ANML Chapter 2 Edited for Simon & Schuster
https://theprose.com/post/142410/anml Chapter 1 of this can be found here
https://theprose.com/post/162121/anml-chapter-2-raw The full write that is 3400 words can be found here.
Kevin took a few moments to realize the true horror of the situation. He had just lost to Brian, Rose had lost every penny they owned, including the money Keith had given them to purchase a pizza by betting on Kevin to win, and Kevin didn’t have a reserve stash to pull funds from.
Kevin stood in the crowded warehouse panicking, as Rose sobbed on the floor, hugging her knees. Even though people were milling around talking, and Brian the Brain was painstakingly re-describing, loudly, to anyone who would listen his ANML’s harrowing victory, the receding caucophony of the memory of Keith’s drunken abuse made Kevin abjectly feel silence in the world around him crushing, despairing silence. Kevin grabbed the silvery metallic sphere and marched over to Beanpole.
“Bean, I’m stuck for cash. I’ll sell you my Sphere for $150. Then I’ll buy your X210 model for 120.”
Beanpole stood unbelieving for a few moments. “Kevin, that Zturbo model cost you $400, I’ve never seen someone work so hard for a pro-level unit.”
Kevin lied through his teeth “I’m sick of ANML right now, I can’t even beat Brian, I need to take some time off. I have my X215 model at home, but it’s about 30 bouts over its life expectancy… so I want a fun unit, but if I can’t beat that turd wrangler, I can’t go pro”
Beanpole seemed panicky, and unsure. “What if I loan you the money, Kev? I mean, you’re goddamn DangerX, you’re the winningest dueler here, by a wide margin, you’ll be a pro some-day you can’t let one bad match throw you, I was considered a great at the sport, and I only won 55 of every 100 matches I was in!”
Kevin’s face got red and hot. “I need time Bean, are you in or out?”
“What about a loan, how much do you need Kevin?” Beanpole was negotiating a losing position and he knew it. He’d seen so many people throw in the towel in this situation, but he couldn’t fathom why Kevin was being so hasty, so rash.
Kevin thought back to his father, Allen. It’s better to be broke, but out of debt, than to have a million dollars, and be stuck for every penny his father used to say. Allen never really liked loans, and he shared that logic with Kevin once during a playful family argument about where to get food that night. Kevin had taken the standard 6 year old child’s position that a loan was suitable for a cheeseburger, while Allen was being far more level headed in his approach to money.
The lesson stuck “Tell you what, How about sell it to you, and you hold it for me Bean, and if I decide I want back into the game, I’ll buy it back from you.”
Beanpole found this amenable “Deal” he said, reaching into his back pocket and pulling $30 bucks out of his wallet and tossing it to Kevin. “Grab any X210 from my case. The top layer are my oldest, grab from the bottom, the units are newer.” Kevin hesitated as he handed his competition sphere over to Beanpole. He walked over to the case, and dug to the bottom, fishing a new, entry level nano-sphere out. With his money problems solved, he packed his ANML tacklebox up and picked Rose up, dusting her off.
“I’m so sorry, Kevin, I’ll help you buy it back, I promise. I promise!”
Kevin grunted back at her, he was angry with her. So angry.
The walk to the store may have taken 30 minutes, or it may have taken 3 hours. In Kevin’s bewildered state, he didn’t pay much attention, but it happened far too quickly. They walked in, Kevin bought the pizza that Keith wanted, and saw there was a deal on the pizza, 2 for 1, so he purchased a second one. Then he walked all over the store, buying cereal, bread, peanut butter, jelly, and even managed to conjure up a smile as he tossed a bag of gummy fishes at Rose for her to catch. They purchased the food and began the trek home. On the way, Kevin took the Gummies from the bag and opened them, savoring one for himself. He held it above Rose’s head and mocked her with it.
“You can only have these, if you promise to listen to me, next time I tell you what to do. Collecting bugs, being quiet when you’re pissing off a rattlesnake, or even betting more money than I tell you to. It has to stop. We’re on our own here.”
Rose tried to argue with a loud drawn out “Awwww, but”
Kevin interrupted her emphasizing each and every word. “On. Our. Own.”
He dropped the gummies into her outstretched arms and stole another one from the bag before she could jam a handful into her mouth.
“I know you are, you little shit” He tousled her hair and they walked silently home, the fading sunset painting the evening sky with the same color reds and pinks as their gummy fish snacks.
The rest of the night went uneventfully. He and Rose spent 90 minutes washing dishes, and brought one of the whole pizza’s into Keith and his Mom. He baked the other pizza for himself and Rose and settled into the couch to cuddle and watch a little bit of TV before bed.
