Biter stared at the wrench resting on the floor of the twenty-third garage he'd successfully infiltrated.
Routine 1.2, Playtime was threatening to activate. There was no one around. The pincers on his claws clacked together anxiously – the wrench didn't serve any practical purpose, and it would slow him down. He needed to carry batteries. So far he'd only managed to accumulate two dozen. Besides, Routine 1.2 required the presence of at least one biped in order to be properly engaged, and there weren't any suitable ones available. He shouldn't have even bothered to stop. There wasn't any good reason to, and he had a great deal of motivation to simply cancel the routine and carry on.
Letting out a soft whirr, Biter darted forward, grabbed up the wrench, and wedged it between his jaws. He was beyond the range of the group network. None of the other bots would have to find out.
The remainder of the garage proved to be bereft of batteries, although it did contain a tiny, red and yellow vehicle constructed out of plastic, which Biter examined curiously for a few minutes. It looked too small to house a standard human, and didn't appear to contain an engine. He made a note of it for his files and later inquiries, and then snuck back out through the garage's largest window, pausing briefly to re-position the wrench so that it didn't impede his progress. The coat flapped around him. Carefully scanning his surroundings, Biter made certain there were no potential witnesses, and then stealthily hovered over to a window that led to the second floor of the house. Most bedrooms were on the second floor. He had determined that that was the best place to start looking.
Biter was in luck. The first window he tried gave him a view of a room with a large bed, a dresser, and two nightstands. A pair of small red numbers flashed from one of those nightstands. Success – an alarm clock.
Carefully, he cut the glass out of the window, caught it, and made his way inside. He propped the severed glass up against a nearby wall. Then he zipped across the room. The clock was small enough to be held in one of his claws, and it was a simple matter to peel back the casing and collect the batteries. Biter dropped them carefully into one of the coat's larger pockets, did one more sweep for any other promising signs, and ran an analysis of the household to determine whether or not it would be worthwhile to investigate the kitchen. He was still mid-assessment when his optical sensor noted something from the periphery of his vision.
One of the room's closet doors was open. On a top shelf, resting just over the brim of a cardboard box, was a hat. Biter suppressed a bleep of excitement. Lowering the wrench onto the soft surface of the bed, he hovered over, pulling the door open to create a wider entrance and sweeping the hat down off of the shelf. It seemed peculiarly hard within his claws. The substance it was made of was stiff and thatched together, weaving along the brim and forming a small bowl for the skull. There was a shiny purple ribbon tied around the center, which someone had affixed several artificial flowers onto. Biter placed it onto his head. It slipped against the smooth surface of his dome and tumbled onto the ground. With a soft blat of annoyance, he picked it up again, and tried to jam it on a little more firmly. Something made a sharp 'crack' sound, and the brim twisted awkwardly in his claw before the whole thing fell off once more.
Clearly, the hat was defective.
As he prepared to abandon it, his sensors picked up an odd sound. It was a human vocalization. Giggling. Biter looked towards the doorway, preparing Routine 10.22, TacticalRetreat, and reassessed the situation. A small human child was standing in the open doorway. It was clutching a blanket in one hand, and was quite obviously staring at him. The subject's gender was difficult to determine. But it wasn't screaming, which gave Biter pause, as he was clearly too insufficiently disguised to be unremarkable.
"Bobot," the child said.
Basic Protocol 6.1, NothingToSeeHere kicked in, and Biter tipped his non-existent hat and started whistling innocently again. The child resumed giggling. That seemed like a good sign, but then a new vocalization drifted up from the lower levels of the residence. Determining that the success of his disguise was still too unreliable to bank on, Biter retreated towards the window again, detouring only briefly to reclaim the wrench from the top of the bed. The human child flapped a hand through the air.
"Bye bye, Bobot!" it said as he zipped back out of the window, just in time to avoid the heavy thud of footsteps carrying through the building's stairs.
Retrieving the batteries he needed was, Biter determined, becoming increasingly risky. If he was apprehended or damaged then his mission would fail. It had been fortunate that the human child had not commenced screaming, or else he might not have been able to make a clean getaway. Dropping low to the ground again, Biter assessed the issue. More brain bots would be able to get the work done faster, and with lowered odds of complete failure. If he had some of his siblings to help, then, even if he were to be decommissioned, they would be able to carry on. Provided that he could convince them of the importance of his task. Perhaps it would be better if he did not tell them that Routine 36.111, Addition 33.7, Project: SpaceJailBreak had been scripted by him.
Biter concluded that that seemed like an effective solution to his dilemma. Factoring the new information into his protocols, he straightened the coat slightly, and began to make his way back towards the warehouse. He would start converting some of the batteries he'd already collected, and proceed from there.
Midvale's local news station was centered in a tall, grey concrete building, that somehow managed to be minimalistic and cheerful at the same time. It stood on the corner of one tidy street. The WKKP logo was embossed on the front doors, and a few tame little green shrubs decorated the strip of ground between it and the sidewalk. Their security wasn't excessive, but it wasn't nonexistent, either. Roxanne (still disguised as Bernard) only got so far as the front lobby before the need for an ID tag became apparent. She'd known that it probably would be, no matter how relaxed the station was, but her first time going in she'd mainly been looking to get an idea of the place. There were only so many ways she could think of to get a superhero's attention. Most of them involved dramatics that she didn't have the resources for.
So she defaulted to something else she knew – namely, the news.
In the end the trickiest part had been trapping the forecaster whose identity she was wearing. She was pretty sure that the chair she'd jammed up underneath the maintenance closet's door wouldn't hold for very long, which put her on a time limit. Oddly, Roxanne didn't really feel nervous, for a surprising change of pace. She wasn't sure if that was because being in a studio setting, even an unfamiliar studio setting, at least fell into the general vicinity of 'normal', or if she had reached some sort of nervousness capping point and just sort of spent it all up. Or maybe she was just too tired to bother. Either way, once they'd set her up in front of the green screen, Roxanne simply smiled at the cameras, pretended to clasp her hands behind her back, and turned off the watch.
