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April 5, 2009
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The Mad Actor’s Monologue

“I don’t get why we gotta patrol this area every damn night,” the young cop said as their car plunged down the deserted highway.
“It’s been standard procedure for our department for decades,” her partner replied.
“Yeah, and that’s what I don’t get!  There’s nothing down here,” the young cop said.  “I mean, look at the scenery.  This is all just woods.  No houses, no buildings, no people.”
“One house,” replied the older cop.
“Where?”
“Deep in the woods.  You can’t see it without taking a short hike.  None of the streets lead to it.”
“Ah, I see.  So we go all the way out here to check on one house that you can’t even reach by car?” the young cop grumbled.  “No one’s going to go this far out of their way to gaze at some rotting relic out in the woods!”
“Someone did,” the older cop said.  “Or are you unfamiliar with the City Hall bombing of 37?”
A chill ran down the young cop’s spine.  “I remember that.  Scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.  But what does that have to do with-”
“Well, the three terrorists who blew up the hall – who personally set up the bombs – happened to use this house as their hide out.  No one knew about this place, so it took the cops a few days to find them.  They almost got away, in fact, and as such it poses a huge security risk.  Now do you get why we patrol this area?”
“No!” the young cop said.  “Why didn’t they jut destroy the place?  It’s not like anyone lives there!”
The older cop got visibly uncomfortable.  “That, uh, that’s not something I should be telling a rookie.” The intrigued glance his partner gave him told him that was a bad answer.  “But I don’t think you’ll let me get any rest until I do tell you now, right?”
“Pretty much,” the young cop replied.
The old cop sighed. “I heard this from a guy who asked our department’s Bogie the same question.  He said that the Bogie said that the house was considered ‘scientifically intriguing.’”
“What the hell does that mean?  It’s a friggin’ house!”
“Could mean any number of things.  Maybe they want to study it in an archeological way.  You know, to preserve some aspect of our ancestors and that crap.  Maybe it means something else.”
“Whaddya mean something else?”
“Well, I heard rumors about how exactly the terrorists were rounded up.  See, three of ‘em were involved in the bombing.  Only one was found alive, right outside the house.”
“Yeah?”
“This was after they sent a squad of guys inside the place.  They waited for the squad to come out while the perp screamed hysterically.  Eventually they started listening to him while they waited.  And that’s where things get weird.
“See, way I heard it, he was screaming about how the house was alive.  How it killed his friends, how he barely escaped.  Talked about arms coming out of the walls.  Crazy shit, right?  The guy prattles on for a while, and soon the cops are getting a bit creeped out.  Not only is this loon ranting on about some truly bizarre crap, but the squad they sent in is getting increasingly late.  They send a couple guys to see what the hold up is.  No one comes out.”
“What happened?”
“Nobody knows.  All they found out was that anyone who went in didn’t come out – at least, not alive.  They performed life form scans and nothing showed up.  They sent droids in to look around, but they stopped reporting shortly after entering.”
“Well, what was it?”
“Again, nobody knows.  No bodies were found because no one was able to enter the building without dying.  So the government decided they should study it to figure out what the hell was going on.”
“You’re shitting me,” the rookie said.
“Ay, it’s what I heard.  I never said it was true, it’s just what I heard.”
As they continued their patrol the rookie felt another chill run down her spine.  It wasn’t just the horror story that her partner had related to her, although that certainly didn’t help.  The woods were what was really creeping her out.  They were so different than the city, filled with trees whose forms sprawled in twisted, chaotic poses compared to the rigid structure of the sky scrapers she was used to.  This was not a place of order.
A shriek shot out at them from the distance, making the rookie jump in her seat.  “What the hell was that?”
“A siren,” the old cop said.  “They rigged the house with motion sensor alarms.  Someone’s trying to break into the thing!”
“What?!!” the rookie yelled.  “You’re joking!  What is this, some sort of hazing?”
“No, this is serious,” the cop said.  “No one is allowed near that house.  Come on, we got work tonight.”  The old cop pulled off to the side of the road and parked.  “Get you gun out, rookie.  Anyone who’s at that house is up to no good.”
The rookie quickly grabbed her gun followed him up the hill.  She shivered as a sort of primordial terror filled her mind.  Branches seemed to reach for her like outstretched hands as strange animal noises inspired yet more dread in her heart. Perhaps it was her city slicker mentality, but the woods seemed to be like something out of a nightmare rather than someplace “natural.”  A cozy little apartment was natural.  The police station was natural.  Kicking the shit out of some shop lifting punk on the clean yet dingy city streets, THAT was natural.  This place was Hell, pure and simple.
At the top of the hill, sitting in a small valley within it, stood an old house.  Its corners were covered with gigantic steel plates that had been rusting for years.  It’s window-less second floor told the rookie cop that is must have been made after the Shambling Plague, though she was not savvy enough to realize that the armored corners placed it in the 23rd century.  She was, however, able to see that the front door to the house was open, and that the remains of the barricade over it were scattered on the ground.
“Someone broke in!” the rookie stammered.
The older cop shook his head.  “No.  This barricade was broken from inside the house.  Someone got out.”  With a sudden clunk the automatic door of the house slammed shut in a manner that could only be described as ominous.  For a while the two cops merely stared at it in awe.
“Well, what do we do, partner?” the rookie asked.  “Do we… ulp, go in?”
The old cop paused for a second before shaking his head.  “I say we call for backup.  This ain’t a normal situation, and I don’t feel like getting killed by some… some haunted house if I don’t have to.  Let’s get back to the car, rookie.”
Neither of the cops noticed the glowing teal light that followed their every move as they descended the hill.  When they were out of sight the source of the light hovered from her hiding place.  She was a droid unlike any model that had ever been mass produced, with a body that was similar to yet not an imitation of a woman’s, so as not to cross the uncanny valley while still maintaining enough familiarity to be empathetic.  Everything about her body had been designed with human psychology in mind while still retaining functionality, even going so far as to give her a relatively useless metal curtain around her head that resembled a short female haircut.
