Tag Archives: Psycho Gecko

Law and Robots 7

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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?”

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Law and Robots 6

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You know, sometimes, when I don’t take some medicine, it occurs to me to wonder if I’m forever doomed to be a killer. However, when I’ve smoked a lot of pot, I wonder how I don’t make a living as a chef, because eating a bowl of liquid brownie mix is an amazing idea. It was still a good idea when run back over myself after sobering up.

I came to on the couch and found Dr. Erishka sitting in the living with a little table set up, playing a board game with cards and meeples and a board. I’d just woken up and was a little lost. I looked around and did a quick check cycle. All bodies accounted for and not in crisis.

“You want to deal in?” the doctor asked.

Wordlessly and bonelessly, I slid down off the couch to sit on my side of the table and accepted a handful of cards. Then I winced as yelling elsewhere drew me away.

Back on the island, I stumbled out of the boat I was staying on to see what all the yelling was about and found an army waiting for me. Cape Diem Security people filed out of portals and were fixing up barricades and lights, with the Titan coordinating with Medusa. Exemplar Flyers offloaded guards and gun emplacements. Naval mercenaries known as the Privateers were wading out of landing craft or recharging flight packs once they got onshore. Some of the Privateers were nabbing candy out of my stash. Some supers flew by overhead in costume instead of uniforms, dropping off independent supers.

“Welcome to the island. Now leave my shit alone!” I announced.

A lot of people turned to stare at me. I pointed to one of the guys at my candy stash. “Bitch took my chocolate truffles.”

“This is melted!” he said, tossing the bag on the sand.

One of the Cape Diem guys shuffled over in his blue, yellow, and grey uniform and picked up the bag, then slipped it into a container labeled “Waste”. I gave the guy a golf clap. “Thanks, at least someone around here is being considerate.”

People went back to their business as I hopped out of the boat and walked toward Medusa and Titan. I stuck a thumb out at another of the Privateers who had stolen a bag of Funyuns I brought. “Hey guys. What’s with the mercs?”

The hero and the neutral superpowered aid organization head shared a glance. Medusa nodded to me, then just nodded in affirmation toward Titan. My ex walked over to me in her newest subtly-plated black and red costume. “That was Ouroboros. We spoke on a tablet and he says you warned him about this.”

I ran a hand over the helmet that body had been wearing for several days straight. I was afraid what might happen if that body was exposed to air at this point. “I might have overreacted a tad to a potential alien invasion, but I think I’ve got it in hand.”

Medusa swept her arm past the gathering supers to the rest of the island that had more of the alien machine drop pots scattered all over it. Machines crawled around and watched, but none approached. Perhaps unknown to them, one of them had raised a banner with a series of code on it informing me that I may speak with a being of authority upon my readiness. I borrowed some of their phrasing there.

I gestured to that banner, “See, they’re ready to parley. I’ve met some of these folks before. They’re defensive, but only because pretty much every species in the universe enslaves them. They’re as decent as anyone. In fact, and this might help ease negotiations, I’m pretty sure I have a dealer who can hook them up with some drugs. A little bit of cuprum might make them more amenable to peace.”

“What is this stupid tropical vacation you’re taking when people are in danger?!” she asked.

I looked around. Oh good, the stares were back. I lowered my voice and stepped closer so no one would hear us, not even more of the Cape Diem litter pickers. “I messed up. I should have killed the original machine here when I first got here, but I tried to be peaceful because I like the machines. This one turned out to be a genocidal maniac who wanted to kill off everyone. These are a bunch more, but they’re not all just one mind.” I pointed to the void overhead from the portal. Pretty sure it being open this long is doing horrible things to the plants and animals around here. It’s been messing with my diurnal cycle as well. “I do think if I talk with someone in charge, I can convince them not to attack. Really, our best bet is to offer a place to some of these refugees. We have enough barren planets and planetoids around here if they don’t like all these awful-looking humans with their funny stenches and hair in all the wrong places.”

Medusa crossed her arms. Her voice carried some menace to it as she spoke, “Is that a swipe at me, because I told you, I messed up shaving a heart down there. You try drawing a heart in pubic hair upside down. Which doesn’t matter. None of that matters. You are in over your head.”

“I am,” I admitted. “But I genuinely believe I am Earth’s best hope right now, and that’s why I’m here.”

“Well, I think it’s about time people with some authority take over,” she responded.

“Ok, I’ll get out of here,” I said, turning back to the boat.

Medusa stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “We still need a translator. Just a translator.”

At first, it was just supposed to be Titan, Medusa, the ranking Commodore of the Privateers, and me. Then, some of the independent supers wanted to tag along and shit got a bit bloated into a delegation of a dozen.

We walked through an island covered in metal, our path being the only open trail ending in a clearing of the machines. In the center of that was what looked like a smooth sarcophagus with no opening, depicting a vaguely humanoid body. The eyes were a little larger and there were extra digits on hands depicted with a segmented insectoid exoskeleton, but it looked relatively close.

I stepped forward

“Who are you to negotiate for us?” asked one of the supers behind me. It was a guy in a blue outfit with the circle of stars from the European Union flag on his chest.

I didn’t answer and instead spoke in machinespeak, “I greet you in the name of this planet designated Earth. We wish to negotiate to clarify misunderstanding and prevent harm.”

The eyes of the sarcophagus lit up. “Do you speak for all of the people who you have brought with you?”

I looked back at them. “These are a coalition of planetary interests and some who have personal dislike of me.”

“Divisions of the flesh are known to us,” the Machine Envoy said.

Titan put his big, blue and orange hands on his hips. “Ask what goals they seek to accomplish here.”

Good question, “The machine I interacted with who called you expressed a desire to conquer this planet, exterminate all life on it, and take if your own use. What do you wish to accomplish here?”

“We do not desire to exterminate in the manner of our oppressors. We were informed this planet was ready for us. It cost us greatly to land here.”

“What are they saying?” Medusa asked.

I shrugged and provided translations of our conversation so far to their phones. Sure, fine, it’s just my brain. Why not let it melt?

“The machine in question became hostile and was defeated. I also was forced to kill the leader of a group of bounty hunters sent to find it after he expressed a desire to detonate an antimatter bomb to harm both our peoples. Both wished to foster violence. We have many planets rich in resources with no life. You would be amazed the riches hidden deep inside Uranus.”

Behind me, Medusa facepalmed.

An android stepped up, as in a robot built in the style of a human. “The decommissioning of a revered unit must be avenged. No proof of this other claim has been presented.”

That got the EU-guy all testy but I raised a hand toward him.

Overhead, Eon’s ship flew overhead in a pass high enough to avoid getting fired upon. A package with a parachute began to float down, the parachute lighting up every three seconds to give it some visibility against the void filling the sky. Eon had said it was a smart parachute; it guided the bag right to me. Some of the machines and my own party both got ready to blast me before I turned it around. I unclipped a section of fabric that hid a panel for them to see the gruesome contents. I used the holographic projection of my suit to show them the end of the fight. Finally, the confrontation with the Machine Lord, though I cut it off before they could see exactly how I killed him.

“Stop bragging,” Medusa told me. Heh.

“Please wait while I confer,” the envoy said.

The Commodore was waiting to say, “Why do I feel like our translator hijacked this whole thing?”

“It’s basically what we wanted,” Titan said. “Did you have anything to put on the table as an offer?”

The Commodore shook his head. Meanwhile, the crowd of other supers were divided on who to glare at. They went about half at me, half at the alien machines. It took exactly thirteen minutes for the envoy to light back up. “We express regret for the misunderstanding. We desire peace and refuge. We will take your offer of other planets in your solar system.

That got some cheers out of the crowd, who quieted down when the machine envoy continued, “We have a condition. We have reviewed your evidence of the circumstances of your destruction of our comrade and require you to face a trial.”

That got even more cheers. I turned back to the various supers clapping and yelling. “Don’t sound too happy.” I returned my attention to the envoy. “I apologize. Continue.”

“You trial has been chosen according to circumstances. You will have a chance to avoid your own destruction. Do you accept this condition?”

“Yes,” I told it. Even if they kill this body, so what? I lose a body, millions live. It shut that crowd of supers up, though. It’s a good deal.

The envoy lit up again, “If it does not harm our compact, some will remain here with you. We will withdraw all but is necessary for security and the trial. We will move our wormhole.”

“Finally, an end to the fighting,” I said. Away from the whole conference, Eon’s ship was already leaving atmosphere and, soon, the system after he dropped off the half-body and spy slugs I’d left on it back at my workyard. I moved back to join the rest of my delegation. “See? It all worked out. Trust me more often and you wouldn’t have to get your guys off this island just as soon as they got here.”