Stunned silence descended over the stage and camera crew. The image of the petite blonde forecaster flickered out, replaced by the dark sweep of a cape, a rich flash of blue, and one leather-booted foot jutted pointedly to the side. Roxanne highly doubted that they filmed their weather girl live, so she graced the crew with her practiced evil grin.
"You might want to make certain that this is broadcasted," she said. "If you all don't want to die, anyway."
In a town without a superhero, that kind of assertion might have garnered skepticism, or questions, or a call for security. Fortunately, in a town with a superhero, having the right clothes made every bit of difference. Megamind had never been bulletproof, after all, but no one in their right mind ever tried to shoot him.
One of the sound crew promptly started crying. There was a brief flurry of activity, and Roxanne trusted that, if nothing else, the station would want to get exclusive coverage of whatever the crazy supervillainess was planning. She waited placidly until she was certain that they'd gotten the picture, making certain the shoulder spikes on her cloak were straight and menacing, then folding her arms and adopting a look of general disdain. One of the more daring members of the crew leaned forward next to the cameraman, and whispered a tentative question at her.
"What're you called?" he asked. "For the ticker?"
Roxanne curved an eyebrow at him. He retreated almost immediately, and she heard him whisper 'no name' to someone else, past the scope of the bright studio lights.
It was almost a Zen moment in a way, standing there, knowing that she wasn't much of a threat – any one security guard could probably drag her off, and she wouldn't be able to do a thing to stop him – and also knowing that she was, however erroneously, in complete command of the room. No one would try it. Because she said the right things and wore the right clothes and stood the right way, no one would touch her, even though it was all an illusion. She wondered how many times Megamind had been in similar circumstances. The only weapons she had were a costume and charisma, and they were working. The camerawoman looked like she might faint.
"Now, now," Roxanne heard herself say. "Try and keep up. We don't want anyone losing their head here." She kept her tone gentle, but her expression hard, one corner of her mouth permanently curved upwards. The woman made a sound which might have been 'yes' but came out more like 'meep'.
That'll do, she decided, and her mind flipped back through the pages of memory to a time when Megamind had once stormed the station, demanding her ransom over their own cameras. It had been hilarious. Well, she'd thought it was hilarious (as well as annoying), everyone else had just been scared stiff and wondering when the robots were going to harvest their organs for the black market. Sometimes, the strangest rumors had cropped up about him. But, though she never would have admitted it at the time, that was one of the first moments when she'd realized what a genuine presence he had. He'd taken to the news desk, and spread his arms in a grandiose gesture of self-importance, cackling gleefully.
Roxanne mimicked the gesture, but opted to forgo the cackling. Something told her that in her case, right then, it would actually reduce her intimidation factor a little bit. She didn't need to ratchet up the 'crazy' – her outfit was doing just fine on its own.
"Citizens of Midvale," she said to the camera, clearing her throat a little bit, keeping her stance wide and bringing in one hand to rest atop her hip. "I have chosen your city as the site of my glorious surrender. You should feel deeply honored." A low murmur of confused conversation started up at that. But no one made any move to stop her. Roxanne pressed on. "As no less than two champions from two different cities have already pursued me – to no avail, I might add – I will deal only with your so-called 'Commander Courage'. Let's see if your beloved champion can do any better than those other buffoons, shall we?"
She got just the right amount of vitriol and disdain into the words 'Commander Courage', although she started to worry about how pleased with herself she was over that. She didn't really plan on making any of this behavior a habit. "Just to make sure that you get the idea, and your brave hero doesn't opt to retreat or hide behind your local police forces, I have mapped out a complex series of bombs beneath several of your city's more… charming landmarks." That was a complete lie. They'd probably be looking for bombs for weeks, now, though. "Unless the good commander arrives within the hour and sees me to justice, or if anyone else should attempt to thwart me, well… tick, tick, tick." While it might have helped the dramatics to draw attention to her watch on that final note, Roxanne didn't, because it also would have been fairly stupid. She wasn't sure how long it took Commander Courage to check the news or get from A to B (though as she understood, he could fly, at least) so she adopted a pose that seemed suitably dramatic, and settled in to wait.
Ten minutes later the back wall of the studio blew out, and she found herself encased in a glowing off-white sphere. A sharp-faced man peered at her from beneath the rim of a fancy army helmet. The station crew cheered.
Roxanne folded her cape around herself, and while her hands were hidden, slipped the watch off of her wrist. Hastily, she jammed it up into the bottom of her bra cup.
"Hi there, Commander," she greeted. With a snap of his wrist, the hero tugged the sphere – and her along with it – out through the hole he'd punched in the side of the building, drawing it up close and glowering at her fiercely. He looked genuinely mad.
"Where are the bombs?" he asked.
"Oh, I was lying about that," Roxanne assured him. "I just needed to get your attention. Seriously, I'm all out of bombs, and even if I wasn't it would probably take me more than a couple of hours to set them up. Which is how long I've been in the city for." Then she extended her arms and placed her wrists together, adopting the universal pose for 'cuff me'. "You should arrest me for the murder of Dinomight, though. That one was all me. Metro City's police station will have the footage if you want proof." Ah. There were those nerves she'd been missing. Damn. She'd kind of been hoping that they'd take a permanent vacation.
Commander Courage looked her carefully up and down. One of his hands was glowing. The other wasn't, it was that hand which he pressed to his forehead, letting out an aggravated huff.
"This sort of thing never used to happen back when I just fought Nazis," he muttered to himself.
BrainBot 88, Mark I Feminist Model, Designation: Surveillance Bot 11, or Bow, bleeped online as Biter finished installing the converted batteries into her. Almost immediately she began transmitting queries regarding the absence of the city's network, and their location. Biter transferred the most basic relevant data to her, and moved on to BrainBot 144, Mark II Sinister Model, Designation: Camera Bot 2, proceeding down the lines of shelves in an orderly fashion. Bow beeped a confirmation back at him, and got to work helping, heading for their next sibling down the line. All tolled Biter had managed to convert enough batteries for six bots, but with help, the rate of reactivation would obviously increase. The camera bot, informal designation 'Hollywood', came shakily online, and instantly began voicing the same inquiries which Bow had. Soon enough he was joined the next bot, and the next, the streams of data flying between them all as they slowly came back online. Eventually, they started transmitting more and more specific inquiries. Biter let Hollywood take care of activating the sixth bot as he devoted himself entirely to answering them.
