Chapter 7: One Step Forward, One Step Back

The nondescript man was startled when the three surviving prototypes walked in, carrying the bodies of Lazarus, Ephesos, and Grime Grubber. "What happened?!"

"The two cockroaches met with these two Spiderwebbers. We had to kill them, Master."

"But where are the rest of you? And what happened to the other cockroach?"

"They were destroyed, Master."

"It escaped. But it ran away from Spiderweb, Master."

The man sighed. "Leave the bodies here. Go get the other bots and clean up the area so no one can tell that a fight took place there. Then finish setting up the workshop and repair the other bots. Got that?"

"Yes, Master."

After the prototypes left, the man searched Lazarus and Ephesos' bodies for valuable items. "So, what do you think of the bots now?"

"Well, I am impressed," the small bot said, "But it did take six bots to kill three Spiderwebbers, and half of them were killed in the process. I'll take a look to see how the bots were killed, but I think they need better armor."

"It's already plenty thick."

"I know, but it leaves several joints exposed."

"I can't help that--they've got to be able to move around!"

"We could probably work out a way to protect those areas and still give them sufficient mobility."

"Well, I don't actually know much about armor, so if you can come up with a better design that can be made relatively quickly and easily, I'll use it." The man set Ephesos' boots, a healing potion, a dagger, and Lazarus' swords aside. Then he dragged the bodies over to the corner with the dead noobs. "Hmm. It would be pretty demoralizing to see fellow Spiderwebbers revived as zombies, wouldn't it?"

"Uh... yes. But don't you think that getting your army of bots together is a little more important? How are you going to get enough metal and other parts to make all of them?"

"Oh yes. Watch." The man opened the door, checked to make sure no one was around, and yelled, "I'm in need of some cheap pharmaceuticals, great real estate deals, and pirated copies of obscure software. Oh, and porn! Lots of it! There. That should attract every spambot in the area here within an hour." The man drew his dagger and buried it in the chest of the first spambot to step inside. "The well-built bots we can reprogram and use in the army. The rest we'll take apart to use for armor and repairs. Sound good?"

"I think so."

The man dispatched another two spambots. "So remember when you mentioned something about Spiderwebbers having a life outside of Spiderweb?"

"Yeah? What about it?"

"Could you explain that to me?"

"Well, people--er, most people, anyway--tend to have more than one thing in their life. They have friends, family, work, school, hobbies, more hobbies, all that sort of stuff."

"Really? Bizarre. People could be so much more effective if they just focused on one or two things. How do you think I got so good at fighting and programming?"

"I don't think most people would be happy functioning like that."

Just then, the prototypes returned. The man examined the damaged ones carefully. "I designed these bots to be easily repairable, so hopefully... dang! What happened to this one? Everything's charred and melted."

"It looks like it got hit by a magic spell," the bot suggested.

"I wonder how many spellcasters they have, then. Here, you three. To show your victory, one of you gets these boots and the other two gets one of these swords."

"What are you going to do now?" the small bot asked.

The man sighed. "I don't know. Right now, I need a lot of things. I need more information about Spiderweb and its members than I have. I need to make sure no one gets too worried when they realize these two Spiderwebbers are missing. I need to deal with all these spambots coming in." The man paused to kill another one. "I need to make sure these bots can build an army for me. And I need sleep. Yes, sleep sounds good. Here, you!" He pointed to one of the prototypes. "You kill the spambots when they come in. You two keep repairing the other bots. I'll give you new orders in the morning." The man folded his black robe into a pillow, laid down, closed his eyes, and was asleep within moments.

No one noticed that over in the corner, Lazarus' injuries were slowly healing.

---

Very, very carefully, Filth Finder crept past the abandoned forum. Once he was clear, he began calling for his son. "Grime? Grime Grubber? Can you hear me?"

The crickets stopped him. One of them hopped forward. "Chrrk!"

"Hello, crickets. Have you seen Grime Grubber recently?"

"Chrrk!"

"What do you mean you won't help?"

"Chrrrk!"

"All right, so I ran. But what could I do? I can't fight those bots."

"Chrrrk!"

"Well, I... I didn't realize. I mean, humans have weapons and can use magic. And they seemed so confident. I... I thought they'd be okay."

"Chrrrk!"

"So... so where is... where is Grime?"

"Chrrk."

"What?! That's... how... how did it happen?"

"Chrrk."

"...you're sure?"

"Chrrk."

Filth Finder stared mutely at the ground for several minutes.

"Chrrk!"

"What? No! I'm not taking you back to Spiderweb!"

"Chrrrk!"

"No, actually, I don't. Grime Grubber thought that and look what it did for him."

"Chrrrk!"

"You're right. I'm no slave to Spiderweb like you are. I try to do what's best for my family, but aside from that, I'm free." Filth Finder walked away from the crickets.

"Chrrk!"

"I don't care. Hop along now!"

The crickets chirruped quietly among themselves for a moment then started hopping towards Spiderweb. It would take them the rest of the night to travel that far, but they were determined to bring Ephesos back.

---

Back at the Spiderweb Software Message Board, everyone was asleep but Niemand. He was reviewing some of his notes by the light of a single candle. He yawned widely.

The pencil fell out of Niemand's hand and rolled off the table as he finally dozed off. The pencil continued rolling across the floor and onto Dintiradan's sleeping pad. When Dintiradan rolled over, it jabbed into his side.

Dintiradan awoke with a start and flung the offending pencil away from him. Then he noticed the flickering candle. He approached Niemand, carefully eased the notes out from underneath his head, and scanned over them. "This is... brilliant! Diabolical! I wish I could engage in maniacal laughter, because this gives me an idea!"

He replaced the papers and shook the Lurker awake. "Hey."

"What is it?"

"We have to go to the Blades of Avernum Forum."

"Now? Can't it wait for morning?"

"No. We must work at night and act normal during the day."

The Lurker yawned. "How can we act normally if we're going to be incredibly tired all the time?"

"Bah! We won't be up all night long, just a few hours. And if anyone gets suspicious, we'll just say it's finals week and you're helping me study."

"Okay, okay, fine. I'll help you. But not tonight. Tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow night, then!"

---

It was almost dawn when Lazarus stirred. He opened his eyes and looked around. Three of the bots that had attacked him were taking spambots apart. A fourth bot was repairing the fifth. And the sixth bot stood guard by the door. The nondescript man was asleep in the corner, and the small bot hovered between him and the window nervously. It was impossible to escape at the moment.

Lazarus closed his eyes again. He could wait for a better opportunity. And if he waited until dawn, it would be a new day with a new opportunity to resurrect himself should he get killed.