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.