What the Machine Collective loses in toughness, they make up for in numbers. Though, for most folks on this station, they’re plenty tough enough. And it just got monotonous killing the endless robots. They all looked the same, which might be racist if they weren’t all literally the same few models ad infinitum.
I had to break it up somehow, which lead to stunts like Mobian yelling at a group of them and letting them chase him into an art gallery. He ran in and ducked behind an exhibit. When they came in looking, I waited until they got close to the sculpture. It was a marble sculpture of one of those heart-shaped aliens, but with a dignified, serene face and either an enormous wang or a stand to rest on. I picked it up and started wailing on them, smashing them to pieces.
“That was subtle,” Mobian said, stepping out from behind the display he’d hid behind.
I set the statue down. “Subtle enough to take them out.” I had to stop as my stomach rumbled.
“Yegads, I heard that from here. When’s the last time you ate?” Mobian asked.
I waved it off. “Before I put on the armor. This is a permanent seal, but someone decided we were having an adventure in space, where they don’t exactly make hamburgers.”
“I didn’t know that,” he said, patting my shoulder. “How about we go kill all of them in the food court and I’ll find something that can fit into your armor” he said, walking along with me as I headed out of the gallery. “Can you swallow pills? It won’t help your stomach, but it’ll give you nutrients. Maybe the vapor bar, as long as you stick with the bar food vapors and none of the alcohol.”
Just before we got to the door, the statue collapsed behind us. Mobian turned and looked back at it, then turned to me. “Duct tape will do ‘er. Best we run and get that food now.”
Despite swarms of killer robots, we made good time to the nearest food area. Unfortunately, after so long without food, the smell got to me. Mobian turned to help me up, “Just a little further now…” He looked past me. “Or a little backward if you’ve got more fight in you.”
I saw ’em coming, those damn tripods and squidlegs and everything else. I closed my eyes to concentrate. I heard grunting and parking from ahead of us thanks to a crowd. Mobian ran to the side to get out of the way, leaving me standing between the giraffe alien with a force of dwarfs, and the advancing machines. I was distracted, but I didn’t need too long…
Chaos broke out among the mob of machines. They teetered around, startled and panicked, then turned and opened fire on one another. They did most of the work themselves with the aliens barely having to mop up the place. Mobian ran up to get between myself and the dwarfs, who turned toward me with disk-guns in hand once they’d dispatched of the robo-remnants. “It’s fine! She’s on our side. Gecko, that was brilliant, how long have you been able to do that?”
“Not long. Had to study their OS. Hey, who’s a lady have to butcher to get some food around here?”
“I need food for my companion here, the one who made the Machine Collective shoot itself. Food, yes please? Vapor bar, she needs it.” he asked of the giraffe and her dwarf contingent.The giraffe yipped and a dwarf came over to lead me further into the food court area. That was my best basis for comparison, as it seemed to be a sizable communal eating area with various bars and food kiosks scattered around it. They’d fortified it, though, and beings of all shapes, color, and size huddled around. Amazingly, the place STILL had a Sbarro.
They led me to one kiosk in particular that still had a couple of employees hard at work. Without a basis for comparison, I had no way to tell if they were dirty, but they did seem a bit slow and tired. I pointed to something that resembled chicken.
It should be noted that this could have meant pretty much anything in the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someday discovered the universe’s first conquerors had been intelligent chickens who fell into ruin and mindless servitude to the new races that came about. Only flaw, is what do I do about the dinosaurs? That’s not a problem you just drop a meteor on and hope it goes away.
They handed me a cup with a top on it and gave me two middle fingers. I was too hungry to object though, so I just took it and looked it over; a mouthless alien with a smile in its eyes gave me the bird with each hand, so I guess the gesture has different contexts far enough out in space. I popped the lid off and took a puff of gas to the face. The filters detected a full complement of vitamins, so I let it on through. The taste was incredible. Unexpected. Fruitier than I thought it’d be. And it thickened with my saliva, so I was able to just swallow the stuff instead of clogging my lungs. A bit dry, but I’d manage.
