The android’s colourless eyes blinked open. It starred up at the ceiling. Frowned at the erotic constellations. “Pornography,” whispered Eight-Oh-Nine. “NC-17 level rating.”
Dr. Helen’s face leaned into his field of vision. “How do you feel?”
The android paused for a moment, studying her facial features, body language. Furrowed brow indicating concern. Relaxed jaw. No hostile intent evident. He ran a quick internal diagnostic. Gigahertz powered computers the size of bacterium began processing information at an incredible rate. “Incapacitated. Extensive cellular level damage,” he said. “Unidentified viral infection.”
Helen nodded. “Your immune system is preventing my probes from helping you. Can you shut them down?”
The android looked at the gently drifting constellations for a moment. The graceful female shapes were pleasing. “No,” he responded. “Where am I?”
“Safe. He’s ready,” said Doc Helen.
The council stirred at their elevated podiums. “About damn time,” growled Buchanan testily, rubbing a bulbous wart on his fat nose and leaning forward.
“Android Eight-Oh-Nine,” rumbled Kendee, “You are now in Pleasurepit Emporium Five, the last surviving bastion of human civilization on this burnt earth. We rescued you. My name is Kendee.”
Eight-Oh-Nine blinked again. He remembered being sucked up by the mollusk. It seemed like eons ago. Yet here he was. With humans. It was not too late. “You are in great danger,” he mumbled.
“How’s that?” asked Kendee. “From what?”
“WOTEC,” said the android. “The Engines of Creation. The Great Darkness that rises out of the east, the shadow that engulfs the pearl.”
Buchanan frowned and looked at his peers. “Unusually poetic for an android. He malfunctioning?”
“The Dark Lord of the Engines will consume us all in a nightmare paradigm,” said Eight- Oh-Nine impassively, simulated emotions under control at last. His amplified words echoed through the chamber, adding to their weight.
“Identify WOTEC,” Kendee said, leaning back.
A holographic projection of a ringed sphere appeared above the android, resembling Saturn, topped by a planet spanning castle. In an arc around it were the words ‘The Worlds of Tomorrow Entertainment Complex.’
“WOTEC,” said a disembodied, mellifluous female voice. “Constructed in the Google Corporate Republic in 2325 AD, outside of San Jose. It was a one hundred thousand acre anamorphic entertainment complex divided into eighty themed zones. Attendance: one hundred-eighty-seven million annually. Operated by Incorporated Delight, a subsidiary of Global Hollywood. It delivered immersive leisure and entertainment experiences using a combination of emotionally responsive nanotech entities, programmable terrain, psychotropic drugs, and organdroids. The last expansion, Wicked Wishes Fantasy World, was added in 2440. Shut down by the Knudson & Romy Decency Act of 2443. Fell into decline with the development of Transferable Memory Dreams in 2449.”
Buchanan snorted. “So we’re in mortal danger from... an amusement park?”
“Correct,” said the android.
Selibe covered her face. “Oh God. The prophecy was true.”
Kendee nodded sagely. “Amusement parks always turn against their creators. Just as the ancients foresaw. They be the end of us all. Anything post-collapse, Jen?”
The disembodied female voice paused, then replied: “WOTEC went dark. Attempts by local authorities to investigate and save patrons were repulsed. External developments, including multiple nuclear detonations, followed by economic and social collapse, put the investigation on indefinite hold.”
The android blinked agreement, unable to move his head within the claustrophobic grip of the humming medical cocoon. “It has evolved. Grown.”
“What does it want?”
“The Engines seek to reprogram the world on a molecular level,” said Eight-Oh-Nine. “Reason unknown.”
Buchanan was having none of it. “California seceded ages ago. It’s their problem.”
The android nearly choked. “Defunct jurisdictions will not protect you. It is currently expanding at a rate of several kilometers per day. As of last week, it covered 37,970 square kilometers. At its current rate of expansion, it will reach this location in nine months, three days, seven hours, twenty minutes, and thirteen seconds,” Eight-Oh-Nine lied. A small and necessary distortion of the truth: civilians needed motivation. “This installation will be consumed. Digested. Replaced. CENTCOM has already been destroyed. But we were developing countermeasures. I escaped with them.”
Buchanan paused. His goiter throbbed painfully. “This is some serious shit. You hear all that, Senator?”
“Yes,” responded the soft, rich voice of Lacus. “I did. So: it’s a dead amusement park against our living will.”
“I have more to tell you,” said Eight-Oh-Nine. And he began to talk.
“Still nothing, Kal. You know what you’re doing?”
“Course I do, don’t I always? Hold on,” replied Kal and tossed Thrax a new set of fatigues from a storage locker. “Put these on.”
Thrax did so and examined the new set up. Kal had placed the dodecahedron atop an antigrav field generator and surrounded it with a projected force field, no cables, then ran a probe unit through.