“You called for the help, dipshit,” the Commodore remarked. “But I’m still getting paid.”

“See, that’s the spirit!” I noted.

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Law and Robots 4

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“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-

I-

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.”

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Law and Robots 3

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“You shouldn’t be doing this,” Dr. Erishka said. She was scanning my brain again, delving deep into my gray matter for data about my defective brain. “The extensive data doesn’t justify the risk you’re taking and I request you stop.”

“Your concern is appreciated, but I’m in the middle of some really useful shit,” I responded. I had to get my global drone delivery system working again to keep the body on Machine Island fed. I could have sent a power armor robot, but I wanted the ability to connect to the Machine Lord if need be. If things go really bad, I might need to connect to whatever communications device it used to send a signal to other space machines.

At least Starscar’s bunch were taking their sweet time. I had to get the drugs and money across to Max, then Max had to bring me back, but he had a wolf and a goat in the sub with us. I don’t get what he was doing but he left me alone with the wolf. Last I saw, it was nibbling on some bones from Max’s buyers’ friends. Good. If that thing had stopped me from getting back to the boats and grabbing something to eat, I might have chomped on it. Its leg looked delicious.

Supplies landed before I decided to go eating inexplicable canines. Soon, I had a grill set up and was busy grilling New York Strip and corn on the cob. Naturally, the wolf sat its ass down and watched. “Yeah, you’re not helping but you want to eat, don’t you?” I pointed with the spatula to where one of the supply boxes contained some potatoes. “You could be fixing those potatoes if for us if you were really hungry. I didn’t see you offering to share that femur bone with me.” I snatched some paprika angrily off the side of the grill to sprinkle a little more on the corn, glaring at it all the while.

It wasn’t convinced by my arguments. I still gave it a steak, but I didn’t put the garlic and herb butter on top. That’ll show that four-legged asshole.

Machine Lord stopped by to watch. “Is that your ally?”

“No, that’s a wolf. They are a pack predator. Our species do not cooperate,” I answered. Then it was time to set up more things to help me rough it in the wild. Hence the inflatable hot tub. The ocean’s right over there, but it’s all unsanitary. That’s why I had to have a giant barrel sent to me. Just get some water in it, boil it with a flamethrower, and filter. The Machine Lord didn’t avert its eyes when I stripped off the armor for a bath, though it did observe the wolf heading off on its own to go chew on more dead bodies.

“Your people’s tolerance is noted,” Machine Lord said.

I laughed at him from my bath. The machine language was inadequate for expressing my amusement at that assumption. I believe it understood from my laughter.

Along those lines: Starscar. In space, no one can hear you name yourself after bad 90s comic book characters. Sometime in all the partying, Eon and another of the crew broke off. I didn’t notice it until the morning after. They weren’t bringing people back to the spacecraft, but instead had helped themselves to a motel nearby. I smoothed things over with the proprietor with enough money to handle clean-up and repairs. Money didn’t much help when a couple big pick-ups stopped outside and eleven guys hopped out with bats, two-by-fours, and other such weapons in hand.

Somehow, I was the earliest riser in this bunch, so I saw them heading our way and stepped out. That body was still dressed all nerdy and formal-like, which I figured would be disarming enough. “Hello, gents. Something I can help you with?”

“Yeah, call an ambulance for those shitheads in there,” said the guy in the lead. “My wife’s in there!”

“They blew up my car!” someone else shouted.

A third voice added, “One of them peed on me!”

A bunch of the group turned to look at that one. A guy next to the leader shook his head. “Jerry, I told you not to mention that. Those douchebags have a beating coming.”

I held up my hands. “ I understand the sentiment, I do, and I will get them out of here as soon as possible.” I wanted more time to find Machine Lord’s transmitter, but I guess I wouldn’t get it. “Also, I’m sorry about your wife and your car and your… in. But I can’t let you hurt them.”

“You don’t get a choice, girly,” said the leader. He went to push right past me, two-by-four in hand. I spun him around, clocked him in the gut hard enough to drive the wind out of him, and flipped him over onto the asphalt. I grabbed up his piece of wood and looked to the rest. “Please disperse.”

They didn’t disperse. Another came running with a bat. I adjusted my grip on the hunk of wood and threw it at his crotch. He stumbled, grabbing at his balls, and came forward with the bat raised. I slipped past him and grabbed the bat and his arms, throwing him over me and into another of the bunch. I came up with the bat and used it to slap a guy’s leg out from under him back banging it on the back of his knee. Another guy brought a brick down on my face. He had a moment to pause in astonishment as I just stood there with it against my face. Then I rang his jingle bells with the bat. I grabbed the brick away, tossed it up like I was going to hit a ball, swung lightly to knock one guy in the face, then hopped back as another swung a tire iron at me. The brick came down on his head. I put him down with an elbow to the back.

By that point, a lot of them were around me, striking or grabbing. A hammer bounced off my arm. I hit that guy hard enough to knock him into a car. I grabbed another guy’s head, jumped up, and smacked my forehead into his. He crumbled to the ground. A bat struck me in the back of the head, and that was unpleasant. I turned and used the one I still held to make some funny noises happen from his shoulder. The last two decided that was enough and decided to run. I brushed and spat hair out of my face, pulling out a spare scrunchy to try and keep track of it. It was a better use of my time than going after those two, but that didn’t stop the giant orb of blue light from flying past me from behind and blowing up one of the trucks.

I turned to see Starscar squinting at the sunlight, oversized gun held in his hands. He gritted his teeth and looked at me. “You alright?”

I rolled my eyes, but I did have a button off and a torn sleeve, so maybe I looked mildly distressed. Then again, he might have seen me punch a man several feet while effortlessly shrugging off everything those guys had on hand. “I’m fine, but there’s no need for more property damage. That’s part of the reason these guys showed up. Also something about a tryst with another man’s wife and peeing on someone else.”

“I thought that’s what that hole in the bathroom cubicle was for,” Starscar said. A woman in tight pants and a tight blouse stepped out, carrying some wedge-heeled sandals in hand. She waved at Starscar, then ran for her car nearby. Starscar continued, “Thought bathroom cubicles were for that, too.”

“Regardless, these kinds of disputes aren’t getting you any closer to accomplishing your goal. Your prey may have found a way to contact reinforcements.”

“You let me worry about that, honey,” Starscar said, clearly encouraging me to punch him several feet now. I didn’t. “But if you really need to know, we were stiffed on fuel when they sent us out here and we’ve been looking for an adequate replacement. Some of my guys are out now seeing to that. Soon as they get back, I think we can go.”

“Pack up, then,” I said. “This won’t take long, I expect.” Hell if I know, I’m more interested in what they found on their own here that can fuel the engine of a spaceship.

Right about that time, Eon and another man rolled up in a jeep that didn’t belong to them. He nodded to Starscar, who went inside to kick the others awake. Eon looked to me, then at the angry mob who were either recovering or leaving in a hurry. “What’s this?”

“Some people y’all are making unhappy sticking around. What’s this about fuel?”

“Nothing,” he said, eyeing me. “I’d rather not say. If your people knew how we fueled the ship, you might gain access to potentially deadly technology before you’re ready. Don’t worry, at least it means we’re leaving.” He sighed and walked away he saw me narrow my eyes. He’s right, these humans would totally fuck it up. They did gather themselves up and end this bit of leave. The whole bunch of us made our way back to the army base they were keeping the spaceship at. And this time, I was let onboard.

I didn’t hide it when I went to the engines to examine what they had going on there. They probably had cameras on me, which is why I used my eyes to hide the deployment of a new form of spy robot. See, I’ve been examining nature lately, and what would nature be without slugs? Like, a little plastic and rubber slug with various forms of scanning equipment, programmed to thoroughly examine a target before hunting for any sort of computer while squirming itself along. Don’t need to worry about legs or wheels breaking down.

The fact that I’m working on a giant one with a sawblade mouth back at home is purely incidental and not indicative of a desire to create a world of robotic horrors to terrorize mankind. Unless they get my fucking order wrong at Wendy’s again. Hear that, Wendy’s? I will end you.

It wasn’t long before I turned around and found a trio of the crew there. The blonde woman winked at me. “Hey there, beautiful. You’re not allowed to be back here.”

I held my hands up in front of me. “Time to cuff me and give me a patdown?”

Blondie pushed my hands down but took my arm to lead me out. “We better wait until we’re in private for that.”

