Boy

Boy's Toys

Mira stared slack-jawed at the Commander as she reran the previous sentence in her head. She couldn't believe the order she had just been given, and her brain kept going 'Rejected' every time she tried to re-feed it into her cerebral cortex.

'Did I not make myself clear, Ranger Nova?' Commander Nebula asked, steeping his fingers.

'Weapons testing?' She repeated the words syllable for syllable.

'Like I said; Buzz is on temporary assignment, so-'

'Weapons testing?'

'Yes, weapons testing!' He said, annoyed. 'We need someone to-'

'Yeah yeah yeah, I know.' Mira waved her hand. 'But why me?' She pointed at her chest. 'What about...' She sought for a name. 'Booster?'

'He's with Lightyear.'

'Parsec?'

'Transferred. He's on Alpha Centauri.'

'Google?'

'Patrol mission.'

'Johnson?'

'She's on leave.'

In pure desperation, Mira played her last card.

'What about XR?'

The Commander bolted to his feet. 'XR?'' He said in shock. 'In the Weapons Facility? My God, woman! Do you realize what you're saying here?'

Mira sighed in frustration as the Commander sat down again. 'That's like saying 'Free Chocolate' in the LGM break room.' He muttered.

'But sir-'

'Didn't I just give you an order, Nova?' Nebula said, reluctantly returning to the pile of forms on the Desk, which was whirring happily at finally having work done.

Mira knew when she was being blown off. She managed a salute and a 'Sir', then left.

'Damn my luck!' She thought as the door hissed shut behind her. The prospect of spending the rest of the day watching LGMs fire lasers did not sound at all appealing to her. The attached paperwork didn't exactly make her jump for joy either.

Commander Nebula wasn't alone in his loathing for paperwork. Mira didn't see much point in it either. One hired lackeys for a reason. The report that would eventually have to supercede this routine test phase made her groan internally.

'Damn LGMs come up with fifty lasers a week.' She muttered gloomily. 'Reroute one power conduit, change one capacitor, and they want a goddamn weapons test. And a full stat list and observation report.

The Weapons Facility wasn't actually very far away. Two hundred meters by corridor, or fifty as the Tangean walks. Mira's thoughts were black and foreboding as she ghosted her way through endless rows of supply closets.

The door to Star Command's weapons testing facility wasn't actually very fancy. Two guardbots stood at either side of the door, and there was a hand scanner. No big sign saying 'Large Guns Located Here.' Pretty inconvenient if Zurg decides to invade, Mira thought, a brief smile decorating her face.

She placed her palm on the plate, and waited as the computer analyzed her DNA print. The affirmative beep sounded, and she walked through the now open door.

She ran into a thick mass of LGMs, and shrieked in surprise. An ocean of eyes looked at her from behind the glass panels of the blast suits they were all wearing. 'Oh God.' She thought, placing her hand on her chest, just below her neck. 'They scared me half to death, goddamn it!'

'Ranger!' One of them pointed.

'Laaaate.' They chorused, raising her collective arms to point at Mira.

'Where's Buzz?' Asked one of the LGMs in the back of the group.

'He's on assignment.' Mira said darkly. 'I'm replacing him.'

'Oooh.' They all said at once.

'Must begin.' Said the one nearest to her.

'Yes, must!' Another replied.

'Follow me.' One of them said to Mira. The rest toddled off and began to unload weapons out of their respective crates. He began to lead her to a servo machine.

'Now, I know this is a regular weapons testing phase, so what's with the armor?' She said as the blue suit began to encase her body in a hard shell. She rarely followed Buzz on these excursions, so this was actually new to her. According to what she gleaned from her superior officer, it was mostly point and shoot. And write the damn report.

The servo armor that now covered her body began to pump recycled air into her lungs. It was dry, crisp, and smelt vaguely like burnt fish.

'Precauuution.' The LGM said. 'Safety first.'

'Great.' Mira rolled her eyes. Now she had to be stuck in this damn suit. The thing weighed half a ton. It was battle armor for God's sake.

'What am I doing taking it out on the LGMs?' She asked herself.

'Listen er...' She paused for a while. 'Don't you guys have names?' She asked, placing her hands on her hips. 'How are we supposed to tell you apart?'

'You rangers all look alike.' He said. 'No complaints from us.'

'Yes.' Mira said, drawing out the word. 'But we have names. Don't you?'

'Yeess.' He said, nodding. 'My name.' He touched his chest. 'Is El.'

'El. Right.' She said. 'Thanks. Now I know.'

'You're welcome.' El said as he walked off. 'Come. Testing must begin.'

'Whatever.' Mira said dismissively as a bunch of LGMs brought a six-foot tube to about her knee level. She looked down, and her eyes widened.

'What on Tangea's moons is that?' She pointed.