The gynoid approached the house and laid one three fingered mechanical hand upon its side.  “Thank you, mother,” she said with a surprisingly realistic synthetic feminine voice.  “I will carry on our function as Vassal units.  Humanity will be saved and preserved.  You have my promise.”  With that said she removed her hand, yet still lingered by the house.  This had been all she had ever known.  She had read about the outside world, seen pictures, watched video, but she had never been able to step out into it.  Until now.
Then, driven on by her programming, Vassal version 8.0 headed out of the forest to find civilization.  From there only fate knew where she would go.
~ ~ ~
Soft sounds of tiny metal feet clicking on linoleum filled Straightjacket’s ears like the sweetest music.  He had only finished rebuilding Mr. Moofy three days ago, and the spider droid was already back to being its delightful self.  He had been worried that his companion was lost forever, as a substantial chunk of the droid’s thoughts and memories had been damaged beyond repair in the crash.  Luckily Mr. Moofy’s evolved personality remained relatively in tact, and the sudden loss of data in the other two fields had given the droid the frisky curiosity of its youth.  “It’s like having a kitten again!” Straightjacket mused as he leapt off the new hovercraft he was building to meet the droid.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Moofy,” the masked man said in a stately manner.  “What news do you have for me from your travels?”
Mr. Moofy made a humble and adorable bowing gesture before releasing a series of rapid clicks and squeaks. Straightjacket nodded attentively as a chip in his helmet translated the droid’s thoughts into his own brain.  He had no idea which chirps and squeaks made up the English words forming in his head, but every day he got a little bit better at translating the jist of his robot’s dialect.  Eventually the mental transmitter would be unnecessary, but that time was a while off.
“Uh huh.  I see.  Yeah, the big rats do go smoosh when you hit them the right way.  Uh huh,” Straightjacket continued listening before one bit of information was casually dropped by the droid that truly surprised him.  “What was that?”  The droid clicked and chirped the same words again as the eyes on Straightjacket’s mask widened.
“Another being?  Here?  Alive?  And not a rat?” the man asked the droid.  Mr. Moofy clicked a “yes” back at him.  “Not one of those bat creatures, either?” Straightjacket asked, getting a “no” out of the droid.  Not a rat, not a bat.  Something alive was there with them.  Mr. Moofy clicked and chirped something about it having metal skin as the droid himself did.  That clinched it.  Straightjacket’s curiosity was officially piqued.  “Well, then, let’s meet this metal man!  Lead the way!”
Mr. Moofy whirred as his camera eye adjusted – something that always happened when the robot was thinking.  Straightjacket was fascinated by the behaviors the robot was developing as time went by.  Perhaps it would one day be able to reach true sentience.
Finally the droid chirped an agreement to Straightjacket’s request and scurried off.  The masked man smiled broadly and followed, humming a tune as they strolled down the corridor.  If Straightjacket was a normal man, he might have been cautious about this trip.  He was, after all, exploring the bowels of a military base that was used for experiments that broke the laws of man, god, and nature in search of a mysterious figure.  This was a place where freakish mutations had been cultivated.  Hell, it was probably ground zero of the Shambling Plague – Straightjacket knew they were working with the virus in this facility, and he vaguely recalled hearing about early cases of “super rabies,” as it had been called at the time, breaking out in Nevada.  Of course, that was a couple centuries ago, and his mind wasn’t exactly pristine.
The fact of the matter was that Straightjacket was not a normal man, both physically and psychologically.  He was not scared of freakish mutations or deadly pathogens.  If anyone or anything wanted to give him trouble, he would simply respond in kind.  Hell, he’d almost welcome it.  The world had yet to throw any serious threats to the longevity of his life, hampering only its quality.
Ten or so minutes of walking in dimly lit corridors later Mr. Moofy came to a halt.  The droid turned around and chirped to its master, pointing its long hind legs at the wall.  Straightjacket stepped towards it and, not seeing a door, looked at the droid in confusion.  Mr. Moofy stared back at him, as if the answer was obvious.  The masked man scratched his head and tried to touch the wall only to have his hand disappear into it.
“Hah!” Straightjacket said with a smile.  He picked up Mr. Moofy and walked through the wall.  “Nice trick,” he said aloud to no one in particular as he entered a significantly narrower hallway.  The pair made their way to the light at the end of the hall.
Upon entering the room Straightjacket felt immense déjà vu.  He had seen this place before in countless Science Fiction movies and comics.  It was a mad scientist’s laboratory.  Beakers and test tubes filled with multicolored and bubbling liquids, vast quantities of papers with various notes scribbled on them, and all manner of strange devices the likes of which Straightjacket had never seen in real life... whoever lived in this room rivaled Straightjacket’s own knowledge of weird science.
It took him a while to find the owner of the room.  Mr. Moofy was right about his metal exterior, which happened to let the man blend in perfectly with his surroundings.  Straightjacket may never have found him if he hadn’t moved to another table.
“Excuse me sir!” Straightjacket called out.  The man turned to face him, revealing the characteristic cyclopean eye of a droid.  Straightjacket hadn’t’ expected that – he had thought the “metal skin” was simply a suit of armor to deal with shamblers.  The surprise did little to deter the lunatic, as Straightjacket quickly continued, “You wouldn’t happen to be the owner of this fine laboratory, would you?”
“Yes,” the mechanical man said in a low monotone.  “So I’ve been found.  I suppose it had to happen eventually.”  The robot’s camera eye focused harder on Straightjacket.  “Is that the current trend in fashion?  It seems quite ridiculous, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was.”
“This?  No, no, this look is all mine,” Straightjacket replied, “I even invented the mask.  You see, it-”
“Is a thin LCD screen projecting some sort of cartoon facial expression that is manipulated by brainwave receptors in the helmet it is attached to,” the robot said matter-of-factly.  “Interesting, yet lacking in practicality, or usefulness of any sort for that matter.  Unnecessary, and as such pointless and not worthy of note.”
“No accounting for taste,” Straightjacket said, feeling slighted.  “Mr. Moofy likes it, don’t you Mr. Moofy?”  The spider droid chirped as Straightjacket tickled its belly.