It was enough to keep me going. “Gecko! You’ve eaten. How did it find you?” Mobian asked hurriedly on his way over with the giraffe person. It yapped at me, stopped, then looked between myself and Mobian. He smiled back, then gestured to me, then went “Oh!” He pulled out a small cube and held it between us. It shot out a light at both of our heads.
“Mobian, if I find out you’re putting anything weird in my head, I’ll shove yours up your ass,” I said to him.
“My, what a crude one is this,” said the giraffe in a feminine voice. “I am Commandrix Cheretha.” She gestured like she was running her hand up the air over her face.
“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” I said, giving a sort of salute with closed fist over open palm that I’ve used before.
“We normally keep the Collective from attacking through a signal to our transmitter that confuses any machines who get too close. It failed to function correctly, so how can you?” she asked.
I looked between her and Mobian. “My biology is capable of integrating with computers and I make sure to have a way to connect wirelessly. I’ve had no interference like that since I got here.”
“It isn’t directed inside the station,” she said.
Mobian chimed in. “As long as they have a way to travel that bypasses the signal, there’s no easy way to stop them on the Hinge. Until now.”
Cheretha put a hand on his shoulder and turned to address him. “Silence yourself. We will remove the cause once we have disposed of the symptom.” She turned back to me to say, “We are winning, but slowly. The bulk of the Collective is in the Science district. I do not know what they are after. However, we should endeavor to keep it from them.”
“Ok, lady, I get what you want from us,” I told her. “What I’m confused about is why should I care? I’m here for one reason, and it’s really not to fight this war for you. Mobian’s excited to help, great for him, but if you examine the smallest piece of the smallest part of any particle that makes up an atom, you still won’t find me giving a fuck.”
“I have access to the message you were here for. It’s yours for whatever purpose you hold if you help. If you refuse, I will bury it deeper than your desire to mate,” she responded.
I looked to Mobian. “We could…”
He shook his head and held out his hands. “No! I believe we are here for a purpose and that includes helping out the Hinge. Besides, it should be benefit everyone to have friends far and wide.” He smiled at me.
“Right, so this was all a way to inconvenience me in some sort of minor revenge scheme,” I grumbled.
“I would never revenge myself on someone so integral to events on Earth. Disrupting the timeline is a delicate process.”
“Not that delicate or else we wouldn’t be here now,” I reminded him.
He rolled his eyes. “You should try doing anything to remove yourself from existence and see what happens.”
Cheretha stepped between us both and looked to me. “You, help.” She turned to Mobian. “And you, be quiet and take us to your ship.”
Now that I’ve cracked the Collective’s code, the return to Mobian’s timecraft took no time at all. Before too long, the machines realized to leave us be. All the better, since Cheretha’s guards didn’t come with us. “They will take the enemy from the rear.”
“The rear, my favorite place to take an enemy,” I said.
“You have no chance with her,” Mobian said as he led us into the craft and rushed up the dais. He pushed a few buttons, spun a wheel, and looked up. “We’re here.”
“Anticlimactic as usual,” Cheretha said.
I laughed as I launched myself out the door, fists raised. “Ok you metal assholes, I’m gonna tear you apart like I do the English language!”
I found more aliens huddling around in, this time in tight, white-colored clothes. I couldn’t make out what they said, but I heard someone around, singing. Cheretha stepped past me. “We are here to defend the lab. What do you have that will help, and what do you have that the Collective wants?”
One scientist said something, but another in a cleaner and fancier white jumpsuit yelled at it. It had fur over a round face with four eyes, and metal arm reached out the side of its head, rotating from holding a pair of glasses to a tablet. An argument soon broke out, but I just couldn’t concentrate on it for the singing. I walked over to a door it emanated from.
“Gecko?” asked Mobian.
“Shh, I’m trying to listen to the song,” I said. I put my hand on the door and a portion of it turned clear.
