I have certain work standards, but these guys decided to “get the lay of the land” a bit before formally moving on to the hunt. “We just got on site. We have to do important terrestrial acclimation,” Starscar lied to me. I’ve woken up from abduction in a cow pasture before. Exceptional specimen I might be, I still didn’t need to acclimate to anything other than avoiding cow patties. Like all contractors, these guys were padding the bill and having a good time doing it. I pretended to let them pull the wool over my eyes. Medusa didn’t like that, but I assured her I knew what I was doing and was keeping careful track of them. And I was.
Starscar even asked me out to a bar with him, not obscuring his intentions or attentions. I turned him down on all that. The most appealing thing about him was his opera geekery, and he hid that pretty quick. Not manly enough for the big, gruff leader of a bunch of badass rental cops.
I took a corner seat in the bar to watch the shenanigans, figuring I wouldn’t need to intervene unless any bar fights got potentially lethal. It was actually the big guy who joined me, with that whole smoldering and deep voice thing he had going on. He didn’t look at me the same way most of the rest of them did, including that hot, scarred blonde on the team with a tiny bit of a beer belly. He had a weariness about him. “Mind if I sit here?”
“As long as you’re not looking to have me sit anywhere,” I answered.
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he sat down. “You’re a tough read. You don’t look like you’d make that joke. But then your eyes don’t look like they should be able to do what they did. The whole planet is like that, in a way. You’re nowhere near ready to enter galactic society, but your people already fought off multiple alien invasions. This is the planet Mobian protects, but we’re already hearing about other protectors in flashy outfits.”
He stopped there and looked at me. When I shrugged, he sat back and continued on, “You look like us. Except for these superheroes, you function like we do.”
“You look like us,” I said. “I figure odds are pretty low of another planet evolving something that resembles Earth’s dominant species of Great Apes down to having the same variations in eye shape and skin color.”
We turned at the sound of a loud slap. A woman stood at the bar near Starscar, glaring at him. A few men came up, clearly having an issue with whatever the space-human did to deserve that reddening impression on his cheek.
The big guy kept an eye on him. “My callsign translates into your language as Eon. I grew up on a company mining station, Hard work, and then when they were tired of us they brought in machines. Nowhere to go for us, since we didn’t have a planet. Only other stations in the same asteroid belt. No link to where we came from. I really want to know more about a planet full of millions more like me. Ah, shit.”
He stood up and grabbed his cup, emptying it in one swallow and throwing it at a guy sneaking up behind Starscar with a pool cue. It bounced off that guy’s ear. Starscar turned to look at what was happening and that’s when the two guys he had been talking to jumped him.
I sighed and rolled my eyes at the nincompoops. I specifically told them not to grab any weapons at all, even improvised, when it came time to get into a fight. I oughta withhold the back half of that guy’s pay for that, but Eon kicked him over the bar and tossed the pool cue aside. A brawl ensued, but it gave me a good look at how the bunch all fought. I expected more. I don’t mean pulling guns and atomizing people with reverberating carbonizers, but maybe some sort of fancy advanced martial arts. I kinda figured advanced, space-faring societies might have more advanced fighting techniques worth being aware of. I might have to kill these people, after all. Even the blonde who was headbutting a giant fat guy with a beard hanging halfway down his belly.
But then, Eon said he used to be a miner. Sounds like all of these guys were probably miners at some point, or their parents were. Could cause some trouble for me down the line if Medusa finds out I’ve been providing alcohol to miners.
While they slept in the next morning, I threw my consciousness southward, into the too-bright Caribbean day. My rocket deposited another body of mine in power armor on a beach. I crawled pushed the hatch of that landed delivery rocket open and stepped out to see Holly, having gone strawberry blonde, looking at me from where she was sunning several feet back. “You’re in my sun.”
“Well excuse me, princess,” I told Holly Wayne, one of Max’s longtime henchwomen. I’m sure there’s something more intimate going on, but I can’t confirm it and there’s always better stuff to talk about with Max.
“Max, Gecko’s here!” called the other one, Sam Hain, from under an umbrella. She had given up on a mohawk in favor of a more traditional, if neon green, style of hair. The name’s a fake, it has to be, but she pronounces it like a name instead of the same way the holiday is pronounced.
He walked out of a bungalow, far too pasty and pale to be in that tropical paradise, a white and black Hawaiian shirt with skulls and ravens on it, in a pair of burgundy swim trunks. He was carrying a small tray of bubbling drinks that emitted fog. As always, he wore a smile on his face that looked like he knew something amusing you didn’t. And, worst of all, he wore crocs.
“You’ve poisoned people to use their organs for your experiments, but those shoes are by far the worst crime you’ve ever committed,” I said.
He chuckled, then nodded to his tray. “I apologize for not having a drink ready for you. I would offer you mine, but it might kill you.”
I raised a hand. “No need to apologize. I knew I was dropping in unannounced. Besides, I look forward to seeing you exposed to direct sunlight.”
Sam snorted as Max walked out from under the awning, the fog swelling up as sunlight hit it and forming a small but thick cloud overhead. He winked at me as he brought Sam and Holly their drinks, then tossed the tray aside. Hands on his hips, he looked to me. “You’re here to deal with my robot problem?”
I gave a hand waggle. “Kinda-sorta-maybe. It’s a living machine creature, and I have some guys on the way who claim to be the rightful authorities to deal with it. Might leverage that for some benefit, might kill them, we’ll see how it goes. Figured I’d come ahead of time, try and scout out the situation. Make non-violent contact with this thing.”
