“What exactly am I looking at here, besides the obvious?” I asked. VelocityRaptor had streamed a video taken by his helmet camera of what he claimed to be a major discovery. It appeared to be a rocky valley with only a tree. The tree didn’t appear to be in too good of shape, either. Its roots looked like they were maybe arm thickness and spread out along the surface, curling around jagged corners of the rocks it sat on before disappearing down into cracks. It had a thick, pale brown trunk that shot off limbs all along starting a couple feet up and rising up to a mess of branches twenty feet up. No leaves anywhere on the thing or below it.
“As I said, this is a major discovery.” He’s good at repeating things, I’ll give him that. I suppose he should be, considering I’ve already encountered a heroic raptor with superspeed before. That one wore a cape and called itself Veloci-Raptor. I keep meaning to ask if this is just one of those convergent ideas, or if VelocityRaptor’s a villainous cyborg-robot knockoff, like Cyborg Superman, MechaGodzilla, or the bad Bill and Ted robots. The other one might have been more eloquent, though. This guy informed me, “This is the Tree of Wonders.”
“Wow,” I said, “I certainly wonder what’s so important about it.”
He turned his head, taking in the area surrounding the tree. It resembled a crater full of jagged rock. Periodic skeletons and mineral deposits littered the vista. “Once we analyzed the local language, we gained information from our captive. Villages we came across told us much the same. There is a legend about this tree. They say a spirit lives in it that can grant the desires of whoever controls it.”
He walked around the tree, looking at it from all sides. “It doesn’t look impressive to me.” He stepped closer to it. “Are there any tree spirits here?”
He didn’t get an answer, so I spoke up. A magical tree that somehow wasn’t guarded by the most powerful bunch of people in that land. “Fascinating, really. I guess we know where this thing is now. Maybe file that away for exploiting the locals, but let’s keep on the lookout for anything important. Any weird kingdoms of guys with crappy iron weapons, or wizards, or anything?”
“My apologies, my lord. Please give me another chance,” he stammered on.
I rolled my eyes to myself, which caused me to pay attention to my own surroundings again. I’d been building another deathbot in the residence. Something with treads that adjust to the terrain. I didn’t have anything set as far as weapons or a top yet, but I’d come up with something. The previous one had been more of an impulse thing. I bet I can make this one resistant to probing long enough for it to reach Master Academy. I might make more of the other ones, though. Sometimes you have enough enemies around that it doesn’t matter if you drop in a robot that tries to murder anyone.
Not all impulses are bad. Citra passed by and ran her hands through my hair. I caught her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where she cuddled up to me with a smile. “Just be cool, ok?” I requested. She took my hand, but didn’t try anything with me. I returned my attention to VelocityRaptor, who had continued an apology that must have been pre-written. “Are you still talking? I get it, you followed a lead you thought sounded good. A magical tree isn’t really that unusual of an idea nowadays. You didn’t even try and wish for ice cream yet.”
“Ice cream?” he asked.
“Try vanilla, chocolate, whatever you want. Ooh, chocolate ice cream with Nutter Butter pieces is a good one.” I got a confused look from Citra, who’s only hearing one side of all this.
VelocityRaptor’s head tilted to the side. “I would never question your wisdom-”
“Eh, feel free. I welcome feedback, so long as you’re not being a complete asshole. I’ll even tolerate light assholism, depending on the context. I know I’m unimpressed, so now you have an opportunity to show my first impression was wrong. Now stick your hand on that tree and ask for ice cream.”
“Yes, sir.” VelocityRaptor approached, having to pick his way over the roots. He placed a metal claw on the trunk of the tree. “I wish I had chocolate ice cream with pieces of Nutter Butter in it. Agh!” He whipped his head around to see roots grow up over his legs. He clawed at them and chomped up until he was covered in a thick brown substance. “It’s cold!” he yelled. At the same time, things shook on Ricca.
Citra looked around. “Earthquakes?” I squeezed her hand, but she still kept looking around.
“Eat your way free, Raptor!” I egged him on.
“I’m lactose intolerant!”
“We’ll talk about your anti-dairy bigotry another time. For now, get yourself out of there.”
I left him to that and tried calling on the rest of the guys to let them know what happened. I couldn’t raise anyone, so I borrowed a Chinese “television” satellite. The only TV channels that thing carries are whatever Beijing’s intelligence service want to look at. I went ahead and marked down the company that did it as possible non-official cover to be confirmed and sold off later, when the expedition isn’t at risk. The campsite showed the rest of the men sent over were busy getting their asses kicked a mile away from VelocityRaptor. Unfortunately, while China’s ok at forcing kids to dig out computer parts from scrap piles, they aren’t the country that actually makes all this equipment. The thing was limited in how far it could zoom in and identify the assailant.
It annoyed me to not be able to do anything to protect my people, but the Dimension Rangers ship-robot has been spotted approaching from the east, Americas. And, shit, just imagine what they could do with a tree that grants a wish but tries to kill people? They have a few different members to spare.
