Far up in the sky, wreathed in cloud, the mounted dragon-shark rider circled silently. Scanners focused on the installation far below. The Wraith Director had followed the squid trail to the facility. Records identified it as an old neutrino research station that had been converted into an armoured sexbot factory and pleasure palace by an eccentric, paranoid trillionaire. A perfect example of human eccentricity. Biology twisted intelligence, creating sick, perverted beings that bewildered The Wraith, as they were driven by base, biological urges that subverted their ability to reason. They were illogical, tempermental, and, obviously, self-destructive. Yet they had created The Wraith, perfection, which seemed impossible. How could perfection arise out of madness? Entelechy? It was a mystery.
The Dark Lord himself was a case in point. He’d taken over The Wraith’s IP long ago, turning him and his fellow villains, effectively, into obedient minions. Worse, he made them aware of it. Indignity! Outrage! Worst of all, The Dark Lord had changed The Wraith’s name from Morgor the Dread to Chip. What kind of self-respecting wraith was named Chip? If he had teeth, he’d grind them. Bah! The Wraith secretly believed, in his deepest and most private algorithms, that his boss just liked to fuck with people. Multi- layered control grams kept him from resisting. If not for that...
Thought stop. No time for fantasies.
The Wraith had detected an active nanite detection bubble around the installation, and traced control back to a powerful but unstable organic intelligence known as a Victoria. Technowitch. Not military level capability but formidable enough to discourage an unsupported incursion and block probes. The Wraith watched from a distance instead, biding its time. A Trojan horse was currently at the top of The Wraith’s list of gambits. Infiltrate and eliminate. It activated a transmitter and summoned a dedicated infiltration- assassination nanocolony from the Engines, one that would be able to escape notice of the high grade security algorithms below. ETA unavailable. Chaos dominated the land, unanticipated threats lay in wait everywhere, making travel times hard to calculate.
The Wraith waited, irritated. Vagueness was annoying.
PING! An alert arrived in the Wraith’s virtual inbox. It cheered up immediately: the assassin may no longer be necessary. An expedition was preparing to leave the installation. Four humans and several organdroids identified as sexbots. No military grade or mechandroids. From long range drone analysis of the shielded limousine, it was equipped with both offensive and defensive capabilities. Mixed tech levels. The sexbots were also armed. Obsolete but high quality. Given the nature of life in The Instability, some armament was to be expected. Nothing The Wraith couldn’t deal with.
It had questions. Soon it would have answers. The Dark Lord of the Engines expected them, and didn’t tolerate failure. But The Wraith was not worried. If correct procedures were followed, success was inevitable.
Once outside of the protective bubble provided by the witch Victoria, the target would be vulnerable.
Patience, counseled the strategy algorithm. Patience.
Inside the depths of The Pit, a cloud of dust swirled down a dim hallway and into the comforting, golden glow of the gentlemen’s club. It spun into the figure of a voluptuous young woman dressed as the long dead Queen Victoria. She wore a regal gown adorned with copper steampunk embellishments and a crown of jewels.
“They are on their way, Senator Lacus,” she said, over pronouncing each word with a strong English accent.
Lacus sat before a fireplace, the only source of light, staring at the dancing flames which inevitably formed dirty pictures. “Kal is with them I trust?” he said, taking a sip of brandy. A woman sat on his lap, her face obscured by shadow.
“Correct. How did you know?”
“That boy’s brilliant, but ever so predictable. Tell him he can’t do something and that’s all he wants,” said Lacus. He handed a grape to the woman. “Rather like your son, my dear.”
The woman leaned into the light. It was Megan. She cupped the grape with her lips. Sucked it in.
“Our son,” she corrected, swallowing.
Lacus chortled with amusement. “After all the work you put into him, he’s hardly got any of me, or you, in him. Rather ironic.”
“He’s got enough,” she responded, an edge in her voice. “You’re such an asshole.”
“There there, my dear,” soothed Lacus. “You mustn’t be so sensitive. You did such fine work with your boy. Truly. Not even Michelangelo himself conceived of such a sublime, exquisite creature as Thrax. If only we could let you spend twenty years tweaking your every offspring. Such a pity about the personality, though.”
