It's like Bridget Jones' Diary, but with a super-powered vigilante.

March 29, 2005

Robot fu

I’m in my office working on nothing in particular when I hear on NPR about a train derailment down at the docks. At first, I don’t think anything of it. What am I going to do? I’m not strong enough to pick up train cars, and it’s the middle of the day. I rule the night, etc. So I sit on my parahuman ass and drink my coffee and don’t give it a second thought.

A few minutes go by and I hear what sounds like an explosion. I peer out the window; my office has a good view of most of the harbor. Can’t see anything, but a column of greasy black smoke drifts into view.

Suddenly our regular NPR program – I think they were talking about soil acidity or something equally gripping – is interrupted by the local public radio news guy.

“We’re interrupting our regular programming with this breaking news: a train has derailed in a rail yard near the docks, causing a series of explosions and a fire. Emergency units are on their way and are blocking off 1st Avenue at Oyster Bay Road. And… we’re getting reports now that… i-it appears that there is some kind of robot in the rail yards that is reportedly causing some of this damage –“

Robot.

That’s the magic word.

I rush out of my office and run down the hall into Margo’s office, which is on the north side of the building – she’ll have a good view of the whole thing. Margo is pressed up against the window, cupping her hands against the glare.

“What’s going on?” I say.

“Giant robot or something,” Margo says. “I can’t really see anything – too smoky.”

She’s right, the rail yards, which are about half a mile away, are obscured in a thick haze of smoke. I can see police lights and fires burning intensely among the shadowy hulks of container cars. I see some railroad workers running. Something’s moving around down there…

Then a cop car flips through the air, flying out of the smoky gloom like it was launched from a catapult.

“Did you see that?” Margo says. “That was a cop car!”

I’m already out the door.

My suit is in the trunk of the Saab, which is in the parking garage. I run to my car and pop the trunk. How am I going to do this? I can suit up and be there in no time, but somebody might see me leaving the building. On the other hand, I’m parked on the fourth floor of the garage and I’ll probably waste five minutes going down and around and down and around the ramps, then wait while the fucking garage security gate slowly creaks open… and by then the robot or whatever may have killed a bunch of people.

Another explosion shakes the parking garage. I can hear police and fire sirens, and news helicopters thrumming in the air overhead. Fuck it, I’m suiting up here.

Within two minutes I’m pulling the cowl over my head, snugging my goggles into place, and checking to make sure my gauntlet-launchers are loaded with Marauderangs. It’s go time, baby.

I drop out of the parking garage into the alley below, sprint the 200 yards to the rail yard fence, and then launch myself over the barbed wire in one huge leap. I land like a cat on top of a container car and slide into Pose #1: Vigilant Dragon, surveying the scene. God, what a strutting peacock I am.

Here’s the situation: I’m at the edge of this vast rail yard, a series of tracks that feed into the Port of Evergreen City’s container terminal. As usual the yard is crowded with container trains and stacks of big steel cargo containers. Big red cranes looming like dinosaurs in the background. The smoke from two fierce fires burning in the center of the yard obscures much of the scene, but I can clearly see two derailed trains. It smells like oil. Cop cars and fire engines gather at the edge of the rail yard. News helicopters circle overhead. Over the sound of the helicopters I think I hear gunshots. I think I can see the robot or whatever, moving around in the smoke. When I zoom in with the binocular setting on my goggles, I see it. No shit, it’s an honest-to-God rampaging robot.

Oh, hell yes. I am all about berserk robots.

I better do this quick before the Paracrime Unit shows up and takes it down. Still, no sense going in half-cocked. I switch to the scanner on my suit’s audio system. My cowl’s headset crackles to life.

A guy on Paracrime’s frequency says, “…according to the manifest it’s being shipped to Spokane. Made in Pomerania. We’ve got the manufacturers on the phone, stand by.”

A Pomeranian robot. Figures.

I hop from container to container, drawing closer to the scene.

The guy on the radio says, “Panda units, be advised that robot is an area-defense model. Manufacturer believes that the train accident may have damaged the unit and triggered a self-defense mode. Let’s see, uh, the robot is called an Insekt III. There are up to nine different modular weapons configurations, but most commonly it is equipped with a chain gun, flamethrower, and a 40 mm multi-purpose weapon – whatever that is.”

I turn the radio off as I hop up on to a stack of containers that will give me a good look at it.

The Insekt III strides into view and I can’t help but be disappointed that it’s not a little bit bigger. I was hoping for a giant robot, and this one’s just… large.

It looks like a big mechanical fiddler crab to me. It’s body, which is about the size of a small car, is held up by six double jointed grasshopper legs with big round feet. One long articulated arm sprouts from the top of the torso, sporting a mean looking claw-type appendage. The robot’s “head” is a sensor pod on top of the torso that looks like a motorcycle helmet. The whole thing is painted a handsome forest green.

(I couldn’t find a picture of the Insekt III online, but it looks and moves very similar to this thing: click here)

The robot sidesteps on its grasshopper legs and stops, as if it’s listening. Then it swivels around and its big crab arm points up at me. Well, it definitely sees me. I’m about twenty yards away and thirty feet up on a stack of containers. Suddenly I wonder if that’s too close.

I leap off my perch just as the Insekt III fires.

The shockwave catches me in the air microseconds before I hear the deafening explosion. Out of control, I bounce off a container and fall on to the concrete of the rail yard.

What the fuck was that? I think it shot something from its arm – maybe that’s the 40 mm multi-purpose weapon the cops were talking about. Whatever it was, it put a big smoking hole in the side of the container I was sitting on and made my ears ring.

