Steel Defender – Chapter 2

Steel Defender is Book 2 in the Rusted Wasteland seriesClick here to buy. I’m excited to share Block’s next adventure!

Chapter 2

Block followed Nova outside into the daylight, adjusting his visual sensors to account for the bright rays that slowly warmed the surrounding forest. The school stood in a grassy clearing, and in the woods, among a shelter of trees, the camp’s occupants sheltered in tents. There were a few camper vans and small trailers that housed families with children, elderly, and sick people who needed more warmth than a nylon tent and sleeping bags could provide. The treetops provided coverage in case aerial drones passed over. One of the Hemlock engineers had figured out how to broadcast a jamming signal which effectively cast a dead zone around the camp. Any drones surveying the countryside would bypass the area. The camp had been spared from attacks by Mach X’s forces.

It was morning, and a few people surrounded small campfires. They cooked food or heated up water to wash clothes and fill the makeshift showers. Every able-bodied person at Hemlock had a job. Life at the camp differed from The Drake. There, humans had experienced every convenience—electricity, instant hot water, hundreds of channels of entertainment television, phones, and gadgets. But after the Uprising, life had changed drastically. Millions of lives had been lost in the fighting. Mach X’s forces had overtaken the large cities, leaving people to scramble for refuge. Hemlock was just one of many human survivor camps across the former U.S. Shane’s military background meant he could assemble and train fighters to defend themselves.

There were no luxuries at camp. The elementary school had no power. Water was heated by fire. A few scavenged generators fed the equipment they used: offline computers and radios to communicate with other human rebel camps.

Gone were the connected devices that hooked everyone up to MachNet, the communications network that had been created by Mach X and later manipulated to lock humans out and topple their infrastructure. People now communicated via walkie-talkie devices. “Good, old-fashioned tech,” Nova called it.

Block was the only robot intelligence at camp, and Shane only tolerated him because Nova insisted on it. Block would have been scrapped for his metal and Central Processing Unit if Shane had his way.

Nova and Block discreetly traveled a winding side path that veered away from the main gathering area where most people were cooking and going about their daily chores. After a minute, they ended up behind Helen’s trailer.

“Stay here.” Nova rounded the corner and rapped on the front door. After half a minute, she appeared and jerked her head. “Come on. Quickly.”

Block followed her up two small steps into the camper trailer where Helen and Wally lived. Nova shut the door behind them.

Helen sat beside Wally on the bed. The little girl was just over a year old and had changed in the scant two months since Block had last seen her.

Her face lit up when she saw him. “Bock!” she said and reached out her arms.

But Block hesitated. He glanced at Nova, waiting for permission. If he angered Nova, he was in trouble.

“Go on,” she said, nodding slightly.

“Hello, Helen,” he said.

Helen smoothed back her wavy red hair and arched a lone, dark eyebrow. She lifted Wally down to the floor, which caused the toddler to squeal, “Wheeee!” Dressed in a yellow T-shirt and pink pants, her plump little legs wobbled as she raced over, stumbled, then crawled to Block and wrapped her arms around his leg, pulling herself up to stand.

“Hello, little Wally.” Block bent over to peer at her.

“Bock, bock.” She giggled.

Helen fidgeted, seeming nervous.

“We’ll be gone in just a few minutes,” Nova said. “He just really wanted to see her.”

“Sure,” Helen said, but she kept her eyes glued on Wally.

Nova tugged the shade and glanced out the window.

Block gently peeled Wally’s arms from his leg and lowered himself down to kneel on the floor. The hydraulics behind his knees let out a small hiss.

Wally bobbed up and down, then leaned into his chest for a closer hug. Block wrapped his arms around her, noting her weight had increased by 2.3 pounds. He still accessed the log he’d kept of her weight, height and fecal matter from when they had traveled together. He supposed he didn’t really need to keep Wally’s log, but he enjoyed reviewing it from time to time.

“Ba wub you,” Wally said.

“Wow, she really wants to talk,” Nova said.

“What does that mean? What’s wub?” Block asked.

“Love,” Nova said, enunciating. “Little ones can’t pronounce words as well, so you have to try to decipher.”

Wally loved him? Nobody had ever said that to Block before. He didn’t even know how to respond. Nothing in his etiquette modules or housekeeping programming had ever trained him for such an event.

Wally pulled away, looked at Block, then curled one hand into a chubby fist. She knocked on his chest plate. “Knock, ock,” she said.

“That’s my torso. Tor-so,” he enunciated for her edification.

