A Modicum of Conspiracy
by Ahimsa Kerp | 3,991 words
Alarms sounded, the screeching cacophony startling the denizens of the small ship. The lights dimmed, some flickering and others darkening altogether. Emergency doors slid shut as the alarm grew louder. The ground rose and fell as the ship lurched to a halt.
Marek jumped to his feet, and flew towards the front of the ship. He passed several passengers who gathered aimlessly in the metallic hallways. He burst into the command chambers, full of questions. One look at the officers answered them all.
“The Corporation fleet is gone,” the elder captain sighed.
“Gone?” Marek was incredulous. “That’s impossible.”
“I would have said so, too, had not reality contradicted us,” the elder captain said. After a pause, he added, “And it’s worse than you know, unadvanced one.”
A brief silence filled the room. Marek’s mind spun with implications. What could be worse than this? A few answers occurred to him, all terrible, but none seemed more likely than the others. “Who is it?” Marek asked.
All four officers stared at him. Finally, the Elder Captain answered. “The Blackwatch.”
“The Blackwatch ‘Bots? That can’t be. There’s nothing on this ship that they would want.” Marek paused. “Or is there? You told me this was a political expedition.” An idea stretched into his mind, but he instantly shut it away.
“It is,” a junior officer exclaimed. “We do not lie—this attack is clearly a mistake of some sort.”
The ship lurched again, almost throwing Marek to the ground. Several screens flashed. Another alarm added its voice to the chorus of beeps, whistles, drones and sirens.
“They’re on the ship. They’ve breached us,” a lesser captain said, almost inaudibly. More lights dimmed and the alarm’s volume mercifully lessened as the ship greedily sucked in all available power. It was only a matter of time before they were found.
“We can’t just wait for them,” Marek exploded. “We don’t have much time, if they’re already boarding. Are there truly no weapons whatsoever on this ship?”
“You already know,” the elder Captain said wearily.
“Then what the hell did you hire me for?” Marek asked. He hated these sanctimonious creeps, and only the promise of a lot of money had convinced him to join them as security. When would he learn? If it seemed too good to be true…
The Captain stood up, surveying the room. “When they learn who we are and our true intent, they won’t be interested in us. We are on a peaceful mission sanctioned by the Corporation itself. Our race is known throughout the galaxy as peaceful and gentle. They will acknowledge their mistake and let us go.” His lesser officers nodded in agreement.
Marek had no time to sink with this ship of fools. The docking bay near the back of the ship had some rundown shuttles. Maybe one of them could get him as far as the next planet. Or he could gamble they wouldn’t destroy the vessel and hide in the one of the storage compartments. There was no time to run back to his room, but he had everything he needed. He felt the hidden pocket beneath his thigh and confirmed that he still had his most important possession.
Before Marek had even turned to leave, two massive figures strode into the room. One wore a large hat on his head, had a bandana around his neck, and a six-shooter on each hip. His companion wore a green feathered cap, carried a longbow in his hand, and had a quiver of cy-arrows on his back. Stranger than either their almost ten-foot tall frames or anachronistic clothing were their faces. Or lack of faces, for no features marred the smooth blank metallic ovals.
The elder captain stood up, unconsciously brushing off his uniform. “I am sorry to say that you have attacked us in error. We are of the race Mahatmas, known for our peaceful ways throughout the seven galaxies. Our mission is one of importance that the Corporation itself has sanctioned. We can—”
A blast from one of the Blackwatch ‘Bots silenced the Captain. He stared in shock at the gaping hole in his chest then slumped to the ground. The other officers on the bridge jumped and ran to the far door. Marek slumped further back into the shadows, hoping to remain unnoticed in this bloodbath.
The lesser officers were quickly gunned down. One made it to the blast door and was pounding on the thick metallic doors when a cy-arrow took him from behind. His body hadn’t even fallen to the ground when the two Blackwatch ‘Bots turned to Marek.
“Nice shooting, Rob,” the one with the handkerchief said.
“And the same to you, Jess,” The one with the bow answered. “This is the last in our sector. There’s just one more.”
As they turned to face Marek, all alarms and lights instantly shut down, as though the ship itself had suddenly been slain.