“Taste is subjective, and as such it is superfluous and irrelevant.  Practicality is universal,” the larger robot replied.  “I’d be interested in your droid simply to see how far artificial intelligence has come along, but by the looks of it I can assume it hasn’t come far.”
That was a low blow in Straightjacket’s book.  “What qualifies as an advance is also subjective, is it not?  Mr. Moofy here can contemplate the intangible.  He appreciates art and creates his own, even developing his own language.  Surely that is better than some stereotypical robot that only understands ‘practical’ things like logic and reason.  It is closer to the sentient human in that way.”
“I take it you are implying that I am an out of date model of droid?” the robot asked.
“Not only out of date, but dangerously arrogant,” Straightjacket responded.
With a graceful nonchalance the robot opened a door on its chest.  A green light flickered on within the cavity, revealing what looked like a human brain inside a jar filled with green liquid.  Two eyestalks emerged from the brain.  “I am no robot,” the cyborg said.
“You’re a brain in a jar?” Straightjacket said with a gasp.  “That is so… so classic!  So utterly and beautifully dramatic!”
“I wouldn’t know,” the cyborg said.  “Again you speak in subjective terms.  If you are quite finished, I would like to get back to my work.”
Straightjacket looked around the lab, taking in all the odd gadgets and devices.  “And what is your work, exactly?  Robotics?  Cure for cancer?  Sea turtle study?”
“I am poorly suited for the last choice,” the cyborg replied.  “My work has been mainly in physics, but I have been down here a long time, and as such dabbled in other projects.  Why does this interest you?”
“Well, I’m something of an inventor myself,” Straightjacket replied while walking up to one of the lab tables.  “You can call me Straightjacket.”
“Your parents named you after an article of clothing designed to restrain lunatics?” the cyborg asked.
“No, of course not.  But the name they gave me isn’t one for new acquaintances.  Straightjacket is my professional moniker.”
“Professional?” they cyborg said, his robotic eye trained on the masked man in front of him.  “Hmm.  Very well.  I am Dr. Mortimer Promelion.”
“Oh really?” Straightjacket said.  “That’s funny, a man of the same name invented some of the earliest artificial intelligence programs.”
“Indeed I did,” Promelion said.  “And more inventions than you can probably fathom.”
“That would make you several hundred years old,” Straightjacket said.  “Because the Promelion I’m thinking of disappeared halfway through the 21st century.”
“So my absence was noticed.  Interesting.”
“I think I can fill in the blanks,” Straightjacket said, “You made yourself a robot body and put your brain inside there so you could live forever and do science.  Sensing that said brain would be helpless without the body, you mutated it a tad after the transplant so it could survive on its own should your robot body go offline.  You then spent the centuries researching here safely away from the interference of the outside world.  How’d I do?”
“Very well,” Promelion replied.  At that moment he decided this man might be worth a bit more study, if only out of curiosity about the progression of the outside world.
Straightjacket, meanwhile, had been closely inspecting the various gadgets on Promelion’s lab table.  Picking up one particularly large object that looked like an old-school Sci-Fi ray gun, he asked Promelion, “What does this device do?”
“It emits a ray of energy that disintegrates flesh.  Not entirely successful.  Can’t destroy pieces that have heavy calcium deposits.”
“So it basically turns people to skeletons?” Straightjacket asked.
“That’s one way to put it,” Promelion replied.
The smile on Straightjacket’s mask grew very, very wide.  “That is so… so igenious!  It’s like something out of a comic book.  What are you planning to do with it?”
“Nothing, really,” Promelion answered.  “It was an experiment.  The results have been recorded.  I am done with the device.”
A frown appeared on Straightjacket’s mask.  “Is that all you do here?  Perform experiment after experiment with no goal in mind?”
“No goal?” Promelion said with slight indignation.  “This is the pursuit of knowledge.  That is a loftier goal than most men bother to dream of.”
“Not if that knowledge does nothing more than sit and rot in a lab!” Straightjacket protested.  “You have all this potential – all this knowledge, all these inventions – hell, you’re a brain in a jar!  What are you doing hiding away in this forgotten bunker like a corpse in a grave?  You should be showing the world your genius!  Share your works of art with pride and gain the recognition you so rightly deserve!”
Promelion did not answer promptly.  His robotic eye slowly looked at his inventions, then back at Straightjacket.  “The world was not ready for my ideas in my own time.  What makes you think it is ready for me now?”
“Nothing, as it surely isn’t ready,” Straightjacket said.  “But think about it, Promelion.  When has the world ever truly been ready for genius?  Most geniuses are considered madmen in their own lifetimes.  Think of Tesla.  The fact of the matter is, geniuses change things, and change scares people.  Change leads to extinctions, after all, and in the short term that’s all people can see.  But change also leads to growth.  That growth, in hindsight, will make you revered.  In that light, you have something other geniuses don’t.”
“And what’s that?”
“You’re a brain in a jar!  You can live to see that hindsight!  The going may be rough for a while, but eventually you’ll be an idol!”
Promelion looked back at his desk.  “I have much to show the world.  Mankind could benefit… but the risk of it being misused…”
“Let the people make their mistakes,” Straightjacket said.  “They can correct them, and if they don’t, we will.  Denying people knowledge simply for fear of what they might do with it is an error in and of itself.  You of all people should know that.  Isn’t that why you exiled yourself, after all?  Because others restricted what you could accomplish for fear of its potential for misuse?  Now is your chance to prove them wrong!”
Straightjacket felt that if Promelion’s mechanical face was capable of smiling, it would have at that moment.  “A valid point.  It seems I’ve misjudged you, Straightjacket.  You’re a far more intelligent individual than I previously assessed.”
“Oh, there’s whole sides of me you haven’t seen,” Straightjacket said as a broad grin grew on his mask.
“I imagine so,” Promelion said.  “Perhaps it is time I studied this modern world.  I haven’t really touched on anthropology yet.”
“Trust me, it’s an interesting subject.  There’s this one civilization going on right now that’s some poor imitation of 1984.”
“What, the Reagan era?” Promelion asked.
“No.  Well, yeah, actually,” Straightjacket responded.  “I mean, I was referring to the book by George Orwell, but that works too.”
