by Brian K. Asbury
Amon Hakk ignored the noise and pointed to his bionic eye. “This contains sophisticated sensors, which I used to scan those androids. The reason they seem to be able to adapt to our attacks is that they are not what they appear. They are actually artificial colony creatures — conglomerates of plastic nanites which can reshape themselves at will or even re-form if blasted apart.”
“So how does that knowledge help us?” As Garryn Bek spoke, something hammered again on the iris door.
“I believe that they communicate via an ultrasonic frequency. If we can disrupt that, they will not be able to stay combined. They will literally break apart into so much plastic dust.”
Another loud bang on the door. The entire airlock shook. “OK. But how do we do that?”
Hakk released Bek and reached for a device on his utility belt. “This is a sonic probe. I believe I can modify it to emit a suitable pitch which will interrupt their communication frequency.”
“Better do it, then!” said Bek, pointing at where tiny particles of shiny plastic were starting to drift into the airlock chamber from around the periphery of the iris.
“Just give me a few moments!” Hakk said, frantically disassembling the probe and altering the configuration of some of the components. “I do not believe they will be a danger to us individually, so I should have time to…”
“They may not be a danger individually, but what happens when enough of them get through to form a body?” Bek picked up the Khund’s discarded laser sword and swung it at some of the plastic particles, which were already clumping together. The clumps flew apart, but immediately began to gather together again.
“Just a few moments…” Hakk said.
“We may not have a few moments,” Bek shouted. He hacked at clump after clump, but they kept re-forming, and were getting bigger every time as more and more trickled in.
Hakk’s hands flew across the components, rearranging them almost as if by magic. Bek could not help but stare. Hakk seemed to be an amazingly skilled individual — pilot, technician, weapons expert — but even though he seemed to be more intelligent than most Khunds, a Khund he still was, with all that race’s stubbornness. He’d be up to his neck in plastic nanites and still be trying to reconfigure that sonic probe.
“Hakk, we’ve got to get out of here!” Bek almost screamed.
“Almost there.” Hakk clipped the case back together and attached the probe to his neck brace. He switched it on and yelled, “AAA-AAA-AAA-AAARRR-RRR-RRRHHH-HHH-HHH!”
Bek dropped the laser sword, his hands flying to his ears. “Holy bokking grok! What are you–?” He stared at the plastic dust that had been big clumps just a moment before.
“You see?” said Hakk, laughing. “You should have more faith!”
“Yes, I… uh-oh.” Bek pointed. The clumps were starting to re-form once more.
“Damn!” growled Hakk. “The frequency is not right. It only disrupted them momentarily.” He made a further adjustment and screamed again. This time, the clumps flew apart again, but only for a few seconds. “They’re adapting to it. I have to find the right frequency, or–”
At that moment there was a terrible grinding sound, and the iris door was wrenched outward. Bek staggered back toward the outer door. This was it. It was too late now to get into a space-suit, and anyway, the outer door wouldn’t cycle with the inner one now open permanently.
The androids crowded in, reaching for them. Bek tried to make a grab for the fallen laser sword, but one of the androids gripped him by the arms and forced him back against the outer door. Hakk had been trying to make a final adjustment on his sonic device, but he, too, was grabbed and pinned back.
Bek felt the substance of the androids crawling all over him, pushing him back, crushing his body. He closed his eyes. “NO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!” he screamed.
Then he dropped to the floor of the airlock. He opened his eyes. There was plastic dust all around, but none of it seemed to be trying to form itself into coherent shapes.
Hakk was grinning that insane Khund grin of his. “Ahhh…” he said. “Well done, Bek. That was the frequency I needed!”
Suspended by the shoulders between two blue plastic androids, Stealth struggled desperately to try to regain her coordination, but to no avail. Whatever they had drugged her with, it was effectively paralyzing her major voluntary muscles to a degree that even her regenerative powers could not compensate for. She groaned inwardly. Super-strong these blue androids might be, but they were relatively slow and clumsy. If only she had her normal strength and coordination, she was certain her fighting skills would be sufficient to allow her to overcome them and make a break for it.
And then? And then… she would see about getting her revenge upon her captors, especially that slimy green toad Garguax. She could still feel his repulsive pudgy hands stroking her flesh in places where… ugh. She shuddered at the thought. He would pay for it, though! By the gods of her homeworld, he would pay. He would die very, very, very slowly, his flesh stripped away bit by bit at her leisure — and unlike her, he would not grow back the parts that were cut away.
Luthor, too, had a debt to repay. To the seventeen hells of Chaxorix with what Vril Dox wanted — Dox had, seemingly, abandoned Stealth to her fate, so their contract was no longer valid. Luthor had not touched her in a sexual manner, but he had tortured her, and she would repay him in kind.
