Nexus and Plexus vigilantly observed the Zorgon protest. Red alert lights flashed and rotated on their heads, as the labradroids paced back and forth inside the perimeter surrounding the cylindrical lab tower.
Pale faces peered out from polycarbonate glass windows on the middle floors. Unmistakable among the scientists, the grisly visage of Rothball Hazard surveyed the scene below. The towering Frint Nono stood by his side, so big that his bulk filled the window and his head could not of course be seen.
To Hazard, this was a harmless cohort of protesters. However he was more perturbed than those around him. “What has sparked this? Why are they here with this feeble manifestation? Didn’t the Hierophant pacify them?”
Nono’s belly wobbled as he talked. “Perhaps our rendering of the Guardian has short-circuited. I told you it was too early for the reanimation test.”
“I doubt that.” He poked Nono in the stomach. “You applied too much power.” Hazard’s eyebrows bristled as if they were electric currents.
“You told me to achieve maximum kinetic effect. Besides, I don’t think exceeding the power threshold was the cause. The Guardian is nowhere to be seen among those below us.”
A junior scientist unobtrusively tapped Hazard on the shoulder and gave him a pair of binoculars. “Look, up the back, to the right, a human among them.”
Hazard impatiently grabbed the binoculars and slapped them against his eyes. Try as he might to sweep away the hair, his vision was obscured by the filaments of his bushy brows.
“Fetch me a pair of tweezers!”
In no time the assistant returned with a set of varying sizes of tweezers. Hazard chose the largest and ruthlessly plucked away. He surrendered the binoculars to Frint Nono.
“What do you see?” he said, wiping away tears.
“I can’t see anything.” Nono was too large to peer out the window and his bulk didn’t allow him to bend easily.
“Let us go and view this assemblage of good-for-nothings from the control room.” Hazard spat and marched out, trailed by the lumbering Nono.
In the control room, the Head of Settlement Security remotely commandeered one of the cameras located in the perimeter turrets. As the camera panned, a border appeared around each Zorgon face. A digital readout furnished height, width and any special status. Where was this human? They switched cameras and zoomed to the back.
Luckily for Gaston Dimble, his short stature hid him from view.
So far it had been a peaceful protest. Any thoughts of violence were quashed after one of the Zorgons breached the perimeter and was burnt to a crisp.
Dimble would have remained unnoticed if he hadn’t foolishly accepted a lift onto the shoulders of a nearby Zorgon. He couldn’t see anything at first except a lot of restless chanting heads. But this was better than a lot of restless bulging stomachs. He soon realised his mistake when one of the cameras stopped and focused on him. Imagining an eye behind the lens suddenly dilating, he quickly clambered down, panting breathlessly. Had he been spotted? Recognised?
In the control room Hazard shook his fist at the screen. “It’s that pesky Health Protector! What does he want from us? And, why is he with that rabble?”
The digital readout displayed the Professor’s defining characteristics:
Name: Associate Professor Gaston Béarnaise Dimble
Likes: Nuts, Betelgeuse Burgers
Specialisation: Ancient History
Where the database obtained this information was anybody’s guess, but it was wrong about the nuts. Of course he liked nuts. He loved everything as long as it didn’t wriggle.
Frint Nono bent each wrist and cracked his knuckles. “When I get my hands on him he’ll become a nut.”
“We can’t make our plans too obvious. What are we, pantomime villains? Nono, we must act with caution.”
Showing his appreciation of caution, Nono banged a big fist into an even bigger palm. “Where’s the other one?”
“The other what? Health Protector? Ah. Good question. Keep an eye on the screens. I’ll join Nexus and Plexus on the ground and play spot the Heath Protector.”
* * *
Mud spattered on the cockpit window as Jed navigated the hovercab through particularly damp sand clouds. He switched on the wipers, leaned back and patted his chrome-plated abdomen.
“I’ve had a few more enhancements since we last met.”
Marley raised an eyebrow.
