Damaged Goods

Chapter 1

by Dr. Seth

CHAPTER 1: MONSTER MASH!

The next morning, Dr. Slate arrived at her usual time, 8 am, but let Rusty stay in power down mode till ten, trying to compensate for the two hours he spent fighting the inevitable. She flicked him on, and couldnít help smiling at the charming whirring and humming noises his system made as it performed its internal diagnostics.

"Ready and rariní to go!" he beamed, in a rather vacant way. She had simply programmed him to automatically say that as he came to life if all systems were fully functional. As soon as that process had ended, his face dramatically became somber, and he shot forward, throwing his arms around her neck.

"Mommy!" he shrieked, his little gloved hands worming about in her hair. She felt a little silly when he called her that, and she tried to get him to keep it to a minimum, for when he was sure he needed maternal care. She didnít want people to think she had created a metal baby to compensate for her (eternally frustrating to everyone else except for her) single status. She wondered what had him so wound up already.

"I had a bad dream." He shivered.

She blinked.

"A bad dream?" She paused. "Rusty, robots donít dream."

"But I did," he insisted.

"Rusty, you canít have dreams. You see, when youíre in power down, most of your processes stop. You have a small link to my little remote control so I can monitor you, but none of your processors or any other part of you that has the ability to Ďthinkí is turned on...." She trailed off. Rusty could process data like a regular robot, but the part of him that had to think and the ability to create worked as slow as any human, thanks to the wiring for the emotion grid. He had to function, at least on some levels mentally, as a human. She eyed him suspiciously. Was this truly happening? What would really be happening inside his head if he could really, truly dream? What did this mean for the emotion grid?

"Dreams happen when youíre asleep, right? Theyíre like movies in your head, when you sleep! I saw it, in my mind!" he continued, describing his dream, hugging Dr. Slate closely. "I dreamed about this bad train, it came out of the sky, and the guy who was driving it had a face made outta rotten meat! He had a puppet for a hand that said bad words, and he made bees in his eyes!" he seemed to want to sob, but that was a function he hadnít had built in. "At first," he went on, wavering, "I thought the bees were sorta nice, cuz they were really really big, for bees, and they were furry, too, like big bee kitties. When I petted them, though, they got really heavy, and they all sat on me ní started feeding me this honey that had bad words in it. They were like regular words, but they had gone bad, ní they made bad sentences in my head! Then, I wanted to wake up so bad, but you wouldnít turn me on, so I was stuck in my dream. I was screaming and screaming for you to turn me back on, so I could get out, but you werenít there, and you couldnít hear me anyways, cuz I was in my dream...." He burrowed his face in her neck.

Dr. Slateís eyes narrowed in skepticism. She grabbed Rusty squarely by the shoulders and yanked him away from her.

"Listen, when people dream, they donít realize theyíre dreaming. Youíve been surfing on markryden.com again, and you know how that Ďmeat maní picture scares you!" she said firmly, staring him straight in his eyes, which widened with the fear that she didnít believe him.

"But..but..but the..." he sputtered.

"No buts! Are you just making stuff up to get attention? You know that Iím very busy, and I canít always give you all of the attention you want! This is not the way to go about it, either," she stated, flustered. " I want you to go straight down the hall and give me one hundred rounds in target practice, understood?" she pointed a strict finger at the door. Rustyís face, body, his whole demeanor crumpled.

"Yes, Dr. Slate," he muttered as he slid off his 'bed'. She felt pangs of pity shoot through her for having to play the bad guy as she watched him dejectedly shuffle off to target practice.

"Rusty...." she called after him softly. He looked up at her with rather pitiful photoelectric eyes. "Look, I know Iíve been really busy lately, but I promise you that as soon as I finish here with work, if the museum is still open, weíll go visit Big Guy."

"Really?" She could see his disposition immediately brighten with the prospect of the one thing heíd been longing to do since he found out about the Big Guy. "All right! Iíll be extra good today, I promise! And then when we go see Big Guy, heíll give me pointers, so I can be the best robot ever, just like him! Ooh! I wonder which poster I should get him to autograph...."

"Donít forget target practice," she reminded him. He nodded and happily zipped off. She felt a little better for having made him at least a little happier, but she still felt a little disappointed that the dream he proposed to have had was simply another invention for attention. Anyway, she shouldnít have been that disappointed; after all, the physical implications that would have to be present to allow him to dream were impossible! Well, she thought, if she was going to keep that promise to Rusty about the museum, she would have to get to work!

