Tag Archives: Dr. Erishka

L: Dorado 4


Max hogged the address to himself, probably to keep me from having everything scoped out, torn apart, and nuked from orbit. It’s the only way Max could be sure. This time, we ended up in Ecuador, hiking up a mountain.

“Why are we doing this?” I said, scooting up the side of a volcano. Max was hiking, but I took the lazy way in one of my proxy bodies. I wasn’t taking my real body hiking up a damn mountain. “You don’t need exercise.”

“I want the experience!” Max declared. He took something out of his pocket and stuffed it between his lip and gum.

“No need to dip chew if you had a scooter,” I said.

He waved off my commentary. “The human body isn’t comfortable transitioning from lower to higher altitudes. We’ve done that a lot lately. It’s giving me farts.”

I know the feeling. Sam’s also really uncomfortable with it.

“Hey, can you distract me?” he asked.

“So, I kind of feel like while I find Sam attractive, I don’t personally have strong feelings in favor of dating her,” I started.

“This again. Sam this, Sam that. Do you ever get off Sam?” he asked.

“You’ve heard the moans,” was the last I said on that point. “That computer really pointed here or did you mess up a riddle?”

“You probably don’t need to be here if you don’t want to be,” he said. “There’s no reason this should be dangerous.”

“Turret gun,” I said, referring to the one hidden in the cargo container that led him to the side of this volcano.

“I had it covered. Relax.”

I took a moment to zip back to my main body in a little hotel we were in. I was in a chair off in the corner. Turning, I saw Holly, Sam, and Dr. Erishka sitting around eating, with a lot more clothes scattered around the room. Nice clothes. “Something going on?”

“Oh, you’re awake,” Sam said. “We were going to take your friend here out partying. She’s been cooped up too long.” She paused, then started to open her mouth before I noticed Erishka adjust how she sit and “accidentally” hit Sam’s shin with her foot.

“Good, I was just checking in,” I said. “Y’all have fun.”

“I still want to talk to you sometime,” Erishka said. “In fact,” she set down the burger she was munching on and wiped her face. “Come on, out the door real quick.”

I didn’t want to bother. Just let her enjoy her night. She’s been tending to my needs for months now. I never told her she needed to be there at all times… but it occurred to me I expected and acted like she would be. Ugh, I am still a terrible leader and a bad boss. So I followed, figuring the least I could do was take the chastising.

I closed the door behind us while she checked the hallway before turning to me. “You offered anything I wanted. I’ve been talking to Holly and Sam and they assure me you mean that. They told me about what you did in Brazil. You were serious that you owed me?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. I like to give people a chance to tell me what they want rather than me impose my idea of what they want on them.”

“Yeah, because you don’t know anything about me or so many others. I’m not going to cash it in. You don’t have healthy interpersonal skills and you do this where you treat interaction as transaction.”

I shook my head and laughed. “You are too nice for me. You go out and have a good time. And, not as a trade, you give me a call if y’all run into trouble. But thank you.” I didn’t want to make a whole speech out of it. We headed back into the room where I popped a really big question, “Anybody got a spare burger?”

Holly held up a foil-wrapped package for me.

Back to Max then. I’d lagged behind on autopilot and found myself having run into a boulder and tipped me over onto my side. I stood back up, brushed myself off, and raised a fist to the sky. “Curse you, Pichincha!” I picked the scooter up and tossed it aside. “Let’s do this shit.”

If there’s anything I miss from my time being imbued with godlike power by an extradimensional entity using me as his conduit, it was flying. I can’t fly, but between my power armor and enhancements, I’ve been known to leap buildings in a single bound. I spotted Max in midair; I ended up jumping past him and having to come back for him. “Where we aiming for, friendo?”

He pointed it out and hopped on my back. In midair, legs wrapped around my lower chest, he decided to hold his arms up and yell like a roller coaster. I didn’t tell him that he nearly shifted his weight enough to end up yelling from a broken leg. It took minutes to get us part of the way up the multi-peaked volcano. It was a little off the trail. It actually would have been hidden from the trail by bushes and rocks. It was no Everest Rainbow Valley, so named for all the corpses in bright climbing gear. They just leave those up there. Someone dies up here, I’m pretty sure there are animals to eat them. Instead of bodies, all they had here was a trapped case.

We could tell it was trapped by all the signs. Even if you stumbled on this thing, little devices attached to this case helpfully warned you about all the different type of explosive compounds rigged to blow you up. Max knelt down and lifted a small cover to reveal a keypad with twelve spaces. The nine Arabic numerals were there with three keys below them adding a back arrow, an OK, and a blank key.

“You sure you don’t want to take care of the bombs?” I suggested.

He waved me away. “The computer gave me the code.” He pushed three, one, nine, and then the blank key. The top clicked of the box clicked open and he didn’t blow up.

I leaned in over his shoulder. “Is this the part where we steal the Declaration of Independence?”

“No. This is saying we need to go into Quito, to a bar called Cacho Caramba.” He looked down the way we came and all the way into the city. “I wish we’d brought the Flyer after all.”

I made a holographic puppet version of Max appear on my hand and gave it a ridiculous voice, “No, this is something I want to do myself.”

“I never said that… so what’s the ETA on the Flyer?”

It took a few minutes, time Max spent smoking a joint. I didn’t even land the Flyer to drop us off when we found Cacho Caramba. Max led me in, the illusion making me look like I was wearing a dress so short and tight, a sneeze would leave me nude. It’s easy to get away with clothes that look painted on when they’re illusionary. I got some wolf whistles, to which Max bowed. “Thank you, I try hard,” he said. That earned boos. They wanted to see me some more.

Max held up his slip of paper, trying to pronounce it in Spanish. I snatched it away from him to ask everyone, “What do you call a negative fish?”

“A pessimist!” said a man in the back, waving us over. The rest of the crowd pretended to laugh along because I’m a pretty woman in a tiny dress, even though it was a silly pun. It also doesn’t make any sense translated into English, but it’s exactly my kind of pun in Latin American Spanish. Yes, there is a difference.

“Sit,” the man urged. “I will lead you down to the entrance in a moment. Please wait, I am watching my show.” He nodded to a small TV set high up in the corner. On the screen, a skinny pale guy sat at a gambling table with a bunch of Asian guys, playing some game with dominoes, a wheel, and a jellybean. I couldn’t tell what genre the show was, especially once a crowd of men rushed in wearing soccer uniforms. I’d say eight, maybe nine guys. It was hard to tell because I think there was a short guy in the back.

“Hey!” the leader said, pointing at our companion. “Fuck you!”

The man we met turned to them, glaring. He slammed his beer down and picked up his cigarette, raising it to his lips in a way that left him pointing right back at the guy. After a long drag, he blew out some smoke and said, “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!”

It went back and forth like that for a few seconds before I interrupted to ask, “What’s going on?”

The guy we pointed at the team. “I bet against the local team. I tried to tell them they could have a share of the money if they helped, but they didn’t. Instead, so many things went wrong, they accuse me of rigging.”

“I know you did,” the lead soccer player said. He smacked his fists together. “Today, we’re kicking your ass.”

“Fuck you,” our companion said, pulling out a long, thin knife.

One of the soccer players reached into his shorts and came out with a pair of nunchucks with little soccer balls on the ends. Max sighed and reached into his coat for a dart gun, checking to make sure it was loaded. Another soccer player raised his shirt to reveal a black and white patterned revolver that he whipped out and pointed toward us. I stood up. One of the players pushed his companions aside and held up a rose. I growled, so then he wrapped it around his fist so the thorns pointed outward.

