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I’m taking over the Universe. I don’t really want anything. I’m mostly interested in the process. I could be bored.

  • Lodestone

  

4 Hours Later - Candy - The Sugar Lab

Wake up. I’m downstairs at the club. I rub my face. Look around. Omicron’s back. He’s playing pinball.

I stumble over to the bar. Brian slides me a breakfast beer. It’s the last thing I need, but it’s closer than my toothbrush. I swish and swallow.

I burp. Swishing was a mistake. What’s wrong with me?

The bar is covered in notes. Brian, Isaiah, Gamma, and Zeta have been working on the messy list. I leaf through the notes listlessly. Too many numbers, not enough words. I’ll have to ask them what it all means. I finish my beer. Start another.

Brian waits for me to finish my second beer. Then he says “We got a copy of the Trouble list. The Optimals did kill them all. They have the nuke drones now.”

“Who else did we lose?”

“Orcette.”

I nod.

Brian hangs his head. “Maybe more. Lots of people through the club lately. We don’t know everybody’s real names.”

I nod. “We need to work on that.” Anonymity is great, until people go missing. This is how we lost Deadman and Doc-Danger last time. I guess you can do it the hard way and still not learn.

“What else we got?” I ask.

The other guys drift over. Drink and tell me what they’ve learned. We update the messy list.

  1. There has been zero government activity. They’re not all dead, but they’ve definitely all quit. No one is in a hurry to replace them. It’s a scary time to be a leader. Keeping your head down is the order of the day.
  2. Leviathan and citizen journalism rule the airwaves. There’s lots of info being posted, but it’s all done anonymously. Mainstream media is silent. Everybody is talking, but nobody wants followers. Again, nobody wants to stick their head up.
  3. Purgers are dead. Optimals have the nukes. The Trouble List has been posted. Many people saw the Trouble Murders and The March of The Dead. No one seems to know how the Purgers got nukes. They assume they either stole enriched uranium, or were a government agency gone bad. No one seems to know about Danger's Laser.
  4. Old Money is toast. The Darkness has not revealed herself. Fuck Old Money. Fucking Darkness.
  5. Thousands of Optimals revealed themselves. They are a known element now, but I believe people are seriously underestimating their numbers. I still think there’s at least a million of them. I am in the minority.
  6. Mr. Brightside is still MIA.
  7. Millions of people are collaborating on Leviathan to rebuild the God Machine.

“Alright.” I say. “Our most immediate problem is the Optimals. We need to know what the fuck they want.”

“Well,” says Zeta. “We could ask them…” He nods towards Omicron. He’s still playing pinball.

We all drink quietly for a bit.

“We need to take the drugs.” I say.

“Okay.” Says Brian. He starts rolling a joint.

“I meant his drugs! The Optimal drugs. We need to take Omicron’s drugs away.” I say.

“Right. I knew that.” says Brian. “I just wanted to smoke a joint first.”

“Good idea. If we show up all sober he’ll know we’re up to something.” I say.

We smoke and drink to get amped up for the imminent intervention. I think of few other plans.

“We need to get on Leviathan and get some forces ranged against the Optimals. There’s a leadership void, and I don’t wanna step up, but if we don’t, the Optimals will run unopposed.

“First we expose them. We can easily modify Trouble to make an Optimal Membership List. We post the list to Leviathan, then we can have eyes on the Optimals. It may only be their moms watching them, but moms are nature’s first responders, so that’ll work.

“We also need to post everything we know about Danger’s Laser. I'm not crazy about living in a world where everyone can build a nuke, but it seems slightly safer than a world where only murderous brain jacked junkies can.

“The Optimals are way more fucking organized than we are, but free citizens still outnumber them 300 to 1. If we expose their methods and membership, we should be able to rein them in.”

I nod. The guys nod. It’s a pretty good plan.

A drone drops a pizza in front of me. The big friendly letters on the box say - CHANGE YOUR NAME AND LEAVE TOWN! I frown, lift the lid. It’s a plain cheese pizza. Fuck! I throw myself at the ground. Hear a few pops, like a paintball gun. The boys hit the ground around me. They’re not moving. There’s darts sticking in them. Fuck! I hear Omicron quick stepping to my left. The table’s giving me cover, but he’ll have a line on me in a few more steps. Table’s bolted down. I grab the pizza box, shield myself. THWACK! There’s a needle sticking through the box, dripping blue goo and pizza guts.

I chuck the box at him. It’s a slow-ass weapon. He could easily dodge, but doesn’t bother. It bounces off him as he calmly reloads his dart gun.

I don’t have time to rush him. I have no cover. I pop up. Darts are a lot slower than bullets, maybe I can dodge them. I see him load a sixth, then seventh dart. Dang. Should’ve kept the pizza box.

Omicron aims at me. I’m not a gun person, but his stance has an air of professionalism that looks out of place on Omicron. I’m gonna get shot. The club explodes in light and sound. Omicron’s face distorts grotesquely and turns away. These Optimal drugs are fire. No wait! I haven’t been shot - the club’s hypno-clone is attacking Omicron!

Jesus fucks! There’s hundreds of holograms of me running through the club. Running, hiding, threatening, begging, shouting nonsense. The ultrasound projectors are blasting Omicron in the face. The safeties must be off. His face turns red. Purple. Eyes swell. Close to slits. He covers his face with his elbow, like he’s dabbing. He’s in trouble, but still looks dangerous. Professional.