****************************************

Duane couldnít believe he had slept in so late! He breathed deeply of the fresh forest air and listened to the peaceful small sounds of the woods, which he credited with helping him snooze till 9 am, the latest he had ever slept in the past few years. Why, by the time he had driven from his secluded rented cabin to the bait shop, then to the boat rental place, and back, it was already eleven! He had his doubts about the trout as he fit some bait onto his hook and cast the line from his old fishing pole into the crystal-clear river. His old pole was about as ancient as the civvies he had on -- they both predated his enlistment into the Air Force. Nothing but wholesome relaxation for a complete week, and then he could worry about the rest of his life.

"Take some time off, relax a little, then weíll talk." Those were General Thorntonís orders. The first real time off heíd had in nearly 10 years and then -- well, then heíd think about retirement. His Pit Crew was already prematurely sad -- they acted so serious when heíd left for his vacation. The way they were hugging and getting all misty-eyed, he had to remind them he wasnít leaving permanently just yet. Heíd be back in a week, and then they would give their goodbyes. His little family would scatter.

At least they got public recognition, and would probably have no trouble at all getting better jobs. He himself had been offered several higher ranks if he wished to continue his military life, but truthfully, even though there was nowhere else for him to go, heíd considered retiring early. The Big Guy lifestyle was a wild and unforgiving one, and it had definitely left its mark on him, within and without. He leaned over the side of the boat a little and studied his reflection in the water. He really didnít look at his face much -- unlike the rest of his body, which he was forced to look at in its scarred, burned, and bruised condition. When the guy at the bait shop asked what had happened, he told him a tank had flattened him. That was the usual excuse. Run over by a tank, or sucked through a jet engine.

He sort of wished he could dance around on his tiptoes with his fingers jabbing at the air singing, "I got all uglied up by saving your precious asses, now gimme free bait/soda/ice cream/oil changes/etc.!" There was another thing that the last few years had taken away from him as well. His social inability was just a side effect from being so isolated from the regular world, and it didnít show as openly as his face. He had a hard time just functioning in simple ways, and other peopleís everyday routines felt awkward. Wasnít the fact that he had slept better in his expansive cabinís claustrophobic closet than the lavish bed proof enough?

Ah well, he wasnít sure how long he would have to enjoy this serene solitude, away from his strange routines and away from curious eyes. He was incredibly nonplussed by Rusty, and he figured sooner or later, he would probably have to be (ugh!) re-commissioned to pull his adorable little butt outta the fire. The kid may have been built for this kind of work physically, and he was sort of glad they could finally come up with an artificially intelligent robot; but this emotion grid was going to royally muck things up, and he was definitely the expert on that.

The problem was, the public had a hard time trusting anything if it wasnít remotely human, like vain gods making things in their image and likenesses. He recalled the great fervor and protests against the Big Guy when that first came out, because they thought a robot that couldnít "feel" would eventually hurt them, or something along those lines. They had unknowingly cursed Rusty with humanity, thinking it would better serve them. It was a terrible thing to have in this line of work. He was glad to be distracted by the tugging of his lure, signaling what he hoped would be a good catch.

***************************************

Back on the U.S.S. Dark Horse, the pit crew solemnly went through their former work area, cleaning and disassembling their old lives away.

"It sure is gonna be lonesome without olí Assface* around...." Jo remarked. (* Donít worry, this will be explained later...hee hee hee.)

"Well, I find it awfully convenient that he just happened to go on vacation all of the sudden, leaving us with all the dirty work," Mack grumbled.

"Give him a break. He deserves it," Garth interjected. "Besides, heís coming back in a week, and I doubt we can get even half of this stuff loaded and shipped by then. Iím sure heíll be willing to help." They labored silently for a few minutes, considering how each of them probably took Duane for granted, even though they all owed him their lives.

"So, what are you planning to do with your life after this?" Jo asked, breaking the silence.

"I dunno. Thereís not too many places an old codger like myself can go to...Maybe Iíll just stay on the Dark Horse and become a regular plane mechanic again...." Mack said.

"I..!" Garth started a sentence, then stopped, cleared his throat, and fumbled. Mack elbowed him harshly. "I mean, I ..I.." he stuttered incoherently.

