It's Monday, and that means it's time for another batcrap-crazy chapter of Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom, the weirdest sci-fi-fantasy book you'll ever read. The book is an exercise in both eccentricity and excess, a mad mash of genres that overloads readers with dense, alienating oddity. I know, I know: What the heck was I thinking? But that's what came out, and while different is not the synonymous with good, I had a lot of fun writing it. And I learned a good deal. Like, writing is hard, and, being Canadian, I'm always getting American spelling mixed up with my English/Canadian spelling. Like Reeses Peanut Butter cups, only considerably less tasty.
I could tell you more, but that'd be boring.
So now, without further ado… Chapter Five!
The rider on its back was gaunt and hooded, with skeletal, silver hands. It wore a spiked crown bearing an emblem of a castle growing out of a ringed sphere. To the right of the sphere was a tiny trademark symbol. Within the hood were only buzzing black dots and two small, glowing red orbs: laser emitters. A skull and crossbone badge was pinned to its chest with the label ‘Chief Operating Officer’.
Far below, two red dots flitted over an escape pod that lay at the end of a streak of churned up earth.
Finally. With a thought, The Wraith Director sent its dragon-shark into a dive. It spiralled downward, circling around the white speck.
As it neared, a small flock of grazers, tall, semi-intelligent devolved humans with stilt like legs, elongated necks, and small craniums, looked up. Seeing the dragon-shark and rider, they scattered.
The Wraith scanned them for metals, and finding none, ignored them. Wooshing and buzzing, the beast’s wings sent up gusts of dust as it landed.
The Wraith paused. It augmented passive scans with targeted sweeps of suspicious objects. The pod was half embedded in dirt. Black scorch marks ran along the upper surface from where it had been hit by energy bolts.
No threats identified, the Wraith slipped out of the saddle.
Its legs dissolved into a cloud that carried its body over to the pod’s open hatch, where they reformed.
A clawed finger ran along the open hatch with a hair-raising scratch, examining the interior and gathering data. A rent had been ripped on the underside, not visible from the outside. Enough damage to interfere with the pod’s operations, even bring it down eventually.
No sign of blood.
It noted a discarded and empty medkit. Several injection packets missing. Running through its database, the Wraith identified the medkit model: antiviral.
The target had been infected.
The Wraith bent its bulk into the pod itself, and placed a palm against the ship’s interface, transferring flight information. Images of spinning earth and sky, then the android occupant flashed through its neural net. It discarded the former and stored the latter for analysis.
The destination coordinates: 39 degrees north, 105 west.
Near the monastery.
An involuntary shiver went through The Wraith, as much as a shiver could. The android knew.
Most unfortunate. The Wraith activated its psychic ansible and sent out a high priority alert.
The response was immediate and expected: the android must never reach the Monastery of Nike alive.
Slipping out of the pod, The Wraith divided its two red orbs into a dozen, then a dozen dozen. A burst of red beams radiated outward, sweeping the ground methodically, then locked on to a string of faint footprints leading east.
Satisfied, the Wraith skimmed over the churned earth, back to the waiting great white dragon-shark.
Deep below the surface of the earth, a sterile, flourescent lit chamber echoed with blubbery shouts of panic.
“Get it out! Get it out!”
Thrax, held down by three buxom, mini-skirted sexbot nurses, gaped at his arm in horror. Under the skin something visibly squirmed, like an amorphous worm, growing steadily in size.
It lurched towards his elbow.
“Holy Jesus Flakes! Cut it off!” he cried, leaning back, trying to distance himself from his own arm without effect.
Sterile fluorescent light made him look sickly green as he lay on the advanced medbunk. It had moulded itself to his body.
“Oh stop being such a damn baby,” said Jez, rolling her eyes. She and Andromeda looked on without much concern.
Candy bit her nails, eyes agog at Thrax’s arm. She had more empathy than she knew what to do with at the best of times.
“Always liked that laser bore of his,” whispered Jez to Andromeda. “Electron Dynamics. Top quality.”
“I heard that. You can’t have it,” snapped Thrax. “I’m leaving it to my little sister.” Jez shrugged. “She’s useless. I’d make better use of it.”
“Remain still, sir,” cooed a nurse. “Everything is going to be okay.”
Thrax gaped: “You don’t know that!”
“A death from battle wounds,” interjected Andromeda, “is a noble death, Magnum Thrax.”
“Patience. The doctor will be here soon,” added another nurse.
“Oh, for crying out loud, he’ll be dead by then,” snarled Jez. She snatched a butcher’s knife from a wall clip and hefted it in her hand, testing the weight. It was that kind of flexible, ad hoc adjunct medical bay slash butcher’s shop.
“Are you insane!?” Desperately, Thrax looked about for the doctor.