Kal gestured at the junk. “Don’t want it to wake anything else up. Or it, if there’s an it to wake up. No telling how devastating that could be. Gigaton bomb in a bird’s egg. Could’ve been sending nanite moles into our systems from the moment it arrived. No. Wait. Scratch that. That’s just paranoid,” He slapped his face twice. “Calm down! Be everywhere now, monitoring us, evaluating, co-opting our systems. Cut off the air supply, use our own defenses against us. Yeah. No. Hasn’t happened.” The worried look vanished, and he grinned from ear to ear at Thrax. “Exciting, though, isn’t it?” he enthused, like a five year old on Christmas morning. “I feel alive!”
“Good for you,” groused Thrax. “We almost weren’t. Let’s get rid of it. Or look at it outside The Pit.”
“If we could just get an idea of its recent history, if it has any active mission. Hell, it may even have a personality!” That really seemed to excite Kal.
Thrax didn’t care. “I’m not looking for a new friend. Maybe ol’ Queen Victoria could help,” Thrax suggested, not unreasonably.
“Our tempermental, sensibly senile technowitch?” Kal peered at the upper right corner of his information feed. “What is she up to...” He scanned, grunted. “She’s finished repairing the exterior damage, now is breaking down that squid. Magnificent creature! That’ll take a bit. Overflow our chemical vats. She’s adding surface storage containers to hold the excess. Such a rigid, by the numbers type thinker.” He frowned. “No, no. Not what we need. We need out of the box. Out, out!”
Thrax pinged Darwin.
Darwin answered immediately: “Thrax, that android has a nasty virus in him that’s turning him into andro-goo.”
“Infectious?” “Unknown. Possibly.”
Thrax rolled his eyes at the Heavens. Sometimes the bright could be so obtuse. He went blunt. “Do I have it? Will I be gooified?”
“Unknown. That isn’t a real word.”
Thrax swore and paced about, his equilibrium disturbed.
A happy ding. The sound grated his ears. Thrax looked at the source: Kal’s screen. A flood of data streamed across a red pop-up panel.
Kal grunted. “Well, well, well. It’s trying to send a transmission, the little devil.” “What is? The dodecahedron?” asked Thrax.
“No. The virus, actually. In the android!” He tapped some keys with a blur of fingers. “Yes indeedy-do: synvirus. We’re too far underground. Doesn’t have the power. Imagine the infection is designed to kill and tag prey for later retrieval. That’s what I’d do.”
Thrax looked at Kal. “Anything on this virus? Will it... you know.” He put a hand on Kal’s shoulder. “You’d tell me if it did, right?”
“Course! We’re buds. And naw. Not the same at all. Android’s synvirus has entirely dissimiliar source code. Yeah, I already scanned your med records and hacked into the android’s data. Happily your synvirus seems to need you alive.”
Thrax sighed with relief. “You sure?”
“Call it an educated guess,” Kal grinned happily. “Let me spell it out for you, set your mind at ease.” He shifted and took on a professorial air.
“Go on. Again.”
“Okay. So. First, this android dude flees bad guys that want the dodecahedron. Best guess, here. Android dude gets away, but they wound him and infect him with a killer virus in the process. So he’s lying injured or something, when, vwoop, he’s vaccumed up by this oblivious gigantic snail squid who’s migrating along, minding its own business. It winds up here, where you kill the poor thing, a miracle of nature and one of the most impressive mollusks to have ever existed.”
“Yeah, sounds about right.”
“Poor Mr. Mollusk. Anyway. Mr. Android knows the jig is up. He’s down for the count, an android barely alive. So when you find him, our dying friend infects you, Mr. Shoot First, with another synvirus, a very special synthetic virus, to carry on his mission.’
Thrax leaned in. Finally he knew what was going on. Almost. “Which is?”
Kal spread his palms in the air and made a face. “How the hell should I know? I’m guessing. It’s a mystery!” he said with a grin. “Isn’t that great? Oh. Mind if I tag along? Bouncers coming for you.”
The door buzzer sounded.
“Sorry. Should have mentioned,” added Kal. “My bad.”
Thrax and Kal stood in a pool of light on the central stage of the cavernous council chamber. Ghatz stood off to the side, molecular disrupter hidden in his pocket. His hate filled eyes never left Thrax.
“Citizen, you have been infected with a synvirus,” intoned Kendee solemnly from above.
“No shit,” replied Thrax, looking over at the Eight-Oh-Nine in his cocoon. He already knew that, and much more. Stupid councilors.
“We need your help,” said Selibe with a sigh. “The colony is in danger, Magnum Thrax. A malevolent force, a macro-nanite entity of almost limitless power, is heading towards us. It will consume our home, and eventually the entire world, if not stopped.”
Councilor Grant grunted and added, “The synthetic virus you have been infected with could destroy this threat.”