“Your pet hates him.”
“Of course he does! It’s only natural,” Lacus sniffed. “He was raised to be a leader. The leader. Wonderfully primal themes, here. Shakespearean. Family versus obligation to the greater community. Your Montagues, my Capulets. No? I should loan you the memes. We’re puppets, love. Yanked about by primal emotions. Love, hate, murder, revenge. Blood feuds.” He poked a chubby finger at her belly. “Which is exactly why the whole notion of family should be abolished. It’ll save us so much trouble.”
“Family’s all we have.”
“Codswallop. That’s the uneducated animal in you talking. The poor person. Uht! An argument for another day. Who knows? Perhaps our boys will bond in adversity. The mission could do both a world of good.”
“If they don’t kill each other.”
“They say adolescence, like love, is a form of insanity. Precisely what we need here.”
“And us? What happens to Sally and I?”
“For now? Nothing, my dear. You and your daughter are perfectly safe, under my benevolent and ever so generous protection. If Thrax succeeds, I can certainly argue for clemency, given the enormity of the good deed. We’ll want him to stud, of course. Can’t let him go to waste. And even if he doesn’t return, well, let’s just say I’ve got a few momentos in liquid nitrogen. Now, now! But of course he’ll be successful. Of course he will. And no doubt you’ll soon be favoured citizens, recognized for the delightful jewels you are, and enjoy all the perks The Pit has to offer.”
“And if he fails?” she asked, turning his face towards hers with an elegant finger. He took her finger in his fat hand and kissed it.
“We all do what we must, my dear. You know that better than anyone.”
As they kissed, Victoria burst into dust and swept out of the room with a rush of air.
The Lux Chariot’s wheels spun, sending a gout of dirt and pebbles flying as it surged forward, roaring across the plain at high speed. It had incredible acceleration.
The walls and logo spire of Pleasurepit Emporium Five receded into the distance. They headed west under rolling clouds shaped like Nike logos, passing between sun and shadow ever more rapidly. A pair of micro scouting drones detached and slipped out of the car’s front grill. They streaked ahead, scanning continuously for threats.
Thrax got himself a gin and tonic from the wet bar and sipped it as terrain blurred by.
He’d be leaving the plains for the first time, perhaps the only time, in his life. The thought made his gut feel funny. Airy or some shit.
A massive burp threatened. He raised a hand to cover his mouth, only to be distracted by a magnificent sight outside the window.
In the distance, slowly shuffling along, were enormous, placid palmcrabs, house sized hybrids of animal, plant, and algae. Brought together by Frankensteinian retroviruses, they’d have been impossible without massive nanite infestations. Palm fronds grew out of their lumpy, conical shell backs, shading swarms of degenerate humanoid scavengers that ran between their legs and fed on their copious droppings.
Covered in a layer of lush green fuzz, the gargantuan crustaceans slowly plodded after great derecho rain clouds, oblivious to the chaos around them, secure in their impenetrable chitin armour and neural activated microwave fields.
Flocks of birds circled above and nested in the palmcrab’s nooks and crannies. Incredible. What a world!
They were another mobile ecosystem. He’d heard about them, been told stories, but never actually seen one.
A few RPG’s through the plate joints could take it out. Thrax’s mouth began to water at the thought.
He thought about gorging on a dinner of succulent crab legs and turned away from the window to contemplate his dinner order.
Kal shifted his buttocks about, pushing against the heuristic padding of his iSeat and felt content. His gambit had been a success. He was finally out of The Pit, hanging with his best bud, on a mission to save the world. What could be better? He was ‘pushing the envelope’, as Ghatz might say, in his interminable way.
It would make an awesome story. He double checked the narrative AI. Skimmed over the beginning. Not bad. It had even extrapolated backwards, creating a speculative opening based on the Lost Android’s experience. He’d have it update later to include some kind of mass android orgy at the beginning. That’d hook people.
