Ghost in the Machine
by Mere (mbmincey at hotmail.com)
Dwayne sat at the comm station, still decked in his
flightsuit, frowning slightly as Slate reported on the probe that
Rusty had found buzzing around outside the Dark Horse last
night. It was relatively small, spherical, and single-eyed. Stealthy
enough not to have caught attention unless you had boy robots flying
about the ship, and controlled by a remote link somewhere. It was
enough to get all the little hairs on his neck to stand on end.
"I can't tell you anything you don't already know. It has
parts manufactured by both Quark and Itsubishi, but all the serial
numbers have been scratched out. They could have bought the material
"What about its CPU?"
"That's going to take time. It has some very complicated
Dwayne's frown deepened and he sunk further into his chair.
"You sure you don't want me to come down there? I'm no super genius
but I'm good for a few other things."
Slate grinned at him. "So I've noticed. No need, though. Just
give me some more time."
He sighed, for a moment allowing his exhaustion to show. That
was five days in a row he'd been sent on a call; each one was just
as long and grueling, and now this. Just great. "Thanks, Doc. We
"Take care, Lieutenant. Be careful."
He smiled ruefully. "Careful? What's that?"
Slate rolled her eyes. "I don't know which of you is worse."
She ended the transmission and Dwayne, being too lazy to get
up, rolled his chair over to the Comm station and closed the line.
Wisecracks and towel snapping aside, this was very serious business.
For the time being though it was watch and wait and he positively
hated that. Better to act than react.
"Aw, don't worry, Lieutenant," Mack said, coming up behind
and smirking down at him. "I still think you're cute."
"Thanks so much. Don't you have a plasma distributor to
Mack clicked his heels and saluted. "All done fer the day,
sir. Recommend a Miller Time, sir."
Mack became serious for a moment, leaning against one of the
consoles as he studied the diagram on screen. "Any guesses who sent
the droid? Looks a lot like Legion hardware."
"The Legion was destroyed."
"Still one out there, Chief."
Like it could possibly slip his mind. Number Seven was still
unaccounted for, but One had been certain he was the last of them,
so it was possible Seven wasn't even operational. Yeah, assuming his
luck changed. "Maybe, but it could be anybody who can put a robot
He stretched, joints popping audibly and bruised muscle
starting to ache. The adrenaline had finally worn off. *All I need
is a shower, three weeks of sleep, and a blood transfusion. Then
I'll be right as rain again.*
"They just keep right on comin', don't they?"
Mack quirked an eyebrow at him. "_They?_"
"The bad guys." Whoever it was, he wasn't going to be happy
until that little mystery was solved. Well, if you could call that
"Well, I say bring it on!" Jo crowed, walking up to the
station. "We can handle anything they can dish out!"
"Whaddya mean 'we'? I didn't see your tuckus get charbroiled
"With all due respect, sir?" The sir was dripping with
sarcasm and she blew a big raspberry at him. That's what he got for
spoiling her too much. "You'd be nothin' without us, Spit Curl Lad,
so don't start getting too big for your britches."
He grinned. "You're right, Jo. Where would I be with out my
"Dead..." Mack said.
"Burnt to a crisp..." Jo added.
"Blown to bits..."
"And that's just today!"
Dwayne buried his face in his hand. "For chrissakes guys, I
didn't need a list." He sighed, looking up at them again. "But
seriously, I think at this point it's too soon to conveniently file
it under Legion Ex Machina."
Mack thumbed at the diagram. "Think they'll beef up security?"
"Anymore than they already have?" Jo asked. "Place is tighter
than Fort Knox, thanks to RoboDwayne." Lord, she just had to go and
mention that. "Quit being abducted, Lieutenant."
Dwayne heaved himself up with a grunt, reluctant to get out
of his chair. It was inevitable, though. He had to give Big Guy a
shakedown flight and make sure everything was in working order.
"How's about we do a few laps around the ship, then close shop for
"Sounds good to me." Mack said.
Dwayne retrieved his helmet off the console, making his way
back to Big Guy's maintenance chair, when Jo caught up with him as
they walked. "You sure you don't want me to do that?"
"Why?" He was genuinely surprised by the question. Sure she
complained about not getting any seat time since she was the third
in Command, but she suddenly seemed concerned.