But how? She was helpless — being dragged back toward her cell by two brainless plastic automatons. Once there, she would be chained again and left until Garguax wanted to play once more, or Luthor decided to try again to force her to talk by torture. It was a never-ending cycle of pain and torment — but there had to be a way out of it. She was Stealth, one of the best freelance agents in the Galaxy, if not the best. She had always found a way out of the trickiest of traps. There was no way a grossly obese alien from a destroyed planet and a bald Earthling could hold her, was there?
Yet here she was, a miserable, wretched prisoner with no clear hope of gaining her freedom. Her only hope was that one of her captors would make a mistake, but Luthor, in particular, was far too canny for that. Any attempts by her to use feminine wiles on the renegade scientist had been soundly rebuffed — and while that was an approach that might have worked on Garguax, the huge green butterball seemed to prefer bestowing his attentions on women who were submissive to the point of being comatose. Hence, the tranquilizers.
A sudden cessation of movement broke her reverie. With difficulty, she raised her head and struggled to open her eyes. What was this? This wasn’t her cell. Why had the androids stopped?
It was hard to focus, but something was standing in their path a short distance ahead down the corridor — something black and white. A voice said something in an incomprehensible language. One of the androids released Stealth and started to lumber forward. However, something seemed to pass through the plastic man to stand between the two androids. It spoke again.
Stealth could only blink furiously, trying to focus as her parched throat tried to voice a warning. The other android had turned and was punching out straight at the head of the newcomer.
Then Stealth fell, released by her captor. She flopped on the ground, one leg pinned by the bulk of one of the androids as it, too, fell. She felt consciousness slip away as she tried to make sense of whatever was going on.
“They destroyed them!” screamed Garguax. “They destroyed the new androids!”
“No,” Lex Luthor said. “They’re not destroyed. They’ve merely lost cohesion. If I could send a counter-signal to reboot their communications, they’d be able to re-form, and…”
“But you can’t, can you?” Garguax said accusingly.
“No,” Luthor admitted. “I couldn’t do it from here. I’d need to get up close, and you don’t have a suitable transmitter that’s portable enough.”
“Well, why didn’t you build one, you stupid human?”
“Because…” Luthor began, angrily turning to the obese alien pirate, “I was having to work practically in secret because a certain fat slug of a so-called ‘partner’ of mine didn’t trust me! Also, they got lucky.”
“‘Lucky’?” Garguax said, ignoring the insult. “Is that it? We’re going to die because these intruders got lucky?”
“The new androids were this close,” Luthor held up a finger and thumb, “to decorating the walls with the intruders. Yes — they got lucky. They somehow figured out how to stop the individual nanites communicating with one another.” Quickly he added, “And we’re not going to die. You’ve still got your ship, haven’t you?”
“In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a battle going on out there!”
“So? In all the confusion, they’re not going to notice one more ship trying to get away. Send some more androids to engage the intruders…”
“They’ll just destroy them like they did the first wave I sent.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’ve got thousands of the things. They’ll slow the intruders down enough for us to set the base to self-destruct and get clear. Then we hole up somewhere until the invasion craziness has quieted down, and we relocate to one of my bases on Earth.”
“Destroy this base? Unthinkable!”
“Really? Well, let’s look at the odds, shall we?” Luthor said coldly, pointing at the view-screen. “The two who stopped my new-model androids are unhurt, the big red silicate alien has only minor injuries, and even the valkyrie or whatever she is looks to be coming around. Any minute now they’ll be coming for us. How do you intend to stop them?”
“You’ve got that battle armor…”
“I’ve considered the odds, and I don’t think this battle-suit is up to the job. If I had my Lexorian suit, it might be a different story, but whoever these people are, they’re damn good. Who knows what other tricks they have up their sleeve?” He paused. “Unless, of course, you’ve got an ace in the hole you’ve been keeping to yourself?”
Garguax bit his lip. “There was my crystal enslavement ray, of course… but I never did get around to repairing it after the Doom Patrol destroyed it.”
“In other words, no. If we stay here, we’re going to get creamed. No, thanks, pal. I’m out of here, with or without you.”
“But the base… do we have to destroy the base?”
Luthor sighed. “I learned a long time ago not to get sentimental about any base of operations.” Even, he added inwardly, a planet where I found true love for the first time in my life, only to lose it again. “A base is just a base,” he said. “And I’ve got several well-equipped lairs on Earth. We can easily set up there to create a new, improved android army without any of the weaknesses that those guys are exploiting.”
Garguax looked uncertain, but said, “If you think so…”
“I know so. So go do what I said. Give our unwelcome guests something to occupy their attention until the base goes boom. Meanwhile, we get the hell out of here in your ship.”
“Very well,” muttered Garguax resignedly. He began to operate the controls that would send several more battalions of plastic androids into the area where the intruders were. Luthor started moving toward the door. “Wait! Where are you going?”
“To deal with one more loose end,” replied Luthor. “I’m going to give that girl Stealth a final choice — she comes with us and talks, or she blows up with the base!”