The lead soccer player, I guess the team captain, elbowed another player. “Do it. Pull it out.”

That player winced. “Do I have to? They don’t have anything else to escalate with?”

“Why did you bring it if you weren’t going to use it?” the captain asked.

Finally, the player whined and reached into the back of his shorts. He shifted a bit. “It’s stuck. Mother of God, it’s stuck. No, wait…” And then he pulled out a fucking spiked ball and chain flail. His team cheered and clapped him on the shoulders, then ran at us.

I’m trying not to kill so many people now. It was made a little easier when Max nailed one in the throat with a dart gun. The man fell to the ground, flailing. The team ignored him and ran past. I put myself between our side and theirs. The leader tried to run past me, but I grabbed him and diverted his head into a nearby wall. He broke through the thin wall and got stuck there, or just was dazed enough.

The player with the gun and the fellow who squeezed out a flail came next. I grabbed the arms with the weapons when both tried to slip past me. I kicked one away, then the second, both times preferring to act nonlethally. I kept their arms with me, though. Yep, one hand holding an arm with a gun in it, the other holding an arm still squeezing a medieval fucking weapon. By that point, the team had stopped to watch in horror. They were frozen. I decided to give them a little more of a push. I flipped the arms around so I held them by the bloody torn-off pieces, pointing a gun at the gang while swinging the flail arm just enough to make the head on its chain spin up some momentum.

“We’re done here, yes?” I asked.

The guys all held up their arms, except for a couple of them who held up just one, and backed out of the room. A dwarf in an outsized soccer uniform stumbled after them. The captain regained his senses enough to tug his head out of the wall and spit out a urinal cake, then begin wiping his face with his shirt and stumbling out of there. This was soon followed by a flushing sound from the other side of the hole in the wall.

I turned to the guy who’d caused all this trouble for us. He was already back in his seat, watching his show. “Hey, you want to get up off your ass?”

“No,” he said, making me wish Max and I hadn’t stepped in. “It’s a marathon! You want to kill me, you don’t get to the Eighth City.”

I pointed the purloined gun still grasped in its purloined limb at the TV. Our unimpressed contact took a drink, then a smoke, then said, “Do it. See if I help you.”

Max turned to me and sighed. He gestured with his hands to put the arms down, both meanings of the word. I lowered them while he slipped the dart gun back into his coat. He came back out with a syringe and turned to our contact with that predator’s grin again.

“Truth serum?” I asked.

Max nodded. “I never worked out how to stop the excruciating pain. Oh well. The truth hurts.”

I don’t even know why the contact bothered throwing that beer.




L: Dorado 2


I like Mix N’Max. We’ve bonded pretty well as villains who kill heroes before. Max doesn’t have too many fucks to give where he gets ingredients or who some of his experiments kill, but he’s always been a straight shooter with me. You know, aside from this one time… it’s not important. But I am getting a wee bit annoyed at him being so quiet about what his plan is. I can see why folks find his smile so punchable.

We stopped elsewhere in Rio to let him grab some food and equipment. He insisted we stop in Uruguay, but came back after fifteen minutes with a box full of leaves. And there was also a stopover in Costa Rica just to spend the night. After that, we were off to Peru, where he claimed he needed to speak with someone about the Crypto Crypt. Sam and Holly dragged him in late, missing his pants, smelling of sex and alcohol.

“You’re letting that guy fix your brain?” Dr. Erishka asked. She had her stuff set up all formally next to Max’s haphazard kit that we picked up.

“I was just going to drink whatever he gave me and hope it works out for the best,” I muttered while performing a bit of maintenance on the Flyer’s electrical systems. “I don’t want to smack him over this.”

I decided to grab lunch without my armor. “Hey, hold up!” Sam called out behind me. I stopped in mid-step, foot still raised, and waited for her. She came up beside me and hooked her arm with mine. Max’s chubbier assistant with the colorful hair then pointed off toward the rear door of the Flyer. “You’re going out, right?”

“Yep. Figured I’d grab lunch. Might pick up enough for everyone,” I said.

“Cool, I’ll join you.”

Together, we set out from the lot we’d parked in to head out into the city of Lima to grab some food. “Not scared of some Peruvian cuisine, I hope?”

“I’m willing to try new things. Let’s find something we can’t even recognize!” She laughed, more perky than I remember her. She tugged me along after her. We ended up finding a nice-smelling restaurant first and picking whatever the fuck we could find that we decided sounded good. And while we were waiting, lest anyone think these events are notable as some sort of date or something.

Sam put a hand on my forearm as I sat there, my mouth watering. “Please be patient with Max, alright? This search is something fun he’s wanted a real shot at and he’s happy to have you along. He’s not stalling, he’s doing things his own special way. I’ll give him a kick when we get back.”

“Thanks,” I said. I decided to try stepping outside my comfort zone a little. “I’m worried. I don’t like to show that, but one day I’m the deadliest bitch on earth. The next, I stroke out if I overexert myself, and I don’t know where that line is until after I cross it.”

“Sucks big time. You know he loves you, right? As a friend, though, not the other way. Aside from that one time… nevermind. Not important.”

Back at the Flyer, we walked right back in past some fleeing children. I had just pulled a leg off this roasted chicken that smelled amazing when a dart struck it from inside the Flyer. I was considering eating it anyway, until the skin started boiling up and the meat melted off. Then I tossed it aside and decided to glare at the hungover Max who was downing something thick and tan from a cough syrup bottle.

“I’m so fucking hungry and you take the food right out of my mouth,” I scoffed.

He held the gun he held up with his pointer extended along the barrel, indicating to me that he needed a minute. Sam and I pulled out a table and set the food down for everyone, including Holly who ran up excited to eat. She lifted up a skewer of cuy, screamed, and threw it away. “Oh my god!” She ended up running off toward the bathroom.

I looked over at Sam, who looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Can’t take this pair anywhere.” She grabbed some cuy for herself and took a bite, “Hey Holly! Mmm, damn, that’s actually really good. Hey, Holly! Come on, you don’t even have to look at it. They didn’t kill it for us.” She grabbed this cheese-stuffed pepper and brought it along to check on her friend.

Erishka stepped up to help herself to some of the food, including the other leg of the chicken. Darn near tempting the wrath of Gecko there, if I didn’t need the doctor to look after my own health. “What’s her problem?”

“The thingy on a stick is a rodent that people where she’s from keep as pets,” I informed her. I pointed to the chicken leg. “Don’t worry, even the people who keep those as pets find them so annoying they want to eat them.”

I reached down to grab a wing off the chicken. Thwit! I felt a pain in my neck. I whirled to see Max holding the dart gun pointed at me, my hand reaching to feel it sticking out of the back of my neck. Everything got fuzzy and loopy and slow. So. Slow. My eyes flicked over to the chicken there in my fingers, so delicious-looking and uneaten. I brought it to my mouth and… almost…

Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

I should have skipped over to another body. Any children still reading… wow, what, were you born during the time I’ve been writing all this? Anyway, kids, friends don’t let friends get shot full of a rapid-acting sedative knocks you out in seconds. I awoke to my skull feeling like I’d spent the entire time out used as a drum. The pain was the first part of my awakening. There was the smell of food as well. I was laying on one of the nicer passenger chairs I installed that could recline. And in front of me, on a tray, was a piece of roasted chicken.

