|They Said We Could Be Anything...|
|Date||Some time after the Invasion from Below.|
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It looks like Hero Factory is coming to an end. The Assembly Tower is powering down, Mission Control is barren, Heroes all around the galaxy are finding themselves unemployed, and Villains are bored out of their minds.
So, of course, the solution to all of this is to open up a convenience store.
“No, seriously, where did you put him?”
“Idon’tknowIdon’tknowIdon’t-” The whimpering orange-green hero was a bit heavy to be hefting this far above the ground. Sometimes, Quaza Demon wished she didn’t have to lift them to get them to talk.
“You know, my male half!”
The hero stopped panicking, his face turning into one of incomprehension. “Your what?”
People always seemed ask that question. She considered a more subtle approach. Maybe less throat-grabbing. “My male half! When I as a young Scarox, I was mutated to be able to use my muscles as freely as possible, reform my body, mentally control quaza, blah blah blah, stuff happened, and I absorbed a young male Scarox with similar abilities. How is this not obvious?”
“That sounds like science fiction…” the Hero asked with a dubious look etched on his face.
“Sir, you are a sentient robot.”
“And that doesn’t mean I know jack about- wait. How did you lose… a male personality…?” The hero seemed more conversational than scared.
“My god, they shouldn’t have taken history out of schools…”
“Ok, listen up. I was attacked by your people on Quatros. They surrounded me, set me on fire until I was pretty much bare bones, then they cornered me. I tried to morph into something faster to escape, and they managed to grab my second brain… You’re not going to tell anyone, right?”
The hero was fiddling with his earpiece. “Hm? Oh, sorry, could you repeat that bit?”
She grunted, siphoned his Quaza into her skin, and dropped him, much like a refuse bag. “Kids these days…” She looked around at the alleyway she found herself in. She used to fight heroes in fortresses, towers, schools even. That one time in the janitor’s closet was especially memorable…
Being in a back alleyway felt like she’d really started to slum it. Not that she was surprised to find some heroes here. After Hero Factory had closed, they’d started trying to solve crimes wherever. These four had been breaking up a fight between a pigeon and a lizard. Quaza Demon had been betting on the lizard.
She turned to leave, then turned back. She pointed and counted one, two, three… and the fourth she just knocked out. Wait. She had been wrong. Five bodies. She could have sworn it had only been four…
Not that any of them knew anything, which infuriated her. Knowing Hero Factory, all data they had must’ve been encrypted and sealed into their archives. It had become an uphill battle to find anyone that might be able to hack into the data, let alone that knew anything. She had been so close before, gotten all the way to Makuhero city, and was so, so close to finally infiltrating the Tower. If she had gotten here just ONE DAY SOONER, just ONE, then all this would be unnecessary! Quaza Demon felt like screaming.
She slammed her first into, then through the wall of the adjacent building. Taking out her anger on concrete had never felt so good.
She heard something akin to fizzing, popping, and there was a great flare of bluish light coming from the other end of the alleyway. She had a feeling she knew what made that light, and it served only to boil her Quaza. To think, that one of those heroes would have the audacity to use stealth technology, to hide from her.
She prepared to charge, her body already contorting and bending, its surface boiling like furious lava. Through it all, the rage on her face did not fade away in the slightest.
“Yeah, yeah, just place the bean-bag right there. Mhhm. That’s good.”
Today was the day. I placed the order nearly a week ago, having battled my way through warranty fees and long checkout lines. Gel re-compression recliners. The cutting edge in sitting technology, they were already a huge hit. Chairs are so last month. But, really, it’s just a glorified “pile of goo”.
“That’ll be ten thousand and forty-eight credits, ma’am.”
“Right, place it on the Director of Hero Factory’s tab, there’s a good fellow.”
The delivery boy blinks and looks up from his datapad. “Uh… I’m not sure if…”
“Don’t worry about it, kiddo. The Director hates it when he has to pay for my furniture. That’s what makes it funny.”
I slam the door shut and dolphin-dive into my bean-bag. Mmm! It has that new bean-bag smell, too! Ohhh… so good.
I stop sniffing the bean-bag, ok, I just realized how weird that sounds, and race over to the ringing phone. As is my customary fashion, I wait till the message machine kicks in before picking up.
“Unit B19, how may I be of assistance?”
“You can be of assistance by picking up the phone faster. I bet you were drooling over that new recliner of yours, weren’t you?”
He’s not far off…
That’s Thornton Conflux. A real swell guy. I picked him up a metaphysical fifty-five years ago. It’s a long story. In a nutshell, I traveled five decades into the past on a mission and he basically followed me back home. We kind of liked each other a lot ever since.
And, yes, I’m a time traveler. It’s part of the job.
“Hey, Seras, you there? Seras?” Conflux snaps me out of my little trip down memory lane.
“Yeah. What is it? You need to borrow some money again? I told you, just put it on the Dir-”
“No! You’re wanted at the Director’s office. There’s a sensitive operation that calls for a time operator.”
I laugh. “They ordered you to tell me this? Have you been demoted to an errand boy, Thornton?”
“Not exactly. It’s just that I’m pretty much the only person you listen to.”
“You’ve got it all wrong. It’s you who listens to me. I just allow your words to enter my audio receptors.”
“Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night. Hop to it!” A brief click, and our phone call comes to an end.
Well. I guess I should listen to orders for once.
With a spring in my step, I grab my weapons and equipment. HUD, check. Energy sword online, check. Rocket boots, check. Power gauntlet charged, check. I’m ready.
I take one last whiff on the new bean-bag. Mmmmm. Smells like sunshine, rainbows, and silica gel.
Now, I’m ready.
I present myself with a smart salute to the office clerk. “Seras Anemone, Unit B ninete-”
He waves me lazily ahead, not even bothering to look up from his desk.
