by Brian K. Asbury
“So who are they?”
Garguax scanned the screen. “Several different species, it seems,” he said. “Khund… Bellatrixian… Cairnian…” He paused, trying to make sense of the readouts. “Something else that the database doesn’t recognize, too. Big, silicon-based…”
“Save the analysis,” Lex Luthor said, heading for the door. “I’m getting the battle-suit I built. It doesn’t have the capabilities of my Lexorian one, but it’ll do if those invaders get in.”
“You won’t need it,” said Garguax. “I’ve dispatched a squad of my plastic guard to deal with them. They won’t get far.”
Luthor hesitated. “Who are they, anyway — refugees from Warworld?”
“Possibly. But as I said, nothing to worry about. There are only a few of them. Probably stumbled on us by accident and looking for somewhere to take refuge.”
“Yeah, right.” Luthor passed through the door, heading for the chamber he had adapted into his workshop during his stay here on the Moon. Garguax’s theory didn’t hold up. This base was cloaked securely. Neither the patrolling Alliance vessels nor Warworld itself had detected it, so how could these newcomers have found their way in? It would have taken technology which the Alliance didn’t possess — and if that were so, then this could be more trouble than Garguax believed.
Entering the workshop, he stripped off his outer clothing, signaling for an android assistant to bring him the parts of his battle armor. Within minutes he was encased in metal and plastic and running system checks as he initialized its defenses. Then he strode back to the central hub, where Garguax was looking decidedly nervous.
“I don’t understand it,” the fat green alien blustered. “They’re tearing through my plastic army as though they’re not there! It’s almost as if their weapons are designed specifically to work against…” He turned toward Luthor, fear in his piggy eyes. “Could it be, Luthor? Could it be that these are not merely Alliance opportunists?”
“Congratulations! Give that alien a cigar,” said Luthor sardonically. “Trouble with you, Garguax, is that you’re predictable. I’ve been studying your records, remember, and you always use the same types of androids in attacking. Sooner or later somebody was going to cotton on to that and design weapons to neutralize them.”
Garguax stared at him. “Are these enemies of mine, then? Do you know who they are?”
Luthor moved to the controls and started pushing buttons. “I haven’t a clue who they are. Just thinking logically, is all.”
“What are you doing?”
“Arranging a little surprise for our friendly intruders,” was the reply. “You know I was looking at creating some new types of your plastic androids.”
“Yes, of course. The kryptonite ones are quite interesting — but not terribly effective against non-Kryptonians…”
“Maybe not. But these are.” He pointed at the image that was now centered in the screen.
“Talskek!” breathed Garguax. “What is that?”
“A new generation of plastic men, with some original abilities that the intruders won’t be expecting,” said Luthor with a smirk.
Garguax moved away, waving his arms in exasperation. “Yes, yes! Very good, Luthor! An ingenious design! But we haven’t time to make any! By the time I program the vats and prime them with the right raw materials… well, let’s just say that our enemies will be here before the first one even cools in its mold!”
Luthor laughed. “Yes, I agree. So isn’t it fortunate that I’d already made some?”
“What? You dared — without my permission?”
“Yes, without your permission. You got a problem with that? Because I can always not send them against the intruders!”
Garguax visibly paled, realizing he had seriously underestimated Luthor and that he was suddenly dependent upon him. “H-how many did you make?” he stammered.
“Just a dozen,” said Luthor. “But it should be enough. Now,” he said, coming almost nose to nose with his alien partner, “shall I send them into battle? Or would you rather just sit here quaking with fear until those bruisers get here and cut you to bits?”
“S-send them in.”
“Already done,” said Luthor. “The intruders are as good as dead!”
Amon Hakk lowered his gun. “That was too easy,” he said in his characteristic grunting tones. He holstered the gun on one of the cross-belts on his chest.
“You sure you’ve got enough weapons?” said Garryn Bek, eyeing the array of different guns and other armament on the tall, ruddy-skinned Khund’s belts.