Holly grabbed it off the plate and started eating it. And there went the spark of joy in my life. I opened my mouth to cry out and Sam slipped something meaty and tasty in there. I winced when I felt a hand stroking my head.

“Your prognosis looks good. No signs of the virus,” Dr. Erishka says. She looked over to Max. “When will the sedative be out of her system?”

“What?” I asked.

“I needed to drug you heavily to go so far inside you for the first time,” Max said. “You know, aside from that one time… not important right now.” He waved off reminiscing and grabbed one of those peppers with the cheese. “You must be hungry. Here.”

I opened my mouth. He brought a syringe around and squirted some liquid into my throat. Once again, too drugged to react like I should.

I think I managed to stew on the bait and switch the entire time I was unconscious because, while I didn’t remember any dreams I had, I woke up pissed.

No one was around. My HUD clock took a moment to reset. It was Tuesday. No one was around. I was still pissed. I heard shouting in the distance. I rolled off the chair and called to my nanomachines, letting them swarm over me for a check-up. Skull needed a bit of mending and I had to get rid of a catheter. I launched a drone from the Flyer in the hopes of finding where the hell the team went. The search was short. They were racing down the street toward us in the back of an old truck, jeeps full of soldiers and a few supers giving chase.

Erishka was bandaging Sam’s belly. Holly had some of my custom grenades. She dopped one beside their truck that belched smoke and impeded the view. Since the road was straight, the jeeps didn’t crash or anything, but I think it helped. Max spun his dart gun and syringe gun in each hand, looking for a shot.

One of the supers, who glowed under his skin with a pulsing yellow light, emitted a blade of yellow light, then pointed to the drone. It was too far away to hear what he said, but it drew Max’s attention to it. He looked up, then put his guns up to pull out a phone and text me: “Get us ready to fly out of here. We’re going, not fighting.”

Growling as much in frustration as in hunger, I docked the drone again and started up the Flyer. The truck came rumbling up into the hold. Holly dived out and hit the button to close the door behind them.

“Go!” Erishka called out.

More growling. I took off, just ignoring the rounds bouncing harmlessly off the Flyer’s armor. One of the Peruvian supers flew up beside the the Flyer. I giggled to myself and swung the aircraft to the side, bonking the Super and sending the guy falling to the city below.

“Where to?” I asked. “Sorry I wasn’t up for whatever that was any sooner. I was a bit hungover. My skull was killing me.”

“Panama!” Max called out.

“This is no time for singing, Max.”

“The country,” he added. He pulled out a USB. “This is what we needed. A key that will unlock the computer system and allow us to track down a ship that delivered equipment to the Crypto Crypt. Ship’s called the Shangrila.

I rolled my eyes, “Fine. And what about me? If you’re done knocking me out, that is.”

I checked down below real quick. Some people trying to scramble jets. I canceled the order, made sure we were hidden from radar and visual. “Keep in mind, I’m flying us,” I reminded everyone. “Sure would be bad timing now if I had a seizure.”

“Enough, you’re fine. The virus doesn’t appear to be in your system anymore,” Erishka spoke sternly. “Now, stabilize this craft so I can work on Sam.”

We leveled off right about then. We were far enough up and all, looping back around for a curved approach to Panama, a country so nice it got a Van Halen song about it. Of course I helped Sam out; my medical nanomachines were the best suited to treat a gunshot that missed the stinky bits of the lower body organs but would have kept her from ever enjoying a drink ever again.

It was just the kiss that surprised me is all. “Uh…” I said, looking back down at Sam , who was still really close to my face and had her arms around my head.

“You never wanted a ‘glad to be alive’ kiss before?” She grinned up at me.

Eh, why not? Of course, Erishka broke us up a couple minutes later. “Can all my patients stop making out? Thank you!” she got between us and had us both sit down. Sam got the all clear pretty quick, while the doctor decided I needed further observation.

“Come on… I know why you’re saying that, and I must say I approve of the double entendre.” I gestured to my crotch and the boner poking up through the skirt.

“Put it away or I’ll turn off the horny section of your brain,” she said.

“That’s located down there as well,” I joked.

“Here,” Max said, shoving the best-smelling bag in history into my hands. I opened it to find another roast chicken all for myself. A couple minutes into my meal, I noticed the stares from Erishka.

“That kind of thing shouldn’t be possible. Are those extra sets of teeth? Like a shark?”

I tried to clear some of the food, but a leg fell out of my mouth. My prehensile tongue shot out and snatched it into my mouth where I swallowed it whole. “What?” I asked her. “I still put on my skirt one leg at a time.”



Gems and Holograms 6



As much as I didn’t want to, I decided to discuss this whole situation with my doctor. It’s less about medical need and more about the fact that I don’t discuss killing people with the retired heroes I know in town. Or, as Dr. Erishka put it, “It sounds like you don’t have any friends or you know you’re doing something wrong.”

“Nevermind,” I waved her off.

“If you’re actually asking for my help and aren’t trying to trick me again, maybe it’s worthwhile. What’s happening?” she asked.

“If I kill off the final guy, there’s a chance I unleash an imprisoned monster that could cause a lot of trouble. Or I kill it easily, I don’t know yet. Or I let this guy go, but he’s all amped up and under the belief he’s being hunted because I’ve been hunting him. Something bad’s going to happen, and I have some responsibility here.”

“Sounds like it’s harder for you to let him live. You’ve become emotionally invested in him dying. I need you to swallow these nanomachines for me and do not interfere in their programming. A colleague has something he wants others to test and I think its worthwhile.” She held out a pill for me, along with a small glass of water. I downed both. As expected, the pill didn’t make it down my throat before the nanomachines spread out and started heading for my brain.

“I guess it’s an affront to me. I offered them shelter and help. They stole from me. They really didn’t know who they were messing with,” I said.

“Yes. That makes sense. You’re hiding here. What happened when you asked for help?” she asked.

“I didn’t. The cops are useless dingleberries even if I wasn’t a criminal myself. The heroes hate me. The villains… I mean, I don’t want to lose my reputation.” Despite the recapping of my feelings, it was exposing me to the fact that I didn’t pursue my options here.

“You’re either in hiding or you have a reputation. You could have done things differently, and you feel bad realizing it would have been better if you had, right? There we go. We’re going to leave those in. You know, for someone who talks about the problem-solving aspect of murdering people, you don’t seem that smart. Everything you’ve got, are you only good at killing. It ends the same way or it’s the same threat every time. Oh, thank you, that got those neurons firing.”

She had me thinking outside the box. Or, in this case, outside the coffin. She had a point. It’s a reminder I’ve needed in the past, not to get stuck in one way of thinking. And with it clear what I needed to do, it was just a matter of letting my mind wander into all sorts of fun ways of doing things. Yeah, don’t even know what I was worried about. I got this.

I was right to be worried what Yoshi would do. Desperate people do desperate things because desperate times call for desperate measures. People got wind something was wrong in Fort Snelling State Park when every living thing began to die off. Trees and bushes all rotted and fell apart. Bushes, too. Even the grass just died. Being the same power as whatever rusted out Marco’s truck, I have serious questions about how that thing works. It skipped over the part where they reproduce.

The news got there at one point, talking about park rangers not returning phone calls. They got set up and had the camera rolling when they saw Yoshi walking along, glowing from three different points on his body, everything around turning brown and black with decay. When the reporter turned to camera, her hair was graying. Her skin sagged and I guess Yoshi’s got the hang of those rotting powers, because she fell down dead a second later with others screaming.

