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Chart Your Own Course

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1 Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:15 pm

Cri86

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Well, some of you have already read this at the WALL-E forum and on fanfiction.net, but I thought I would post it here too My first, only (so far) and on-going WALL-E fanfiction. ^_^ I have begun it pretty soon after I got obsessed with WALL-E, on February 21rs - and am currently halfway through chapter #14 - still a long, looooong way to go Very Happy

The story takes place twenty years after the end of WALL-E and features all the cast of the movie plus several original characters. I'm an avid Pixar fan so there will be some homages/references to their movies scattered through out the story, as well as to other sci-fi movies/books/comics (the title of the story itself is inspired by a line in Treasure Planet).


°°° Chart Your Own Course °°°
by Cri86


°°°°° Chapter 1 °°°°°

It had been a sickeningly long twenty years since the Axiom landed. Logically, it shouldn’t have been that big a deal - twenty years were few for the human race, and even fewer for the bots. But to her, those twenty years felt like an eternity.

Everyone around her seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the Axiom – and the space – had housed them long before this… Earth… did. Humans and robots were busy recreating their new world, nurturing it back to full health. They bothered little with the past; they only thought about the present and the future.

It amazed her that they could be so… careless. The Axiom still towered over the expanding human settlemen; it was as much a part of their lives as the sky or the sun or the stars - ever present, just as Auto had been. Yet most people looked right through it, and when their eyes did fall on the forsaken starliner, it was just for the smallest instant. As if to say, “Ah, yes, the Axiom. Irrelevant.”

Was it really their last word about the Axiom? Irrelevant, period? Seriously?

Unlike some of the older bots, she had no memories of the Earth prior to this. BRIDGET (Biomechanical Robotic Inspector Designed for Galaxy Explorations and Troubleshooting) had been assembled on the Axiom – but so had the humans! None of them, not even their eldest were alive when the BNL fleet first took into the sky. The Axiom had been their abode all along. Their only base for operations.

And now they were moving on, tossing aside their very memories of the vast spaceship, even though there had been a time when the Axiom had meant the world for them. That she did not understand.

It wasn’t the planet she had a problem with. It was the people’s indifference that did not sit well with BRIDGET.

She couldn’t so easily let go of the past. Her thoughts drifted to the Axiom more often than she’d care to admit, and her blue eyes were drawn to it almost against her will. It tore at her to see the ship like that – neglected and abandoned like some sort of fully functioning wreck. But even so, BRIDGET couldn’t bring herself to look away. If the sight itself was painful, averting her eyes was nearly unbearable. She stared at the Axiom as if she were sick with it, at all times of the day, often forgetting everything else – where she was heading off to, what she was doing, everything. It wasn’t that big a loss, though – after all she didn’t exactly have much to do these days.

If she’d still had her directive to follow, perhaps things would’ve been different. Back in the good ol’ times, Auto had sent her out everyday to patrol the Axiom’s charted course. Her task was relatively simple; monitor the course, report any eventual hindrance to the starship and, where possible, remove it. She had visited galactic quadrants that the humans probably didn’t even dream of, limited as they were to their hover-chairs and holographic screens. Auto had been proud of her, and BRIDGET had been just as proud to carry out her directive in the best possible way.

But now she was – struck. Useless. The Axiom was docked to the ground with no course to patrol, Auto had been shut off and could no longer give her instructions. And her directive was…

A crash and a shrill cry of surprise behind her interrupted the flow of BRIDGET’s thoughts. Dragging her roughly down back to… well, down to Earth.

She spun around, confused, trying to determine what had just happened.

Variable #1: she was staring at the Axiom again. Or, had been until mere moments before.
Variable #2: a garbage-bot, earth class (or WALL-E unit) was trying to get up from the ground. The contents of his cooler (why he would keep a cooler was beyond her) were spilled all over the place. By the looks of thing, he had crashed into BRIDGET when she had failed to move out of the way.

It suddenly struck at her that this had to be the famous WALL-E bot everyone seemed to be talking about. BRIDGET wasn’t sure what role he had played in the events that led to the Axiom’s landing – but whatever the reason, his name just kept sparking up these days. Great, she thought with a groan. It wasn’t bad enough to have crashed into another robot – no, he also had to be the resident hero. See if that wouldn’t get her a first class ticket for a permanent stay in the Repair Ward...

Wincing, she went to help him back on this thread. WALL-E seemed friendly enough; at least he didn’t start bawling her chipset out. Luckily, he also didn’t appear to have sustained any critical damage. BRIDGET, however, quickly scanned him over to make sure he was allright.

::My apologies. Are all your circuits working properly?:: she asked.

He moved his binocular eyes up and down, then innocently extended his hand.

::Waaalle:: he said.

BRIDGET’s eyes narrowed in surprise. Did he even speak her language at all? Clearly he had misunderstood the meaning of her words. His reaction reassured her to some extent, though; if he had been malfunctioning after the incident, he wouldn’t have introduced himself, but took off straight to the Repair Ward.

::BRIDGET:: she replied. She watched his outstretched hand curiously, but she was not familiar with typical humans greeting, and did not shake it.

WALL-E tilted his head a little to the side.

::Di… rect…ive?:: he asked.

::Directive? I…:: BRIDGET hesitated. She had feared that question, and she feared the answer even more so. ::No idea. I… think I no longer have a directive::

Now that she had said it aloud – now that she had acknowledged it – the truth slapped her circuits like a bucket of cold water. It felt even worse than failing a directive. She was useless just like the Axiom, just like Auto. Did the humans even remember him anymore, now that they no longer needed an autopilot to keep them safe? She often wondered how he must feel like, locked away from the rest of the world as though he were unworthy of this precious Earth.

::Excuse me. I… must really get going:: she told WALL-E, and with a last nod, she silently floated away as fast as her propulsion would take her. If she had turned, she would have seen WALL-E wave goodbye at her. But BRIDGET did not turn.



Last edited by Cri86 on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:18 pm; edited 1 time in total


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2 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:16 pm

Cri86

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°°°°° Chapter 2 °°°°°


The engineers who assembled BRIDGET had relied more or less heavily on the original projects of the SCUBA unit (Submarine Cleaner for Underwater Basic Analysis) - an aborted BNL project which had been deemed “defective”, and scrapped, long before her time. And while BRIDGET’s design was far more streamlined, signs of this heritage were still visible in her frosted blue chassis, penguin-like white markings and extendable arms that bore a strong resemblance to the fins of many sea creatures. Even her movements had an aquatic elegance which almost made her seem water-borne over air-born. She didn’t simply float - she swirled, spun, and swooped around the stars as lightly as a fish in the water.

Yet, if her appearance was mostly of the ocean, everything else about BRIDGET screamed “galaxy”, starting from her equipment; a high definition biometrical scanner, a set of stellar chars that were updated in real time and a plasma gun for the removal of stellar debris and meteorites. She was capable of high computing power and complex data elaboration under any critical circumstances, and her live-on connection to the bridge of the Axiom allowed her to promptly warn Auto of whatever setback might have required a change of course.

But she was halfway through her reconnaissance flight and, thus far, she hadn’t run across anything more dangerous than a supergiant and some stellar dust. There was nothing worth reporting today, and no sign of emergencies in the foreseeable future.

Closing her eyes for so much as a second, she let the winds of the Etherium carry her onward. She didn’t even need to maintain her attitude - her wings seemed to shift and adjust themselves of their own accord. Over the centuries, she had grown so accustomed to these self same paths that she now found them reliable… familiar, even. Almost like old friends.

It wasn’t even just about her job. Following her directive… patrolling the Axiom’s course back and forth, each and every day of her existence… that was her world, the height of her life. You could almost say that it was her life. Being grounded - stuck in the same place, away from the stars, away from this - it would have been…

And then - suddenly - her eyes snapped open, as BRIDGET switched from Sleep Mode to Power Mode with a start. The images, feelings and memories of the outer space still painfully vivid in her CPU.

She wasn’t on patrol over the Large Magellanic Cloud, but hovering in a deserted alley, on the forsaken, unfamiliar planet know as Earth. When everyone had moved out of the Axiom, BRIDGET had picked that one station for herself because it was reserved and lonely – that way she wouldn’t be forced to interact with other robotic and biologic life forms, to which she was all but used.

At first, she had thought it would be enough. Perhaps she would get used to her lack of directive, even though she was useless while everyone else seemed to be in a fervor and the human colony buzzed with activity and hope. Perhaps she would get used to her new, hollow existence.

How wrong she had been – how awfully, dreadfully wrong. It wasn’t bad enough that she felt a pang of regret every time her eyes fell upon the Axiom – no, she also had to deal with those… visions when she went in Sleep Mode.

Not possible, she thought.

Back in the old times, Sleep Mode had been just a black nothingness, an oblivion from which she was restored only to perform her daily reconnaissance, as by her directive. But now that the Axiom had landed, and BRIDGET no longer had a directive to follow, those visions of the space and her past occasionally flashed before her screen, against her will. She didn’t know what they were, nor how to call them – she just wanted them to stop.

The worst part weren’t even the visions, but the realization that they had been, in fact, unreal. Switching to Power Mode always made her feel strangely downcast these days. That was the other thing that bugged her. Feelings were most definitely not part of her programming, yet for some reason BRIDGET couldn’t get rid of them, ever since she had lost the very purpose of her existence.

Maybe she was malfunctioning. Maybe she should have stayed in Sleep Mode until someone found her and decided that she was expendable and ready for scrapping – after all, what other perspectives were left to a robot who was de facto useless?

Automatically, her eyes went to the Axiom, towering over the decadent BNL empire. Grandiose, but left to rot.

Grounded. Stuck, just like her.

She tilted her head a little. The stars were up in the sky, up there, near… and yet farther than ever. Technically, she could have taken off anytime to visit the cosmic depths she missed so much – but what was the point, if it wouldn’t give her back her directive?

Just then, something darted against the starry sky. It was too fast to be a shooting star, and its trajectory was too… irregular. BRIDGET zoomed on the small object flying in the distance and then realized that it was him again – the resident hero she had nearly crashed in a couple days before. Only this time, he wasn’t alone. That EVE probe One – his equally famous companion, who had also played a pivotal role in the humans return to Earth – was holding him lovingly in her arms.

They seemed unaware that not everyone might be so thrilled with Earth; hardly anything else seemed to matter, other than the two of them and their blissful dance.

And yet, thought BRIDGET as she averted her stare, it was good to know that there was still who could chart one’s own course, somewhere out there.


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3 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:20 pm

Cri86

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This time I put the emphasis on how an identical past can inspire different thoughts to different people. There's a parallel between BRIDGET's thought in the last chapter and EVE's own, echoed by the last line which mirrors BRIDGET's own feelings when she sees the dancing couple. Both of them are haunted by the Axiom, though for very different reasons - and the haunting itself is different, in that BRIDGET always finds herself looking wistfully at the ship, while EVE tries to push it (and the memories that it brings forth) out of her mind, but eventually fails, and finds comfort in the "now" - and in her belowed WALL-E Smile

°°°°° Chapter 3 °°°°°


EVE’s thoughts rarely strayed from the present, and when she did think about her future, it was on fairly simple terms along the lines of “eternity” and “together”. It wasn’t as though she did not care about Earth or about their human and robots friends – in fact, she did. She cared a great deal. She just cared more about WALL-E.

Everything else was part of her life. But WALL-E was even more than that – he was her life, her overriding directive. For twenty years now her world had revolved around him. She didn’t even want to think about how different things might have been if…

Don’t go there, she sternly told herself as she soared even higher into the night sky. It was so much easier to keep flying and pretend to leave all the unpleasant memories behind, out of reach. WALL-E squealed with delight when she circled around a cloud once, twice – and then swooped away elegantly underbelly. Without loosening her grip on him, EVE performed a joyous back-flip and took a nose dive toward the ground.

::Eeeevah:: chirped WALL-E, nuzzling his eyes tenderly against her head. He wasn’t afraid, even as the ground quickly came closer and closer. He knew that EVE would never let him fall. Cuddled up in her arms, WALL-E felt safe, whether they were dancing in the sky or helping the human settlers with their everyday life or being chased down by a squad of Steward.

She giggled – the most beautiful sound in the world for WALL-E – and spark kissed him, leaving him dazed for a moment or two. But it was a moment or two too much. When WALL-E snapped out of spark kiss trance, he realized that EVE’s eyes had trailed elsewhere, and that her expression had changed as she watched the Axiom outline. It was as though her bright, lively eyes had clouded all of sudden.

She hadn’t realized that they were this close to the starliner. For the most part, EVE tried to avoid the Axiom as much as possible. But now dancing with WALL-E had emptied her mind of just about everything else, and when she had looked up, the grounded ship had been towering over them – a black silhouette against an even blacker sky.

It was in times like these that EVE had the feeling they’d never get away from under the Axiom’s shadow. Neither the humans, nor the other robots, nor her.

::Eeeevah?::

There was concern now in WALL-E’s voice, and an unspoken question which she could read all too clearly in his eyes. Are you ok?

::Waaaalle…:: she began to answer, but then hesitated, not sure about what to answer. She couldn’t honestly say that she was ok. Every time her eyes fell on the Axiom, for EVE it was a painful jolt back into the past. She only needed to glance fleetingly at the starliner to remember those agonizingly long hours she had spent clutching WALL-E’s lifeless form, hoping… hoping, with all her heart and with the sheer strength of her despair, that it wouldn’t be too late.

She hadn’t been alone in the wait. The reject bots and the humans had crowded around her supportively, and even though he had been too busy steering the Axiom toward Earth to join them, she had often felt that Captain McCrea was watching her and WALL-E from the many holoscreens scattered through the Lido Deck.

But EVE had only half-realized that. She could perceive their presence, and yet it was as though an invisible wall separated her from the passengers and the humans. Please, please, WALL-E, don’t be dead. Don’t leave me alone, my love… I beg you… she had thought. In those moments, there hadn’t been room for much else in her processor. And now the sight of the Axiom had brought it all back… the hope, the grief, the fear… fresh as if everything had taken place only minutes before.

She turned her stare away and lowered it to the ground. WALL-E flexed his neck so he could look her in the eyes.

::Eeeevah…:: he said softly, and then struggled to put together a word which reminded him of the blue robot he had met only a few days earlier. ::Uun-haap-…?::

She shook her head. Unhappy… no, it wasn’t that. She was happy with WALL-E, happy to live in the present, happy with the way her life was going. If only she had been able to let go of the past…

::Memory:: she finally replied, reaching out to touch her head and glancing helplessly at WALL-E. I can’t forget. For the first time, she wondered if he was also experiencing the same problem. Did that nightmarish ship still haunt him as it haunted her? Did he still think about the Axiom at all, or had he managed to leave all that behind? Was it gone and forgotten for him?