“Weapons are my specialty,” replied Hakk brusquely. “I like to be prepared.”
“Amon is right, though,” muttered Boodikka, checking the remaining charge on her own gun. “This has been too easy. These things just melt when we fire Dox’s guns at them.”
“That was the idea,” Bek said. “We did some research on Garguax before starting out, and the president modified these guns specially to degrade the polymers these things are made from.” He pointed at the slowly congealing mass of semi-liquid plastic in red, blue, and silver-gray spreading out across the corridor before them. “And anyway, I’m not complaining. Easy suits me fine. I like easy.”
“Well, I do not!” growled Boodikka, unsheathing the enormous blade from her back. “Enemies defeated so quickly are no challenge to a true warrior. Boodikka’s sword has not tasted blood!”
A puzzled expression crossed the alien features of the fourth member of their group. “Excuse me,” said Garv, “but these things don’t have any blood. They’re made of plastic!”
Boodikka merely grunted in annoyance. Bek said, with a grin, “You haven’t spent much time around humanoids, have you, Garv? I think you need to brush up on the concepts of metaphor and simile.”
“What are they?”
“Never mind that!” snapped Amon Hakk, drawing his gun again. “Listen. More are coming.” He raised the weapon, ready to fire.
“Hel-lo,” said Garryn Bek as a half-dozen featureless plastic androids rounded the corner. “These are different.”
“Only in color,” said Hakk. “They should melt just the same.”
“Perhaps Garguax ran out of colored plastic and had to use white,” suggested Garv.
“Who cares? Destroy them!”
All four of the adventurers fired their weapons. However, the androids suddenly changed from dead white to a silvery sheen. To the astonishment of the four, the beams from their guns reflected back at them.
Moving at a speed that belied his bulk, Garv thrust himself to the front of the group, pushing his companions out of the way and taking all four blasts himself. The force of their impact sent him flying back down the corridor toward the airlock they had entered through.
“Garv!” cried Bek, picking himself up and rushing to the aid of his silicone-skinned comrade.
“I’m OK,” Garv said, sitting up somewhat groggily. “Take more’n that to penetrate my thick hide!”
“Thank Grok for that!”
Meanwhile, the androids were advancing over the squishy remains of their fallen predecessors. “As I said,” Amon Hakk muttered, putting away the gun he had received from Vril Dox and drawing a conventional blaster. “I like to be prepared!”
He fired at one of the androids. Its head shattered into pieces, and it fell. “I like your style,” said Boodikka. “Let them get closer. My sword should be effective against them.”
Hakk offered no reply, but instead fired at a second android, with similar results. “Look out, though,” came the voice of Garryn Bek from behind him. “There’s more coming.”
“Not for long,” said Hakk. He fired again, taking the arm off a third android, then passed the blaster to Bek and drew a laser sword. He nodded to Boodikka, and the pair advanced on the remaining three androids in the first group and began to hack at them.
“And just what am I supposed to do with this?” said Bek, hefting the blaster. “I can hardly fire into the general melee without hitting those two.”
“Uh… I think we may have a problem, Garryn,” said Garv, who was now back on his feet. “Look!”
“Holy bokking Grok!” swore Bek. Behind the melee, the two androids felled by Hakk’s blaster were rising again, their shattered heads re-forming as the pieces flew together and reattached themselves. The android that had lost an arm was similarly repairing itself.
“Amon! Boodikka! Watch out! These things regenerate!” he cried.
“What?” shouted Boodikka. She thrust her sword forward, and it went into the android before her. “Die, foul–” She tugged at the sword, but it was stuck fast. “Oh, Grok, what the–?!” Then the android reached out and grabbed her sword arm with a grip like steel. “No, you don’t!” she cried, chopping down at it with her free hand.
The hand went into the android’s arm and, like her sword, stuck. She stared at it in astonishment for an instant — a fatal hesitation, as its other arm lashed out and fastened around her neck. It picked her up bodily and hurled her backward down the length of the corridor, where she lay still in a heap.