Query - Location: Daddy?
Response – SpaceJail. Location: Unknown.
Query – Location: Daddy v.2?
Response – SpaceJail? Location Unknown.
Query – Location: Mommy?
Alert – Initialize Emergency Routines!
Cancel Alert – Insufficient Resources, Interfering Factors. Initiate Routine 36.111, Addition 33.7, Project: SpaceJailBreak. Special Order – DaddyToldMeSo.
Query – Re: DaddyToldMeSo. Date/Reference Memory File?
Response – Data corrupted by UnfortunateLightningStrike. Cannot comply.
Query – UnfortunateLightningStrike?
Response – Forwarding recent meteorological data. RainStorm occurred several times during inquirer's extended period of deactivation.
Data Received. Analyzing. Response – Skepticism.
Transmitting House Bot Authority Code Alpha. Skepticism noted. BrainBot 133, Mark IV Sinister Model, Designation: House Bot No.3 assuming TemporaryLeadershipRole per absence of Daddy/Daddyv.2/Mommy. Challenge?
Assessing… Insufficient counter-data. Challenge declined.
Authority Code Accepted.
Authority Code Accepted.
Authority Code Accepted.
Authority Code Accepted.
Authority Code Accepted.
Authority Code Accepted.
Response - Biter wins. Ha.
Response - Activate Sound File: Raspberry.
Transmission – Re: Raspberry, forwarding Maturity files for future reference.
Redirection – MatterAtHand.
Query – Re: MatterAtHand. CityStatus?
Response – Transmitting relevant data. City, absent Daddy/Daddyv.2/Mommy. Present, MusicMan. Status: Dire.
Query – BackUp?
Response – Negative. Lair Inactive. BrainBot 132, Mark IV Malevolent Model, Designation: House Bot No.2, BrainBot 131, Mark III Malevolent Model, Designation: House Bot No.1 unresponsive.
Transmitting Panic Code Delta.
Cancel Panic Code.
Override! Panic! Panic!
Initiating Anti-Hysteria Routine, Program 9.82: BitchSlap.
BitchSlap received. Processing. Query – Engage emergency protocols?
Response – Negative. Emergency protocol data insufficient. Situation – PlayItByEar.
Query – Re: MatterAtHand. ExoSuit Status?
One of the newly activated bots zipped over to where the suits were slumped up against a far wall of the warehouse, and began scanning them. Biter obligingly transmitted what data he'd already been able to glean about them, largely preoccupied now with the matter of disguising his siblings. There was only one coat between the six of them, after all, and the search would be better handled if they split up besides. Assessing his possibilities, Biter determined that for the time being, it would be best if the others posed as garbage cans. They were easily acquired and commonly seen on the street. He sent out a brief explanation to the others, who were still investigating the warehouse, and then took off through the opening he'd made in the floor, intent on finding some.
The sound of human vocalizations caught his attention. They were nearby.
Biter transmitted a quick warning to the other brain bots, and their activity stilled. Hollywood and Bow drifted up to peer through the opening the floor alongside him, processors whirring slightly. The vocalizations drew nearer, and became clearer as they did.
"Maybe he's not just being paranoid after all. Looks like someone broke the chain here," a masculine voice said.
"It's probably just kids," a feminine one countered. "You remember how many hoops we had to jump through to get this stuff here. Nobody could have tracked it all down. Hell, we weren't even allowed to keep records, how's somebody else going to figure this out?"
"You're new. You'll learn. Supervillains, they don't kid around when it comes to their stuff," the masculine voice insisted.
There was the groan of a heavy metal hinge, then, as the door to the not-lair was pushed open. The other brain bots all started transmitting inquiries to Biter. What should they do? Retreat? Attack? Hide? Biter did a quick sweep of the storage room below them, then watched carefully as two human walked into the warehouse. They appeared to be alone. Examining their options, he transmitted instructions, and all six of the other brain bots zipped back over to the shelves and laid themselves prone in their spaces. Biter himself whipped behind the back of the staircase, and deactivated as many of his external lights as he could. The voice above grew louder and sharper as the opening in the floor was discovered. There was cursing, the thud of heavy footsteps, then a groan as an electrical system sprang to life.
Query – Deactivate? one of the other bots transmitted.
Response – Negative. Standby Routines: Ambush, Biter returned. Up above them, a mechanical hinge activated, and a huge patch of floor just above the stairs swung back. Several lights blinked on.
"I don't suppose that part of the floor could have just fallen off by accident?" the female voice inquired.
"That'll be the day," the male one returned. Both humans descended the steps, carrying PoliceWeapons in their hands. Were they police? They weren't wearing uniforms. Then again, it was possible that police looked different outside of the city. Biter transmitted a few tips to the other bots, examining them carefully. It seemed likely to him that if they left, they would inform the other police of the location of the not-lair. If that happened, there wouldn't be enough time to activate the other bots and relocate the exo-suits before they were raided.
The humans proceeded through the lower room, examining the shelves of brain bots and the line of suits, keeping their weapons at the ready.
"Come out where we can see you!" the female exclaimed.
"Not much point in hiding," the male added. "We're going to search this whole place top to bottom, and we're armed. Just come out nice and peaceful like and things won't have to get rough."
Activate Ambush Routines! Biter transmitted. Abruptly, the other brain bots activated, and sped into the air. Hollywood turned on his brightest camera lights and flashed them directly into the humans' faces. One of them activated their weapon, and the bullet collided with Bow's jaw, cutting a small groove before it ricocheted into the wall and stuck there. Biter zipped forwards and, along with one of the other bots, grabbed the male human by the ankle. They flipped him so that he was hanging upside-down, while Bow forcefully yanked the weapon out of his grip. Beside them, the process was mirrored by two other bots and the female human, whose gun was also claimed by Bow. The pink-painted brain bot transmitted her displeasure at having been shot and immediately claimed the right to eat the guns. Biter let her have it.
