I can’t decide between excited or terrified. Which is the 1 and which is the 0?
It is things like this that make robots cry.
Hulk is a stupid jerk.
We got things straightened out and I left my old shell with Prof. Doctor. The last I saw my old self, she was carefully scraping the black gunk off of it. I’m fully expecting to have to fight my evil twin within a year.
So I’m a couple weeks back now and I think I’m ready to destroy the group.
It isn’t anything specific– or rather a whole series of very specific things. The way Yes Man eats a sandwich, that Chrysalis Archer poses before a mirror when he thinks no one is watching, the broken sewer pipe to the base that we can’t get anyone out to fix unless we provide a $100K bond for their workers safety. I have temporarily deactivated my olfactory powers– a procedure much akin to shoving a screwdriver up your nose in search of sinus relief.
But let me go back a bit– just to set the scene and atmosphere for what’s happening right now, again if you’ve looked out your window and seen dinosaurs ravaging your neighbors or are in that part of the country currently under assault by cyborg raccoons, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, give it a minute.
So back at the ‘base’ I went through my favorite part of coming back with a new body– the “accidental” misunderstanding fight between heroes. I landed and headed in when Yes Man came barreling out of security trailer, the sound of a car alarm blaring behind him. He hit me about mid-chest with a maneuver I know he picked up from a wrestling video game. I staggered back and he flopped to the concrete in front of me.
“INTRUDER!…FRONTLINE ASSEMBLE!” I didn’t think his voice could get louder, but it could.
“Don’t say that—they’ve got lawy…” Yes Ass interrupted me with a boot to the head. Now, by all rights I should have been saying stop, but seeing him laying on the ground clutching his head from the bad hit– I was more irritated than worried. I stumbled back and watched Yes Man roll up to his feet, fists flying. He’d apparently learned his fighting moves on a super playground. I grabbed a free hand, twisted and threw him.
Which is how that sewer pipe I mentioned earlier got broken. So maybe I shouldn’t complain about that too much.
“Listen…I’m Robot Ze…” Interrupted again– this time by the gigantic hammer driving me into the ground. This was how I learned that Cyber-tron was a shapechanger…or a steel version of Stretch Armstrong. He was up on me– one arm formed into a ridiculous hammer and the other into gigantic pruning shears. He lunged forward with those to clip my head off. They bounced off my static field, and I powered up.
“Your electric blasts will have no effect on my insulated frame.”
“Yup.” I clicked off my non-lethal safety and launched a ball of plasma into his chest. Robo-Dick knew it was me.
I learned then that a lack of understanding of human emotions doesn’t preclude someone from screaming like a crushed baby. Not that I know what that sounds like. Anyway, Cybertron started flailing around and making high pitched squeals just because I blew his arm off– an arm I now planned to beat him with.
Except I started getting pummeled by ghosts, gothicky ghosts with chains and long wind-blown spooky hair and eyes that were like liquid pools of sorrow. I saw Kim Reaper waving her hands in some pattern and reciting bad poetry.
“Do you even understand what Goth is?” I shouted as her Byron-esque summonings pitched me across the parking lot. I landed at Chrysallis Archer’s feet.
“Great– Archer help me up…” I looked up and saw the cocked bow and an expression that said “I’m not listening.” With a twang the arrow went into my right eye. A subroutine the doctor had installed popped up with a quote for the repairs. She reloaded in one quick motion– this time the arrow had a cartoon bomb on the end. I reached up and pulled the arrow out and jammed it into her foot. More screaming, and as I rolled to my feet I saw Yes Man and Kim Reaper prepping for the next round of beating the crap out of me.
“OK– I think we’re done.” And Meta-Woman inserted a scene-break.
I think I’ve pointed out before how irritating I find reality-alerting powers, but I could handle this. Meta-woman and I were seated at a table in the dining hall. We were apparently in mid-conversation.
“So what I don’t get is why every time we run into each other we end up fighting– misunderstandings, supposed mind control, lack of communication. It’s like meeting new supers drains the collective intelligence in the area.” I found myself saying– I mean I said it, but this ‘in medias res’ crap…whatever.
“Fan appeal– the chance to see their dream fight. New tinder for flame wars.” Meta-Woman said.
“What are you talking about?” I couldn’t follow anything.
“Sorry– my powers.” Meta-Woman focused on her coffee. “Anyway, I figure there’s something big– cosmic crisis, major crossover coming soon.”
“What makes you say that?”
“They gave a crappy character like you a reboot.”
Which of course, turned out to be the case.