"Yeah, youíll what?" Jo asked without turning from her task.

"What Iím saying is that...I...." Garth struggled again with his pent-up sentence. Mack shoved him out closer to Jo, but Garth still remained silent, looking pleadingly back at the old man. Mack rolled his eyes.

"Uh, Iím going to the can. So, Iíll leave you two alone. Yeah," Mack announced, rather gracelessly. Garth chewed his lip anxiously at this statement.

"Okay...all right...." Garth peptalked to himself under his breath, then gathered all of his courage. "Jo, what I want to do with the rest of my life --"

Suddenly, his grand declaration was cut short by a familiar klaxon. The giant Big Guy computer was blaring deafeningly and broadcasting images of Earthís newest threat -- somewhere in rural New Tronic territory, a giant space monster (boy, that was a crappy description!) had crash-landed and was now ripping its way through the country side, city-bound!

"Well, whaddaya know!" Jo proclaimed. "Huh. I guess they havenít shut off our satellite systems yet." As she turned her attention towards the giant monitor, Garth deflated in defeat. Mack ran back into the room, as if he had been just on the other side of the door.

"Whatís going on?" He stared at the giant screen before him.

"Just another day in New Tronic." Garth folded his arms over his chest. "Let's see if that little pipsqueak can do his job."

*******************************************

Dr. Slate waited nervously at the end of the procession that flanked Rusty. He walked through the two rows of scientists and Army officers, gazing up at them curiously. He stopped when he got to the platform where General Thornton, Dr. Donovan and Dr. Slate were all waiting and faced Dr. Slate.

"Wow! Lookit how many people came out to see me!" he grinned proudly. She knelt and took his tiny hands in hers.

"Yes, Rusty, this is a really big deal, and I know youíll do fine, so donít be nervous, ok?" She was more trying to reassure herself since he seemed perfectly peppy and not the least bit afraid.

"Thanks, Dr. Slate!" he gave her a quick hug. He politely saluted the General, as he had seen the other Army people do, then quickly ran down the runway. "Power up, blast off!" he proclaimed as he took to the air. Dr. Slate watched worriedly till he was just a small speck in the sky.

"This had better work, Slate." Dr. Donovan hissed a warning.

"This canít fail. Rusty has the best weapons system available. He should be able to easily accomplish this mission, if everything you promised us is true, Dr. Donovan," General Thornton asserted.

"Yessir, General, the best weapon money can buy!" Dr. Donovan smiled tensely.

Heís not just a weapon, Dr. Slate thought sourly, heís a little boy, too. And then, the phrase came back to repeat itself over and over again, like a song lodged in her brain. He was right, he was right, he was right!

************************************

How insulting! As if it wasnít offensive enough that all he had caught after four hours of fishing was a boot, to top it off he had caught its twin. Mumbling obscenities to himself, Duane wound his line around the fishing pole. As he was disengaging the hook from the line (and making a bloody mess of his thumb in the process) he heard a familiar sound -- a sound he tried desperately to ignore. As it got closer and closer, he couldnít disregard it any further and looked aloft. The trees softly rustled as it approached, and soon he was standing in the shadow of the Legend One. It seemed he had even less time off than he had wagered.

***********************************

"Slate!" Donovan screamed. "Next time you consider downloading the little engine that could into a weapon of mass destruction, DON"T!"

She was too concerned about Rusty to even begin to be angry that Donovan was really the one who suggested "downloading the little engine that could into a weapon of mass destruction". Sure, Rusty could take a megaton of punishment, but from the news cameraís point of view, she couldnít gauge if that much damage had been sustained. She watched the continuous replay of Rustyís squishing over and over again on the news, not hearing the sarcastic commentary from the anchors, wondering if her lifeís work had been destroyed along with her entire career.

"Well, well, well." General Thornton rose from his spot on the couch next to Donovan. "It looks like weíll have to re-commission the Big Guy after all." He brusquely nodded at the image on the big screen T.V. they had been watching.

"Um....Donít know how possible that is, to tell the truth...." Donovanís voice trailed off guiltily.

"What?!" Gen. Thornton fumed. "What the hell are you suggesting, Dr. Donovan!?"

"Uh, well, I ...We...Sorta....." Donovanís voice faded and grew squeaky with his shame. He took a big breath. "We disposed of the power core."