That night, after he crawled into bed with an overly full belly, nearly nauseous from having overate. He let his mind wander, trying to imagine the things a boy of his age could lose himself in. He sought the imaginary inklings of spaceship battles, or giant robots, or even exploring a monster laden dungeon in search of a magical sword, anything. Instead the echoes of losing to Brian echoed around in his mind, over and over.
He then rummaged under the shelving unit against the far wall next to the door leading into the hallway, and re-assembled an ANML containment ring that looked like it had been re-built and re-furbished with more wire and insulation than was probably in the original unit.
Kevin was experimenting with his old sphere in his favorite way. He reached into a “useless reagents” box and swirled and mixed all of the discarded bits. Toenail clippings, crab apron castoffs, shed snake skin bits, a birds feather, cockroach shells, plant matter, dirt. Everything he’d tried to make the next great ANML warrior with. He catalogued the bits, and tried to guess what it would look like. In this case, he had a few caterpillar hairs, a bird’s feather, and a few bits he couldn’t identify. Between tired yawns he worked away, pouring a powdered strengthening reagent onto the pad.
“Whatchya doin Kev?” Rose was standing in the doorway “you’re being so loud, what time is it” she demanded, rubbing her eyes with balled fists.
“Shhh, don’t wake up the parentals” Kevin said. I’m almost done!
Kevin grimaced, he was out of fixer and life extending reagents, but he didn’t plan on having the bot do any battle, so he didn’t think too much of the resulting creature to realize what he was doing was incredibly dangerous.
Kevin flipped the power unit on the ANML ring that rested on the floor. Cracked and faded black plastic seemed to groan and vibrate gently as a blue light pulsated inside the ring in a clockwise direction.
“What do you think it’s going to look like Rose?” He asked, anticipation growing for this creation.
Rose studied the catalogued reagents list, they had played this game a hundred times before, and she was never right. “A giant capertillar!” she said.
“You mean a Caterpillar? I think it’s going to look like a Dragon!” he smiled as he put the ball and the reagents in the middle of the circle.
Rose crossed her fingers as the old Nanounit began to shudder and seize as it crackled and dissolved like wet sand all over the floor. It was a sure sign the unit only had a few uses left in it, the bots don’t act like a liquid metal.
An elongated pink worm formed first, with a single onyx black globe on the center of one end, 2 antanae sprouted above the globe as a bright pink pupil formed in the middle of the globe. Brown and Golden hair begain to sprout with labored effort from the skin, until the worm was covered with a thick, coat all over its body in a matter of seconds. Two small padded stumps grew out of the front and 2 more out of the back, forming a sort of stubby leg, that raised the bot just a few inches off of the ground.
“It’s so pretty!” squealed Rose, and her hand shot into the ring to pet the bot.
“Wait” Kevin yelped. “There’s no fixer!” He shot his hand in to block hers, and they touched, but her fervor to pet the bot was stronger than his will to block her hand, and they both touched the bot at the same time.
The bots skin tore away with the gentlest touching of their hands, revealing a metallic shell that looked as if someone had created the shape of the bot by using aluminum foil. Kevin stared in horror at the fine silver dust that covered both his and roses fingers. Then the pain surged forward like hot glass shards under their skin. Nanobots tore at and rended the skin on Kevin and Roses fingers. They both brushed their hands together, trying to brush the bots off of themselves back onto the caterpillar, but this just spread the bots to other parts of their skin. Electric pain raged in their fingertips as the creases around their nails began to bleed, and Rose half choked half screamed in agony as Kevin coughed and gasped in pain himself.
Oh god, this is it, I’m going to die to nanobots He thought, as he passed out onto the floor with a loud thud. He remembered hearing Roses body thud against the ground before the swirling blackness enveloped him.
Daylight pierced through the window at the head of his bed, and a shaft of morning light rested on Kevin’s eyes, the warmth of the sun itself brought Kevin gently awake, his hands burning and raw, he looked down to see they appeared as if they had been subjected to a hundred little papercuts. The events of the night flooded his memory, and he twisted his head to look at Rose. She was petting the Caterpillar as it was laying on her chest.
“I woke up like this, he isn’t hurting us anymore!” She giggled “You really hurt us, didn’t you?” She pouted as she continued to pet the Nanobot Caterpillar that appeared to be nuzzling and snuggling against the inside of her neck.
In the History of ANML and nanocompetitions, no ANML had ever lived longer than 1 hour 17 minutes and a few seconds. The batteries in the Nanotech would run out and the bot would dissolve into a metallic puddle on the floor before re-forming itselfself into a sphere again. These bots were created and maintained with the most expensive equipment and the newest bots on the market with teams of scientists. Some kid, with an entry level sphere that had been used 40 or 50 more times than the expected lifetime of the sphere, shouldn’t be able to beat that.
“I’m going to call him Chocolate, his fur looks like chocolate” Rose giggled again.
It had easily been 7 or more hours since he and Rose had collapsed in pain after touching the Caterpillar last night.