“OK…I need you to give me a moment.” The Prof. fiddled with her Evil Blackberry. “Hmmm…that kind of limits things.”
“What do you mean?” She was shaking her head which gave me not great confidence boost.
“Minus the storage costs and the costs for upgrading your body—and including the trade in on this body and whatever those weird sticky samples are attached to you—…I only have a few things that fall into your price range.”
“So discounted, reject powers.”
“Rejected from your own robot super-team? Ugh.” This was one of those moments where my processors and filters went on of synch.
“And what is that supposed to mean? My team is effective and efficient.” She jabbed with one finger, causing my right arm to drop off. Undingnified, but I still held the moral high ground.
“Please name one mission you’ve undertaken that hasn’t required one or more of them sacrificing themselves to save the group.” I thought my reply had merit.
She frowned. “They’re very giving. Plus I like seeing robots blow up.”
I decided my merits had been overstated. “In any case…those powers your brilliant mind conceived?”
“OK, first up…Insect powers.”
Could be good– “Armor, flying, stinging maybe…” I saw the look on her face. “I’m thinking not.”
“More precisely Beetle powers. They make up the largest percentage of the Earth’s animate biomass you know and now you can have absolute mastery and control over them.”
“Control. Like summoning them? Instantly?”
“Oh, they’ll come instantly at full battle beetle speed.”
“About five minutes to generate enough for maximal minion irritation.” She tried to sell if at least “Haven’t you seen The Mummy…scary scarab beetles?”
The allure of flesh-rending did not blind me to an immediate problem. “Unless I carry a large box of scarab beetles, it is unlikely I will have an amble supply of Egyptian scarab beetles at hand.”
“We could work that into a back unit—like an ant farm…Ok, next. Shapchanging.”
“That sounds promising. Wait…rejected shapechanging…and the catch?”
Prof. Doctor got a faraway look. “You have seen Gumby, perhaps? You change shapes like that. Make yourself into like gum.”
“That show was spooky. But I don’t think Gumby changed shapes. And I don’t think he was made of gum.”
“His horse was.”
“In any case, when you say like gum, you mean…”
“The consistency of chewn gum, with the corresponding adhesion factor.”
“Let’s put that aside. My next choice.”
“Mind control.” She corrected herself quickly. “Limited mind control.”
“One emotion. Anger. In a radius. Around you. At you.”
“You’re serious? Who would come up with that?”
“It was a custom job for some MMORPG-inspired supers.”
The thought of Dark Elf superheroes bothered me. But I was willing to play this out, “And…”
“They aggro’d Celestius the Unrelenting, master of the power cosmic and nurser of prolonged grudes.” She made a gesture that I suspect implied the splattering of a team of heroes by a giant space boot.
Prof. shook her head. “I only have one more. Dimensional Trapping.”
“Creates a beam of specialized particles that shifts your target’s dimensional frequency, sending them to a hellish realm of torture and pain.”
“Sounds promising. And the catch?”
“They reappear in the same spot about twelve hours later. Usually they’re unhappy about the experience. Life-scarringly, epic villain motivation-level unhappy.” She smiled.
I was a reasonable robot. “OK…maybe we can just modify my existing powers…”
“That we can do….BWAHAHAHA…*koff*…hahahaa…sorry, allergies…” And she set to work.
I found myself in Prof. Doctor’s lair. At the moment I was a little fuzzy on how I got there…I’d been in the monitor room. Then I recalled the good Prof’s obsession with Mind Wipes and keeping her location a secret. Blindfolds were to retro for her and her truck was always too full to jam someone in so she just erased your memories of the trip when you arrived. The Professor’s quality social skills ensured her an open calendar. Random, non-specific mind-wipes have a way of doing that. Judging by my internal clock she’s blown away at least an additional day and a half worth of memories from me.
I’d seen worse.
I’d like the Prof. quite a bit—my own creator had the drawback of both being in jail and having me on the top of his rue-ing list. Rue as in “You’ll rue the day! Oh the rue-ing will be endless for you” rather than a French sauce. That’s another story. I’d asked the Prof. to do an upgraded body before my most recent and unfortunate explosion and more importantly, I had paid her in advance. She had the know how and skills to do the job as demonstrated by her own homemade team of robot superheroes, the Tank Force.
That was to be my first horror-filled surprise.
“They’re called Real Dolls,” she said pointing at the horrific dead-eyed figures prancing around her lair. They had various complex outfits on, all apparently design to elicit panty shots with any kind of basic movement. And they had laser guns.