I don’t really mind that sullen little office bot. He’s never liked me ever since I drove his hovercraft off into the sunset and over a cliff. It was an honest mistake! I could have sworn that the timespace portal was going to be there…
It actually turned out to be a clerical error over at Mission Control. So, basically, in no way was I at fault for anything. He’s just grumpy.
Putting a grin on my face, I nod to my many colleagues and co-workers as I walk by them in the labyrinth of hallways that is the Hero Factory. I occasionally get a heartwarming comment from a passerby: “Caused any temporal rifts, today, Seras?” Or, something like this: “See any quantum zombies during your last mission? I’ll pay good money for pictures.”
A couple of maintenance workers give me a scowl. Ah, they’re just sore from the time I blew up their apartments. I don’t pay much attention to them.
At last, my journey takes me to the uppermost story.
There’s only one room here, the Director’s office. When I step out of the elevator, the usual steel walls are replaced with duraglass, giving an unparalleled panorama of Makuhero City.
The metropolis’ skyline is dominated by the three Assembly Towers while other lesser skyscrapers try in vain to escape the lengthy shadows cast by the Towers. There was a time when, apparently, there was only one Assembly Tower. Unthinkable, right? Our predecessors must have had mental programming issues.
“Seras! Get in here!”
“Yessir, Director!” He must have heard the elevator coming up. He had sharp audio receptors, despite being an old-timey veteran.
“I’m always late.”
Akiyama Makuro stared down at me, his face taking up a good half of the back wall.
“I’m down here, Ms. Anemone. Stop staring at the portrait, there are exceedingly importantly things to discuss.”
Mr. Makuro retired about a decade and a half ago. It was about time, really. Honestly, he was getting on in years. Now, he’s halfway around the world living the life an obscenely rich pensioner, sipping pina coladas on some random beach, while I’m stuck with the gung-ho replacement, Vyander Clockwork.
He’s nearly as old as Akiyama, but he still seems to be alive and kicking. Having been built a Hero and not a civilian might have something do with it. Despite that, it’s easy to see his six decades of active service. His antique armor is pockmarked with scratches, stains, and even bullet holes.
“Right. I’ll go over the briefing only once, so listen up. I can’t repeat myself even if I wanted to, I’ve lunch with the Prime Minister in an hour.
“Seras, like the vast majority of the populace, you are aware of the Timeskip, correct?”
“Of course. A period of six months where time mysteriously vanished, leaving no trace whatsoever. After that, the flow of time restabilized.”
“Good, Ms. Anemone. We have finally tracked the anomaly down and have pinpointed its temporal coordinates.”
“So, you’re going to go back and try to record it. You are not to interfere in any way, shape or form. Do you understand?”
I nod. For once, I’m serious. I did mess up once, on a particularly nasty assignment. In the end, Hero Factory had to send in an entire team to extract a past version of me, then correctly slot her, or me, into the proper past timeframe to avoid any planetary implosions. Dozens of police hours, wasted.
I turn to leave, but stop. “I got a question.”
Vyander raises an eyebrow. “It is ‘I have’. Go on.”
“Is Thornton tagging along? He usually does.”
The Director steepled his fingers together. “Our techs have given this some thought, and they’ve said no. The timeframe to which we send you back is extremely close to when Mr. Conflux left his era and came to ours. We do not want any past versions of Mr. Conflux seeing himself.”
“Can I at least high-five your past self? You’re so much more interesting as an active Hero.”
“Can I use your credit card for some new furniture?”
“What happens if I already did?”
The Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Interplanetary Hero Factory blinks.
I stick my tongue out. “Fine. Party pooper!” I flounce off, towards the exit.
With a small smile, Vyander Clockwork shakes his head and returns to his work. Despite our outward exchanges, the two of us were on excellent terms. I mean, who else would be able to stick their tongue out at him like that and get away with it? Or use his credit card?
As I head out, I hear his murmured response. “If you care that much about a bean-bag, maybe I should get one for my office, too…”
Two hours later
“Suit me up! And do hurry, I want to eat lunch soon.”
The lab tech furrows his eyebrows in concentration. “It’s not that simple, Ms. Anemone. Calibrating the portals is a touchy business. One false step and-”
“Oh, “ I reply, “It is really quite simple. Just punch this… and… ah, and this. Oh, and that big red button, too.” I do just that, sending all sorts of complicated numbers and strings of code rolling across the monitor.
The technician blinks. “Mr. Nathaniel, sir, what just happened?’ he calls over his shoulder.
The long-time Mission Controller doesn’t even bat an eye. “Just leave her be, she knows what she’s doing,” Zib murmurs, not looking away from the screen in front of him. “It’s not like you’d be able to stop her, anyways.”
“Right, then. Your assigned timeframe, Ms. Anemone, is fifty-four years, three months, and fourteen days into the past. Location, Cyrus’ Row, now called Cyrus’ Grand Boulevard. You’ll arrive in an alleyway off of the street. We’re issuing you with a camera and invisibility sphere. The camera’s a beaut, nuke-powered and hooked up to your helmet. It’ll continue to record even long after you die.”
The lab tech paused. “Well, uh, hopefully, that won’t come to pass. Moving on. The sphere, it’s power recharges itself as long as you stand still, but will be expended while moving. So take care with that. Everything else is standard.”
I look at him. “Are you done?”
“Great! Send me off then.”
“Did you listen to a single word I said?”
“Sure. I got the bit about the fifty-four years thing. Oh, look, your shoelace is untied.”
“What?” As he looks down in bewilderment, I reach as far as I can from my harness and swipe the time disk from the nearby shelf. I’ve always thought of it as a metal doughnut with a laser hololight where the hole is supposed to be.
I tap it. At my touch, the middle bit flares red and I am enveloped in a dazzling blue light. The bustling Mission Control is fading before me. The cabled-covered walls slowly vanish, replaced by starry tendrils of blue. The time stream.
