The robot crashed through the shopping centre’s domed roof. It couldn’t have made a more spectacular, or deadly, entrance if it had planned. Shattered glass and twisted steel flew outward to cut and impale shoppers on two levels. The dying machine crashed into the fountain below the glass ceiling, reducing it to rubble. One flailing arm connected with a golden dolphin statue and sent it flying.
Mike Taylor had turned at the crash and screaming. It was the gilded sea mammal, tumbling end over end toward him, that caught his attention. He watched it, working out its trajectory. It might not hit him, but it would land close by. He grabbed the girl he had been talking to about gym membership and pulled her aside.
The statue bounced once on the tiled floor then hit one end of the display they had been stood by. The rest of the structure swung round and swatted Mike and the girl into the cover of an escalator. There was a rumble and everything went dark.
He was shaken back into conciousness by the girl, trapped under him. He rolled off her and slapped at the dust caked on his sleeve. “Sorry.”
“I think you saved my life. So, y’know….”
Beyond the cover of the escalator the floor was covered in rubble and the air full of dust. There was a crash and a rumble and a denser cloud of dust obscured the short distance across to the nearest shop front. “That’s happened a couple of times,” the girl said, “I think there’s something big moving around out there.”
“Like what? Like vehicles?”
There was a smaller clump and a shuffling sound of something pushing through rubble. “Like something with feet.” the girl replied.
Mike ducked around the edge of the escalator, but could see nothing through the dust. Then there was another scrape and something obscured the light coming through the hole in the roof. Something large and ovoid moved towards him. Three arms extended and red laser light danced through the clouds. A dot danced across the floor toward him. “Shit.” He ducked back in just before it reached him. “What the hell is that?”
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“I’m with you on that. Mike.”
She didn’t understand for a moment. “Oh. Sally.”
They edged away from the sounds of movement, trying to use the escalator as cover. “I don’t want to join a gym. You just looked so bored.”
“If I was on commission I’d be offended. Fire exit.” Sally pointed out a sign glowing green through the dust. “Do you think we can make it?”
There was another crash, an impact so heavy it knocked them both of their feet. Blue and purple light flickered from the wreckage and then something bounced across the floor to rest beside them. It was torn metal shell,the crown of an ovoid robot. There was the clatter of metal tumbling over, then silence.
Mike and Sally looked at each other, each willing the other to be the first to say something. He offered his hand and she took it, going with him as he stood and turned.
There was another shape in the grey light now. It had multiple limbs- eight tentacle like arms and four legs. It stood over the truncated remains of the fallen robot like a child’s drawing of Shiva as an octopus, adding a blue glow to the light from the hole in the roof. As Mike and Sally approached it tried to pull up to its full height, but staggered as two of its legs buckled. They rushed toward their saviour.
The creature was shorter than the robot had been and significantly slimmer. It had a spherical head dotted all around with what could only be eyes but no obvious nostrils or mouth. Below this there was a symbol on what could be best called the chest. It glowed a silvery blue and seemed to be circling through every crop circle ever. The tentacles had hands on the ends- two multi jointed grasping fingers and three shorter opposing ones. As Mike and Sally drew closer two of the arms unfurled and the grasping fingers wrapped around their wrists.
The grip was firm but not painful. They tried to pull away, but were held fast. As they watched, the creature split into two. Two creatures, now with two legs and four arms each. One held Mike and the other Sally. Each had a smaller version of the crop circle icon on its chest and they each reached for it and peeled it off and rapidly swiped it on to the chest of their captive. The icons burnt through their clothes and adhered to their skin with a strange and discomforting lack of sensation. The creatures released their grips and collapsed into a pile like dropped hose pipe.
Mike and Sally hadn’t let go of each other’s hand through the whole exchange. They stepped back. “Fuck.” said Mike, as eloquent as he could manage.
Something was working its way under their skin, away from where the icons had hit their chests. But that didn’t get their attention now. They stared around at the destruction, finally seeing the bodies and blood. “Oh God.” Sally stepped closer to Mike. “How many…..?”
“Sixty five that I can detect.”
“These things are doing something to us. I can sense so many things.”
“Yes, I’m getting it now. Electricity, structures, infra red.”
They turned to each other. “There’s another robot.”
Without even thinking about it they jumped up through the hole in the roof. From the vantage point they could look down on the terrified crowds and emergency vehicles in the vast car park. “There.” Another large ovoid robot stood amongst wrecked cars, tearing them to pieces. Armed Police were approaching it, even though they didn’t know what to do when they got within firing range. Mike could feel the static of an energy weapon charging up and zoomed in to see the stubby gun shape rising above the crown of the robot. He could also sense the protective energy field that had suddenly formed around Sally and himself. Information he could never previously have imagined comprehending was available to him as well, as if he had just developed a dozen more senses. “You destroy it and I’ll keep people safe.” Sally told him.
They finally let go of each others’ hands before shooting across the roof at bullet pace. It was a long way from the edge of the roof to the far car park where the robot was wreaking havoc, but they knew they could make it. Mike pushed off and formed a Superman pose, fists out in front of him, heading straight for the robot. Sally deliberately jumped shorter, so she could land between the Police and the robot.
Mike imagined a wedge forming in front of him and saw it take shape. It wasn’t quite right, he changed it to taper from a single point just before he hit the robot. The shell buckled, and a seam somewhere began to tear, but Mike didn’t break all the way through to the inner workings. He bounced back from the impact as the robot toppled over. They both rolled and came back up to fighting stances.