It was definitely the guy I was looking for.

I still had the armor I used to save some people once. Metal, female in shape even though there’s no flesh in there, silver and yellow. The nanite “cape” that I like to give my armors now resembled shimmering wings. It was an angelic look by design. And my armor’s already shown itself to be resistant to what Yoshi does by happenstance. Still, when the Lady Guardian armor descended from the heavens, or at least the cloaked Flyer in the sky, it did so as one of many in a ring of holograms.

And while those distracted him, the Flyer also began to lower a metal box. It’s the same one I’m thinking outside of, and it was tough to do. Believe it or not, I don’t have a lot of practice at crane games. The setup I made to allow me complete remote control without consciousness projection is going to leave some lag and flaws.

“You’re the thing hunting me!” accused Yoshi.

“I’ve handled this poorly, as have you,” I said through the armor. “But I want you to know that I’m going to give you a chance because you’re the last of your bunch to still have these gems. You chill your shit out, and we can both leave here free and unharmed.”

“Fuck you!” he yelled, turning every which way, trying to rot away as many as he could find. I dropped the illusion right about the time one shoved a mask over his head from behind. I didn’t leave him entirely blind. After all, one of those is embedded in his eye. I didn’t want him seeing, and that wasn’t ruined by me yanking that eye-gem out and shoving it inside a large, armored gauntlet.

That happened fast. He went all intangible as I tried to grab his arms, but the mask stayed on. So I pulled out a taser and shocked the shit out of him until he was wiggling on the ground. Because one of those weird things I remember from past experiences with Dame, the thief who uses a gadget to become intangible, is the electricity has a way of disrupting all that. It creates a barrier that even the intangible can’t pass through, I’m guessing because of electromagnetics. So, shocking him on occasion, I shoved a gauntlet onto his hand. A metal box settled around us as a secondary containment measure; its walls electrified as soon as I detached it from the Flyer’s lift hook.

It’s a contingency. Insurance.

This gave me a chance to check the gauntlet. It held. Hooray for redundant engineering! If I’d lost that gem anyway, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, but it works better this way.

I left off the shocking long enough to shove a stick into Yoshi’s mouth, then tased him again. And then I shoved the gauntlet onto the same wrist that held his other gems of power, turning it on. I think the teleportation gem fused with him again. He popped out of there, the tracker heading to Minneapolis.

Well, darn. I hoped the taser would mess with that, or that maybe the electrified walls would disrupt his ability to get out. But, as I said, I already turned it on. It took a moment for me to get eyes on Yoshi’s exact location in Minneapolis. He was the screaming guy laying in the street, clutching a cauterized stump while a big metal gauntlet was yanked along by the three gems inside trying to fly off.

It took a little longer to enact the next phase of my plan on account of Yoshi teleporting away. But at least I built the thing with a tracker of its own. It’s very important for the next part that I know where it is. Lady Guardian recovered the gauntlet before it could escape. Heavy hunk of metal I trapped them in. Too heavy for them to fly around so easily. The gauntlet and those three gems are now all just buried in my lair, behind walls of concrete and lead. I was originally going to blast them off into space, but I didn’t want to hitch a ride and I don’t have any rockets that big. If I ever need these things, I know where to get them.

The way it worked out with Yoshi, I didn’t need to do anything. Cops might look into him over the video footage, if they can even identify him. Meanwhile, he’s in the hospital. Being repeatedly electrocuted, having your eye pulled out, and then having your arm sliced off by a fancy glove with a saw in it isn’t a good day for anyone. But he’s alive, and that’s more than most of his friends can say. Maybe it’s a bad idea for me to leave him like that, too. He knows where to find me and knows I have valuables. He also knows I can take more than just an arm and an eye if I need to.

It worked out surprisingly well. Took a bit more time than just killing him, but that would have been as simple as sneaking up behind him and shoving an ice pick into his brain. A sniper could have stopped him for the cost of one round, and while that cost has gone up lately, it’s a lot cheaper than the cost of containment.

Yoshi gets to live. Gil got to live. I was going to give Marco a chance, but Yoshi killed her. What happens next isn’t up to me. I even considered sending Yoshi a prosthetic arm before figuring he’d probably see that as a taunt. Nah, if he wants one of those, he knows where to find me, or wherever he left the others.

It feels like a meaningless victory, but then it was a pretty meaningless conflict in the first place. The only meaningful part came when the doctor came by to check on the probes she’d sent into my brain. They reacted with her scanner to give her information that had her pumping her fist in victory. “Great!”

“What?” I asked.

“You have a virus!” she declared, projecting a hologram for me to see.

I had started to object before realizing this was a physical virus. “How?”

“I wish I had put it together, but your data was important due to your relative isolation to First Earth’s infonet. We believe it’s a data virus contracted through direct neural exposure to the infonet. The host body is forced to produce physical viral structures while the original data is destroyed to prevent anyone from realizing what’s happening. That’s what we think so far. Because the resulting virus is just as much a mixture of flesh and computer as its victims, it blends in. You don’t directly control every nanomachine, but it would see the virus as either a friendly foreign component like your replaced organs or a natural part of your body.”

“Now that I know, can’t we just wipe them out with the nanomachines?” I asked. My solution to everything. They were another idea for dealing with Yoshi, even. Paralyze him. Thing is, I didn’t know if they would remain in him if he went intangible, and he’d probably have been capable of teleporting around anyway. Cutting him up was the solution I wanted. What? Personal feelings can be a factor in a problem’s solution.

Just like my personal feelings this time was wanting this virus out of my brain as quick as possible.

Dr. Erishka shook her head. “That is unlikely to work at the moment unless you go through and visually target each one, which is made difficult by what it has already done to you.”

I thought about it. “No one who matters to you would blame you for walking away now that you have all this juicy data.”

“You wouldn’t, but I’m better than you. We’re all better than you thought. That’s why you’re going to cooperate and say ‘thank you, human,’ like a good girl.”

The thought of doing some sort of submissive roleplaying with Erishka didn’t sit well with me. Soured the entire mood of relief that came with knowing, at last, what the fuck is wrong with my brain. But I gritted my teeth and said, “Thank you, human.”

Not feeling too grateful after she made me say it, though.



Law and Robots 7



I was prepared for judgment, even a death sentence. I think that goes with being depressed and a few steps from suicidal. It could also be a byproduct of maintaining a bunch of proxy bodies that can die in place of me. It was no problem staying behind on the island while everyone packed up and left. The Privateers didn’t steal all my food.

Medusa left with the rest, also figuring I was in no real danger. Took the tightwad supers with her and left me alone in the big circle of automatons. As I’ve stated before, I prefer to call self-aware artificial beings that rather than robot because the second one is another term for a slave. And these were some fascinating beings. Aspects of their design were worth studying, especially the soft robotics some of them had. A few of them didn’t enjoy the attention, but some were more than willing to show off what they could do.

And then the one made up of a series of orbs moved between me and this thing that could transform its shape. “Ready.for.trial,” it told me in its fast-paced machinespeak.

I turned back to the envoy, which still resembled a sarcophagus. “What kind of trial do I face?”

The face on the outside of the sarcophagus lit up. “The decision has been made to try you by ordeal. Your mind will be transferred into a simulacrum where you will be given a fair and competitive chance to win against an opposing avatar representing opposition to your going free. If you win, you go free. If you lose, you will be imprisoned in a rehabilitative mind prison for a cycle. We will provide you with a replacement body if yours does not survive the cycle.”