Last to go are the dawning realization on the lab tech’s face as he noticed that he wasn’t wearing shoes and Zib’s voice, floating from somewhere to the right. “Don’t get too flustered with Seras, Robert. Just do your job and count down from ten.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know the standard procedure. Ten seconds, and if they don’t get back before then, we’ve got problems.”
Time swirls and though I know they’re counting out loud, the only thing I can hear and see is the swirling blue around me as I hurtle through the fourth dimension.
It’s always a gross feeling when you leave the time stream. You go from a formless, weightless, spectre flying through what appears to a blue-hued version of outer space, to landing sprawled on wet pavement, once again awkwardly solid. Apparently, the time stream is part of space, it just looks radically different from the fourth dimension. Hence, the blueness.
I’ll say this though: you won’t miss the constant, staticky white noise ever-present in the stream. That does get on your nerves after a while.
Quickly, before I am noticed, I pick myself up. So, let’s see here, what do I have? A little orb thing, not bigger than my palm, and a camera. Alright, seems easy enough. Hopefully, the lil’ camera will last for the entire six months I’m stuck here.
I fiddle around a bit with the sphere. Gah! What is this thing? A smokescreen? A flashbang? I shake it, in a desperate hope to kickstart this doo-hickey.
“You!” A loud roar echoes from the far end of the alleyway. Loud enough to dislodges bits of rust clinging on to the above laundry pipes, some of which lands on my helmet.
“You!” the furious yell repeats. “Have you seen my male half?”
Oh… heck. My eyes widen, not unlike a deer’s in the headlights.
I’ve been spotted.
Please let there be no quantum zombies.
That one word is all that I can think about as I jump from roof to roof. Most of my friends would be amused I can even grasp such a concept, if I had any true friends.
I ride the wind onto another high-rise, spooking a couple of birds nearby. I still can’t believe it’s only been a two days since the fall of that wretched Hero Factory! The end of the factory also meant the immediate release of all minor-level villains in captivity. So naturally, I was released, being the small potato I am. We, my gang and I, all went outside. And then after that, everything just began to blur together. So much to do, so much to see, and literally all the time in the world!
I chuckle aloud as I bound gleefully across another few buildings. I really have no idea why I’m so content on taking a jog across the Makuhero city rooftops. Well, perhaps a ‘jog’ is not the right word for jumping around from rooftop to rooftop, thirty stories about the tiny street below.
I also have no idea why I’m shouting out loud at this point. Heck, I’ve broken out of jail multiple times now. Maybe it’s because this time there’s no going back. I guess I just want to embrace the-
Gosh, why can’t I stop yelling that? Oh well, breaks the monotony of my usual quotes. I eventually stop for a breather, after hopping across some thirty plus buildings. I’m surprised none of the locals are shouting at me. Maybe they’re just in too much shock from the factory’s shutdown.
I spin around, a bit startled to be honest. Across the way near the rooftop entrance is a green and yellow colored being. He’s fairly short, although I’m not much larger. It’s Looru, my fellow Grax Gang member. I wonder what he wants, considering the gang split after our last mini breakout. Maybe it’s an apology from me for insulting his “smarts” before.
“Looru,” I begin, not altogether sure whether to actually pay attention to him, or just let him ramble on. Who cares?
“Aphrax, you know it takes people three times the effort and time, if not more, to catch up to someone if they’re running across the top of a city? Honestly.”
I can’t quite come up with a complete response to his rhetorical question, and only manage a “Freedom!”
“Oh, for crying out loud, you’re such a simple-minded idiot,” Looru reaches into his backpack and, after rummaging around a bit, pulls out a bright red apparatus, rather singed and fairly beaten up. ”Here, I found this doodad when a few other villains took me into the confiscated weapons room, thought you might want this back.”
He tosses the weapon to me and I just barely manage to catch it. How could I be so careless as to forget my beloved flamethrower? It’s practically, and quite literally, a part of me!
“Thanks,” I murmur as I equip the flamethrower onto my right arm where it’s always been. Much better. I feel… complete.
“Take care of yourself, ok? Nobody from the gang has our backs any more. I’m certainly not looking out for you further than this point.”
With that, Looru jumps off the ledge, using one of his new tech pieces to hang-glide his way out. I always liked that guy, maybe not for his thieving attitude, but because he was probably the closest thing I had to a true friend.
With all notions Looru already ejected from my mind, I look back at my trusty flamethrower thinking, Maybe I ought to name you….nah.
I jump up onto the highest ledge of the building, and send out a giant flame burst, scorching the air all around me.
In triumph, I yell my trademark phrase, “Kill it with fire!”
Suddenly I hear a few explosions go off in the southern district. I turn to look, and see a spread of colorful light, fireworks… in broad daylight? I head for the source, thinking to myself why in the world would someone would set off fireworks in the middle of Makuhero in the day. Only I do stuff like that. Maybe it was some dumb villain party, some really dumb villain party.
That sounds just about right for me.
A few more rooftops, and I was above the action. Who knows what wonders await below? I peer over the edge of the building to catch a glimpse of the party-goers, but what I see is far from a party. Down on the street is a group of rookie heroes. I suppose they were cut loose pretty early, if they’re sending off fireworks at this hour.
I take a step back from the edge. I should have guessed it was some pesky rookies goofing around. No matter, might as well go down there and smack them around a bit.
I make my way down to ground level, only this time I decide to change things up a bit, and take the elevator inside as opposed to hopping down the outside balconies. I exit the building and confront the little rookies. They really were quite small, and that’s saying something, coming from a guy like me.
“Heroes! Or whatever you are these days! You had me convinced there was a party going on here!”
There are three rookies huddled around the fireworks set-up, two others off to the side. One of the rookies smirks, while another’s eyes open really wide. The three others just stand there staring. Yeesh, what a bunch. They must either be too scared of me or just dumb as ever.