I heard Mobian say, “Nobody’s singing. Is anybody here singing? What is she hearing?”
It was a quadrupedal. At first, I imagined it had light grey skin from how smooth and organic it looked. The joints could have been mistaken for folds like you’d see in skin. It stood with hands clasped together, supporting itself on two legs like ours and a pair of thin legs curving down from its shoulders into tapered points. It had no face, which was a little different, and no sex characteristics, which made complete sense.
Cheretha stepped up next to me. “It is one of the Collective. This lab belongs to the Dark Horse Combine.”
The fancy-suited scientist, or whatever it was, blooped furiously at us. It tried to push past me, but I picked it up by the throat with one arm. “Why?”
Mobian walked up and looked in as well. “There is no consistent galactic law regarding civil rights. Many societies don’t classify them as people.”
“That is the Combine’s property by our law,” Cheretha said. “You have destroyed them as freely as the rest of us. More.”
“I’m a homicidal maniac, of course I had no problem killing stuff. Are you saying this is a slave?” I turned my face toward Cheretha.
“The Machine Collective is entirely comprised of escaped servile automatons,” Mobian informed me.
The scientist bleeped out something. Cheretha looked up at him, “He says this one is different. No known civilization has registered a machine of its design before.”
“The Dark Horse Combine,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose. “Say, they manufacture arms and war automatons, right?”
The scientist blubbered some more and reached for Cheretha. She moved out of his reach. “One of those.” She turned to Mobian. “You tell her what he said.”
“He said it is inevitable that artificial intelligences will inevitably turn on the biological ones. The only way to prevent this is to destroy them first.” Mobian sighed and turned to Cheretha. “You’re going to make us complicit in this.”
Cheretha raised her muzzle and looked away. “The duty of the Commandrix to the laws of her station is clear. I will not trample the law for an emergency. It is unfortunate we were too late to prevent the Collective’s progress to the laboratory.”
The furry-faced head scientist, or at least the nicest-dressed one who put up the most resistence, kicked at me and tried to beat on my arm. Cheretha turned to glare at it. “We arrived too late to save everyone among the science team.”
I turned the scientist sideways, grabbed each leg with an arm, and pulled it in half. Pea soup, or something with that color, went everywhere. I threw his upper body on the floor. His little skull-mounted helper arm tried to pull him away. I swung his lower half at the upper half, beating his head in with his own ass until he was so much mush and pea soup on the floor.
Cheretha looked down, then over to the remaining team. “Open the door.” The one who had spoken up stumbled over, holding a hand over its mouth, and tapped a bracer on its wrist. The door in front of me swung open. I stepped in as the singing stopped, looking at the siren that called me.
It wasn’t so much a language that came over the connection. It was more like feelings.
I heard it? I wasn’t machine? Yup, true.
I walked over.
I didn’t think they had a right to take it just because it was a machine. It was an amazing being as well, in design. It found my armor interesting. I was there to release it so that it and its Collective would leave in peace.
I know what y’all are thinking, dear reader. “And then they all fucked!”
No, I took its hand and lead it out, over the dead body and out to where the Machine Collective were crawling over everything. It got a bit overwhelming, there in the inner ring of the station. Looking into the sky, I saw the ground instead. Like, instead of ground and cities being stretched on the outside of a sphere, imagine if it was run along the inside of a cylinder. If I kept walking to one side, I could end up on that same part of the city I looked up at and it would still feel like I was standing on the ground. It’s a concept I’d been educated about as far as space stations went. To actually experience it was disorienting.
I looked to the siren as I let it go and tried to express that if it was ever around Earth, to look up Empress Psycho Gecko of Ricca, where I don’t enslave people just because of their race or how they look or the fact that they’re artificially-created.
I mean, sure, I kidnapped some people for lab tests, but that was just because of dumb luck and them passing through.