“How long is the cycle?” I wondered.

“The average rehabilitative cycle is equal to one hundred rotations of your planet around your star.”

That would not exactly be ideal. “So what’s this about the mind thing? You’re going to use a copy of my brain? Or, like, copy it and delete the original? Because both of those sound like you’re killing me and/or punishing a copy instead of who committed the original crime.”

“We have a method to transfer your consciousness that is superior to the method you are currently using.”

That is not good. This was a much better plan when they thought this was me and couldn’t transfer my mind. “Uh…”

The spheres flew up around my head. I saw and felt a flash, then was standing in a large dark space. I could see myself clearly, there was just nothing around me. My body was different. I pulled an eye out to look and while the body was absolutely awesome, the face’s features were familiar but not something I could place. I couldn’t get my eyes’ photo feature to work, but I was able to record it on down into my memory. My hair was super-curly.

I was looking all that over when a I noticed the square underneath me. On the edge of it appeared a rectangular building. The materials and color were different, but we’re talking something roughly building-shaped. There were parts of the walls that looked like redundant metal supporters and windows were round. Instead of a doorknob, it had a handle near the bottom.

“I will be your opposition,” a voice said nearby. The words also appeared near the bottom of my view. I turned to see a being with a trio of arms equidistant around a body that resembled a four-sided pyramid with another pyramid on the bottom of it pointed downward. Instead of a point, the lower pyramid came to form a ridged, tube-shaped body, like a large worm. The upper pyramid’s point curved forward and featured three diamond-shaped slits on it that I took to be eyes. I didn’t see a mouth. “I am designated Unit D4N.”

“And I am designated A51N!” another voice said from a pill-shaped being floating near D4N’s head.

“A51N is in observer mode. Sometimes we play together, sometimes one plays and the other observes,” D4N explained.

“I will be your mediator and referee,” a voice boomed. It was a digital representation of the sarcophagus overhead. “The game we have chosen is ‘Festival of Roima’. You may use your default representation or one of the game avatars, but they confer no additional benefits. Play is simple. You both begin with two and a half bytes. You will be given block with numbers on it. The amount of bits you earn will be tracked and used to aid determination of the victor. Roll it to determine the number of spaces you advance. Unless you land on an event space, you will gain three bits. Green event spaces are positive, yellow event spaces are negative. Colors have been optimized to be viewable by all parties involved. There are some unique events that are part of the game map. The number of events you encounter will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor.”

“I will choose the game map. After you have both had one turn each, you will play a sub-game that will reward bits to the winner. The number of victories by each side will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor. To start with, one trophy will be placed on the game map. Passing through it will give you an opportunity to obtain the trophy in exchange for two and a half bytes. If you do not have the bytes for the exchange, it will remain there for the next entity to pass through. Once exchanged, the position of the trophy will change. The number of trophies will be tracked to aid the determination of the victor. You will have twenty turns. End of explanation.”

I raised a hand. “So four different things determine if you win? Is there a chance of a tie?”

“There is a chance, but it is a small one. In the event of a tie, it will count as a loss for you. Are you ready?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

The envoy, now the referee, disappeared momentarily. The area around us changed and my vision pulled back. The map was a loop around an asteroid field, with a few alternate routes that were optional. The one to the north looped back around to rejoin the main route ten spaces back. The other was a detour that came together with the main route ten spaces forward. Then I came back to myself, realized I was still holding my own eye outside of my head, and popped it back in.

“We determine who plays first,” the referee said. A fist-sized die appeared in the air in front of myself and D4N. I grabbed mine and got four. D4N got a seven. So D4N went first. D4N landed on a space to get three more bits. I got a space that made caused a robot to appear nearby that hit me with a hammer. It didn’t hurt, but it removed 10 bits from me. After that, minigame time!

Suddenly, we were both at the bottom of different tunnels. I was looking at us both from in front of us, and could see through the ground like a cut-out view. A panel in my view popped up and told me I needed to repeatedly pump the lever in my hands to inflate a balloon underneath myself. The first one to reach the top of the tunnel wins.

I indicated my readiness, as did D4N. Then the pumping began. As fast-paced and exciting as it was, it’s as simple as saying I pumped really fast and just barely won. Round two! This time, D4N landed on a space where a small meteor appeared overhead, hit it, and it lost 5 bits. I got a normal space and three more bits.

“As far as trials go, can I just say that this is both one of the most fun and possibly the most insidious,” I mentioned as we headed into another minigame. We now stood on the back of aircraft with buckets in our hands. There was a hole nearby each of us, and we were informed by the game that it was raining fuel and we needed to catch it and pour it into the tank of our craft in order to boost our speed and beat our opponent to the finish.

“It gives you an ability to defend yourself and…” D4N trailed off as the minigame began.

“And what?” I asked, getting an idea. I rushed back and forth catching a few large drops of a black liquid in my bucket. D4N nearly missed one while processing my question.

“It is superior to a trial by debate alone as some species prefer. A skilled debater can cause one to ignore facts,” D4N answered. It was finally getting up to speed.

“That is right?” Machinespeak is awkward, so it almost slipped me up to figure out ways to say what I wanted in it. The wind wasn’t messing with me, so that aspect of physics had been left out. “Do you do this a lot?”

“I play a lot of games,” D4N answered.

“Would you bet your existence on it?” I asked again, rapid-fire.

“No,” D4N responded. It dumped its bucket. I watched as its aircraft sped ahead, but it went so fast that D4N couldn’t catch drops. I waited to gather a couple more. Then, ready for the speed boost, I dumped mine. I maybe managed one more that I added to tank, lengthening the speed boost slightly.

“What about A51N’s? I bet you would be skilled enough to play for its existence,” I said, grinning. I had a slight lead.

A51N appeared like a ghostly entity near D4N, not interacting with anything going on except to speak, “D4N would get me destroyed, but it would try.”

“I would not. I would rather play for myself than you,” D4N stated.

“I do not want you playing for me either. Destroy yourself,” A51N said. I couldn’t read its town but D4N let out a noise when its observer buddy added, “Do not take me with you because you can’t play.” Whoopsy, D4N missed a drop of fuel it should have been able to get.

The next time it dumped its bucket, I dumped mine right after. My boost lasted slightly longer. And in the end, with the knowledge that I could distract D4N, I managed a little better win than I did in the first game.

Ended up losing the first trophy to it, though. Got the second. Lost the third and fourth. Really, it’s better to skip ahead to the end. There we were, with me having five trophies, and D4N having six. D4N’s rolls were way ahead of mine, and the main way I’d stayed competitive was using spaces or obtaining items that let me move to the trophy or swap locations with D4N. I also did better in the minigames, ended up with 134 bits to D4N’s 73.

Then, we were both sucked up out of the asteroid field. We were held in the air; a purple background with stars zoomed past us to give us the illusion of rapid flight. I guess the entire thing was an illusion, actually. Text panels came on-screen. “It is time for bonus trophies! First, a bonus for the player who won the most bits in minigames!”

The trophy appeared overhead, then shifted to me, tying us.

“Next, the trophy for the player with the most bits at any moment!” Another bonus star appeared, then came to me, moving me from tied with D4N to having a one-star advantage.

“Finally, the trophy for landing on the most event spaces!” I couldn’t remember this one off-hand, but given how many times I got smashed with meteors, flattened with satellites, and bopped with hammers, I thought I had it. The trophy went to D4N, tying us once again.