“G—g—gaahahaaa…” may have been my response. “….um…Tank Force…?”
“They were severely damaged when the Devil came to earth and tried to destroy all of the robots. And squirrels…which I never quite got a good explanation for…anyway that was about three years ago. I managed to get these case-mods at a super villain estate sale when Predator Man got put away.”
One of the petite robots hopped up beside me. I tried not to look at her. For a moment I could have sworn she whispered “kill me,” and then she pranced away.
The Prof continued. “Once I got them cleaned up…” she shivered, “…I used them for the Mark II versions of everyone. I’d miniaturized everything so they were half the size of before. They just didn’t seem intimidating at four foot.”
“I’m torn between whether they’re cute or horribly creepy.” Did the Lolita Goth costumes come with them or had the Professor had sewn them? There was something not altogether reassuring about the idea of the Professor playing with dolls—atomic death dolls, but dolls nonetheless.
“Go with creepy. I’m trying to send the most mixed messages I possibly can to confuse my opponents—a female super-villain sending a team of refurbished sex-toys to destroy them…”
“You know, Prof. I think I’ve heard much, much more than I needed to.” I stopped. “Wait. Did you say super-villain? Are you batting for the other team now?” Doing research would have been a good idea…or had and she’d mind-wiped it from me. I gently got my taser ready. Good taser. Happy taser.
“I shouldn’t have said that, I don’t like to pin my super-identity down. Hero, Villain, they’re all categories…” I think the lights must have started to fade in my eye-sockets at this point. “…but let’s go look at your new body. We walked out into a gigantic underground chamber. The Professor pointed at a row of wheeled contraptions which she called Segways and we were off.
I still kept a close eye on the Professor. She came from a long line of unstable geniuses who were delightful company when heavily medicated. On the other hand, I was apparently trapped in the abandoned salt mines under
Detroit and so just saying my goodbyes felt a perhaps unwise. Plus, I really wanted that new body.
Eventually we arrived at what looked like a bomb shelter door. She fumbled with her keys but eventually got it open. “Yes—you know I kept trying to get your black box from Dr. Boom. When I told him I had another body for you he requested some modifications and had me send it to him. Then he stiffed me on the shipping charges. I waited a couple of weeks and then sent a retrieval signal. I was more than a little surprised to find he hadn’t installed your OS…”
“My brain you mean…”
She flipped on the light. “Same difference. I got the robot back, undid the modifications, and then had to spend a week cleaning it up.” The Spartan chamber only had a table with a cloth covered shape.
“Cleaning it up?” Perhaps Dr. Boom had sent me into combat—could I be a back up?—was there another version of me that had been destroyed. Propagating my program wasn’t easy and I didn’t think anyone on my old team could do it.
“Yes, well he apparently availed himself of the modifications…”
“STOP. No more.” I said perhaps overly loudly for a potential cave-in area.
“…sent the specs for a duplicate of himself.”
“STOP. Please.” This story could go a number of ways and none of them pleasant to my self-esteem. Between this and Team Star-Brite Death-Lords I needed to go to a Car Wash. Now.
Prof. Doctor moved to stand over the table. “Ready?” I nodded as best I could with a fixed position neck and she whipped the sheet away.
The Prof. had apparently taken it upon herself to build this body…differently…from my old one. She’d taken my shoulder pads, cut off the complicated series of belts and buckles which had served as body armor and over-underwear, my golden segmented bicep clasps and…
“Where are all my knee-pads?” I looked around.
“I took those off. You had a half-dozen of them, but you only have two knees…that are already made of metal.” She made a dismissive gesture.
“And my high collar?” I tried not to whine.
“Since you didn’t have a cape that’s gone too, along with the six inch brass buttons pinning it in place.”
“But…” it took a moment to say it “…purple and orange?”
She sighed. “Yes. It works, believe me. I even hired a costume color design consultant.”
That got my attention. “Someone who makes super unstable molecule costumes?”
“No—Iwasn’t going to waste that kind of money. I just hired a boy genius costume designer; I think he’s from the future. He made me a drawing. Besides they outlawed unstable molecule costumes.”
“Um…they were unstable. One mix-up at a Boy Scout Jamboree from Cruel Butterfly and orders came down from MASS. Speaking of which, about your powers…I had to make some adjustments.” For the first time she actually looked a little embarrassed.
I wasn’t paying that much attention, more trying to picture myself standing next to Cybertron and picturing how I’d look. “OK…what?”
“Well, you can’t fly anymore. Your electro-static field interferes with Bluetooth devices.”