"YOU WHAT?!?" Gen. Thorntonís forehead veins pulsed against his taut red skin in anger. Ewwww....Just as Dr. Slate was about to relish the sight of Gen. Thornton eating Donovan for breakfast, the doors to the screening room squealed open. Rusty casually walked in, a gigantic indentation on his melon.

"Hiya!" he waved cheerfully. "Just checking in before round two!" Dr. Slate rushed to his side, caressing his 'wound'. After popping open his head to examine the wiring, she breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that it was only superficial damage. "No pain receptors!" he reassured her. He quickly saluted the General, who wasnít all that happy to see him. "Hi, General Thornton! Sorry about that minor setback. Iíll have everything back to A-OK in two twitches of a defective robotís malfunctioning limb!" he beamed. He suddenly noticed Jenny sitting on the arm of the couch, and his hand shot from his forehead to pet her. "Pretty monkey!" he said, happy that she was finally within reach! She was always perched on mean olí Donovanís shoulder, and he could never pet her. Finally, he had his chance! He couldnít feel what her fur was like, nor did he feel the quick bite she gave his finger.

"Ooh, ooh, ah, ah!" she cynically said, scampering back onto Donovan. Suddenly hearing his name on the T.V., he turned to find a badly rendered computerized image of himself flying over a mock animated New Tronic City.

"Iím on T. V.!" he smiled, turning his attention to the television.

"Quark promised us a new and better alternative to the Big Guy. Letís hope this --" the scene changed to one of him being humiliatingly clapped between the monsterís gargantuan hands and pitching to the ground "-- wasnít it." Rusty shrunk in dishonor. "In the meantime, citizens are praying for the recovery of their tried-and-true savior, the Big Guy, who lies disassembled somewhere within these museum walls." The announcer gestured to the building behind him, sporting Big Guy banners. Suddenly, the monster breached over the top of the building. It wasnít quite clear what happened next, as the cameraman ditched the camera on the ground, and the last scenes were of the anchor and the camera man running to a nearby helicopter as rocks fell from the monsterís off-screen attack. Rusty gasped in horror.

"No!" he quickly cried.

"Rusty?" Dr. Slate stared at the little panicking robot, but before she could do anything else, he smashed a hole through the wall and flew off in the direction of the museum.

*******************************************

"Lemme guess," Duane sardonically began, "Quarkís new toy screwed up and they want me to kiss it ní make it all better?" He crossed his arms and pressed his back against the comfy human-sized seats on the inside of the rocket with a bitter expression on his face.

"Yeah, you shoulda seen it! Ugly fella, Ďbout 30 stories at least, and the kid flies right up to it, absolutely no fear! Then, boom!" Mack clapped his hands together to aid his description. "Total K.O.!"

"And technically..." Jo brought out a familiar crate. "They didnít ask for you. But, come on! This is obviously a job for the Big Guy!" She gave a mischievous grin as she opened the special crate containing the cobalt thorium-G power core nestled in its protective casing. Duane raised his eyebrow-and-a-half with surprise at his crewís sneaky resourcefulness and foresight.

"Whew! Look at this place! Itís a freakiní war zone!" Garth called from the human-sized cockpit. Duane peered over Garthís shoulder and saw New Tronic City, in partial ruins. The monster had already made its way past the museum, so it shouldnít disturb them while they recovered Big Guy. He smirked as he saw the monsterís acidic vomitís effect on the streets and buildings and thought about how Dr. Slate had disliked Big Guyís tactics and blamed him for the bad traffic, when it was obvious that Big Guy could have prevented most of this! If he ever found out what kind of car she drove, maybe he would have Big Guy 'accidentally' sit on it. Then heíd show her some bad traffic!

"Iím going to maneuver this thing right down the street and up to the museum," Garth said as he descended the rocket neatly between the buildings. Duane took his place in the co-pilotís seat to supervise, as Mack and Jo scrambled to get the forklifts and other equipment stored in the back of the vehicle. As they approached the museum, which was practically half destroyed, he noticed a little red car parked near the steps. That wasnít so odd, considering the street was lined with abandoned vehicles, but then, as the ship came to a halt, he could see Dr. Slate and her irksome little creation standing among the debris.