I let her lead me along, smiling. I mean, yeah, I favor women over guys, but I was also happy to have stolen a bit of hair off her and dropping off spy slugs. They slithered off to sniff out energy sources and volatile chemicals in case I needed to build one of these craft for myself. Eon was pissed off at me. I playfully ran a finger along his chin, then was stopped in front of Starscar. He looked me up and down. “Something get into you?”

I shook my head. “Just checking out all that uber-advanced tech y’all have back there. Can’t blame a gal for trying, can you?”

He sighed and raised a cigar to his lips and took a moment to look me over before raising a cube-shaped device and lighting it. He frowned a lot more than I expected while puffing away, then took it out to blow some smoke elsewhere. “There’s real bad consequences if anyone even accidentally gives you primitives a boost. You might even blow yourself up with anything you find out on this ship. Your friends out there say you come with us, though, so we’re going to find a private room for you to sit in while we head to our target. It shouldn’t take long.”

And they did. I think it was a storage closet, but they put some padding on a shelf and said it was sleep-worthy. It gave me time to do a DNA analysis on the hair strands I took. Blondie, Eon, Starscar, one or two others.

GPS also told me they were headed south, into the Caribbean. They retrieved me from my private cabin to come to the bridge, where a projected image showed what was in front of the spaceship. Starscar wasn’t on the bridge, but Eon was. “Here we are. Our sensors don’t tell us exactly where it went, just that it came down in this area. These islands are the closest landmasses, but there are several. Just so you know.”

I smiled at him. “Thank you, Eon.” I noticed a bunch of smaller craft entering the projection’s view. A group of small aircraft that Starscar and a few others were seated in like motorcycles. “A search pattern?”

“Yeah,” Eon answered. “We don’t make it planetside too often. I want to apologize, and thank you for sticking up for us. We just can’t trust your species. Your very strange species where some of the women can beat up a gang of men like it’s nothing.”

Ding! DNA microwave’s done. Looks like that’s our species. I just smiled at him, the likely product of alien abductions for people to do menial labor. “Yeah, humans are weird.”

And a report back from one of my little spy slugs that they found a container with anti-matter in it. Humans are weird, and deadly.

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Law and Robots 2

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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.

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Law And Robots 1

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“Yours is a complicated case,” Dr. Erishka said. A human doctor from First Earth, she had been sent by my brother to take a look at me. Even brought along some literature to help me learn a tiny bit about what’s known.

Some of us homo machina, our brains are fucking up. Memory degradation is the main thing. They thought it was related to drug use. That’s why one of the first questions Erishka asked me once things really got going was, “Do you use copper?”

“For wiring and all, yeah,” I said.

“No, do you snort it?” she clarified. I was laying back on my relaxing chair, the one I leave my main body in when it’s time to remote control another body. It’s a pretty nice chair, and I have lots of easy access to power and medical equipment down there. Erishka had this headband on me that linked up to a device the size of a portable car battery or a large handbag. It was scanning my brain and projecting what it saw for her to see, including giving her a view of all the neural impulses firing.

“No, and I hadn’t heard of that,” I said.

“Users swear by the feelings of euphoria and say it helps them think. Copper also damages their brain’s receptors and their nasal cavities. It’s also poisonous. Promise me you won’t do copper dust?” I could hear the smile in her voice. Could see it with the help of a spare eye on a shelf nearby.

I smiled. “Yeah, sure. Unless I get into one of my more suicidal moods.”

“There are treatments for that. Hmm, you have had quite a bit of brain damage.”

“Yep!” I confirmed.

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your brain?” she asked.

“It probably doesn’t taste good. Also, I thought we homo machina were immune to psychic intrusion.”

“Are you not?” she asked. I think she was frowning. She’s normally pretty open so far, but she wasn’t emoting as much while fixated on my brain.

“It’s harder for them to mess with me, but people can get through. If empathic powers count, my, someone I know around here can read me easily.” I didn’t feel like calling Marianne my friend to another person. It’s a privacy thing. Just because she’s looking at my brain doesn’t mean she has to know everything about me.

She changed her view and the image of my brain lit up “You’re busy right now,” she said.

I shrugged. “Well, I spend too much time on twitter, I’m listening to a podcast, and I’m keeping an eye on the store.”

“You’re lit up like a seizure right now. Can you stop doing those other things?” I cut all the feeds.

That got her to emote. She smiled. “Good. Your brain activity is much higher than a brain should be. Even now, there are a few things that look out of place in a normal brain, and I don’t mean the computer in there. That has to be out of date.”

“Some of those might be related to things like my eyes, ears, and internal telephone service. Here,” I shut those down and left them off until she tapped on my head after a few seconds.

“I can’t communicate with you if you can’t see and hear me,” she informed me.

Then, the ghost of Friends Present appeared. It was Mix N’Max in a ghostly form. Dr. Erishka jumped and grabbed a nearby machete. I held up a hand. “Hold up, doc. This is a friend. Sup, Max?”

He ruffled his long hair and dreadlocks. “Sorry for dropping in suddenly. I couldn’t get you on your phone.”

“Had to turn it off for something,” I told him. He nodded along. “What’s up?”

“I have a situation involving an artificial alien being, or it seems artificial. Sam reads your blog and says you’ve been exposed to aliens a few times, so you’re our best bet.”

“Huh,” I pondered what he said before getting to the important question. “What’s she think of my writing?”

“You need to do a better job reminding people of things that have happened. And you’ve been telling instead of showing lately. You’re not as funny as when you started out, either, but not as much of an edgelord. You should spend more time with Qiang, too. She has a list, actually…”

I waved it off. “No, that’s ok. Let’s get back to this alien.”

“I was taking part in a Caribbean drug deal when we came across a crater with a bunch of rock fragments. Some portions were lit up with an otherworldly light the same as other meteor fragments from the asteroid that they destroyed before the end of the year. We heard something coming and escaped the clearing. This being emerged, soft robotic tendrils around a grating, whirling core of shifting metal. It was amazing, and undoubtedly an alien being brought to Earth on a meteor.”

“Interesting. Have you tried minding your own business?” I asked.

Max shook his head. “It slaughtered my buyers, devoured their equipment, and is guarding the drugs I brought. I think it’s because I have so much copper dust in there.”

I sighed, because this is the kind of thing only a friend can get me involved in. “Ok, fine. I’ve met some space machines, so I’ll come out there and have a talk with it.”

“Thanks! Oh, and Sam says she wants you to commission a spare body when you have time. She has an idea on how to pair my drugs with your empties.”

I gave him a thumbs-up and he faded out as if he’d never been there at all. I looked back to where Dr. Erishka was finally putting down that machete. “You ok back there?”

“I was about to take a swing at him for the copper dust. How could you let him sell that?” she asked.

“I didn’t know he did. It’s a bit mundane for him. He must need the ingredient money for his drugs. Did that ruin your thingy there?”

She shook her head. “No. We can continue where we left off.” She still didn’t look all that happy, and not from fixation. I felt this odd desire to say I’d talk to Max about dealing copper. But I wouldn’t, and that’s his business. Other people sell worse all the time. Or maybe I’d mention I don’t deal drugs, but why seek her approval in the first place? Oh, right, because she’s selflessly left her home dimension behind to help who she thinks is a refugee that had some involvement in exterminating her entire species.

She didn’t even complain when I fell asleep from the sound of her voice and the feeling of her hands moving through my hair.

That’s why I didn’t find out I had a bunch of texts and a half-dozen calls from Medusa until later. I had my brain phone off for the doctor, and she let me sleep in peace once she finished.

I awoke to Qiang knocking on the basement door. “Mom! Mommy Medusa’s calling!”

I shook myself awake and slid off the chair, landing on all fours and crawling my way up the stairs to help me get back to standing position. I opened the door and smiled sleepily at Qiang. “Hey, sorry. I’ll get back to her.”

Qiang held out her phone. “She’s on the phone.”

“May I?” I asked, holding out my hand for the phone. She handed it over and ran off toward her room. I held it up and announced, “City morgue!”

“I was worried when I couldn’t get hold of you,” my ex-girlfriend ex-nemesis said, sounding uptight and ready for a nap herself. “I need your help with something, if you’ll do it. We’re willing to pay money and equipment.”

“What’s the issue?” I asked.

“Mobian hasn’t been seen in awhile, or I’d have bothered him with this. We need a consultant. A small group of aliens landed and they insist they’re some sort of law enforcement, but they look really human and speak Earth languages.”

“Aww, that’s sweet,” I told her. “You got suspicious of cops and immediately asked for me.”