“Is that some kind of robot dog?”
She ignored me. “You also can’t do the electro-force field any more. We found that it draws the energy in an area and creates a disruptive effect.”
“Yes. It creates permanent areas of exceptional cell phone reception.”
“That doesn’t seem so bad.”
“Yes and no and no. People injured themselves colliding and wrestling for the reception point. Oh, and if they talked to long their phones blew up.”
“OK then.” That seemed reasonable to me. “What about my electro-bolts?”
“You can still electrocute people, but you have to be careful…”
“I have to be careful when I electrocute people?” Now I was upset. They’d have to pry my taser out of my cold, dead finger…and it was welded there.
“Well, we installed some specialized repair nanites into you. They sometimes have problems with significant electrical shocks.”
“What kind of problems?”
“Hive mind, world dominating problems.” She made a gesture of dismissal. “The good news is I have some experimental superpower modules left over my robots, so you can pick one.”
Left-over powers. Oh, there would be much rue-ing. “Ok…what are my choices?”
Wherein I Meet My Nemesis To Be
We can question the wisdom of my decisions in retrospect, but at the time it seemed like the stupid thing to do.
As it turned out, they’d hidden the “base” inside an abandoned grade school. I was carefully examining the half-size lockers in the hallway when I heard the dreaded *cough* of announcement. I’d been discovered. Most of my personal interaction and image enhancement protocols remained tuned for my standard body, so when activate them they produced a brief grinding screech and a grim rictus of hate. Luckily the head on this body had all the verisimilitude of a bucket with eyes drawn on it, thereby negating any power of expression.
The man coming down the hallway towards me had a “casual” superhero costume—jeans, armored denim jacket, a loose shirt and cut-off leather gloves. I could be reasonably sure I was dealing with a member of the team or a biking enthusiast. The length of his hair suggested the latter however.
“Who are you?” he had a strangely high pitched voice.
“Greetings—I’m Robot Zero—you’ve maybe heard of me…?” the head shake “…in any case there was an accident during my reactivation and Yes Man and Chrysalis Archer seem to have been knocked out in an absolutely non-lethal manner. Now, good sir, if you could…”
“What did you say?” he moved forward fiercely. Excellent, I’d encountered the team’s hothead. I rewound my speech, played it again and readied my Taser. “…Now, good sir, if you could…”
She interrupted. “Do you know who I am? I’m Meta-Woman. Meta-Woman.” She began poking my faceplate.
It took me a second to compensate—perhaps she’d been hit by the same effect as Eagle Archer. Then I realized what had thrown me. She had…um…normal human parameters and a costume lacking extra viewports. You can understand my mistake—my last experience with supers had been in the 1990’s. I spun my eye sockets and made little shorting sounds. “Negative. Sorry— my sensors need adjustment.” I staggered a couple of feet to complete the effect. This seemed to placate her.
Together we checked on Eagle Archer and Yes Man. She did the checking with a few swift kicks, something which endeared her to me immensely. Both heroes were fairly pliable when they woke up. After Meta-Woman heard a mumbled version of their plan to have me do laundry, she issued an apology.
I got a brief tour of the base and a small classroom/closet to use as my own quarters. They talked about Frontline: Midwest’s mandate—to keep the region safe, coordinate with locally assigned heroes from the Super Civil Service and to monitor and protect a short list of endangered species. It turned out that Yes Man led the team—a decision based on his ability to raise grant money for the group from agencies such as the EPA.
McGuffin, the detective of the team, was out chasing down leads in an ongoing investigation. Walking outside across the dodge ball court we arrived at the monitor room, a portable trailer topped by a host of antennas. My on-board sensors noted inside was about 20 degrees hotter despite an air conditioner hanging from a window and dripping water onto the carpet. It was also mildew fresh. However, I will say this for Frontline: they had a lot of TVs.
Yes Man moved to introduce Kim Reaper—someone with a significantly more visible set of female markers. She was dressed in black with a swirling cape and had plenty of viewports. I had to back up and reset my systems.
I should digress here for a moment and explain something—something I’m not so comfortable talking about. Specifically it concerns one of my weaknesses. You should know I was built with a fairly high level of artificial intelligence and the most sophisticated personality emulator for the time. My creator thought complex emotions would help my mission to destroy Team Future—which is another story. After I became a superhero I still had some problems adjusting and interacting. Attempts to teach me by giving me pets resulted in a ban from the ASPCA. That all changed when I was severely damaged- destroying a chunk of my programming. As I recall it went something like this.