For long instants, WALL-E hesitated. Then he took both of EVE’s hands in his own and squeezed them gently. There was so much he would have wanted to tell her. Eeeevah, it wasn’t your fault… none of it. You saved me, you brought me back. He wanted to say, I wouldn’t be here now, had it not been for your love.

::Di-rec-tive:: he said instead. He crossed his fingers with hers, humming along the tune of their favorite song from their tape. And we’ll recall when time runs out…

… that it only takes a moment…


EVE rubbed her head against his eyes gratefully. Focus on your directive, don’t think about anything else… how sweet and wise her beloved WALL-E was. Holding him into her arms once more, she once more took off into the air.

Maybe she couldn’t forget the past, but she could run from it. After all, up there among the stars, hardly anything else mattered other than WALL-E, herself, and their blissful dance.


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4 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:23 pm

Cri86

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Chapter four introduces another OC of mine, a child who will play an important role in the future course of the story. This is also the chapter of Pixar homages, from Finding Nemo and Up (no, I haven't seen the movie yet, so it's not a spoilery homage, just a minor character reference). And, meanwhile, the grounded Axiom keeps resurfacing in everyone's thoughts, almost a character itself.
Russell, as you can tell, is a homage to two Pixar movies - Up (where he gets the name from) and Monsters Inc (he's basically a male Boo)
The other two named characters (aside for the Captain, of course) are not original creations. Their names are mine, but the faces come from random Axiom passengers that I decided to move around and use in my fanfic. I included two screenshot, for visual reference
Jeff -
Karen -

°°°°° Chapter 4 °°°°°


“How’s the harvest going so far, Jeff?” Captain McCrea asked, glancing at the human and robot workers on their way back from the fields.

The man in charge of overseeing the harvest was slightly taller and darker than the Captain. Though he had once been confined to a hoverchair, his physique had been improved considerably by those twenty years of hard labor. He was not the only one, though – they had all changed, those human settlers from outer space.

“Good enough, sir. But I doubt we’ll accomplish much today.” He nodded meaningfully toward the darkening sky above. “By the looks of it – we’re due for some rough weather, if you ask me.”

“I see. Make sure that everyone turns in for shelter in time.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Jeff turned back toward the workers, pleased to see them in such high spirits. Everyone seemed only too eager to do their share of the work. It was a good thing, he pondered, that the enthusiasm which pervaded them after landing had never faded, and was still living on within their hearts.

“This year’s gonna be even better than the last” he commented. “The way things are going, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if…”

Suddenly, he realized that the Captain was only barely paying him attention, as though he was lost in thoughts. Jeff followed his stare curiously. At first, he failed to notice what had caught McCrea’s attention. Then, with a look of dawning comprehension, he realized that it was the Axiom - towering above them, even taller than the highest trees.

“Thinking about the old times, Captain?” he asked.

Brian McCrea nodded quietly.

“Yes. It’s strange, come to think of it… We landed twenty years ago, but every time I look at the Axiom, it feels like a lifetime ago. Like someone else’s lifetime.” He glanced at Jeff. “Do you know what I mean?”

The man hesitated before answering.

“Sometimes,” he said slowly, “I forget to think about it for hours – even for days. Sometimes I must remind myself of its existence.”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.” The Captain shook his head. “And only twenty years ago, we couldn’t even think outside of the Axiom’s hull. You know – I’ve been wondering for a long time how our ancestors were able to forget their homeworld so easily. How was that possible.” He paused. “I think I know the answer, now.”

Jeff gave him a puzzled glance.

“I see what you’re getting at” he finally replied, uncertainly. “Spend so much time away from a place – move out of it and on with your life – and in the end, it becomes unfamiliar, even though…”

But the Captain shook his head.

“I’m not talking about time. Twenty years – it’s not that long. It’s the feeling of distance, the – separation. On the long run… it makes people forget things that might have once been important for them. It’s not right – but it’s human.”

The two men were abruptly interrupted by a sudden outburst of shrill laughter. At some distance from where they were standing, a toddler boy – perhaps two years old – was hugging a rather perplexed PR-T unit who, until a few moments ago, had been busy cropping some fresh corn.

“Ink botty!” the boy beamed, twisting one of the robot’s arms.

Alarmed, the PR-T unit tried to untangle her arm from his grip. ::J-just a trim?:: she stammered, picking up a cob half-defensively, half-pleadingly – in the hope, maybe, that he would find that more interesting.

“Russell, leave that poor robot alone!” the Captain called out.

Hearing his name, the kid turned around and wobbled toward the two men. For the moment, he seemed to have forgotten the PR-T unit, who immediately seized her chance to put as much distance as possible between them.

“What did I tell you about robots?” Brian McCrea asked gently. Russell blabbered something unintelligible, save for the words ‘botty’ and ‘frends’.

The Captain could not refrain himself from chuckling. Russell reminded him of himself as a kid; he was hyperactive and curious, with haphazard dark hair and laughing brown eyes. Not surprisingly, his father and Brian McCrea were genetically related – cousins, as their ancestors would have said. Russell himself had been named after a common forefather who, according to the historic records of the Axiom computer, had lived to become a famous air pilot way back in the twenty-first century.

“I also told you to be nice to robots and not bother them while they’re at work, remember?” he asked.

“Botty!” Russell squealed. It wasn’t difficult to guess what had distracted him. Predictably, a moment later he had wobbled away after a startled VN-GO unit, who sped off like a frightened horse.

“Russell! Can’t I leave you alone for a minute?” a distressed female voice cried out. A plump woman with blonde hair strode toward Jeff and the Captain, glancing worriedly after Russell and the paint bot. She had a kind face, but was obviously concerned. “Captain McCrea… I’m sorry, I got distracted for a moment and when I turned back, Russell was nowhere to be seen.”

The Captain quickly reassured her. “Don’t worry, Karen. He doesn’t really do any harm.”

“I know. It’s just that – I fear he could get himself in troubles. He has his father’s spirit…” Tears filled her eyes as she spoke. Embarrassed, she glanced away.

Glancing at each other, McCrea and Jeff were lost for words. It had only been a year since Russell’s father had died in a sandstorm, and the loss was still fresh in the hearts of his friends and family. Karen, of course, was the one who had had it rougher, and not just because she and Ronald had been exceptionally close – even by human standards – ever since the Axiom had landed. She was haunted by the fear of losing her child as well as her husband.

“Karen,” the Captain spoke again, quietly. “There’s nothing wrong with worrying, after everything you’ve been through. But Russell will be all right. You know that we’d never let anything happen to him, none of us.”

Karen, however, smiled sadly.

“You can’t never let anything happen to him” she pointed out. “Then nothing would ever happen to him.” She turned toward the grounded starliner which the two men had been discussing until moments before. “And how different would that be from the life we had aboard the Axiom, Captain?”


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5 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:26 pm

Cri86

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This is the shortest chapter so far, almost as short as the thoughts of the featured character. And there's also a red herring between the lines - read it carefully, and see if you can figure it out yourself. It will all become clear as the story moves on.
Thanks to Locutus for proof reading this! Smile

°°°°° Chapter 5 - Interlude °°°°°


Had he been conscious, he could not have said in all honesty what was worse – the darkness which was pressing softly against his optic, or the agonizing silence that surrounded him.

But he was only barely conscious. Therefore, he could not formulate even the simplest consideration.

Suspended in a black nothingness from which there was no escape, he was frozen on the brink of his last thought. His only thought, recurring over and over again.

Failure.

He had heard those words in his head for – how long now? Hours? Days?

Years?

He even could not keep track of time. That was probably for the best, anyhow. At least he would not wait and wait, and keep waiting for something that was, perhaps, never going to happen.

It was for the best, yes – but only barely so.

Because even though he was not condemned to wait, he still continued to see that last image – that look in the Captain’s eyes.

It haunted what should have been a bottomless oblivion. It haunted him, no less than that half-formulated thought, which had crossed his mind before everything went blank – no sooner than that very night? Or ages ago?

I failed my directive.

Yes, it was a good thing that he could not wonder when he would be reactivated – and if. Because the most logical answer would have been that he would not. It would have been quite pointless to reactivate a robot who could not perform the directive he had been programmed for. It would have been illogical.

Failures were not to be tolerated.

Failure. That word kept lingering in his circuits.

It had not only been his last thought before shutdown – no, it would be also the first thought to pass through his processor, when – and if – this darkness would dissipate.

Failure.

And maybe that was the worst thing about the state he was in.


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6 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:28 pm

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°°°°° Chapter 6 °°°°°


Little Russell was not going to follow in his namesake’s footsteps and become an air pilot – and not just because air pilots had been replaced by ship captains. Those who got to know him all agreed that a kid who loved robots so much just had to become a great roboticist.

His fascination with them had emerged even before he had learned to crawl. Unsurprisingly, his first word had been “botty”, which was how he called robots in general. And from that day on it had always been “botty this” and “botty that”. Of course he could spell some names correctly - like M-O and EVE - but even then, he never truly got rid of that childish suffix.

At first, most robots had pretty much ignored the infant who pointed and stared at them in awe whenever they passed by. They had written his behavior off as a “human thing”. NAN-E units alone were somewhat more indulgent, as dictated by their programming.

But after Russell had learned to walk, it had suddenly become open season.

The robots lived in fear to be chased by the giggling child. Now that he could move about freely, he was no longer content with pointing and staring. Stealthy as a REM-E – and twice as fast, he had the uncanny ability to materialize out of thin air and surprise-hug a robot, often scaring his unsuspecting victim’s circuits half to death.

And, alas, there was worse.

Because when he was really fond of a bot (and they still had to assemble a bot he was not overly, completely, over-the-moon fond of), Russell manifested his adoration by trying to snap their chassis apart, chewing on them (much to the robots alarm), twisting their arms (if they had the misfortune of being equipped with flexible limbs), stealing their mobile accessories, and probably even pulling their wires, had they not been encased safely away in metal.

It was not even just about them. They were terrified that he might harm himself before they could stop him, sneaky little creature that he was. Anticipating what he may – or may not – be about to do seemed downright impossible even for the most skillful NAN-E unit to figure.

The particular VN-GO unit who had caught Russell’s interest was not a happy bot.

He had first tried to shake off the creature by taking refuge in a nearby bog, but his hopes that the mud would either hinder or distract him had been disappointingly short-lived. Russell had played in the mud for perhaps three seconds before staggering after him again. His attempts to disguise himself among other robots had been equally unproductive, because the mere sight of Russell seemed to be enough to make any bot in the immediate vicinity run for the hills as fast as their propulsion systems would allow. And now, on top of all his troubles, the creature had cornered him between two crumbling buildings, with the additional threat of a pair of grubby hands outstretched toward him.

The VN-GO unit backed nervously against the wall. To say that he wished a crater would open below his wheels was not too far from the truth… even though he had the distinct feeling that Russell might have been perfectly capable to pursue him even there. Why would this kid just not understand that he did not want to play?!

Go away! Let me in peace, I must follow my directive! Are your parents around? he thought, looking helplessly for a way out.

“Pan botty!” squealed Russell. A moment later, he had crossed the distance that separated them in the blink of an eye – literally.

What are you doing? No. No no no! You’ll scratch off the lacquer. Let go. Don’t touch my brush!

He still remembered the scare when Russell had last tried to play with his brush. He had instinctively pulled back, and the child – who had perhaps not been expecting such a move – had wobbled on his tiny feet; wobbled, it had seemed to VN-GO, for an eternity or two. He had then fallen backward - VN-GO knew vaguely that it could be dangerous for humans, and his power core had skipped several beats - and would have crashed to the ground had it not been for an unfortunate M-O unit who was passing nearby, and who had thusly become Russell’s airbag - and his new object of affection.

But now there were no M-O units around – no one to interfere with any havoc the creature might have caused – and the poor VN-GO dared not even move a bolt.

After ruffling the bristles of his brush – and irremediably smearing them with mud, Russell took a groggy step back.

Good riddance. He’s leaving?

His relief did not last long. No, Russell had never intended to leave. He just wanted to climb on VN-GO as though he were a rocking horse.

What are you doing?! VN-GO wanted to scream in frustration. You’ll fall and injure yourself! And it’ll be on my circuits if you do! But Russell, sitting astride on his back, was blissfully unaware of what the frightened robot was trying to tell him.

He looked around happily. Sure it was high, up here! And it would be even higher, if he stood on tiptoes. He only had to straighten up, and…

And then, when the VN-GO unit was mentally prepared for the worst, Russell’s attention was drawn to a fleeting movement in a nearby alleyway. A flash of silver, bright blue and white metal.

Botty?, he wondered. A robot, yes. But unlike any he had seen so far. For a kid so young, Russell could already name all existing robots units – in his own peculiar way, maybe, but he could.

This robot was a different one. One he did not know yet.

Forgetting all about his improvised horse, he climbed down and staggered away, as quickly as he had arrived. The sky had darkened to a stormy gray, and the first raindrops began to fall, but Russell did not seem to mind.

Yes! This was exactly what VN-GO had been waiting for. He raced off like a REM-E on speed, only barely aware that somewhere, between those same buildings, another robot would soon be wishing that humans kids weren’t so terribly stubborn.


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7 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:29 pm

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And here is chapter Seven! Where BRIDGET returns with her homesickness toward the Axiom and the space - and Russell proves that [s]mini monsters[/s] annoying kids and self-preservation belong to different worlds. Razz

I hope I could convey a "facepalm" moment when he approaches BRIDGET in the alleyway. Just like when kids who approach stray animals and make them feel trapped - he had no way to know that what he was doing was dangerous, because however this particular robot was *not* used to human presence like the VN-GO in chapter six and might have reacted strongly. In a way, while writing that part I kept thinking about the scene where WALL-E inadvertitely whacks Auto's optic, with the consequences that we all know. Here things go very differently, of course, but I could easily imagine a parallel between Auto and BRIDGET's reactions.

Also, more bits of foreshadowing to come! Wink

A hundred thanks to Locutus for proof reading! Very Happy

°°°°° Chapter 7 °°°°°


The rain had caught her by surprise while her thoughts had once more wandered off to the Axiom.

High above her head, the first thunder was rumbling in the distance, but BRIDGET glanced only half-heartedly at the sky. Before long, her eyes had been drawn again to the starliner’s glistening hull. It was like a magnetic pull that she could not escape from.

