Lucy knew it wouldn’t do her much good, but she started to crawl away anyway, determined to do whatever she could to get away from the bouncer the robot had just made, since she doubted she’d be able to get out once she was in the thing. The crib had been hard enough to escape from… This looked even worse.
Of course, the robot was able to catch up with her in no time, given its size, and her weakened legs, though Lucy did get far enough. The robot reached down and grabbed her, turning her around to tell her, “It is all right, little one. I know babies such as you can get cranky. Mommy is not upset.”
It began to pull her in closer, giving Lucy a chance to swing the branch she’d grabbed, clubbing the robot in the side of the head as hard as she could, glad neither this machine, or its husband, had leeched power from her arms. Even then, she worried it wouldn’t do her any good, despite the branch itself splitting in half, that the robot was strong enough that it would barely feel the blow, but, thankfully, she felt its grip on her loosen, allowing her to squirm free and begin crawling again.
“That is very naughty,” the robot called from behind her, its voice sounding a little slower, more mechanical, at first. “You are lucky my husband is not here.”
Had she actually injured it? She tried glancing behind herself to see, though, in her hurry, it was hard to make out much. If she kept that up, and the robot didn’t wise up, maybe she could break it, get past it that way… She really didn’t want to do that, though. Sure, these robots had been pests, and were making her journey far harder than it needed to be, and yet…
If only the robot wasn’t between her and the depths of the woods, where the end of the rainbow was waiting. Maybe she’d bought herself enough time with the branch to crawl around the robot and deeper into the forest, but heading directly towards the thing seemed like a terrible idea, given how big the automatons were, and how quickly she’d seen them move when they needed to.
As if it wanted to prove that very thing, the machine lumbered towards her, closing the distance Lucy had created between them in only a few steps, towering over the girl on the ground and bending forward, hands open. Lucy managed to squirm out of the way, twisting to keep a better eye on where it was, scooting along on her padded bottom in the leaves and dirt. It slowed her down, but, with the robot already so close, she doubted it truly made much of a difference.
“Please,” she begged, scrambling backwards blindly. “I promise, I’ll be good, just don’t put me in the bouncer…”
“Children must be disciplined,” the robot informed her. “I do not want you to grow up to be a spoiled brat.”
“I’m already grown up!” Lucy protested. “Well, technically…”
“It is fun to play pretend,” the robot said, “but play time is over for now, because of your behavior.”
The robot grabbed for her again, and, again, Lucy managed to duck out of the way, barely. She couldn’t keep this up for long, and, even if she could, she was already getting close to the edge of the forest, which meant, eventually, she’d hit the banks of the river, and be trapped.
Should she just give up? After everything she’d been through, it seemed crazy to throw in the towel now, but what choice did she have? The number of fallen branches she was close to, especially those big enough to potentially hurt the robot, probably wasn’t high enough to actually get the job done, even if she had the heart to try and cave its metal head in, and there were fewer and fewer of them the nearer she got to the forest’s edge. There might be some rocks outside of it, though they’d need to be pretty big, yet also small enough for her to throw.
This could be it… She might be stuck here, with this humongous robot, left to her mercy, while it slowly drained more and more of her body of feeling until she was essentially the baby it already thought her to be. She gulped, shaking her head, weakly crawling backwards, her motivation waning the more she thought about how useless resisting was at this point.
Then, she felt it. Her hand jumped back at first, thinking she’d found a rock – and not one big enough to damage the robot with at that – before recognizing the texture of wood, and the shape. She glanced beside herself, brushing aside the leaves she’d piled over the lock. The robot noticed her distraction and took advantage of it, reaching down, clamping its hands around her and lifting her up. Before she left the ground, Lucy grabbed something, too, unsure if it would help her, or if she was only clinging to it because it was the biggest thing she could get her hands on.
“I should probably spank you for that,” the robot told Lucy, holding her up in front of her red eye. “The forest can be a dangerous place for a little one like you. You must stay with Mommy.”
What was left of Lucy’s dignity wanted her to point out, yet again, that she was no ‘little one’, that she’d been through these woods countless times, even if it had never looked anything like it did today. Instead, almost instinctively, she heard herself sigh and mumble, “Yes, Mommy.” It was her default response when her actual mother lectured her, especially about things Lucy already knew. She was used to being treated like a little kid… It was mostly just the fact that this ‘mom’ was actually far larger than her that was different now.
“I will forgive you this time,” the robot said, bending down, pressing its metallic face to her forehead in what Lucy assumed was an approximation of a kiss. “But do not do it again. And I still have to put you in time out.”