Through a seamless window he could see the main operating theatre, where a glowing Health Tech Life Cocoon encased the wounded android, keeping him in a suspended animation environment while studying his infection. An unseen operator caused ripples to flood over it as scans were performed.
Thrax cursed. “Froogin’ android gets better treatment than I do!”
They only had one cocoon. And Thrax was less important. Such bullshit. “Thanks for nuthin’. Jerks.”
Candy stammered an objection. “I don’t, hey, that’s not...”
“Shut up. I’ll get it.” Jez spat on the blade and smirked. Her eyes met Thrax’s. She smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ll learn to use the other hand for... you know.”
The nurses looked at each other in alarm. “I don’t think she’s licensed.”
Andromeda jutted out her chin, planted her hands on her hips, pushed her ample chest forward and declared, “If you die, Magnum Heironymus Thrax, we shall avenge you.” She cast a fierce look at the cocooned android.
Thrax groaned. “You always–wait!”
Jez raised the knife up high. Her face glowed with anticipation. “Ready? Three... two...” “Stop!”
The medpod’s doors slid open and Doctor Helen waddled in. Portly but compact, her skin was badly mottled, and her radiation ravaged body was encased in a cybernetic exoskeleton of incredible power.
“I do the cutting here, thank you very much,” she asserted, taking control of the situation immediately. This was her element, and nothing happened in the operating room without her say so. “No room for amateurs. Step aside. Make way. Shoo, shoo.”
She pushed Jez aside like she was made of feathers.
The domdroid stumbled sideways, her combat high heels clacking against the tiles, and backed into a tray of bedpans with a crash.
She scowled and glared daggers at Helen, who didn’t bother to notice, which just made Jez scowl more.
She looked to see if anyone had noticed, or laughed. That would be unacceptable.
No one dared.
Jez relaxed and resumed a calculated, nonchalant pose of self-possessed awesomeness.
“Everyone calm down,” soothed Doctor Helen, her voice authority itself. “Just calm down. Now. What do we have here, Mr. Thrax?”
She activated her eyepiece data feed and neural tap which was tied in to the medical bay’s equipment. Automated robotic arms shifted and hovered over Thrax, bringing their instruments to bear at her direction. She paused and bit her lip.
“It’s growing,” yelped Thrax. “Hurry it up, Doc!”
“Yes, yes,” replied Helen, absentmindedly. “Just relax, now. Some kind of synthetic infection... Changing as I speak. Never seen a faux bug like it. Deep breaths, Thrax. Deep breaths.”
She pulled out a transparent scanning sheet and held it over his arm. She liked the old ways best.
Thrax took a deep breath. Exhaled. His arm stopped moving.
He managed a small smile.
“How’s your mom?” Helen took out a nano-injector and loaded it with a probe packet.
“What? Oh. Good, thanks,” replied Thrax. “Those pills really did the trick.”
“Tell her she can pay me back by programming up a Don Juan medic for me. A sexy one,” said Helen with a smile. She glanced at the nurses. “This lot? Useless.”
The foxy nurses exchanged concerned looks.
Thrax shook his head. “Sorry. Mom programs people code, not android.”
“Oh yes. Remember now. Artificial DNA five point oh,” mused Helen. “Pity.”
She injected the packet.
The infection began to squirm again.
“You’ve riled it, Doc!”
“Shush. Quiet. I don’t want to sedate you.”
“Sedate me!” demanded Thrax. Wounds were one thing. Things crawling around under his skin were quite another.
“Doc, it’s going for his brain. I can sense it. It’s going to eat his brain!” warned Candy, growing hysterical. “I’ve seen it in vids. It’s always, like, always the brain!”
Helen turned to Candy. “Should I sedate both of you?”
Candy blushed. “I was just saying it’s going... Sorry.”
The writhing subcutaneous lump inched around the elbow and around the bicep.
“Hurry, dammit. I like my brain!” exclaimed Thrax.
“Not impressed with it myself, but you make do with what you’ve got,” Doc leaned in close, her bulbous nose a mere inch above the mysterious intruder. She tapped it with a finger. Ripples spread out.
“Is he going to die?” asked Candy, grabbing hold of Thrax’s uninfected hand. Her model’s deep seated empathy programming was going into hyperdrive. “Save his brain, Doctor Helen.” A makeup laden tear trickled down her face. “And his other parts!”
Helen swung over an old, heavy piece of machinery that hung from the ceiling and directed an aperture at Thrax’s elbow. The device hummed. “Stop alarming him, Candy dear. You know better.”
The bump began to fade.
Helen frowned. “Oh dear, that’s not good.”
Thrax’s eyebrows shot up. “What? What’s not good?”
“Not good at all.”
Mechancial arms swooped in, grasping Thrax’s arm and peppering it with surface probes.
The lump was gone, as if it had never been.
“Not even stretch marks,” mused Doc Helen.