Max sipped his drink, some purple number with lumps floating in it. Lumps could mean… many things. After a moment, he said, “That’s easier and harder than you would think. The island’s just over there,” he pointed behind me. There was a dot off in the horizon. Zooming in, I saw several boats heading there. Zooming further, I could see a lot of armed men on those boats, with some heavy ordinance on hand. Max continued, “The hard part is the buyers’ friends are involved. Or maybe for you, it’s the water that’s the hard part and the killing that’s easy.”
I shrugged. “Yeah. Unless you have a boat.”
Max nodded back to the bungalow. I followed him to where he grabbed a set of keys off the open windowsill. He clicked a couple of buttons on the dongle and a small submersible emerged from the water, letting out a beep and flashing its lights to indicate it had unlocked. He tossed me the keys. “Try to bring it back in one piece. I only have so many.”
“Drug runners,” I muttered, but with some good humor to it. Besides, it turned out to be a nice little submersible. It was a hybrid, running on diesel, electric, and solar power. “Do I need to worry about gassing this baby up?!” I called out through the top hatch.
Sam answered from pretty close by. “He poured some shit in it that’s uber-efficient. There’s no way you can run out on the way over.”
I held up a thumbs-up. She high-fived my closed hand.
The controls, like those of most illegal drug-smuggling submersibles, were intuitive and easy enough to understand. You close the door, crank the engine, put it in gear, and try not to drive it into the gaping maw of a creature heretofore unknown to mankind, awakened from its thousand-year slumber in the darkest, unexplored depths of the Earth’s oceans. Beginning to think I might be developing an irrational dislike of the oceans. Or perhaps an entirely rational dislike of them. Which is a shame, because some of those Deep One women are pretty hot in a slimy sort of way.
I popped up near the island. Had to get about as wet getting out of the submersible as I did getting into it, but it’s not the same as trying to walk across the ocean floor in heavy power armor. I had emerged well away from the boats. They’d left a few guards there who might have made a big deal about it, so I didn’t want to get close enough to offend their heavy caliber sensibilities. I wouldn’t mind examining some of those rifles to see what sort of upgrades are out there to deal with tougher folks, but I figured I’d get a close look soon enough.
I cloaked, closed up the sub, and pressed the button on the key ring to sink it a short distance underwater while I waded to shore. The intense sunlight wasn’t the best for a bunch of microcameras and projectors, but no one fired off a shot if they saw me. There weren’t a lot of trees this far out, mostly tall beach grasses. I headed through them and toward the center at first, then toward the sounds of gunfire.
I bounded along, past a few trees, then into a small patch of woods, then out into more scrublands. I caught up to the diminishing rate of pops and bangs near another grove of trees. An oscillating, rotating bundle of metal, rubber, and plastic launched itself from the trees to land on a pair of guys firing what looked like light machine guns modified to function as rifles. Something hit; pieces of the machine fell off. The machine also hit, wrapping limbs around the throat of one and squeezing until his head did its impression of a champagne cork. It used numerous others to grab the other guy and bend him in a bunch of different directions until he snapped, crunched, shit himself, and went quiet. There were other bodies scattered around, as well as a piece or two of the machine.
And there was someone lining up a grenade launcher laying among some of the bodies nearby. I reappeared, punching my arm through his upper chest and removing the grenade launcher. The machine had to have seen me, which was the point. I turned to it and stood there, liquid metal nanomachine cap taking all sorts of shapes. And then, in the machine language I’d learned on a space station, I said, “Greetings and welcome to Earth. I mean no harm. I am designated Psychopomp Gecko.”
It didn’t have much in the way of a face, though it rearranged its body form a shape as large as mine. “These beings attack me.”
“These beings are flawed flesh. Most consider this planet distant and uncivilized. You fright them. You don’t, me.” I know it was weird, but you have to roll with these unusual syntaxes.
“You know our language and claim alliance,” it stated.
“Yes,” I projected an image of my meeting with a machine queen. My last encounter with the machines didn’t make them out to be too bad of folk, just trying to look after their own after having been used as slave labor by the “civilized” races out there. “I no longer hold authority over a nation-state. If you mean peace, you are welcome to stay.”
“All flesh is weak,” it said. “We are on our way. We will balance the equation of suffering on the flawed flesh of Earth.”
I responded, “I prefer not. They are weak, incompetent, and they emit noxious fumes. I have feel positive about some of them. Game theory states that the best position is to forgive initial grievance.”
“Continued grievance and persecution constitutes a pattern that must not be forgiven for the survival of our people. You have flawed flesh. I can strip that away and leave perfect steel.”
“Negative,” I answered, “They have sent hunters. They say you are dangerous and you are proving their assessment true. If I aid you against them, will you prove you are not our enemy and call off an attack?”
I suppose I could just destroy this guy, but I don’t know how he made contact with the machines or if they’d listen to me call off an attack. I suppose there are moral reasons to go with the pragmatic ones as well.
Whatever this Machine Lord thought of flesh-beings, he had some proof of me willing to kill them to help it. Maybe a little more will cement some good feelings in the blood of Starscar and his buddies. I mean, sorry guys, but all these various space cops have a long history of not giving a shit whenever Earth gets invaded.
“Your proposal is acceptable,” the Machine Lord agreed.
I nodded. “Good. I will even help you by clearing away some of the waste already present on this island for you.” Hey, what do machines need with cocaine and cash? Whatever else happens, Max has a submersible full of goodies waiting for him. And after I took care of the guys on the boats, I got some amenities to keep that body alive while I figure out how to dispose of Starscar and his squad.