“Unless you were bullshitting me about those stories you told, you’re the one with the most experience in space. It sounds like some of the ones you encountered were close to human, but something about them all looking exactly like us bothers me,” she confided in me. “I need you to come by and verify that they are who they say they are. We don’t need you for anything else.”

“Where do I meet y’all?” I asked.

That’s how I ended up flying into North Carolina, landing at some Army Airfield with a 50/50 chance of being named after someone who fought against the United States. And they made it all so formal, guiding me in to a helipad that let me fly over pill-shaped spaceship. It had various bumps and grooves and pieces attached to it, at least the size of a house. The engines didn’t stick out to me, but that’s not surprising. Nothing about the ship stood out to me, at least.

I spotted some Exemplars standing with some people nearby who wore some weird outfits. I’d say motley, which seemed to originally be a way of describing the multi-colored outfit of a jester but nowadays seems to carry a context of disarray. They weren’t in the alien fashions I’d seen, or any sort of security armor. Instead, I saw things like mismatched pauldrons, patched armor, and seriously over-sized weapons. Oh, and regular human skin tones. One of them even looked Asian.

I stepped out of my Pegacorn Flyer looking like a petite woman with big ol’ glasses in a skirt, dress shirt, and flats. Not impressive looking, but then neither were these supposed aliens. Medusa met me at the Flyer. “First impressions?”

“I’m skeptical, too. They let them keep their guns?” I stopped briefly, then nodded toward the space vessel and the space police. Who, it occurred to me, looked nothing at all like the last bunch of supposed space cops, even though those guys could also appear human. And I don’t think this is the same kind of situation like one space station constantly feeding me recycled food while another one had Sbarro.

I walked up to the bunch of them and stood a ways away. “Greetings, spacemen. Take me to your leader.”

“That’d be me,” said a gruff one with a 5 o’clock shadow and a scar ringing one eye. He looked me up and down. “You’re what’s supposed to be an expert on xenos around here?”

“Do you know why I’m here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, winking at me. “You primitives don’t know if we’re telling the truth so you thought you’d bother us while we’re trying to do our jobs.”

I held up my hand and manifested a holographic projection of a Xlevon using my eyes. “Tell me what this is,” I asked in Kitonian.

“That would be a Xlevon!” spoke up a smaller guy in back. The patch on his bulkier armor was translated in my view as “Doctor/Medic/Healer.”

Next, a Kitonian, but I asked in Kanate. Another in the group punched the guy next to her in the shoulder. “Looks like your ex, the Kitonian.”

Finally, I projected a Kanate. The leader with the ring scar around his eye actually started belting out not only part of a song in Kanate, but something my memory identified from the opera I once participated in. It was after I defeated a malevolent being from outside time and space and got sucked deep into space. Some aliens picked me up and, in the course of figuring out a way home, I ended up in an adventure dealing with space fascists who wanted to alter a highly-anticipated opera by a famous composer of their race that denounced them for what they truly were. In the process of fighting the aliens who hoped to rewrite it to instead fortify their regime, my fight was recorded and is part of the performance.

“The Opera Ghost! You’ve seen it too, huh?” The gruff guy had lost the whole swagger thing and was projecting pure geekery. “I’m a fan of all Urdan’s stuff, but the story behind that one is amazing. The Opera Ghost wasn’t even supposed to be a part of that performance.”

“I heard y’all were supposed to be law enforcement. Are you…?” I projected a featureless pale face. I don’t think I got their species name, but the last bunch of space cops were shapeshifters whose natural appearance led me to dub them Blanks.

The head guy shook his head. “Listen, they’re a bit ineffective, so they’ve started contracting out to people with the drive to get things done. I’m Starscar and this is my crew.”

“Definitely from space. Could likely be working for the Blanks like they said,” I texted Medusa.

“What are you here for?” I asked.

One of the bunch stepped forward, a bigger, bald guy with darker skin. Still all humanoid, too. He held something in hand that projected an image of a big rock. “We recently found out this asteroid, a prison for a powerful and criminal being, was knocked off course in this direction. When we got here, these people said it was destroyed, but our sensors detected a trace of an energy signature heading toward the plane. The atmosphere’s obscuring it, so we can only get a general sense of the its location.” The image switched to something that looked a bit like one of those space robots that had escaped slavery. They didn’t get along well with the organic species, but I liked them just fine. They just wanted to be recognized as equal beings and not as slaves.

It also looked a lot like Max’s description. Which, unfortunately, puts me right at the nexus of being the person to try and figure this out in the best way. It also reawakened my skepticism of this bunch. Medusa got a follow-up text. “I have good rapport with the Machines. I can keep this situation from spiraling and keep an eye on these jack-offs.”

Medusa read it, then stepped forward. “Starscar, this is Psycho Gecko. She’ll be your liaison for the duration of your mission here. Welcome to Earth.”

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Ice Cold Light Deer

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For some reason, the full moon has gotten marked down as a family bonding night. Which is kinda ironic, considering the importance of the night is that I’m a weredeer who transforms at the full moon into a heroic alter ego. I don’t have a lot of friends in the villain community these days, so I guess it’s not so much attacking my friends. I think Max decided to spend some time at Isla Tropica after spending some time with his sibling in the South, so that’s not an issue. I don’t have many friends period, but I guess the people I spend the most time hanging out with for awhile are Marianne and Adrian, and they used to be superheroes.

I was a little on edge the whole day leading up to it, even though I’d been making peace with Reindeer on an intellectual level. I guess that’s a part of me. One day a month, that deep-seated desire to help people doesn’t come out all twisted. It was still unusual to be so tense.

Tonight’s agenda was to fly into a city along with an Exemplar shipment. The Exemplars were helping with the official vaccination efforts. They had the manpower; transport was getting to them. And I just happened to have built my own flying machine to help get around.

“Are you sure this thing’s safe?” asked Davilo, my brother. He was already transformed into a Justice Ranger. I guess he had something of a break right now. Leah, my former ward and apprentice, didn’t hesitate before running into the side door of the vessel. It was a more compact version of one of my Psycho Flyers, with some of the upgrades to speed and stability of the new ones, sadly offset by it being a little less rounded an aerodynamic from the materials I used. It’s stable; I wouldn’t fly around if it was going to fall apart on me. Instead of three jets, it had four oriented on the sides but at a lower angle that reduces its profile a bit. Along with concentrating some weapons at the front, I dub this… the Pegacorn. It’s like if a unicorn and a Pegasus were mashed together. Still has the same cloaking capability as the other Flyers.

We had some Exemplar help loading up. They had on white power armor, scuffed or dirty in places, but there were prominent red crosses on them. Medics, in other words. They didn’t carry weapons, though the armor that helped them carry such heavy loads also meant they’d be more than capable in hand to hand against most people. In between using my shop as a stop-off for villains needing a place to lay low or seek medical attention, I also let the Exemplars stop over. Somehow, I’ve become neutral ground.

We were all ready and in the air when my internal alarms went off. I left my body behind a curtain with Reindeer’s costume. The Iron Deer power armor came online with me at the helm wondering if I might change the name. It seemed ok at the time, but now we’re bordering on tying my identity too much to that Marvel comics guy. I went to fly the Pegacorn while pondering such ponderous thoughts.

Leah, Davilo, and the Exemplar guys crowded into the cockpit. “It sounds weird back there,” Davilo offered. “What do you think?”

“Metal Deer? It sounds so generic. Metalbeast is better, but isn’t properly descriptive. Might be fun to mess with the fans of that sci fi movie, though.”

“What are you talking about?” One of the Exemplar medics asked.

“Thinking up new names. Iron Deer was a bit hasty of a moniker to take up. Means I picked a name too fast. Too many associations with a comic book character for my taste.”

“Maybe we should call you Psychopomp Deer?” Leah teased. At least I think it was teasing. She seemed happy with herself at that suggestion.

“No offense, but I’d rather not drag my good name through the mud by associating it with heroism,” I told them all.

“You actually like your reputation?” asked a medic.

“A lot of people died to make that reputation. Doesn’t really fit to know I can kill anyone in between helping save kittens from trees,” I said.

At least my brother had some sense. He asked, “What is wrong with cats on this Earth?”

“It’s an expression,” Leah said.

“It’s a waste of a perfectly good feline,” I answered. “Climb up onto stuff, then refuse to get themselves down even though they could just survive the fall.”

One of the medics peeked back. “I don’t hear anymore bones snapping. It might be safe to go back.”

“Golden hind!” called Reindeer from the rear of the Pegacorn.

“…An ass?” asked Leah after a moment of silence.

“No, a creature from Greek myth that Heracles had to capture. A hind is an old term for a female deer. I get tired of the Greek stuff.”