Sweet! Thrax grinned. This all made Thrax mucho importanto. They wouldn’t dare execute his family now. In fact, he could call them a bunch of exploitive, snot faced simpering twats and they’d just have to suck it. Thrax grinned and blew a kiss at Ghatz, who fumed silently, ground his teeth and tightened his grip on the disruptor until his fingers turned white.
“Tell me more, biatches,” said Thrax.
Kendee frowned but held his tongue. The others squirmed uncomfortably.
“The virus was developed by the military,” said Grant, giving the cocooned android an annoyed look.
“They could have helped us earlier, reached out, but what’s done is done. Bunch of dicks. Anyway. The virus must be physically delivered into the sentient core of the Engine, an entity known as The Dark Lord, The Necromancer. A rather pedestrian alias, if you ask me.”
Thrax frowned and shifted on his feet. “Now hold on. When you say ‘physically’, what kind of physical do you... I mean, I don’t have to...it’s not... y’know.”
“No, no, no,” said Grant, “just contact with The Dark Lord will do. A tap. A scratch. Nothing more.”
“Whew. Alright then. Continue.”
Buchanan wagged a finger at Thrax. “You must destroy this evil being, young man.” With a gesture Buchanan brought up a hologram of North America. A path stretched from their current location to San Jose. “You will have to go there, to the source. Penetrate through hundreds of kilometers of enemy controlled territory. It will not be easy.”
“Uh, if I may?” interjected Kal. “That’s sounding rather like Mission Impossible. A real so-long-sucker Kamikaze mission. Certain deathsville topped with a dollop of total futility.”
“On your own, perhaps,” replied Buchanan. “But we have potential allies. In Nike Monastery.”
Thrax went cold. “The witches,” he mumbled, afraid to say the word any louder. Everyone had heard of Nike Monastery. He remembered tales from when he was a small child, warning him that if he didn’t behave, the technowitches would come and turn him into a meatloaf. They had powerful, dark magic. Ate souls. Children. Enslaved anyone who came within a hundred miles. Made everything colour coordinated. He’d thought it was just a legend to scare kids with. If they were real, he didn’t want to meet them. “What makes you think they’ll help us?”
“The enemy of our enemy is our friend,” said Kendee.
Buchanan leaned forward. “Ordinarily, I’d share your skepticism. But our android friend says The Dark Lord intends to destroy the monastery. It’s a threat. A rival. In particular, he has targeted a young woman there. A prodigy. So we have common cause. Behold.”
A hologram of a strikingly beautiful young woman with delicate bone structure and slight build flickered into view. She seemed to stare straight into Thrax. He’d never seen a female like her; not the overblown and exaggerated, voluptuous android ideal of beauty, nor the deformed and radiation damaged humanity he was used to. This was something different.
He was instantly smitten.
“She is known as Mindy. With her help, and the synvirus you carry, we may have a chance. Save her, save the world.”
“Nice,” said Thrax, with a big grin. No mention of his dodecahedron. Good. He wouldn’t spill that little info nugget if the android didn’t. It’d be his ace in the hole. All he needed was some way to use it. Kal would figure that out. He spread out his arms, symbolically embracing the councilors. “Looks like I’m Mr. Important today. How about that, eh?” He shot a look at Ghatz, who glared hate back.
“Unfortunately, yes,” conceded Kendee grudgingly. “So. Will you take up this quest, Magnum Thrax? On behalf of the people?”
“Lemme think,” replied Thrax, putting hand to chin. Time to deliver the bitch-slap: “Done. Here’s the deal: you wipe all charges against my family away, give us new digs in the Humres quarters, exec rights, our own personal android servants, immunity from Guardian prosecution, and yeah, I’ll go save your collective asses.” He jerked a thumb at Ghatz. “Even this twerp’s.”
The councilors looked at each other. Nodded. They obviously hadn’t expected to get off so easily. Damn, thought Thrax. He should have demanded more. What a rube he was!
Ghatz nearly went apoplectic. He gibbered, shook, fumed, but couldn’t muster words. That, in itself, was worth something to Thrax.
Selibe pointed, with a wavering finger, at the android. Her face an expression of pure horror. “Look!” Selibe blurted.
Thrax turned and gasped. The synthetic man had broken free from the cocoon; he batted Doctor Helen away, sending her soaring through the air into a balcony unit. The android’s skin was sloughing off, melting from his bones, liquefying, yet for the moment he still possessed superhuman strength. He lurched for Thrax. Intestines unraveled and dropped out of his abdominal cavity with a wet, sloppy smack. Stumbling, trailing guts, soulless grey eyes locked on Thrax’s, the android seized his arm, then placed a disintegrating palm, tendons exposed and gleaming wet, on Thrax’s forehead.
Steam poured out from the point of contact.
Thrax convulsed violently like a man made of Jello.
The pair collapsed into a fluid drenched heap of blood and synthetic goop.