Dr. Boom: “Wow. He looks toasty.”
Prof. Professor: “Dibs.”
Eagle Archer: (leaning over) “Oil-can…oil can.”
Lumina: “Can we go?”
Johnny Strikes, the team’s mascot: (tears running down his face) “But we can’t l…l…leave him. He saved all of us…isn’t there something we can do. Prof?”
Prof. Professor: “Now Johnny, sometimes you have to understand,” (lights blowtorch) “that these things happen.”
Johnny: “Wait—what about those experience transfer electrodes—couldn’t one of us reboot him?” (yanks a pair of electrodes from my ear sockets)
Eagle Archer: “That seems…um…dangerous…”
Dr. Boom: “And unsanitary.”
Sergeant Shard, leader of MASS, whom we had been assisting: “You pansies!” (shoves them aside, spits out cigar and jams the electrodes to his head.) “Nothing’s happening, he’s junk now.” (Johnny flips switch)
Sergeant Shard: “AIEEEEEEEEEEEE” (drops to ground)
Johnny: “It’s working but he needs more information.” (Looks around to see that Team Future has vanished) “It’s up to me…I’ll save you Robot Zero!” (connects electrodes to his head).
In any case—they managed to revive me. I received a personality overlay and Johnny eventually regained the power of speech. I found the results of the transfer mixed. On the one hand I got the “worldly” experience of Sergeant Shard– who had a few hang ups, mostly involving people watching him eat. On the other I also got the naiveté, enthusiasm, wisdom, and sexual inexperience of Johnny Strikes, a fifteen year-old hormonal sidekick. All of which is to say that when I first saw Kim Reaper I said “Boobies” very loudly. Luckily I managed to activate my white noise generator immediately.
After everyone wiped the blood from their eyes, they continued with the introduction. I tried to count the pixels on one of the video monitors to avoid staring. Kim introduced herself as “the bearer of a powerful legacy of darkness that was her burden to control and contain lest those evil forces be released from the Netherworld and plague humanity with their devastating powers and I can fly.”
Sidebar– It has been my experience that female supers with magical powers are inevitably taken control of by forces from beyond—but never males. When these sorceresses are possessed, they attack old allies, make their eyes glow, turn paler, and open even more viewports in their costumes. I was of two minds about this last point.
Then they introduced Cybertron.
I stared at him– trying to burn his face off with my electro vision until I realized I’d left that in my other body. I had to admit that whoever had created him had managed to handle his…curves…adequately. They’d obviously plagiarized his physique from some kind of fitness magazine. Of course his costume looked painted on to augment that. He didn’t need any viewports. His designer had taken pains to make sure that he appeared fully functioning.
“Hello. Cyber-tron.” I held out my hand.
He looked down at it but didn’t take it. “I am unfamiliar with your human greetings—these rituals seem illogical.”
“I’m a robot.” I tried to say this as evenly as possible.
“Really?” he arched a perfect Adonis eyebrow over his coal-black eyes.
And what happened then…? Well…in Robo-ville they say that Robot Zero’s small hate grew three sizes that day! Which it did. It is lucky that I lack an explosive self-destruct, but I assure you I will add one to my next robot body. Then I thought about it. My attitude was petty, driven by my own disappointment at having lost those years. Was I so vain? Wasn’t saving Team Future its own reward, something I didn’t need everyone to know and mention. Here was a fellow robot, and I needed to be a worthy member of this team.
Meta-Woman interrupted my meditations. “Actually Robot Zero, we were all about to head out to take care of some of our duties in our secret identities. Maybe you can manage the monitor room for a bit?”
“Absolutely. I’m sure Cyber-tron and I can talk shop.” I think I sounded gracious.
“Well actually, he has a secret identity as well.”
Secret ID??? “Really—as a Decepticon or an Autobot?” I turned back to it. “What do you turn into a truck? A jet fighter? A boom-box?”
Kim Reaper burst into tears, “Stop it—stop it. You can never understand what he has to go through, the kind of prejudice that he has to face.” She ran out crying.
“Kim arranged for Cybertron to have a secret ID as her…um…boyfriend…” Meta-Woman paused. “…so he can help him “acclimate” to the world.” She actually used finger quotes for emphasis.
“Cybertron can make himself look like a real person,” Chrysalis helpfully chimed in.
Which it turned out was the case, except for the detail that Cybertron could make himself look like a really, really good looking real person.
Left on monitor duty, I had only one option now. I called Prof. Doctor.
Let me just say this: Three Laws of Robotics– overrated.