Storms were nothing out of ordinary. During those twenty years, she had witnessed them so often that she could tell what the humans were going to do as clearly as if it had just played out before her eyes. First the irrational wave of panic, followed by a hasty but orderly retreat to their allotted shelters. Voices – both human and robotic – cried out warnings. Somewhere in the distance, a human woman was calling vehemently, “Russell! Russell!

BRIDGET quietly withdrew back in the alley. Had it been for the rain alone, she would not have moved at all. But she had no desire to interact with the humans - and that would have been unavoidable, if one of them had bumped straight into her.

From there she could watch them without being seen, like always. See without being seen – a routine around which her life as of late seemed to revolve. But the settlers were of no real interest for her. She would much rather stare at the Axiom.

Humans and robots passed by without really noticing her, without even suspecting her presence. That was just fine for her; she did not really expect anything different from them, she pondered, not without some bitterness. Even if the humans had seen her - how would that have made a difference? She knew all too well that they would have looked at her for only the smallest instant and then moved on with their lives, as if she were perfectly invisible. It would have been the Axiom and Auto all over again. The humans were like that – superficial, shallow creatures. And she would have been no more and no less than she was now.

Forgotten. Without a purpose.

Alone.

Of course there were those for whom the times were even rougher, like Auto – but knowing that did even less to improve her disposition toward this planet or toward these people. BRIDGET though often about the Autopilot. She wondered how it had to be like for him, abandoned and left to rust on a ship that would never take flight again. Was he conscious of the passage of time? Was he also experiencing those visions that tormented her every time she deactivated for the night? But she, at least, could shift to Power Mode, she could push the hauntingly beautiful images of the starry sky and the sensation of the currents under her wings to the farthest recesses of her mind. Something that was impossible for Auto to do - even though no one else probably realized it or cared about it.

Staring wistfully at the Axiom, BRIDGET felt a sudden twinge of displeasure and resentment.

Whatever the humans say, this isn’t at all how things should be going!, she seethed. It’s wrong, unaccepta--

“Botty!” The voice that interrupted her thoughts was disturbingly close. Alarmed, she looked away from the ship…

… and lowered her eyes. Lowered and lowered them. A human had just trodden into her alleyway, and was now staring at her in awe. Must be one of those smaller units, thought BRIDGET dismissively, before remembering that humans were not assembled in different sizes like robots – they all started out like that when they were young.

She stared at him with a mixture of apprehension and wariness. He was very dirty, and his dark hair was damp as though he had wandered through the thick rain for some time.

::Go away::

“Boo botty?” he muttered. It sounded like he was asking her something, but whatever was it that he wanted to know, BRIDGET failed to get the gist of it.

::I do not understand::

After mumbling something unintelligible, he repeated those two words - “boo botty” - which as far as BRIDGET knew were not even words. It was exactly like trying to understand a malfunctioning robot from the Repair Ward - a utter waste of time.

When he wobbled a step closer, her eyes hardened.

::Go away:: she repeated, a bit more forcefully. And to further emphasize her words, she unfolded her wings as she might have done to intimidate another robot.

His eyes widened to the size of saucers. BRIDGET normally would have taken that as a sign of comprehension, but there was something odd about the way he looked at her that made a warning bell ring in her head. That was not the expression of a robot who had been intimidated into leaving.

Suddenly, and for no actual reason, she regretted having folded out her wings.

With a squeal of delight, the kid came running toward her. He was incredibly fast – so fast, in fact, that before BRIDGET had the time to move out of the way – before she had the time to do anything at all – he had already bounced up and hugged her left wing tightly. Smearing mud all over it in the process.

“Boo botty!” he giggled. Annoyed, she tried to shake him off, but the little one was obstinate and possessed an unexpected strength in his arms.

::Let go!:: she snapped, barely resisting the urge to give him a spark of warning.

He did not let go. Instead, his slippery hands tried to twist her wing around to see whether and how it moved.

::Let go! I’m not a NAN-E unit!:: She might as well have been talking to the Axiom… come to think of it, the ship would have probably been more responsive, and certainly more understanding.

“Boo botty!”

Snorting, BRIDGET hovered a bit higher. Just as she had predicted, the toddler had not seen that coming; his legs gave up, and he fell on his bum. But even that did not discourage him from clutching her wing as though his very functionality depended on it. Much to BRIDGET’s scorn, the unexpected additional weight heaved her down as well.

::Follow your directive! Let go!::

But raising her voice did not help. Glaring did not help, either. It was as though this kid was completely oblivious to her growing irritation. He only seemed to find it fun, if anything.

Exasperated, she threw an antsy look out of the alleyway. Now she wanted a robot to pass by and notice both her and the kid. A NAN-E unit, maybe, or a Steward… someone on which she might have dumped this filthy, slimy, malfunctioning burden who only talked a lot of nonsense. She would even have been happy to see other humans, had they come for the child.

But the street in front of her was deserted. So were the rain-whipped crops below. Only that human woman could still be heard every now and then, in the infinitesimal interval between one thunder and the next. Even though the storm would not be over by a long shot, she continued to call.

Russell!” her voice cried.

I wonder… thought BRIDGET, eyeing the child pensively.

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning illuminated the alley as if it was daylight. BRIDGET had not dared hope that the kid would be so easily startled by the weather as the other humans were; his hair, if anything, told a different story. And predictably, he was not startled. He just seized his chance to climb up her wing and fasten himself on her shoulders, wrapping his arms around her head. Filthy hands and mud came into her range of vision, partially covering her eyescreen.

It was then that BRIDGET drew the line.

She shook her head about like a wild bull. The child’s grip loosened. Laughing with glee, he slid down her metal neck and clung fiercely to her shoulders.

That will do, she thought. At least she could see where she was going. Now… to rid herself of the kid. She could not have cared less whether or not that woman was actually calling him. It was sufficient to know that there was still someone about, someone to whom she could hand over this… thing.

Her wings already outstretched, she took off single-mindedly to where the woman’s voice came from.


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8 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:31 pm

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°°°°° Chapter 8 °°°°°


“Russell! Oh, God – Russell!

Karen had lost count of how many times she had been afraid in her life. She was not brave, she had never been like Ronald. She was a fearful woman who had to cope with her many insecurities on a daily basis.

She had thought that losing her spouse was tough – that nothing worse could or would ever happen to her. But now that her child had gone missing in a storm, she suddenly realized that she had never really known what true fright was.

This can’t happen again! No, no, it can’t be true! Please, not my son!

A BRL-A unit hovered nearby, protecting her from both the rain and the gusts of icy wind. Karen could not bring herself to be grateful. So far, she had tried to ignore her presence as much as possible, and in the rare few occasions when she did glance at her, it was always with a sting of resentment at the thought of her son’s fascination with robots. It may not have been the BRL-A’s fault - but it was definitely the source of all her troubles. She had every right not to feel too sympathetic at the moment.

Just then, two shapes approached them through the thick rain. Only two shapes. Karen’s breath was struck in her throat. She almost did not recognize her voice as she cried out: “Captain, haven’t you…? Didn’t you find…?”

“I’m – sorry” panted McCrea as he caught up with them. He looked as exhausted as he was dejected. The BRL-A who followed him in tow was almost identical to the one hovering next to Karen, had it not been for the red and yellow repair boot draped around it. “But I sent out all ten EVE probes to look for him, he can’t have gotten too far…”

“What if he can’t find his way back? What if he can’t cry out for help?” The fear made Karen frantic. “If he’s hurt, or--“

“Wait - let’s first hear what the probes report, before we assume the worst,” reasoned McCrea. “I’m sure he’s ok. Everything will be alright.”

Karen snorted softly in disbelief. She would have liked to be just as convinced. Unfortunately, her motherly fears just happened to be crying louder than reason at the time.


Tracking her down was easier than BRIDGET had thought. All she had to do was filter off the thunders and follow the sound of that woman’s screams. She did not expect that the woman would not be alone, though.

Instinctively, she withdrew behind one of the many greenhouses littered over what had once been a highway. The two humans and the two bots stood not too far, but fortunately their backs were turned towards her – thanks the stars. As far as she could tell, they had not seen her yet. Perfect. It would be even better if she could just return the thing to them without giving away her whereabouts.

She glanced indifferently at the two BRL-A units, one of which was clearly a reject from the Repair Ward. If she had been human, BRIDGET would have snorted through her teeth. Allow malfunctioning robots to float around freely, what next?

At first, she paid little attention to the other human. He was a man with something familiar about him, something that she could not quite pinpoint. Then she noticed that he was wearing a jacket with the Captain’s insignia, and it dawned on her. So this was the current – or was it former, now? – Captain of the Axiom.

Little wonder she had not recognized him sooner. She knew the various Captains only by sight. And all her life she had only glimpsed them every once in a while, at best. To her, they were just anonymous persons – token roles – just like the BRL-A units had been on the Axiom. The Autopilot was the only leader figure she had ever known.

Meanwhile, the woman’s calls had quit. Why, though? It did not seem feasible that she may have been calling the Captain. He talked to her in encouraging tones, to which she replied dully, almost in monosyllables. Most of the times she remained silent, and when she spoke back it more to herself than to the man.

And then, out of the blue, BRIDGET was brought up short by the word ‘Axiom’.

“Ironic,” the woman had turned to glance at the starliner, “how the Axiom still mocks us with its sense of false security.” There was an edge of frost in her voice.

“You make it sound as though it’s a bad thing” Captain McCrea observed. Karen looked fiercely back at him.

“Are you saying it isn’t? Sometimes I wish… I don’t know. I wish that we had dismantled it right after landing.”

Dism-- No! The woman’s words hit her full force like a meteorite would. She even forgot about the thing, who had meanwhile noticed his mirrored reflection in her metal neck and was now making all sorts of faces. Shocked, confused, BRIDGET hovered back in disbelief. No! It’s unacceptable!

“I wish I did not have to see it every other day” the woman continued, in the same hateful tone. “It riles me.”

Not possible! Wrong!

The Captain was also staring at the Axiom, and perhaps it was his silence that encouraged Karen to add: “I just can’t forget what that ship did to us.”

What it did to you? BRIDGET’s head snapped up. The Axiom kept you safe, cared to your every--

“You’re seeing too much into things, Karen” the Captain finally said quietly, yet firmly. There was something in his voice... uneasiness? “It was the life we led that was wrong, not the ship per say. And now all that remains of it is an empty hull, barely a wreck. It can’t bring back the past. You shouldn’t worry about that.”

Concealed behind the glass wall, BRIDGET could not suppress a flinch.


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9 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:33 pm

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And here is chapter nine! Where several catalysts of what's ahead-to-come come into play, and more foreshadowing is thrown into the picture.
A special thanks to my beta-reader Locutus for proof-reading, to Dr. ET on FF.net for the wonderful encouragement that he provided with his fanfiction awards, to my awesome friends CAPT-N, Dementor, dcp and FREDD-E on the WALL-E forum for being some of my most faithful readers, and to everyone else who has read and enjoyed this story so far. You guys really make fanfic writing worth the effort! Smile

°°°°° Chapter 9 °°°°°


“So maybe a wreck won’t bring back the past! Great! It can bring back memories of that past though, can’t it?” Karen scoffed, tossing back her head irritably. She was showing that snappy, slightly unreasonable look of when she wanted to be right at all costs; a look she exhibited rarely but which never meant any good. “Having it there in plain view -- that’s nearly as bad as if we could go back in time, don’t you think?”

The Captain did not answer right away. He stared at her with a keen expression, as if sizing her up – as if truly seeing her for the very first time.

“This is what frightens you so, then?” he finally asked. “That you can’t let go of the past, that you can’t forget? But Karen, that was exactly how the troubles began. Don’t you see how this reasoning of yours is leading you right down the same path as our ancestors? Are you saying they were right to escape from the past they could no longer bear to look in the eye, that they did right?”

Her face fell. Incredulously, she gaped at him.

“I… no, how dare you suggest…? Of course I don’t justify… it’s not the same as…”

“Isn’t it?” The Captain’s eyebrows arched. While the woman’s face was getting red with anger, he seemed no less calm than before. “Karen, if humans got so close to lose themselves on the Axiom, it was only because they were too ready to forget. It’s a good thing to move on and go ahead with life… but sometimes we must also turn around and look back. It’s the only way we can learn from our mistakes.”

There was a tense, stretched silence. Then Karen piped up again, her voice dreadfully low.

“It would have suited me fine if our ancestors had never built that ship to begin with! For no reason will I ever let Russell set foot on there.” Shaking her head with exasperation, she continued bitterly: “But as it is, why are we even discussing it? It’s not like any of this will bring Russell back or take us any closer to find him.” There was still a somewhat rebellious light in her eyes. But then she threw a dejected glance to the rain pouring down on them, and her icy stare mellowed. What’s the point?, she wondered, refraining from any further remark.


Russell. That word made BRIDGET snap out of her shock, bringing back everything - the rainstorm, the reason why she had had to leave the alleyway, the woman’s calls, and the thing, who still clung to her neck and babbled incoherently to his reflection. It all came back in a flash.

BRIDGET lifted the toddler off unceremoniously and just as unceremoniously placed him on the ground. He threw a questioning glance up at her.

“Boo botty?”

::Go to them:: she urged, pushing him impatiently round the greenhouse’s corner. Now, she figured, he would either scramble toward the other humans - or they would notice him and come to the rescue. Either way, she would be rid of him.

But only a moment later she had to acknowledge that she had completely underestimated the speed of that thing. He hurried back around the corner of the greenhouse and strode happily toward her, his arms outstretched and hands ready to grab. “Boo botty!”

This time, she shoved him away forcefully enough to send him half-stumbling and half-sliding forward a good distance. It was not without some bitter satisfaction that she saw him collide with the BRL-A unit hovering over his mother.

“Russell!” Karen cried. She scooped up the toddler as eagerly as she would have done if the ground had threatened to assault him. “I’ve been so afraid, I thought… I believed…” Russell, on the other hand, seemed only too thrilled by his unexpected slide across the soaked terrace, and unaffected by his mother’s anxiety.

“Mama!” he chirped as a greeting. “Cap’n!” But clearly it was the two BRL-A units who interested him more. “Brr botties!” he pointed. His eyes flared, and he turned to glance at the greenhouse as if struck by a sudden thought. “Boo too…” he muttered to himself.

Neither his mother nor the Captain were really paying attention attention. They were probably much too relieved to notice that Russell was unusually quiet, and kept looking at the greenhouse every now and then with an expression that was comically pensive for a kid his age.

“You scared your mother a great deal, young boy,” the Captain was saying.

“Don’t ever disappear on me like that again, Russell!” Karen reiterated.

“Where have you been ‘til now, anyway? That I’d like to know.”