“I know,” Lucy pouted, fidgeting with the item in her hand. Now that she was here, being held by the robot, it seemed so small and useless… What had she thought it was going to accomplish?! There weren’t any loops on the robot’s body she could hook it to – not that doing so would really matter – and, once she was in the bouncer, she wouldn’t be able to reach anything to use it on. The ropes stretched up high into the air, smooth and straight, with nothing she could use to pull herself back out.
She nearly dropped it onto the ground again, but, before she could, the robot spotted it. “What did you find?” it asked, transferring Lucy to one hand so the other could pluck it away, holding it up to its eye to examine it. It was silent for a few moments, almost as if it was having a problem processing what it saw.
When it spoke again, its voice sounded… different, somehow. Lucy wasn’t sure how it was possible, since both robots seemed to have the same vocal processing unit, which gave them very little variety in their tone, but it still sounded quieter, a tad less mechanical, in a way. “Where did you get this, little one? I recognize this work.”
Lucy gulped, trying, in vain, to read the robot’s expression. Was it happy to see it? Was it angry Lucy had it? Did it know this meant Lucy had crossed the bridge, the very thing it had been constructed to stop from happening? If it didn’t like her answer, it could easily crush her right then and there.
She decided to take a chance. “Y-Your husband asked me to bring that to you,” she said. “He made it for you.”
The robot stared at the lock in its hand again, at the beautiful, hand-carved heart. “How did you meet my husband, little one?” the robot asked, in the same, quieter tone of voice. This time, Lucy was almost certain she sensed an air of danger to it, sending a shiver down her spine, but it was too late to turn back now.
“L-Like I said, he sent me,” she told the robot. “He gave me that to prove he’d given me permission to cross the bridge, and so I could give it to you.”
“We are not allowed to let anyone cross the bridge,” the robot informed her.
“I know,” Lucy nodded. “B-But he couldn’t bear to be without you any more, so he sent me over to give you this, since he couldn’t come over himself.”
She could practically see the gears turning in the robot’s head, trying to decide what to do. After a long, tense moment, its hand curled around the heart, holding it to its chest. “I have missed him, too,” it said, the red light on its head turning off for a second, as if it was closing its eye, before coming back, brighter than ever. When it opened its hand, the lock was nowhere to be seen.
“Thank you for the delivery, little one,” the robot spoke, the voice different again, but stronger this time, clearer, slightly less robotic. “I have not had this much power since my husband and I were together. It is almost like he is with me now.”
“I-I can watch the bridge for you,” Lucy offered. “If you want to see him…” There had to be a way for the robots to get to one another, she thought, even if she didn’t know what it was herself.
“Nonsense. Ha ha ha,” the robot chuckled, its ‘ha’s sounding a bit more like there was actual amusement behind them than she’d heard from either of them before. “You are too small for that. You can come with me. We will look after you together.”
“W-Wait,” Lucy shook her head. “Y-You can’t do that… I-I mean, looking after a baby is a lot of work, and you still have to watch the bridge… I-I can take over for a little while, but…” It had been hard enough escaping from one of the robots at a time… Both at once seemed a nearly impossible task, especially if it also required her to crawl across the bridge again.
“We can be a family now,” the robot said, carrying her out of the forest. “We will do what we should have done from the beginning. My husband will chop down the bridge. If it is not there, nobody can cross it, and our job is finished. We can concentrate on caring for our new child.”
“No!” Lucy protested. She’d done it again, found a way to make an awful situation even worse… And, before she could think of a way to undo it, she heard a roar, saw jets of flame explode from behind the robot. She gasped, clinging to the robot as its hand drew her in, closer to its chest, and it began to raise into the air, higher and higher.
Lucy’s stomach turned, looking at the ground retreating beneath her, feeling more disturbed by that than she had by the river raging beneath that rickety bridge. There, she’d been scrambling to get across, to survive… Now, she was quite confident the robot wouldn’t let her fall, or run away, or ever be a grown-up again… Even if she could convince the other robot that she’d run away to get the lock to its wife, she imagined she would still be in for a spanking that night, before a new lock got carved to secure her into her crib for the night.
A moment later, however, the ground began to approach again as the robot landed with a soft thump. The red light of its eye faded slightly as it said, “I am sorry, little one. That carving restored some of my power, but it is not enough to carry you across the river. I would run out of power partway there.”