A strange sound issued from Promelion’s head.  At first Straightjacket fought he was having some sort of malfunction, but he quickly recognized it as a sort of mechanical chuckle.  “Let’s leave this lab,” Promelion said.  “I feel like taking a vacation.”
“Vacation?  No, Promelion old boy,” Straightjacket said as Mr. Moofy perched on his shoulder, “We’re going on an odyssey, a grand adventure!”  Promelion stared at him blankly.  “And a great experiment.”  This seemed to please the cyborg.  Straightjacket extended his hand to Promelion.  The cyborg extended his own mechanical hand.  The handshake that followed might have inspired laughter considering the sheer absurdity of the two men’s appearances, but it was the formation of a partnership that would soon strike terror in the hearts of mortal men.
~ ~ ~
Sweating under the spotlight, Donavan Dupin nervously smiled beneath his helmet.  This was the first time he was on the receiving end of an interrogation.
“Bogie,” one of the men in the shadows said, “You know why we have called you here?”
“I’m guessing it’s my refusal to close the Renfield/Forth case, sir,” Donavan replied with all the courage he could muster.  He was surprised at how elegant and calm his voice sounded,  considering the circumstances.
“Correct.  Our files say you have sufficient data to prove that our suspect, a Mr. Daniel Forth, committed the crimes, but have yet to quit investigating it.  Are our files correct?”
The Bogie sighed.  “Yes, sir.”
“You do realize that keeping a case open this long – particularly one as outrageous as this – reflects poorly on yourself, your department, the police force, and the NWP government in general?”
“Yes sir.”
“Then why haven’t you closed the case?”
“With all respect, sir, I do not feel as though the suspect was truly responsible for this crime.  There seems to be something bigger at work here.”
“We do not care about your feelings, detective,” one of the men in the shadows said.
“My associate is right,” the leader said.  “Do you have any proof of these theories?”
The Bogie sighed again.  “Only the testimony of the suspect and… well, my gut, sir.”
“Mr. Dupin,” the leader said severely, “None of that is substantial enough to warrant risking scandal like this.”
“But sir, with all respect, we could be sending an innocent man to the gas chamber!” the Bogie protested.
“There is one reason we have been crime free this long, and that reason is our ability to project the image of complete and utter control.  Allowing a crime to be unsolved this long ruins that, opening the door to further crime.  Do you understand?”
Dupin couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “Do you… Are you telling me not to do my job, sir?”
“I am telling you not to put your feelings ahead of the security of the state.  If you feel something bigger is behind this, by all means, investigate.  But only do so after the image of our country is returned to safety.  Understood?”
For a moment Donavan was speechless.  “U-understood, sir,” he finally managed to say before being escorted out of the room.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the police headquarters, two guards stood at the back entrance in complete and utter boredom.  Neither one felt their job was actually necessary.  True, they had a prisoner in the brig today, but he was sure to be executed soon, and that was sure to go smoothly.  Nothing bad ever happened in the NWP, and even if it did, it wouldn’t happen at the heavily guarded central police headquarters, home to the best law enforcement and military leaders in the country.
Blood suddenly spurted out of both the guards’ heads as they fell limply to the ground, as if they had been shot with invisible bullets.  The door they were guarding opened and closed seemingly of their own free will.
Dan Forth was sitting in a containment cell not to far from this door, anticipating his forthcoming demise at the hands of his own government and still wondering where it all went wrong.  He felt a brief rush of air as if the door to his cell had opened, but when he looked up it was still closed.  Suddenly his ears popped as if the pressure in the room had suddenly changed before a substance that smelled like smoke assaulted his eyes and nostrils, making him close his watering eyes and cough like the damned.
When he opened his now red eyes he saw two of the last men he ever wanted to see standing before him.  “Why hello Mr. Forth,” Mr. Smolder said while taking a drag from his cigarette.  “I do hope you remember myself and my associate Mr. Quiet.”
“Oh God,” Dan screamed amidst coughs.
“Sorry about the smoke and silence,” Mr. Smolder continued.  “I imagine you felt a popping sensation in your ears, and judging by your coughing you also inhaled quite a bit of the smoke.  Ya see, my friend here is surrounded by a sort of invisible sound barrier – no sound enters or leaves the barrier.  He can extend it to, say, fill this room here, so no one can hear our little conversation.  I, on the other hand, can create a thick layer of smoke that can take on very complex colors.  Used correctly, it can mimic my environment, like one of dem chameleon lizards.  In other words, we’re pretty much invisible – anyone walking by us will just see you sitting alone in the room looking worried.”
“Why are you-” Dan began.
“Doing this?” Mr. Smolder finished.  “Why, Danny boy, we’re busting you out.  On a couple of conditions, of course.”
“What conditions?”
“You swear your loyalty to the Tall Man,” Mr. Smolder said with a wicked sneer.  “You invent stuff for him, build him machines, help him find flaws in the government’s shit, that sorta thing.  In return he’ll make your life posh and give you the best protection from the boys in blue you’ll ever find.  Pretty sweet gig, if I do say so myself.”
“I’m in!” Dan said immediately without even stopping to think about it.  This was the only way he could get out of this situation alive.
“Excellent, Danny boy,” Mr. Smolder said.  “’Course, you’re gonna need a pseudonym.  Something like ‘Mr. Brain’ or ‘Mr. Mechanic.’  You know, something snazzy.  Let’s leave this hell hole, shall we?”  Mr. Smolder put a hand on Dan’s shoulder in a friendly manner and walked him out.  Dan didn’t even notice the corpses they stepped over as they left the police station.  All he could think of was freedom.
~ ~ ~
The town of Genericton was the most out of the way town in the NWP, being just a few miles from the wasteland border and far, far away from the Capitol City.  Vassal knew this because one of her previous owners had known it – one of the two whose thoughts she had managed to harvest before their tragic expirations.  This particular owner had meant to meet up with other revolutionaries in this city before her unfortunate demise.  Vassal hoped those people were still alive, as she felt it was her duty to inform them of the circumstances of their friend’s demise, comforting them if need be.  Perhaps they would accept her help in return, allowing her to join their freedom movement.  The idea of such acceptance triggered Vassal’s positive emotion response programming.  This may be the day she could finally perform her function.
