Zombie Vs Robot: 1

George frowned at his computer. This was, in of itself, a common thing. For computers appear, no matter how intelligent the end-user, to be temperamental beasts that fail or otherwise eat important data just when you can least afford it to happen. Fortunately George’s computer was on its best manners and all of his important notes, recordings of different experiments, and his colossal music collection remained in good order. Instead George was frowning at the latest news his lady friend from America had sent. Not only had she failed several classes, in grand and spectacular fashion no less, but due to unrelated events the Tesla Institute had to re-evaluate its stance on admitting ‘students and staff of a unique nature that mainstream science does not yet acknowledge’. She was, understandably, upset and at a momentary loss on what to do. The message as good as admitted her failure came not from lack of understanding the subjects, but from temperamental issues between herself, other students, staff, and at one occasion apparently somehow a statue in front of the library had become the target of her ‘venting.’

Enclosed were photos depicting the statue, of a wild hog, before and after. In spite of himself George laughed at the ‘after’ and had to admit that even though it was something of a disaster his friend had maintained her sense of creativity even in the midst of a nervous breakdown. On consideration I suppose it isn’t really a nervous breakdown when the person in question turns into a seven foot tall human-wolf hybrid abomination and goes about breaking things until shot with enough tranquilizers to put down a charging rhino.

The email went on to explain that as part of her sentencing, because she could not pay for damages, was a period of service to one Remus Fawkes; head of Human - Metahuman relations. Considering if this were a normal school, or even Elizabeth a normal person, jail time in addition to being thrown out would have been the likely outcome George considered the option she took fairly light. As the message progressed George found that Remus had opted to send her to help his eldest son. George frowned at that then, and after a little searching through ScienceGoneWrong’s Who’s Who list, had a few facts to rub together about this person she had been assigned to.

From that short profile and picture George had days of researching this man to go through, his faults, failings, interests, and general leanings. He found out that, like most of those in the un-recognized sciences Maximus has his collection of personality quirks and tics. He silently thanked whoever had started the ‘Social Network for the Strange Sciences’, as otherwise he would have spent months trying to interview people, backtrack half-hidden paper trails, and hope that the target of his sleuthing didn’t think he was being hostile, or worse, steal his pet project out from under him.

After sending a short email explaining his concern over Elizabeth’s current situation and expressing sympathy for anyone in Robotics, especially those that had atomic power supplies, getting parts in the post 9/11 world had been a perennial complaint friends in the field had during gatherings, George had to tend to matters closer to home. He had been getting threatening letters lately, and while the local government was actually very friendly to his sort of people, the fact they could be dealt with actually worked against him in that if they would deal with him they would deal with anyone else. He hoped he wouldn’t get evicted, but he didn’t have the resources to fight a protracted legal battle.

* * *

“Well, I’m underwhelmed.” Elizabeth had come from a three hour flight, two hour drive and was finally dropped off at a very conventional looking home placed out in the middle of nowhere. Oh sure it was a well kept two floor ranch home with hedges, flowers, lawn decorations, and even a front porch swing. To her it just didn’t look like somewhere a child prodigy in robotics, son of one of the major contributors and advocates of occult sciences and other Historic Obscura would hang their hat at the end of the day. Plus to top it off she had heard the man had converted a decomissioned missile silo for undisclosed purposes. So yes, she was quite disappointed.

She had, as if she had any real options, agreed to work off her debts in serving this man. That thought surfaced along with her irritability as she carried her bags to the front door. The walk also gave her time to fret and fear over how she would be treated, long enough for her to recall two different nightmare scenarios she had told George of on her trip to the Old World.

The first had her wearing naught but whatever skimpy, lacey, latexy, or leathery outfits her employer demanded of her while she served as little more than eye candy, or perhaps a plaything. Naturally if he tried to take the nonsense too far she would put her foot down, likely on the man’s throat. Of course if that happened she would be sent to a specially designed prison for ‘Beings with capacities above and beyond normal restraint.’ It had an official designation, but when most people spoke of it they just called it ‘Away.’

The other nightmare that played through her mind was no less degrading and demeaning, but in some ways it was preferable to being a near-helpless plaything to a sexually frustrated mad-genius. This of course was being confined to the role of Stupid Minion. In this she would have to watch the man cackle and caw between ordering her about as either a menial laborer, or a captive audience. Of course if it were as bad as she feared he might try turning her into an experiment. The deal made only stated that she would have to be alive and reasonably intact, not augmented, possibly missing a few pieces ‘accidentally’ removed, or reduced to a gibbering twitching heap.

When she got to the door a shudder opened at roughly eye level, revealing an unblinking dimly glowing red lense staring at her. “Name and Purpose.” Flat emotionless monotone.

“Uh...” She always hated dealing with robots. Over the phone was bad enough, memories of countless telemarketers wanting her attention testifying to this, in person was worse. “Elizabeth Crowley, I was...uh... I’m real sorry, but I’ve never been good with dealing with robots.” This said in spite of the fact she knew the thing likely didn’t have feelings of any sort, well she thought it likely couldn’t feel anyway. “I was told I had to come here.”

The eye stared at her, unmoving and unchanging for several long moments. “Come inside, leave your bags in the entryway. They will be taken to your rooms while you are given your orientation.” The shudder closed and the door opened.

Inside looked very normal, if somewhat upscale in furnishings. Hardwood floors, expensive looking furnishings, and not a trace that anything was out of the ordinary. That changed when a four foot tall faceless device drifted her way. It looked, by all accounts, like an art-deco pepper pot. There was no eye, and a few other details were wrong, but she smiled in spite of herself. Either her new employer did not know the reference and the appearance was simply happenstance, or he thought the joke was too good to pass up. Either way it took a force of will on her part not to laugh.

