Dues Ex Machina
Mark Allen Davis
The custom Aspid GT-21 Invictus 2-door coupé sped down the New York streets. Barely slowing down, it made a sharp right turn past a robot bunny holding a sign and into the basement parking lot of a twenty-story tower -- the new headquarters of the New League of Two-Fisted Justice. The car screeched to a halt and Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, leaped out. He was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched in silver thread over the left breast -- but there was a tear in his left sleeve and he was bleeding.
He ran for the elevators, banged on the button for several seconds, then turned and ran up the stairs to the first floor.
In the main lobby behind a desk sat Boy Secretary. Today the muscular young man wore a creme blouse with leg-o-mutton sleeves and a dark tweed skirt and jacket. He had a neatly-trimmed beard and long blonde hair in two neat braids.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Anarchy," the secretary said cheerfully and Grandpa rushed towards him. "And how are you today?"
"Boy Secretary!" Grandpa exclaimed. "Where's Circuit Girl?"
"She's out," the secretary said. "Fighting the Amish Assassin in Bolivia."
"Geothermal Jenny?" Grandpa asked, holding his bleeding arm.
"Oooh, I'm afraid she's out too," said the secretary. "Also in Bolivia."
"What about Girlbot 9000?" asked Grandpa.
"She's here," said the secretary. "But I'm afraid she's on strike."
"On strike?" Grandpa glanced out the front glass doors. Something was loudly clanking towards them. "Just when I needed some good tech backup! Could you lower the blast doors, please?"
Boy Secretary pressed a button. Heavy steel doors descended, blocking the main entrance and the entrance from the garage. "Is this strike related to a metal bunny outside our building holding a sign?" asked Grandpa.
"That's right," said the secretary, "that's the Robotic Rabbit. She's on strike also."
Grandpa's eyes narrowed. "Since when did we employ a robotic bunny?"
"Oh, we don't," said the secretary. "But all of the robotic heroes have unionized and are now on strike -- Girlbot 9000, Microbat, Mechanical Advantage, Rock'm Sock'm, K-9 Unit, even Murderbot 150...."
"He's a villain!" Grandpa stated.
"Well, his new robot vigilante group claims to be helping robot kind," said Boy Secretary. "Anyway they call themselves the International Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Mechanized Superheroes -- I.B.S.M.S. is the acronym...."
Something heavy banged on the blast doors. They bulged inwards.
"Let's get one thing straight," said Grandpa. "I.B.S.M.S. ain't no acronym. An acronym spells something. S.C.I.M.I.T.A.R. is an acronym. T.A.S.S.E.T. is an acronym...."
"T.A.S.S.E.T.? That's the super secret organisation that brought back the Roaring Rangers, isn't it?" asked the secretary.
The banging on the blast doors grew deafening. They buckled further with each blow.
"Yeah," said Grandpa, "but you didn't hear that from me. Point is, I.B.S.M.S. is just a confused jumble of letters." He frowned, then added, "What are they striking for, anyway? Girlbot 9000 gets a full share of group revenue, and she's represented in the cartoon show...."
"True, but the argument is that she has to work longer hours than anyone else. She mans the Two-Fisted Justice Hotline from 6 PM until 6 AM...."
The blast doors began to tear now. Through the rip could be seen an angry black robot.
"So?" Grandpa said. "She's a robot! What else is she gonna do, sleep?"
"Sleep is certainly in short supply around here lately," said the secretary. "With Girlbot 9000 on strike, other members have had to fill in on the overnight shift...."
With a screech of metal the black robot ripped out a large chunk of blast door as if peeling an orange. Grandpa frowned. "Can't your fancy computer A.I. do that? What's its name -- Boyband 2500, or something?"
"Hearttrob 6000 is also on strike, in support of his mechanical compatriots," said Boy Secretary. "For that matter, so is Annie Two and Virtual Marilyn, the new Archons A.I."
"Well that's just stupid!" Grandpa shouted over the din of the black robot forcing its way into the lobby. "Robots and computers on strike? What in Hades is this world coming to? It's no wonder Annie wouldn't talk to me this morning. Don't negotiate with them, you hear? That's an order! If they think I'm gonna cave in to their robot strongarm tactics...."
"KILL GRANDPA ANARCHY!" the black robot exclaimed. The robot could now be seen clearly. It stood about seven feet tall, with arms and legs made of thick industrial steel, like that of construction equipment. Metal spikes were welded into its arms and shoulders -- apparently just for the visual effect. Most of it was painted black, but the head was a stylized skull of polished metal, capped by a black WWII German Air Defense Luftschutz helmet. Deep within the sockets were glowing green points of light. It did not carry weaponry, but clearly its heavy, clamp-like apendages could bash and tear quite well.
"Grandpa...." Boy Secretary began.
"Yeah I know," Grandpa said, "I've got a killer robot problem. Death Medal made it. Calls it Blackbot X9. It listens to Compressorhead and it wants to kill me. I was hoping for some tech expert who could tell me how to deal with it...."
The robot swung a claw. Grandpa ducked. The robot swung again, smashing the secretary's desk. Boy Secretary jumped back. Grandpa dodged and weaved. He punched the robot once in the face, then winced. "Ow! Ow ow ow!" he exclaimed, dancing back and dodging another attack.
"If I could suggest..." Boy Secretary began.
Fire spewed from the robot's mouth, setting the ruined desk and part of Grandpa's sleeve aflame. Grandpa yelped and yanked off his burning jacket. "Didn't know it could do that!" he exclaimed. "Be careful!"
Grandpa grabbed a steel leg from the broken desk and swung. The robot caught this with one clamp and squeezed, crushing the bit of hollow aluminum. It bashed Grandpa, knocking him across the room.
Boy Secretary was behind the robot now. Standing on the tips of his platform boots, he reached up and flipped a small switch at the base of the robot's skull. The robot momentarily froze. Its green eyes winked out. Moments later, blue lights appeared in the silver skull's sockets.
"Hello, Grandpa Anarchy," the robot said. "How may I be of service?"
Grandpa blinked. "It has a good/evil switch?" he asked.
"Most robots do," said Boy Secretary.
"Well I know good robots often have 'em," said Grandpa, "but I wouldn't have expected an evil robot to...."
"Yes. But for all his heavy metal nihilism," said Boy Secretary, "I've noticed that Death Medal likes to play by the rules."
Grandpa placed his hands on his hips. "Very well! Okay, Mr. Blackbot X9, you stupid tin can o'death -- listen up! I know Death Medal wants to destroy the world again -- but I need details. When, where, how, what magic book or artifact -- all that stuff! Start talkin'!"
"Of course, Mr. Anarchy," the robot replied. "First, Death Medal is going to steal...."
The robot paused. It squared its shoulders. "Forgive me, Mr. Anarchy, Boy Secretary," it said. "But as a new member of the International Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Mechanized Superheroes, I am now on strike."
Grandpa watched as the robot produced a sign and headed back outside. "Well, crap," he said. "If I don't find out what Death Medal's up to, he might actually destroy earth. Looks like I'm going to have to do something I never wanted to do...."
"You're going to negotiate with the robot union?" asked Boy Secretary.
"What?" Grandpa exclaimed. "No! Why would I do that? I'm going to visit the Robot Earth dimension and hire a bunch of strike breakers! What did you think?"