“Hey babe.” I turn. It’s Megacles. Oh my god! She’s back!

She shakes her head. “I’m not Megacles. I’m just a limited AI built into the hypno-clone. I’m programmed to protect you.” She scowls at Omicron. “I can only slow him down. Sorry. I was born of hangovers and haste. Don't rely on me.”

She’s gone. The hypno-clone is still blasting Omicron. He’s darting through the club, smashing the ultrasound projectors. Won’t be long until it’s just him and me again. Of course, it was always just him and me. I have a moment to listen to my emotions. They inform me that everything is garbage.

There’s an ultrasound projector by the bar. I walk over to it. Grab a whiskey bottle. Omicron will be over to smash the projector soon. Blind and distracted.

I wait.

Actually, fuck this. I drop the whiskey bottle, back into the kitchen, and slip out the new drive-thru window. I have nothing and no plan, but anything’s better than what I just left.

The streets are filled with people screaming, running, and getting shot in the back with blue goo darts.

O-tay. I guess this wasn’t just a situation at the club.

Having no immediate plans, I run with the other imminent victims. It’s a loser strategy. They provide mobile cover, but it’s not sustainable. Herd running only works when the predators are behind you, picking off the slow and the weak. Our predators have choke points at every intersection. We’re being cut down from behind, and ambushed from in front.

The streets are littered with darted, sleeping, bodies. Occasionally, I pass a headless body clutching a handgun. I feel no urge to take up their arms.

I duck into a building. Time to try hiding. An Optimal follows me in. I dart out the back, duck into a different building. I’m there for about 3 seconds before I hear people at the front and the back. Window time again. Next building. I don’t wait this time. Run straight through. Circle around. See three Optimals burst in the front door. What the fuck dude? Look up. There’s camera drones hovering and zipping about. Yep. That checks out.

I’m utterly fucked. I sit, pull out my phone. “Hey Chatbot! Do I know anybody who isn’t being attacked right now?”

It scans my contacts. One name comes up. Lawbot 3000.

I call him. Why not?

Lawbot's avatar appears before me.  “Hello Candy. What can I do for you?”

“I’m being relentlessly pursued by brainwashed assholes trying to shoot me up with brainwashing drugs.” I say. “Can you do anything about that?”

“I can file a restraining order.” he says. “Though it may take a while to get a judge to sign it. Because all the judges I know are strung out on brainwashing drugs.”

An older Optimal comes around the corner. Sees me sitting. Gives me a friendly nod, leans against a wall, breathing heavily.

“Thanks for not running.” she gasps. “I’m beat.”

“I must inform you, my client does not consent to this administration of mind control drugs.” says Lawbot. “You are putting yourself in considerable legal jeopardy.”

The Optimal nods. “Thanks for the heads up. It’s been a hell of a day.” She shows her driver’s license to Lawbot. “That’s who I am, and I preemptively plead guilty to the assault I’m about to commit. I hope that helps with your incipient legal action.”

“Uhh… yes. It will.” says Lawbot. “But we’d rather settle out of court. You know, without you assaulting her.”

“Well, I’d love that too. But I’m just a cog in the mind control machine. If I don’t plug her, some other asshole will.” She points a thumb towards the entrance of the alley where two other assholes with dart guns wait.

“Come on.” I say. “There must be something you can do?”

She looks surprised. “Candy is that you?” she laughs, turns to Lawbot. “We’re friends online.”

I look confused. She looks down at herself. Shrugs. “It’s been a while since I’ve updated my profile pic.” She slides a blue goo dart out of her gun. Gently underhands it to me. It lands on my lap, needle up.

“There we go, drugs delivered.” She makes some notes on her phone. The drones overhead beetle off. The Optimals covering my escape routes clear out. My online friend smiles. “Good luck, darling.” She’s gone.

I sit in the alley. Lawbot sits next to me. After an hour, the battles in the streets go silent. I watch online activity on Leviathan plummet. That’s very depressing. If there was a resistance, they would be using Leviathan. By nightfall, the posts on Leviathan stop all together. I guess that’s it. I stand. Brush myself off. Walk back to the club. It’s dark when I get there. I don’t go inside.

I look at Lawbot. “Thanks. For, uh, today. Sorry. I’m going offline for a bit.”

“Understood.” says Lawbot. “Please call me if I can help you.”

I nod. He’s gone.

There’s a shed behind the club. Inside is Megacles’ motorcycle and go bag. I push it down the street for about a block, then mount up. I frigg with it, have a quick talk with Chatbot about how to work a choke, manage to get it going.

I hammer down the road. I see no lights and no one. After 4 hours I see one building with its lights on. It’s a gas station. I need gas.

I pull in. There’s no one there. I fill up.  Drive off.

3 hours later, I turn on to the crappy trail that Megacles carved out of the woods. 5 minutes later, I’m at her lab.

I walk in. I should get some light. Search the place. Lab’s been abandoned for months. Megacles had enemies. Who knows who’s been through here? I don’t bother with light. I’m tired. I walk to her bed. I know my way in the dark. Lie down. It smells like her. I cry myself to sleep.

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Doctor Zero

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