It was deathly quiet in Bloc 217. M-918 emerged from the darkness, marching down the narrow walkway atop Terminus. His face was stoic and his steps heavy, purposeful. His uniform immediately identified him as some kind of military officer.
“Sir, sorry to interrupt, but the search team hasn’t checked in. It’s been six days now,” M-918 said to President Tarrabia, his voice discouraging. “We aren’t sure how close the search team made it to those lights.” M-918 pointed across the horizon at a cluster of dim blue lights that glowed brilliantly against the ominous night sky. He hesitated as though he was considering his words, then continued: “All of their sensors have gone offline. That means their energy systems have failed. It means that they have failed. ”
Sending LB-231s on search expeditions outside of Bloc 217 wasn’t unheard of, but the teams usually made it back in one piece. The fact that this team hadn’t returned was alarming.
President Tarrabia’s face twisted with rage, his jaw muscles flexed. He gripped the handrail along the edge of Terminus as though he was squeezing someone’s neck.
M-918 clocked this. He took a cautious step back from President Tarrabia, grabbed the handrail himself.
“So recover their bodies then!” President Tarrabia barked. “We can’t have our technology falling into the hands of pilgrims who are committed to destroying us.”
Pilgrims were, to President Tarrabia, everyone that lived outside of Bloc 217. They were a nuisance and often times threatened Bloc 217’s reconstruction efforts.
M-918 thrummed his fingers against the railing, looking over the edge of the wall, eyeing the pockmarks in the walls façade before settling on the pile of rubbish at the foot of the wall--fifty feet below. Pilgrims have tried over the years to break through the wall, but none has succeeded in creating anything more than a few chips on the outside wall. Pilgrims’ weapons were archaic, rendering the damage they inflicted less than minimal.
But M-918 wasn’t reflecting on the Pilgrims. He was imaging what would happen if he gave President Tarrabia the wrong answer. Tossed overboard! After all, it wasn’t unheard of for President Tarrabia to lash out when someone didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.
“The team’s last communique was at 1436 when K-423 stated that he had experienced a surge in electromagnetic pulses,” M-918 said, proud that he’d rehearsed this part of his notes. “We sent an X-drone, but something disabled it shortly after it took flight.”
“Disabled it?” President Tarrabia demanded. “Why didn’t it return to base?”
“I don’t know. One minute, we had video and comm uplink. The next, the drone was on the ground. Something had brought it down intact,” M-918 carefully took a step back. “The next thing we saw were footsteps approaching the video camera. Then everything went black and it disappeared from radar.”
“Let me get this straight,” President Tarrabia studied M-918, purposefully blowing cigar smoke in his face. “Fifteen members of my elite search team disappeared trying to investigate what’s causing those fucking lights. And now you’re telling me that one of my drones is collateral damage, too?”
“That is correct, sir.”
“Tell me you have a plan to get my shit back. Tell me that you haven’t let some of my most sophisticated technology fall into the hands of those fucking pilgrims!”
“Well, I wouldn’t assume that it’s fallen into anyone’s hands,” M-918’s mouth immediately curled, wishing he hadn’t told the President not to make assumptions. “With all due respect, we know there are pockets of radiation out there that haven’t dissipated. It could be that the search team’s radiation detectors didn’t alert them to the presence of these pockets and perhaps they entered one. That could explain why we lost them all at once.”
President Tarrabia studied M-918. His explanation had made sense, but still, how could the radiation sensors have failed? Was M-918 saying that my technology was flawed?
“Why are we investigating those lights, anyway? Why aren’t we searching for resources?” President Tarrabia asked.
“If those lights indicate the existence of soldiers, which I believe they do, then we have to intercept them before they become a real threat to us.”
“And you deduced this from just the existence of those lights?” President Tarrabia asked, curious.
“Well, yes. We know that there shouldn’t be intelligent life that close to us. The nearest Bloc with any sophisticated technology is Bloc 18 and they are three thousand miles away.”
“So you think Bloc 18 is trying to encroach on us?” President Tarrabia asked, studying the blue lights on the horizon.
“Either they have run out of resources and are going to make a run on your Bloc, or...” M-918 paused.
“Or what?” President Tarrabia demanded.
“Or the pilgrims have figured out how to reactivate the old Malmstrom Air Force Base.”
“Malmstrom? That base fell two hundred years ago.”
“Yes, but there was a nuclear arsenal underneath that base that was left intact. If they’ve discovered that, and found the other munitions on that base, then we may have a real problem on our hands.”
President Tarrabia paced up Terminus, tossing his cigar over the edge. He stopped, turned back and walked toward M-918, stopping close to him.
“Then terminate that base. Turn it to glass!” President Tarrabia ordered. “Have an X-drone fry the surface!”
“Sir, if we did that and accidentally detonated the nuclear arsenal, it would be nuclear winter for all of us. There would be no surviving that.”
“Then what, Colonel? What the fuck do you suggest since everything I suggest you have a rebuttal for?” President Tarrabia had moved uncomfortably close to M-918. “What is your genius solution?”
“We need to deploy Falcon. He’s the only solution to something this complex.”
The two men stood silently, studying each other.
“Deploy him to do what exactly? Destroy the pilgrims? Or to investigate those damn lights you’re obsessing over?”
M-918 studied the dim blue lights in the distance for a beat, then looked back at President Tarrabia.
 After the Thomas event, and after the world fell into disrepair, cities and towns broke from their parent countries and referred to themselves as self-governed Blocs. Great Falls, Montana, in the middle of the country and somehow only lightly affected by the global destruction, became known as Bloc 217. It was one of a handful of Blocs in the world that were on a steady path to reconstruction. It was also the home of Digix’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities. Bloc 217 was able to keep looters and vagabonds out of Bloc 217 by constructing a fifty-foot tall concrete wall around their entire border. This wall became known as Terminus and was an impermeable membrane protecting the Subsisters--the residents of Bloc 217.
 After the Thomas event, all LB-231s had earned the right to be referred to as he or she. They did not, however, earn the right to have a personalized name. They were still referred to as their trademarks.
 X-drones were autonomous drones that patrolled the skies above Bloc 217 and patrolled Terminus’ perimeter. They operated silently by manipulating Earth’s gravitational fields to create propulsion and lift. They were supposed to be indestructible. If there was an emergency situation, they were programmed to either self-destruct or to return to base, if they were able to.