“Whatever, scram! I’ll be taking those fireworks for my own party now! Haha!” I ready my flamethrower, igniting a fairly large burst of fire. Something in the back of my mind was telling me not to go overboard, but I saw no reason to even go very far. These punks were still just standing there!
Finally, one of the heroes stops forward, and says, “We know who you are. Aphrax, the pyromaniac!”
“Pyromaniac?!” I exclaim, “I am no maniac, I am a master of FIRE!!!!!”
Well, there goes my cool. I advance on the heroes, blasting them with flames. One of them calls for an assembly, like some team leader. They do end up coming together, to my surprise. One of them calls out to me, “Do what you will villain! We still have a duty to take people like you down!”
My gosh, how these guys are pushing my buttons. And to think, they still haven’t done anything! “My pleasure!” I keep on them, now attacking with a more tactical approach.
“Kill it with fire!” I slash a few surrounding objects like a food cart and a couple of cars, then toss them towards the heroes.
A few more attacks, and I’ve cut their number down to two rookies. I had only just realized this battle had moved down the street into an intersection, much to my advantage, of course. Civilians were running in panic, and the street we had gone down was pretty much trashed. These guys just don’t give up....
I go in for a few more attacks, now sending whole cars at them on fire. I barely even noticed some heroic people here and there supposedly trying to counter my efforts, although I think some of them got hit by my fire-flying cars.
I continued to pick up, toss, and set on fire cars left and right. One final frenzy, and the rookies are all down for the count. What a rush! I admit, this was much better than a party.
“Stupid Hero Factory. Hah, stupid everything…”
I’m walking through some random city I was banished to when I was fired. I have no idea why I’m here and what I’m going to do. Out of a job, homeless, and lost. Exceedingly lost. There’s just an old, steel buildings everywhere, some with windows, some without. Some standing, some a pile of rubble. No matter what the state of the structures, however, they formed a maze that I had little hope of navigating.
Oh, and the slums have this odd smell. Well, to be honest, I’m only guessing it does.
See, I don’t have a nose.
Out of service. That’s what I am. My precious Nano Army reduced to practically nothing, all in the course of a few short days. And not by battle, either. By the fall of Hero Factory, of all things.
I poke at a passing dog. Its hair is matted, and it bares it fangs at me. The stray growls back at me, but a second, well-placed jab at its ribs sends the mutt scurrying away with its tail tucked between its legs.
I have no idea why I’m poking random animals with my blade. I guess it seems to be fun. Knowing me, one can never tell.
I give a quick pat on my pet slug as I walk on. Well… at least I think it was his head. Do slugs secrete suspicious green bubbles from their heads?
I haven’t found out a name for him yet, so I use slug-pet-thingy as a placeholder. He does catch on fire sometimes, so maybe I’ll consider that when naming him.
To be honest, I really am not sure how slug-pet-thingy and I got acquainted. Perhaps it was fate? No, I just woke up one day and found him latched to my arm.
“‘Ey, punk, what d’ya think yer doin’ here?”
I spin around and with practiced ease born out of countless battles, I train my rifle on the source of the voice, some homeless bum.
The leader yelps, and books it. Clearly, he had not expected to be faced with such a fearsome weapon. The rest follow like sheep.
I’m probably in some hobo gang’s turf. But that doesn’t matter, I could just stab them, or shoot them, or electro-
My communicator rings. That’s strange, I thought they were disabled when the army was decommissioned.
That doesn’t matter. I could use the company.
I activate it to see the icon of my old friend, a remarkable fellow with the code name “Earthshaker”.
Why am I not surprised? That guy could hack into the Capital Holdings Bank with just a few optic fibres and a laptop. It should be a child’s play for him to tap into the restricted phone lines.
“Flamez, how’s tricks, buddy?”
“Good. I’ve been trying to shank animals. And I guess I walked around a lot. Oh! I’ve also been talking to my pet sl-”
“What? That’s what you’re doing? Enough of that.” Though I can’t see him, I bet he’s shaking his head in disappointment. “Most of the others actually found a new job.”
“Well, I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going back.”
Earthshaker scoffed. He couldn’t make me go back, unless he could hack my body, which he couldn’t do. Wait… or could he…?
I hung up the call before he could reply. I don’t need the others anymore. That, and the fact of Earthshaker’s potential ability of overriding me.
I pick up my slug.
“What do you think I should do, little buddy?” He doesn’t respond. He never does.
I hear the echoing clangs of boots against metal behind me. Oh, great, those slum gang members are here. Again. And they brought friends.
With a deft turn, I face them. They’re fanned out before me, each armed with assortments of metal bars and scraps. They’re rather worse for the wear.
Seriously, did they really think the could even hope to match me? I may be an ex-soldier, but I can still take care of a bunch of hooligans with my eyes closed.
Then, a lightbulb moment.
“You all see this?” I take out a grenade from my armor.
Once again, the hobos backed away and ran, hopefully for good this time.
I guess they don’t like explosives. Too bad I didn’t have my nuclear rod with me.
I keep walking, because that’s what I probably should do. Nah, that’s about the only thing I can do.
There’s another clang, coming from an alleyway nearby to my right. Huh. Strange, I’m pretty sure I left the gang turf.
I look around, yet no-one seems to be in sight.
Probably should go investigate. It would give me something to kill time with, at the very least.
Of course, when I mean investigate, I mean going in all guns blazing and laughing like a crazed maniac.
Nathan Evo, one of Hero Factory’s greats, sat not three feet away from me, across a table in a dimly lit room. He just slouched there, arms crossed, gazing at me sternly. His fingers drummed a rhythm onto his pistol’s handgrip, clearly waiting for me.
I hate Heroes. That much said be established here and now. Oh, how I wish I could just reach over, grab him, and-
“I told you, it’s your turn. Pay up.”
