Doctor Demonicus sits on the throne of his stronghold built in a weaponized asteroid when his drones alert him: ‘Master. A ship approaches.’
The doctor pats back his straggly hair with one hand and languidly gestures with the other. ‘I am not expecting guests. Obliterate them.’
The asteroid shudders as the nuclear missiles blast out of their launch tubes and the doctor smiles with delight. The atomic glare of the explosions dances off the interior of his lair, but his smile freezes when the drones report. ‘No effect, master. The ship has evaded and accelerates.’
‘Evaded? Onscreen view. Now.’ The image of the ship flickers into life before him and he recognises the shape, distinctly reminiscent of a raised middle-finger. It is the only one ship of its kind in the universe. It is the C-Beam Queen and it means his day has well and truly gone to shit. His voice turns leaden. ‘Autonomy Jones.’
An incoming transmission interrupts the signal and the silhouette of a middle finger morphs into the beautiful face of Autonomy Jones. Her afro takes up the entire screen. ‘What’s shakin’, Doctor D.? Did you know the Interstella Insurance Company took out a bounty on you after your last attempt at galactic domination? We’ll be down in a minute. Don’t make us chase you.’
Autonomy Jones makes a movement and the screen goes black. Doctor Demonicus leans forward, barely suppressed panic flickering in his eyes. ‘Send out the Flying Phalanx,’ he thunders. ‘Order them to go nuclear. Fire up forge production. More Death Sentries! Build me more Death Sentries!’
The C-Beam Queen hurtles towards the asteroid which sheds a cloud of drones. They look like metal claws with a cannon mounted on their back and their laser fire is like a psychedelic rainstorm. The ship traces a rocket-glare corkscrew as it banks and turns to evade.
Then the Queen’s sides split, revealing rows upon rows of launch tubes. The torpedoes jump out and spiral away from the ship like dandelion pollen caught in a gale. The explosions are brighter than the sun and obscure everything from view. Only the C-Beam Queen escapes the conflagration. Then, out of nowhere, a piece of shrapnel hits its engine. The back of the Queen catches on fire and the spaceship plummets out of control towards the asteroid.
In a hangar bay a battalion of Death Sentries stand in perfect formation awaiting orders. Hunched over in their spiked armour, they look this way and that, communicating with each other in multi-toned synthetic murmurs. Then they look up, hearing something that should not be audible in the vacuum of space.
The hangar doors implode and the C-Beam Queen thunders in, crushing sentries as it goes. Their tortured electric screams are lost in the screech of grinding metal. Armoured arms, legs and heads bounce off the walls.
The Queen glides to a halt and for several seconds there is no sound but the scrabbling of severed drone arms, spastically flexing and unflexing on the titanium alloy floors of the hangar bay.
One Death Sentry is still unscathed and stands pressed up against the wall with the side of the C-Beam Queen only yards away from his faceplate. It looks at his fallen comrades, then at the ship. Its hands cycle back into its armour and out come foot-long blasters. Carefully it steps forward.
Smoke hisses from hidden vents in the ship’s hull. A hatch slams down, flattening the Death Sentry like a shrieking metal pancake. The sound of metal footsteps clank in the dark of the ship’s interior and out into the light steps the thin lanky frame of Tommy, Autonomy Jones’ business partner. The robot’s face is perfectly oval and smooth, broken only by one large round lens in the right half of its face plate. The glare of the hangar bay’s lighting glints off his dented and scarred breastplate. Parts of a word stamped into the metal have been obscured, leaving only the letters ‘TOMI’ readable. He looks upon the carnage his crash landing caused and then checks out the C-Beam Queen, surveying the damage.
‘This will take days to repair. And lots of money,’ intones the robot. ‘Murderous rage threatens to overwhelm my legendary calm and self-control.’
‘Simmer down, sweet stuff.’ Autonomy Jones joins her robotic associate. She cocks a giant laser rifle and positions it against her hip. Then she takes out her sunglasses and puts them on. ‘The party’s only just getting started. We’re going to have to fight our way through the little loser’s turf.’
Tommy reaches behind his back and pulls out his two custom-built vibrodaggers. ‘That’s why I like rolling with you, Autonomy Jones,’ he declares in his toneless electronic voice. ‘The violence soothes my circuits.’ The daggers hum in agreement.
Doctor Demonicus watches on his monitors as the two mercenaries enter his trap. He cackles hysterically, eliciting shuffles from his robotic servants, and grabs the diamond-encrusted microphone dangling from the ceiling. ‘End of the line, Autonomy Jones,’ he shrieks into the mouthpiece.
Autonomy Jones and Tommy look at the giant speaker trembling in its fixtures. ‘For you have fallen into my devious trap. My terrifying Technotaur will grind your bones into powder! He will pop your heads like a pimple on a teenager’s forehead!’
A blast from Autonomy Jones’s rifle disintegrates the speaker. Back in his lair Doctor Demonicus screams and rips the headphones off his head as the feedback tears into his eardrums.
‘Much appreciated,’ intones Tommy. He looks around at the gashes and tears in the floor and walls. Massive titanium plates have been shredded like tissue paper. ‘You know, I’m almost getting excited about this.’
In the corner of the room, floor plates slide apart. A deep, guttural roar shakes the ground and the Technotaur hauls itself out of its pit. It is a 12-foot monstrosity, covered in spiked metal plates and with a head vaguely resembling that of a bull. It is a minotaur for the space age. Its glowing red eyes focus on Autonomy Jones and Tommy and it stamps the floor, tracking deep grooves. Tommy nods to himself and steps forward. His breastplate slides down and reveals the circular darkness of a cannon muzzle.