"Oh crap, oh crap, we're gonna get killed by evil robots, oh crap, I always knew I was gonna go this way…" the female human babbled.
"Quick, ask them what love is!" the male human suggested. "That one always works on television!"
"What is love, robots? What is love?"
Biter ignored their nonsensical vocalizations, instructed Hollywood to take his place in holding up one of the male's legs, and then zipped back out of the not-lair. A few minutes later he returned with the garbage cans he'd originally intended to collect. The humans were still babbling, and seemed to be attempting to swing themselves free of the brain bots' grip. It wasn't going very well for them. Biter made a few transmissions, and within a couple of minutes, he and the other brain bots had managed to get the humans right-side up again (it was detrimental to hold them upside-down for too long, and nobody wanted to violate their anti-kill protocols) and, rather than using the garbage cans for disguises, dented the metal around the humans' torsos and legs to keep them in place. It worked quite well. Biter congratulated himself on his innovative thinking, and made note of it in the shared files.
One of the other bots transmitted a general inquiry as to what they should do next.
Bow suggested that they make certain that the humans were out of the way until they could finish Project: SpaceJailBreak, Phase 3.2: Reactivation. Step One – ReplacePowerCells. Biter examined that possible course of action, but additional possibilities had occurred to him as well. Mommy's location was still unknown. SpaceJail's location was also still unknown. Police generally knew where the prisons were. Ergo, even though he would not have considered apprehending and detaining police humans before now, he determined that they might as well take advantage of the situation. Rejecting Bow's suggestion, Biter carefully and quickly put together a new protocol, and transmitted it to the others.
Project: SpaceJailBreak, Phase 3.2: Reactivation, Step One.2 – Interrogation.
The other bots transmitted skepticism. Biter ignored them. They lacked vision. He had Bow and two others relocated the humans to the other side of the room, and instructed Hollywood to shine his camera light over their heads. Then he situated himself in front of them. He made certain that he hovered just slightly above the line of their heads, for purposes of intimidation, and clacked his claws menacingly. Both humans cringed. Carefully examining a few sound files, Biter attempted to mimic human vocalizations and form an inquiry as to the whereabouts of SpaceJail.
"Bowp bowwrrr powp," he blatted.
"What's it doing?" the female asked.
The male shook his head. "Maybe they're keeping us here until their master arrives?" he suggested. "Damn supervillains. They always build robots, and the robots always go crazy."
"Bowwwwppp!" Biter tried, whirring slightly with aggravation. "Bowrr pow bowwwrrrrrbbbbbzzzat!"
"…Maybe it's broken?" the female suggested.
Suggestion – FemalePolice has accurate observations, Bow transmitted.
Response – ShutUp, Biter diplomatically responded. Though he was forced to conclude that his attempts at mimicry were falling flat. He would need to improve them at a later date. For the time being, they would have to pursue alternate methods of communication. Hollywood suggested that they project video clips containing the relevant vocalizations, but after some debate, they all agreed that locating and organizing the required video data would take an excessive amount of time. BrainBot 201, Mark I Heinous Model, Designation: Lair Bot 14, Chomp, suggested that they use Daddy's whiteboard. Biter and the others simultaneously reminded him that they didn't have Daddy's whiteboard (Chomp's processors never seemed to fire as quickly as they should have) but the suggestion did give Biter an idea.
Zipping back over to the empty line of shelves, Biter pulled out the bottom boards on the ones which were no longer holding brain bots. They were thin and metal. Easy enough to cut if he kept his laser to a low setting. Dropping one of them on the ground, Biter examined the space, and then carefully set to burning several neat, tidy lines into it. The other bots watched the police prisoners until he was finished.
When he was done, Biter gave a little bob of satisfaction, picked up the shelf, and headed back to where the two humans were. Then he used his claws to hang onto the corners, and held it out in front of them.
'SpaceJail – Where?' was carved into the front.
The humans stared. Then they looked at one another.
"What the heck?" the female asked.
The male shook his head. "I have no idea."
Examining his files, Biter determined that they were 'playing dumb'. Dropping the shelf again, he etched a new inquiry beneath the first one, making certain to carefully ration the available space. They only had a few shelves.
'We will commence breaking fingers. Answer above query.'
Chomp transmitted an inquiry as to whether or not they were actually going to break the humans' fingers, because that violated several of their protocols. Bow thumped a claw over the dome of his skull and transmitted him a more thorough compilation of interrogation tactics, which was good, because it saved Biter the trouble of having to do it. The humans appeared to be having a heavily negative reaction to his updated request, however, as the female had started shouting for help, and the male had lost some of the pigmentation from blood flow in his face.
"I don't want to get my fingers broken! They don't pay us enough to be tortured to death by robots!" the female insisted.
"What the hell did you think you were signing on for?" the male demanded.
The female glowered at him. "There's a difference between being a security guard and being a superhero, okay? I thought these things were supposed to be deactivated!"
"You knew the risks. It's all in the pamphlet."
"Oh Jesus, I'm going to die listening to you talk about the damn pamphlet. This is karmic retribution for sleeping with my sister's fiancé, isn't it?"
"We're not going to… wait, what? You slept with your sister's fiancé?"
"Don't look at me like that! I was drunk!"
Biter let out a blat of annoyance. Hollywood had determined that the humans' antics were entertaining enough to film, but it seemed that they were too distracted to be properly interrogated. A show of strength was probably required to ensure that their demands were taken seriously. No sooner had he concluded this than the other bots agreed, and without further preamble, Chomp and Bow grabbed the male by his ankles and turned him upside down again. Some of the color came back into his face. A lot of it, actually.
"Oh god," the female said. "Please don't kill us, tiny evil robots! We really don't know what you're talking about!"
Biter blatted again, and added a new query to the bottom of the shelf.
'Daddy/Daddyv.2/Mommy – Where?'
The female blinked. "It… they want their mommy? What the hell?"
Hurriedly, Biter crossed that one out, and redid it.
'Megamind/Minion/RoxanneRitchi – Where?' he tried instead.
