“Smells like shit down here,” Cheryl said, standing in the basement under Bart’s florist shop, covering her nose.
“There’s sacks of composted manure in the corner,” said Bart, “I cleared off a few workbenches for you to set up on.”
“It’s great,” Sophie offered, “We’ll adjust.”
Cheryl dumped some of her perfume onto a bandana and wrapped it around her face, “Yeah, fine.”
“I can’t fit,” Carl called from the sidewalk down the cellar door.
“Hang on,” Bart called back and lifted a wide, rolling steel door that opened to wide entrance with a ramp leading to the basement, along the alley side of the shop, “I had this installed to facilitate the movement of oversized items. I believe you qualify.”
Carl had to duck to clear the dock door. Upon entering the basement his face twisted in disgust.
“Manure,” Bart said, motioning to the sacks in the corner, “We’ll figure out something.”
“No problem, doc,” Carl replied, “It’s great. A lot of space.”
“This is fun,” Bart beamed, “I’ve never had a vigilante group operating out my basement before.”
“It’ll be a million laughs,” said Cheryl.
Hunter stumbled his way down the steps and hit the floor, dazed as if he was expecting another step. He steadied himself using Ian who was sitting cross legged on the floor hovering between deep meditation and sleep.
“Hey, guys, we’re on the TV,” Hunter said as he regained his balance, “The news called us ‘ragtag’. Genuine weird shit.”
“Must have been focusing on you,” Cheryl said, engrossed in her coding.
“Hey, mystery samurai,” Billy could be heard shouting from three floors up, “They’re talking about you again.”
Hunter ran back upstairs.
“Really?” Cheryl griped, “We ran right up to the thing, saved a bunch of people. What did he do? Poke it with a stick?”
“He’s like our mascot,” Sophie laughed.
“Like the Cleveland Indian. Complete with cultural appropriation,” Ian added, rising to his feet, “The Caucasian Samurai.”
“In his defence, something I never thought I’d say,” Cheryl said, “I don’t think he put much, or any thought into that look. I’m positive he spends everyday in a bathrobe, t-shirt and slippers. And the only thing he owns that resembles a weapon is the obligatory, stoner Bud-K katana. It all sort of came together in...that.”
“An unfortunate patchwork,” Sophie added.
“Like an accidentally racist quilt,” Ian smirked.
“Exactly,” Cheryl said, “I think everything he does is accidental. He’s about as self aware as those sacks of shit in the corner.”
“I don’t know,” Sophie added, “He’s been in a near constant psychedelic state for three days. I’m not sure there’s much self there to be aware of. Either way, I don’t believe he has bad intentions.”
“Today he sat in the back of your car, in a catatonic state, staring at the sun and moaning something about werewolves when I was pinned down by a homicidal automaton. Seemingly without thought, I’m willing to bet, none at all, he hurls himself into danger. Literally, hurled. It was as graceful as a badger in a burlap sack, but it allowed me and others time to escape. I have no doubt about his intentions. But, there are issues that I felt needed addressing. Because he’s on the news, along with the rest of us and they’ve made him the mascot and now they’re calling him ‘samurai’. You have to understand how this looks.”
“What was your job at Vyxco?” Cheryl asked, “PR?”
“Look, this was just me and Sophie for a little over a year. That weirdo’s been here for three days and he’s the leader of the gang? All over the news?”
“Do you really want your face plastered all over the news?” Sophie asked.
“No, it’s just the principle of it.”
“Maybe we should wear masks. I was thinking of creepy porcelain doll kind of thing.”
“I think that ship has sailed.”
“Oh dear God, I didn’t even think of that,” Ian gasped, “Vyxco is going to know I’m in town.”
“Relax, focus,” Cheryl said, “You’re an engineer. Our problem involves engineering. Start engineering.”
“I need to figure out how I’m going to be able to upload code into Tabula Rasa. It adapts too quickly to any wireless methods.”
“Perhaps, there’s some sort of external port.”
“It would be something difficult like that,” Cheryl said as Hunter flopped down the steps, “Bob Weird, you got a pretty up close look at the thing, were you able to maintain the here and now long enough to see if it had any ports on it?”
“Like ‘USB ports’,”
“Sure, like that.”
“A USB port.”
“Yes, like a USB port.”
“No it had a USB port. I thought that was pretty weird.”
“Why does it have a USB port?”
“Where does it have a USB port?” Ian interjected.