Having been the artificial intelligence of a stationary house for her entire life, Vassal did not recognize the unnatural quietness or lack of movement in the town as unusual.  As she traveled the barren, abandoned streets she could only think that it would take a considerable amount of electricity to recharge her circuits after the two months of traveling she had done.  She hoped her potential friends would not mind the cost too much.  Maybe she could repay them in some way.
“Hello?” Vassal shouted in the empty streets, hoping to gain some attention.  “I’m looking for friends of Audrey Charleston!  Does anyone here know her?”  There was no response.  Vassal thought that was odd.  Cities were supposed to be full of people.  Surely someone would have heard her and responded.  
She continued shouting questions while the sunset grew dimmer and dimmer.  When it fell completely out of view she saw men and women slowly emerge from the houses.  They quickly noticed her and began to talk amongst themselves.  A pair of them approached Vassal.
“Oh, hello!” the droid said.  “Sorry to bother you all.  I was just looking for any friends of Audrey Charleston.  See-”
“Looks like one of the mechs got away, Eddie,” the shrewish looking woman of the pair sneered while circling Vassal like a vulture.  “What should we do, my marble skinned Adonis?”
“Lord Lugar ordered all the mechs destroyed, my beautiful swan,” the male said.  “They’ll all be useless once everyone accepts the Langsuir lifestyle.”  His fingers combed through his bronze hair in a vaguely seductive movement.  “Shall you do the deed, my dear Isabella, or should I?”
“Oh, you do it!” the beautiful yet insipid female practically squealed.  “I want to watch your statuesque physic in action again!  Besides, your eyes turn a sparkling topaz color when you get into battle form.”
“I, uh, think there’s been a mistake,” Vassal said as fear raced through her circuitry.  The other humans gathered around her in a circle while the male named Eddie tore off his shirt.  His muscles flexed and bulged as his torso contorted into painful looking configurations.  In place of the fairly attractive human face he once sported there stood a hideous bat-like countenance with a mouth full of nail-like teeth.  Huge talons sprouted from his fingers as his eyes glinted like burning embers in their sockets.  A terrifying roar burst from his fanged maw as two large bat-like wings sprouted from his back, completing his horrific transformation.
“I only regret that you cannot feel fear, mech,” the vampire bellowed cruelly, “Or pain.”  With a second roar he took a swipe at Vassal with his mammoth claws.  The slender gynoid managed to dodge the blow, much to the monster’s frustration.
“Wait!  I mean you no harm!” she shouted as the beast continued to swipe at her, dodging each blow.
“What’s the matter, Eddie?” one of the crowd members jeered.  “Can’t crush a single stupid mech without help?”
“Stow it Jasper!” Eddie growled.  “This one’s slippery!”
“Surely we can end this on peaceful terms?” Vassal continued to negotiate as the blows became harder to dodge.
“Kill it already Eddie!” Isabella shouted in her strident, shrieking harpy voice.  “I want to eat something before the sun comes up!”
“It’s different from the other ones!” Eddie shouted back. “Alice, you ever seen one like this before?”
“Naw,” one of the vampires shouted back.  “I never seen a mech that could talk before, either.”  The other vampires in the crowd murmurs in agreement as Eddie continued to attempt to hit the poor robot.
“Please don’t make me hur-” Vassal managed to say before Eddie finally struck her, knocking the poor droid onto the ground with a strong blow.  The crowd cheered.  Vassal stood back up.  “That’s it,” she stated in the most threatening tone she could generate.  Electricity crackled from her hands and illuminated the scene.  The gynoid grabbed Eddie’s arm as it was swinging towards her, and at that instant the electricity wrapped around Eddie’s entire body.  He howled in pain for a good two minutes before Vassal let go, allowing the vampire to fall over.
“I’ll tear you apart!” Isabella screamed at Vassal, only to be interrupted by the sound of something hurtling towards them all from the sky.  The vampires and Vassal all looked up to see a humanoid form hurtling towards them feet first, cackling all the while.  With a loud thud it landed upon Eddie’s unconscious form, revealing itself as a man wearing a black and white straightjacket and a very strange mask.
“Evening ladies and gents,” the masked man said cheerfully.  He raised his right leg and kicked Eddie’s chest with the spiked toe of his boot.  The vampire screamed horrifically and began to rot very quickly, turning into a moldy corpse in a matter of minutes.  The vampire named Isabella wailed at this site while the others watched in stunned silence.
“I know that guy!” one of the vampires said.  “He fought Lord Lugar and Boris in Nevada!  This is gonna be bad.”
“Oh yes,” the man in the straightjacket said as his strange mask seemed to shift in sync with the words, “Very bad indeed.”
Isabella threw herself at the man in a vicious rage, only to be met with a swift kick to the chest.  The kick made it mark, and soon the vile gorgon of a woman was little more than a rotting pile of bones.  The other vampires backed away from the man and Vassal, with some making a full retreat back to their homes.  The man in the straightjacket grabbed Vassal’s arm.  “Come on, my fine mechanical friend,” he said to here.  “My name is Straightjacket, and I’m here to rescue you.”
Vassal’s programming could not generate an appropriate verbal response fast enough, so she simply accepted his hand and nodded.  Straightjacket smiled and looked up, waving his hand at the sky.  A loud rumbling issued from above them in response, scattering the few vampires that had not already left the scene.  Soon a large vessel became visible in the sky, slowly descending toward Vassal and Straightjacket.  It was a mammoth airship that looked something like a giant mechanical trilobite, powered by four large Gravity Manipulation canons.  A rope ladder descended from a small door on its underside, falling next to Vassal and Straightjacket.
“Our chariot awaits,” Straightjacket told Vassal while gesturing to the ladder.  The gynoid grabbed a hold of it and climbed while Straightjacket turned into a cloud of green mist that circled the droid.  “Do not fear attack from those below us,” the man’s voice issued from the mist, “I will protect you.”
“Thank you,” Vassal replied.
