The Amber Robe
by Rune Lai
Hugh knew the others were talking about him even before he entered the
room and silenced everyone around him. His companions were alternately
fresh and weary as he looked at each of them. Rolf, Rudo, and Kain had
just returned from the Blue Dam. Anna and Shir were relatively relaxed,
having rested between this dam and the previous. Amy should have been
as well, but her simple drawn look at his face was enough for everyone
else to turn around as though he carried a plague. Perhaps he did, but
he would see this through the end.
"Where were you?" asked Rolf. "We dropped by after opening the Yellow
Dam but you weren't here."
Hugh waved a hand dismissively. "Touching up Nei's grave."
Amy seemed about to say something, but apparently thought better of it
and turned away. She knew that the grave needed no more touching up and
couldn't understand why Hugh paid it so much mind, not that he could
tell her. A person could miss a brief friend of a few weeks, but not
truly grieve. Hugh was grieving. Unknown to the others, Nei and
Neifirst were his creations, daughters of his genetic code, and they
died fighting each other and him because of someone's sick twist of an
idea. He had no proof of this someone, but this person's existence
became more and more apparent as Rolf pieced together the feeling that
someone was out to destroy Mota, and that someone had used Neifirst as
an instrument of strife.
"How was your mission?" Hugh asked.
Rolf shrugged. "Blue Dam is open. Now we only have the green one
left. This time I think everyone should go. We barely made it out of
the last one. I think the government is stepping up security."
"If only they knew we were helping them," grumbled Kain.
"The Commander does," said Anna.
Kain snorted. "Yeah, but what good does that do us?"
"We also found a lot more equipment in the dams," said Rolf, resuming
control of the conversation. "Red Dam had some stuff if you recall.
Well so did Yellow and Blue Dam. I don't know why these weapons and
armor were hidden there, but they've proved useful for us so far. But
there's one item we found in Yellow Dam that doesn't fit any of us. You
weren't here at the time, but we thought it might just fit you."
Hugh admitted he was interested. Judging from the equipment the party
currently carried with them and what he remembered Rolf telling him
about the Red Dam, they had found nothing suitable for him. He
preferred the lighter knives and daggers to a sword, and firearms didn't
often fall into the category of ancient powerful weapons.
Rolf pulled something out his sack and tossed it to Hugh. At first the
biologist thought it was another sack, but then he realized as he held
out the cloth that it was a garment; a robe to be exact. It was soft
and warm to the touch with a mellow amber color. The robe did not look
particularly feminine and was too long for Amy or Shir to wear. He did
not know if Rolf had proposed Anna wear it, but he doubted the trim
guardian would allow herself to be caught in anything that allowed for
less than maximum maneuverability. The robe was not made for the
broad-shouldered either, rather instead for a smaller, more slender
man. Hugh's frame was narrow enough that the robe could fit
comfortably, but would this actually be of any protection in combat?
"What's this?" he finally asked.
"An amber robe," said Rolf. "We have no idea what it does, but I'm
guessing it's a form of body protection like the various crystal armors
we've been finding."
Hugh took a piece of the fabric between his thumb and forefinger to test
the thickness. It seemed stronger than any sort of cloth he had ever
seen, but surely not as sturdy as his ceramic chestplate. A part of him
wondered if there might be something special about it, after all it must
have survived years, even decades without so much as a scuff on it, but
he could not bring the logical part of his mind to accept that it was
better than what he currently had.
"We're heading out early tomorrow morning," said Rolf. "You might want
to take it with you."
The biologist resisted the sudden urge to stuff the robe down Rolf's
throat. Take it with him? He supposed it would do no harm, but he
would not wear it.
* * *
Hugh wore it. He hadn't intended to, but the following morning when he
woke in Rolf's house, he rose to find the rest of the party arming
themselves in the living room. Bright new arms of crystal and unknown
alloys covered his companions like the shields of heroes. And here he
had a frumpy amber robe. It looked nice, if a bit plain, but it was no
protection. So he went back to his room, put on his ceramic chest and
then pulled the robe over it. He supposed he looked a bit stiff, but at
least then he could show up in his stupid piece of dam equipment and be
done with it.