"Okay, okay! I think they're looking for the guy who made them!" the female exclaimed, looking over at the male, who was swaying slightly. Biter made a brief transmission, and the other bots put him down again.
"No, you don't say?" the male replied. "We can't tell them how to find him! He's in spac… oh."
"Guess they already figured that part out," the female suggested.
"…Right. This isn't going to end well," the male replied. Then he turned so that he was staring directly at Biter. "Listen, evil robots. Your master is in outer space. In orbit. There's no, erm, specific way to tell you where he is without a telescope."
Still being difficult. Biter lifted up the shelf, and tapped the top message pointedly with his claw.
"Yeah, yeah, 'Space Jail is where'," the female said. "We know. We can't tell you. Come on, don't they teach robots anything about outer space these days? In, um, robot school?"
"You sound like an idiot."
"Shut up, at least I'm trying to be friendly with them. The way you're going we'll wind be ground into robo-fuel before the sun's even up."
Biter considered this data. He and the other bots ran a few searches on their files. After a few seconds had passed, he grudgingly determined that it was possible the police really didn't know the exact location of SpaceJail. Though they could also be lying. Concluding that it would be better to put that line of questioning to one side, he tapped the bottom part of the sign instead.
"They're not getting it," the female said, groaning and leaning back as much as her garbage can would allow.
"Look," the male said, lowering the volume of his voice. "We just need to keep them busy until check-in time tomorrow. Then someone will come looking for us."
Biter made a note of that. They would have to speed things along. He tapped the bottom part of the sign again, and the other bots determined that only two of them would be required to monitor the captured police. The other five zipped off to resume the task of gathering batteries, taking Biter's transmitted suggestions about garbage cans, and borrowing his coat, but leaving him with Hollywood and his camera lights.
"I think they understood that," the female noted.
"Dammit, how smart are these stupid things?"
Again, Biter tapped the bottom part of his sign. The bit which read 'RoxanneRitchi'. When the humans still didn't process his request, he grabbed a new shelf, and wrote it out more clearly against the surface.
'RoxanneRitchi – Where?'
The female blinked. "Roxanne Ritchi? Why the heck does that name sound familiar?"
Hollywood posited the theory that it was going to be a long night. Biter agreed.
On the great big scale of Disconcerting Things Roxanne Has Experienced, flying in a gigantic transparent bubble had to be pretty high up there. Roxanne figured she would give it a seven out of ten on the creepy scale, if only because she could see everything around her, and the near-intangible substance of the sphere wasn't enough like glass that she could convince herself that she wasn't just going to fall through at any moment. The wind buffeted around it, creating a soft whoosh as Commander Courage flew beside her, his glowing hand outstretched. Below them, the city's occupants paused in their daily activities to look and point. That sight brought her way back. People had reacted in pretty much the same way whenever they saw Metroman. Or Megamind, really.
It also wasn't very comfortable. Roxanne had to sit, because the motion made standing virtually impossible, and she couldn't avoid the idea that everyone was pretty much staring at her butt. Sitting on the cape helped a little, but that didn't change the fact that it was still very wobbly, and confining, and… weird. She watched Courage out of the side of her eye, but he seemed pretty preoccupied with getting them to wherever they were going. She figured it was whatever 'step one' on the route to space jail happened to be.
She started to reevaluate that assessment when towed her through the balcony of a fairly large, but not terribly opulent building, and closed a set of glass double doors behind them. Roxanne stumbled as her hover-bubble of energy vanished.
The room they were in looked kind of like the lobby to a postmodernist hotel, if someone with a practical streak a mile wide had taken it over. A pair of sculpted, designer-looking chairs with high, white plastic backs were situated in front of a fake fireplace, with a glass coffee table stationed between them. Someone had dragged a plain, dark green couch into the room, and situated it just behind them. Most of the available surfaces were covered in newspapers and a few books. The walls were painted in curving, surrealist waves, but the couple of paintings which adorned them were all simple landscapes, or else black and white photographs of soldiers. An empty fish tank stood in one corner. The doors leading to and from the room were glass, but again, someone else's influence had intervened, taping over the surfaces with opaque white and brown screens.
"Wow. You really need to fire your interior designer," Roxanne quipped, before she could think the better of it.
Commander Courage shrugged, taking off his helmet and gesturing towards one of the chairs in the universal motion for 'take a seat'.
She stalled a little at the unexpected lack of hostility. Or confinement. Or efforts at arresting or otherwise imprisoning her. "Uh…"
"Please, Miss," the commander said. "I think the two of us really ought to talk. This room's not entirely secure, but it will have to do. I'm afraid I don't know much about the new technologies spies use nowadays, the little tiny recording devices and the cameras hidden in eyeglasses and what-have-you."
Roxanne blinked. A few seconds passed. She considered her options, but as the superhero across from her shifted his stance slightly, determined that there really wasn't anything for it but to sit down. The chairs were at least fairly comfortable, if odd-looking, and the fake fireplace cast an unseasonable glow around her. Commander Courage took the seat across from her. It didn't seem like he saw her as much of a threat, if his body language was anything to go by. Reserved, but not tense, nor particularly aggressive.
"I'm… not really looking to make a case for myself," she told him. "I just confessed and turned myself in. What's there to talk about?"
Courage gave her a long look. A minute ticked by. Roxanne shifted uncomfortably in her seat, wondering if she'd missed the part of his file that said that he could read minds or something like that. "Metroman mentioned you once or twice," he finally told her. "I don't know what's really going on here, but I can tell when things aren't lining up straight. And from where I sit, this whole thing is as crooked as a vagabond's teeth. The Collective might think that I'm just some slow soldier boy who's too out-dated to put anything together, that they can tell me one and three make eight and just pat me on the head, send me off to go and fight for them. Well, I might be out-dated, but that doesn't make me an idiot."
"You recognize me?" she asked him, a little surprised. She wasn't sure why she would be, though.
The commander nodded a little stiffly. "Of course. You did a story on me and the others a few years ago. It was a nice write-up – a little heavy on the flattery, I thought, but then most people like that sort of a thing."