“A new liver. The doctors say I can now drink all the strangbrew I like, as long as I’m serviced every three months.”
Marley thought he would have been better drinking Debussian tea than paying for such an expensive implant.
Jed took this as a sign of approval. “Look in my eyes.” Jed stared at Marley. His left eye became a focal lens, rotating anticlockwise.
Marley jerked back. “What off Earth is that?”
“My eye. It has everything you have in your flablet.”
Marley retrieved his flablet and tapped it twice. “The latest sports news?”
“Not quite. But it’s got a camera and overlaying gooey.”
“GUI. Graphical user interface. So I know if I’m staring at anything useful.” Jed stared at Marley.
“Am I useful?”
“The readout says: incoherent and…Nothing of interest.”
Marley was silent.
“Just joking young fella.”
Marley couldn’t be sure whether the readout had found nothing of interest or it was he who was uninteresting. He looked out the window. More was on his mind than Jed’s cybernetic enhancements. How was he going to get back into the labs? Perhaps this was going to be the end of him. He imagined writing a last will and testament. What did he have to give?
Jed’s drawl broke Marley’s reverie. “Most of all,” and he waited until he had his passenger’s full attention. “Behold, my greatest augmentation.” He flicked a switch underneath his left wrist. What was a relatively normal looking arm underwent a dramatic transformation. A rectangular panel slid out and clicked into place. Next, a 0.5” x 7.0” metal cylinder protruded from his middle finger. He pulled his little finger, like a firearm being loaded. In fact this was what he had done. “I’m armed! Haha! Ready to blow a hole through the alloy of even the hardiest battledroid.” He pointed the arm-gun at his passenger.
Marley grabbed Jed’s arm and politely moved it away.
“A cab driver can’t be too careful, got to prepare for those absconders.”
“I hope you don’t think I’m one.”
“Of course not.” Jed laughed so hard he started wheezing.
Marley placed a 30 credit voucher on the dashboard for security.
“But you’ll love this. Remember how I once lost this arm during a cab crash? No? It was a rainy day up in the clouds. Lightening buzzed, thunder shook the hull, and I badly needed to pee. So I drives a little faster than I should have, right? Well, just as I be coming to the landing zone, another cab is ascending and, would you know it, we collide. The impact sends me careering sideways and spinning. Me vehicle lands on its side and me right arm gets jammed against the door.”
“The arm with the pistol enhancement.”
“Yep. I lose all oxygen to that arm and it gets squimudgeoned as they free me from the wreckage.”
“That’s awful!” Marley was genuinely shocked.
“But all’s well that ends for the better. I now got this arm with the gun, and it rotates on its screws.” Jed took a hand off the flight-stick and wheeled his arm 360 degrees.
“Impressive,” Marley was inwardly not impressed. “Besides being able to hug yourself awkwardly, what use is that?”
“I can shoot backwards.” Jed rapidly pointed his arm-gun in all directions.
Marley instinctively ducked. He wondered where the line from human to cyborg began.
“I got me a new heart too.”
He had just crossed the line into cyborg.
Unbuttoning his vest and drawing up his shirt, Jed showed Marley a round silver dome in the middle of his torso, encircled by a blue metal strip. The dome slightly quivered to the beat of an artificial pump. Marley watched in horror as Jed peeled back a layer of skin to expose a clear window showing wires leading out of an aorta.
“Ain’t science wonderful?” he tapped the window to his heart. “And with these buttons I can increase and decrease my heart rate. A manual overdrive system, you see?” He merrily tapped away, adjusting the rate from 140 to 180 beats per minute. “Adrenaline boost!”
Without warning the transit cab entered turbulence. Jed’s finger slipped on the ‘increase’ button of his heart’o’meter, while his other hand grasped the flight stick in a desperate attempt to steady the cab.
His heart rate jumped to 240 bpm.
His face reddened, his eyes bulged.
His mouth opened, a silent plea for help.