See what I mean? They’re always saying it’s your turn to pay the bill! It’s annoying on so many levels. I grunt, but in the end, I slap down forty credits which a portly waitbot deftly scooped up. He eyed the money for a split second, then shooed me off, as if allowing me to leave.
What has the world come to?
Who knew the end of Hero Factory would be this… suckish? I’m having brunch with Nathan Evo. Why am I paying for someone who had beaten me up in the past? It’s absurd!
I remember that day so clearly. So, so, clearly. Two days ago, it was. The message was everywhere. On billboards, all across the holovid channels, the radio stations. “Hero Factory is closing”. Four words. ‘Tis all.
And so, I gamely walked out of Hero Factory, checked myself out from the insanity ward where I had been for the last three years, and stepped out into the morning sun, flat out broke and homeless. Well, the most important thing is that I’m cured. Probably. No more crazy stunts with rockets or missiles anymore, at least.
Like I said, the Hero Factory’s end wasn’t really turning out as well as we all expected. Villains are bored out of their minds. Heroes are all out of a job.
So, our solution? To have us pay for the Heroes’ meals.
For these last two days, I’ve wandered the streets of Makuhero City. Everywhere, I see signs of our world coming to a standstill. Shops are closing, citizens wandering aimlessly, without purpose. I’ve even heard rumours of some sort of universal calamity. Apparently, ours is ending because another is starting.
Well, when desperate, people will believe anything.
A hovercar zips by me. It’s… it’s pretty fast. I like fast.
And I eye it.
No, no. Deep breaths. One. Two. Calm. Think of calm. Flowery meadows, smooth jazz, plucking out Evo’s CPU and setting it on fire.
Speaking of cars, one of them is softly meowing at me from the nearby curb.
I look at the aforementioned car curiously. Have scientists managed to splice organic DNA into vehicles now? If so, then what is the car powered by…?
Again, with that mewling. I peer at the hovercar, searching, searching. Perhaps a pair of furry ears would pop out on the roof, or maybe some whiskers from the grille.
There’s a cat in the window. A kitten. It’s batting the car door with a paw, and leering at me with it’s piercingly bright eyes, giving me an expression that seemed to say, “You’re pretty thick, you know.”
The little kitten, a cream-coloured fuzzball with paws gray as ash, cocked its head at me. “You gonna do anything about me? You know, maybe let me out?”
I blink. “You’re seem kinda smart for a cat, you know. It’s almost as though you’re talking to me,” I say aloud. I hope no one saw or heard me. That was a mortifying moment right there, me talking to an animal.
“Smarter than you, that’s for sure. Lemme out. I’m hungry.”
“Hey, kitty. Less of the smart mouth. I don’t have to get you out, you know.”
“Yes, you do. Article twenty-seven, section J of the Intergalactic Charter of Basic Freedoms invariably states that-”
“Alright, alright! Fine!” I scowl and fume while I try to find a way to bust that good-for-nothing cat out.
I can’t just up and blow the car sky-high. Despite Hero Factory being shut down, I’m sure they’d at least try to apprehend me for something like that.
Perhaps I could pick the lock. Yeah, how hard could it be? Just… shove my three-foot claw in a slot half a centimeter thick. Then, gingerly turn the lock with my two pincers. Which each happen to be as large as the entire car door. Yeah.
I end up just melting the lock, whoops, make that the right half of the car. At last, I reach in and roughly grab the highly annoying kitten by the scruff of its neck, bringing to eye level.
We look each other square in the face, a pair of slanted, round kitty eyes, and a pair of yellow, narrowed, Fire Villain ones.
“I have to name you now, don’t I?”
“Yeah. Make it good. Or I’ll maim you.”
“Glad to meet your acquaintance, Mr. Wiggles. Oh, and don’t even bother scratching me, you’ll only hurt yourself.” I give my armor plating a good, solid, pound. “Carbon-nanosteel alloy! Ain’t nothing getting by this, especially not some little cat’s claws.”
Mr. Wiggles continues to stare balefully at me while a rather important question dawns on me. “Hey. Are you a girl cat, or a boy one?”
“Put me down and I’ll tell you.” I do so.
The kitten squats slightly, directly above my feet. The horrific realization dawns upon me, but by then, it is much too late.
“How does you peeing on me tell me if you’re a girl or boy? Huh? All you’re doing is ruining the paint job!” I skip around, desperately trying to shake off as much of the… excretion as possible
“Can’t you tell by the smell?”
“I can tell it’s foul.”
Mr. Wiggles seems to huff, and he/she paces around. “If I were male, I’d most likely do what plebeians such as you call ‘spraying’. If you want, I can do that too.”
Ah, so she’s female. “No, no, that’s fine, really,” I quickly respond.
Mr. Wiggles blinks at me.
“Well? Give me a better name, and quickly! You can’t give me a guy’s name!”
I cock my head in thought, and look upwards. I blink. Alright, well, you don’t see those things flying in the sky everyday.
“Say, kitty. Do you mind if we think of your name a bit later?”
“Huh? Why?” Mr. Wiggles’ eyes narrow and she shoots a fierce glare at me, with her tail straightened out in anger.
“Well, we’re about to be inconvenienced by a great flaming car headed our wa-”
I turn fully, to assess the current, ah, situation. Sixty meters away. Fifty. The mangled, fiery heap arced it way towards us, a flaming ball o’ death. Ok, so, this was something interesting. Perhaps the most interesting event in the last two days. Honestly, though, I would have liked something less… fatal to have cropped up.
“Cat, you owe me big time,” I mutter. I scoop Mr. Wiggles up hastily and bury the kitten in my enfolded arms, shielding her with my back as the two-ton fireball roars it way ever closer to me.