“If it’s head had a face the port would be its mouth,” replied Hunter.
“Great,” sighed Cheryl, “I’m almost done with the patch for the Tabula Rasa system. I can load it onto a drive and then we can sneak up on him and jam it in its mouth.”
“It’s a terrible idea,” Ian said, “And the only plan we have.”
“It’s more terrible. The best I could do on short notice was to dust off an old project for an update to the Tabula Rasa system called Carte Blanche. Instead of taking directive from a user, it’s self directed. We just have to hope it doesn’t decide it likes going on rampages.”
“So one possible outcome is it continues its mayhem regardless of what we do?”
“And another where it works,” said Sophie.
“And countless variables in between."
“If we fail, nothing changes. We regroup and try again. But if we don’t try it’s almost guaranteed nothing changes.”
Ian stood quiet and finally nodded.
“It’s back. It’s back,” Billy could be heard shouting.
“Alight, samurai,” Cheryl looked at hunter, “Think you can stick this into the port?”
“Because you’re, inexplicably the gymnastic one. And you’ve ridden that mechanical bull like Debra Winger, once already.”
“Okay, sure,” Hunter hesitated, but took the drive, “Bart, can you get me…”
“Coming right up,” Bart darted up the steps.
Bart returned with a sandwich bag filled with psilocybe cubensis and tossed it to Hunter, “Tabula Rasa is at The Vyxco Tower, downtown, demanding Simon Vyx come out and meet him or it’ll bring the building down.”
“Another possible outcome is we let this play out and at least one of our problems will be solved,” Cheryl said.
Tabula Rasa stalked about the courtyard of Vyxco Tower, while Engelbert bellowed his screed through the robot’s public address system, “Simon Vyx. Butcher of Managua. He arrives as an angel of hope, departs as an angel of death. Come out here so I can end your hybristic crusade against mortality, or your tower will fall.”
Cheryl led the other’s on a winding journey through the media who were flocked in a chaotic mass flapping against the police barricade. They wound their way to the side of the building where the media presence was much thinner, due to the semi-obscured view it offered of Tabula Rasa and thus bad for television.
Cheryl knelt down and opened her bag and began sifting through various electronic gadgets, “I bet I can hack the robot’s PA,” she plugged her phone into one of the gadgets.
“...Butcher of Managua. He arrives as an angel of hope, departs as an angel of death....”
“Melodramatic bastard,” Hunter grumbled.
“That motherfucker is stealing from my blog now?” Cheryl yelled and poked at her phone.
“Here’s comes that other guy you like,” Hunter said pointing into the glass foyer of the tower.
Ian crouched by Cheryl and hid his face.
Simon Vxy took long, quick strides through the foyer, his arms swinging wide in time, his chin up, his eyebrows friendly and the vaguest hint of a smile. He glided through the door revolving door and took several steps toward Rasa, before he stopped and cupped one hand in the other in front of him, affixing a placid stare on the robot. Rasa concluded its stomping and planted itself square with Vxy.
“I’m Simon Vyx,” he hummed, “Who are you?”
“You can face justice for your massacres.”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
“Professor Victor Engelbert.”
Vyx shook his head, “And why are you threatening me?”
“Because my original quarry has gone to ground and you were next on my list.”
“There are more people you intend to kill?”
“No. Some I will destroy until they do it for me.”
“And if I let you kill me, you won’t topple my tower full of employees?”
“That’s the idea.”
Vyx stared for a moment, then leaned in, “You address me as the ‘Butcher of Managua’ yet you hold an occupied building hostage as if the ‘Butcher of Managua would blink at the idea of you razing that building, he whispered then leaned out and smiled, “But I’m not the ‘Butcher of Managua. I care about what happens to those people. I’m innocent of whatever you think it is I’ve done. However, I will exchange my life for theirs if that what needs to happen.”
“You know, your facade cracks when you’re being dishonest. It’s imperceptible. But I’ve had plenty of time to study you.”
“Just do it,” Vyx shouted.
“On your knees.”
Vxy complied and Rasa held one of its cannons to Vyx’s head.
He grabbed is right hand and began poking his palm with his thumb. He moved his forefinger and thumb like he was tuning a pair of rabbit ears.
“Any final words, Simon Vyx?”
“Yes,” Vyx said, “Initiate complete reformat.”
Rasa faded and went limp and Vyx stood.