Nova burst out laughing. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s there?’”

Block was not computing. “Who is supposed to say that? Me?” He looked at Wally. “Who’s there?”

“My kack, bye-ba.” He didn’t understand one word of what she was saying.

Helen came over and crouched, smoothing back wisps of light brown hair sticking up from Wally’s head. “We’re just starting to learn knock-knock jokes.”

“Knock knock?” Block said. He would have to research the strange human expression later. Then he remembered the little gift he had for Wally. He opened his thigh compartment and removed the odd-looking square with the many colored tiles. “I have something for you.” He hid the cube inside his palms and then offered it to Wally.

She squealed and tried to open his palms with her soft, tiny little fingers. After five seconds, Block relented and revealed the object.

Wally stared at the cube, then grinned, looking up at Block.

“A Rubik’s Cube!” Nova said. “I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Where did you find it?”

“In the school,” Block said. “I was cleaning out an old desk and happened across it. I thought Wally might like it.”

“How does it work?” Helen asked.

“See, all the colors are scattered,” Nova said while Wally grabbed the cube, shook it, and pointed at the tiles. “You’re supposed to move all the same colors onto one side, on each side. It’s actually really hard.”

Wally furrowed her brows and studied the cube. She continued to poke at the tiles.

“She really seems to like it, Block. Good job,” Nova said.

“Thank you. I’ll try to find more little presents.”

The trailer sank a few inches as someone climbed the stairs, then banged on the door. “Nova? Are you in there?”

It was Shane.


If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, here is the link to buy Steel Guardian.

Click here to read Steel Defender (Book 2).

*Heads up – the links on this page are Amazon affiliate links, meaning if you choose to buy my book, I earn a small commission. It costs you nothing extra and it helps out this independent author. 

Steel Defender – Chapter 1

Steel Defender is Book 2 in the Rusted Wasteland series.  I’m excited to share Block’s next adventure with you! Click here to start reading.

Chapter 1

Block enjoyed a gritty, grimy baseboard. The point where floor met wall collected the most dust and filth, especially when the dirt-encrusted boots of soldiers were constantly stomping around. Black sediment collected in the crevices and cracks—remnants of shoe grease, soil, glass bits, and sharp pebbles. Though baseboards were often overlooked, Block made sure to keep them clean. He ran the edge of his mop along the corridor in the neglected former elementary school that now served as Hemlock’s command station.

Block tried his best to keep the olive green linoleum floors polished, but it was tough. Nova had told him to stay out of their way—out of everybody’s way—which was challenging because men and women came in and out of the gymnasium at all times of the day. At first, the human soldiers had been frightened of Block’s presence, recoiling from him or casting narrow-eyed looks while muttering slurs. They called him things like rust bucket, scrapper, and sheetmetal. Those were the nicer names.

Until one day Nova gathered them all together and told them Block was a friendly robot, that she vouched for him, and that he’d saved her life. Nova was Shane’s girlfriend, so they looked up to her. They had to. Shane was in charge of the Hemlock survivor camp.

The soldiers were actually soldiers-in-training, people who had survived the SoldierBot raids on cities. Any women and men in decent shape between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five trained for combat and defense. There was no choice after the AI Uprising.

The troops relaxed a bit after her speech. They stared Block down and smirked. The name calling didn’t stop, but they were less obvious about it. And then, after a few weeks of such treatment, they’d let their guard down and just ignored him. That was fine with Block. He didn’t like to be the center of attention anyway.

Sunlight filtered in and cast a speckled glare on a yellowing concrete wall. Dust motes drifted through the air, rendered brilliant in the sunbeam’s arc.

“That won’t do.” He whipped out his vacuum extension—a long hose through which he sucked in particles that fed into his microbial fuel cell chamber. There, his digestive enzymes devoured dirt, grime, oils, and petroleum, fueling his mechanical body. Block strolled forward, still unsteady on his modified feet. He’d lost his original sole, heel, and ankle parts three months ago when Cybel Venatrix had fired upon his legs. That had been the second worst day of his life.

Strangely—and Block had thought about this many times—it had also been the second best day of his life because Wally and Nova had been kept safe. Alive. That a day could be both awful and joyful didn’t compute in his logic module. He couldn’t explain it, and there were no other robots around to discuss it with.

