My comm. buzzed as Nat spoke. “Hey, guys, we’ve located our hacker, he’s at a private estate about fifty miles North of the City.”
I wondered vaguely whether Archer would want us to take care of it immediately. Oh, well, might as well expect the worst. “Nat, do you think you could get us some information on that estate . . . who owns it and so forth?”
“Working on it. I just figured I’d give you a heads-up.”
Q landed nearby. “Does anyone else think these helicopters were just a distraction to get us away from HQ?” Seconds later Archer’s voice came over the comm.
“Let the police handle the cleanup and get back here.”
“What about these helicopters?” Q asked somewhat incredulously. “You want us to leave them for the cops?”
“Yes. We need you to go after this hacker.”
Nat hmmed a bit over the comm. “Address belongs to a Desmond Lettam; fifty years old with a criminal record.”
“Right,” Q announced. “Get in the helicopter, we can fly back to base much faster. Traffic is all blocked up.”
“We’re stealing a helicopter?” I asked.
Durance smirked. “Isn’t it already stolen?”
I rubbed my forehead tiredly. “Okayyy.” Normally, I’d argue, but even I have to choose my fights. After all, it wasn’t like the military couldn’t come get it from us if they decided they wanted it back. I climbed in and secured myself for the ride as the blades spun up to speed. Only a minute or two later we were landing on top of the AEGIS building, where Nat was posing nonchalantly.
“Now let’s see how fast this thing is,” Q announced. I sighed and settled myself to endure while he attempted to shake us to pieces.
“Well, it looks like you’ll be going after your first Super Villian, here,” Archer remarked conversationally. “Desmond Lettam used to be known as the Toy Boy.”
“That sounds perverted,” Q snorted. He seemed to be enjoying himself, the jerk.
“He was born with a genetic defect that makes him look like a child. As was normal for such people in the 1970’s he turned to crime with corny toy gimmicks.”
“So he’s a superbrain?” Durance asked.
“Something like that. He’s been out of prison for a year; from what we’ve gathered he’s been selling advanced robot designs since then.”
“What was he arrested for?” Durance pressed.
Archer coughed slightly. “He had a pair of giant Rock’em Sock’em robots attack Liberty Park.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” I protested. I had enough of the giant toys with Todd.
Finn looked around dramatically. “Where’s the hidden camera? We’re being Punk’d, right?”
“I wish,” Archer replied. “I honestly thought the idiot had retired.”
“Does he have any personal powers or is it all just gadgets?” I asked.
“Gadgets as far as we know.”
“So what’s the plan?” Q asked me. “Shoot anything that moves?”
“No,” I snorted.
“Non-lethal force,” Durance said helpfully.
“Non-lethal force is the reason this guy is still around to perpetrate attacks like this,” Finn announced. “Is there a specific reason we’re holding his hand instead of taking him out?”
“Because we want information?” Durance replied.
Q brought us around to the eastern side of Lettam’s complex; I jumped to the ground and spent some time stomping around through grass and weeds, looking for mines and not really wanting to find any. Finally satisfied that I wasn’t going to succeed in blowing myself up, I waved for the others to land.
A three-foot brick wall marked the edge of the heavily wooded property. I considered, wondering what the best strategy might be, here. “Finn, you’re on point, Nat, follow him in case he needs your technical skills. We’ll let you get thirty feet ahead, then follow.”
“Where you need me, boss-lady?” Paul asked, bouncing cheerfully.
I shrugged, there didn’t seem to be any immediate call for his speed. “Do a quick run around the perimeter, then come back and join up with me. Q, if you and Durance can get up a bit and cover Finn from the air, I’d appreciate it.”
“Right, you want me to activate the defenses so you can save me again!” Paul announced. “I’m on it!” He vanished, tall grass rattling violently from his passage.
Finn bent and offered Nat a leg up over the wall, then scooted over himself, the pair of them disappearing into the trees. Paul returned almost instantly. I counted to five and then hopped over, following them. It didn’t look like there were any nasty surprises waiting in the woods.
Durance’s voice murmured softly over the comm.. “Ahead of you is the pool, there’s someone there, working on something.”
“Want her gone, or should we circumvent?” Finn asked.
“You might trigger the security system if you take her out, go around,” I replied.
They slipped out of the woods; after a few seconds I could see this person for myself, and then I was hard-put to avoid groaning. Five foot ten, hourglass shaped, looked like there wasn’t room for anything in her head but hair. Well, maybe some whirring electronic gizmos; she was clearly a robot.
I glanced at Paul, shrugged, and snuck past her into the house. Finn and Nat were hiding on either side of the doorway ahead, peering into the dining room. Seconds later a voice rang out; I jumped, but after a second I realized it must be coming from an intercom or speaker system built in to the house.