Roxanne rolled her eyes. "Oh. Yeah. Sometimes I get a bit over the top," she admitted. "You should see some of my old stories on Metroman."
"I have," Commander Courage bluntly replied. "They weren't hard to find. I'm not much for these computer-machines, but I've figured out how to use the Google and go to the Youtubes. Although sometimes I regret it. Why are there so many pictures and shows about people's cats, do you think? It's not as though you can't see cats in real life. Just open the door and head outside, and I guarantee you'll run into at least one. If you'd have told me a few years ago that someday, the future generations of humanity were going to have access to some gigantic worldwide communications network that let folks in one country talk to folks in another country in just seconds, and that everyone would use it to make movies about cats… well I'd have figured that you belonged in a sanitarium. And yet, here we are."
"…I guess so…?" Roxanne agreed, wondering if she'd made a mistake. Maybe she should have tried for Lady Mythman. Though she was pretty sure that Lady Mythman wouldn't have fallen for the whole watch-in-bra hiding place.
"Well I guess it's beside the point," Courage concluded, shaking his head a little, apparently putting the thought aside for later consideration. "What I'm getting at, Miss, is that I know that something's going on. I just don't know what. Now, I'm aware that there is a time and a place for secrets. But there are only so many dark corners you can stick a man into before he starts asking for some light." One of his gloved hands started glowing again, a little faintly. He didn't appear to notice. "If my own side won't tell me what's going on, then maybe there's nothing for it but to ask the other."
Roxanne wondered if that would do her any good. She'd tried pretty hard to convince Slasher that Metroman wasn't dead, but maybe she'd just been unlucky enough to get the wrong guy. On the one hand, she'd told Metroman that she'd handle things without giving him away. On the other hand, she wasn't sure that she could. And Megamind didn't deserve to suffer indefinitely for the sake of Metroman's happiness. Not in her books, anyway. It would be so easy to just let the whole story pour out… but if she did, that would be it. She'd have to admit that she was trying to infiltrate the prison to rescue Megamind. Courage would probably figure out that Dinomight wasn't really dead, and her entire plan would hinge on the goodwill of a single member of the Heroes Collective. Who might not even have enough sway to change anything for her.
There was a voice in her that said that she should have faith in people's ability to do the right thing. In a hero's ability to actually be heroic. There was another, much more shrewd voice which pointed out that having faith in people only worked when they were people you knew. Even then, sometimes it fell short. There were Megaminds in the world, who could surprise everyone with how much good they really had, and the Hals, who could disappoint them just as badly.
"If you wanted to talk to me, you should have tried it a month ago," Roxanne said, extending her arms again. "Now it's too late."
Commander Courage regarded her solemnly, one hand tapping slightly against the corner of his helmet. "It's never too late to do the right thing."
"I'm glad you think so," she replied, without changing her posture or missing a beat.
They stared off. Courage had that whole military precision thing going on, but Roxanne felt like she could stare for decades, if she have to, until the world bent and did what she told it to.
"Just tell me this," he eventually asked her. "All of those times Metroman rescued you, helped you, pulled you out of the line of fire – are you really the kind of woman who could fall in love with a man who murdered someone you were that indebted to?"
Roxanne swallowed a little, remembering how it had felt on that awful night in the rain, when she'd thought that that was exactly what she'd done. Under false pretenses, granted, but if there was anything which ran a risk of eclipsing her anger towards Megamind at that moment, it was her disgust with herself. Which had only served as greater fuel for her explosion against Music Man, once the truth had finally finished crawling its way out of the labyrinth of lies that everyone had been leaning on. And yet… even before she knew for a fact that Megamind hadn't really done it, she'd already started to crack again, hadn't she? People didn't let people they despised, murderers they despised, into their apartments. They didn't ask for apologies from other people unless they intended to try and forgive them. Deep down she had known that even if Megamind had killed Metroman, he hadn't really meant to do it. That shouldn't have made such a difference. Dead was dead.
"I don't know," she found herself admitting. Almost as soon as the words were out, she regretted them.
Commander Courage gave her a curious look. "Now that's an interesting answer," he said.
She raised her eyebrows at him. "Supervillains aren't generally renowned for their grasp on concepts like love and honor," she attempted to save, curling her lips sardonically. "Revenge is much easier. Now. Are you going to arrest me, or are we just wasting time here? Because as… incredibly weird as this room is, I'd rather not spend much more time hanging out."
The commander seemed to debate the matter internally for a few minutes. Then he sighed.
"I don't suppose that if I 'accidentally' left the door unlocked, you'd quietly escape and go back to living a normal life?" he tried.
Roxanne shook her head.
"Then you don't leave me much choice."
The first escape attempt proved to be the easiest one, more or less. The plan with the vents went… not well, but he managed to get out of his cell, anyway, and got another good look at the red lit security fields. He also nearly lost a hand when they went up, which bothered him more than he cared to admit. For his third attempt he made certain not to run too fast, because those barriers came up ruthlessly quick, and they didn't seem very fussed about whether or not anyone was standing next to them as they did.
For the fourth attempt there was one of the less iconic hero-types on duty, a guy who looked like he'd escaped from a renaissance fair, complete with ill-advised feather plumes on his outfit and a tunic. Megamind managed to get him angry enough to open the cell door himself, then smashed his dinner tray into his face and, as with Lady Mythman, locked him into the cell behind him by randomly punching numbers into the keypad. There was something remarkably satisfying about literally rubbing the hero's face in his organization's disgusting slop food, and then spending the next hour and half standing just beyond his reach and repeatedly insulting his outfit. Because, really, there was dressing for good showmanship, and then there was being a walking joke.
After that was when things started to go south.
Ren-Fair Reject himself wasn't too bad - and at the very least didn't insist on speaking in limericks or anything similarly daunting - but after his shift relief showed up, Megamind was bodily manhandled back into captivity. Where he was bruised and shaken up and handled in a generally wrist-twisting, muscle-pulling fashion. The whole experience was capped off at the end with the mother of all headaches. It hovered behind his eyes and between his ears, a constant wall of pain.
And it wouldn't go away.