When he emerged, Amy smiled at him. He flushed, unable to help noticing
how radiant she looked in her new crystal cape and snow crown. Truly,
he was lucky to have her with him. As the party stepped out into the
early morning light of the city, he offered her his arm. She accepted
gladly and stayed close beside him as the group quietly headed towards
the jet scooter that would take them to Green Dam.
"Feeling better?" she asked.
"A bit," he replied.
"I wish you would tell me what's wrong."
"Maybe, in time. I still have to sort things out myself." She looked
sullen, so he nudged her lightly and grinned. "Look, you're with me so
I know I'll be okay."
At that she returned his smile and Hugh felt willing to fight all the
government robots of Palm if she wanted him to. He was not of much use
in most forms of combat, but more important than that was the feeling of
being needed. If he could be there for Amy then that would be
The group boarded the jet scooter. It was a tight fit with everyone on
board, but somehow they managed. The ride down the aqueduct wasn't so
bad and thankfully the Green Dam was the closest of the four major dams
to Paseo. They stepped inside with Rolf in the lead. The dams weren't
designed with human navigation in mind, and as a result, the path from
the entrance to the floodgate controls would be twisted and convoluted
at best, downright maddening at worst. Complicating the problem was the
fact that they were all wanted by the Palman government for making
Mother Brain go mad.
But it wasn't them that had done that. That was someone else's doing.
Likely the same someone who had twisted Neifirst and caused her to split
into herself and Nei.
Hugh tightened his grip on his acidshot. What was he doing here? His
laser knife would not do him much good against the tougher machines that
made up the Palman security forces. A ranged weapon with a certain
amount of firepower would have been better. Perhaps he should have
listened to Kain and accepted some practice with the lasershot, but
organically based weapons were better suited for him. The biologists at
the Biosystems Lab had been trained with those weaker types of firearms
in order to control their experiments should they get out of hand. In
those cases, the object being fired at was worth hundreds of thousands
of meseta and shouldn't be killed lightly. Against the robots with
reinforced armor, the acidshot could eat away at what his knife could
not touch, but it was still poor compared to the more lethal means gun
wielders such as Rudo and Kain possessed.
Up ahead, Rolf discovered more of those ancient arms. These were a pair
of sleeves. As with his amber robe, they were in excellent condition.
They were too slender for a muscled man such as Rudo to wear, but
thankfully Rolf gave them to Anna rather than Hugh. The biologist would
have hated to be considered the useless piece of clothing man. Anna
pocketed the sleeves rather than wear them though.
"Shhh!" warned Shir, waving her hands at the various heads of the
party. When she had everyone's attention she pointed in one direction
and hunkered down. The rest of the group followed suit.
Once the sound of their own conversations faded away Hugh could easily
make out the clanking sounds of machinery in the distance. This was
something over and above the noise generated by the dam itself.
Whatever headed their way was extremely large and heavy.
"More of the eyesore class robots?" whispered Rudo.
"Would have to be," said Anna in that same hushed tone. "Nothing else
has that kind of weight."
"I think there's only one of them," said Rolf. "Better let it pass by
and move on after it goes."
At that moment Hugh wondered just why the robots were patrolling the
dams anyway. Granted the robots were meant to hunt the group of them
down, the dams weren't exactly a criminal hanging spot. They should be
searching somewhere else. On the other hand, Rolf had already opened
the other three dams. That he would attempt to visit the fourth one was
hardly a difficult deduction. Did the government of Palm realize what
Rolf and everyone else was doing here? If the dams weren't opened,
Paseo would flood, and instead the government was more preoccupied with
capturing criminals, perhaps even stopping them from doing a deed that
was ultimately beneficial to them. Go figure. Maybe Mother Brain
really was mad.
The behemoth that rounded the corner was not an Eyesore, although it
appeared to have been based on the same model, a low-riding bulky body
slung between two massive legs. Its chassis had been sprayed with a
metallic grey paint rather than the telltale rust color of the Eyesore.
Something about it seemed more ominous as well.
"A hyvsolid." Anna shook her head. "At my work we called them heavy
solids, though that's not quite their real name. They're very rarely
used. The government must be getting desperate."
A bright red dot flared at the hyvsolid's nose, swiveling as it swept
its gaze across the area.
"Heat sensor!" said Rudo, giving Shir and Amy each a shove to move
further away from the monster. They remained rooted to their spots
A new machine had swept in behind the party. It was a low powered
variant of the formidable aerotank, often called a van by those who
derided it. Hovering on jets of air, the newcomer swiveled the muzzle
of its weapon to focus on the party. Hugh did not have to turn around
to learn that the van had alerted the other machine to their presence.