3 days ago
Surge continued his tour around the Hero Factory facilities. The Tower was imposing from the outside, but once indoors it was a nightmare. So many rooms unused, or overused. But now, every room was completely empty, and vast halls were filled doors leading pretty much nowhere. The halls, too, were empty, a rarity at the former head of interplanetary defense for much of the known universe. There were many memories tied to these halls. Those of villains being brought in, villains being fought, bad pranks, pranks gone bad, and the unfortunate incident with the pan-dimensional squid and the toaster. Surge shuddered at the mere thought of it.
Now, he had some new memories of these halls. He remembered when you couldn’t walk in them. Too many heroes going to missions, returning, loitering, getting jailed for loitering, or at least being threatened about it. Surge had taken to not using the hallways at all, instead just flying around the sides of the building. Only, nobody ever left enough windows open. He saw a yellow hero ahead of him, going the opposite direction, carrying a massive box. Despite all the light from the windows that made up the right side of the of hall, he seemed to be sticking to the shadows.
“Oh hey, you’re Surge!” The hero’s voice sounded chipper. He must’ve been recent. He put out a hand to shake, and Surge obliged. It was nice to be recognized, and he cracked a grin.
“Don’t think we’ve met, friend,” Surge did his best to reply jovially.
“You wouldn’t know me. Terrence Ballista. I’m a nerd.” Surge wondered why that was important. “I guess this’ll be my last chance to meet an Alpha Team hero before the shutdown, eh?”
“Well, if you wanted to meet the Alpha Team, Furno (Even saying his name himself, Surge had to suppress rage) is giving one last speech in the main hall. I think Rocka (Surge continued suppressing rage) and Stormer are there as well.” Surge never liked having to crane his neck and downwards on heroes, so he always wondered why they sometimes built them so much shorter than he was. “What's that you’ve got there?”
“Oh, this stuff? R&D just told me to take it all. I’ve only been online for a week, so I’m surprised they’d hand out all these goodies. You want any? I can’t use half this stuff.” Terrence seemed eager to please, but Surge was a little melancholic from talking to him. No training, no experience… This rookie reminded him of himself once. They both sat, and began sorting through the box, Terrence unsure of what exactly most the items were.
“Is this an actual ‘Fairwind’ hunting rifle? What would R&D want with that?” Surge wondered aloud. It was compact and looked quite a bit different from the Fairwinds he’d seen.
“They called it a ‘Thunderclap’ electric rifle. Want it?” Terrence looked at it with an analyzing eye. “Didn’t you get a gun like this once?”
“Yeah, won it. Ran an escape pod into Fire Lord, got a completely free gun.” He smiled, in spite of himself. The thrill of the chase, sounds of battle… They made Surge remember younger, more carefree days. “I’d hold on to that one. A gun like that'll serve you well.” He frowned at what looked like a massive folded bundle of armor, if armor could be folded. Or removed from a hero. “What’s this now?”
Terrence didn’t look up from what appeared to be Fire Lord’s severed hand. “The lab techs told me not to think about fire when touching that.”
Surge laughed deeply. “Really now? Fine, I won’t think about-” The entire armor mesh set ablaze. Surge jumped back and dropped it. “Why?! Why is it on fire?!”
“Well, they said not to think about it…” Terrence pondered over an Arachnix Attack Drone, and then proffered it to Surge. Surge waved it away. There were some bad memories with those.
“You should probably take that Hex Energy Shield. Invaluable, those. They’re hexcellent.” Surge only felt a bit bad about that pun. He noticed Core Hunter’s Core Remover. “You don’t plan on taking that one, do you?”
“No, why?” Surge walked to the nearest window, unlatched it, and drop-kicked the Core Remover into the yonder. He winced as it hit a bird.
“It’s… Not the most honorable weapon, let’s put it that way.” He sat down on the ledge overlooking the city. He wasn’t too worried about the fall- that’s what the wings he’d gotten for the Brain Attack were for. Terrence walked over.
“You can see the speech from up here. At least barely. I suspect that if you dropped something from up here…”
“You could kill pretty much anyone. Don’t try it.”
There was silence for while. Terrence turned back to the box. Surge piped up, with the question that’d been nagging much of Hero Factory, hanging in the air like a looming knife. “What’ll you be doing next?”
“Honestly, couldn’t tell you. My friend Jericho is heading out for the farthest reaches of the universe. Maybe I’ll join him, go off gallivanting, drinking til we can’t no more, maybe go into some kind of dumb job, like politics.” They both had a brief giggle over that . “You?”
Something that had been missing to Surge finally appeared- His trademark “stupid” grin. He looked at his new compatriot, and finally figured out what he’d been so worried about. “So you’re saying that your plan is simply to live in the moment, eh?”
“I suppose as much. Not too much else we can do, now is there?” Terrence looked a bit confused, as if Surge wasn’t the person he thought he’d just been talking to. “Does this have something to do with what you’re doing next…?”
“Oh, very much so.” Surge was having a hard time containing his mirth until he realized he really didn’t need to anymore. He was different now. Now, he finally understood. The thing he’d always held firm when telling jokes was that they had to be in the heat of the moment, and always based on people around you and their relationships with you. But most importantly, it didn’t matter if they were any good. As long as they made people happy for the few moments they hung in the air, they were worth it. This is what he needed to keep doing.
“My good sir, I think this is where we say Adieu. It is time for me to go gallivanting, drinking, and making terribly boring job and life choices.” Terrence cracked a wide grin at that.
The blue hero opened a commlink to Furno as he stood up from the ledge. “Hey, you haven't finished your speech, have you?” As per usual, Furno ignored him, though at least this time there was a good reason for it. “Listen, I need to cash in on a favor, so listen up.” William paused his speech for round of applause, and Surge, while saluting Terrence and turning his back to the open window, finally spoke his mind. “I need you to tell them the past is just going to slow them down. Tell them to live for the now.”