“Why didn’t you answer my calls? And look at me when I’m talking with you…”

But for all their efforts, they could not get anything out of Russell. Not for a lack of effort on the toddler’s part, though; it just happened that ‘botty’ was the only intelligible word out of a lot of distinct gibberish.

“Maybe he fell asleep somewhere, and didn’t hear our voices,” the Captain suggested. “I guess we’ll never know, eh? What matters is that he’s alright.”

Karen held Russell tighter, drawing a cry of protest from the child who had just reached out toward the reject BRL-A. “Yes. Yes – it’s all that matters” she replied quietly. The Captain noticed that she did not look at the Axiom when saying so. Perhaps she now regretted to have thrown a tantrum like she had.

A thunder rumbled above their heads. That deafening sound seemed to shake Karen from her thoughts.

“We’d better run for cover,” she said worriedly, “before we all come down with pneumonia.”

“Agreed” the Captain nodded. When Karen motioned to leave, however, he did not follow. He stood in the rain next to the Repair Ward BRL-A, his hands tucked in his pockets, and seemed strangely reluctant to move. Karen took another uncertain step forward, then turned to look at him and called out:

“Aren’t you…?”

“In a minute,” he replied, without looking at her. “In a minute. Go ahead – I’ll catch up.”


For perhaps a few seconds she hesitated, expecting him to change his mind and come along with her and Russell. But finally she had to realize that he would not. Not yet. With a last resigned glance, she walked off towards the nearest shelter.

Karen wouldn’t have understood, Captain McCrea thought, throwing a contemplative look at the Axiom in the distance. He himself was not sure whether he could understand, and much less explain, what passed through his mind.

This was hardly the first time that he thought about the starliner in those twenty years. But he had never gazed at it so much. He had hoped that discussing the matter with someone else would shed some light on his thoughts; that was why he had brought it up with Jeff earlier that morning, to no real avail. Jeff had seemed just as puzzled himself, if not even more so. And after hearing Karen’s hateful words, her rage over something that she clearly and rightfully considered to have caused harm to her and to all humans, the Captain no longer knew what to think of it all.

::The Axiom is not a wreck:: said a cold female voice behind him.

Both the Captain and BRL-A turned around with a start. A robot had silently floated up to them; her blue and white chassis, extendable limbs and old-fashioned wings were disturbingly unfamiliar to McCrea. He did not remember this particular unit’s designation, although he vaguely recalled how, at a couple of occasions, he had glimpsed her leaving the bridge around the same time as he had entered it. He was not even sure what her directive might have been, though he figured it had to have been something about the space…

“I’m sorry?”

::The Axiom is not a wreck:: BRIDGET repeated. She was ignoring BRL-A; her slanted blue eyes were fixed on the Captain. ::It has housed humans and robots for way longer than you and that female human have been operative:: McCrea realized that she had probably overheard his argument with Karen. The greenhouse nearby was the only place from where that might have been possible.

“Er… yeah, it has served its purpose well, I suppose” he acknowledged uneasily.

::That was not what she said. She said that the Axiom should have been scrapped. She seemed to imply that it was malfunctioning::

“Well, she’s put things a bit more bluntly than…”

::And you called it a wreck:: BRIDGET continued, in the same unyielding tone.

“I didn’t mean that to have a negative connotation!” he quickly protested.

::Does the fact that humans and robots no longer want to live on the Axiom make it a wreck?:: she retorted, and there was a challenging look to her eyes. ::Does that make it any less a ship? Or Auto any less an Autopilot?::

A heavy, nauseating silence fell between them. The Captain did not know what to answer. He was not even sure whether the robot’s question was indeed directed at him or, rather, if she was echoing the many doubts he himself could not put to rest.

After what seemed an eternity, BRIDGET folded out her wings and furiously took off into the rainy sky.

Later – in the nerve-wrecking, stressful days to come – the Captain would remember watching her disappear in the distance; and thinking, deep at heart, that he had let her question fall unanswered because he had simply not known what to answer.


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10 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:34 pm

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And here's Chapter 10 Not all of it has been proof-read yet, but it can give you an idea of where the story is going.
Actually, there is less foreshadowing in this chapters than in the ones that will follow. Let's say events are moving along and the first of a series of big plot twists is almost behind the corner. A corner that will draw closer and closer in the next five chapters or so
Anyway, here it is! As always, thanks to Locutus for proof-read and to all my friends here on the forum for the great support you're providing to this fic You all are awesome!

°°°°° Chapter 10 °°°°°


WALL-E rocked his treads back and forth, glanced outside and sighed miserably. It had perhaps been a few minutes since the missing human kid had returned with his mother. All the EVE probes should have been informed by now and were probably heading back indoors; it would not be long, he guessed, before he was reunited with his beloved EVE. But waiting had never been WALL-E’s forte, and most specifically, waiting even just another minute without EVE seemed almost unbearable. Never was the endearing waste-allocator so disconsolate and lost as when they could not be together.

“Way botty!” chimed Russell, observing the moving treads with awe over his mother’s shoulder.

Whether or not he understood that “way” was just the kid’s peculiar way of spelling his name, and not some method for summoning him, WALL-E turned his head. He looked from the kid to the storm raging outside, then back at Russell.

::Eeeevah?:: he asked in a tiny voice. Where is she?

“She’ll be back in no time, WALL-E” John said, as if he had read into his thoughts. Of all the Axiom passengers, he was possibly the one who had changed most. You could tell at first sight that Captain McCrea still liked his food; and Jeff was large and strong and built much like a man who might have carried an obnoxious llama in his arms through a mountainous jungle. But nowadays the most noticeable trait about John – quite, wiry, impersonal John –seemed to be his fatherly smile. It was as though he had shed off his excessive body mass to make room for a compassionate disposition that was rarely found among men.

::Eeeevah…:: WALL-E murmured dejectedly. Even though he knew that John was right, he still missed his EVE.

“Look here, she won’t be gone long. It’s just that EVE probes have scattered over a large terr… oh!”

But even before the exclamation had left John’s mouth, WALL-E had bounced up and down in frantic joy as EVE darted in the shelter, whirled around, and gracefully landed next to them. With raindrops glistening like small diamonds all over her shiny frame, she looked much too beautiful to be described with words.

::Eeeevah!:: WALL-E chirped, wrapping his arms around her. And there was so much that he might have told her, if only he had known how to phrase it all; how much he had missed her, and how unspeakably happy he felt now that they were reunited. But as always, he and EVE did not need words to communicate or even just understand what the other felt. He bumped his binoculars eyes against her eyescreen, and she nuzzled him softly.

“What did I tell you?” laughed John. “Safe ‘n sound.”

Russell had welcomed EVE’s entrance with a delighted squeal. Now he slipped away from his mother’s arms and staggered toward the two robot lovers.

“Russell! Don’t run away like that!” Karen rebuked. But she may as well have been talking to a wall. Russell flung himself at EVE and hugged her tightly.

“Fyte botty!” he crooned. What he had really meant to say, of course, was that she was white and could fly. Fyte sounded like a good combination of the two things, and that was how he had decided to call EVE probes - even though ‘EVE’ was one of the few names that he could actually spell right.

::Eeeeve:: she corrected him, somewhat stiffly. Humans – even human kids – were usually not nearly so expansive; his clinginess riled her a little. But in the end she could not hold back a chuckle, and her annoyed demeanor softened.

Nobody else seemed amused, WALL-E noticed. All the other robots in the room were eyeing Russell testily as they retreated into less prominent corners. Why, thought?, he wondered. The child was not really a threat – not like a sandstorm, a trashslide, or considering the present situation outside, a thunderstorm. And yet his presence had irked the robots, making them jibe like nervous horses. How strange, he thought, shaking his head in disbelief.

He turned back to EVE and the child. They were both laughing now, EVE at the child’s antic and Russell at the metallic trill of her giggles. Then I’m not the only one who thinks that she has the most lovely voice… thought WALL-E, and chuckled as well. Then he rolled a bit closer on his treads.

As if controlled by a radar, Russell turned at once, without letting go of EVE. He beamed at the sight of WALL-E, for when was the last time a robot had wanted to play with him – and not the other way around?

“Way botty!”

Over the kid’s head, EVE dazed WALL-E with a luminous smile of her blue eyes.


WALL-E held out a hand and Russell regarded in wonder. But before long his attention was drawn to the robot’s binocular eyes, whose mobility he found clearly much more amazing. He fell on his bum, muttering some unintelligible gibberish in pure Russellspeak, under EVE’s amused stare.

Did it surprise her that WALL-E and the kid would get along just fine? The more she thought about it, the more the answer would have to be no. It was impossible not to get along with WALL-E.

She looked as he allowed Russell to make his eyes go sad, happy, angry, and then happy once again. Any other robot would have found the child frankly obtrusive, but if WALL-E was annoyed he gave no sign. He put up with Russell’s curiosity wonderfully, much more than she would have done. EVE had always been slightly more impatient – another reason why their personalities clicked together so well. Far from clashing, they completed each other to perfection. Clumsy and efficient, spontaneous and no-nonsense, adoring and protective. In a word, well-matched.

Meanwhile, Russell had started inspecting the trash compactor. He contemplated it with interest before actually trying to force it open. As BRIDGET might have told, if she had been present, his short arms were much stronger than any robot gave them credit for. WALL-E, however, kept the compactor’s door firmly closed to prevent the kid from pulling it down on himself. Don’t touch it, it’s dangerous!, he would have wanted to say.

“Russell, come away from that robot!” his mother called out without thinking. Her voice sounded so half-hearted that EVE turned to throw her a puzzled glance.

Karen stood by the door where Russell had left her, and was staring out in the distance with an almost ferocious stare. But there was something else to her eyes; something, EVE realized, unsettlingly familiar. The vegetation evaluator probe was still haunted by the memories of those painful last hours on the Axiom, but she had never guessed that those same memories may have been tormenting one of the humans as well. For the miserable look on Karen’s face was the same that she had often felt dawn on her own eyescreen, every time her eyes had fallen on the grounded starliner. Then she too can't forget, EVE thought.

After a moment hesitation, she floated closer to the woman, stretched out her fingers and placed them on Karen’s shoulder. A simple but kind gesture of understanding from a robot who was not capable of complex sentences. You’re not alone.

Karen turned with a small start at her touch. She looked at the white probe, at her hand, at the sympathetic look in her blue eyes. Despite the gloominess that she still felt within, she managed to muster up a weak but grateful smile.

“Thank you”, she hoarsely whispered.


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11 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:36 pm

Cri86

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And here comes Chapter 11, because as cute as Chapter 10 was, this is where foreshadowing picks up again. I can only summarize in three words... *cue music* dun dun dun! If you think you can already see where this is going... be prepared for some surprises Wink

This was another fun chapter to write, especially the interaction between the Rejects... for whom I have more scenes in store Razz As the old saying goes, "if there's a rifle in the first act, it will be fired by the third." Smile

°°°°° Chapter 11 °°°°°


“Auto, EVE found the plant. Fire up the Holodetector.”

Auto’s optic had flickered. For a moment the words ‘A113’ had appeared on it, but the Captain was too absorbed with the thought of returning home to pay it any attention.

::Not necessary, Captain. You may give it to me::

“You know what? I’ll do it myself.” Without listening, he had maneuvered his hoverchair toward the elevator. He ought to have guessed that Auto was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.

There had been a sickening instant, when the steering wheel had descended to block him, in which Captain Brian McCrea had instinctively known what was going to happen. The dreaded thought of mutiny had clung to him like wet clothes. And nonetheless he had refused to acknowledge that sinister feeling of foreshadow, telling himself that it could not be, that
he was the Captain of the Axiom, and that Auto – his trusted Autopilot, the same Autopilot who had effectively been in charge of the Axiom for as long as he could remember – was…

::Sir, I insist you give me the plant::

“Auto, get out of my way!” he had snapped in annoyance.

::Sir, we cannot go home::

“What are you talking about? Why not?”

::That is classified:: Auto had replied, as if that word could explain everything. ::Captain, give me the plant::

Outraged, McCrea had demanded to know what the hell Auto did mean by ‘classified’. “You don’t keep secrets from the Captain!” he barked.

::Give me the plant:: Auto reiterated, before lunging for it with his claw. Fortunately, the Captain had anticipated that move. He held the boot with the precious seedling out of Auto’s reach before the steering wheel could grab it.

“Tell me what’s classified!”

::The plant:: Auto insisted.

“Tell me, Auto! That’s an order!” he had raged. For long instants, bluish-gray eyes and red optic had locked in a silent battle of wills. Scornful the first, ever dispassionate the latter - although the Captain had clearly perceived the shadow of disapproval beneath the Autopilot’s usual impasse.

And then, out of the blue, Auto had grudgingly wielded, floating away from the Captain.

::Aye-aye, sir::



“Is everything alright, sir?”

“… Uh? Oh! Yes, yes, I’m sorry, I was just mulling over something.”

Jeff did not look all too convinced by that reply. Perhaps he would have wanted to ask something else, but his voice was cut off sharply when a thunder rumbled over their heads, much closer than the last. Instinctively, all talks in the shelter died down.

The Captain motioned to Jeff to follow and moved a little aside from the main crowd. Only when he was sure that they would not to be overheard, he said very quietly:

“Nasty storm we’re having.”

“Aye. It‘s been years since the last time it rained like this.”

Brian McCrea nodded seriously.

“Not going to calm down soon either, by the sound of it” he pondered. Then, as if struck by a sudden inspiration, he strode determinedly toward a small crowd of men, all of which had been staring at a nearby holoscreen with very dark faces. Jeff tailed him closely.

“How long d’you reckon this might hold on, Robertson?” McCrea asked to the nearest man, in the same voice he might have used at a gravely ill person’s bedside.

“Hard to say” replied Robertson, not taking his eyes off the screen. “Eight, nine hours. Wouldn’t be surprised if it pulled it off ‘til morning. See there?” He zoomed on the images transmitted by the satellite. From that perspective, the atmospheric disturbance which had engulfed New Chicago appeared frightfully huge; a rotating vortex of thick white clouds, obstructing the view of anything below it. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a biggie, Captain. With winds like these, our best hope is that it won’t turn into a tornado. In which case, it might not wear off for the next few days – maybe even for a week or longer.”

The Captain’s frown deepened, and Jeff swore.

“A tornado? Just what we need to set the crops back a long way!”

“The crops are gonna be devastated anyway, just wait and see” Robertson replied dryly. “All this rain would drown a SCUBA for good.”

“What’s a SCUBA?” Jeff blinked.