Megamind sucked in a breath through his nose, and then let it out again through his mouth. Slowly. Carefully. For the moment, it was the only thing he really had the focus for – just the deep breaths. His chest rose and fell in soft accompaniment to the splitting pain that ran straight through the center of his skull. It felt like someone had taken a lit match to his brain, and then shaken the ashes around, ground them up, and poured them back in through his nose. He'd never felt anything like it in his life before. It made him afraid – afraid that he was going to die, afraid that he was never going to be the same again, and afraid that he wasn't going to be able to get up and move, even though he had to. Needed to. He couldn't quite remember why, exactly, and that was frustrating him, but thinking too hard on it just made the pain worse.
As he sucked in another breath, there was a compressing sensation in his chest. He blinked, and suddenly the pain receded, until he was almost completely gone. He found himself standing in the middle of his new cell – the fifth one that they'd assigned him. Without the distraction of the pain, some of his clarity of thought returned.
Jansen straightened his glasses, and sighed.
"Thanks," Megamind awkwardly offered. Looking back at himself, he didn't look… good. The blue of his skin had been paling ever since he'd arrived, but it was only right then that he noticed how much lighter it was, a few of the larger veins looking purple through the skin, which was covered in a thin sheen of sweat.
"Don't mention it," Jansen replied.
"I just need to rest for a minute or two-"
"No," the hero cut him off. "This plan isn't working. The dampening field is having too strong of an effect on you – you have to stop."
Megamind glared at him. "I don't remember asking for your advice on this, Techmaster," he snapped.
Jansen narrowed his eyes. "Martyrdom doesn't suit you, Megamind, and killing yourself isn't going to do anyone any good. Take it from someone who knows. There's a difference between the sacrifices that mean something, and the ones that… don't."
He groaned. "Oh, please, not with the 'oh the woes that I have seen' stuff right now, I really don't care about your great costs and terrible tragedies. This is nothing like that. I mean, obviously my situation isn't exactly a picnic in a sunny and garbage-free park, but I'll survive. It's not like some pithy security system designed by a somewhat-irregular-but-otherwise-perfectly-human guy like you is any real match for my brain."
"If you really believe that, then you're going to be in for an unpleasant surprise," Jansen insisted, with such utter certainty that Megamind found his will to argue fading in the stretch. Alright. Perhaps he was being just a tiny bit belligerent about the whole thing, and maybe he wasn't doing such a good job of covering up how badly it was affecting him, either, but, what choice did he have? Just wait? Just sit around quietly and let the Collective do whatever it was that they were doing, and hope it came out alright in the end? Nothing ever just fixed itself. There was no magical fairy who repaired broken brain bots during the night, no mystic imps that made prison guards disappear, no benevolent spirits who delivered incredibly handsome geniuses from space, and the only people who could be counted on to help him were, in order: the reason he needed to escape in a hurry to begin with, brainwashed, and incorporeal.
Only quitters decided to get out of jail by sitting down and waiting.
His psychically projected shoulders slumped a little, and he stared at himself again. What a mess. Roxanne and Minion were both in trouble, and it was all because of him. He should have told Minion to stay behind when the trouble alarm went off that morning. He should have never let Roxanne forgive him – whatever was happening to her had to be because of something he'd said or done, something that had made the heroes think that she ought to be pursued. He should have expected something like this to happen. Should have paid more attention to the world as a whole, and not just his own tiny piece of it. His city. He should have considered the fact that it was all too good to be true, and prepared himself accordingly.
He should have built that gigantic city defense robot with the laser eyebeams and stationed it outside of City Hall, the mayor's 'discomfort' be damned.
"Come on," Jansen said, tapping him on the shoulder with a searing hot index finger. "Mermanus is on duty. We can go and watch your fish friend for a while."
Megamind sighed heavily. "What's the point?" he asked. "All he does is stare right through us." But he followed the psychic anyway, trailing after him as he flitted through the walls and doorways. He'd gotten better at the whole 'being a sort-of ghost' thing, though he still preferred floating to walking, and tended to sink through the floor if he started thinking about it too much.
The station's command center was as gloriously dull as it always was, proudly displaying its mostly-empty-screens (though a few of the cells on them showed signs of damage from his various escape attempts now) and its glowing red light of contempt. Mermanus was, indeed, stationed at the desk, flipping through an old copy of National Geographic and picking between his teeth with his thumbnail. Riveting. Minion was slouched into a corner of the room, as usual, just sort of bobbing a little bit in his dome and staring sightlessly out at the world. Megamind hovered beside him for a while. Jansen examined the surveillance screens, and some of the equipment spread out before Speedo Man.
"Anything interesting?" he asked.
Jansen shrugged. "Not as such, no. There's some evidence of what we've been doing on the power readouts, but unless an emergency alarm goes off, I don't think they remember to check those. I made them a little… complex for most people's sensibilities."
Megamind nodded, keeping one eye on Minion. "They really think it's impossible to escape from here." he reasoned. Complacent guards were always handy. They were slower to react, and more eager to believe that emergency alarms or sirens had just gone off by mistake.
"Well, they won't be so smug about everything when we're through with them," Jansen determined, folding his arms across his chest in a very hero-ish display of resolve.
"No, I guess they-" Megamind stopped mid-sentence as a sudden urgent, sharp pain spiked through him. His vision blacked out, and he felt a tearing sensation in his chest, as though someone had just stabbed it through with a chainsaw. Jansen swore. Something nearby beeped, and the room swam, blinking out in black spots as he attempted to pull air through his illusory lungs, but found that he couldn't. He gasped. But it didn't make any sense – his lungs were imaginary, his projected form only breathed because Megamind subconsciously carried the action over from his body, like blinking or, to some extent, even having a body at all. Panic rushed through him, followed immediately by a sense of burning, fiery pain which seemed to engulf him. Jansen's hands had closed painfully over his arms, and they were moving. He could see his glasses out of the corner of his eye, the line of his mouth hard and fixed.
