Art Pact 2

The robot was waiting for us inside the chamber - a dull grey thing, squat and menacing. As Georgia had warned us, there was a slender red line circling the floor around it, the pilot-light setting for its incinerator beam.

"That's where it will act - if it wants to act," she'd said, circling her finger in the dust around the rock she'd used to represent the behemoth itself. "But don't be fooled into thinking that it can't see you if you don't step into the circle. This"--she drew a larger circle, pivoting her whole arm from her elbow--"is how far it can see you. Depending where they're keeping it, you might not be able to get close enough to see it without it seeing you as well."

It looked as though she'd been right on the ball with that guess. There was a gap of about three meters between the circular concrete walls of the chamber and the deadly red circle. At either side of the chamber were columns that the red line neatly jumped up onto. We split into two groups of two and edged around the wall in opposite directions until we were hidden behind the pillars - although none of us dared to step right behind them, just in case the robot was able to see through the concrete somehow to fire its weapon.

"It has audio sensors," Georgia had explained, "but the system behind them is calibrated for battlefield conditions. It might not be able to hear you if you whisper. I can't promise anything, though, and I also can't promise it can't read lips." She nodded towards Rachel's featureless silver helmet. "You might be OK, but the rest of you."

I held Rachel's hand up and drew my suggestion in single letters one at a time on her palm: D I S T R A C T I O N

She nodded, and the two of us looked around carefully for anything we could pick up. The chamber was full of small cargo boxes, crates of equipment, and other junk, but all of it had been carefully swept inside the robot's sensor circle. While I was still looking, Rachel tapped me on the shoulder and held up one of the spare locking nuts from the collection zip-tied to her suit. I nodded, and she cut the plastic tie, letting the whole lot slide off into her hand. I tensed up, then nodded: GO.

As the thrown nut crossed the threshold, a blinding flash of red light leapt out of the robot's beam spire. A splattering rain of molten steel fell to the floor. I had stepped forward, but leapt back immediately.

"Go!" Rachel told me. "Listen, it's not charging!"

It was true, there was no sound - no whine increasing in pitch that would indicate the beam capacitors charging up. But I thought I had heard something earlier. I pluck a nut out of her hand, tossed it in - then, without waiting to see what had happened, did the same with a bolt.

"Fuck," Rachel breathed.

To our alarm, the beam kept flashing. We looked out to see that Brian and Boris were also tossing objects into the circle - the stones from the bag that Brian had picked up on the beach. Each stone popped like a little grenade as the incinerator played over it, clouds of dust beginning to build up inside the circle.

"It's too fast," Rachel said. She took the whole handful of bolts and nuts and flung them at the monstrous device. A dozen flashes stabbed out in quick succession, barely half a second's interruption in the destruction of Brian's rocks, yet it was enough to reduce the flying nuts and bolts to so many blobs of shiny silvery liquid that hissing and burnt into the floor.

I looked around in dismay at the boxes - some of them were unmarked, but others were covered in writing - French, English, German and some Chinese characters. Two big ones, well inside the circle, read: ACHTUNG! SPRENGSTOFF!

"If only we could get to it."

"Yes," Rachel nodded sadly. "Or - hold on a second." She shucked off her backpack, rummaging in it quickly before pulling out her heavy metal flask. "A bit of a gamble," she said, "I mean it might be stable stuff that needs electric to detonate, but.."

She wound up her arm and threw the flask as fast as I'd ever seen her throw anything - it left her hand like a bullet out of a gun, zooming towards the robot. For a second I thought it might actually hit it, but then the light flared again.

The flask melted and a flash of flame burst out of it, a mixture of fiery liquid and molten steel descending directly onto the case of explosives. Rachel pushed me towards the door, and I saw Brian and Boris running around the perimeter from the other side. I just had time to glimpse the crate on fire before we were out of the chamber again, Brian and Boris slamming the door shut. We kept running.

"I filled it with oil in the garage," Rachel shouted over her shoulder. From behind us there was a dull "whump" noise.


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