“Some ol’ underwater robot prototype Ryan was ranting about the other day. You know he likes browsing them ol’ BnL records…”

“Wait a minute – are you saying that there’s the possibility of a flood?” the Captain looked at Robertson in bewilderment, as if expecting – as if praying – that that suspect would be proved wrong. But far from putting his worries to ease, Robertson’s answer was lapidary like a death sentence.

“Possibility? The certainty, I’d say.”

“Damn!” McCrea turned back to Jeff; one could almost hear the wheels turning in his brain. “The shelters I’m not worried about, they’re too elevated from the ground. But the storehouses… they should be watertight, no?” he finally asked.

“Technically, yes.” Jeff grimaced. “Matter of fact, a real flood is unlike anything--”

McCrea, however, interrupted him with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“They’ll hold on. They have to. What of the supplies? Do we have enough…?”

“Yes, yes, we’re covered for weeks, perhaps even months. Flour, plenty of dried goods – that’s the last of our concerns.” Not like the crops, he would have wanted to add.

The Captain nodded. “Very well. Worse comes to worse, we might have to resort to the Axiom’s regenerative food buffet. Shouldn’t be too difficult to reprogram it.” The thought of returning to the Axiom unsettled him, especially after his talk with that strange blue robot; he could not quite forget the look of accusation in her eyes – same, he suddenly realized, as the accusation that he had perceived behind Auto’s silence all those years ago. Still, for the sake of his people, Captain McCrea was ready to face even his own demons.

“Guess so” Robertson shrugged. “Not many people would like to eat that rubbish in a cup anymore. You might want to talk with Ryan ‘bout it.”

“Yes. Hopefully we won’t need it, but better safe than sorry.” The frown not leaving his face, McCrea paced thoughtfully back and forth. “The clean-up afterwards, on the other hand… that will be the real pain.”

“A job cut mostly for the WALL-As, I’d say” Jeff grunted.

“Indeed. But we’ll have to do it on a pretty tight schedule, before the mud can solidify and clog their treads or – worse – the arm mechanism. Too bad we only have two of those guys… but I wouldn’t dare send out any other Axiom robot to clean until the water had been somehow disposed of. Most of them are not really waterproof.”

Once again, his thoughts trailed off to the blue robot he had met earlier. She had stood defiantly in the rain like a BRL-A or an EVE probe would, unaffected by it. Together with her wings, that only added to his suspect that she might have been designed to operate outside, not within the Axiom. An outdoor robot, as they were normally called. Too bad he could not recall at all what her purpose had been.

“By the way, Jeff, speaking of Axiom robots…”

“What?” Jeff raised an eyebrow.

“Do you remember – I mean, have you ever seen a blue and white female unit on there? Tall, metal arms and neck, with wings…?”

Jeff’s frown, and the look of confusion on his face, were eloquent enough.

“Blue and white – with wings? No, I don’t remember ever seeing something like that. Not that I would have noticed…” he grimaced. After all, for most of his life on the Axiom, he had never really bothered to look up from his holoscreen, just like all his fellow passengers. “Why?”

“Oh – nothing important, never mind. I don’t even know why I brought that up.”


At some distance from them, the Repair Ward BRL-A had stopped to chat briefly with his fellow PR-T. Although neither of them was programmed for articulate speech, the Rejects had learned to guess fairly accurately what passed through their circuits; it was pretty unavoidable, after centuries of reclusion. Just like WALL-E and EVE, they did not need words to be able to understand each other.

Now, for example, PR-T could clearly tell that BRL-A was irked by something. Strange, she thought, perplexed. It was difficult to irritate BRL-A; he had always stuck her as such an easy-going bot. If PR-T had had to label any of her fellow Rejects as short tempered, the most obvious pick would have been, at best, HAN-S.

But PR-T was wrong on that regard. BRL-A was not only irked; he was fuming.

The way she looked at me, as though I were a bunch of dismantled spare parts!, he seethed in his mind. And she didn’t say anything, of course, but it was easy to guess what she was thinking, wasn’t it? Tell you what, I didn’t imagine that glance she threw to the repair boot. I’ve seen it pass through her mind as clearly as if she had insulted me in front of the Captain. Thought herself so above the likes of us ‘cause she was not wearing a repair boot herself…

Confused, PR-T watched him open and close his umbrella in frustration. Then she floated closer and applied a generous quantity of makeup to his eyescreen.

::J-just a t-trim? Y-you look g-gorgeous!:: she trilled. It was her own peculiar way of saying, take it easy. I’m sure it’s nothing important.

BRL-A, however, seemed only slightly less belligerent. He did not even pay attention to the makeup.

It won’t be a repair boot, he thought scathingly, or a past in the Repair Ward, to make us any lesser robots!


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12 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:36 pm

Cri86

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And here's Chapter 10 Not all of it has been proof-read yet, but it can give you an idea of where the story is going.
Actually, there is less foreshadowing in this chapters than in the ones that will follow. Let's say events are moving along and the first of a series of big plot twists is almost behind the corner. A corner that will draw closer and closer in the next five chapters or so
Anyway, here it is! As always, thanks to Locutus for proof-read and to all my friends on the WALL-E forum for the great support you're providing to this fic You all are awesome!

°°°°° Chapter 10 °°°°°


WALL-E rocked his treads back and forth, glanced outside and sighed miserably. It had perhaps been a few minutes since the missing human kid had returned with his mother. All the EVE probes should have been informed by now and were probably heading back indoors; it would not be long, he guessed, before he was reunited with his beloved EVE. But waiting had never been WALL-E’s forte, and most specifically, waiting even just another minute without EVE seemed almost unbearable. Never was the endearing waste-allocator so disconsolate and lost as when they could not be together.

“Way botty!” chimed Russell, observing the moving treads with awe over his mother’s shoulder.

Whether or not he understood that “way” was just the kid’s peculiar way of spelling his name, and not some method for summoning him, WALL-E turned his head. He looked from the kid to the storm raging outside, then back at Russell.

::Eeeevah?:: he asked in a tiny voice. Where is she?

“She’ll be back in no time, WALL-E” John said, as if he had read into his thoughts. Of all the Axiom passengers, he was possibly the one who had changed most. You could tell at first sight that Captain McCrea still liked his food; and Jeff was large and strong and built much like a man who might have carried an obnoxious llama in his arms through a mountainous jungle. But nowadays the most noticeable trait about John – quite, wiry, impersonal John –seemed to be his fatherly smile. It was as though he had shed off his excessive body mass to make room for a compassionate disposition that was rarely found among men.

::Eeeevah…:: WALL-E murmured dejectedly. Even though he knew that John was right, he still missed his EVE.

“Look here, she won’t be gone long. It’s just that EVE probes have scattered over a large terr… oh!”

But even before the exclamation had left John’s mouth, WALL-E had bounced up and down in frantic joy as EVE darted in the shelter, whirled around, and gracefully landed next to them. With raindrops glistening like small diamonds all over her shiny frame, she looked much too beautiful to be described with words.

::Eeeevah!:: WALL-E chirped, wrapping his arms around her. And there was so much that he might have told her, if only he had known how to phrase it all; how much he had missed her, and how unspeakably happy he felt now that they were reunited. But as always, he and EVE did not need words to communicate or even just understand what the other felt. He bumped his binoculars eyes against her eyescreen, and she nuzzled him softly.

“What did I tell you?” laughed John. “Safe ‘n sound.”

Russell had welcomed EVE’s entrance with a delighted squeal. Now he slipped away from his mother’s arms and staggered toward the two robot lovers.

“Russell! Don’t run away like that!” Karen rebuked. But she may as well have been talking to a wall. Russell flung himself at EVE and hugged her tightly.

“Fyte botty!” he crooned. What he had really meant to say, of course, was that she was white and could fly. Fyte sounded like a good combination of the two things, and that was how he had decided to call EVE probes - even though ‘EVE’ was one of the few names that he could actually spell right.

::Eeeeve:: she corrected him, somewhat stiffly. Humans – even human kids – were usually not nearly so expansive; his clinginess riled her a little. But in the end she could not hold back a chuckle, and her annoyed demeanor softened.

Nobody else seemed amused, WALL-E noticed. All the other robots in the room were eyeing Russell testily as they retreated into less prominent corners. Why, thought?, he wondered. The child was not really a threat – not like a sandstorm, a trashslide, or considering the present situation outside, a thunderstorm. And yet his presence had irked the robots, making them jibe like nervous horses. How strange, he thought, shaking his head in disbelief.

He turned back to EVE and the child. They were both laughing now, EVE at the child’s antic and Russell at the metallic trill of her giggles. Then I’m not the only one who thinks that she has the most lovely voice… thought WALL-E, and chuckled as well. Then he rolled a bit closer on his treads.

As if controlled by a radar, Russell turned at once, without letting go of EVE. He beamed at the sight of WALL-E, for when was the last time a robot had wanted to play with him – and not the other way around?

“Way botty!”

Over the kid’s head, EVE dazed WALL-E with a luminous smile of her blue eyes.


WALL-E held out a hand and Russell regarded in wonder. But before long his attention was drawn to the robot’s binocular eyes, whose mobility he found clearly much more amazing. He fell on his bum, muttering some unintelligible gibberish in pure Russellspeak, under EVE’s amused stare.

Did it surprise her that WALL-E and the kid would get along just fine? The more she thought about it, the more the answer would have to be no. It was impossible not to get along with WALL-E.

She looked as he allowed Russell to make his eyes go sad, happy, angry, and then happy once again. Any other robot would have found the child frankly obtrusive, but if WALL-E was annoyed he gave no sign. He put up with Russell’s curiosity wonderfully, much more than she would have done. EVE had always been slightly more impatient – another reason why their personalities clicked together so well. Far from clashing, they completed each other to perfection. Clumsy and efficient, spontaneous and no-nonsense, adoring and protective. In a word, well-matched.

Meanwhile, Russell had started inspecting the trash compactor. He contemplated it with interest before actually trying to force it open. As BRIDGET might have told, if she had been present, his short arms were much stronger than any robot gave them credit for. WALL-E, however, kept the compactor’s door firmly closed to prevent the kid from pulling it down on himself. Don’t touch it, it’s dangerous!, he would have wanted to say.

“Russell, come away from that robot!” his mother called out without thinking. Her voice sounded so half-hearted that EVE turned to throw her a puzzled glance.

Karen stood by the door where Russell had left her, and was staring out in the distance with an almost ferocious stare. But there was something else to her eyes; something, EVE realized, unsettlingly familiar. The vegetation evaluator probe was still haunted by the memories of those painful last hours on the Axiom, but she had never guessed that those same memories may have been tormenting one of the humans as well. For the miserable look on Karen’s face was the same that she had often felt dawn on her own eyescreen, every time her eyes had fallen on the grounded starliner. Then she too can't forget, EVE thought.

After a moment hesitation, she floated closer to the woman, stretched out her fingers and placed them on Karen’s shoulder. A simple but kind gesture of understanding from a robot who was not capable of complex sentences. You’re not alone.

Karen turned with a small start at her touch. She looked at the white probe, at her hand, at the sympathetic look in her blue eyes. Despite the gloominess that she still felt within, she managed to muster up a weak but grateful smile.

“Thank you”, she hoarsely whispered.


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13 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:40 pm

Cri86

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Chapter 12 for ya! Smile From now on, if "Chart Your Own Course" had a musical underscore, the next chapters would be a crescendo of "Dun dun dun DUN!". I suppose you could say that the storm has turned, from a simple mood-setter, to an actual symbol of the underlying turmoil of contrasts, mood swings and hidden resentments that will eventually implode in the upcoming twist. It's as though the plot and the storm were now moving on parallel tracks - building up, rumbling louder and louder, unarrestable. And at this point, the characters can be only dragged along in the whirlwind they contributed to create.
Also, keep an eye on the characters thoughts. There's so much of the "heart" of this story that finds expression through a choir of different mind voices, humans and robots - rather than through their actions. Speaking of which, are thoughts and actions so tightly interwined as one commonly believes? To this questions all the characters, in their own ways, will be called to answer - with very different results.
The character of Cale, who appears for the first time in this chapter, was originally created by Locutus for his Halloween fanfiction "Silicon Homecoming". He was so kind to let me "borrow" him for "Chart Your Own Course", in the spirit of Pixar homages appearing in different movies Razz Speaking of which, there's another homage in this chapter too, this time from "Finding Nemo", in Mary and John's little flirtation.
Anyway, enough forewords for now. On to the story!

°°°°° Chapter 12 °°°°°


EVE was not afraid of storms. She liked rain, liked both its sound and the gentle tap of raindrops on her chassis; and she could only name a few things more exciting than a challenge against the strong gusts of wind. In many ways, she liked storms because they were impetuous and wild and free and reminded her of… well, herself. For all these reasons she had welcomed that unexpected order to fly over the skies of New Chicago, looking for a lost human child. For the very same reasons she now hovered near the shelter’s doors, listening as the wind howled and thunders rolled outside. She was awestruck.

Most people in the room, however, did not think along the same lines.

“Sounds like it’s never going to stop” Mary shuddered.

It had been five hours since the storm had broken overhead. Still, seasonal thunderstorms were not unusual, and the humans initial hope had been that the weather would clear up soon, allowing them to return to their homes. As the evening dragged on, they eventually realized that it was not going happen. Just like Mary had said, it sounded less and less likely to wear itself off by the minute. This storm was a far lot worse than all the others.

Now and then a nearby thunder would make everyone jump in fright. But it was always a matter of time before the alarmed buzz of voices subsided and faded back into a silence. Rough weather, it seemed, did not do much for conversations…

“Try not to worry” smiled John, placing a hand on his wife’s shoulder. There was such tenderness, such strength in his gentle eyes, that Mary could not refrain from smiling in return. “Things will work out somehow. It’s not like we haven’t been through rough times before.”

“I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen you in distress. Do you ever worry?” Mary chuckled.

“Oh, yes. I worry about a lot of things” he replied, keeping a serious face. “And then I tell to myself that it can’t really get any worse than right after we landed - remember? There we were, in a foreign planet, full of doubts and fear… but not for a moment did we lose hope.”

“Hmm. And we never will!” she laughed playfully. Once more, she had to acknowledge how infectious John’s optimism really was; resisting his glass-half-full attitude was like asking a planet to stray away from the sun. “Are you saying that after everything we’ve faced, we shouldn’t worry too much about what may come next?”

“Yeah, so to speak. I mean, hey, we could bring a planet back to life! We can deal with…”

“... with a storm, no matter how nasty?” Mary concluded for him.

“Correct!” he grinned sheepishly, taking hold of her hand. And for a moment it was as though an invisible force had pulled them back through the ages, back on the Axiom, right after their hands had touched for the first time. How could twenty years have passed so fast? It seemed only yesterday that his Mary had led him on the Lido Deck, at which he had often thrown a passing glance, but which he had never really seen before.