He walked down the narrow corridor, noting the sagging ceiling tiles—very grimy! He added them to his cleaning checklist for later. Extending the mouth of the vacuum before him, he sucked in dust, weaving the hose back and forth as if conducting an orchestra. The floating specks first spread, then clustered together as if finding protection in staying close to one another. Block was like a dust predator, sucking them in, feasting on them.

He supposed there was something interesting in this chain of events. A lot of skin particles fell off of humans—over a million cells every day. He sucked in their leavings and used the human bits to feed himself. Nothing was wasted. He was helping, in his way, even if nobody realized it.

A gruff voice came from behind. “Move it.”

Block had stepped into the middle of the hallway, lost in the frenzy of dust collection. He spun quickly and was nearly knocked over as Shane brushed past him.

If Block could physically cringe, he would have. Shane was the one person Nova had especially warned him to steer clear of. Block backed against the wall, pointing his vacuum tube down. He even turned the suction off.

Nova walked a few feet behind Shane and lingered after he kept going. She held a thermos in her hand from which little wisps of steam rose. “Hey, Block,” she said, half smiling.

“Hi. I tried to stay out of his way, but he came upon me so fast.”

“I know. He’s just…” She sighed, arched her head back, then rolled it around on her neck. Block had only seen her do that when she was exhausted.

“Are you having trouble sleeping again?”

She nodded.

“You could come by this evening, and I’ll help if you would like.” When he’d worked at The Drake hotel in Chicago, Block had learned to manipulate certain pressure points that helped people relax. He hadn’t been allowed to practice on the hotel guests, but he’d helped the human employees often. Twice before, he’d helped Nova fall asleep by pressing points on her spine and neck.

She looked sideways in the direction Shane had gone. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea right now.” She sipped her hot drink and strode toward the gymnasium.

“Okay.” Block tucked away his vacuum hose, grasped the handle of the broom, and started pushing it along the baseboard edges. Then he stopped, remembering something. “Nova?”

She turned back.

In his second to lowest voice setting, barely audible, he asked, “May I visit?”

She frowned. “Also not a good idea.” She moved closer, confiding in him. “Shane’s been in a foul mood. Things aren’t going well. Now isn’t a great time.”

“I see.”

Block had only visited Wally twice in the five months he’d been at the Hemlock camp in Colorado. The child was in good care. That much he knew. She lived with a woman named Helen who had lost her young son in the fighting between AI and humans. But Shane didn’t like Block to have any interaction with Wally. Nova had explained that, according to Shane, a robot and human relationship was unnatural. Shane—and most humans—harbored resentment and fear against robots since the supercomputer Mach X had overtaken the world’s computer systems, caused the AI Uprising, and declared war on humans.

The humans had reason to be suspicious. After the Uprising, many robots had become unpredictable. He’d witnessed SoldierBots execute his former boss and fifty hotel guests.

Still, not all robots were dangerous.

Block hung his head and pushed the mop a few inches. He stepped forward, his cobbled-together soles awkwardly clanking against the linoleum. Nova had welded them herself from scavenged metal from rust-speckled pupil desks, claiming they were temporary until they could find stronger material.

A tattered old bulletin board hung on the wall. The red construction paper background had faded to a dull pink. Most of the children’s decorations had been torn down, but one remained: a child’s handprint, stamped in yellow paint. Block paused and stared at it, then reached out his hand and placed his steel digits on top. His was much larger than the small child’s print, of course.

He wished there were more tiny humans around. They weren’t as frightened of him as the adults.

“Jesus,” Nova said behind him.

He began mopping, but she came over and touched his arm. “Five minutes,” she whispered. “But we have to be quick and avoid anyone seeing us.”

Five minutes with Wally didn’t seem like much at all, but he could play back the memory as often as he wanted. Maybe if he was quiet and polite, Nova could finally convince Shane to let him spend time with Wally. Humans changed their views on occasion. It was rare, but it happened.

But would Shane ever believe that robots and humans could be friends?


If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, here is the link to buy Steel Guardian.

Here’s the link to start Steel Defender (Book 2) now. 

Ten Reasons Why Robots Are Awesome

robots are awesome

“Calm down,” my mother said as she stifled a laugh.

Panicked nearby shoppers in the suburban Maryland mall circa 1980s relaxed their shoulders when they saw my mother comfort me.

I had just encountered my first robot.


At age five, I was shy. My mom thought introducing me to the robot would be a good idea. A cute photo op.

But I had other ideas.

The robot was tall—a huge looming, lurching beast in my memory. In reality, it was a five-foot person dressed inside a plastic outfit doing a mall meet-and-greet outside of KB Toys.