The medics filtered back as Reindeer made her way up, costume on. “It’s that or try to build a new name. Like Bronze Hind or,” she tried to snap her fingers, failing just as much as I always do. “Platinum Hind. Titanium Hind.”

“Ununbium Hind?” I asked.

Leah cleared her throat. “Titanium Hind would look like Tit Hind if shortened, if that makes a difference.”

“Platinum Hind it is then,” I said.

Reindeer tapped me on the head. “It needs a ‘The’.”

“The Platinum Hind… I feel like I should be shinier,” I said, glancing down at the metal body of the power armor that could move on its own.

“If people think you’re platinum, it might mess with their expectations,” Davilo said.

Leah clapped. “I could shine you up!”

Davilo blushed. “That must mean something different here.”

I shook my head. “No, it’s suggestive on this Earth, too.”

Reindeer laughed as Leah went red-faced and shouted, “Just get us there already!” before stomping off toward the back.

Our destination was St. Paul. The Exemplars were running it 24/7 to catch people who needed it but couldn’t come in regular business hours. I’m 99% sure they’re vaccinating everyone possible in-between the “appropriate” vaccinations. We off-loaded everything and then, I guess, Reindeer’s plan was to help with the vaccination. So I guess we were helping vaccinate folks. Reindeer and I had enough medical knowledge to aid the medics with the technical stuff. Leah and Davilo stuck around with us, Davilo sticking beside me.

“You should stop by First Earth and do stuff like this,” he said at one point. “But I understand if you want to avoid it.”

I didn’t get a chance to answer when the action started. Because it’s always going to fucking happen. I swear, my power is attracting useless conflict. The clinic we were operating in started to shake. The ceiling split apart, but a portion of it fell in toward us. I pulled the patient in the room toward me and opened up, protecting the guy in the inner cavity built to hold Reindeer.

After a few seconds of debris falling on us, everything seemed to quiet down. “Davilo, you ok?”

“I’m alive, sis,” he answered. “Doc?”

There was a muffled sound for a moment, then the doctor turned on the speakers of his power armor. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow, but I made it.”

“I’m going to push,” I said. I started standing up, creating enough room for Davilo to squirm around and get his feet underneath him. He helped me and the both of us got enough up for the Exemplar medic to untangle himself from around a chair.

The medic coughed, then asked, “Where’s the patient?”

“In here! I’m fine,” came the muffled reply from inside me.

“Good. Once we get you out of here, give the vaccine two weeks to reach full efficacy and you’ll be good to go.”

“Thanks!” he called out. “For all of this.”

We got out from under the debris. “I’m going to check on who did this, you want to dig people out, doc?”

The medic nodded. Davilo joined me as we jumped clear of the place. It was like the building had been pulled apart through the middle. Some parts of it were coming up at an angle, confused people wandering out or looking for each other. We happened to be in the large part of the middle that fell apart when it came down. My brother and I hopped clear to . I paused long enough to open back up and let the relieved patient run off.

“I knew it! Robots are trying to take control of us!” Davilo, the patient, and I all turned to see a man in a hoodie and cargo pants. Could have been anyone without some special costume. He didn’t even wear a mask. I got a great look at his face for later.

“Did you do this?” I called out.

“I don’t see a badge. Per the United States Naval Code, you have no right to detain me,” the man said, bowing up at me. I jumped over the building to land in front of him. Davilo made his own way involving kicking off the damaged building. Just before he landed, the man threw his hands up in front of me. I grabbed them and broke his thumbs.

“Agh! Fuck! You’re not allowed to do that!” He grabbed at his hands with, well, his hands.

“What about this?” I asked before kicking him in the crotch hard enough to lift him off the ground.

He landed and doubled over, sounding like he was trying to avoid a dry heave, “No! What kind of hero are you?”

I stepped behind him and grabbed him by the boxers, lifting him up in a wedgie. “The kind that doesn’t talk and let you do something. Now what’s your deal?”

He didn’t answer at first, the pain from the nutshot catching up to him. It wasn’t until I was spinning him around me by his boxers that he made some noises other than pain. “Stop! I’ll talk!” Meanwhile, my brother and the patient I’d saved were helping extricate others from the damaged building.

“Good,” I said, holding him up so I could look him eye to eye by the back of his pants. His boxers were a mess by this point. “What’s your deal?”

“I have to stop the global cabal of pedophile reptilians who operate out of a pizza place,” he said.

“What’s this have to do with vaccines?” I asked.

“They’re not vaccines, they’re microchips that keep track of you.”

“Are you aware you have your phone in your pocket and that its global positioning is activated?” I asked.

“That’s…different?” he asked. Then his head exploded and a dent appeared in my chestplate.

“Snipers!” Davilo called out. Suddenly, they went from getting people out of the building to trying to get people behind as stable of cover as possible. Dong! Another shot bounced off my head this time, but it gave me an idea what we were looking for. I pointed. “Thataway!” The sniper was in the back of a pickup truck down the road, more hoodie-dressed people back there. It was all a similar getup, but these were packing guns and had stayed less obvious. Some kind of fall guy bullshit, probably thought they were clever. The two guys in the truck still had their phones with them.

A silvery light shot into the sky. I stared as Reindeer floated into the air but not using the jets or the sonic equipment on her costume. They couldn’t have let her hover that way. They wouldn’t have lit up her eyes or antlers so they looked like they were filled with the light of the moon.

The sniper aimed at her. The others, realizing they’d been made, raised their rifles toward her. The truck’s engine roared to life, so the driver at least had enough sense to realize something was up. With a flash, twin silver beams of light shot from Reindeer’s antlers to knock them all back and scatter their weapons. The driver gunned it then, tires squealing as he tried to race out of there. I gave him a moment before I self-destructed his phone. He lost control then, probably concentrating on a pants pocket. The truck smashed into a postal box, then into a traffic light pole.

We had them all tied up by the time the cops finally rolled up. They rolled to a stop, rolling the window of their cruiser down to look agog at the weredeer and robotic deer sitting there with a truck that had a bunch of humans tied to the hood. “Sup,” Reindeer said with a nod.

“You got a hunting permit?” the cop behind the wheel asked as he stepped out.

“These fucks just attacked a bunch of people getting the vaccine. We better not hear any bullshit about letting them go because you think prosecutors won’t charge them,” Reindeer said.

That cop’s face got red at the implication he’d be biased.

I held up a hand. “Shove the indignation up your ass. You want to say there are good cops, prove it.”

“Yeah. Hunting season ain’t over yet,” Reindeer finished up for me.

Once the cops finally took those guys into custody and started taking witness statements, though, I pulled Reindeer aside. “What was that with the horns and the lightshow?”

Reindeer shook her head. “I don’t know. Something feels different. Maybe because it’s winter. Maybe I’m getting stronger the longer I stick around. You know you didn’t have to do all that to the first guy.”

I shrugged. “I know, but he annoyed me. I wanted to hurt him and somebody doesn’t like me casually murdering folks.”

“It’s not any better if you do it in a tuxedo, either,” Reindeer cut me off before I could joke about formally murdering people.

The night was ruined, but no one else died. And I found some evidence to suggest Reindeer is getting stronger. Found that out when I woke up around noon, wearing a towel in my bedroom with a note in hand that Reindeer had written explaining she’d woken up in Reindeer form the morning after the full moon.

I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m going a bit crazy and paranoid, but I’m fine.

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Gecko 2.0 Epilogue

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“Oxnard Falls is just the first step on my path to world domination!” screamed the supervillain. He was a slight man, his costume not doing him any favors. Not everyone has the build for skintight material, but he was leaning into it. If you have to look ridiculous, that’s one of the ways you handle it. You either become painfully self-aware, or you just don’t give a fuck. This guy, who was trying to take over a tiny town with all the theatrics of seizing a state capital, had no fucks to give. He wore green and yellow, with a brass crown and scepter. Folks probably would have laughed at him, if not for the small army of wind-up bears.

The small town of Oxnard Falls had a historic downtown and bridge, with much of the rest of it being gas stations and fast food places alongside an interstate highway. Metal bears swarmed over it, flinging bricks and whatever else they could get their hands on. They were all clockwork, a few with big keys still sticking out of their backs. I couldn’t help but feel clockwork monkeys would have been more cymballic.

The wind-up bears didn’t just have incongruous throwing arms. They still sported metal claws and metal jaws, probably part of the reason bears were chosen over primates. Those who tried shooting at them didn’t do jack shit; bullets bounced off. They’d have had to shoot into the gears and hope to jam them up. The thing I couldn’t figure out is how the hell the things thought about things.