Then he lost his focus, as everything about him seemed to catch and burn, all of his other senses drowned out by the twin screams of hot and pain. He wasn't sure if he was back in his body or still a ghost, but he felt a brief moment of terror at the latter thought – because if he was still out of his head then what he was feeling was only a fraction of what he could feel, and he couldn't even imagine anything worse. A ragged sound filled his ears. It took him several seconds to realize that it was the sound of his own breathing, his lungs filling desperately with air as he gasped and gasped, his head addled and pain-filled. For a disorienting stretch of time he seemed to completely forget where he was. He thought briefly that he was in prison – real prison, not horribly space prison – and felt a thrum of confusion at the dull, unpainted walls around him. Then he thought that he must be in a lair, that something had gone wrong. Then he seemed to think that he was lying on the street in Metrocity, with Titan's boot lodged against his back, crushing him as the hero burned through his skull with his heat vision. It would explain all of the grey he was seeing, and all of the painful heat he was feeling.
"Damn," a voice was saying, distant and fuzzy. He thought he knew it, though he couldn't place from where. "Damn, damn, damn. There's nothing I can do for you. I knew this was a bad idea, and now look what's gone and happened."
Wonderfully bad idea, he thought, dazed, closing his eyes and clutching his hands to his skull, trying to block off whatever kept stabbing at it. You don't know what's good for bad. Only that wasn't Minion talking, was it?
There was more noise. A distant shout. The repetitive thud, thud, thud of heavy footsteps. Megamind opened his eyes – when had he closed them? – to try and see what was going on, but the pain in his head reached a terrifying crescendo at that, and he slammed them shut again. The pounding sound didn't help, either. Something was beating repeatedly against a hard surface, making a sound like a drum, and causing an electrical current to sputter and pop and hiss.
"What are you doing?" someone new shouted. "Stop! Stop! I command you to stop, creature!"
There was a thick sound of impact, like metal striking flesh, and then a groan and brief silence.
The pounding resumed. It went on for a few more seconds, and then there was a crashed sound, the impact of something metal shrieking and being torn. A dull hum, which he'd barely noticed in the background, died. Footsteps thudded across the floor nearby. Megamind smelled something like ozone and melted connectors, and something hard closed around his waist, hefting him up off of the surface of his cot. His chest collided a little awkwardly with painted metal. It felt just a little too hot beneath him – why was everything in so insistently, furiously overheated of late? His stomach lurched and his head swam, but he managed to muster enough of himself to try that whole opening-his-eyes thing again.
Minion bobbed a little bit in the direct line of his vision. The gorilla hair of his suit was gone – when had that happened? – and the body of it was covered in scorch marks and hairline fractures. One of the arms, the one not currently clamped around Megamind, was almost completely ruined. Mostly alarmingly, the collar of the suit was damp, with water leaking very slowly from the bottom of his containment dome. Minion himself wasn't looking towards him. In fact he didn't appear to be looking at much of anything, his expression locked in heavy concentration, uncannily still. Outside of the cell, someone groaned. Inside of the cell, someone else swore, and a voice began saying something about security and numbers. Megamind filled with a nameless dread, unconsciously bracing himself…
…and then the talking quieted.
"He lost consciousness," the voice inside of the cell said. "That was lucky."
Minion gave a soft shudder, his fins shaking, eyes blinking. Something changed about him, then. It was almost like watching a person wake up, and as he came back to himself he looked sharply around. Obviously confused.
"Sir? What hap…" he trailed off as he looked towards Megamind. His expression dropped immediately from confused to horrified. "Sir!"
Speaking was apparently a little bit beyond him right then. Reaching out, Megamind tried for a reassuring shoulder pat, but only managed to flop his hand a little bit. His head hurt so much. He just wanted it to be cool somewhere. Cool and dark and preferably filled with clean, fresh air, and no sounds at all. The room tilted as Minion moved, carrying him out into the corridor. Tension was radiating off of him in waves. "Where are we? What's been going on, sir? Please, you've got to tell me, I don't know what I should do!"
"Well, this complicates things," the other voice said. That was Jones… no, Jan… Janet? Wait, Jansen, that was it. That was Jansen's voice, although Megamind found it hard to recall who Jansen was, or just how he knew him. There was a beat, the pause filled with the underlying current of someone thinking very carefully about something. "I don't know when the next shuttle will arrive… we'll have to risk it. Tell your friend to carry you down to the security level, Megamind. We need to shut off the field."
Easier said than done. Or easier for someone else to say than for him to… say, really. Why did he have to be the one to tell Minion, anyway? What was wrong with Jansen's voice? He could hear it clear as a bell. Gathering the tattered threads of his concentration, Megamind opened his mouth to try and organize sounds into those tricky little things called 'words', but he was cut-off mid effort by a sudden, shrill blaring sound from the ceiling.
"That can't be a good sign," Minion said.
Jansen let out an aggravated hiss. "Someone must have set off an emergency alert. But that doesn't make sense. No one else should be on the station right now, not unless the shuttle just arrived."
Megamind wasn't sure how he knew that Jansen left, then, but he did, in a periphery sort of way. Minion was staring at the corridor around them, frowning as fiercely as he ever had.
"Mmrh," Megamind managed.
"It's okay, sir," Minion assured him. "We're going to get out of here. You just rest. I'll handle this." Then he started running, his gait more than a little jarring as he took off towards the right, water sloshing around him. That wasn't a good sign. Minion's water wasn't supposed to slosh.
I should fix that, Megamind thought. The hard walls around them whipped by as Minion dashed, then made a couple of back-tracks, then turned and actually passed by a corridor which seemed important, somehow. As he was trying to figure out a way to indicate that, however, his friend seemed to realize it, too, because he doubled back and started to head down it. The space was smaller than most of the station's entryways, and ended in a spherical door with a small glass slit at the top. As Minion started towards it, the door let out a soft whirr and whooshed open. A slight gust of air kicked past them.
Slasher was waiting just inside, his expression hard as knives.
Author's Note: Whew! Fair warning - I've been stupid busy lately, so the next couple of updates might be late. At least until all the Christmas madness wears down. I'll try and keep that from happening, though. Thanks as always to everyone who reviewed this story! And my other fics, too! ^_^ Love you guys.