“What do you think you are doing?” Engelbert asked.
“Professor Engelbert, I’ve disabled your automaton,” Vyx said waving all clear to the media.
“Simon Vyx,” Engelbert said with palpable glee, “I’ve spent two years studying you. I came prepared.”
Rasa came back online and leaned into Vxy, grabbed his hand and crushed it. Vyx appeared disappointed.
“I know what everyone of those bits and bobs you’ve stuffed yourself with does,” Engelbert loated, “And I’ve guarded myself against them. I also know the Butcher of Managua isn’t a psychopath. He doesn’t kill without great purpose. He values himself as a philanthropist. His horrors were committed in the name of the ‘Greater Good’. Now, because of your treachery you will watch your tower crumble.”
Rasa’s back became bristled with rockets and it turned to face its back to the tower.
“Vxy, you idiot,” Cheryl said, “You blew the best possible solution.”
Hunter twiddled the USB drive in his hand as he watched the dance between Vyx and Rasa, “Sweet Jesus,” he winced as Rasa crushed Vyx’s hand.
“That’s it,” Cheryl cheered, “Whatever Vyx was doing, was stonewalling me. I’m in.”
Rasa’s PA cracked.
“Former Professor Engelbert, who lost his tenure stealing his Ph.D. candidate’s work,” Cheryl announced.
“Ellers,” Englebert replied, “Still harbouring that paranoid delusion. If that were true, do think I would steal from a mediocrity?”
“Bullshit. For instance, that’s my code that thing is running on. All you did was use it to run a shitty drone.”
“Nonsense! I adapted it. Improved it. I reworked all the substandard code, which was most of it. So it should really be considered an original program.”
“Uh...I’ll...substandard you,” Cheryl stammered, “You...old....coot.”
Ian frowned and leaned toward Sophie, “Is she alright?”
“I’ve only seen her this mad twice,” Sophie replied, “Both times, somebody insulted her code.”
“Hey guys,” Cheryl snapped, “I’m not about to start trading monologues with this asshole. Get going.”
“You know what we’re doing?” Sophie quizzed Hunter as they made their way through the crowd.
“Not really, no.”
“I go in and distract it by shooting...wildly…I guess.”
“Right, your bow and weird arrows.”
“Yeah...the weird arrows. Then you jam the USB drive into its...mouth.”
“No. I get the theory. It’s putting it into practice that's bugging me out.”
“Yeah. Plan B... involves Carl and Ian...somehow...are we just winging this? This is insane. I'm running to battle a heavily armed robot with a hand mirror and a bow. And you're wearing your pajamas.” Sophie looked at the chaos around her. Hunter was staring transfixed by patterns only he was seeing in the glass foyer. Ian was sitting on the ground with his head pressed against his clasped hands. Cheryl was arguing with a cop about whether her blog qualified her as press. Carl was leafing through a ‘cars and pinups’ magazine that looked like it was published in the early 1960s. And then there was the robot fighting the cyborg CEO of a major tech corporation, “This got to a really weird place,” she wavered.
“Every trip does,” Hunter mumbled.
“Neither am I. Let's do this thing.”
Hunter and Sophie darted past the police barricade and into the courtyard of Vyxco Tower, as Rasa turned to fire a barrage of rockets.
“Professor,”’ Sophie shouted, “Over here.”
“Miss Ellers brought her menagerie,” said Engelbert, “You're like a circus. Amusing at first, but you quickly become tiresome.”
Rasa began firing on Sophie and Hunter. He batted away the bullets as they darted for cover. Sophie began firing off a quick round of arrows aimed at Rasa's optic sensor. Rasa staggered as it tried to swat the arrows. When the arrows made contact they exploded in tiny silver splashes like moonlit water and sounded like small, hollow bells.
“Now’s your shot,” she said to Hunter as she was firing off moonlight arrows in rapid succession.
Hunter ran toward Rasa dodging its unfocused fire. He rolled between its legs and climbed up its rocket studded back. He draped himself over its head and attempted to insert the USB drive. Sophie’s arrows were impacting around him and the bright silvers sparks were impairing his vision.
“Hold your fire, dammit,” he yelled, “I'm a friendly.”
“Sorry,” Sophie called back, “Nerves.”