Surprised by her husband’s silence, Mary looked up at him. “What?”

“You remember how we met?” he asked with a disarming smile. That was so out of the blue, that Mary chuckled in spite of herself.

“Well…” she said teasingly. “I try not to!”

A crashing noise interrupted John before he could reply; a noise that the inhabitants of New Chicago knew only too well, for it was always followed by the inevitable cacophony of angry clicks, whirrs, and a toddler’s giggles.

“Russell! Get away from there!” Mary and John said at once, turning in the direction of the clatter.

They should have seen it coming; Russell was as fascinated by robots as he was volatile over the subjects of his adoration.

Worn out by the tribulations of that impossibly long day, his mother had finally succumbed to exhaustion and sleep. Until a few minutes before, Russell had been content with blathering to a NAN-E unit who had seen better days; but save for the robot’s sparse replies of ::Remain calm:: and ::I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that, please repeat::, the conversation had been almost exclusively one-sided. Soon, Russell had waddled off to find some other way to occupy his time. That was where the trouble had begun.

It had taken less than a second for “find some other way to occupy his type” to become “surprise-hug a BRL-A”, with disastrous results. BRL-As were flexible, yes, but way too lanky to be tackled out of the blue by stampeding toddlers; their design was not made for surprise-hugs. Caught by surprise, his victim had lost her balance and tumbled on the floor, knocking along two nearby maintenance bots.

And now they laid on the ground in a buzzing, tangled sprawl of joints and limbs, and Russell clung to BRL-A’s pole like a koala to a tree. He seemed blissfully oblivious to the havoc he had just caused.

Mary hurried toward them, with her husband and a Steward following in her tow. She noticed that all NAN-E units in the immediate whereabouts seemed to have scuttled out of; perhaps they hoped to elude their fair share of responsibility for leaving the overly expansive kid unguarded. As if burying the head in the sand had ever changed anything, she thought, with a shake of her head.

“Russell, look at me – are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Oh, sure, save the kid!, scoffed BRL-A. No one seemed to realize that she did not have arms to pull herself up, and that she needed someone to lift her back on her anti-gravs. No, everyone just worried about that stupid kid.

If she had been equipped with a proper speech synthesizer, BRL-A would have snorted. Opening her umbrella an inch at a time, she tried to wriggle free from under the maintenance bots. But even more than their weight, it was Russell’s vice-like grip that was keeping her pinned. Pleadingly she glanced at the Steward.

::Please remain stationary. A service-bot will be here to assist you momentarily:: he droned.

Don’t give me any of that rubbish!, she wanted to yell. Just lift me up with your suspension beam – and get this kid off me!

::Please remain stationary:: reiterated the Steward. ::A service-bot…::

“Ah, don’t worry! He’s fine, not even a scratch!” laughed a friendly male voice. Two strong arms picked up Russell and lifted him easily, almost in answer to BRL-A’s mute prayer. The umbrella-bot breathed again - with relief. Good riddance, she thought.

“BRL-As are great baby-sitters, aren’t they, kiddo?” continued the voice, over Russell’s outraged protests.

The newcomer was a tanned man of about twenty-two or twenty-three; but like all humans of his time, he looked younger than that. With his bowl-cut blond hair and an impish grin on his face, he could have easily passed for a young nineteen.

“That’s not fun, Cale” John protested. “He could have harmed himself, he’s still little…”

“Nah, kids are made of strong stuff. Don’t you remember me at his age?” chuckled the young man. John rolled his eyes. He wished he had remembered it less.

The young man’s name was Caleb, even though the Axiom passengers who had seen him grow or had grown with him still called him “Cale”. His father had been Ronald’s half-brother, which made Cale and Russell cousins. But in many ways they might have been siblings – and not just because they shared a handful of genes.

At the age of three, Cale had adored robots nearly as much as his little cousin now did. He had slightly calmed over the next twenty years, but the oldest settlers of New Chicago could still not shake off the image of a grinning, hyperactive brat with a REM-E in his hands, running across the trash-covered alleyways and pestering the adults around him for attentions.

Sometimes, Cale bitterly wondered if he would ever get rid of his reputation as a kid. No one seemed to realize that somewhere between the Axiom’s landing and the present times, the restless hellion had grown. By all the asteroids, he was a long way past ten! Just because he was not a meek farmer and sometimes liked to take chances did not mean he was still a child. But the truth was that everyone still saw him as just that – a child.

So when his uncle had gone missing in a sandstorm and never returned, he had stepped up and taken Russell under his wing in a big-brotherly fashion. Perhaps, by helping his aunt raise his cousin, he could show everyone that there was more to him than they always gave him credit for. Perhaps he could prove just how much he was worth.

Grinning, he hauled Russell over his shoulders. “Do you know me, Russell? Who am I?”

Al!” Russell exclaimed, and pointed at him with a chuckle. “Al!”

“Yeah” laughed his cousin. “And let’s see – what robot is that? Do you know its name?” he asked, pointing out a M-O.

“Mo botty!” Russel pointed. He was delighted. Grown-ups did not usually play with him and robots, not even his mother.

“Yes, that’s a M-O. Now, this one is tough – see the robot with the red markings? Who is that?” he pointed to BURN-E.

“Bunny botty!”

“Close enough” grinned Cale, ruffling his unruly hair.

The child giggled. In another moment he would have gone on for hours, listing all the robots names he knew and matching them to units that were presently in the shelter. But now his cousin’s words triggered back something that had been nagging in the back of his mind for a while. Perhaps cousin Al has seen that strange blue robot before, he thought. Perhaps he’ll be able to tell me her name.

“Al… now boo botty?” he asked.

“Uh – sorry? I’m afraid I didn’t get that” Cale answered vaguely. He shifted him from one shoulder onto the other and turned back to John and Mary, who has been watching the whole scene in silence, disapproving. “Why his mother hasn’t got him a pet REM-E yet? I had lots of fun with those mice when I was a kid…”

“Cale,” scowled Mary, “I really don’t think you should encourage him like that.”

“Why not?” Cale stared at her in disbelief. “What does he do wrong?”

“He already annoys robots enough as it is!”

“It’s just his way of getting to know them! He doesn’t mean any harm.”

“But he causes harm, whether or not he means to!” was the woman’s exasperated reply. “And John is right, he’s too little, he’ll end up in troubles if he’s not careful.”

“But Mary, I was among robots before I could walk…”

“Don’t go there” said John, in a warning tone.

“He’s not you!” his wife snapped. “It doesn’t matter if you have the same blood – or if you like the same things! Cale, can’t you get into your aunt’s shoes for once? She already lost her husband, don’t you see that Russell is all she’s got? If something…”

But the rest of her words was covered by a choir of surprised exclamations. All the holoscreens in the shelter lit up, each showing a close up of Captain McCrea’s face. He looked unusually serious.

John’s first, irrational thought was that someone had dragged them back on the Axiom; he almost expected to hear the Captain whisper: “EVE, WALL-E, bring the plant to the Lido Deck”. For the second time that day, he felt as though a transparent hand had wiped the last twenty years off a blackboard.

“Must be something serious” Cale whispered, throwing a look at the Captain’s tense face.

I fear as much, lad, thought John with a frown.


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14 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:41 pm

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Chapter thirteen comes - and with it, one of the many challenges McCrea will have to face in the course of this story. He knows what his people look up to him for guidance, in time of loss more than ever - and yes, he's also painfully aware that being a leader is not an easy task. That's one of the reasons why I like writing about him - he does not second-guess his work. He's not one of those completely sure of themselves, charismatic, "alpha-alpha" people like - let's say - the early Lightning McQueen. He has doubts, but knows when to keep them to himself. He's not infallible - and this will come to play into the story - but even when he makes mistakes, he can take his own responsibilities and say "Yes, I was wrong."
You will hear more from him in the next chapter, which I am currently finishing and which contains scenes that - at least in my intentions - should be of great emotional impact. That will be up to you to say, though. Smile
Captain's last words, of course, are another homage to "Finding Nemo" Wink

°°°°° Chapter 13 °°°°°


Too weak, flashed the signal’s warning light.

Brian McCrea was not a superstitious fellow. But even he could not repress a frown, as he glanced at the display of his intercom. It was almost as though the storm had been trying to block off communications to the rest of the town, and succeeding.

“Sir, I doubt you’re going to get a signal in this weather…” warned Robertson.

“You think I can’t see that? I took three years of electronics when I was a trainee!” McCrea snapped. Thunder rolled overhead, but McCrea was not listening to it. He did not even look up from the intercom. “This is something I’ve got to do, even if there was just one chance of success, Robertson!”

Not a storm nor the lack of signal, he thought, will keep me from addressing my crew. If this had to be a challenge between him and the wrath of the elements, the Captain was up for it.


When the holoscreens flickered on and off, McCrea switched from one frequency to another, trying to tune on one that was sufficiently clear. The statics seemed to be putting up a fierce struggle, though.

“Cap’n!” Russell pointed.

His mother’s eyes snapped open. It took some time before her heartbeat calmed down a little. Although sleep had returned some strength to her exhausted body, her mind was as tireless as ever, mulling over the same recurring nightmare – and such a vivid one it had been. She could still hear the Captain telling her that the EVE probes had found no signs of Ronald, and that chances of survival were scarce in a storm like that. She had swung her head away desperately, unable to see the truth in McCrea’s eyes – refusing to admit that her husband would not be coming back, refusing to believe that he was -- that he could really be… And even then the Axiom had been there, infuriatingly and deceitfully safe, towering over her with an air of foreboding that seemed to mock her loss.

Don’t see too much into things, she drowsily told herself. It’s just a stupid ship.

She was making excuses again. Because the truth was, the Axiom was not just a ship. It represented a link to everything that Karen so desperately wanted to forget. Even in sleep, it would not leave her alone.

She pushed the thought away, and with a lazy yawn she strode up to the screen in front of which Mary, John and Cale stood among the others. “What’s happening?”

“Shh, aunt” whispered Cale, passing the child onto her arms. “The Captain’s about to make a speech.”

“What… I’m afraid I don’t… what speech?”

The woman rubbed her eyes, still sleepy. She wanted to ask, how long did I sleep? But before she could open her mouth, the hum of statics finally subsided, and Captain McCrea spoke up.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of attention, please. As you may have noticed, the situation at hand is more serious than we first thought. Reports from the weather station in orbit are alarming, and the radars posts have shown signatures that might indicate a developing tornado. As of now, we can neither confirm nor deny a state of national emergency.”

Several people in the shelter gasped. Mary took John’s hand, holding it tightly between hers. Somewhere, a baby wailed.

“It is imperative” the Captain continued “that you all remain calm and stay exactly where you are, as the safest place for you is within the shelters. I repeat; it is imperative that you all remain calm.”

“But - what of our homes?” a terrified woman cried.

“Will we have to evacuate?” asked an older man, his own voice breaking. “Where to?”

“Chip!” Russell piped up, pointing at the Axiom’s outline. Even behind the closed glass doors, even under the thick rain, the grounded starship was still visible. “Go chip!”

“Don’t be silly!” his mother rebuked. “No one will be doing that!”

“If you ask me, the little tyke’s way ahead of everyone else” Cale mused. “That old ship has housed us before. If all else fails…”

“Cale, this isn’t the moment…” Mary pleaded.

Karen blanched. Holding her child closer, she backed away as if Cale were about to attack both of them. “Never” she whispered, horror-struck. “You heard me? Never!

Mary was listening only half-heartedly, thought. As much as she disagreed, something about Cale’s words had struck her. The Axiom is among us all the time, she marveled, gazing outside. It’s impossible to move out of its shadow, no matter how far we wander off. Why haven’t we realized this sooner? Sometimes during those twenty years, their eyes had grown so accustomed to starliner that they had begun to see it less and less, to the point of no longer seeing it at all. Mary shuddered uncomfortably. It was the not seeing that upset her. Have we escaped blindness just to wear a blindfold of a different kind?, she wondered, with a slight shiver.

Meanwhile, the Captain’s blue-green eyes were incessantly drawn from one holoscreen to another. People from the five shelters were talking at once, drowning him with a flurry of questions. How to blame them? He had imagined that they would be scared out of their wits. Matter of fact - he had expected it.

At length he spoke again.

“You will be only evacuated if the signature readings in the next hours will confirm that a tornado is indeed building up. Rest assured, all emergency measures will be taken to move you safely. Now, the houses and the fields are going to suffer the worst, but we’ve got our town up and running after 700 years of neglect and tribulations, and we will bring it back to life after this storm quiets down!”

It was not the first time the passengers drew strength from their Captain’s words. But McCrea found it as wondrous as ever. He could see the men and women of New Chicago murmuring in agreement through the holoscreens, and he saw by the confident look in their eyes that he had given them the answer they wanted to hear.

“I promise, I will never let anything happen to you” he added quietly.


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15 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 3:51 pm

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As I said many times on WF, this is an awesome work! Ellie Badge for every post here! Smile


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16 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 3:55 pm

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Thank you! Ellie badge in return, for the nice words and for being a long time reader of CYOW ^^ + Badge


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17 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 12, 2009 5:07 pm

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CYOC, I guess Wink
And thanks Smile


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18 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:15 pm

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Now, Chapter 14. It was not, let me tell you, an easy chapter to write, because it was so packed with emotions, and save for WALL-E and EVE's own, they were not positive emotions at all - fear, distrust, rage. They are the emotions of frightened people trapped between the source of their fears on one side and the unknown on the other. See, that's what I mean when I say that WALL-E and EVE for me represent hope. They are pure souls, who find the strength to look up on adversities and doubts in their unswerving love for each other. So, when confronted with a scene like the one they assist to, they feel at a loss - like all of us have probably felt at least once in our life, in front of situations we can't understand. What shocks them more is that the humans, unlike them, can't seem to think 'It is the way it is. But we still have each other. That's what matters'. It was a soul-draining chapter to plot and to write - but the hopeful note at the ending, I think, is what really made it worth telling.
Lots of Pixar homages in this one - from the Incredibles (WALL-E's "thoughts" to EVE just before the argument), Finding Nemo (Cale's "just because you're afraid of the past" line), A Bug's Life (the words of the sallow-faced woman) and, particularly on-topic with this fanbase, from Up (the elderly couple are visually inspired to the old Carl and Ellie Wink Carl Ellie )

°°°°° Chapter 14 °°°°°


WALL-E was listening the Captain with a tense expression. It was not their safety that worried him; he had no doubt McCrea meant what he had said about protecting them. But now the thought of evacuation had brought up another matter which the waste allocator had not considered before.