********************************************

The tracer turned out to be useless, for her hunch proved correct. She drove up to the half-wrecked museum and slammed her car into park. She saw Rusty sifting through the slabs of damaged concrete, calling pitifully for his idol, and she began making her way towards her forlorn creation.

"Bi-I-I---g G-u-u-u---y!!" Being a robot, Rusty didnít use air to breathe, and in turn, speak, so when he found himself extremely overwhelmed by sorrow, his voice didnít quiver like a humanís did; it sounded like speakers shorting out. As he stood immobilized by immense misery, Dr. Slateís hand touched his shoulder. He jumped, startled.

"Dr. Slate!" At first he was relieved, but soon his shame and guilt showed openly again. "Whatíre you doing here?"

"I.....came to see if you were all right...What are you doing out here? You canít bring Big Guy back by yourself, you know, and itís very dangerous!" She concernedly dropped to her knees and held him fast by the hand.

"So what?! I deserve to get smashed by that monster! Iím nothing but a crummy hunk of junk, and the only thing Iím good for is trying to bring back Big Guy! Heíll save everybody, since Iím too stupid to do that on my own...." he mock-snuffled, in his cutely robotic way, trying weakly to twist out of her grasp.

"If you could just realize that youíre a pretty darned good robot, you could go right back out and fight that monster all by yourself...We donít need Big Guy any more because we built you, and youíre ten times better than he was! The only thing holding you back is yourself!" She was more and more perturbed by the emotion grid -- without it, he simply would have jumped back in the fray instead of milling about in self-pity and depression. That, in truth, was the only thing preventing him from successfully completing his mission. Hesitant, she considered her next option.

"Rusty." She swallowed down a hard lump that had come to perch in her throat. "I could take out your emotion grid, and you wouldnít feel bad anymore. You can be just like Big Guy. If youíre not distracted by your grief, youíll be more fully able to utilize your purely logical side to destroy the enemy...." At this, Rusty grew more and more agitated. She knew he was devastated by the thought of no longer being able to feel, and this simply fueled her inclination to yank out the emotion grid by force, to rid him of this suffering. Suddenly, Rusty cried out in elation.

"Big Guy!" he pointed excitedly behind Dr. Slate. As she stood and turned, she couldnít believe what she was seeing -- Big Guyís rocket, the Legend One, was descending through the buildings. They both stood in awe. It came to a halt, and the ramp opened onto the street at the base of the museum. Their anticipation was dampened when there emerged no towering savior, but a cute freckled blonde riding a gigantic forklift. Two men followed her, one clutching a strange sort of suitcase and the other engrossed in some kind of device that was beeping furiously.

"Getting closer...." the one with the device mentioned, charging up the stairs. At his command, the blonde heaved the forklift up the steps, giving Rusty and Dr. Slate a sneer as she passed them.

"Whatís going on?" Rusty asked animatedly.

"Weíre bringing the Big Guy back, kid," grunted the old man hauling the suitcase.

"You better clear out, maíam," the one with the device suggested curtly, staring at Rusty disapprovingly. The forklift had cleared away the debris blocking the entrance and had plowed down the door. Dr. Slate and Rusty watched all three disappear into the museum. Just as they were about to follow, a familiar voice stopped them dead in their tracks.

"And just where do you think youíre going?" At the sound of this voice, Rusty immediately resumed his hiding space behind Dr. Slateís coat as she turned to face that vexing lieutenant once more as he ascended the stairs.

"We were about to offer our services to aid you in your reassembly of Big Guy," she briskly said through a mouth that twisted in anger. She noticed that this time, instead of wearing a regular kind of uniform, he had on a strange sort of flight suit.

"I donít think thereís very much we need you for here. You should both get back to Quark, where youíll be safer. This is no place for the likes of you." He shot a stern glance at both of them that simply peeved her beyond reason. He smirked a little as his eyes roved over the gigantic dent in Rustyís head. Suddenly, the female forklift operator rushed to join them.

"Hey, boss," she began, ignoring Rusty and Dr. Slate "Looks like they havenít even broke him outta the crates, and theyíre all down in the basement. Now, that makes it easier to transport, but hereís the real problem: if we haul him back to base and reassemble him there, thatís going to be a little over an hour, not counting the flight back. But while we were in the basement, we saw some winches and stuff that might could take that kind of strain, not to mention the stuff we brought with us. So if we take the risk and assemble him here, we could probably get our 25-minute-job done." She bit her lip as force of habit and waited for his reply. He seemed to consider this for a few seconds, then gave the go ahead to begin assembly in the basement of the museum. Dr. Slate found this no time to quarrel, and offered her help.