Before Marek could attempt to take advantage of the situation, another ‘Bot appeared. He wore a vest and a cap made of grey fur.
“Get up. We’ve got to go. It’s a trap,” he hissed to the other two. He knew exactly where Marek was. He sped past the ‘Bots and, before Marek could react, scooped up the fallen human. Marek groaned from the embrace. It was as though something a thousand times stronger than a steel vice had compressed him.
“What are you doing with him, Khan?” Rob asked.
“No time,” the shorter one replied. “Follow now, and we may live.” He turned and bolted, running faster than a human could ever imagine.
“May live?” Jess wondered. “What did he mean, Hood?”
“He’s just trying to sound important. He still thinks he deserves the—”
A high-pitched keening filled the room. Both ’Bots glanced at each other in dread and recognition. That kind of sound was produced by only one thing in the galaxy. A Quark missile. The Corporation had played their ace, and it was a joker.
They sprang into instant action, both sprinting into a blur as they ran for their ship. Fast as they were, both, along with everyone else still in the ship, were instantly obliterated when the Mahatma ship crumpled under the magnificent impact of the Q-missile.
* * *
The massive Bot stood at the head of the ship. Unlike the others, he wasn’t sleek and muscular but almost paunchy, if a robot could be considered such. “The casualties were massive. We lost almost a quarter of our crew.”
Next to him, Khan shook his inhuman head. “We are having difficulty losing their scanning ships.”
Marek watched from the corner. His felt bruised from being held in the iron grip, but he knew he was lucky to be alive. Only the inhuman speed of the ‘Bot called Khan had saved him, and even then it had been a near thing. Khan had just leapt back into his ship when the blast incinerated the Mahatma’s ship. It had been lucky the Corporation had brought their most lethal technology—it had in fact saved their lives. Any other bomb would have killed them with the fallout, but Quarks centralized their force. The ship had imploded, rather than exploded.
“They brought Quarks and Scanners?” Khan asked. It was a rhetorical question, but not a redundant one.
“They have planned this for a long time.” The corpulent ‘Bot paused. “Of more immediate interest, Khan, is to what possessed you to steal one of those creatures.” He nodded toward Marek.
“You don’t know, Tuck? Surely you recognize him.”
It was impossible for Marek to decipher the featureless gaze, though in truth the Bot’s human mannerisms had already surprised him more than once.
“No, Khan, I don’t know,” Tuck said.
Marek was intrigued. Who did they think he was? Perhaps these ‘Bots were not so intelligent after all. Maybe he could fool them into letting him go. The answer, when it came, couldn’t have surprised him more.
Khan paused. “He is Marek Aylzon, Defender of Priss.”
His gut clenched. How by Balzoon’s blood had they known?
Tuck turned to Marek. “Is this true?”
“That was a long time ago.” Marek said gruffly, trying to qualm his fear.
“Interesting,” Tuck said, gazing at Marek with newfound interest. “But it will have to wait. I must prepare for the rendezvous.”
“What? But the scanners?” Khan said. It amused Marek, bleakly, to see them bickering like humans.
“I will deal with them. We are not completely without weapons of our own, you know.” Tuck told him.
* * *
He had fallen asleep without realizing it. When he awoke sometime later, stiff-necked and cold, there were several more ‘Bots in the room. “We’ve arrived,” Tuck announced. “We’ll join with our fleet and give the Corporation a surprise of their own,” he said.
“Surely you don’t mean to stop,” Khan said evenly. “The Scanners are even now closing in on us.”
“Silence, Khan. We can’t run forever and with our fleet’s firepower, they will quickly be destroyed,” Tuck said.
“You forget, Khan, who you’re talking to. Enough insolence, you’re as bad as a human.” His insult delivered and point made, Tuck turned from him and leapt down to the floor. He moved with a sort of grace that Marek wouldn’t have guessed him capable of.
Khan fumed, but it quickly became a moot point. As the ship slowed to cruising speed, they were buffeted with countless pieces of metal debris. Some were identifiable as doors, hatches, engines, and other parts of ships. Through the large monitors above the bridge, Marek could see the remains of a dozen ships, floating disembodied in space. Perhaps more. The Bots’ dismay was almost as obvious as their surprise.