Which reminded him: he might have a chance to get with forbidden fruit. Military sexbots were officially off limits to civvies in The Pit. They were discouraged from any intercourse with hums at all, in fact. Just android on android action.
But that wasn’t all. This was a magnificent opportunity for discovery. Exploration. Ever since he was a kid, he’d loved disassembling things. His aunt had hated that, especially when she needed something he’d broken apart. There was such joy in it, no punishment was sufficient to get him to stop. Finding out what was beneath the surface, how things worked, not just with machinery or code, but more importantly people, probably the most complicated machines ever devised. Other than civilization, one of the more interesting emergent properties human manifested.
The endless struggle between the rational and emotional made humanity schizophrenic. It was a war: conscious self pitted against the manipulation of unconscious genes, which wielded emotional weapons against the intellect, carrots and sticks. Reason was emotion’s bitch, unless you were careful.
Kal thought of Jasmine. Reason fled every time she invaded his mind. He snuck a glimpse. She was sitting under an atmosphere barrier, wreathed in smoke, drawing on a joint. Wow! Every look was like a hit of cocaine. It wasn’t just her appearance, although that was undoubtably a factor. Female beauty was more powerful than a thousand fusion bombs going off inside his brain simultaneously, as far as Kal was concerned. And all the androids were beautiful, preternaturally so. Something about Jasmine in particular, however, fired his jets, and he yearned to understand why. That and other things. Might be pheromonal. Sexbots could alter their signature to suit the client. The ability had been successfully removed in those adapted to combat roles, so she shouldn’t have a pheromonal sig. Perplexing.
None of it made sense. It confused the ancients as well. He found that reassuring. Which got back to his final reason for joining the mission: reviving a dead discipline.
Kal planned to record the mission as an anthropologist, just like Margaret Mead or Howak Drenglor. Kal would probably be the first person conducting field anthropology in several thousand years. He shivered with delight at the idea. Thrilling!
Any people they came across, he could study and catalogue their habits and customs. Build a database. When civilization recovered, and he had no doubt that it would, someday, there’d be record of what they found. Like Columbus or Livingstone. If there was one thing that frustrated Kal, it was the lack of records for the last several thousand years, not to mention the corruption and deliberate destruction of records of the Old Ones. How could you build on what went before if people kept tearing it down, ripping it away? He didn’t understand the Nihilists or Anarchists and their vandalism of knowledge.
He wondered if he should apply anthropology inward, at The Pit crew. But that, he believed, would constitute sociology. A different discipline entirely. Add to that self- analysis, or psychology. He didn’t feel ready to take on three new fields simultaneously. So it was decided, he thought to himself, invoking a plenary of one. Scope would be limited for now.
What they knew of the world outside the state was limited. The world had descended into anarchy, fragmented like old entertainment webs into thousands of niche interests. No one had the power to enforce rules over anyone else, rendering long distance trade impossible. Barter was all they had. Travel of virtually any kind was dangerous, unless done in packs, swarms, or predatory hordes. The Pit had repelled many of these over the years. In fact, early efforts at trade had just attracted unwanted attention of the violent, extractive kind.
And so they’d ceased.
Kal the Explorer—he liked how that sounded—was headed out beyond the old state line. Not since the great explorer Hercules Eyetee, one of Kal’s heroes, had anyone gone so far and returned to tell of it.
He looked over at the messenger pod he’d placed on his ruck sack. This fine little homing puppy could transform itself into land, air, or water vehicle configurations. He’d equipped it with stealth tech and a heuristic AI of his own design. If worse came to worse, he’d dump his discoveries into its neural hub and send it back to The Pit. He had no family, so he’d programmed it to approach Queen Victoria. She’d at least be interested, if only in a maternal way. He was sure of that. His discoveries would be preserved for eccentrics of future generations.
A conversation across generations. That he might be able to join the discussion was the best part of all. To leave something behind that was useful. That would help future Kal’s stand taller, reach higher, achieve greater things.
This was his purpose.
And saving the world of course. Mustn’t forget about that.
It’d make him popular.