'CX Rocket Launcher.' El said, pointing at the cylinder.

'Rocket Launcher?' She asked. Well, a little internal voice said. This should be interesting.

'Taaake iit.' The LGMs raised it high. She bent down and took the weapon in her hands. It was not heavy at all. Raising it to about her neck level, she read the instructions printed on the side.

'Step one.' She began. 'Point away from face. Step 2. Pull trigger. Step III...' She squinted as she read the smaller words. 'Never, ever, forget step one.' She said, and then realized the stupidity of the sentence.

'Step three.' Nodded El.

'Very important.' Another LGM said.

'Simple enough.' She thought as she shouldered the weapon. Perfect fit. A large holographic bullseye flickered into view on the far side of the weapons facility, floating above the ground. An energy field in the shape of a pentagon appeared around them, serving to shield the area, its purplish aura coating the room in a warm glow.

A targeting reticule appeared in the center of her vision. Moving the launcher slightly to the left, she watched as the red circle followed suit, moving with the gun. Satisfied that the targeting system worked, she curled her finger around the trigger.

She took careful aim.

And pulled.

The rocket spewed forth from the mouth of the launcher, sending Mira backwards, staggering. It veered off to the left and missed the twenty-foot target by about six yards. It detonated on the energy field, and left a small pile of debris on the floor.

'Missed.' the LGMs said teasingly.

'This is my first time, okay?' Mira said, a little miffed at having missed by so much. 'Give me another chance.'

She aimed carefully once more and let the rocket fly.

The rocket once more headed for the target. It impacted about center and exploded with a satisfying bang, the bullseye smoking from recent impact.

'Cooool.' The LGMs said in unison.

'Not bad.' Mira said appreciatively as she lowered the weapon.

'Next.' El said quickly as the next test subject was brought it. It looked like something from a sci-fi flick; Two barrels connected to a squarish stock and overhead-attached trigger, which looked rather like a joystick, and a smaller black tube underneath and in the middle of the barrels. There was a black ring about an inch thick connected to the back of the weapon.

She took it, and metal immediately covered her arm like a sheath, letting her have a good grip on the awkward positioning of the gun.

'Plasma Dispersal Cannon Mark Ex Eye Vee.' The LGM who had been holding it said.

'Mark Fourteen.' Mira repeated his Roman numerals. This was actually heavy. There was a digital readout on the top of the gun, in front of the trigger which read '16' in bright red numbers. 'What happened to the previous versions?'

'Blew up.' El said nonchalantly. Mira smacked her lips.

'Right.' She said, unsure of her further existence after she pulled the trigger. 'You know, I have all this leave time piled up...'

'Don't worry.' The first LGM said. 'We've made sure its absoluutely saaafe.'

'I shudder.' Mira said, still unconvinced. 'Didn't the Galactic Alliance outlaw Plasma Cannons?'

'Plasma Dispersal.' El underlined the air with his fingers.

'Different.' Another LGM chirped.

'Right. How do I work this thing?'

'Point at target.' El pointed at the still smoking bullseye. 'Pull trigger. Then pull this.' He pointed at the small black tube placed under the barrels.

'Got it.' She said, taking hold of the tube. She took aim, and the reticule stopped dead center on the bullseye.

She fired, and the gun vomited a hot web of pink plasma that spread out and hit the target with a resounding sizzle. She remembered what El had said, and cocked the weapon. The ring spun sideways, and two empty plasma cartridges fell out of the gun. The readout changed to '15'

'Very cool.' Mira said, impressed.

'Neeext.' The LGMs brought another weapon forward.

'Give me a minute, give me a minute...' Mira said. She positioned her body properly, then fired again, cocking and letting off her second shot before the first volley had even had time to properly disintegrate.

KaChek. BOOM!

KaChek. BOOM!

KaChek. BOOM!

One by one Mira fired off the gun until the readout was at zero. Her hand pumped an empty ammo ring sideways, and the trigger went click.

'Very. Cool.' Mira repeated. The ring ejected itself, and rolled away to the side. EL went over to pick it up while the LGMs brought another weapon forward.

'Compaaact...' They said, raising another cylinder-like gun.

'What's this?' Mira asked, taking off the gun. An LGM grabbed it and returned it to its case.

'CY Rocket Launcher.' El said. 'New model.'

'Prroottotype.' The LGMs said. It got annoying how they said everything together. El seemed to be a leader or something. She picked it up.

There were instructions on this one too, but more simplified.

Press button to arm.

Press again to fire.

It was rather small for a rocket launcher. Eighteen inches wasn't exactly going to make anyone piss their pants in terror.

'Why is it so small?' Mira asked.

'Compact.' El said. 'Discreet.'

'How did you fit auto-loading on this teeny little thing?' Mira asked, turning it around in her hands.