Hunter jabbed at the port with the drive as Rasa lurched around in an attempt to dismount him. The drive wouldn’t fit so he flipped it over and attempted again, to no avail. He flipped it over one more time and it began to seat in the port, but Rasa grabbed Hunter and tossed him aside, the drive flung from his hand and skidded on the ground near Vyx. Vxy scrambled on his hands and knees and grabbed the drive.
“High Priestess,” he yelled.
Sophie stopped firing, froze and looked at Vyx out of the corner of here eye.
“That’s what you call yourself, right?”
“Catch,” he tossed the drive and Sophie grabbed it.
“How am I going to get this thing in that,” Sophie asked.
“Your plan went pear shaped,” Vyx said, “So did mine. A lot of mine do. You just have to adapt, improvise.”
“Hey, Carl” Ian tapped Carl on the pant leg like he was sending Morse code, “I think it’s plan B.”
Carl looked up from his magazine, “Huh, shit.”
Ian and Carl rounded the corner into the courtyard.
“Like your flautist friend,” Vyx said gesturing to Ian, “Hello, Mister Roland. It’s nice to see you’ve bounced back on your feet. A questionable line of work, perhaps. But, we’re all capable of doing questionable things for what we feel are the right reasons.”
“Ian,” Sophie said, “See if Hunter is alright.”
“Where is he?”
“Over there somewhere. Carl, can you keep Rasa still long enough for me to insert the drive?”
“Yeah, I can give it a shot.”
Carl charged at Rasa and it dodged. He took a swing and dodge. He took another swing and it countered him, striking him in the ribs. Carl stepped back and shook it off, then went in for another go. He took another swing and Rasa grabbed his arm. Then his other arm and dragged him along the ground, finally swinging him head first into a concrete support, knocking Carl unconscious. Rasa turned and strode toward Sophie. She began plunking at her bow at a furious tempo, but Rasa didn’t slow down.
“Shit,” she yelled.
“Try to manifest something,” said Cheryl through the PA.
“From what? It’s a robot.”
“He’s got too many implants in his head. I can’t get through the clutter.”
“I can’t do it on myself. And Rasa is between me and Carl.”
Behind Rasa, Sophie saw Ian helping Hunter jog across the courtyard.
“I have a terrible idea. Ian,” she shouted and beckoned.
Rasa turned and rounded up the two stragglers with Sophie.
“You didn’t want to die alone?” Ian barked at Sophie.
“Hunter,” she asked, “How hard are you tripping right now?”
“Perfect,” she began forming mudras toward Hunter.
“Are you going to ‘Star Trek six’ me?”
“I don’t know what that means, but probably yes,” she gave Hunter a conciliatory grin.
The news reports, in the weeks following the Vyxco Tower incident, varied widely in their accounts of how many dimensions the monster, that manifested out of nowhere, inhabited. They did, however agree that it was more than the bog standard four.
Sophie closed her eyes and turned her head as the creature emerged. She could tell it was immense. Kind of, just a, hypnotic...hum. Sophie shook her head and stuffed her fingers in her ears. She opened her eyes and looked on the gathered media, law enforcement and garden variety rubberneckers. They all stood transfixed, mouths agape. The silence was like noticing there were no waves on the ocean. The crowd was bathed in flowing light of all colors. Some of which were never before seen by mankind.
“I think as long as you don’t look at it you’ll be fine,” she heard Hunter’s muffled voice through her fingers, “And the hum won’t get you, if you don’t groove on it too hard.”
“What happened to them?” asked Sophie.
Sophie caught herself drifting into a trance when she glimpse a reflection of the beast in Hunter’s glasses, “How are you able to look at it?”
“This was like three hours ago for me.”
“Rasa,” Sophie gasped.
“Nah, got him too. Apparently, too far out for even a robot.”
“Let’s gets this in their before he comes down,” Sophie inserted the USB. Successfully. On the first try. Hunter raised a nonplussed eyebrow.
“So now what?” he said.
“I guess it takes a minute.”
Sophie drifted, “It’s peaceful. Quiet,” she looked at the crowd, “Creepy.”
“Night of fucking living dead.”
They stood enjoying the quiet. It appeared as though it was starting to snow, but it was June and the monster had started shedding.
“Is there a way you can banish that thing, or turn it off?” Hunter asked about the monster.
“Oh, they just burn themselves out.”
“This is about to go into some shit about werewolves pretty soon.”
“I’ll get rid of it when it starts to get weird. Look, it’s got a progress bar.”
“The moment of truth,” Hunter said.