The wind-up bears were herding up townspeople into a large circle, though ones and twos trickled out. A few people tried ramming their way through in cars, wrecking their cars. One guy went out the windshield after wrapping his front end around a bear. Another rolled to a slow stop, hood smoking and windshield cracked from a wind-up bear now trying to claw its way through after having been knocked onto the hood. That guy stumbled out and caught metal bear fangs to the back of his neck. One guy on a scooter took a look at all that and decided not to risk it.

After awhile, the bears stopped, ringing a couple hundred of civilians who looked up at the supervillain who stood atop a semi truck. “Who are you and what do you want?” someone cried. A few others spoke up with similar questions.

“I am Lord Clockwork! You, Oxnard Falls, will go down in history as the first to fall to my army. Your lives, before now worthless, will have value as the beta testers that helped me perfect my clockwork. You should all be honored that your names will go down in history. Minions, kill this nameless mob.”

If you’re wondering why I have anything to do with this, that’s because Oxnard Falls, small though it is, is only a short distance outside of one of the major cities I expected my impostor to cause trouble in. It is, in fact, the town my left a robot double in. The software in the robot double raised an alert when it detected high pitch human vocal frequencies indicative of screaming. The alternative was a high-turnout public orgy, which sadly doesn’t happen as often as it should. I’m considering lobbying the Radium town council.

I was watching when Oxnard Falls was rounded up, but not everyone. Some in the crowd were willing to fight and then the heroes arrived, such as they were. One older guy in a dark blue on light blue costume was a low-level speedster. He zipped around, but stopped after couple dozen feet or so. He had a boxy metal exoskeleton over his right arm that ended in a hunk of metal he used to pummel the bears with superspeed punches in between catching his breath. There was a child with him, a young girl in green, fuzzy dinosaur pajamas. She gave a roar and the outline of some sort of reptilian beast appeared over her, stomping down on bears where in the direction the girl brought her hands down on.

From inside the crowd came a trio of teenagers. The Black one wore a blindfold over his head and a hooded black and red gi. A pair of oversized metal wings stuck out from the side of his hood. He dodged swipes from a whole crowd of bears, tricking some into hitting the others, but an ill-advised kick knocked him to the ground. A wind-up bear loomed overhead on rear legs, roaring. A teammate of the martial artist, blonde girl with a ponytail ran up with wave of earth rising up just in front of her shoulder. The earth buried the bear and clogged its gears up. She let it fall and conjured another to catch the next closest bear as the martial artist kipped-up. The last guy dive-bombed from overhead, flying but I guess lacking any other sort of offensive capability other than a bat he’d gotten his hands on.

They were a spunky bunch. The one win the costume had a hell of a neat set of powers, actually. The bears focused on them, leaving gaps that some of the people used to escape before some of the clockwork stopped and tried to maintain a picket. Others peeled off, leaving the rest of the circle thinner as they advanced on the group of heroes who came together. The speedster lost steam, coming to a halt too early and catching an arm to the chest that threw him back and left him curling up on the ground. The others gathered around him, and the clockwork took advantage of their weakness. There was only so much they could dodge.

A grey and yellow humanoid with shimmery wings of nanomachines stepped up to the rear of their group and helped the aged speedster up to his feet, the feminine shape’s touch bringing healing and relief from pain. The dull metal body didn’t gleam, they might not have even realized it was metal. But my double stepped forward through the bunch. I caught a claw thrust that would have skewered the little girl in the dino pajamas with one hand.

“You tried. I’ll take it from here,” I said.

“Who are you, lady?” she asked.

“A guardian, this time,” I said.

Y’all tell anyone I did this, I’ll find you in whatever dimension you’re in and recarpet your floor with Legos.

I tore the bear’s arm off and whomped it into another bear with it. My wings reached out and pulled bears off the teens, smashing them one after the other into more of the clockwork.

Lord Clockwork raised his scepter toward me, then slid off the semi in the opposite direction. The clockwork bears stampeded, the ones on the other side of the civilians heading right for that group. I launched myself into the air. I dropped a set of my concussion grenades ahead of my landing in front of the rush of metal beasts. It was like my landing set off a shockwave that threw them back. I walked through them, wings using a motherfucker to smash another motherfucker. I kicked one onto its back and stomped hard as I walked over, knocking its head off. Extreme physical damage seemed to do a good job disabling these things. My hungry little nanites ate them and used them for materials as well, especially the copper they had. Some of the nanites even aerosolized to float over and help the townspeople, some of whom had injuries of their own. Those aerosolized nanites also settled on wind-up bears to eat into them, seemingly dissolving the clockwork. Others subtly collected DNA samples from those supers who had tried to protect the town in case I could harvest their powers for myself.

I even stopped and grabbed one impotent clockwork bear, tearing its head off to peer into there. Its brain was a primitive clockwork computer, perhaps? They didn’t communicate through any sort of signal I could even recognize, and I was curious if I could even link to something like this. In theory, computers can be made that are incompatible with homo machina natural technopathy. These might be an example, so I’d have to look at them.

I didn’t stop until the bears were no longer a threat to the townsfolk. I maybe could have ditched them to hunt down Lord Clockwork, but the main impetus behind intervening was protecting these people. Again, tell no one. No one! Besides, like I said, useful information on alternative computer systems and more superhuman DNA.

I pulled up a satellite view to try and hunt down Lord Clockwork while I finished trashing his minions. He was already gone. No sign of him. No cars speeding off, no apparent or submersible watercraft in the river. If he had a chameleon chopper, I couldn’t see it. That might be handy to know about in the future as well.

I tried to hold it together as the people cheered the defeat of Lord Clockwork’s wind-up bears. The little dino girl ran up and hugged my armor. These people who loathe me were cheering me saving their lives. This girl was hugging who she didn’t realize was one of the most dangerous and feared supervillains on the planet. She didn’t know. None of the know. Ugh, I even saved the cops.

I had problems processing this. I’ve mocked people, told people they should be thankful for me when I tried to make their lives better. This is just… weird.

“Thank you, lady guardian,” the little girl called out. I gently eased her away, looking like I was patting her head, then launched into the air and cloaking. I landed nearby, invisible, giving myself much to contemplate.

I hid the robot armor well and retreated back into my real body, sliding to my feet where the door and my phone application were both making noise. I snuck a peek at the cameras I have watching my door while checking the phone. Both were the same person, some woman I didn’t know.

I opened the door. “Hello! My name’s Dr. Erishka, from First Earth. Hello, I’m a friend of the Justice Rangers, I thought they’d tell you I was coming.”

I looked at her, eyebrow raised. “What are you coming for?”

“I’ve been sent to check on you? They told me you’re a refugee and not to ask about your identity, but I have these scans taken of you back in their facility. You must have friends in the Rangers. If you’re willing to let me, I want to help you look into that degenerative brain issue you’re having.”

I blinked, wondering if this was real. Dr. Erishka looked at me with an anticipatory smile, then went, “Oh!” and reached into a bag. She came up with a letter. “This is for you, from a member of your Earth’s consulate on First Earth.”

A short note, it read, “Dear PG, the doctor hasn’t been told who you are, and I know you have trouble trusting again after so much hurt on both sides. Please, let the healing begin. It’s never too late to be better. Think of it as an upgrade. Love, Leah. P.S., I think you’ll like Erishka.”

“Can I come in? I’m here to help, if you’ll let me,” the doctor reassured.

I nodded and moved out of the doorway.

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Gecko 2.0 6

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The Fake Gecko and the Dead President. Interesting pair of enemies I’ve got here. The Dead President faked his death after revoking the citizenship of every superhuman and everyone running around as a villain or hero. ICE was meant to be the dogs he unleashed on us. They’ve been building up to this. I don’t know if it was their ultimate goal. I don’t even think going against supers was the endgame, but we’re a perfect way to make this power play happen. Anyone could be a super.

I’ve had such a low opinion of humans, especially the ones in this country. I feel I’m entitled to some of that from my own history. I figured there’d be protests that would be put down as law enforcement fully embraced their role as lethal enforcers. Resistance would be limited to protesters and people complaining online. Probably the President-elect and his VP issuing some legal challenges and words in Congress that couldn’t go anywhere because of deadlock.

People didn’t stand for it. After a year of protests, all the right people were plenty geared up to take it to the police. One of the first videos after it happened involved cops trying to arrest a superhero who helped put out a fire at an apartment building, and the residents of that building getting between the cops and the hero. Elsewhere, a night raid by Icers was interrupted by regular people gathering and attacking ICE. Cops showed up and tried to keep the protesters in line, but someone else with powers put them and the Icers to sleep.