The stubby gun traversed and pointed at Mike. Think fast, he told himself, think mirror. The shimmering blue field formed concave in front of the weapon, reflecting most of the blast back. Hot plasma found its way through the burst seams and destroyed less hardened components inside the shell. There was the sad sound of mechanisms powering down and the robot’s three legs went limp. The body clanged to the ground, tottered for a moment then keeled over to crush a burning car.
Mike stepped back, staring at the destruction around him. He’d just jumped in as if it were any old level of a video game, no thought for his own safety, just the need to kill the boss and move on. Now that the reality of the situation was sinking in he felt exhilarated.
Sally walked backwards to meet him, watching the crescent of Police around them. “They haven’t put their guns down.”
“Can you blame them, think what we must look like. We may look human, but we just did a bunch of superhuman shit righ
t in front of them.”
“Oh, and we’re naked.”
Mike looked down. “Bloody hell, when did that happen?”
“I really don’t know. But not only are they facing a pair of super humans, one of them is obviously horny.”
“Oh. Er……. I…..”
Sally took Mike’s hand and turned to him. “Shall we slip off to somewhere more comfortable?”
And they disappeared.
* * * * *
Some time later they sat together in a crater and watched the Earth rise.
“I don’t think anyone’s done that before.” announced Sally.
“Neal Armstrong would be pissed off if he knew what we’ve done to his footprints.”
“You understand that I don’t have sex on the Moon with just anyone. Especially not if I’ve known them for less than an hour.”
“I think today can be counted as special circumstances.”
Sally traced the symbol on her chest. It had stopped cycling and settled on one configuration when they had arrived at the lunar surface, but now it shifted and three crescents appeared on the left. A holographic screen appeared in front of them. “Each symbol represents a different function. Your tattoo seems to have different symbols to mine for some functions. I asked it some questions whilst you were asleep.”
“I was asleep?”
“You may be a super man, but you’re still a man.”
“Sorry. I’ll try harder next time.”
“Harder wasn’t the problem. Anyway, I’m getting distracted. I asked some questions.”
“About these tattoos?”
“About everything. Short story is that we’ve just become involved in a galactic war. The creatures that gave us the tattoos are under attack by a swarm of self replicating robots. They don’t know where the robots came from, but they’re eating their way around the edge of a civilisation of dozens of races. Earth is right in the path of one of the flanking arms of robots. The creatures we met were here to see if we were sufficiently advanced to fend for ourselves against robot attack. We’re not.
“Before they could report back they were attacked by a scouting party of robots. There are another hundred or so robo-corpses between Mars and where they crashed to Earth. The aliens were mortally wounded, but they can pass on their exo skeleton and weapons system to any creature they come into contact with. When they saw us holding hands they must have presumed that we melded together the same way they do and chose us to inherit their power.”
“So we’re Earth’s last, best hope?” The screen showed the locations of shattered robots, receding into space. Mike tugged the panel until it overlaid the landscape in front of him.
“Hardly. Between us we might just be able to take on a hundred or so of these robots, but there are billions of them in the main swarm, with mother ships and everything. We need to bring the rest of the planet up to near this level before the main body arrives. There are plans for the shields, weapons and flight systems stored in the tattoo that work from first principals onward.”
“And there are dead robots to scavenge from. That should help kick start things.” Mike zoomed in on the nearest robot. He could get to it in a few minutes.
“But who do we give the technology to?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, who would you trust with it? The United States would hoard the technology or use it to start another stupid war. Russia would try to get back all the former Soviet republics. China would clamp down on human rights and close its borders. And they’re just the three most powerful. The smaller countries would be worse, if anything, and the UN isn’t as powerful or independent as it ought to be.”
“France?” Mike suggested with a grin.
“Maybe. But can you imagine just how arrogant they would be about it?”
They chuckled, then subsided into quiet thought. Mike took over control of the screen to bring up the schematics Sally had told him about. They were presented as diagrams and symbols, readable in any language. “Open source.” he said in the end.
“We give the technology to everyone and let them do what they want with it. You’re right that we can’t trust any government, so we bypass them and give the technology straight to the citizens.”
“Careful seeding of the technology. There are a hundred robots. The British government already has three, and two dead aliens. We drop the rest around the world. One on the White House lawn, just to take the piss, the rest where we think they’ll be found by the right people. Then we go to universities and leave the plans where the nosiest students can find them. And finally, we release them on the internet. We’ll have to find a way to get the greater story out as well, so people will start working together to prepare a defence. Yeah, that’ll work better than trusting any politicians to get anything done.”
“You’re a geek aren’t you?”
“I guess I can learn to live with that.”
Note This one’s really about the bit at the end. I’ve been reading Baen books again. They’re enjoyable, but one assumption annoys me. It’s taken as a matter of faith, in all the stories with a contemporary setting, that the only hope for the planet is the United States military and government. I just don’t accept that. The military is professional enough, but they’re only as good as the orders they’re given. The current US government’s leadership on terror and global warming has only managed to make the situations worse.
So this is a rather simple superhero origin tale with alien threat built in that’s based upon my mistrust of any government’s ability to move as fast or be as flexible as necessary. If I were to expand upon it I would spend some time examining the authorities’ reactions and efforts to get things back on their terms, show how reactionaries can hamper the hard work that needs to be done.