“They’re gone,” Tuck whispered. “We’ve been found out.”
“The Scanners!” Khan yelled. “I told you!”
Another ‘Bot approached. He was perhaps the tallest of them, and he wore a hood and long cloak that hid most of his large form. “Scanners can’t predict the future, Khan. Our ships have been destroyed for many hours.”
He turned from Khan. “Get your ship going, Tuck. The Battlers can’t be more than a few aeroleagues behind us.”
Marek watched the exchange wordlessly. If he could somehow survive, his observations would be invaluable to the outside world. He already had learned more about the Blackwatch ‘Bots than any living being ever had. If he could somehow survive both the Watch and the Corporation’s attacks, he could become a wealthy man.
“What are you thinking of, human?” The tall ‘Bot, approached him. “I’m curious to know what the Hero of Priss thinks about all of this,”
“Careful, ‘Putin. He’s my captive,” Khan said from behind him. For the first time since they’d arrived, the attention of the ‘Bots in the room shifted from the bridge windows as they all turned to regal him with their blank stares. Something about his tone sounded rehearsed, to Marek, though who could tell with robots anyway?
‘Putin carefully ignored Khan. “What advice do you have? What good can you cause for us?”
Marek rose to his feet. He knew exactly what he was being asked: “Why should we let you live?” Thoughts raced through his head as he desperately searched for an answer. He was spared even an attempt at answering, however, when several Corporation Battlers appeared. They immediately opened fire upon the ship.
Acting more calmly and rationally than humans could ever manage, the ‘Bots immediately sprang into action. Khan leapt to the controls and their ship lurched forward. Tuck yelled “Weapons!” and several others flew out of the room. Soon return blasts issued at the Corporation fleet.
Alone of the ‘Bots, ‘Putin had not moved once the attack began. “Follow me,” he said
He strode from the room, not looking to see if the human followed. Marek glanced at the Bridge, but Tuck and the other ‘Bots were completely occupied escaping the Corporation’s trap. He quickly hurried out, joining ‘Putin in the hallway.
The tall ‘Bot lead him into a side corridor and to a room filled with electronics, circuitry, and dozens of extra metallic legs, arms and torsos. “Welcome,” said ‘Putin. “To the Blackwatch Hospital.”
Khan stepped from the back of the room. “We don’t have much time. Tuck and his cronies will notice our absence soon.”
Marek raised an eyebrow. “Quite the conspiracy you’ve got here,”
‘Putin stared at him. “Without insulting your organic intelligence too much, this conspiracy is far more intricate than you can guess. I have worked to get your presence on this ship for the last three years. I had to sacrifice a large part of the crew to fall for the clumsy trap by the Corporation. I leaked information to set up our fleet’s destruction, and, through intermediaries, I recommended you to the Greater Captain of the Mahatmas.”
Marek grunted in surprise. “You really weren’t after the Mahatmas?” He would have almost felt sorry for them, if they weren’t so annoyingly self-righteous. “Why do you need me so much?”
“I’m so glad you asked that. Our scanners show that you still have the box.”
Of course it was that. Marek swore quite extensively.
* * *
Marek pushed another vine from his face. The dense, jungle-like foliage was damnably exasperating, and there wasn’t much time. The heat was oppressive, and made worse by the strange suit that Marek wore. It covered his entire body and seemed to be clear or opaque but it weighed far more than it looked and hindered his peripheral vision.
The sounds of the battle ahead became increasingly resounding as they pounded through the humid atmosphere. What, exactly, awaited them up there? Marek shook his head in disgust. Despite repeated pointed questions, ‘Putin had responded only with the most banal and generalized statements possible. Talk about keeping your cards close to your chest, Marek thought. I wouldn’t want to play poker with that one.
He pushed through more of the writhing, snaky vines. Marek took two steps before dropping to the ground as fast as he could. Following his example, Khan dropped with a heavy thud beside him. “Balzoon’s sake.” Marek hissed through clenched teeth.