She paused a moment, her eye darting rapidly at data streaming through her eyeglass no one else could see, then snapped off her rubber gloves.
“What are you doing?” asked Thrax. “Aren’t you going to get it out?” “Too late.”
“What do you mean ‘too late’?” repeated Thrax.
Helen shrugged. “Already in your bloodstream, your brain. Medbots don’t seem to even notice. Sophisticated stuff. Level three, maybe four. The bump was just a temporary factory site. But don’t fret. Amputation would be pointless.” She patted his arm and gave him a wink. “I’ll see if we have any Hunter Killer packets.”
“You’re just guessing,” muttered Jez, bitterly.
“Pot, kettle,” snapped Helen. She nodded to her nurses. “Do something useful for a change. Clear this lot out of the medical bay.”
They started to shoo everyone out. Two approached Jez, who hadn’t budged, but were stopped in their tracks by a glare that’d kill a mutant moose. They backed off. Jez smiled, warmed by her victory, then strutted jauntily towards the exit, nose in the air. “Didn’t want to stay anyway. My subbies will fill me in.”
Helen rummaged through nano-medipackets piled on a tray. “Thrax, I want to keep you here for a little while,” she said over her shoulder.
“How long?” asked Thrax.
“Couple hours.” She nodded towards the window and the cocoon beyond. “At least until I find some answers.”
“What kind of shape the android in?”
She tapped the injector against her chin. “Not good. His artificial genetic code is unraveling. Syntelomeres degrading at a rapid rate. Capped them for time being, but he’s not got long. Perplexing.”
Thrax grunted assent.
She turned a little packet round in her chubby fingers. “Ah, here we go: HK’s.”
She snapped the packet into the injector slot. She made a gesture and a floating interface terminal sheet glided over. Her fingers danced over it. “I’m going to leave them inert for now. Just there in case your little guests decide to do anything rash.”
Helen tapped his arm. “Pain?”
Thrax shook his head.
“Good.” She placed the injector against his bicep. There was soft click.
“Sit tight, I’ll be back.” Doc Helen headed for the door. She flicked her fingers. “Come along, girls. You’re moving our patient to the Council Chamber.”
The nurses skittered on their impossibly high heels after her.
As the door closed after them, silence descended on the med bay. Thrax became aware of soft hums of machinery, the gentle gush of air conditioning.
He waited. Wondered what time it was. Looked about.
Darwin! He remembered he’d deactivated the AI. With a thought he brought it online.
Darwin’s holographic image appeared in space before him. Facing away, with arms crossed. The virtual being was pissed.
Fuck, thought Thrax. Better get this over with.
“Hey, look, sorry about that,” he said.
He spread his hands out in supplication. It was gauling but had to be done. “What? You wouldn’t shut up and I needed to concentrate.”
“No small feat,” sniffed Darwin, “Given your ADD and stimulation addiction.”
“Fine,” replied Thrax. He needed to get Darwin back onside. Why couldn’t he have a normal digital assistant? Kal just had an insta-access database.
“Could have warned you.”
Here it comes, thought Thrax. “Go ahead and say it.”
Darwin shifted, then turned his semi-transparent face about, and pulled off his sunglasses for dramatic emphasis. “Turning me off might have doomed not only us, but the entire Pleasurepit Emporium.”
“Fine,” replied Thrax. “I fucked up. I won’t turn you off again.” He gave it a thought and added a caveat. “In a dangerous situation. Promise.”
Darwin nodded. “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth. Turning me off is a violation of that, a statement of inequality.”
Thrax began to wish he hadn’t turned Darwin back on.
“Dude, you’re my best buddy. I couldn’t get through a day without you.”
This seemed to mollify Darwin. His shoulders relaxed, he took on a professorial air, and he began to pace the room. “The android is military, last model manufactured before the collapse. Aside from his serial number and designation, Eight-Oh-Nine, nothing. His code and immune system are protected by HK’s, which have hampered Doctor Helen’s efforts to save his life. Ironic. What was intended to protect him may kill him.”
“What the hell was he doing in that Squid? Why inject me with goo?”
Darwin walked about the med lab, examining the equipment. “Best guess? You were convenient. Facing imminent death, he decided to pass material on to you, to fulfill his greater purpose. Whatever that might be.”
“Yeah,” replied Thrax. He hopped off the bed. “Well. I’m out of here. Could dissolve any minute. Gonna find me a few experiences to take to the grave. An orgy or two.” As he made for the door he reconsidered. He had orgies almost every day, as often as his ration card allowed. If this was his last go around, he wanted something different. Out of bounds. Warrior sexbots: the forbidden fruit. Yeah!
Darwin rolled his eyes and put back on his sunglasses. “Rutting. Typical. You remind me of a monkey I once knew. Well. I think I’ll go dip in the theorem database for awhile.”
And he winked out.