Furno opened up a cameralink to his teleprompter. He’d simply written “Never interrupt my speeches again.” After a few moments he furiously backspaced and sent “Seriously? I am not doing that.” William continued his speech, as if nothing happened. Surge noted how boring it was. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but he swore he could see a bot near the back taking a midday nap.
Surge pushed open the window and fell backwards into the wind shear. He waited three seconds before opening his wingpack and began to angle himself into controlled descent. “Come on, you owe me after the Brain Attack.”
Furno gave him a rather unprofessional finger gesture, then wrote out, “Where are you anyways?”
“Four, no, make it three hundred feet above you.”
Furno actually paused mid-speech to look up. Surge waved. “Listen, I’m going to go out, and start partying. Not gonna lie, probly’ not a good idea in the long run. This is most likely the last time we talk in a professional fashion. Any last words?”
Furno actually spoke up this time. “Just don’t ruin my speech any more that you already have, alright?” He cursed under his breath and Surge let out a belly laugh. He pulled up as to avoid crashing the speech anymore than he had. The blue hero soared over the crowd of people, heard cheering. It seems as though Furno had listened, for once.
Surge smiled even wider, and looked forward. He looked forward, partly as looking forward to the memories ahead, and partly to see where he was going. He aimed himself towards the location of the nearest club, checked the balance on his credit card, and flew off to make some brand spanking-new bad decisions.
Nex walked across the streets of Makuhero City rather slowly. All he could think about was the mess he and his former comrades had become a part of. The factory had been shut down and for all he knew, the heroes were scattered with no intention of getting back together, not like before or anything. He hadn’t even touched on the fact he’d almost made his move on Breez, finding she’d left minutes before.
He was almost so deep in thought that a car nearly hit him. Fortunately his instincts as a robot of justice made him dive out of the way just in time.
“Yo, watch it Mr. Hero No-more!” the driver called out to him. Nex just slumped and kept walking on the sidewalk. He had barely any idea what district he was in at this point. It seemed familiar though, maybe from a previous mission? Or maybe it was from a fly-by...
My goodness, there’s one of them again! Hero Factory! Nex stopped and shook his head, just as a group of random civilians passed by. Their whispers reached his audio receptors even though they were still a good ten feet away from him. Julius sighed. Let them spread their rumours, there was nothing he could do about it.
One of them stopped suddenly and says “Nex? Nex of Alpha Team?”
“...Yeah, what do you want?” Nex replied.
“You saved me on a rescue mission a while back.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t recognize you,” Nex leaned up against one of the nearby buildings then slowly slid down to a half-sitting position. The group of civilians kept walking, but that one stayed behind with a rather odd expression. He went over to Nex, just staring at him.
“Um...what do you want?” Nex repeated, now staring the civilian back making the scenario all the more awkward.
“Why are you out here wandering?” The odd little man proceeded to sit next to him and asks “You don’t have anything to do? No back-up plans or alternate jobs?”
Nex scoffed, not sure whether to sound annoyed or simply confused. He took a moment to think up a witty answer, but couldn’t. Finally, he gives up and just says, “Well I’ll be straightforward with you man, I can’t joke around the point like I used too. So...yeah, I’ve got no strings on me...for now.”
What you need to do is explore yourself,” the civilian got up in one swift motion, “You were a good hero Nex, but you’re more than that. You shouldn’t be troubled by the end of Hero Factory.”
Nex scratched his head, tossing the civilian’s thoughts around his head. Yeah, this guy is weird… but I guess he’s right.
Nex stood up as well, glancing back at the inactive Assembly Tower in the distance. The civilian continued, “You can find a new calling, something fun, something greater than serving the galaxy. And that’s just this nobody of a civilian’s opinion.”
“Well then, thanks for the pep talk. I-” Nex turned around only to find the random civilian nowhere to be found. He sighed and started walking again, now with a bit more self-confidence. Self-confidence was nice and all, but he could really do with a destination. Really, the only places he had actively headed towards in the last three days were the bed and the toilet bowl.
“I’m working on it…”
He only just realized he’d said that aloud, but thankfully, nobody was around to hear him. So where to start...maybe a good job, like an upper-class restaurant or a fancy zoo like they tried to make back on Quatros. Housebreaking those Waspix was a nightmare, they kept eating the zookeepers... Nah, too ambitious, got to start small…
He spotted a mechanic shop on the corner of the street with a “Help Wanted” sign. Good enough for me. Nex dasheed for the shop, bursting through the front door and saying, with a bit of a gasp “You need a new worker?” Not working for three days had already caused small exertions like these to leave him short of breath.
The group of workers, huddled in the back of the shop, looked up very slowly, staring at Nex like he was crazy. The main mechanic stood up and said, “Uh, sure. You any good with machinery?”
Nex, a bit baffled, looked over himself and said, “Well, I am a robot, and I have tampered with my armor and gear from time to time. Although, Zib did always say I was terrible with computer engineering, but still, I guess I’m pretty good with machines.”
“Oh, you’re a former hero, right?” One of the workers asked, “In that case, no! Get out, you hunk of scrap! We hired two of your kind a day ago, and they ran off with our food in the night. Sorry, but just once hiring a former hero was more than enough, good day.”
Well, that went well. Nex trudged out of the tiny shop and reluctantly continued on his way. That was one less opportunity for him. He was still not sure what to do, but figured if he could find something even remotely related to his skills as a hero, that would work fine for him. What to do, what to do...
He walked past a slew of restaurants and food stands, the vendors eyeing him with suspiciously. They probably wouldn’t welcome a Hero either, even as a customer.
Suddenly, Nex felt a lurch in his inner machinations. He realized it had only been two whole days since he last ate. The going-away party at Hero Factory wasn’t exactly the best and left everyone with barely any money and even less rations. As in none. He could only imagine the struggles others were facing. Moreover, getting turned down from a job opportunity served only to remind him of his current financial situation, and that really fired up his appetite.