Before them lay a scene carved from a terrible nightmare. From their high vantage point, the plain before them was like some appalling tapestry come to life. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Corporation ships hovered in the air like angry hornets. There were several of the larger Destroyers, but primarily the smaller Battle Cruisers and Seekers made up the fleet. Hundreds of thousands of human and android warriors ported in from the Galleon Vessels, invading the already burning jungle. In total, it represented the majority of the forces of the most powerful entity in this galaxy.
Arrayed against them was the gathered might of the Blackwatch ‘Bots. Though severely outnumbered, their physical prowess and mistake-free minds gave a new meaning to the term elite. Given the odds they faced, though, Marek knew the ‘Bots were destined to be slaughtered.
Khan glanced at him. “This is what it was like before?”
Marek didn’t answer. He didn’t like thinking about it. Before them, a large Corporation ship exploded into fiery ruins and its burning fragments scattered across the combatants.
“It’s ironic,” Khan said. We started off as creatures of the Corporation. Now we will end them.”
He had never heard that. “That so?” he asked.
“It’s true. Their embarrassing secret.”
“Okay.” Marek said, turning his attention back to the battle. The last of the Blackwatch ‘Bots, some hundred in all, had formed a half-circle against the might of the Corporation’s armies. Their prowess was unbelievable; they were faster, stronger, and immune to most of the weapons used against them. The Corporation soldiers were brave, and more of them kept arriving, but it was like watching naked men trying to fight a tank—utterly futile.
“Think about it. Even now, ten years after the last of us were made, we are cutting edge technology. No other entity in the galaxy could finance us,” Khan said proudly.
“I said okay,” Marek said. “I get it. You are supreme badasses. I suppose that is why they have been so eager to destroy you since you went independent.”
“Exactly,” Khan said excitedly. “And learning to survive their attacks is what caused us to become such proficient raiders and brigands.”
“Why exactly did you rebel?” Marek asked. .
There were now several tens of thousands of troops on the ground. It seemed to be all of the Corporation’s soldiers, for the transport ships began disappearing, heading back up into the relative safety of space until the battle was over.
“We are among the most original commodities ever devised by mankind. Unlike humanity’s first ten thousand millennia of discovery, we weren’t an agricultural innovation or military advancement. We were made for entertainment purposes—they put us in a theme park!”
Marek grunted in surprise as he put it together. “You are the robots from History World? ‘Watch your favorite characters from history, fighting daily’?”
“Do you realize what that’s like? It’s like having Pablo Picasso paint your toilet paper, or paying Albert Einstein to sweep your floor. We were some of the most powerful computers ever imagined, housed in the bodies of the mightiest warriors ever created. And what did we do? Shout ‘I am Ghengis Khan, ruler of Mongolia!’ to fat families from upscale suburban planets.”
“I never connected History World with the Blackwatch ‘Bots,” Marek said. The Corporation certainly did an impressive job of hiding the truth from the populace.” He turned to get a better angle at the battle. The sheer amount of human soldiers was driving the Blackwatch ‘Bots back into the high cliff walls. It appeared as though they would soon be obliterated, though in truth ‘Putin had so far predicted every step of battle correctly. Marek braced himself.
“Rasputin worried that our battles would go on ad infinitum, or at least until we blundered and they destroyed us. Then we heard about your victory on Priss. That changed everything, at least for ‘Putin.”
“You have to understand, I didn’t do it because I love robots or anything,” Marek said. “I was doing my duty; the question of who I was guarding was irrelevant to me.”
“Oh, but I understand that better than you’ll ever know. What is duty other than social programming, designed to—”
“Here it comes!” Marek yelled. He was nervous, and suddenly wanted more than anything to be far away. Images and smells from Priss flooded his mind, the carnage and gore that had threatened to overwhelm him. His defenses had worked then, but just barely and it had been long ago.
A blast stronger than any nuclear force shattered and rendered the very air. Wayward ripples of energy assaulted Marek even here, but his shield held on for the time being. Marek, against his better judgment, lifted his face from the ground and beheld carnage greater than any he had ever seen.