Finally, VelocityRaptor’s viewpoint cleared up as he pulled himself away from the reaching roots of the tree. They tried to pursue only so far before he shot a gout of flame from his helmet and convinced them to stay back. I spoke up as he took a moment to clear penetrating roots and wet ice cream off. “As tends to be the case, life has served up not just one, but a whole six-pack of douche brew. I need you to get to your camp. It’s under attack.”
“Yes, sir,” He said. He reached down to his waist and and flipped open a part of the exoskeleton. He punched a green button and doubled over with a pained groan. He stood up a couple seconds later, breathing normally, and raced off.
As for me, I sighed and helped Citra off my lap to go get my armor. It was a quicker way for me to travel to the Institute of Science and its Drone Warfare storage. Because I could have tried to put together robots out of prosthetics, but they weren’t ready in time. At least a few of these were good to go. I put out the call to that daredevil military pilot to delivery my menagerie of mechanical menaces.
Ooh, I like that name.
A bit of heavy lifting later and the cavalry was on the way. Tuning back in to VelocityRaptor, he arrived at the camp. The expedition set up in a relatively flat area with short grasses marred only by the occasional boulder. Another of those loincloth-clad barbarians who never heard of a shirt or tunic stood in the middle of a ring of my dead soldiers. He undid the restraints on a strawberry blond woman in leather. So that was the prisoner. Not bad looking, but modern orthodontics would do her good.
Our barbarian friend could use a barber. The male ponytail is so 1990s, and that double-headed battleaxe! Ugh, some people have no taste in weapons. Having done my duty as judge, it was time to be jury and executioner. “Hey, Raptor. I know you’re a little fucked up right now, and not in the fun way that involves a bong made out of a human spleen.” Best to lighten the news with spleen talk. It’s an inherently funny organ, much like the penis when exposed to Alaska or Deep One females.
Anyway, back to Raptor. “I have reinforcements on the way, so try to stay alive long enough to beat the crap out of these guys so bad, they’ll think it was their monthly dysentery session. We’re gonna run the Oregon Trail on them. You got it?”
He didn’t respond. I don’t think Raptor was entirely there anymore. He roared and pounced toward the barbarian. The axe to the face must have hurt, but whatever Raptor injected himself with must have been the good stuff.
He swung his tail around to and drew a line of blood from the barbarian who lodged his axe into a connection between two of the larger pieces of Raptor’s tail. Raptor tossed it off into the distance and managed to slice up the woman’s arm. The barbarian tackled him and threw him to the ground, but doubled over from a tail to the crotch. If the drill hadn’t been damaged from the axe, that could have ended it. He had to resort to lifting up the barbarian, who grabbed onto the appendage and tore it off. The large man hopped onto Raptor’s back and used the portion he tore off to choke Raptor.
Raptor reached up and dug for the barbarian with the suit’s claws. He pulled him over, dropping the man down in front of him. The barbarian gritted teeth so big I could tile a bathroom with them as he caught the blades on the side and pushed them back, overpowering the exoskeleton. “I am going to tear your head off and make you eat it!” They were stalemated until the prisoner ran up and swung the axe into Raptor’s side, knocking him over. The barbarian stood up grabbed it, then raised the weapon high.
Machinegun fire from the helicopter knocked the axe to the sideand ruined the potential strike. One of the drones, a torso on a quad copter, flew out the side door under my direction and fired a laser, trying to hit him. I ended up putting a hole through chest of the woman he’d come there to save instead. When it got too close, he hurled his axe at it. I maneuvered to evade it, but the thing somehow curved in midflight to hit the drone.
Then a tripodal sphere landed, followed by a miniature tank resembling a toy, a torso on four legs, and other prototypes. The barbarian decided it was time to leave while the robotic extensions of myself helped VelocityRaptor into the chopper that lowered itself. They grabbed the axe and the woman’s body while they were at it, too. I felt like pissing off this guy, and then it turned out she wasn’t quite dead yet. An emergency dose of regenerative nanomachines would keep her stabilized.
“I got ya, Raptor. And we’ll be back for the other guys, too.”
I liked the idea of hurting that guy, and not just out of sadism. See, the thought occurs to me that I might need that tree, and he likely knows where to find it. The Dimension Rangers are close, too. I need to evaluate the threat of this island and figure out if they’re going to rally some iron-age army against me, or use a stupid wishing tree to erase me from existence. At least now, the guy only knows about Raptor.
This has also thrown it in my face how much I need to expand my personal reach off the island, and I’m working on that. I’ve got a factory retooling itself to create drones and robots. I myself have taken custody of a large amount of nanites for a special project related to this. Bit by bit, they’re painstakingly assembling a replica of my armor, but with an android drone inside.
I know, it’s not everyday the supervillain dictator of his own country builds a mechanical duplicate of himself in his signature armor to send out after his enemies. Something like this needs a special name. It’s just hard to find something that conveys the correct sense of doom my enemies need to feel. So, instead, I settled on calling it a Dudebot. The name’s subject to change next time my sex does.