He checked his “care package”, filled with only enough money for a snack or two at most in Makuhero City. He sighs. Best not be using this until I need it the most. I guess I’m not starving… yet.
Nex tried to think of ways to get cheap food.
Free food, where to find free food…
He stopped and looked into an alleyway of dumpsters full of food slops.
He kept going, a bit faster now as he exits the eatery sector. Within minutes, he’s convinced that he is indeed starving, or something close to it. He took a deep, slightly shaky breath to calm himself, trying his utmost not to run back and steal some grub. Entering the central district of Makuhero City, he looked around and spotted one of the big wholesale retailers: Priceco.
Then it hit him. His core processor fires up, his artificial synapses flare, and, at long last, he knew what he had to do.
Priceco gives samples… food samples.. .samples are free… free food… small bits of free food, but free food… Good enough for me!
Nex starts towards the store as if in a race, only one thing on his mind now.
At last! Some meaningful destination other than a bathroom or his bed!
Strange laughter pierced the air. They were eerie, shrill giggles, of which only Jumpers were capable of making.
The Jumper in question, Phred, had locked onto his target, a large mining freighter that had no important significance to him. Well, other than the fact it was his ride led to a majorly populated city that he hoped to destroy. But that’s just a trifling matter.
Phred recalled the memory of his old home, remembering the smell of the rocks and his younger siblings. They smelled strange. Then again, he did too.
Oh, the days of isolation. Being locked up in a small cave, proving your intelligence to your matriarch, and avoiding the cruel teasing of your older siblings. Was a little respect too much to ask for?
He evolved his mind above anything his kind could become. He didn’t need commands; the enjoyment of thinking for himself was wondrous. Even a name for himself was thought of, Phred. He quite liked the sound of it, too.
Now all those nameless siblings were all dead. Massacred by those so called heroes. He spent days upon days of hiding from the surface, plotting a scheme to avenge his family.
All that work paid off, as a transport picked up mining supplies to bring to other planets. It was a cinch to latch onto the ship. No one was able to detect the Jumper.
The ship smoothly soared out of the planet’s atmosphere. Phred double checked his spacesuit that he had built himself out of discarded tech. All the systems were functional. Excitement overwhelmed him. At long last, freedom from this pathetic planet. Revenge was to come.
Suddenly, a bright light blinded the suit sensors. Phred blinked and quickly did his best to read the report; A wormhole had opened unexpectedly in the sector.
Even though he was certified genius, Phred was having more than a bit of trouble believing his suit’s reading. A wormhole? Do those even exist?
Unease rose inside his four stomachs. He would have to enter the ship, dispatch the pilots, and pilot the ship himself. Otherwise the pilots might attempt to return to the planet.
He scrambled to the hatch, took out some cutters and sliced through the lock. Jumper scout rule number one: Always be prepared. One simply does not leave his cave without a pair of hyper cutters. Or a roll of toilet paper.
After minutes of crawling through the vents, he arrived above the cockpit.
“Probably should land back down and wait this out,” muttered one of the ship pilots. Phred swiftly boarded and crawled under the controls, hoping that he would go unseen. However, one of the pilots noticed him and shouted, “Hey, I thought we had pest control!” The other one grabbed a pipe and tried to smash him. How rude. Phred jumped out of the way, but before he could bite the pilot’s throat, the ship lurched to its side. Alarms flashed and the sensors indicated that the ship had collided with small, silver spacecraft. He was immediately forgotten as all the personnel ran to the escape pods.
Well, that makes it easier, Phred thought. He jumped onto the console. The other ship had collided near the cockpit and it threw the ship right off its course.
He crawled over to the crash site where the nose of the other craft had replaced the port side window. The impact area was badly charred, but, thankfully, most of the fire was out. Phred tunneled his way into the remains of the craft. His suit scanners revealed a single life form inside the wreckage. Oh, good, some food. He had skipped breakfast that morning in order to catch this freighter.
With his mandibles, he made short work of the fairly fragile outer wall of the colliding spacecraft. Fragile, however, was an understatement. Never had he seen a metal this flimsy. He only assumed it could be what was once called ‘steel’, now long-obsolete material.
Phred heard panting the moment he tore a hole in the craft’s side. Panting? Make that panting and a bark. Awkwardly, the Jumper extends a foot as far as he dared into the ragged opening, wrenching out a tiny dog. A twinkling on the dog’s collar caught his eye.
“La...Laika… That’s the dog’s name? Preposterous! He shall be called… Doge.” Doge means ‘warrior spirit’ in jumper-speak.
Ominous rumbling came from his left as the tortured metal screeched and threatened to come apart. Phred swiftly grabbed the creature and slung it over his back, ignoring its wildly waving limbs.
“Why, would you look at that. It seems as though the spacecraft has been torn asunder.” And Phred was right; the two spaceships, the dog’s and the one he hitched upon had suddenly been ripped apart by some terrible force.
And space was laid before him, an infinite black void dotted by an equally infinite number of shining pinpoints of white.
This… was space. Space.
Doge still slung across him, Phred leaps out, unafraid of the -400 celsius temperatures, nor the complete vacuum, not even the lack of air pressure to hold him together.
He had bigger things to deal with, namely a wobbling pink-purple.. ah… blob, for lack of better word. This blob, despite its cotton candy-like appearance was drawing him, Doge, and whatever else was nearby towards it. Was it a black hole? If so, scientists sure messed up the name.
One way to find out! And it’s not like he had any hope of escaping getting spaghettified in a pink black hole anyways.
- Vyander Clockwork
- Thornton Conflux
- Terrence Ballista
- Nathan Evo
- Various unnamed Pilots
- Various Unnamed Heroes
- Various Makuro Citizens and Workforce
- This series was first inspired by the actual end of Hero Factory in real life.
- This installment's title comes from the "They said I could be anything..." meme.
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