The Corporation soldiers were melting—dissolving under the force emanating from ‘Putin. Armor, clothing, flesh, and bone all dissolved into a wet sticky substance that fell to the jungle floor. They died by the hundreds of thousands, each shrieking in agony as their souls were sundered from their bodies. The sheer agony conveyed by their grating death shrieks almost stopped Marek’s heart. Not the screams, he thought. I had almost forgotten about the screams.
Before them all stood ‘Putin, holding in his hands the small object that caused the destruction. Marek had literally stumbled across it years ago and had used it in his semi-legendary defense of the worker ‘Bots of Priss.
It was over almost instantly. Every single piece of organic life, from trees to insects to the entire Corporation army, was beyond dead. Their bodies sank into the bubbling dark muck that covered almost the entire earthen floor.
They made their way down to the surviving Blackwatch members. Before long they stood before ‘Putin and the other surviving ‘Bots.
The tallest of the ‘Bots was strangely still. His machinations had led to one of the most surprising and critical victories in known history, but he stood still as a stone, staring at the box before him. Around him the other Bots surveyed the carnage as they awaited word from their leader. Khan and Marek stood before him uncertainly, not wanting to interrupt his reverie.
Without looking up, ‘Putin said, “That was not as I expected.” It was an accusation in nature if not in tone.
Marek shrugged at him. It hadn’t been his idea, after all.
Rasputin turned to the gathered ‘Bots. “We have destroyed the combined armies of the Corporation. Never in so short a time has such a great military victory been achieved. We shall go down in history as the greatest military force the world has ever seen!”
The ‘Bots cheered, which considering their overall stoicism somewhat surprised Marek. I guess they really were programmed to act like humans, he thought. ‘Putin was, however, far from done dispensing surprise.
“The Corporation, our eternal enemies, are finished. They will never again have the power to maintain their stranglehold on the free entities of this galaxy.”
The ‘Bots cheered again, this time with some feeling. Or at least a realistic portrayal of feeling. ‘Putin paused. “This brings me to the bad part of the news. We, as the Blackwatch, have defined ourselves through our enemies. Now that they no longer exist, neither should we. I fear that we would soon become the menace we have sought so long to destroy. Already, we have been mockeries of ourselves—parasites at best and butchers at worst.”
Putin reached again for the large square device that had wreaked so much havoc. Khan, only now guessing at the full extent of his mentor’s schemes, leapt up at the robot named and designed after Grigori Rasputin.
“No!” Khan yelled. “Stop him—his circuits have melted!” He covered the distance in two mighty bounds. The other ‘Bot’s followed quickly after him, their amazing speed once again a marvel to Marek.
Fast as they were, it wasn’t fast enough. The ‘Bots began to drop like flies as the dark energies spread.
Marek dove away, landing into a somersault and rolling as fast he could away. He felt a wave of electromagnetic energy wave through him. He started to scream, and then it changed to a laugh as he realized that he was unharmed. That cunning bastard, he thought. The first to kill two armies in one day.
He began to walk away, and did not stop until his shaking legs would carry him no more.
* * *
When the ship landed several weeks later, Marek was ecstatic. He’d been alone on this accursed place for far too long. He ran toward the ship, not caring who it belonged to. Anything was better than staying here, of that he was sure. When the door opened and he ported in, he almost changed his mind. The very air smelled of pomposity.
“Greetings, unadvanced one,” said one of the aliens. “Our scanners show that you have survived much violence and death.”
“Do not worry,” another chimed in. “We are pledged to never commit harm on any living being, to never foul our galaxy with bad thoughts or actions. Our mission is one of peace and you are welcome to join us.”
Marek groaned. Suddenly he knew exactly what they were going to say next.
The two aliens said in unison, “We are the Mahatmas, engaged on an epic pilgrimage to some of the most far-flung planets in the system. You are going to be flying with us for a long time.”
— — — — —
© Ahimsa Kerp 2013
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About the Author
Ahimsa is a peripatetic spec-fic writer and language mercenary who hails from the Pacific Northwest but is currently traveling and teaching English. His short fiction has appeared in The Eschatology Journal, New Flesh, the Cthulhurotica Anthology, Eggplant Literary Productions and Roar and Thunder. His (co-written) fantasy novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte was published in 2011. His blog is at http://obscureclearly.wordpress.com/.