I think I got a maybe. The siren raised its tapered arms. I saw a room appear above the walkway. It was like everything behind it had been a wall and someone ripped it open to show the place hidden behind it. It grew taller and wider as the Collective crawled, trundled, and otherwise maneuvered around to jump through it. They were all leaving.
I walked back in to find Cheretha touching her datapad. “The Collective are leaving in peace so the attack is called off. Here is your message.” She held it out for Mobian.
“Let’s just delete this,” Mobian said, winking at her. He pressed something and my legs gave out. I couldn’t move my arms, head, anything. I crashed to the floor while Mobian asked, “Gecko? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t know. Surprised I can speak. Can’t move anything.” I felt aching and a burning feeling spread from my gut. “Was there something in that gas they gave me?”
Mobian bent down and grabbed one of my hands. He dropped it, watching it flop. “Can you feel that?”
“I can feel it, just can’t move it. It’s like I went all wobbly, and my stomach’s blowing up. Ah! Fuck, felt like someone just gave me a lobotomy,” I said. I tried to grit my teeth, but I couldn’t feel them anymore. “I don’t know if I have teeth.”
Mobian frowned, then looked down to his waist as it made a beeping sound. He held it up and pressed a button, watching streams of numbers rolling past each other. He looked down at me, then at the datapad. He began tapping on it some more. “It’s a good thing there is a temporary deletion function that can restore a file before final deletion. How do you feel… now?”
I groaned and pulled myself up into a sitting position. “What the frell was that?”
“You know what I said about removing yourself from existence?” He asked. “This message has to go through for some reason or you don’t exist.”
“What? How does my existence rely on aliens trying to kill me?” I asked.
“Is it possible you interacted with them in the past?” Mobian asked.
“If you count the time of the dinosaurs, yeah,” I said. “Other than that, the only other time was pretty well after I started existing in this universe.”
“Let’s follow this along then. They come back. They have access to time travel, so they somehow do something that helps you exist? No, that’s not right. That is what they would do if they got this message. We know that because in the other timeline, they sent me to lead you into a trap in the past, as you said. Then they fail to kill you.” He put a finger over his lips, puzzled.
“Yeah, and I took their ship, chased you and Future Venus, and you went back in time through the dimensional breach to go back in time in my universe.” I didn’t like where this was going, because it was dawning on me.
Mobian pointed the finger at his lips toward me now. “You said the aliens sent to kill you looked like rangers. What do you mean?”
“Like the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers. They weren’t exactly the same design, but the uniforms were similar, with each one wearing different colors. That’s the city where they first appeared, a little more than ten years later.”
He and I looked at each other. I sighed and looked down. “And if the Rangers didn’t exist, it’s entirely possible my life would have gone in a significantly different direction and I’d never have found my way to this universe. Was that time’s way of saying I wouldn’t even be alive today if that happened?”
He glanced at the numbers on his pager-thing, then put it back on his belt. “And Earth’s history would change. Good for you. You created the Justice Rangers.” I shuddered. He smiled at that. “And without them, you would be dead and never have found your new home.”
“Fuck me in the Alps, no wonder I had a bad mood. Time itself is going out of its way to stick it to me.” I looked up to find Cheretha and the science team standing there, eating small snacks out of bowls.
“What are you going to do about the message?” she asked.
I looked to Mobian. “I think we need to put it on hold for about thirty years. Any idea what that translates to here?” I asked, nodding her way.
“I know what to do,” he said, tapping away on the datapad. I stood up, amazed at the memory of pain that made me want to groan and the lack of any now. It was more abrupt even than healing.
“There,” Mobian said, handing the pad back to Cheretha. “Thank you.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And d’you know what?” He turned to look at me. “You were too.”
I waved him off. “Yeah, I get it. I’m great at killing. I would kill them on a sphere, I would kill them over here. I would kill Mot here or there, I would kill even a Hare. I would kill green eggs and ham. I’d rip the head off Sam I am. See you on the damn timeship so we can get to the important stuff.”