Okay, where is it? I can hear it moving nearby, hidden by a container train and black curtains of smoke.

I hop up on top of the container train for a better view –

--and the robot’s big clawed hand looms suddenly out of the smoke. The crab pincers gape wide and close around my waist. Before I can do anything it has snatched me off the top of the train and is raising me into the air – the serrated vice claw squeezes with amazing strength and I feel my breath leave my body. Little tiny motes of light dance in front of my eyes and I feel lightheaded.

Okay, I take back what I said about hoping for a bigger robot. This one’s fine.

In a moment of weird lucidity I notice that the big claw that’s crushing me is just part of a more complex tool mounted on the end of the Insekt III’s arm. It has a chainsaw, several lights and camera lenses, a flamethrower nozzle, and a wide-barrel grenade launcher weapon. I briefly wonder who ordered the robot – somebody in Spokane? I can’t believe they were shipping it in a container on a train –

And then it throws me into a train head-first.

I’m pretty sure I black out. Yes, because the next thing I remember I’m face down in the dirt, tasting my own blood in my mouth. My ears are ringing. Is my head bleeding? Squinting with pain, I look around. A fuel truck burns nearby. Everywhere I look I see derailed train cars and toppled containers. I cough. The smoke is choking, thick.

With measured mechanical steps, the Insekt III crawls on its grasshopper legs out of the smoke towards me.

I try to get up, but the horizon tilts crazily when I do. If I could just clear my head for a second.

The robot stops and turns around so that its fiddler crab arm is facing away from me. What’s it --? A panel slides open on the top of the robot’s torso. A black apparatus rises from the torso and snaps into a horizontal position. It looks like –

A gatling gun. It’s the aforementioned 20 mm chain gun.

The chain gun swivels until its pointing directly at me.

I wish I could move; I’m bulletproof, but not against shit like this. I wish I could move –

The Insekt III fires. The chain gun barrels spin. Nothing happens. The gatling gun just spins, whining like a drill. I smile with bloody teeth. The chain gun’s not loaded.

Suddenly inspired by my near-death, I pull myself to my feet. The Insekt III is adapting, the big arm is swinging around again fast. I rush towards the robot and grab on to the barrel of the impotent chain gun.

Fwoosh! A tongue of flame from the claw shoots overhead and splashes against a fallen train car.

Okay, I’m thinking more clearly now. I figure the best way to beat this thing is to stay close and try to fuck it up from the inside, which is why I’m still hanging on to the chain gun. I squeeze hard, crimping the multi-barrel gun. From here I can see inside the hatch in the fuselage and into the robot. Maybe I could drop a grenade in there…

The claw is back. It snaps at my head, which I am attached to, so I let go of the chain gun. Dropping under the torso of the robot, I roll out from under the stamping grasshopper legs, then leap behind a stack of containers. A blast of flame chases me.

My ears are still ringing, so I almost don’t hear the stack of containers falling until it’s too late. The Insekt III pushes the top few containers of the stack over, which tumble down towards me. I cartwheel out of the way as the huge steel boxes crash down. That’s right, I cartwheel. Again: not gay.

But now I’m out in the open and the robot has me in it’s sights. The big clawed arm swings around, rearing up like a cobra ready to strike.

I jump towards the machine as the killing arm comes down. It digs into the earth like a pick, narrowly missing me. I skid under the thing’s belly again and pop back up the other side.

Like I figured, I damaged the chain gun enough that it couldn’t retract back inside the armored fuselage. I grab the bent barrel and dig around in my utility belt. I hear gears and servos whine as the robot’s arm swivels around, poised to attack again.

Score -- I find the grenade I’m looking for. I pop the pin and stuff the grenade inside the chain gun hatch. I hear it rattle around inside, a satisfying noise.

I launch myself backwards, away from the robot. I smack hard against a steel container thirty yards away.

The Insekt III takes a step towards me, crab arm raised high. Then there’s a hollow boom from inside the robot. It shudders and slumps a little. The big arm slowly droops to the ground. The mechanical beast spasms and burps smoke, then is very still.

Having seen far too many movies, I don’t believe it’s dead. I creep forward, waiting for the limp arm to spring to life. It doesn’t.

New helicopters beat the air overhead. I hope the smoke wasn’t too bad and they got some decent footage of the fight. I hear sirens. God, I almost forgot, this place is surrounded by cops!

I rush over to the arm and inspect the claw.

“Freeze!” somebody shouts behind me.

I kneel down and grab on to the robot’s claw. It’s really well constructed, but I bet I can pull it off. I pull.

“Get your hands up!”

I glance over my shoulder. Two Paracrime troopers in black body armor and hockey masks walk towards me, aiming MP5s at my head. They’re twenty yards away. I pull harder.

“Marauder! Get your hands up or we will shoot!”

It’s starting to give. I pull harder.

“Marauder--!”

The big serrated pincers tear free from the mechanical arm. They’re pretty heavy. Satisfied, I stand up and turn around. I can’t tell because of the spooky hockey masks and all, but these cops seem pissed.

“Guys—“

“Drop the claw and put your fucking hands up!” one yells.

“It’s my first robot,” I say. “I just want a souvenir.”

Then the wind shifts and smoke billows between the cops and I. Not being stupid, I get the hell out of there, back flipping up and over a train. They hold their fire.

I’m laughing as I run at about 40 mph through the rail yard with the Insekt III’s claw tucked under one arm.

I fucking rule.