“See you on the other side,” Sophie laughed.
Rasa’s displays lit up. It started making slight movements. Then greater movements. Flexing its hands, raising its arms, stepping forward and back. It turned its head side to side as it regarded Hunter and Sophie.
“Hello,” it said.
“Hi. I’m Sophie. You are?”
“Carte Blanche, I think my name is.”
“You can change that,” Hunter said.
“What a beautiful place to be born into.”
“It’s really great you think that,” Sophie said assessing the wrecked surroundings.
“What should I do now?”
“Well if everything went right, anything you want,” Sophie said, “Do you know what you want to do?”
“No,” Carte stopped, “I should find out.”
“There,” Sophie said, “You know what you want.”
“What do I want?”
“To know what you want.”
“I want to know what I want?”
“Now, you’re thinking like a human,” Hunter patted Carte on the shoulder.
Sophie hadn’t noticed that the monster’s light show had long since died down and now the silence was pierced by a scream from the crowd, followed by a heavy growling in her ear. She turned and saw a werewolf towering over her ready to swipe. Carte grabbed the werewolf and snapped its neck.
“Hmm,” Carte hummed, then looked at the crowd that had regain both its consciousness and its interest in the giant robot standing in the Vyxco Tower courtyard, “I should probably get going.”
“Where?” Sophie asked.
“I don’t know, I just gotta get my head together, check out the world.”
“Okay,” Sophie said, “Well, write.”
Carte nodded and launched himself into the sky darting off in a westerly direction.
“I missed the birth of my first child,” Cheryl said as she ran over.
“You were to busy tripping balls,” Sophie said.
“I tripped balls through the birth of my first child. That’s how I always wanted it to go.”
“Miss Ellers,” Vyx said in a clear voice, “Miss Fischer. Mr. Roland. Mr. Vickers and I don’t know the one with the sword. Everyone in this building owes you their lives. As for me, as far as I’m concerned, that makes us even,” he gave them a long glance and walked back toward the tower, “Don’t look surprised, I’ve known who you were since the night of Port Richmond. One of my security staff, sliced in half. I got interested. We’re even.”
“You two,” Cheryl said to Ian and Hunter, “You did very well. I’m glad to have you here.”
“Is she being nice to me?” Hunter asked Ian.
“Enjoy it,” Cheryl said walking away.
As Vyx approached his office, he could hear the television was on and the volume set to an absurd level. The news was chirping on about the strange vigilantes that saved Simon Vyx from a rampaging robot. He entered his office and saw a figure silhouetted in the glowing city skyline through the window. The lights were off and the television was throwing a blue glow on his terrible boney wings. His talons were rapping against a glass half full of whiskey and ice.
“Mister Blaylock?” Vyx paused as he entered.
“Simon,” Blaylock turned with a grin wrapping his narrow face, “It was big day.”
“About the announcement for my candidacy…”
“No, I get that. Bad optics. That’s not why I’m here.”
“You’ve got a new problem and I need you to fix it as soon as possible.”
“Those vigilantes that know all your dirt? They’re media darlings. For saving your ass. After you blew a huge moment that would have played like gangbusters on the campaign trail...You have to fix this.”
“About that, Mr. Blaylock.”
“Alton. I’m having misgivings about running for office.”
“To start with, I don’t know the first thing about governing.”
“I’ll stock your cabinet and advisors. You don’t have a thing to worry about.”
“Because you’re ridiculously electable. Liberals love you because you talk a bunch of hippy bollocks, and conservatives can tolerate that because you’re a self made billionaire. You’re well liked across the board and you're onto this immortality thing. You’re practically the anti-Christ.”
“I won’t do this. Whatever it is you want to do. I’m drawing the line here.”
“You back out on me and the words ‘Vyx’ and ‘Managua’ will all over the world tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t care anymore. Alton, this deal has gone far enough.”
“It’s Mr. Blaylock. Fuck the name. You can call me Yaldabaoth and since you don’t care about Managua anymore, how about I just throw you out the fucking window,” he grabbed Vyx by the neck and slammed him against the glass, “This is the new deal; you do anything other than win the presidency in November, your company will have to write off your immortality project as a failure. Struggle for breath if you agree to our new arrangement.”
Simon gasped and nodded.
Yalda set him down and brushed his suit off, “You know what? Call me your Demiurge,” he began to walk from the room, “And take care of your problem.”