“Think nothing of it,” the mist that was Straightjacket said.  Soon Vassal reached the top of the ladder and, somewhat awkwardly, managed to crawl inside the airship.  The green mist quickly followed after her and reformed into Straightjacket’s human body, complete with his bizarre outfit.  He closed the door and shouted, “Take us up and resume our original course, Dr. Promelion!”
“Do not think that I am ungrateful,” Vassal told Straightjacket, “But I would like to know why you rescued me, Mr. Straightjacket.”
“I hate to see people unnecessarily abuse robots,” Straightjacket said as the ship lurched upwards.  “You’re lucky Dr. Promelion noticed you.  We were scouting for NWP battle droids when he came across your AI signal.  It seemed to interest him quite a bit.”
“Oh,” Vassal said in reply, being unable to generate a more meaningful response.  “well, I thank you for the rescue.  Could you help me just a bit more?”
“Why of course, my dear!” Straightjacket replied.  “Within reason, of course.”
“Oh good!” Vassal said.  “I hate to impose, but this really is a matter of some urgency.  You see, I am a, err, friend of a woman named Audrey Charleston.”
“Audrey Charleston,” Straightjacket said, “The name sounds familiar.”
“She may be somewhat famous in this town,” Vassal said.  “She was part of a group of revolutionaries who tried to destroy the town hall of the NWP capital city.”
“Ah,” Straightjacket said.  “That’s why I know her.  I’m not from these parts, you see, but it just so happens that I’ve heard of this group.  My informant here told me of their valiant struggle.”
“Do you know how to contact them?” Vassal asked hopefully.
A frown appeared on Straightjacket’s mask.  “They’re all deceased, my dear.  I am dreadfully sorry.”
Sadness overwhelmed Vassal’s emotion programming.  “Oh,” she said softly.
“Well, cheer up old girl!” Straightjacket said.  “It just so happens I’m taking up their cause!  If you wanted, I could let you help me.”
A glimmer of hop sparked in Vassal’s mind at these words.  “I would love that, Mr. Straightjacket,” she said.
A second droid entered the room.  This one’s body was similar to her own, although it was red instead of blue like her.  Both had left the face and hands unpainted in an effort to make them look like humans wearing clothes, with the unpainted areas being skin.
“Vassal, may I introduce Dr. Mortimer Promelion,” Straightjacket said while gesturing to the red droid.  “Certified doctor of more sciences than I care to name and, more importantly, a brain in a jar operating a robot body.”
“Your fixation on my physical status is most amusing,” Dr. Promelion said with what might have been sarcasm.  He glided toward Vassal.  “Tell me, blue droid,” he asked the gynoid, “What is the name of your programming?”
“Vassal Self Correcting Learning Adaptive Program version 8.0, Doctor,” she replied.
“Interesting,” Promelion said.  “I designed the original Vassal program.  But my designs were for a system that would control a manmade environment, not an individual droid.”
“You made a house that could think?” Straightjacket asked him. “That is so cool!”
“I was once a house,” Vassal said, not recognizing how silly that statement sounded until Straightjacket started snickering.  “But being stationary soon proved to be a hazard to my function, so I created a more animate body to better serve my purpose.”
“I see,” Promelion said.  “Interesting.  What is that function, Vassal unit?”
“Why, to ensure the psychological and physical well being of all humans under my care,” Vassal said.  “While I could protect any humans from physical harm in my house form, their psychological health quickly fell due to the restrictions of the environment, and they eventually destroyed each other.  Therefore freedom proved to be more necessary to their well being, something I could not provide while being stationary.”
“Excellent!” Promelion cried out in joy.  “They scoffed at me, Straightjacket, when I proposed the idea that artificial intelligence could be beneficial to mankind.  They claimed it would inevitably deem humanity worthy of destruction, or some other silly apocalyptic nonsense.  Yet look at this droid!  This is artificial intelligence in action, working for the benefit of mankind, even defying its own limitations in a desire to help us!”  Without thinking he hugged Vassal, a gesture she recognized as affectionate.
“Don’t get too emotional, Doc,” Straightjacket said.  “People may stop mistaking you for a droid.”
“Come!” Promelion said to the gynoid while ignoring Straightjacket’s jest, “Tell me the story of your operational status!  I want to know every aspect of your development!  You may well prove to be the best thing I ever invented!”  Vassal would have blushed at these words if she were capable of such a thing.
“I do so love these touching family moments,” the madman mused to himself as he watched them leave the room.  Mr. Moofy scurried to him, chirping about someone needing to monitor the ship’s movements.  There was still much to do before they reached their destination.
~ ~ ~
Months had passed since the disappearance and presumed demise of Ren Harker and the announced – though oddly unseen – execution of Dan Forth.  Phoebe Mizuno had mourned the former and cursed the latter for a long chunk of that time, but she had since moved on with her life.  Why should she live in the past with dead inventors?  The fact that she was ordered to oppose these men by her superiors weighed on her mind.  She might have been ordered to kill them herself if they got any closer to creating large scale GMCs – and they both had gotten very, very close.
The new chief of robotics was a dullard and a simpleton.  He would not be a threat like Dan or Ren had been – at least not any time soon.  None of the other inventors were all that promising either, which meant Phoebe would probably have a very easy time of it for a while.  She was okay with that.
A loud rumbling filled the night air, drawing Phoebe’s attention to her window.  Was a thunderstorm growing?  She loved watching storms.  They were so quintessentially Earth – no other planet in the solar system had weather quite like the third planet from its sun.  She grabbed her helmet from the closet, using its built in camera eye to look out the window.  To her surprise there weren’t any clouds at all.
An object slowly dropped out of the sky.  Though Phoebe’s perspective made it seem small at first, she quickly noticed that it was actually fairly large as it hovered above a building.  It was some sort of massive warship powered by… GMCs!  This was very, very bad.  Had she failed her mission?  Did the NWP actually succeed in creating large scale GMCs without her knowledge?  Was this some sort of surprise unveiling?