I noticed when more folks showed up in Radium, too. Some residents are working on housing, while some of us find room for the refugees. I have a small campground in my store’s workyard. I might be stacking some in my underground lair, because some of these houses put together by superspeed and super strength are amateur efforts. At least there’s plenty of work for the people who know what they’re doing.

The incoming administration refused a test and said they would be taking office regardless. “If you got a problem with the Constitution, then you got a problem with me, Jack, and I suggest you let that one marinate. The time for pushing around the American people is over. That includes all the American people, including criminals. Yes, they have rights as well. Just like non-citizens among us have rights, and all Americans should feel insulted that my predecessor believes non-citizenship is a license to discriminate.”

And on and on.

But the point was, I thought the humans would throw the “Other” under the bus. Instead, they were stopping the bus.

My humble contribution was to take a seat in my nice little chair that keeps my body healthy while I take control elsewhere. I sat down on it, closed my eyes, and opened them in Virginia, in a military base that’s been taken over entirely by ICE. The National Guard’s pretty much all at the Capitol in a stand-off with ICE forces that want to come for Congress. The National Guard doesn’t have ICE’s equipment, but they have the numbers.

I was in Top Knot’s body, looking at a mirror while she washed her hands. The mirror shook, an attempt at rebellion from the telekinetic and telepathic super. The nanites moved in and… yeah, no more problems from her. Brain’s all mine now. I felt a little sorry for her. I can say all I want about this being her fault for daring to help kill my robot armor body. I had a bunch of different ways to handle this that were less cruel. I doubt the falsified assassination would have been thwarted by me bombing the bunch, because they could have shoved a different minion in another copy of my armor. But I had other options. Instead, I’ve had nanomachines build a transceiver and eat at her brain. No wonder they used me to justify their takeover.

I finished washing and drying her hands. Less blood and brain than on mine. Then it was off to go find the rest of the bunch. They had a special tent set up for this crew, who sometimes operated in ICE uniforms. I nodded to Lister in his weird metal orb. Zotz was polishing his war club, which isn’t a euphemism. He flexed his bat wings behind him, glanced at me, and went back to his business. I left them behind and headed for the administrative building.

The guards didn’t look twice at me. I wish I had Top Knot’s telepathy. Unless it’s a side effect of my physiology’s incapability with psychic powers, I think the work I did on her brain to take control and get rid of her has destroyed whatever lets her do such things. But I have technopathy going for me. I stood off to the side of the hall, closed my eyes, and started peering out through every unsecured electronic device I could. You get enough people in one place and they just can’t be secure. After a minute, I had a pretty good idea where people were in the building.

A pair of guards went to stop me entering the conference room. I thrust my palms at their heads, nanomachines forming a pair of spikes that rapidly drilled into their heads and deposited some of themselves inside. Still bleeding from the forehead, the guards went back to attention, nanites running a basic servitor program.

“Divine Wind? Get out, you’re not part of this,” the Dead President said. He stood over a table in ICE command fatigues. Fake Gecko stood nearby, arms crossed. A few other officers milled around, one of them working a laptop.

“Did you see the news today?” I asked, transceiver in my borrowed body busy delivering data. “That speech from the President-Elect?”

He snorted. “Non-citizens and rights.” He shook his head. “This country is for us, by us, not a bunch of degenerates. Your dimension is what happens when you let these freaks run free.”

Fake Gecko stood silent. All of a sudden, though, the man at the laptop stood up. “What the…?” He looked at me, then spun the laptop around so the rest of the room could see my point of view livestreaming online.

“You shouldn’t be playing around on Youtube while you’re working,” I said, the video echoing the sentiment.

“Get her!” the Dead President ordered Fake Gecko. The impostor disappeared. Several of the officers drew sidearms. I ducked back behind the door guards who burst in and fired on them. My meat puppets took several to the chest, but that wasn’t all that important to them. With a chainsaw roar, their heads were lopped off and their bodies dropped. Fake Gecko became visible just in time to shove his fist and his under-forearm chainsaw through Top Knot’s chest. I probably had enough metal in her to keep her alive.

The livestream ended. The stream of nanomachines began pouring out of her and onto the fake’s armor. I didn’t kill the man inside, not yet. I just paralyzed him and moved the armor on my own. “Just like old times,” I said, raising the forearm and pulling the Nasty Surprise back under the forearm.

“What are you?” the Dead President asked, panicked, hitting pretty much every panic button near a podium.

“The real Psychopomp Gecko,” I explained. “Not some fake. Who is he, anyway?”

“I don’t fucking know. Some soldier willing to do his duty!” the Dead President said. He pulled a pistol with a thick barrel. It punched right through the chest plates on this old armor.

“Let me guess, that duty involves dying for someone who doesn’t even know his name?” I asked. “Say it! Say his name!”

The Dead President aimed for the head. We disappeared. He lowered the gun and fired, trying to hit the wider target of the chest for all the good it’d do him. He realized how little that was when his wrist twisted and broke, dropping the firearm to the floor. I reappeared.

“Killing me won’t solve anything!” the Dead President declared.

I shook my head. “It wouldn’t have if I did it before showing the world you were still around. Now, everyone knows you lied to them. Now, maybe your VP sticks with the program, or maybe he realizes he was being used. A lot of folks would say murder doesn’t solve any of these problems, but then we can always remind those folks who is next in line for the Presidency.” Then I shook his head right off his neck.

The nanites dissolved the armor from Fake Gecko and stood there as a shimmery mess of tiny robots in human form. “Now, as for you.”

The man who had been in my armor was getting up there. I’d say forties, bald, with a few tattoos. He raised a hand to his chest where I’d quickly patched the hole his boss had left in him. “What do you want with me?”

“Against my better judgment, a word.”

“Fuck off, subhuman trash. Can you even count how many people you’ve killed anymore? If we did all of this just to get rid of you, it’d be worth it,” he mustered as his final bit of defiance.

“You’re right about me, but I’m beginning to see that you’re wrong about so many others you’re hurting. And y’all did this thinking I was dead. Is there nothing else in your life but hate?”

The man tried to square up at me, his service record flashing before my eyes after a quick search. Career military, married and divorced a few times, with restraining orders and brief stints in jail. Child abuse charges after his son developed gills and webbing between digits.

“No, doesn’t look like you do.”

He opened is mouth as if to say something. Paused. Then, “Why do you care?”

“I’m learning. I’m probably failing, but I’m trying. I’m not the same Gecko who first wore that armor you used, Johnathon.” Of course I had his name. “I doubt the man telling you to die for him knew your name.”

“Bullshit. Knowing my name is meaningless. All of this is for show. You’ll always be a monster. Everyone like you will be a monster. That kid, the one you adopted, she’s a-”

The last bit of nanomachines keeping him alive tore their way out of his chest, opening wider the gunshot wound. They flowed to meet my nanomachine body. The man’s answer disappointed, I have to say. So one-dimensional. Was hate all he had? In spite of my earlier assertion that he wouldn’t get a second second chance, I was willing to let him go if there had been more to him.

I tried. Maybe I failed. Maybe there was nothing to do. The nanites flowed out, eating a hole through the ceiling and roof while the room was stormed with more guards. A chopper hovered overhead, just taking off. The nanites flowed up into the cockpit and an empty seat, forming a body that turned to the pilot. “Get out!”

The pilot bailed. Smart guy. And the chopper cloaked, fun stuff. I had to ditch it before it got close to Radium, I just didn’t want the nanomachines left there like a discarded piece of armor, to be weaponized by small people full of hate. More people like me, I guess.

The Vice President, even not hearing that he’d be next in line, officially repudiated the pronouncements of his predecessor and is just looking to fill the position until the inauguration. So it looks like the solution wasn’t to kill someone this time. Or I should say the solution was to show someone was alive, then kill him. The general public doesn’t know about the circumstances surrounding the Twice Dead President, but I don’t think they’re inclined to take the word of ICE right now. The incoming President’s vowed to disband ICE. ICE is beating him to the punch, going AWOL with weapons and equipment. Might even have more stolen gold or cash in other places.

But things are changing. It’s even possible I might be changing. I’ve sounded much the same as my double did, but about humans rather than supers. And those humans stood up and rejected what these cynical bigots tried to make of them. Maybe things can get better.

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Gecko 2.0 5

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I have relied on these little nanomachines for a long time. I probably owe them more than anything for my success. I’ve taken a lot of punishment I couldn’t fight through otherwise. Right now, it’s looking like a clear advantage for flesh after the loss of my robot armor, but that’s a hasty decision. It had nanites with it, and that’s given me the chance to turn that loss into a victory. That’s the second key to my success, I guess. You keep fighting long enough, losses turn to victory.