“We shall see who won!” I heard and read. Then, D4N fell away and I was left hanging in the air.

I expected it to pop up that I had a tie but instead, it announced “Victor!” overhead.

“You have survived your trial, Psychopomp Gecko,” the referee stated. “You had equal trophies to D4N, but were far superior with bits. When you are ready, we will return you to your body.”

“That’s really it?” I asked. “That’s the whole trial to determine what happens?”

“It is a trial where origin, wealth, and charisma will not aid you. The randomization negates skill in any one task. You won. You are now free,” the referee said.

“Wow… ok… thanks, then? Hey, before we go back, one quick tip: you’re probably going to want to nab Mars as soon as you can. That’s the red planet near us. We have a bunch of these guys who watched our species mess up the environment of a planet we evolved to fit who now think it’d be easier to create an entire friendly ecosystem from scratch on that one. Not smart people, but you may want to get there before they mess it all up, ok?”

“We will take your advice under consideration,” the referee informed me.

And I woke up in my body back in my house. I was fine. My body back on the island was fine, too, but before I could focus on that, I had Dr. Erishka all over me. “You just went brain dead. What happened?”



Law and Robots 5



It took a couple of days of working around things and medical treatment. Dr. Erishka put her foot down, though. We were eating a bit of pasta salad as a light lunch when she cleared her throat. “You need to be honest with me about what’s so important you’re killing yourself doing it. It’s a joke to you, not to me. I haven’t asked a lot of questions about this entire thing you are doing, but I need to better understand you to help manage your condition. And it is my job to help you with this self-destruction.”

I laughed at that one. Qiang had been sitting around texting on her phone. Looking at that, she slipped off the couch in the connected living room and headed down the hall. I took a deep breath afterward, let it out, then told her, “Ok, we’ve got a bit of talking to do, and you may not react well, so… you might want to really help me self-destruct.

I told her. It went… emotionally. She did not try to kill me.

Change of scenery anyone?

Alone on a sandy island in the Caribbean, is a cloned body in power armor trying to fix the Machine Lord’s communications device. But is it every truly alone when it’s my body, controlled remotely by my mind?

The sky was a starry void, writhing with liberated alien machines writhing and maneuvering ever closer. I guess they didn’t do that thing in the movies where people open up a portal right in the middle of everybody and risk someone dropping off a bomb. Something like what I’d have done normally. Maybe the method had to be done that way. Maybe the machines are just smart and paranoid.

Part of the problem that comes from fussing with technology you don’t understand at all is if you break it, you usually don’t know how to fix it. You don’t need to understand the workings of a computer to fix a cut power cord, but you’ll need to understand a thing or two about it if something hits the tower and it starts messing up. I don’t even know how this thing has power or what the bit from Machine Lord does. I found the interface, but that’s the equivalent of mashing on the keyboard. Not that there’s a keyboard. This thing was meant for an interface from something with no fingers. Or skin.

The darkness didn’t help. The hole is blocking out the sun. My helmet does a good job, but then you think about all the robots coming to Earth and I realized I didn’t know for a fact none landed. I just know when a big metal teardrop landed nearby and threw up a bunch of sand. Sand splashed down all over me and the contraption I was working on.

It was dark metal with mismatched cut and bent into plates overlapping like scales to a tapered point. The scales flared outward, unleashing a flury of Machinespeak radio signals, and a bunch of robots all popped out. The Space Machines, freed robotic labor for various spacefaring species, dropped out. They came in all shapes and sizes, which means a lot more with these beings than it does for most things on Earth.

I sent them a prepackaged welcoming message. It was a little lengthy for words, but instantly downloaded to them as something closer to “Welcome. I’m not hostile unless you make me. The guy who called you here was an asshole who wanted to kill people rather than party. Please allow me to speak with one of your leaders so a lot of people don’t die unnecessarily.”

Most of them paused. One of them stepped up. “All flesh is oppression. If you die here now, there will be no need for parley.”

The holographic version of me I left behind spread her arms while the words, “Come at me, bro,” appeared in the air in neon letters, but in Machinespeak code. It’s a shared programming language they share and propagate to make up for them being from different cultures and species. I bet they reprogram each other too, so there’s less chance of someone getting caught by a failsafe.

The machine was large and rounded. An eight-foot tall oval with arms like halves of horseshoes. Its head looked like a duck and was tracking me instead of the hologram. It let out an echoing honking noise and tipped forward to run at me surprisingly quickly for something on such stubby legs.

He could see through my holographic cloaking, so I decided to weaponize that. I flashed him. Mechanical beings aren’t known for enjoying a good tit, so I bombarded him with bright flashes and a few snippets from the Willy Wonka tunnel scene. I threw myself down at the ground and just tripped the big thing, letting it trip over me. It rolled over that duck head and skidded on its back, trashing the alien communication device. I jumped up and brushed myself off, then gave him the middle finger while projecting the term “Rude Gesture” in Machinespeak, dropping the cloak entirely.

I could have torn him apart. I could take them all out, I think, without too much trouble. A growing wave of grey goo eating all of them. I wonder if that would have caused another seizure. That creeping suspicion pops in at the worst times. If I answer my phone at on the toilet, will my brain break? It’s a crappy mindset.

Instead, I sat there while the big round duckbot stood back up and looked at me. I shrugged. “Even if you kill me, I have backups. And I am currently the person holding back a number of scared primates who would like to attack you.”

A trio of grapefruit-sized spheres flew over between us and quickly told me, “Request.relayed.to.leadership.please.hold.for.parley.”

Duck-bill tilted its head. “Your dialect is poor.”

“I am not a native speaker,” I clarified.

Duck-bill poked its beak at the orbs. “Clarification: Triunit’s dialect is poor. You are articulate for a flesh-being.”

“Thank you,” I said, rolling my eyes. Ugh, living beings, with their prejudices. I’m glad I’m so much better than them and don’t have to deal with that.

Dr. Erishka was waiting for me back at the house and keeping the laptop nearby. She helped me up and made sure I was doing fine. “They’re still arguing?”

“Yes, it’s hard to concentrate,” she said.

“You can still walk away whenever you want,” I said. She’s from my home dimension, where I tried to destroy the planet. She’s also human, so it was her people who tortured me into what I became. I like to think my words carried a connotation that if she wanted to kill me, she had every opportunity, but I’m not sure if she realized it.

She kept her emotions in check pretty well and didn’t say a thing as she injected me with something to mitigate the effects.

From the computer, I heard someone complaining, “I said, did you hear me, Gecko?”

I turned it up, not having heard them. “Yeah, sure, agree 100%.”

“You think you did this deliberately to fuck us over too?” the voice asked.

“No, I was just saying that because I wasn’t listening. Too busy speaking asking for a meeting with a Machine leader to try and minimize the violence and loss of life,” I answered.

“Why couldn’t you have just killed everyone at the outset and prevented all this in the first place?” they asked.

I closed the laptop and snapped it in half, but then I looked to Dr. Erishka. I wanted to tell her about how the person on that end had a point, but I didn’t want to just kill everyone all the time. I’m sympathetic to the Machines. I’m even a bit sympathetic toward Starscar’s crew even if the guy himself is a jackass. Two different sets of beings in similar circumstances, pitted against each other through mutual distrust and the manipulations of feckless overseers who don’t like getting their hands dirty.

Instead, I sent a message Medusa’s way to make sure everyone knows not to attack the Machines before or during my talks.

“Doctor, I need to go control another body and some spy slugs. It’s about time I finish with Starscar,” I told her. She nodded and I laid back again.