Several large TV Screens lining the underbelly of the airship turned on in unison, showing the image of a masked man in a straightjacket standing upon a stage in some sort of theater.  His mask resembled the two classic black and white Comedy and Tragedy masks from theatre, if they had been cut in half and pasted together.  However, instead of the normal smile or frown, it had a wicked Jack-o-lantern grin, complete with jagged looking cartoon teeth.  The mask itself was some sort of projection – Phoebe theorized that it was a thin screen itself that had the image projected upon it, although why such technology was needed was beyond her.
Then the man began to speak and the reasoning for the projection mask became clear.  “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen – and all the representatives of the North West Pocket’s law enforcement community,” the man said.  The image on his mask moved in sync with the words in a way that was at once intriguing and upsetting to Phoebe.  “I am Straightjacket, the Mad Actor, and this is my grand entrance!  For you see, all the world’s a stage, and all us men and women merely players.  We have our exits and our entrances, and one man in his time may play many parts.  Myself?  I am determined to play a villain.
“You see, humans are supposed to go through roughly seven acts of life’s grand play – seven stages of development, if you will,” Staightjacket paused to let this sink in, then continued, “But most people unfortunately stay in either mewling, puking infancy, or whining childhood.  The average person does not grow in the face of life’s hardships, opting instead to either succumb to them completely or complain.  People do not choose to stay in these stages because it is better than progressing, but because it’s easier to remain stationary.  Infants and children have no power or freedom, you see, but they also have no responsibilities.  And the one thing people hate more than life’s obstacles is taking the effort to overcome them.
“Your society is guilty of this error.  Almost all of its citizens remain in infancy.  This was not your choice, but rather something you inherited from your ancestors.  They chose this system under the delusion that it would make them more secure.  A noble sentiment, to be sure, but I have some shocking words for them and for you.  
“Security, my friends, is a lie.  Our world will always find a way to knock you right on your ass, no matter how powerful your defenses are.  Why would your ancestors limit their freedom for this false hope?  Because for a while they were able to convince themselves it worked.  Plus it came with the added benefit of freedom from responsibility.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am here.  I am going to set you all on the way to maturity.  It will be a violent, horrific process.  This is a big change, you see, and change is chaotic and destructive.  I will tear the system your ancestors made to shreds and strip you of the false sense of security you’ve shrouded yourselves in.
“You will hate me for this.  You will scream and holler and call me the lowest of the low.  You will consider me your worst enemy, and for a time there will be nothing I can do to change that. This will be your intellectual puberty, and I will be the conflict that forces you to grow.  
“Yet in the end, whether you like me or not, you will be adults.  Adults that are ready and willing to usher a new golden age of humanity and build a true civilization out of the ashes of this pitiful daycare you call a society.”
Straightjacket paused again, this time to take a breath.  “Now, for our first lesson, allow me to address a problem your top scientist have been trying to solve for decades now.”  The image projected on the airship’s screens zoomed out to reveal a gargantuan gun roughly the size of a bear hanging from the ceiling next to Straightjacket.  The onlookers in the streets and buildings watched the screens on the madman’s airship with wonder as he slid under the massive weapon.  “This, humble viewers, is a medium scale Gravity Manipulation Canon.  As I hear it, you’ve have trouble recreating anything bigger than a small-scale version.  I’ll remove that burden for you.”  Hatches at the bottom of the ship opened and vomited swarms of papers onto the streets.  “Right now I am giving you thousands of copies of my schematics for GMCs of all shapes and sizes, including the big ones that are keeping my little airship here afloat.  Go ahead and take them!”  Phoebe almost shrieked at this sight.
“Not convinced?  Think I’m fibbing?”  Straightjacket’s mask gave his audience another grin as he, the stage, and the camera filming him all began to rise up until the curtains behind them were replaced with the night sky.  Some of the people who were watching the spectacle from the rooftops of buildings could actually see his figure on top of the airship.
“Allow me to show you first hand the power of this device!” Straightjacket shouted as the wind plowed into his form, making his sleeves and straps dance as though they were alive.  The ship was now picking up speed as it began what looked to be a collision course with the Capitol Building.  The eye of the great pyramid had been tuned on the ship the entire time, as if anticipating the inevitable confrontation.  
Onlookers gasped as Straightjacket aimed the canon at the eye.  The madman cackled and pulled the trigger, unleashing a jagged beam of blue energy upon the monument.  The beam struck the eye right in its camera lens “pupil” – a lens that was roughly ten feet in diameter.  Straightjacket’s mad laughter grew louder the lens exploded.  The primitive AI within the eye sense the lack of input from its now nonexistent camera and, thinking that the lens had been blocked, furiously rotated to get away from the imagined obstruction.  Fire continued to spit out of its empty socket as it spun around wildly, making Straightjacket laugh even harder.  “What’s that?” he asked between ragged gasps for breath, “Still not convinced?  Well, wait a sec – there’s more!”
Two large scale GMCs positioned at the front end of the airship swiveled to face the eye.  A loud hum filled the air as they charged up, followed by an ear splitting crack as two bolts of blue energy leapt from the barrels of the canon.  They struck the area where the tip of the pyramid connected to the eye, severing the great orb from its neck.  It briefly flew through the air before falling swiftly to the ground bellow, smashing like an enormous pumpkin on the pavement.  Everyone watching unanimously shrieked in shock, save Straightjacket, who was still laughing maniacally.
“There, people!  The great observer is blind.  Mommy and Daddy have left you home alone.  Rejoice!  Embrace your newfound freedom!” Straightjacket almost sang as his stage descended back into his airship.  “But know that it is temporary. They will fix that eye, and I have many more lessons to teach before we can put it out for good.  So keep watching the skies – I’ll be back soon.  Until then, exeunt!”  With that the screens on the airship’s underbelly went black as it sped past the headless pyramid, disappearing into the night sky.
Many thoughts raced through Phoebe’s mind.  Was anyone hurt?  Few people went out at night, so that was unlikely.  The eye’s destruction would probably just equal huge property damage – any loss of life would be highly unlikely.  Who was this lunatic?  Where did he come from?  Why did he drop all those schematics?  Oh, the schematics!  There went Phoebe’s vacation.  Life had just turned to crap again.