"If itís of any help, Iím a roboticist, and I can help you construct the robot." She straightened.

"And I can help too!" Rusty shot up to adult eye level where he hovered insistently. "I can lift heavy things and stuff!" he exclaimed. Lt. Hunter looked at them both with slight humor in his eyes and gave his reply.

"No. I donít think so."

"I beg to differ, if you donít think-"

"But , Big Guy needs me! Iím his biggest fan and I-"

He silenced their protesting cacophony with a sharp, clean laugh.

"Look, these arenít my orders; they come straight from Uncle Sam. No one but the official, licensed mechanics are allowed to work on him. Itís top secret stuff." He turned to join his crew in the museum. Dr. Slate pursed her lips, finding it futile to argue the point further and tremendously frustrated. But Rusty hadnít gleaned this and continued to press his case, zipping straight into Lt. Hunterís path.

"I wanna help!" he insisted loudly.

"All right, kid, you wanna help? Iíll show you how you can help." He placed his hand on the back of his Rustyís head and directed him straight over to Dr. Slate again. Rusty looked up at him attentively and awaited his orders.

"You know the Three Laws, as any good robot should. Rule number one, a robot may not injure a human being, nor through inaction allow a human being to come to harm. Rule number two, a robot must obey the orders given to it by a human being, except for such orders that would conflict with the first law. Rule number three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection doesnít conflict with the first or second law. Thusly, youíre going to take Dr. Slate back to Quark." Finished, he realized Rusty was staring at him in a puzzled manner.

"Rusty... has a hard time with more complex wording...." Dr. Slate admitted embarrassedly, feeling like the proud parent of an idiot. His face wrinkled in disgust, and the exposed flesh of his eye quivered.

"Fine. Let me break it down for you, kiddo." He knelt on one knee and stared straight into Rustyís eyes. "Rule number one, robots never hurt humans, either on purpose, or by not doing anything to prevent a human from getting hurt." He jabbed one finger in the air. "Rule two," the first finger was joined by a second, "robots do everything a human orders them to do, except when a human orders a robot to hurt another human. Rule three," a final finger joined the rest, "robots donít let themselves get hurt, except when they need to protect a human. Is that clear?" Rusty slowly nodded. "All right, then." His voice suddenly took a more commanding quality to it and he rose to his full height (a pathetic 5"1í,though seeming like an imposing tower with his domination), bending slightly to be face to face with the little robot. "I order you to take Dr. Slate back to Quark so both of you wonít get hurt. Do I make myself clear?" he barked in his best drill sergeant voice.

"But...." Rusty began a weak protest, to no avail.

"Do you want to hurt Dr. Slate and get yourself scrapped? Are you a defect or something, son? Whatís wrong with your programming?" He jabbed a finger into Rustyís metal forehead. "Canít you follow the three laws of robotics?!" Dr. Slate, too, wanted to object to the harsh tone he was using, but had to admit she was rooted to the spot with the great command and presence he suddenly demonstrated.

"Yessir!" Rusty squeaked, and before Dr. Slate could disagree, he turned around, grabbed her by the thighs and flung her over his shoulder. "Powerupblastoff!" he quickly gave his trademark yelp and rocketed off. From Dr. Slateís inconvenient position, she saw that cocky military bastard grinning from ear to ear.

Lt. Hunter couldnít help it, after all -- she just looked so darn cute on Rustyís shoulder like that, her face scrunched in anger and her fists balling tightly. He gave her a quick salute before hurriedly joining the pit crew in the museum.

**************************************

After Rusty had finally calmed down, he and Dr. Slate made their way to the helipad on Quarkís roof to see what had become of New Tronic. Dr. Donovan was already up there, and Donovan had brought out his extremely faulty and stupidly clumsy green, yellow, and blue robots, named X, Y and Z.

"Engage the enemy!" he commanded them. They milled about, as usual, and eventually devolved into overgrown rockemí sockemí robots, decapitating and wrestling with each other uselessly. Dr. Slate smoldered with the thought that so many projects had been crushed so that these things could continue their money-eating pointless existences. Rusty turned to her, determined.