Lucy had to suppress a sigh of relief, although, in no time at all, she realized it didn’t matter anyway. If they were staying here, she was still probably going to be taken to time-out, and the robot had more power than ever, making her more difficult to escape from. Nothing had been solved, just changed around a little.
“B-But…” she spoke up, a lightbulb going off in her brain, “What if you weren’t carrying me?”
“I would have enough to cross,” the robot told her. “I cannot leave you here, though.”
“Yes, you can,” Lucy nodded. “I’m part of the family, right? So, I can guard this side of the bridge while you fly over and reunite with Daddy, and power up enough so that you can come back and get me.”
“That would work,” the robot admitted slowly. “And being with him would allow the energy of both of us to be fully restored, so we could both protect you far better than we could now.”
“Exactly!” Lucy exclaimed. “It’s really the best thing you could do!”
The robot still didn’t seem completely convinced, however. “You are so small,” it told Lucy. “I do not know if you could protect the bridge on your own.”
“Is there even anything out there?” Lucy asked. “We were just in the forest, and…” She shrugged.
The robot didn’t reply, but it turned back towards the forest, red light shining from its eye, projecting through the trees. It swung its head back and forth, scanning the whole length twice. “I do not detect anything within sensor range,” it agreed, before facing the bridge again, scanning it. “I believe I have enough power now to cross, restore the rest of my battery, and return before anything beyond the reach my sensors could get to the bridge.”
“See?” Lucy couldn’t hide her smile. “It’s perfect! I’ll keep an eye on things here, and if I see anything coming, I’ll yell, okay? I’ll be okay, I promise!”
The robot stared at her for a long moment before pulling her into a hug. “You are very brave, little one,” it told her. “I will make sure you get a treat tonight. You will be a very good child to complete our family.”
Lucy actually felt her heart melt a little at that, and, if she didn’t already have a family to get back to, and a journey to finish before she did that, she might have felt guilty lying to the robot. Instead, she let a tear slip down her cheek as she said, “Yes, Mommy,” and hugged the robot back.
Finally, the robot set her down, bending over to promise, “I will be right back,” before stepping away, getting some distance before turning on its rockets and shooting into the sky.
Lucy watched it go, trying to decide on the best moment to head towards the forest. Thankfully, she hadn’t come to a decision before the robot landed on the other shore, turning to wave at her. She waved back, glad she wasn’t already breaking her promise, or the robot might fly right back and catch her.
As soon as the robot turned back, however, Lucy started to scramble away. The robot was on a mission, and wanted to make it back as soon as possible, so she needed to be gone before it returned. She had no idea how long it would take for the robots to power each other up, but she had a feeling it wasn’t nearly as long as she’d like.
She’d hoped that, once they did, her legs and bladder would start working right again, since they wouldn’t need to be borrowing energy from them anymore, but she was certain her diaper was feeling wetter than ever as she crawled along, and she never felt confident enough to waste the time to try to get to her feet. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to feel the return or not… She certainly didn’t notice anything seeming any different as she began crunching through the dead leaves again.
The path was harder to find, through all those leaves, but it was still there. Part of her thought she should avoid it, that it would make it that much easier for the robots to find her, when they came back for her… The rest of her didn’t want to find what dark creatures lurked beyond it, however, so she stuck to it, trying to keep her ears open for the sound of her giant, mechanical pursuers. Surely, she’d be able to hear them coming… It was just a matter of whether, once she did, she could move quickly enough to keep ahead of them, while they were at full power.
She crawled for quite some time, hearing what she was pretty sure was only her own movements rustling the leaves, before she path began to dwindle down, growing narrower and narrower before vanishing completely. She looked around, brushing aside the leaves, hoping it took a sharp turn there somewhere, but no… It was gone.
She gulped, staring up at the rainbow above her. It was definitely fading now, although that may have been mostly because the sky was growing darker, throwing deeper, darker shadows around her, every tree feeling so tall she couldn’t see the top, or around the sides to tell if there was a monster lurking there.
She finally tried to stand then, since she’d already stopped to try and find the path. She grabbed the nearest tree, using it to slowly pull herself up, managing to stand for a moment; as soon as she attempted to take a step, however, she fell, landing back on her hands and knees.
“Perfect,” she grumbled, only to shiver as she heard her own voice echoing around her, bouncing off the trees, alerting whatever else was lurking there that she was coming in. She couldn’t even run away, not fast enough to do any good… All she could do was gather up her courage and press on, praying she caught up with the rainbow before it vanished completely, or before one of the creatures of the forest found her.
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