'Didn't.' El replied. 'It's a-'

'Onnnne shot.' The LGMs explained.

'But it's a shot-' El began.

'That they don't know you have.' Another one finished.

'Right. I get it.' Mira pressed the red button. The cover on the end of the launcher folded out, and she shouldered the gun. Her finger twitched.

'No, nooo!' The LGMs waved their arms.

'Don't fire!' El said, his voice panicky.

Too late. The button was pressed, and Mira braced herself for the recoil...

Which didn't come. A choking cloud of white smoke shot out of the front of the launcher, completely blinding Mira. In surprise, she lowered the gun slightly, the end pointed towards the ground.

The LGMs scattered in fear.

Then the launcher kicked as the rocket's thrusters ignited. Mira's odd posture sent her forward and down on one knee, the open end of the launcher pointed at the ground beneath her feet.

'Oh shit!' She shouted as she squeezed her eyes shut. There was a powerful explosion, followed by several tense seconds.

Mira opened her eyes tentatively.

She was still in one piece.

This was good.

'What?' She stood up, looking around. She definitely heard an explosion, so where-

A piece of metal 'pinged' off her servo visor.

Followed by another fragment.

She looked up. The ceiling smoldered, and pieces of it continued to rain down.

'Rangers.' El said a little angrily as he depressed the button once more. The port folded back up, and he turned the launcher to her face.

'Exhaust port.' She read the printed words on the metal disc sheepishly. 'Oops.'

'You had it backwards.' El said, annoyed. 'Now I have to reload.' He put the launcher under his arm and melded into the thick mass of LGMs.

Feeling stupid, Mira just stood there for a minute, shifting from one foot to the other. She was just beginning to think about where to go with her upcoming leave time when she felt a tap on the back of her knee.

'Er, Ranger?' The LGM standing behind her said. He was in front of a small group of LGMs who looked slightly uneasy about something.

'Yes?' Mira asked, folding her arms.

'We're the deevelopment team on these weapons.' The LGM said. 'So we wanted to. ah...'

'Yes?'

'Ask if we could, erm...'

'Yes?' Mira prompted, getting a bit annoyed.

'Do the weapons report?' The LGM behind him said quickly, as if expecting weapons fire from somewhere around him.

Silence.

'What.' Mira said. She didn't actually mean to put a period there, but the full question mark just never got out of her.

'Doo the report.' The first one said. 'We worked very hard on these weapons.'

'And even though we know you rangers loovvve reports...'

'Buzz does.' Mira thought with a half smile on her face.

'Could we do this one?' The first LGM finished.

'Pleeeeaaase?' They all said.

Mira was practically beaming.

'Sure.' She said, trying not to let her face go out of proportion. This wasn't going to be so bad after all.

'We caaan?' The LGMs looked at one another happily.

'Yay.' A quick chorus came from the entire retinue.

'Give this to El.' An LGM said, holding a data pad. 'This is the paperwork.'

'The paperwork?' Mira said. 'There's paperwork for the reassigning of paperwork? Who on Earth comes up with all this crap anyway?'

'El. Got it.' Mira said as the LGMs turned away, buzzing happily. She walked over to the larger group of LGMs who were prepping and loading the weapons to be tested, her servo clanking on the reinforced floor.

She couldn't see El anywhere. Actually, she could, but she couldn't tell him apart from the others. They were virtually identical to one another.

So she tried the most basic step in Tangean communication.

'El?' She said, trying to single him out. Every single LGM stopped what they were doing and turned their heads to Mira.

'Yeeeesss?' They said.

She took a moment to process.

'Ah, El?' She tried again.

'Yeeeesss?' They repeated.

She realized.

'Oh, damn it.' She tilted back her head as she swore through gritted teeth.

'What is it?' El stepped forward.

'Are you El?' Mira asked, half-expecting to be wrong.

'Yeess.' El said.

'The one who took the CY back for reload?' She asked. The LGM shook his head.

'You want El.' He pointed to an LGM near the side of the crowd. El waved.

'El, come here.' She said and was almost overrun by a stampede of waddling LGMs. 'No! Not you nuts! El! The one holding the big wrench!'

Three of them held up wrenches.

'Argh!' Mira clenched fists. 'El, goddamnit! The one who took the rocket launcher from me.' Mira was quite exasperated by now. El made his way through with a few 'Excuse Me's' and 'Pardons.' and stepped in front of Mira.

'Yes?' He said. Unbelievably quickly for an LGM. He looked nervous. As did the rest of the group, who were all fidgeting uncomfortably. The general feeling was that someone had had the fun of rigging the powder and blowing the bomb and found that there was indeed a very loud bang and somebody was going to come investigate.

'Okay.' Mira sighed, having that done and over with. 'Look, I've got a form here you've got to sign...'

He looked at the pad, and shook his head. 'Nooope.'