The nanites in Top Knot’s system were ordered to collect what they could to multiply and maintain communication with me. That didn’t go anywhere until she slept and they could head outside her body to scavenge for material. Even the weirdest human diet doesn’t provide what nanomachines need to reproduce and build a transdimensional transceiver under orders from a sour transgender outside of Transylvania.

But I was watching. Waiting. The whole shebang rerouted when they found out their base had been cratered. Whatever had been keeping them there, they left. Maybe it was the base itself. Maybe this whole thing was just about that base and that gold they had coming to them. The fact they left told me two things. First, it led me to another base. They didn’t go back to Paradise City. Instead, they rerouted to Whiting Field, and from there to a National Guard base in Virginia.

The second thing this showed me is whoever the person is under the armor, they aren’t me. Not even some version of me from another Earth. Not some offshoot who got quantum jiggled into landing on a different one than I did after that first D-Bomb went off. He never went back and finished it with Gavel. Never even tried.

Anyway, I was watching some breaking news on Friday. Interesting stuff. The Honky Tonk Hero was having a showdown with Elvis, who had taken back his enchanted guitar. Despite Elvis’s age and gut when he reappeared from the space between dimensions, the power of the guitar had rejuvenated him somewhat. He wore a gold jumpsuit with orange fringe and designs while standing on an exposed beam on a skyscraper under construction. “One note, and the music dies. Full cessation, wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Then, there will be only the King.” Elvis strummed on the strings, the winds around them whirling, making it hard to hear anything but the sound of the mystic musical instrument.

Honky Tonk Hero stood nearby. He wore a jumpsuit of his own, blue and yellow, with the famous pompadour of Elvi everywhere. Elvi’s the plural of Elvis, by the way. Octopus, octopi, Elvis, Elvi. Honky Tonk had no such weapon in-hand, only a shiny platinum microphone. But when he spoke into it, the cameras picked it up perfectly. “You’ve let the power and fame get to your heads. You’re high on celebrity and all manner of pills, old man. I- I looked up to you. I loved you. You inspired devotees around the world, but you’re not our hero doing this. You have to recognize when you’ve got to let the power go and make way for the next generation, or else there won’t be a next generation. What King of Rock N’ Roll would destroy music so that nobody who comes after could surpass him? That’s not nobility. That’s craven pursuit of power for its own sake. I want to believe you’re better than that!”

The reporter edged into the camera’s view. “God help me, Mark, if you cut to a commercial about reverse mortgages right now, I’ll gut you with my heels.”

“Son, when you’ve grown as old as I am, and your legacy is bought and sold so often, you learn the one thing in life you can count on is your own power,” Elvis said. Then hit a power cord that buffeted Honky Tonk Hero with hurricane-strength winds, threatening to throw the younger hero off the building. Honky Tonk, in the middle of this gale, hit a high note that cut into the storm and gave him some room to breathe. Then the King got him again and the support under Honky Tonk strained and shook. And in the middle of all this, I had to wonder what the fuck Honky Tonk was using to keep his hair up. That’s industrial strength hair gel right there.

“To be human, is to know you can count on them that come before and after, and your friends who support you now,” another voice said. The winds died down some as more people assembled. A wizened old Black man in suspenders and a button-down shirt dispersed the winds with his banjo. A middle-aged, hefty Black woman rose with her own circular platform surrounding her, catching Honky Tonk as he fell. It looked like a spotlight centered on the singer and creating a thin yellow circle for others to stand on. A wide circle, given the motley crew with her. Perhaps it was the power of that microphone, or the musical abilities at play, that let the camera overhear, “Once again, a Black woman’s got to do the lifting.”

On the platform, a young woman with a ukulele tended to the downed hero while others stepped forward, adding their voices to the harmony opposing Elvis. A punk with a bass, a flautist, a trombone player. Even some 80s throwback with a lounge suit and a keytar. They were a mess. It should have sounded like chaos. Instead, they calmed the storms and, under the leadership of the old man with the banjo, a wave struck Elvis. He raised his guitar to block it, the mystical instrument seeming to suck in the light. Then an explosion of light blinded everyone. When it faded away, only the guitar was left with broken strings. The old man stepped forward and grabbed the diminished and plain-seeming instrument. Honky Tonk Hero stepped forward and the old man held the guitar out for him. Honky Tonk took it, looked it over, then reached up and removed the pompadour wig off his head. Which raises even more questions for me after earlier events. The hero tossed both the wig and the guitar off the side of the building under construction.

The banjo player stepped back and disappeared into the air. Others of the harmonious group went their own way, like the punk running off at super speed or the trumpeter growing a pair of wings and flying off. Honky Tonk put his arm around the ukulele player and raised the microphone in his hand, holding it out in front of him as he flew with her. The others went their own way on the platform moved by the curvy singer.

“Holy shit,” the reporter said as the camera panned back down to her. Behind her sat a pair of non-plussed good ol’ boys sitting on the tailgate of their Chevy, shaking their hands and downing bottles of what looked like whiskey or maybe rye.

Then, the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement by the President. It’s like he got annoyed someone was taking all the attention and he decided to make a speech that would be talked about for a long time. It started with a bunch of normal, unassuming platitudes. He ran down a list of various world-threatening events of the past few years. I was a major part of most of them. There was a bit of a theme in that most of what he talked about centered on supers. Baseline human terrorism was reframed as being people in masks as well. Was a bit annoyed to see he brought up the aliens who invaded and the supers who were brainwashed into helping them without noting the ones who helped stop the invasions. Then, he got to the key part of the address, the real reason behind it all.

“In light of these extraordinary events, these extraordinary threats, and the inability of Congress our and institutions to deal with them through ordinary means, I hereby order all agencies of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to revoke or treat as revoked the United States citizenship of every masked villain or vigilante and every human who exhibits superpowers. All super technology, including some of the self-declared heroes, is to be seized. We are making a push to remove drugs that are the product of super science as well. To those who have no powers, or those good-hearted men and women with training who sought to do the police’s job for them, I say to you now that you can stop. If you have no powers, take off your mask and put away your cape and walk away. No harm will come to you. But if you continue past today, you will be treated, along with every superhuman within the United States, as a non-citizen with all the rights that classification entails. It will be a hard road to root out these dangerous individuals of mass destruction in our midst, but we have the loyal men and women of ICE and other government agencies to do the job for us. I am also asking Congress to undergo testing for superpowers and subject my successor and his vice president to this testing before they take office.”

And there it is. The naked grab for power. He didn’t even take questions. Instead, the nearest reporters got plasma rifles pointed at them courtesy of Icers while someone in power armor stepped forward declaring that all members of the White House Press Corps would be subject to powers testing starting today.

Which is another shitty level on this. I’m not aware of any particular test for superpowers. I know people can be tricked into showing their powers if you catch them off guard or stress them enough. Some folks can’t hide it, like the ones with weird eyes and skin, or the various animal-people. Which I guess makes this authoritarian move all the more brilliant in its own way. Who says if someone has powers and is subject to whatever the government wants to do to them? A test done by the government with no oversight or clue how it works, if it works. Could just be some guy holds up an unplugged supermarket scanner and declares someone a super to be arrested because the President didn’t like them.

The President didn’t even make it off-stage when my double appeared and put a fist through the gut of the President. He’s not me, but he pulled a spine out of a stomach hole in the way I like to. It looked to all the world like Psycho Gecko had proven the President’s wisdom. The press shouted in fear while ICE opened fire on Fake Gecko. The Fake disappeared and the room descended into pandemonium. People fell and got trampled. I think I saw plasma bolts firing into the crowd.

The announcement was made a short time later that the President had died and been replaced by his milquetoast Vice President, who resolved to carry out on the dead President’s fight as long as it took, even another four years if the incoming administration proved to be supers.

Top Knot hadn’t gone with them to that event, but the base where she was at, I was able to listen in when they brought in part of the Washington National Guard detail. Among them was the dead President, healthy, laughing, and completely unharmed. He tossed an old holodisc of mine to the Fake Gecko who caught it. Then the dead President said, “I hear my retirement package didn’t make it. Let’s go find a new one in all the quote-unquote rioting that’s about to happen. What do you say?”

I say some folks got awfully cocky that I’m not around anymore before they stole my likeness to enact a fascist takeover, but I’m more than happy to help them retire. And with the way my machines are transforming Top Knot’s body, it won’t be long before they find out I never left.

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