Stony Plains. Vast, desolate, broken only by the dagger-like mountains peeking up on the horizon.
Lately there had been more and more mechanical creatures scouring the moors. Back in Greenland’s labs the wealth of samples helped them uncover no fewer than ten types of advance weapons built into their construction. They ranged from low-grade stun prods to laser cannons; from particle shields to force fields. Technology of this grade was confounding to most wasteland scientists.
If they could uncover the mysteries of this technology, it would immediately benefit the Green Alliance in any number of ways, but especially in combat. But right now the priority was discovering who or what was controlling these things.
There were theories being passed around the lab water coolers. It was largely determined that the first attack on the base was a test of the settlers' ability to defend themselves. That first group was the old generation of robots.
Stony Plains definitely had more advanced robots out there. When the second and third waves came for the manufacturing site, the camp’s defenses alone likely wouldn’t be strong enough to protect them.
Bug had been burning the midnight oil, working as hard and as fast as she could to create the tracking beacon Hellflower had ordered.
To make sure that there would be little chance of failure, she made three such transponders and installed them in different robots. Assistants packed the creatures into boxes and Bug personally escorted them through the portal near the God Tree.
Incredible. She didn’t think that moving through dimensions would be so… easy.
Bug couldn’t help but admire leader Cloudhawk’s abilities, but she shook it off and orders her helpers to get to work. A few moments later a group of enormous birds descended upon her party. These were no ordinary birds, of course, but genetically altered wargs who possessed heightened intelligence.
“You are the scientist from Greenland?” The Wendigo King presented himself before Bug. “Where is Hellflower? She is leaving such an important task to some child?”
In the face of the frightening and powerful Wendigo King, Bug couldn’t hide the fear in her face. This was an important and mighty member of their alliance. To Bug, who had no fighting ability to speak of, he was a terrifying presence. However, she did not back down and instead pulled back her shoulders. “I am a junior scientist working for Greenland’s robotics laboratory. I’m no child!”
The Wendigo King scowled. He wasn’t going to waste time on this nonsense. “So what is the next step?”
“We have three robot creatures that have been fitted with transponders. We release them back into the plains. We expect that they will return to wherever it is they go for repairs. In theory we should be able to follow the signal of their transponders to this nest, but our technology is limited. The range of the beacons is not very far and if you let them get away from you, you’ll lose the signal.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“That’s why we’ve prepared three of them. Stony Plains is comprised of flatlands, once the creatures get their bearings they will follow the straightest path to their destination. We release the beasts in different locations and use their trajectory to triangulate where they’re headed.”
Bug punctuated this by producing a map of Stony Plains. She took out a charcoal pencil from her clothing and marked three circles.
“I would like to ask your excellency Wendig King to have our beast friends delivered to these three positions. They should be released at about the same time. The rest, leave to us.”
The Wendigo King regarded the child with new eyes. Not being the chatty type, he waved his hand and ordered his people to begin. The boxes were loaded onto the backs of the birds and strapped in. They then beat their enormous wings and took off toward their destinations.
The wargs dropped off their payloads and vacated the areas.
Timed locks had been installed on the boxes, so after a set period they all released at the same time. The beasts inside were freed and immediately clambered from their prisons.
Each one of the specimens had been badly damaged by fighting. But not bad enough to put them out of commission. Still, the damage was extensive enough that they were no longer a danger. If they weren’t repaired quickly they wouldn’t last long out in the plains. Without even a moment’s hesitation, the creatures set off toward their goal.
Bug poured over the small terminal she carried, interpreting the data. It showed as three points of light gradually tracing three lines toward a central position. Once they got about a thousand-five hundred kilometers from the camp, the already weak signal vanished. 
Bug busily added the information into the algorithm they’d designed and calculated a destination. Judging by what they knew, all three lines would converge at a location roughly four thousand kilometers away. That was where they were headed, their repair facility. Once the data was collected, interpreted and summarized, it was delivered to Cloudhawk.
Cloudhawk took the report, and was surprised when he looked it over.
The settlers had only been active in an area about fifty kilometers around the manufacturing plants. This report was telling him their target was four thousand kilometers away.
What’s more, that was just their initial data. They had no way of knowing whether what they were really looking for was at that location or not, not until they went for themselves. Since they knew so little about the environment and terrain it would be stupid to simply rush off. Cloudhawk decided it would be wisest for him to check it out himself. After all, no one could move faster than him and he was confident he could handle any danger that revealed itself.
He set off. Using his teleportation abilities, Cloudhawk arrived at the location in half a day. He swept his eyes across an expanse of five hundred kilometers into the distance… and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The same monotonous, barren landscape as anywhere else.
“Oddball, you’re up.”
Cloudhawk waved his hand and Oddball took off. The bird shot a thousand meters into the air, fast as a bullet. Through their mental connection Cloudhawk was suddenly able to scan the area with a keen bird’s eye view. Oddball’s beady eyes glowed with golden power as suddenly they were able to pierce through obstructions. Obstacles were clear as glass.
As he looked through Oddball’s eyes, Cloudhawk was surprised to discover a strange mountain in the distance. It was a huge part of the landscape, easily the size of a city. But what was strange about it was that the entire mountain was metallic. Judging by the details it looked to be a holdover from ancient times.
Large numbers of robots shuffled in and out of a number of opening at the base of the mountain. Unless Cloudhawk was mistaken, this mountain was probably an ancient city that was somehow still functioning here.
But for such a large place to continue working for so long… it would require a huge amount of energy, wouldn’t it?
The mountain, as it turned out, was like a giant nest. The robots skittering in and out were like ants. After leaving they would gather energy from the sun and other materials from the earth – sometimes even consuming it from one another – then brought back to the nest when their stores were full.
The nest then used this energy to continue production, repair the machines, maybe recycle them and then make new machines from the parts. Afterwards they were sent back out to start the process all over again. This primitive method had kept the nest powered and operational for thousands of years.
Over time, the robots had seen continuous improvements. They were far more sophisticated now than they were generations ago. Different shapes and shells were developed, until this world was overrun with a mechanical ecosystem.
The question remained…
What was in this nest? Did it have some sort of overarching intelligence running the show? Cloudhawk could tell just by looking at the nest that it was a complicated place. The inside was likely a maze of passageways, no different from an anthill.
That didn’t seem to parse with their incredible manufacturing capabilities.
But that didn’t matter to Cloudhawk. Once he was inside and managed to get a better look at things, all would be revealed. He called Oddball back before the two gradually vanished from view. Invisible, Cloudhawk made his way toward the monster’s nest.