All the other kids loved it. The robot guy probably figured it was an easy gig.

But then he met me.

Terrified, I screamed as though someone had hacked my arm off. The shriek pierced the eardrums of the passing holiday shoppers, causing them to halt and scan the scene for a deranged child abuser.

As I sprinted away from the robot in a panic, little did I realize how much I’d eventually grow to love robots. Later, when my mother explained there was a person inside, my older brother rolled on the floor laughing.

Was it really a human in the robot? Or was it a conspiracy? The beginning of an uprising of 1980s mall robots?

Maybe an army of mallbot warriors lies in wait underneath the rubble of America’s old malls. Future story idea?

Over the years, my fear of robots turned to fascination aided by a steady childhood viewing diet of The Jetsons, Buck Rogers, and Small Wonder.

As an ode to that lonely, well-meaning mall robot (dare I call him MALL-E?), here is a list of why robots are awesome and not scary.


1. The new Lost in Space robot.

You can’t help but adore the rebooted robot in LIS—the 2018 Netflix reboot. When young Will Robinson saved the alien robot’s life, he bonded with the young boy much to the surprise of the Robinson family.

Most of the characters would be dead already were it not for the strength and intelligence of the robot. While he may be socially awkward, the touching scene in the cave where the robot dipped his hand in paint signaling he wanted to be part of the family was endearing and unforgettable.

Let’s hope there’s much more of the robot in future seasons. Also, the robot is kind of hot. 

2. Robots make cool armor.

Somewhere in Japan right now,  companies are solving the problems of the future by designing gigantic metal robot suits. Check out this amazing (and alarming) video. 

KURATA, the world’s first robotic mech suit

Is this really happening? Are these the military uniforms of the future?

3. Robots make us consider our own humanity.

In his iconic book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick introduced the world to replicants—androids made of organic matter who were identical to humans. Only an array of bizarre, mundane questions administered through a test held the clue to their true identities.

robots are awesome
Source: Blade Runner | by abductit

Enter Rick Deckard, a cop fed up with his numbing day-to-day existence who hunted for a group of rogue, escaped replicants. We eventually learned the replicants yearned to survive and experienced deep emotions like love and attachment.

The book, and subsequent Bladerunner movies caused us to question what it means to be human, to have a soul, and why one species is “better” than another.

4. When all else fails, send in the robot.

The unsung hero of Aliens was the resident android, Bishop. Ripley hated him at first because an older model went berserk on her prior ship and murdered a bunch of the crew. No wonder she was suspicious.

But when the hungry aliens literally crawled through the walls and the last survivors were stranded far from the only capable ship, who else but Bishop would be fit for the task of wiggling through a long tunnel, programming the ship, and rescuing the humans?

robots are awesome
Lance Henricksen
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In short, Bishop rocked that movie and (spoiler alert) managed to save Newt with only half of his body.

5. Robots can take over the tasks you hate and improve your life.

One of my childhood fantasies was to one day own a machine that would automatically shampoo, dry, and fix my hair in seconds like this one from The Jetsons.

6. They do your housework.

One of my favorite purchases ever has been my robotic vacuum cleaner. My favorite kind of vacuum is the one I don’t have to push.

I turn it on and housecleaning is done in minutes. That is awesome.

7. They serve and protect.

Growing up, I had a crush on Peter Weller as Robocop. I mean, who wouldn’t?

robots are awesome
Source: ROBOCOP | by Wacko Photographer

Rumor has it Weller was hired for his strong jawline. The casting director hit the mark as he turned out to be the perfect actor for the cyborg title character.

8. They run cool hotels.

The Netflix original series, Altered Carbon, is fantastic for many reasons. One of my favorite characters on the show is Poe, the AI owner of The Raven Hotel.

He dresses as if he’s Edgar Allen Poe and will do anything to protect his guest. Takeshi Kovacs ignores warnings that nobody stays in AI hotels anymore and becomes Poe’s first guest in 50 years.

robots are awesome
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Will we stay in AI hotels someday? I hope so!

9. They redeem themselves.

No list about robots would be complete without mentioning The Terminator. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the role.

Of note is Arnold’s transformation from a relentless killing machine in the first movie to protective father-figure in Terminator 2.

Good news! Arnold and Linda Hamilton are coming back in 2019 for a Terminator reboot from James Cameron.

10. They might be our creators.

robots are awesome
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Red pill or blue pill? Here’s why we might actually be living in a Matrix-like computer simulation.