"If I donít go out there and help Big Guy, Iíll be breaking rule number one! Iíve got to do my part to help save humans ní stuff!" His small fists clenched in resolve. Dr. Slate was glad he had been inspired once more to perform his function.

"Be careful!" she couldnít help adding, right before he flew off to fight. In truth, she was less frightened of the monster and more worried of the Big Guyís reaction to Rusty. The BGY 11, after all, was purely robotic, and more automatically followed the Three Laws. If it saw that Rustyís inexperience was a hindrance to its own existence, it would most likely destroy him, as it was programmed to protect humans, and not robots. Also, the Big Guy had no emotion grid, and thus did not feel anything for Rusty, unlike the little robotís huge affection for his idol, and she wondered how this would affect his perceptions. She marched down to her lab to watch Rustyís video relay.

*************************************************

Duane swiveled into the cockpit and turned his machine on. After the few seconds it took to run its internal systems check, he gave the thumbs up to his crew, and suggested they get back in the rocket to avoid any injury. Just as they were all walking out, they saw the monster had returned to the vicinity, curiously inspecting the rocket.

"You wanna break open the piŮata? Let me get you some candy!" Big Guy exclaimed, flying into the Legend One. The pit crew scampered back into the safety of the museum and watched from the windows as Big Guy re-emerged, holding a giant nuke in each hand. As soon as the monster roared in protest at this new nuisance, Big Guy threw the bombs down its craw. It took a few moments before the bombs exploded, and when they did, they left a giant aperture in its abdomen. It staggered back, felled by the blows. Inside, Duane breathed a sigh of relief; it looked like this might be an easy fight. Just as he was about to gather more nukes to finish the job, its cavity instantaneously healed, and the monster reared anew with fresh anger. Duane cursed to himself as he performed evasive maneuvers. Suddenly, a familiar figure rose to his side.

"Big Guy! Itís me! Your biggest fan...I mean, um, Iím here to help!" The little boy robot tried to muster his most serious tone. Big Guy was unimpressed.

"Kid, get outta here before you get yourself hurt!" he bellowed. At that point, the monster had chosen to fling a gob of acidic vomit at them, and Big Guy threw Rusty out of harmís way, taking the damage to his arm. Duane grimaced as he crashed down on the pavement, realizing his suitís arm was being eaten away.

"Sometimes a soldier has to say farewell to arms!" Big Guy quipped, throwing the compromised equipment to the curb. Duane hurriedly considered all of his options. He decided what was best for now was to simply keep attacking it until he found a weak spot. As he was blasting everything his left elbow held at the beast, Rusty once again zipped to his side, undaunted.

"Iíll zap him with my nucleo-protonic beam...thingy!" Rusty offered, his fingers aiming at the behemoth.

"Nucleo-protons?" Duane muttered, turning momentarily to see what exactly that meant. Rustyís fingers glowed green, then shot similar colored rays out with such force that he was rocketed back into a light post. As he lay stunned in the crevice he produced, the light post fell onto him. To make matters worse, his beam had gone cockeyed, and it had taken out part of a building, which also crashed down onto him.

"For the luvva Mike!" Big Guy muttered. "The kidís his own worst enemy!" As he immediately turned his attention back to the monster, it seemed to be in anguish. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that it had been damaged by part of the nucleo-protonic beam that had hit it. The sizzling wound it had left didnít instantly heal and made the monster even more enraged, and it vomited more acid, which Big Guy deflected by plunging his good arm into a car and using it as a shield.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why insurance in New Tronic is so damn high!" Duane smirked to himself. He looked to the pile of rubble where Rusty had crawled out of, and engaged the x-ray cameras. "Kidís loaded all right!" he said to himself, realizing what an immense nucleo-protonic arsenal Rusty possessed. A shame he used it so poorly, considering the emotion gridís interference. Then he noticed something entirely beneficial to the situation -- Rusty had ports in the bottoms of his legs that would easily interface with the weapons drive in his exposed arm socket....