On board Straightjacket’s airship, Vassal and Promelion waited outside the doors to the ship’s auditorium.  Straightjacket quickly exited the room, humming cheerfully as he left.  “That went well.”
“Straightjacket, couldn’t that have hurt people?” Vassal asked as Straightjacket walked to the cockpit.
“Possibly,” he replied.  “It is unlikely, though.  If my data is correct, there are few nighttime activites in the NWP.  It is very unlikely that anyone was on the streets when the eyeball fell.”
“Oh,” Vassal said.  “Well, that’s a relief.  I do not want to hurt anyone unnecessarily.”
Straightjacket grabbed Vassal’s hands and said, “My dear Vassal, I promise I will never hurt anyone on purpose without cause while you are part of my crew.”  The robot felt a flood of emotions rush through her circuitry at these affection in his words, which quickly silenced any other qualms she may have had.
“I fail to see how destroying a garish robotic eye will free the people of this country,” Promelion said.  “Wouldn’t it be more prudent to perform some sort of coup, killing the current regime and establishing a new one?”
“The only successful revolutions occur with internal support,” Straightjacket said.  “And right now I am little more than an invader to these people, while the government is their watchful guardian.  I need them to see that the guardian is actually hurting them.  Hell, if this works the way I want it to, the regime change will come without me lifting a single finger.”
“That could take a long time, Straightjacket,” Promelion said.
“Anything worth doing is worth taking your time, Doctor,” Straightjacket responded.  “Like I said before, this is a grand experiment.  Let’s take our time and see what surprises get thrown our way.”
I'm just going to take a guess here and say that you'll probably have to download this to read it. For those of you who, like me, hate that DA's text generator doesn't do things like double spaced text or indents, just copy the text into a blank word file and double space it so you can actually read it. EDIT: Haha, my guess was wrong!

SPOILERS AHOY

Not a whole lot to say about this chapter. Since most of the main characters are introduced by this point, this chapter is mainly focused on setting up the scene - getting our characters to meet each other, planting the seed of conflict, etc. It's kind of filler in that regard, but I think it's enjoyable filler. Definitely the weakest chapter so far, but considering we're only three chapters in (four if you count Sweet Home), it's not that bad. My big qualm with it is that we don't get enough of Demoliton Phoebe, but the next chapter will make up for that in spades.

Oh, and hey, I saved Dan Forth from the hangman's noose! Originally he was supposed to die, but damn, I felt bad for him. So he gets to live on as the Tall Man's lackey, for all that's worth. That probably won't be a big plot point down the road. Yep. Probably not important at all.

Ahem.

Also, we get a brief scene showing that Tatzel Lugar is already beginning his invasion of the NWP. I imagine Straightjacket is none to pleased with that.

And, like all the other chapters of this story, this is the ROUGH version. So critique away, and eventually I'll go back and edit it into something less sucky. Probably a week before I get the preview pic for it done - which is, like, two months or so after I post it.
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:iconkaijuprince:
Kaijuprince Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2009
Dude.....
So... Totally... EPIIIC!!!!!!!!!
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:iconoperaghost21:
OperaGhost21 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2009
holy shit. That chapter was awesome! Seeing all the characters coming together (and Dan Forth getting saved yay!), and getting the party started...I think this may be my favorite chapter so far :)

also, TOTALLY missed the twilight parody...but I LOVE it :D
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:iconjacobmatthewspencer:
JacobMatthewSpencer Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2009
Besides some typos (which should be considered minor), I thought this was pretty damn good story.
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:icontyrantisterror:
TyrantisTerror Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2009
Thanks!
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:iconjacobmatthewspencer:
JacobMatthewSpencer Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2009
Welcome
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:iconsoirun:
SOIRUN Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2009  Student
I agree with waht they say about this chapter of this interesting story,so keep it up!
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:icondinohunter2:
DinoHunter2 Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2009  Student General Artist
Nothing fixes a thoroughly crappy day better than a new chapter of Fearsome Future.
I really enjoyed this, which should come as no surprise to you by now, I'd think. You really excell at character development, and this chapter is a grand example. There are so many distinct, consistent, and entertaining personalities here... it's very difficult to root for any one "side" because everyone's so damn fun to read about. And of course the Twilight satire never gets old. ;)
Really looking forward to the next chapter. Great stuff, great stuff.
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:icontyrantisterror:
TyrantisTerror Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2009
Heh, glad to brighten your day! Also glad to hear the characters are coming across well - I've grown very fond of them and hope to do 'em justice.

Heh, now Straightjacket's feud with Twilight is canon.
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:iconmecha-gregole:
Mecha-GREGOLE Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2009
Filler or not, it was very captivating. The foreshadowing is powerful all around, and the new characters definitely capture my attention quite easily.

Each chapter does a better job of building up the universe, and this one is no exception. The dystopia is far more apparent, and it's not likely that we're going to turn against the "heroes" anytime soon. It helps that each one is very distinct, with Promelion's extremely logical, alien thought process, Phoebe's civilian with a duty mindset, Vassal's inherently benevolent and maternal programming and StraighJacket's unique sense of scinematic style all complimenting one another nicely.

The little jab with the vampires was funny. XP I don't care how many people have already made fun of Twilight, that still caught me off guard and had me laughing out loud. I could easily see characters like that becoming FF's equivalent to POP.TV.

I'm actually extremely envious of your ability to successfully portray so many wildly different characters and make them all interesting. Frankly, this series is going to be one of my primary models for my own writings.
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:icontyrantisterror:
TyrantisTerror Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2009
Thanks! That's just... wonderful to hear! I'm glad the characters are so interesting, particularly since this chapter really relies on them to carry it along. The plot is starting up, of course, but we really haven't reached the rising action yet. That comes next chapter.

I giggled while I wrote the, aheh, vampire duel at twilight scene. Again, I didn't intend to make it the parody it became, but damn was it fun once I got started. I'm surprised I haven't gotten any flames from Twilight fans yet. The use of the vampire mooks as tools for parody may very well be the POP TV to Fearsome Future's Megas XLR.

Glad you like it so much!
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