Eon was still in his cell, talking to himself. Or talking to me, maybe. I sat up and he jumped. “You’re back!”

“Yeah, still in here?” That’s rich coming from a body shot in half and surviving entirely because it was design to keep going.

He nodded. “They can’t get the ship airborne. They think it’s a Machine cyberattack, but they can’t figure out the programming language.”

“If Starscar dies, is whoever next in line sympathetic toward getting out of here without trying to use the antimatter bomb?” I asked.

He pointed to himself. “Technically, that’s me.”

“Good. Because I’ve got an idea.”

A minute later, the guards outside the room heard the shouting and banging on the door and rushed in to find Eon laying on the bunk, spasming, with me pumping his chest like all those inaccurate depictions of CPR.

“What the…?” one of them asked before Eon raised up suddenly and threw me at them. I wrapped around one’s neck, choking him out. His companion turned between me and him, so I released one arm to grab a trailing intestine of mine and wrap it around her throat. Eon came up and punched her out while I finished putting the other one to sleep with the quick blood choke.

Eon picked me up and started rushing toward the cockpit. Inside were a few of the crew, tearing open panels and looking through. “The captain isn’t fit. He’s a homicidal maniac. His poor judgment failed the mission, stranded us on an alien planet, and has us sitting on top of an antimatter bomb we don’t know might have been armed. I am invoking my right as his Second to relieve him of duty due to mental infirmity and take over.”

“Captain’s not going to want to hear there,” said blondie from hallway behind us. Eon turned. I pivoted to keep an eye on the crew that were now behind us and watched as one of them picked up a tool. I zapped his hand with my laser eye. Oof. Draining energy I don’t have to spare in that body. Eon hasn’t been sharing food, nor have I asked him to.

Eon looked back, then raised me up and pointed me at blondie. “Out of my way.”

Blondie looked like she was going to press the issue. I blew her a kiss. Her face scrunched up in disgust and she raised a small cylinder to her mouth. “Captain, Eon’s removing you from duty.”

“Put me on speaker,” he said. She tapped something and we could all hear him more easily. “I’ve got one thing to tell you in-grate former slave sons of a drelnat… 40X105P3OO—.”

Klaxons blared. Everyone looked around trying to figure out what the hell was happening before blondie pointed to the viewscreen. “Self detonation imminent.”

“I got this,” I said, reaching out to my spy slugs. There had been an override activating a hidden device underneath the engines. They could feel power diverted to it. So I had them cut it off. No more sirens. Viewsceen even said, “Self detonation halted.”

“Now do you see what I mean?” Eon asked to a wave of really scared crewmembers.

“Aw fuck,” Starscar said over the speaker. From elsewhere came aloud bang and the sounds of energy weapons. I smelled ozone.

Blondie pulled her handgun, some five-barreled thing with three rotating cylinders in a line. “Fucker’s gone mad.” She raced off toward the sound. I squirmed free and followed her. Eon stayed for a moment, “Give me a weapon, tool, something!” Of course he managed to outpace me and get ahead. I followed after.

I knew I was close when a flaming blue burst of energy punched through a wall at chest height. Seeing as I had no legs, I was safely below that. “My ship! You were nothing before I dragged all of you out of that mine. You’re better because I gave you a place on my ship!”

He grunted. I heard metal on flesh. Growling. A shot, and then the bottom half of blondie’s body flopped down in front of me from around the corner. I pivoted around it to see Eon down an arm and a leg as well, looking down the barrel of gun that would have given a light machinegun penis envy. Barrels and weird nubs sticking out. He shouldn’t have been able to hold the thing, but Starscar managed.

I carved his arms off at the forearm. The gun dropped. He turned to me. “What in the-?”

I lunged for him and unleashed my stretchy, froglike tongue I recently added. It has been awhile, but it’s there. It wrapped around his neck and pulled me close. I wish I had enough control to squeeze him with it, but that’s something to think of for later improvements.

If it won’t break my brain, at least. I felt a bit sluggish, though. I think from Dr. Erishka’s injection, or maybe that body was just failing.

Starscar fell under me, screaming. I reached into his mouth with both hands and pulled his head apart. It didn’t quite work in halves, which I thought would keep up the running theme. I’d been shot in half and so had Blondie. Eon was missing half his limbs. He managed to haul himself to his foot, the wounds cauterized, and started limping toward the cockpit. “Medic!”

I let the body fail and drifted back to my own. Yeah, I was sleepy from the medication.

“Got that done in time. Thanks, doctor,” I told her just before letting out a yawn. “One problem fixed, just have to save the whole damn world.”

Erishka nodded. “Right. We’re going to need more drugs.”



Law and Robots 4



“You’re doing too much,” Dr. Erishka tried to warn me. We were playing another session of “stare at my brain.” She was concerned. It wasn’t even the worst I’ve ever coordinated.

“It’s just the body with the machine, the body with the alien mercenaries, the body at the store, and this one here. And maybe some drones scattered here and there,” I told her. The Machine Lord had made it clear I was not to sneak deeper into the island, so I created an augmented reality net and deployed some mini-drones. Unlike my spy slugs, these were just handy utility drones the size of a hockey puck. They took positions higher up to track it, but were acting autonomously. Once I reached his crater, their video feed let me take a look at the equipment piled up in there. I spotted pieces of Earth tech in there, like watches, smart phones, and radios, but they were all hooked up to a heart-sized device with a jagged ring oscillating around the outside. It looked like a piece of the Machine Lord itself.

“I’ve been looking back over your nanomachiens’ scans of you,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I was a bit dismissive of her.

She sounded annoyed. “I’ve been scanning you while you sleep. You aren’t even sleeping. You need a break.”

“I’ve had plenty of breaks. This is the most relaxing alien invasion I’ve ever been a part of,” I chuckled. “Drinking at bars, hanging around on tropical islands.” Frequent examinations from a doctor are one perk I left off the list. Of course she’s got data from my body falling asleep. She’s got a calming voice and her scans are usually quite relaxing.

“You aren’t the only one who can handle what you’re dealing with,” she said. “Are you still taking those pills?”

She just started me on this new medication and it’s like it’s easier to reassure the paranoia. Probably shouldn’t be making this kind of change in the middle of a life and death struggle for the future of Earth but… I mean… if I fuck up, someone else will probably get it. But I’m handling things for now.

On the side of Starscar, Eon stopped in the other day. “Do you have anything that can help us find the thing we’re looking for?”

I rolled to my feet. “All that advanced technology and science not quite working out in your hands?”

Eon put his hands on his hips. “Do you have anything that could help us, yes or no?”

“Yeah, of course. Y’all seemed so dead set on partying. How long have we been in the air here, anyway?”

“We landed again, on an island. There are parties happening,” Eon said, the displeasure growing in his voice the longer he talked.

I nodded. “Starscar spending the whole time partying instead of taking this seriously, and you’re concerned about that invasion.”

Eon furrowed his brow. “Invasion?”

“Yeah, the machine sent a signal off somehow. I think maybe it has to do with some of those weird particles like quarks or gravitons or graviolis.” The drones are lacking in tools and I’m piggybacking off some other systems to get a clearer view. I know it doesn’t involve radiation or conventional Earth-style telecommunications. I’ve been lagging behind on analyzing all the data I siphoned off the last time I went to space to figure out how they manage interstellar communications. Also, I don’t understand a shitload of it. I’m pretty sure they look at Euclidean geometry as a suggestion instead of hard guidelines.