Dr. Slate watched from the monitor in her laboratory in horror. Here came the moment she dreaded.... From Rustyís video relay, she saw him claw his way out of the mess he had made out of the building in his inexperienced use of his weapons. Big Guy slowly walked over to him, and despite Rustyís half-nonsensical chatter, picked him up in his massive hand. Dr. Slate couldnít control her anguish and gripped the computer screen. She feared Big Guy would simply crush him. Suddenly, the huge robot detached Rustyís feet and plugged him into his arm. At first, Dr. Slate was confused, then once again anxious. This was definitely different. She watched in shock as Rusty became just another gun, fired like a common weapon. While this certainly was a little better than having him destroyed by his idol, this would most definitely have a negative impact. Unfortunately, Big Guy, being only a robot, couldnít possibly understand how humiliating and demeaning it must be to simply be used. She hardly felt the elation of victory as the monster was ultimately defeated, dripping and bleeding on the ground. Big Guy casually tossed Rusty to the ground, and stood mutely over him as the pit crew ran from their museum hiding place to the Legend One. Rusty happily prattled on about the exciting battle and invited Big Guy to stay with him and celebrate as he crawled to his feet nearby and reattached them. Big Guy silently walked away, and departed in his rocket, much to Rustyís displeasure.

************************************************

"I hate publicity." Duane sighed, sitting rather uncomfortably in Big Guyís cockpit. The Big Guy was forced to attend a sudden re-commissioning press conference down at the Air Force base right after the battle. At least all he had to do was fasten the levers so that Big Guy stood with his hands on his hips and move the head every once in a while as the air force band played the Star Spangled Banner, a twenty-one gun salute was fired, and a general celebration ensued. At least he wasnít suffering alone -- he could see the pit crew rather unhappily keeping to themselves in the back of the crowd.

He suddenly noticed that Dr. Slate and Rusty were also present. Rusty looked quite despondent, and Dr. Slate was seemingly trying to comfort him. He sort of felt sorry for them both; it appeared that their futures might have taken turns for the worse. Dr. Slateís much-anticipated robot turned out to be a rather expensive dud in the publicís eye, and her career might be finished. Rusty, on the other hand, might be scrapped, and he hated to see all of her brilliant artificial intelligence work go down the drain. At first, he considered that perhaps Rustyís emotion grid might be taken more as a purely scientific experiment and he might be saved from battle or the scrap heap for this merit, but he knew all too well how the world worked, and knew that it might be over for the little robot, and his intelligent creator. He thought about taking him in, but started to imagine all of the accidents Rusty would cause....He was startled out of his reverie as Gen. Thornton came on the small middle screen.

"Lt. Hunter, I admit some mistakes were made. Some very big mistakes. I donít believe I need to tell you that you are wholeheartedly re-commissioned," he said.

"General, itís an honor." It came out sounding grateful, but deep inside, Duane was rather resentful about the whole situation.

"There is one thing you must know -- you are to take on Quarkís ĎRustyí robot and train him as only you would know how. Dr. Donovan had persuaded me of his usefulness, and I think he proved himself beyond a shadow of a doubt today," the General stated with authority. Duane couldnít believe what he was hearing. "This is a new kind of technology that you are given the chance to imprint with your expert knowledge, and I think if we hold onto this project it will yield great results." The General encouraged him with a bit of flattery, but it was unnecessary, as Duane knew he had to follow orders utterly and absolutely. He was almost too chagrined to notice that the members of the press were crying for a speech. Duane felt the need to oblige them.

"For God and country, for every baby whoís gonna cut a tooth, and every kid thatís going to study hard and get a good job...For the United States of America, and every last living creature on planet Earth, I will continue to serve, protect, obey, and guard humans from harm, with everlasting honor!" A deafening cry of joy, even louder than Big Guyís booming voice, came from the ecstatic crowd. Duane rolled his eyes. He was sort of glad that everything he said, no matter if it was soaking in sarcasm, came out sounding so sincere when translated through the Big Guyís microphone. He raised the robotís arm to quiet the crowd for his next announcement, and switched on the microphone. "Couldnít relish my victory without my new partner!" Big Guy announced. He pointed at Rusty, who squirmed with glee.

"ME?!" he screamed. He looked up at Dr. Slate, who was staring at Big Guy rather warily. She turned to Rusty, and then nodded for him to go join Big Guy. Rusty ran up to him, and was plucked up by his enormous hand and placed on his shoulder.

"I donít believe it!" Rusty giggled, thrilled to the core.

"Neither do I." Big Guy replied.

On to Chapter 2!

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