“Boodikka!” cried Bek. He fired at the android, and it collapsed, partially destroyed.
It instantly began to re-form itself.
Meanwhile, Hakk was living up to his name, hacking off limbs and heads. But still the androids kept coming, severed parts reattaching themselves with ease. “I could use some help here!” he yelled.
Bek began firing, blasting at the androids and sending them down, one by one. But each time they began to re-form in seconds. And then the blaster went phut, its charge used up.
He looked helplessly at Garv. “Now what do we do?” he said.
Garv rushed forward into the fray, grabbing Amon Hakk and thrusting him roughly back toward Bek. “I’ll try to keep them busy,” he yelled, punching out at one of the androids and knocking it off its feet into the path of one of its fellows. “Get back to the airlock. Help Boodikka!”
“What!” said Bek. “You expect us to leave you?”
“A warrior does not desert his companions!” growled Amon Hakk.
Garv grabbed at another android and swung it around and into another. “Well, unless you know a way to beat these things, you ain’t got much choice!” Yet another android grabbed at Garv, who tried to block, only to find the material of which the androids were composed flowing over his arm.
Bek touched Hakk’s arm. “Garv’s right, Amon. I don’t like leaving him here, but if we stay, we’re all going to die. Our weapons are useless against these things, and only Garv is strong enough to hold his own against them for a while. If we get Boodikka back to the ship, maybe Dox can come up with something that will work.”
“If Dox is even there,” growled Hakk. “I wouldn’t put it past that conniving son of a Bismollian to be gaining entry to this base somewhere else while we act as a nice little diversion.”
“Don’t be…” began Bek. He halted in mid-denial. He knew Vril Dox better than anyone else, and Hakk was right. It would be just like him to use the four of them as a decoy while he and his tame Durlan, Zen, pursued a different agenda elsewhere.
“OK, OK…” he said, his mind working overtime. “Let’s do it, then. Help me get Boodikka into the airlock.”
“You do it,” said Hakk, standing his ground. “If we can’t rely on Dox, it’s up to me to find a weakness in these things.”
“Just get her into the airlock!” snapped Hakk. He unfastened the combat helmet he was wearing and tossed it away, then pressed a control stud on the frame of the bionic implant that was his left eye.
Bek started to frame a reply, then thought better of it. He moved back to Boodikka and checked for a pulse. Nothing. But then, he thought, she’s a different species. I don’t even know where her pulse should be!
She was definitely breathing, though. He grabbed her shoulders and began to drag her back toward the airlock, which raised open as he touched the control. By the time he got her across the threshold, he was panting breathlessly. Boodikka was a big woman, and very heavy.
He looked back. Garv was in real trouble by now, with most of him engulfed in hardening plastic as the androids combined to immobilize him. Then, to Bek’s horror, the big red leviathan went down under the sheer weight of the attack. The remaining androids began to advance on Amon Hakk, who clicked off the device on his bionic eye and started to run back toward the lock.
The Khund warrior leaped across the threshold as Bek thumbed the iris control. The door closed, and Hakk lashed out with his laser sword at the controls, shorting them out.
“What in the name of Grok did you do that for?” said Bek. “Now we’re shut in.”
“Only on this side,” said Hakk. “We can still suit up and get back out onto the surface.”
“Then let’s do it. I think Boodikka’s OK. She’s breathing, and I can’t feel any broken bones. She’s just unconscious.”
“No,” said Hakk. “Our companion is still out there. I disabled the door only to buy us some time. I think we can defeat those androids yet.”
“You’re dreaming,” said Bek, picking up one of the space-suits they had discarded when they entered the base. “If we don’t get the swutt out of here, they’ll break that door down to get at us.”
Hakk grabbed his shoulder. “Listen to me, mister security man. We can defeat them.”
“How, for Grok’s sake?” But before Hakk could reply, something hammered on the iris door, making a visible dent. It looked as if the androids would be breaking in sooner rather than later.