“Ladies, come up to the lab and bring the outfit in the downstairs closet.”
I peeked out into the dining room and jerked my head back as another overly female robot when whizzing past, stopping at the bottom of a staircase to open a closet. Moving quietly, I crept out and was just about to duck behind the furniture when the robot swiveled abruptly and looked directly at me.
“Excuse me, do you have an appointment?”
Ah well, I’d give it a shot. “Yes.”
“Name and business?”
“Susan Page, Stronghold Securities. I’m here to speak with Mr. Lettam about his security arrangements.”
“Searching . . .” There was a brief pause. “I’m afraid you do not appear in Mr. Lettam’s appointment book. Please leave and confirm your appointment before returning.”
I shrugged and punched it in the face. The robot rocked backwards on its servos, undamaged, while I tried to avoid cursing in pain; I’d almost broken my hand. Slick, Sue, really slick. Running footsteps began to sound all around us. Finn and Nat stared at me in consternation.
“Find Desmond, I’ll distract these idiots.” They skirted around me as I pulled out my axe, heading upstairs. Distantly, I heard Finn curse as he encountered a horde of fembots attempting to descend. Q, Durance, and Paul ran in the door behind me and the battle began.
It ended just about as quickly; I had time to swing, miss, get punched hard in the face, and swing again while a hail of bullets and throwing stars fell around me, shredding the robots. I shrugged at the one I’d managed to dispatch. I was a little slow today, apparently.
Paul held up two doll heads. “Yes! Two heads are better than one!”
There was a hideous crash upstairs and a deep masculine voice boomed. “You come into my home, interrupt my experiments, and destroy my servants. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to respect others’ toys?”
I saw Finn turn at the top of the stairs to look down the hallway. “What experiments?”
“Enough of this.”
Paul blurred into speed. “Yeah, yeah,” his voice rang out, Doppler-ing weirdly. “You’re the mad genius and we’re the crime fighters.”
Finn chambered a cartridge into his shotgun and fired a blast down the hall while Nat blew sparks off her fingers and followed his attack with a shower of flames. The stench of burning plastic filled the air. Finn staggered back as several lances of green light hit him in the chest.
I jumped the railing, bounced off the wall and catapulted myself down the hall, wrapping both arms around another robot, this one as artificially masculine as the others were feminine. Straining, I managed to force him up against the wall; a loud bang echoed behind me and plastic shrapnel peppered my face. The robot’s struggles immediately ceased.
I blinked and looked over my shoulder at Q, who was grinning.
Paul peeked out of a room down the hall. “I found Toy Boy, er, the real one. I think maybe he transferred his mind to the Ken doll.”
“If he did, can we stabilize him?” Q asked.
I got to my feet. “Ask Nat. In any case, we’re taking both forms of him and as much as we can get off his computer system back to AEGIS.”
Nat examined the robot. “He’s still functional; the system rebooted.” She skirted around me to check the computer system in the lab.
“Right,” I said. “Q, get the chopper running.” He took off. I picked the robot up with a grunt, adjusted my grip a bit, and started carrying it outside. “Paul, search the building, Finn, Durance, bring the body down on a stretcher or something.”
“Hey, do you think any of these Barbies could be reprogrammed to do other stuff?” Paul asked.
“Shut up, Paul,” Finn snarled. I looked over at him when he arrived downstairs with Durance and the body.
“You okay, Finn? You look a little grim.”
“I’m fine. Just wondering why we don’t trash this toy instead of taking it home.”
“Because that’s not our job. If we kill him now, that’s murder. He’s a criminal, he should get a trial.”
“Oh, right. So he can cop a plea and get out and do this again. What a joke.”
“Finn’s right,” Durance added, lighting a cigarette. “If we let him go, he’ll get free on some technicality.”
“We can only deal with one problem at a time, reforming the legal system is out of our hands for the moment. That’s no excuse for us to undermine it. Actually, it’s even more reason for us to take him back.”
“Wow, that’s beautiful, I think I’m going to cry,” Finn sneered.
“Screw you too, asshole.”
“Hey, you can get as angry as you want, but wake the fuck up! The Freedom League is here to play nice for the papers. We’re here to solve problems. Permanently. You want to give them a hug and say don’t do it again, join the damn Peace Corps!” He stormed over to the helicopter and climbed in, still muttering to himself.
Durance picked up the body and followed him.
“Tempers, tempers,” Nat murmured, exiting the building. “Just take a vote.”
“We’re not going to vote. This is not a democracy.”
The return flight was unpleasantly silent.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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