Eon’s eyes went wide. “Why didn’t you tell us?!”

I motioned to the tiny room around me. “Y’all wanted me locked up while y’all showed off how responsible you were with advanced space-faring technology by getting into bar brawls.”

“Come on, up to the cockpit with me,” he gestured. I followed after. We passed by a few groggy hangover zombies, showing at least some of the crew was back with the ship. Just as we reached the cockpit, someone called out. I ignored it and walked into the computer-filled mess with seats bolted to the floor. The main jumble of hoses and dirty consoles in front of the main screen was occupied by one of the team lounging back, eating chips and watching TV.

Eon turned back to me, motioning me past him while Starscar jogged up, gritting and rubbing his head. “Eon, what are you doing bringing her up here?”

“She know where the machine is. It’s called the others. We need to act now.”

“Yeah, we do need to hurry up, but I don’t want that thing in here while we do so,” Starscar said, pointing to me.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I know what you are. You got robot parts all inside you, in your nervous system and all that. Ship scans say you’re just a machine wearing skin.”

I sighed. “I don’t know who sent you here, but they really fucked up. Maybe the Blanks are this incompetent, but even they did more to actually help the situation than you’re doing.”

Starscar chuckled, then reached behind himself and pulled out a pistol whose barrel was the size of a car battery. Eon held up his hands. “You can’t be serious. This is the cockpit!”

My attention was pulled elsewhere. The mini-drones went silent. Satellite view of the transceiver was nonexistent. I swapped over to the body and stepped out of the boat and into a situation that caused a certain amount of involuntary freakout in me. The sky was missing. Light blue sky with puffy white clouds was now pure void and stars no apparent atmospheric distortion. I didn’t think I could tell the difference between the atmosphere affecting the night sky and space coming for a visit within atmosphere. I now know different.

I unleashed another quartet of mini-drones to stay nearby as I ran for the Machine Lord’s crater. Earning his trust is one thing, but that’s reached its limit. Without atmosphere, you can see far more planets and stars than you would otherwise. You can see a lot of robots flying through the cosmos right for your planet.

Ok, whatever those meds were doing, they wore off in a hurry. I was scrambling. Alerting Medusa, Max, Ouroboros, and the Titan. That last guy doesn’t get involved in superhero shenanigans often, but alien invasions cause enough of a disruption to his humanitarian aid organization for him to step up. Using other bodies, I was able to find that the sky opening up like that wasn’t the entire sky of Earth, just a large, localized zone. Slipping in and out of weather services, they weren’t detecting any unusual activity as far as a bunch of air getting sucked out into vacuum, which would have been a way to clear us all off this rock without a lot of hassle.

When I got to the clearing I found my neighbor on the island, the Machine Lord, raising its rubber and plastic limbs to the void sky. It saw me approach. I cloaked. It still moved to block me. “You invade prematurely!” I yelled.

“Settlement proceeds on timetable. My pursuers are too late. You are unnecessary.”

The alien transceiver couldn’t have had the power for this. I flew the drones into it and detonated, blowing apart vital sections that linked it to the Machine Lord’s oscillating heart. The Machine Lord turned to observe the effect, then turned back to me. “Your displeasure is noted, flawed one. The device plays no role in link to my people. Be assured; destruction of it prior to this diurnal cycle would have stopped nothing.”

Then it launched itself at me. Nanomachines surged around me like a wave that knocked the Lord down and ate at his body, fueling growth over and as it absorbed more of him. “I could have always destroyed you! You are no threat to me, and we were no threat to you but you had to make us! Now, to protect my home, I may be the genocide of your people.”

I was pretty damn frustrated.

Back in Starscar’s ship, I came back to myself to see I was being shoved over and handcuffed. “Hey, I’m back. The invasion’s happening, guys. We need to do something to close the sky. Also, I kinda killed the guy you’re looking for.” I turned my head to project the view of the grey goo dissolving the freed and paranoid Machine Lord.

“Doesn’t matter,” Starscar said.

“I think it does,” Eon responded. “That’s why we were here, and she had to do it because you took so long the planet’s under attack. Now what are we going to do to clean up our mess?”

“Not a damn thing,” Starscar said, pulling me back to standing position, then kicking my legs out from underneath me so I fell onto my knees. “No, strike that. We’re going to let ’em come, then detonate the last resort we have stored.”

“How big is that antimatter bomb?” I asked.

“You know about that?” Starscar said, eyeing me. He smiled and turned to Eon. “See, told you she was an untrustworthy spy.”

Eon held his words there, eyes fixed on Starscar. “What your doing is going to get a lot of innocent people killed.”

“We had our fun with them. As far as anyone knows, we came here too late and used the bomb to kill as many off the invaders as possible while we got out. Even obtained visual proof of the death of our target. We did everything we could,” Starscar and Eon were squaring up a bit. He turned to the pilot, “Offload the antimatter device and get us airborne.”

“Don’t do it,” Eon said. While he worried about that, I expanded my mind again, hunting for my robots, the spy slugs. They’d found the antimatter device in the first place. It was plugged into the ship’s power supply for arming. I gave my spies a few orders, chief among them: prevent arming. They destroyed its link to the ship and swarmed over it, tying into their computer systems and disrupting them. Meanwhile, I used the one tapped into the engine to cut power to that entire room in case they could dump it somehow.

Back in the cockpit, the pilot looked between the two, then started flipping toggles and dongles and other impressive-looking ways to interact with machinery and computers. The viewscreen showed us rising into the air.

Starscar looked to me, giant-barreled handgun still pointed at me. “2700 kilograms, in your planet’s system of measurement. Look at that face. You know exactly what that’s capable of, don’t you?”

Imagine every nuclear weapon on Earth detonating at once.

That’s what a 150 lbs. of antimatter is capable of.

They brought just under three tons.

Eon lunged at Starscar. I jumped up. Starscar fired.



I woke up on my chair, arms all twitchy. Someone was leaning over me. I nearly punched Dr. Erishka. “What the fuck’s going on?!” I caught her hand, where she held a syringe.

“You had a seizure. You’re out now, but let me stabilize you.” I stared at her before remembering she’s here to help me. I nodded and let her jab me. And while she did that, I went to go check on what happened.

The body on Starscar’s ship awoke in the little room again. I was laying on the floor, missing… wow, my entire lower half. I blinked and levered myself up. Someone jumped up behind me. I turned to see Eon laying there on the bunk. “How are you still alive?”

I checked myself over. My bottom half had been blasted off, but the artificially-produced body had quickly shut off rampant blood loss. “Practice. I cut myself little by little to make myself immune to blood loss.”

“Aliens,” Eon said, shaking his head.

“I take it you lost the fight,” I said.

“Yeah. Now your planet’s screwed. But if it makes you feel any better, our engines failed. We’re stuck here, too. Looks like Starscar gets to die with everyone he tried to kill.”

I smiled at that. My spy slugs didn’t “Glad to hear it. You work on an escape plan, I’ll play dead . Actually, I’ll be elsewhere getting my brain medicated while I save the world.” I gave him a mock salute as and let that body collapse.

Back at home, I looked to Dr. Erishka, who slapped me across the face. “You can’t leave like that again!”

I shivered. She jabbed me again and injected something else. “I’m trying to keep you alive while you insist on killing yourself. Are you trying to die?”

“You know, maybe I still am? But at least this way, I don’t take the whole world with me. Mind over anti-matter, doc.”