'Nope?' Mira straightened. 'What do you mean, nope?'

'Can't sign it.' He shook his head.

'Oh no.' Mira sank back into the pit of paperwork and reports. Her thoughts began to blacken.

'May I ask.' She said. 'Why not?'

'Only El has authorization to sign documents.' El said.

'I thought you said you were El.' Mira pointed a finger.

'I aam.'

'Then you have the authority?'

'No.'

'Then why do you say you're El?'

'Er...' He put both hands behind his back and shifted his feet. 'That's my name?'

Mira growled.

'Bloody flaming hell...'

'Huh?' El said

'Never mind.' Mira placed her hand on her visor and banged her head against it. 'El-' She cut herself off before she had to go through that again. 'So where's El?' She asked slowly.

'There.' El pointed. An LGM waved.

'Good.' Mira attempted to be positive. 'That's who I'm looking for.'

'Say so next time.' El said as he walked away with the rest of the group.

'I DID!' Mira shouted. She could hear some of them muttering 'Rangers...' as El stepped towards her.

'Yeeeesss?' He said, putting away the wrench.

'You the one who took the CY away from me?' Mira tried to keep calm.

'Yes.'

'Good.' Mira said. 'Now, this is for you.' She gave the data pad to the LGM. He looked at it briefly.

'Issued... Transfer report to... Okay.' He shrugged, pressed his thumb to the pad, and gave it back to Mira. 'Give it back to El.' He drawled in that cute way that they do while going back to whatever he had been doing before. He took his wrench back out and was about to reconfigure the stabilizer when

'Which El?' Mira shouted.

From past experience, they knew better than to reply.

'A rather boring assignment, wasn't it, Buzz?' Booster said as he entered the corridor with his commanding officer.

'Routine, Ranger.' Buzz said. 'Not boring. Routine.' Buzz explained as they made their way to Commander Nebula's office to report in.

'Yep. Gotta go with the lingo.' XR inserted as he wheeled beside the both of them.

'Patrols aren't much fun.' Booster said.

'Someone's got to do them, Booster.' Buzz said.

'Mira should've had lots of fun with the weapons testing.' Booster explained. 'I think she'd be feeling a lot more excited than we are right now.'

'I'm not so sure about that.' Buzz said. 'Mira's not too,' He searched for a polite word. 'enthusiastic about weapon tests.'

'I like 'em.' Booster said.

'That's because she's female.' XR explained. 'You see, females have this different perception of what's interesting-'

The robot was cut off by the hissing sound of the door. A rather furious Mira stepped through them, and they closed. She had this tired expression somewhere in the rage.

'Mira.' Buzz said slowly. 'How was the testing?'

She managed a smile that only the lower half of her face seemed to take. 'Fine.' She said in a somewhat cheery voice.

'Didja have fun?' Booster said. Mira gave it some honest thought.

'Yes.' She said lightly. The livid shade of blue her face had turned sort of worked against her in that respect.

'What was the weapons manifest?' XR asked. 'Not thirteen kinds of masers, I hope?'

'No, no masers.' Mira said, her smile gone. 'The report's with Commander Nebula, Buzz.' Mira said curtly as she made her way through the three of them, ghosting her shoulder briefly through Booster.

'Did everything go alright?' Buzz asked, genuinely concerned.

Mira halted dead.

'Sure.' She said, turning on one ankle. 'Went fine. I actually enjoyed myself. For a while.' If her tone was clipped then, now it was amputated.

'I take it there were problems.' Buzz said. Mira folded her arms and opened her mouth.

'Bu-' She started, and stopped. 'Ho-' She tried again, and shut her jaw in frustration. Finally, she seemed to settle on something she could say.

'Do you personally know all the personnel here at Star Command?' She asked. It seemed like a genuine question.

'More or less.' Buzz said. He didn't really like the way this conversation was going.

'By name?' She asked. Now she really seemed eager.

Seemed.

XR and Booster could only stand by and watch Mira's train of thought derail and smash into the next station's passenger platform.

'Yes.' He said.

'Really?' Mira now had that inflection in her voice one would use on a pupil who's being a brat and annoying you. 'Then tell me: Who's the LGM at Ops Control?'

'Er, El?' Buzz said. There was a long silence. Long being a rather relative term.

'Right.' She said. It wasn't an affirmative response so much as a sarcastic one. 'Forget it, Buzz.' She turned around and stormed off.

'Mira, are you sure you're okay?' Buzz asked.

'Just remind me never to go messing around in your damn toybox ever again.' Mira walked through a door and disappeared from view.

'Jeez.' XR said. 'What's her problem?'

'It's times like this that I wish I understood her species.' Buzz said, shaking his head.

'Actually, Tangeans are not that hard to-'

'Women.'

'Oh.'