he and 5252 were dealing with but there was nothing. Whatever had been through here had not only drilled a hole through rock but also ground it down to a smooth surface.
“I don’t like this, Six. We should go back and tell the others.”
“We’ve barely looked at anything. Come on, just a bit further and then we can go back.”
Six’s head snapped to the far end of the tunnel toward where the sound came from. Judging by the echo it was still far down the opposite end from where they were standing, but it didn’t sound pleasant. The sound was not so much a growl as it was the sound of metal digging and scraping into metal. The sharp sound was loud enough it hurt Six’s ears, and he realized that he and 5252 had no other direction to go. Either they continued down their path and meet whatever it was head on (which didn’t seem like a pleasant thing to do based solely on the sound it made) or they turn back and leave this all behind. A crunching, grinding sound echoed up in their direction. Six felt sick to his stomach as he realized the decision was being made for him.
“The Bunker! 5252 we’ve got to get back to the Bunker! We have no idea what that thing is but it can’t get into the Bunker!”
“I’ve been trying to tell you that, Six.”
Once again Private Six was already about fifteen feet ahead of the robot as he chastised him. Six was thankful of the cave’s flat, smooth surface as he surely would have tripped over something as he ran faster than he could ever remember running before. Something was coming up that tunnel and it sounded a lot like something he had no desire meeting. Six felt something large and metallic grab him around his waist before something hoisted him up into the air. 5252 looked down at his panicked face while running faster on his robot legs than Six could ever dream of.
“Sorry, Six. I figure you’d want to get back to the Bunker more expediently.”
As they approached the hole in the side of the Bunker’s corridor Six looked back into the tunnel and saw something look back at him with mean, glowing red eyes. 5252 chucked Six back into the Bunker before welding the hole in the wall closed. The collision with the far wall of the Bunker was enough to drive the air out of Six’s lungs before he could warn 5252 about the red eyes. Six gasped for air through strained breaths as he looked back into the far tunnel but he couldn‘t see the red eye anymore. 5252 finished patching up the Bunker wall using the speed and efficiency that only a robot could have. Satisfied with his handiwork, 5252 turned to check on Six whose breathing had finally stabilized.
“Are you all right, Six? I didn’t mean to throw you so hard but I believed my actions were understandable given the circumstances.”
“What was that?”
The robot shrugged. Six looked back at the patchwork metal wall of the Bunker. There was something on the other side and he did not understand what its intentions were let alone if it was just an individual or representative from a group. The responsible thing to do was immediately go to one of the more experienced members of the Soldiers and let them know what he and 5252 discovered. Private Six wasn’t the most responsible person in the Toy Soldiers though. He’d need to head back into that cave and he’d have to be the person who figured out what was hiding in that tunnel. He‘d need an easier way to get outside the Bunker without damaging the outside of it any worse than need be. He‘d also need to prepare himself with some weapon or survivalist tool in case whatever it was wasn‘t friendly. Six took off his knit cap and ran his hands through his sweat-soaked hair, unsure of what his next step should be. That decision was made for him immediately when he heard an angry voice from somewhere above him in the Bunker.
“Who gave the hamsters coffee?”
Someone had caught the hamster and now the jig was up. The absolute last place he wanted to be was anywhere near the empty coffee cup that was laying upturned beside him. Whatever was going on outside of the Bunker would have to wait for now. Six stood up and ran in the opposite direction leaving a befuddled 5252 behind with his empty coffee cup on the floor.