"You know you don't have to pull that macho stuff with
"I don't follow you."
She grinned at him, lowering her voice like it was some big
conspiracy. "I know you like to impress Dr. Slate and all, but you
just got blown up, beat down, and shot at a mere five hours ago."
"So? Someone's trying to whack me all the time. And I'm not
trying to 'impress' anybody."
"Suuuurrreee. Whatever ya say, stud."
He reached the steps of the maintenance chair, pushing his
head through the thick padding of his helmet, and clasping the
chinstrap so that it stayed snuggly in place. Why was everyone
picking on him today? Jo, Mack, bloodthirsty aliens.... He gave Jo
his most charming, frisky smile. "Always trying to pair me off.
Don't you know you're the only girl for me? Look at you," He looked
her up and down, knowing somewhere under all that grunge and oil was
Jo. "All greasy in your cute little overalls. I mean woof!"
"You're such a weirdo."
"Oh c'mon, spin for Daddy."
She snorted and pointed authoritatively at Big Guy. "Back in
the can, hambone." Dwayne chuckled to himself as he went up the
steps to Big Guy's hatch.
"Whatever the lady says. No need to twist my arm about it...."
He entered the pass code, Big Guy's cockpit opened, and
Dwayne looked back towards Mack at the Command Station with his
headset on, ready to receive communications. Mack gave him the
thumbs up to let him know everything was set and he climbed in,
sliding into the pilot's seat. It still smelled of burnt wire from
when the systems overloaded. Yes, very, very lucky today. He
strapped himself in and pushed the seat forward, the hatch doors
closing shut behind him.
Maybe he shouldn't have brushed the Doc off like he had. She
had seemed kind of pissed when she signed off. He sometimes forgot
she didn't share their gallows humor. After all, joking about it was
better than thinking about it. Dwayne pushed it aside, remembering
that he had a job to do.
*Quit thinking about her too much.*
*It! Quit thinking about IT too much. Oh hell, you know what
you mean, ya idiot. You're talking to yourself! Damn, blankity blank
Pit Crew, puttin' ideas in your head. Now pay attention.*
Power core back on-line, navigational systems. After all
these years he could go through his checklist without even thinking
about it as Big Guy came to life again. Propulsion.... Of course it
was better to pay attention to such things, but being in such a big
hurry didn't allow much for that. He opened his comm link to Mack.
"All systems back online. How am I doing?"
"Everything's good from where I'm sittin'. Green lights
across the board. Power core levels at eighty-two and climbing."
"Roger." Dwayne pulled the cyclic control stick forward, the
sound of Big Guy's massive hind and knee servos making the exo-suit
stand all ten feet high. The familiar vibration felt beneath his
feet even through the thick leather soles of his boots. That was
pure, raw power right there. Too bad the same feeling didn't
translate outside of the suit. "Command grid's at...." Now that
couldn't be right. "Huh. I need a confirma--"
He stopped when a silvery substance dripped down on to his
forearm and instinctively he pulled his arm back. "What the,,,?" It
rolled down the side of his arm, leaving a fluorescent glow where it
had touched him, and he looked up at the top of the cockpit. The same
stuff was starting to seep through the panels and fall to the floor.
And it was oozing out of the floor panels to double his pleasure.
First came a swell of panic, then the realization he didn't
have time for that. Dwayne quickly undid his restraints as this
metal ooze began to fill the cockpit, from both above and below. "I
think I'm in trouble here!" Mack didn't respond. Or couldn't.
He reached for the ejection handle, but a tendril shot up
instantly and grabbed his wrist. Dwayne let out a yelp both in
surprise and because the thing was squeezing his wrist hard enough
to make something pop. It looked like mercury, metallic, shiny, and
fluid. It gripped his arms and legs, and the more he fought it the
tighter it held onto him, wrapping around his waist and rib cage,
squeezing him until he could hardly breathe. Now was the
time to panic.
"Dwayne?" Jo! He could hear her on Big Guy's audio system.
"You all right in there?"
"No!" Dwayne gasped. He was jerked back into the pilot's
seat, the liquid metal binding him to it.
That was Big Guy. That was Big Guy speaking and he wasn't
"Relax and be replaced."
Well, crap. I'll probably never be happy with it but I
figured I'd show it to you guys anyway. If you want more there is
On to Part 3!
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