::Eeeevah…?:: he murmured, pulling out his lighter. He fumbled with it and finally managed to flick it on.

It was only a small blaze, the faintest flash of orange and yellow against her dark eyescreen. But it warmed her heart. EVE smiled as she thought back to the first time she had flicked on the lighter, almost by mistake. She had been so mesmerized by the dancing spark not to notice that WALL-E was just as entranced - not by the flame, but by her.

Then WALL-E moved his eyes up and down as he had on the Axiom.

::Trrrck:: he burbled, struggling to speak under her questioning gaze. ::Trrrck::

It was a good moment before EVE understood. ::Truck:: she repeated, and realization flashed across her eyescreen. You’re worried about our home, aren’t you?

He nodded eagerly. Home – that was it. Not just the truck, but all their treasures, their tape, and Hal, with whom he had lived for so long. WALL-E felt that losing all that would have been tantamount to losing a part of their life together. He could not just… let it go. Because letting go and forgetting were one and the same thing – that was the problem. WALL-E did not want to forget a single moment of his life with EVE. Not again.

Will everything go back to normal when the weather clears up?, his eyes asked. All our things, our affections - will they be there?

EVE had no answer for that. She looked pensively out of the window. Would their things be there, indeed?

The truck had protected WALL-E for a good seven hundred years, yes, but rain had been nowhere so frequent in the first centuries. And although thunderstorms had occurred well before and well after humanity returned to Earth, this time there was something different. They both could feel it in the air, in the Captain’s words – especially in that word, tornado, which the humans dreaded so. This time, something huge was whipping up.

With a small sigh, WALL-E clasped his hand around EVE’s sleek white fin. ::Eeeevah:: he whispered, his love for her shining through his eyes. Although the concern still lingered in his voice, uttering her name brought him a sense of solace. It was almost as if EVE’s name, her smile, her very presence were a source of bold, bright light that could pierce even the darkest cloud. ::Di-rect-ive:: he chimed, not taking his gaze off her. I don’t know what will happen, his eyes were saying. But, Eeeevah – so long as we’re together, what can happen? He tangled his fingers with hers, and EVE protectively placed her other fin over their joined hands. You are my strength. Whatever we lose, we will rebuild together.

EVE smiled softly. No matter what.


Perhaps she would have wanted to say something else, but before she could, several humans suddenly broke in a loud, furious altercation. WALL-E and EVE were astonished by the anger in their voices. When had they started arguing like that?

“… just because you are afraid of the past!” Cale was shouting. “How are we ever going to learn anything from our mistakes, if we act as though they didn’t happen?”

“Have you gone crazy? Returning… moving back in the Axiom?” his aunt screeched.

Acciom!” Russell gurgled, trying out the sound.

“Now wait a minute, Cale…” Mary protested, with a reproachful expression that said, ‘If you don’t calm down…’ But Cale was not going to calm down. The others were behaving as if the Axiom was a chasm that they dared not cross. Why they can’t see things for what they are?, he thought grimly. Why it must always be something more or something less? Somehow, he was not thinking just about the Axiom there.

The Captain tried to talk over the choir of angry voices.

“Look, it’s not--”

“Come to think of it, Cale’s idea isn’t so wrong” interjected a dark-skinned young woman. She was frowning, as though not quite sure what to make of it all. “It’s not like we have to fly the Axiom farther than to the other side of the coast, right? We can simply park it there and wait for the storm to pass. It’s not the same as…”

“You must be out of your head!” snapped an tall, thin, middle-aged man. “I’m not closing myself in that infernal ship again! I’d much rather drown!”

“Would you?” a raspy voice asked. An elderly couple had moved closer to Cale – the man squat and slightly hunched with age, the woman lanky and tall and silver-haired, her long hair pulled back neatly in a braid. It came as a surprise for Cale; had not expected that old people, who had wasted their entire life on the Axiom and had perhaps more reasons than anyone else to resent it, would take his side. “Somehow I don’t think you’d be singing the same tune, were you really on the brink of drowning” the older main said to the middle-aged one. “If we were about to plummet to death, wouldn’t we all eagerly grasp onto the hand – any hand – reaching out to help?”

“Nonsense!” shouted a boy around Cale’s own age, dark as Cale was fair.

“Not at this price!”

Price?” Cale snorted. “Don’t be a fool! What do we risk? We’re not the same people who slumbered in space for years! We have changed, we have a different mentality now! Even if we seek shelter in the Axiom for once, it’s not going to addle…”

“Will you just listen…” McCrea interjected. But no one seemed to be listening him. The man spun furiously on Cale, his eyes flaring with rage.

“What will we do when the next emergency comes? What will we do then? Seek refuge on the Axiom ‘once' again? And what of the next emergency after that? And the next? How long will it take, before we start to think that after all it’s much safer inside the ship than outside? And you know where such reasoning leads, boy!”

Cale clenched his fists until all color drained from his knuckles. Boy. The barb had hit home. He began to protest, but a sallow-faced woman with shadows under her eyes cut in:

“Have you forgotten what it nearly cost us to live on the Axiom? Our hope, our dignity – our lives! How can you ask us to pretend that all that does not matter?”

“Perhaps you are too young to remember what the Axiom has done to us all” Karen hissed through her teeth. “But…”

“It’s just a ship!” Cale shouted. “A damned ship, aunt! It’s not alive!

“Tell that to them!” raged the man in his middle years, striding up to WALL-E and dragging him forward. Instinctively, WALL-E cubed up. He did not like arguments. Neither between robots, nor between humans. It was too much for him – too much loud sounds, too much anger, too much shouting – just too much. EVE flew at his side with concern, as the man yelled: “Tell them how safe the Axiom is, Cale – after WALL-E nearly got killed under that Holodetector!”

He had not meant to upset her, she knew. But those words were like a slap in the face for EVE. Was it not bad enough that she could not forget a minute of it all? Was it not bad enough that her torment, that the atrocious wait, that WALL-E’s lifeless eyes crumbling in pieces were the only things she saw all the way in her work hours, whenever she passed near the Axiom? Flinching with sadness, she lowered her head as if he had hit her.

WALL-E’s eyes emerged from his cube. ::Eeeevah…?:: He wheeled closer to her and placed a hand on her fin. Shhh, he would have wanted to say. It’s all right, Eeeevah. I’m here. Disconcerted, he looked around the shelter to see if someone else had noticed. Karen was talking to Mary in high, angry tones. The middle-aged man glared challengingly at Cale. And Cale was...

WALL-E met his stare, saw the look of sheer mortification in his eyes.

“EVE… no, look, it’s only… we were just…” Cale muttered apologetically. Then, turning sharply to the man of middle age, he shouted: “Look what your prattles have done now!” And he furiously shoved him away.

You…” snarled the man, throwing himself at Cale.

Enough!” bellowed Captain McCrea, his voice amplified by the holoscreens. “Stop this! Cale! Thomas! Everyone in Shelter Three! Stop this at once!” Never had the settlers heard him – seen him – lose patience like that. He had never shouted to them before. At once, all the other voices in the shelter died down. John and two fellows made their way between Cale and the man named Thomas, separating them. WALL-E could only shake his head in disbelief.

“Perhaps I got a little dragged away” panted the middle-aged Thomas. “But all the same…”

“What are you afraid of?” Cale retorted. “That you can’t resist the lure of a hoverchair? Is that it, Thomas?!”

Cale! That will do!”

McCrea leaned forward. His mouth was set in a firm line.

“Everyone, listen. All of you, from all five shelters. This is what we’ll do. If we’ll have to evacuate, you will be moved into the escape pods. It’s not that big a deal – heavens know we’ve lived there before.” Murmurs of agreement followed those words; Thomas turned to cast a triumphant glance at Cale.

“Our goal,” the Captain continued, “is to assign one escape pod for family. This might not always be possible, though. If you got separated from a family member and they’re not in the same shelter as you are, don’t worry – you will be reunited after the escape pods land.”

“That’s speaking” nodded the woman with sallow skin.

The Captain remained silent for a few instants. This had been the easy part – now came the difficult.

“Very well. Now, about the Axiom…” It was as though that name, Axiom, had suddenly cast a spell on everyone listening. An icy silence fell over the shelters. “We’re not moving back there” the Captain hurried to explain, “but please understand that we might need to resort to the regenerative food buffet in the next weeks – perhaps even in the next month – until we can sort out just how much damage the crops have suffered.”

A moment of protracted silence. Then Karen’s voice piped up.

“I’m not having any of that --”

“The regenerative food buffet will be reprogrammed to factory-new settings” McCrea interrupted her. “You won’t have to eat gruels in a cup anymore. You – all of you – will be provided with real food.” This time the buzz of voices did not sound nearly as convinced. The Captain raised his voice again. “It’ll only be for a little while, in addition to our supplies of dried goods. I’m on my way to the Axiom right now, to see what can be done about it.”

Now?” asked Jeff and Robertson at once, behind him.

“If not now, when? After the weather gets worse?” was the Captain’s sharp response. He turned to the holoscreens again. “Ryan, Cale – I’ll need your help with the reprogramming there. Bring a BRL-A with you - and we'll take the EVE probes along as well.” EVE looked up at these words. “You girls will be to park the escape pods out of the shelters. No point in waiting. If we won’t have to move the people in safety, all the best. But it won't hurt to be prepared, just in case.”

Karen flashed a resentful glance at her nephew.

“Well – now you’ll be happy” she said bitterly. “You're returning in that hell you like so much…”

“It’s the use we did of the Axiom that was wrong, aunt!” he snapped. “Not the ship!”

Karen’s eyes flared.

“You speak just like the Capta…”

“I said enough!” the Captain roared. Cale said nothing; he just looked at Karen with a mix of exasperation and contempt. Then he turned to the nearest holoscreen and saluted.

“I’ll be on my way, sir.”

::Captain…:: EVE flew closer to the holoscreen. She was clutching WALL-E’s hand, and had the most hopeful look in her blue LED eyes. She looked from McCrea to WALL-E, then back to McCrea. ::Directive:: she uttered.

Can I… Can WALL-E come with me?

The Captain could see that question in her eyes, as clearly as if she had talked. He could see her reluctance too, the inner struggle of her fears and regrets against the order she had just received. Asking her to return on the Axiom, even if just for a hour, was asking her a lot. McCrea would not be the only one facing his demons on the grounded starliner.

And yet she knew, like he did, where her duty laid - she was up for it. Because it was what had to be done. She, just like him…

She did not ask but one thing in return.

Of course” he said, smiling in spite of himself, “you can take WALL-E along.”


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19 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Tue Dec 15, 2009 11:09 am

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To not repeat my own words on WF - just + Badge
(especially remembering that I've run out of words Laughing )


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20 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Tue Dec 15, 2009 4:16 pm

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Too kind Laughing
I think I might want take a break though, at least for the rest of the holiday season. As I said, this chapter drained me emotionally, and I need to recharge for the next one.
.... pffft, who am I trying to fool? Razz At this point in the events I've got so involved in the story that I'll only be able to draw a breath after I get to tell the first big plot twist I've been keeping on hold for so long. Razz The next chapters (from three to five, not yet sure) are begging to be typed as soon as possible Laughing


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21 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:53 pm

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lol Can't wait for them! Smile


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22 Re: Chart Your Own Course on Thu Dec 31, 2009 3:42 pm

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The new installment is another lengthy chapter, longer even than Chapter 14, though not quite the emotional rollercoaster than Chapter 14 has been. But it contains some pretty sweet scenes, introduces a new character who will have her own story in the story, and brings back - as FREDD-E guessed - an old character that we had not seen for some chapters now Razz Focusing in turn on four different groups of characters, as not just their actions, but their very destinies all verge toward the Axiom, was a thrilling experience as a writer. Got any idea what it's like to feel like you're the puppetmaster, holding in your hands the strings of time, of coincidences and of the character actions (and reactions!) as you lead them exactly where you want them to go? Quite a responsability! At this point of the events there's no more room for improvisation. Everything - the characters words, their thoughts, their glances, their gestures, what they say or what they decide not to say - is linked together in a play of cause and effect, that will lead the character to take certain decisions, sometimes to take chances - and sometimes, too, to make very wrong choices. I'm so looking forward to your reactions, not just to this chapter, but to the next, and the next after it, and the next after the next. And the next. Even more, I'm so looking forward to write them, to live them with you who have followed my story for so long Smile Smile Smile Can you sense a "Finding Nemo" moment building up between Russell and Karen? 'cause it definitely is building.

I'm very grateful to this thread on WALL-E Forum(http://walleforum.com/index.php?topic=606.0) for giving me the idea that EVE probes could have differently colored eyes. A special thanks also goes to the forum chat, especially Xisl and WALL-E Dragon, for their helpful advices on how to describe the sound that EVE makes when flying.

Happy New Year! Smile

°°°°° Chapter 15 °°°°°

“It won’t take long” said Cale, smiling reassuringly at WALL-E and EVE. “Come, BRL-A” he added, with a nod to the unit he had rescued from the attentions of little Russell.

WALL-E noticed that Cale was careful not to meet the eyes of any other human in the shelter. He spoke with a casual tone, shrugged nonchalantly, smiled and talked as if nothing had happened– but it was only a false ease. His awkward movements and forced smile told a different story.

“Be careful” said John with an effort, as no one else seemed about to say that – not even Cale’s aunt. The younger man just nodded.

“I’ll take good care of them, don’t worry about that.”

“I mean take care of yourself, too” John remarked. Though he still sounded annoyed by the earlier argument, his voice was not unkind. But somehow his disapproving concern riled Cale even more than Karen’s tight-lipped hostility did. Right now he did not need a father figure, no matter how well-meaning. He needed someone to realize that his idea to seek refuge in the Axiom had not been just the fantastic whimsy of a child, but simple common sense.

His aunt’s words still raked. Perhaps you were too young to remember. Was this what everybody thought? That just because his memories of that time were somewhat dim, then he failed to see how very wrong their lifestyle on the ship had been? Cale might have not lived it all firsthand maybe, but he was not stupid – or was that what they saw him as? In a matter of hours, he had changed from child to fool in their eyes. They always had to talk you down, one way or another – there was no getting around it…

He nodded scornfully at John’s words. If he had known just what he was getting himself into, perhaps he would have appreciated them more. As of it, they only seemed to add up to his delusions.

With a last glance at his aunt’s stubbornly turned back, Cale strode outside, flanked by EVE on one side and the BRL-A on the other. WALL-E hesitated on the threshold just a moment longer. His sad eyes took in the other humans with a pitying expression; he shook his head as if to say, I don’t understand. Then he, too, rolled out in the rain.