He turned on his laser knife with a press of the button and lifted his
acidshot in his other hand. The blade would not be of much use against
these foes, but something was better than nothing.
Shir opened up the fight with a quick dash at the van's motors. Rudo
followed up with a shot from his laser cannon. Rolf, Anna, and Kain
tackled the hyvsolid. Amy drew up her staff to protect herself,
searching for a defensive position where she could be of access to any
of the group at any time. Hugh found himself at a loss, then decided
that Rudo's firepower would be able to account for the majority of the
damage the party could do. Anything Hugh added to the van fight would
be minimal at best. The biologist raised his acidshot and fired at the
The battle dragged, and though they wrecked the two machines, the rest
of their travel through the dam was fraught with combat after combat.
The robots the government had sent after them were not there to
apprehend them so much as kill them. That much became evident as the
group suffered from increasingly grievous wounds. Amy patched them up
as best she could with her various healing techniques, but she was
running out of strength. Hugh possessed a limited ability himself, as
did Rolf and Shir, but they only had so much as well.
The fight on the outside of the dam, suspended on the walkways above the
aqueduct, was the worst. Their medicinal supplies ran low, and all but
Amy had run out of healing technique. Hugh was at loathe to leave her
side, but when the robots came he gave her some space and prepared his
They were pressed on all sides, and no one could be offered protection
by another. The blue sleeves of Rolf's shirt that showed through the
gaps in his armor were stained dark with his own blood. Anna's slashers
flew with a little less speed each successive time she threw them, but
Shir tried her best to use her unfailing dexterity and reflexes to patch
those she could with the last of their medicine.
"Amy! Do you have any technique left?" shouted Rolf. "Something that
could heal all of us?"
"Just a little!" she said. "But I-"
Amy collapsed, a laser burn having tore a hole through her protective
"Amy!" Hugh tried to go to her, but a twigtall blocked his way.
"I can't reach her!" said Shir.
Hugh mentally pleaded that someone disengage from combat and help her,
but he knew that was not possible. The twigtalls had them too closely
pinned. Amy was still alive. He could see her try to pull herself up
on her hands and knees. Damn it! If only the robots hadn't managed to
cut her off from them!
He swore and fired another capsule of acid at the twigtall nearest to
him. If anything happened to Amy, after so much had happened to
Neifirst and Nei... He thought of those who depended on him, both here
and elsewhere. Whoever was behind all this must be stopped, but not at
this cost. He needed to heal her, but even if he had enough technique
strength left he could not reach her to cure her wounds.
An opening appeared between the twigtalls and Rolf urged him to use it.
Hugh had no idea why he bothered, but he tumbled through and sprinted
for the petite doctor. Lasers fired after him momentarily before they
were distracted by the enemies closer at hand.
"Amy!" He called her name as he knelt by her side.
She looked at him with eyes glazed over by pain. She mouthed something
he could not hear.
"No, don't..." he murmured, reaching a hand out to her shoulder.
A warmth filled him, a warmth of caring. He looked, mystified, at the
sleeve of his amber robe, now realizing what Amy had seen. His robe was
glowing and his eyes lit with the knowledge of the gift this garment
possessed. Healing. He held her close as though to use the gires
technique, but drew the power from the robe itself. The amber robe
flared bright and the skin closed around the burns and abrasions Amy had
She gazed at him for a moment with pleasant relief before exhaustion
overwhelmed her and she closed her eyes. Around him, Hugh became aware
that the sounds of battle had subsided. The last of the medications had
held out to keep the group alive, and now that Hugh realized the latent
ability of his amber robe, he realized that they would be in a better
position to take care of themselves. And if his robe had this ability,
then what of the other items they had found in the dams? They should
check them all.
The group took a quiet watch up on the walkways of the dam as they
waited for Amy to revive. It would not have been wise to do so, but
Hugh wanted to sit up on the railings and shout over the land that he
was going to find those bastards that screwed up his planet. Yes, maybe
Nei and Neifirst was gone. But he still had Amy, he still had something
to fight for. For his daughters and for his future he could fight. For
the ability to heal both soul and body, he would fight.