Doctor Demonicus pounds his fists into the armrests of his throne as the hulking body of the Technotaur tumbles backwards, the granular remains of its head embedded in a nearby wall. ‘No! It cannot be that easy. It will not be that easy! Attack, my minions! Attack!’
Like angry soldier ants the Death Sentries stream in, their metal boots hitting the floor in unison. Autonomy puts on a set of headphones and connects them to the computer pack hanging on her hip. Nodding her head to the beat she aims down the sight of her rifle and starts squeezing the trigger at a steady pace. Every ear-splitting blast takes out multiple sentries. Staying away from his partner’s fire, Tommy flourishes his vibroblades and dives into the milling horde. Severed heads and limbs signify his progress.
Watching it all on his screens, however, Doctor Demonicus has managed to get his cool back. Although they hold the line, Autonomy Jones and Tommy make no progress. On the screens, they look like pebbles standing against an incoming tide. ‘Always one more, Autonomy Jones!’ he yells triumphantly. ‘I always have one more drone! I will wear you down!’ He slams his fist down on a giant chromed button.
On the screen the ceiling can be seen opening up. Like an avalanche of rocks tumbling down a hillside more drones drop down. These are a different model; lopsided monstrosities not unlike giant metal cockroaches but with giant laser cannons where one of their arms should be. As they land on the floor the massive doors on both sides of the room start inching down, screeching and grinding in their grooves as they go. The trap is closing.
A click echoes through the room and causes everybody in it to halt in their step for a microsecond. Even Doctor Demonicus, looking at the slaughter from the luxury of his throne, holds his breath. Her ammo well and truly spent Autonomy Jones looks down at her rifle for a moment, reverses her grip and uses it as a club to bat off the head of the robot closest to her. She jumps over its falling body to get her back to a wall and shouts at Tommy who has reversed direction and is now hacking his way towards her.
‘Keep going! I’ll handle things from this end!’
The assassin drone looks at her wordlessly for a second, then nods and jabs his daggers upwards into a sentry’s brain, causing it to twitch spastically and die. Then he vaults backwards over two enemies and rolls through the closing gate. It slams down on the floor, obscuring him from view and leaving Autonomy Jones alone in a room with dozens of drones out for her head. Several of the cannon-wielding drones form up in a half circle around her as she stands against the wall. Their giant weapons emit a high-pitched whine as they charge up.
‘You know,’ says Autonomy Jones, ‘I’m getting the impression your boss has some issues with the size of his own little death sentry, if you know what I mean.’
Tommy grabs one of his victims by the leg and uses him as a club to beat down the door to Doctor Demonicus’ throne room. Behind him lies a linear hallway with robot bodies piled up waist high. Doctor Demonicus swivels around in his chair, fingers steepled together. He has obviously practiced this pose.
‘Tommy,’ he chuckles. ‘I am almost impressed. Vixens, get him.’
Long-limbed silhouettes silently drop down from the ceiling. Doctor Demonicus’ Virtual Vixens are feminine and deadly, carrying wicked blades in four shapely arms and high-velocity rail blasters in two other. They are the robotic embodiment of Kali, the Indian goddess of death, and their beautiful faces show no emotion. ‘Time to die, baby.’ Their simultaneous siren call is low and sultry. Tommy looks at the vixens and then sideways to Doctor Demonicus.
‘I am going to tear off your big toes and poke you in the eyes with them.’
The fight takes less than a minute. Tommy fights the last of the Vixens on the steps towards Demonicus’ throne. He has lost an arm and loose wiring whips around from his empty shoulder socket, shedding sparks. He kicks off one blade sweep, jumps up to evade another and brings his blade down on the beautifully symmetrical head.
A delicate tinkle can be heard as the fatigued dagger snaps. The blade bounces off the Vixen’s steel visage and sails straight up, accompanied by squeals of delight from Doctor Demonicus. Tommy reacts with lightning quickness, however, and jumps off the Vixen’s ample chassis to follow the blade, catching it between two outstretched fingers. He pirouettes in mid-air and flicks the blade back at the Vixen’s upturned face, drilling her right in the eye socket. The robot goes down in a heap and Tommy lands in front of her, the sparks erupting from his shoulder cavity casting eerie shadows over his face.
Still Doctor Demonicus retains his crazy, hyperactive self-composure. He laughs a staccato, coughing laugh. ‘Always one more, you damn metal monstrosity. I always have one more robot.’ He calls out. ‘Praetorian!’
A giant robot leaps over Demonicus’ throne and lands between him and Tommy. A massive, piston-propelled claw shoots forward and clamps itself around Tommy’s head with crushing force.
‘He was my first, you know. My favourite.’ Doctor Demonicus’ voice is calmer now, almost conversational. ‘I’ve been adding to him ever since. Praetorian is my masterpiece.’ Praetorian lifts Tommy off the floor and brings him eye to eye. A low, guttural growl emanates from its faceplate. Slowly it increases the force of its grip until Tommy’s head starts to fold in on itself with metallic squeaks and pops.
Suddenly time freezes. The massive robot’s head is enveloped by a beam of laser light and vaporised. Too massive to fall, the headless robot dies on his feet. Tommy works himself loose from the dead guardian’s grip and both he and Doctor Demonicus stare dumbfounded at Autonomy Jones.
She stands in the door opening carrying with both arms a canon she tore off one of her unlucky enemies. Wires from the weapon have been attached to her computer pack and the muzzle of the gun gives off a bright-red heat glow.
‘Pick up your jaw, sugar. Let’s wrap this up and claim our bounty. I need a shower.’
Tommy turns towards Doctor Demonicus, who is trying to disappear into his chair, wordless with dread.
‘My synthetic brain calculates a 99% probability you will be in extreme pain within 10 seconds.’