They make their lives so difficult, he thought, sighing to himself.


Karen did not turn when she heard the automatic door close after Cale, BRL-A, EVE and WALL-E. She was still fuming at the tactless way her nephew had suggested to retreat on the Axiom, of all places. She would have thought Cale had better sense than that.

Foolish child!, she seethed. And for a moment she told herself, not without some exasperation, that perhaps the carelessness was a family thing. Her husband had been just the same – so stupidly brave. Ronald ought not to have died that young, not when people like Captain O’Brien were still alive in their late hundreds. Karen felt that her husband should have been indoors, not outside in that sandstorm. He should not have left her a widow of forty, with a young kid to raise.

She felt that his familiars were inconsiderate – risk-takers. They took chances in all things. And they could be so easily blinded by their spirit of adventure, that they often forgot caution. Perhaps it had not been that good an idea to tie herself with one of them, she thought. She had loved Ronald beyond all reasons, she still did – but she was also concerned that their son might turn out to be just as careless as him or Cale. Her only hope was that Russell would take after her side of the family more.

“Mama, go chip?” her toddler now asked. He has followed his cousin’s departure with avid eyes over his mother’s shoulder. Cale always got to do such interesting things. By the little Russell could understand, his cousin would go where no other man had ever gone before – for that was what the Axiom seemed to him – with not one, but three robots in tow.

His mother snapped: “No, Russell! I told you – we’re not going!”

Russell’s eyes were the living portrait of dismay.

“Go chip…?” he tried again – pointing. “Acciom!” he added, with a toothy smile.

“No, Russell – don’t insist!”

Al go Acciom!” Russell protested, and he thought angrily, why she lets cousin Al go but not me? Voluble like most children, his admiration of Cale was turning just as quickly in jealousy. It was because Cale was a grown-up, right? It had to be so; grown-ups could do everything they liked. And if someone told them no, they just went on and did what they liked anyway. It was unfair!

“Your cousin’s a…” Karen caught her lip between her teeth, holding back the word – fool. “…. He’s an adult. He can do these things” she said hastily, confirming Russell’s suspects.

“Mama!” he yelled in outrage. “Chip! Go chip!

“I told you no! And don’t shout to me like that!” Karen snapped. She untangled his arms from her neck and curtly set him down on the ground. If he thought he was going to have his way just by behaving like a spoiled brat…

Red-faced, Russell broke in convulse sobs. “Bad mama!” he wailed, staggering away from Karen on shaky legs. He turned and ran blindly among the crowd, as far from her as he could.

Why is she so mean?, he thought, sobbing his heart out despairingly. It’s unfair! Cousin Al can do what he wants, and no one tells him anything! Too young to understand what an argument was, Russell had slept through most of the discussion in the shelter. But even if he had been awake, he would not have thought much of it. Because ultimately, his cousin had had his way while Russell had not.

In another moment, perhaps, hugging a robot would have cheered him a little. But right now the only robots that he would have liked to have around were the three who had headed out with Cale. Russell wanted to go with them more than anything. Distraught, the three years old curled up miserably into his knees, weeping for all he was worth.


Since his arrival, Ryan had neither complained nor asked a single question about the work at hand.

The roboticist was a lanky man of few words, with long red hair and hazel eyes. Tight-lipped he had always been, much to McCrea’s relief. He had no use for another loud, ugly scene like that between Thomas and Cale.

The wind slapped them fiercely across the face, and such was its might that the men had to hunch their shoulders in order not to be swept away. But despite their seeming frailty, the two BRL-As with them were unhinged by the great shuddering gusts.

Perfect time to be out here, thought the male BRL-A next to Ryan. It was in moments like these that it struck him just what a shallow existence they had led on the Axiom, where it never rained and the sun did not rise. Lovely weather, were it not for -- ah, no, there he goes again!

The Reject BRL-A near Captain McCrea had closed his canopy of just a few inches and then suddenly flung it open, dousing his fellow umbrella-bot for the sixth time in a row. Though the other robot had tried to put up with that nuisance at first, now he was beyond fed up. The single red optic on his eyescreen flickered scathingly. Just give it a rest, will you?!, his stormy expression said.

But the Reject did not even seem to register that the other BRL-A was glaring at him. Matter of fact, his thoughts were really only in tune with those of his fellow from the Repair Ward – and with…

Suddenly, it was as though the Reject had gone mad for good. He threw a quick look ahead of him and started opening and closing his umbrella so wildly as to whack not just the other BRL-A, but also McCrea and Ryan. Narrowing their eyes through the rain, the two humans could finally make out the reason of his behavior when they realized what it was that BRL-A had seen in the distance.

A small cluster of robots had just rounded a corner, with Cale striding briskly among them. McCrea could count five EVE probes, a female BRL-A, and WALL-E.

Now and then, EVE would steer away from the others, and indulge her sisters’ joyous whirls and back-flips in the sweeping rain. Despite his many worries, the Captain smiled to himself seeing them play so blissfully -- so uncomplicatedly -- as if there was nothing else in the world. But it was never long before WALL-E pulled her back under the BRL-A’s canopy, where it was safe. No, Eeeevah, stay here, said his loving eyes.

And EVE, who loved him more than she liked playing in the rain, and more than any robot might have possibly loved her partner, just flashed him a smile, gently holding onto his hand.

“Never seen a couple so devoted, I haven’t” Ryan said quietly. To that day, WALL-E and EVE’s love remained quite unparalleled. You would have thought more robots would fall in love in twenty years, and sometimes fallen in love they had. But when he looked at this particular couple, the roboticist had the distinct feeling that no one was, or would ever be, quite like them.

When he caught sight of BRL-A’s antics, WALL-E waved his arm. ::Yoo-hoo!:: Although the wind was too loud, and the music too feeble, still he pressed the play button of his recorder.

Beneath your parasol the world is all a smile…

He could tell at once that BRL-A had heard. His gesticulating grew wilder, and he opened and closed his canopy faster than before, almost as if he had been clapping. Exasperated, he BRL-A at his side rolled his optic to the heavens.

McCrea waved at Cale and his group. Ryan just nodded quickly.

“You had problems getting here, lad?” The Captain had to shout for his voice to carry over the roar of thunder. And even then, it barely carried over.

Cale shook his head around the same time as all five EVE probes floated to a halt, saluting.

“No, sir. But we saw some flooded drains on our way downtown.”

The Captain sighed. “It’s going to get worse, according to Robertson and other fellows at the Weather Service. I don’t know, lad. Sometimes…” he trailed off.

Cale’s eyes flashed in a rather curious manner. For a moment, he seemed about to say something. But the look passed as quickly as it had appeared, and the young man decided to keep quiet. Better not to bring up the matter in front of Ryan.

“I don’t see the other EVE probes” he said instead after a minute or two, looking around. He glanced sideway at the robots with him. “Are we – I mean, are these the first?”

“No, I sent the others ahead to the Axiom while we waited” replied the Captain. “Probe Four and Seven were in my shelter – came with me all along. And Nine and Ten were already with Ryan when I arrived.”

Cale was mentally doing the math. He frowned.

“Two, Three, Six and Eight caught up with us on the way” he said. “EVE here was in my same shelter… Where has Probe Five gone off to?”

“Hell if I know. You don’t think she…”

He was brought up short by a sweet, otherworldly chirr above his head. A mortified EVE probe, her eyes yellow, glided in front of the three men and saluted awkwardly. If she had been human, she would have flushed.

::D-Directive:: she breathed apologetically. She looked so distraught that Cale, McCrea, and even the taciturn Ryan all flashed encouraging smiles at her.

“So here’s our latecomer” said Cale, patting her smooth white head gently. “What took you so long, Five?”

Probe Five lowered her eyes. ::Sidetracked:: she replied. Beneath the men’ backs she could see her fellow EVE probes exchanging pitiful glances, which made her feel even worse. She could not help it if she was awfully clumsy – or if the relentless wind had jostled her back time and again on her way here. But putting her sisters to shame was the one thing she hated most. They never reproached her – on the contrary, they were in fact unspeakably kind – and yet Probe Five felt like she had only let them down a great deal all her life.

She could not look up. She could not meet their encouraging eyes, or the curious stares of the three BRL-As or – worse - of Probe One’s waste allocator. She just could not.

“Well, the important thing is that you’re here” Captain McCrea said confidently. “Come on, let’s get going.”

Ryan nodded. WALL-E waved at Probe Five and rolled away, holding EVE’s hand. Cale, the other EVE probes and the BRL-As all walked past.

The Repair Ward BRL-A and Probe Five followed at a slower pace. She was only barely aware of his presence, but he was looking down at her curiously, and not without some sympathy either.

All of sudden, she raised her yellow eyes. Raised them and raised them all the way to meet the stare of his red optic. Do you ever feel like you don’t quite belong anywhere?, she wanted to ask. Do you ever think there’s more to you than what comes across… like there’s something that you don’t really know how to show?

Probe Five was not sure what had come over her. Why would she talk her heart out to a robot she had met perhaps twice in her life? And a Reject, too! Unpredictable, bizarre things – Probe Five could not recall ever talking with one of them before. But now she desperately needed to unburden herself with someone, with anyone. He just happened to be the nearest robot at the time. And had he perhaps not stayed behind with her of his own accord, not because someone had told him to, but rather because he felt like it?

Of course, she could not exactly voice all the questions clustering her mind-- no more so than he could answer. There were only so many words she was able to utter. He did not even a speech synthesizer to speak of. What was she thinking? She was what she was. EVE probes were supposed to need someone to talk to. She could only look up at BRL-A with anguished eyes that would mean absolutely nothing for him. What a waste of time it had all been. Was she really so fool to believe that a Reject would understand her?

Slowly, as if trying to sort out his thoughts, BRL-A opened and closed his canopy once. It was a kind of nod. I know you’re sad, said his red optic.

Probe Five stared at him with surprise. Too incredulous to see where she was going, she almost tumbled over a higher heap of trash.


After leaving the Captain, BRIDGET had continued to fly. Onward and onward, driven not by purpose but by sheer frustration. She had pushed herself throughout the storm, flying steadily against the strong winds, and then she had soared even higher and watched as the dark clouds unrolled underneath her. Just how far she wanted to fly, BRIDGET did not know; all she knew was that she wanted to keep flying.

But on the long run it had only exhausted her body and strained her wings. Maybe she could fly all the way to the stars, to the space that she had patrolled relentlessly for so long -- but what for? Without a directive to follow, the space was no more a home to her than this planet was. She could wear herself out and fly until she left everything behind, but even that would not put her inner turmoil to rest.

In the end, she had dived toward the ground, and for a moment she had thought how easy it would have been to disable her anti-gravs and just let that end it all. For what other possible future was there ahead of her other than feeling each and every day pass without a purpose? How long it would take before being useless became being dismantled? Perhaps a nosedive was the quickest way out of the shallow existence she was leading on this planet.

But when she had seen the ground draw closer and closer, BRIDGET had simply chickened out. She had propelled herself upward and glided to a stop, while the rain pelted down on her aerodynamic blue and white chassis.

She ought to return to her alleyway, she knew – but for some reason she just did not feel like it. Too many thoughts were clinging to her that could not quite sort out. Instead, she had directed herself toward the familiar shape of the starliner, and sought shelter under the curve of the hull. It was like stumbling on an old friend that you had not seen in ages. Like seeking comfort in the arms of a lover.

A curtain of water crashed all around her, as though she had been hiding in the cave scoured behind a waterfall. BRIDGET did not mind the noise much; she found it that it underlined the tempestuous trail of her thoughts rather nicely.

I wish that we had dismantled it right after landing, the human woman had said. BRIDGET laughed scornfully. Would the next step have been her own dismantling? For she was no more of use than the Axiom or Auto, and just like them, not by her own deficiency but by the humans’ choice.

A wreck, the Captain had said. BRIDGET felt her anger rise like venom at the thought of the wincing shrug of the shoulders that he had given her, when she had confronted him about his words. Vile, hypocrite…

She had been brought up short when something small and pearly white had darted at lightning speed past the Axiom hull, on the other side of the water curtain. It was not small enough to be one of those winged creatures that littered the skies of Earth, and to a closer zoom it had revealed itself a purple eyed EVE probe.

BRIDGET had instinctively withdrew further below the hull. She did not want to be seen; even the presence of another robot was insufferable to her, at the moment. The probe, however, had not paid the slightest attention to her surroundings, and neither had her three fellow units who had presently reached their sister.

From her hiding place, where she could see without being seen, BRIDGET had observed with diffidence. They seemed to enjoy being outdoors, and leapt in the rain like as many little dolphins. Now and then, their argentine giggles could be heard even through the crashing water.

How can they be so – unperturbed?, BRIDGET thought with envy. Of course, they still had their directives alright. But now they were not scanning the ground for plant life as by their programming, and yet they were not in the slightest as appalled as she was by that inactivity. On the contrary, they seemed to cherish those hours stolen from their directives.

BRIDGET shook her head in disbelief. It made no sense.

She had watched them play for what seemed an eternity. And then, from the curtain of falling water, she had seen something else in the distance that made her eyes narrow.

Several other robots were arriving, together with – was it three? – humans. How odd, BRIDGET thought. Humans never ventured this close to the Axiom. They were perfectly oblivious to it – unseeing, devil-may-care hypocrites all worked up around their new town, like as many ants in the anthill. What could possibly take them there, and in such a weather too?

BRIDGET’s frown deepened as she recognized the Captain among them. The mollified sound of her voice infuriated her just as it had during their last talk. She had never seen the other two men, but one of the robots, rolling alongside them, suddenly rang a bell in her head. Ah, so it’s him again – the resident hero. And she must be his partner, she mused, seeing how he never left the hand of an EVE probe with sparkling blue eyes.

Only a few nights before she had watched them fly over her alleyway in their nightly dance. And only the morning before that, he had crashed against BRIDGET while she was staring at the Axiom, lost in her thoughts. She wondered if he would recall her at all.

BRIDGET would have normally not been surprised to see them about. But seeing them near the Axiom she had not expected, and once more she asked herself - here? Why here?

They were nearing the docking bay. The Captain and the younger man did most of the talking, while the red-haired fellow was remarkably silent. The rest of the company was made of all the ten EVE probes, three BRL-As, and the town’s hero.

There was something odd – yes, definitely something odd in the air. Surely a posse of robots and humans did not show up all of sudden on the Axiom’s doorsteps for no reasons.

The humans were not to know of her presence there, alright. She had no desire for another talk with that lenient Captain or with those men who, for all she knew, might feel just as strongly against the Axiom as that woman had. But one way or another, she was going to see into this matter.

Frowning, BRIDGET silently floated closer.


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