It lead her first to a basement, then to an elevator that went further down. On the way down she saw through the open front that this man’s home had at least a dozen different levels plus the house above. Once the elevator stopped she followed her guide through what could have been a brewery, chemical processing plant, or some other place with lots of interconnected vats, tubes, and lots and lots of noise. Past that was a well lit plain hallway ending in a wood and glass door with the words ‘Refurbished Rustbuckets and Robots’ and ‘Management’ separated by a pair of crossed crescent wrenches stenciled in the middle of the pane.

She knocked softly before opening the door, guessing that because her guide had stopped here she was expected to go in alone. “Hello?” The inside of the office had the look of something from the middle of the last century about it. Slowly rotating ceiling fan, filing cabinets set against one wall, receptionist desk flanking a door on the opposite side of the room. In fact the one element that would have looked out of place was the secretary itself. One does not normally expect a hulking brute of metal covered in gauges and lights hunched over doing paperwork. Standing straight would have been impossible for this machine, but if it could have it would have to have been somewhere between nine and twelve feet tall.

“Crowley, yes?” It had a voice like Sinatra, which caught Elizabeth off guard for a moment. She nodded. “Boss’s been complaining he hasn’t been able to find much about you off the registry, dunno if he’ll be in an agreeable mood when you go in.”

“Thanks...”

“No problem. You’re new here, don’t want you to get off on the wrong foot.” There was a loud buzz from an intercom wired into the robot’s desk. Carefully it pushed a button, shutting it off. “Name’s Forbin.”

“Colossus right?” Forbin gave Elizabeth a thumbs up before she walked through. It was named after a book that had been turned into a movie centering around a pair of supercomputers that eventually took over the world. Though it could not feel fear it had a deep and abiding interest in horror movies. Though it might not have been intended as such, the movie from which its name had been taken was something it recognized as being potentially far more frightening, at least as a concept if not in execution, than the splatterhouse material modern audiences were subjected to routinely.

Fifties office theme extended here too. It could have been the setting for a bad (or even good) pulp detective story even if one threw in the robot replacing the stock and standard sexy assistant. The man seated at the imposingly large desk however broke the illusion rather badly. His clothes, for one, looked more late nineteenth century gentry than nineteen fifties gumeshoe. Another thing that broke with traditional pulp detectives was that he had neither cigarettes nor liquor laying about.

The man smiled at her and leaned forward, offering her a hand. “Miss Elizabeth Crowley, I have been looking forward to finally meeting you.” They shook and he leaned back in his seat. “Not exactly fond of the idea of this arrangement, but my father told me that if I wanted his backing I’m going to have to take you off his hands.” He was no older, and perhaps a few years younger, than her. His eyes were an unnatural shade of green and that seemed to make focusing on the rest of his face difficult. “So, I brought you here so we could talk. What do you fear about this arrangement? What are your preferences? Your record listed a major in Psychology and a minor in Cryptobiology. If you don’t mind, where were you wanting to go with that?”
 

Before she could answer the intercom buzzed. “Sir. B-46 just got loose and is headed for the weapons range.” Pause. “Genni reports blind spots cropping up all over Rehab as well as power surges consistent with-”

“Please tell me it’s not trying to wake the goons.”

“It looks like that’s exactly what it’s trying to do Sir. Sorry.”

“Understood. Tell Genni to go to level four containment and arm security with pulse weapons. Make sure they’re on setting six or above, they won’t even phase it on anything less, and try flagging Dr. Cossack and Hell before it has a chance to cut communications.”

“Already done Sir.”

“Now,” Maximus looked back to Elizabeth and took a breath, “Where were we?”

“You’re not worried about a rampant machine running loose in your lab?” Elizabeth tried containing herself, but she was quite worried and more than a little flustered at her host’s lack of concern. “I don’t know what sort of defenses you’ve got, but I did research on Dr. Chaos and his ‘Goons’. Those things get loose and-” She stopped when the intercom beeped again.

“We have B-46 powered down and fitted with a restriction plate.”

“Thank you Forbin, I want all data gathered from the capture and all data from B-46‘s containment pen for the past twenty four hours.” He smiled at Elizabeth after releasing the comm button, “I was given custody of Chaos’s army on the basis of the security measures I already had in place. I appreciate your concern, and am glad that you appreciate the potential for danger, but everything is in hand now.”

“I... see.” She didn’t trust it to have ended so suddenly, “Well since you’ve wanted to hear my opinions and don’t seem condescending that eliminates my fear of being used as dumb muscle.”

Maximus laughed. “Lord and Tesla no. You might have had a stress-induced breakdown as a result of washing out, but that doesn’t mean I take you as stupid.” He opened a drawer on the lefthand side of the desk and tossed her a set of papers.

“What are,” She started reading them. “Wait.” She flipped through to get a sense of the overall picture. Most of what she saw were transcripts intermixed with handwritten letters. Taking a closer look she saw they did not paint a flattering picture. “Your dad enrolled you at Tesla when you were nine?”

Maximus chuckled humorlessly, “Hard to believe isn’t it? I got my degree in robotics when I was thirteen and was hailed as a wonder child. I actually had a grasp of anatomy and medicine when I was first enrolled but I didn’t have any interest.”

She did. “He... wanted you to be a medical doctor?” Her host nodded.

“Family tradition. The eldest got to go their own way, but the second-born has been in medicine for the past five generations.” He took the papers back and shelved them away. “I’ll tell you the whole story sometime. For now we have a mess to clean up.”
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